ABCs of Family History: D

D…

is for DNA. DNA testing has quickly become a trendy tool for genealogical research. But is it necessary? Some would argue that genetics testing is superfluous, especially if your family tree is well developed. However, there are several key reasons why DNA testing should be considered.

#1—DNA is another genealogical record. Just like a census or birth certificate, DNA is a record. And it’s arguably the most unique record you will find. It connects you to cultures and geographic regions that may be somewhat foreign to you. A few years ago, I took a DNA test through ancestry.com. The results came in the form of an “ethnicity estimate,” which summarizes my genetic origins from thousands of years ago.

Ethnicity Estimate

As you can see, the greatest percentage goes to Scandinavia, closely followed by Great Britain. The 12% attributed to Ireland is somewhat puzzling, but it’s very plausible my English ancestors commingled with the Irish.

Earlier this year, ancestry.com introduced “genetic communities,” which show where your ancestors most likely lived in the past few hundred years. My genetic communities include early settlers of Central Appalachia, Mormon pioneers in the Mountain West, and early settlers of Eastern Kentucky and Northeast Tennessee. Of course, these make sense when compared to the results of my own genealogical research.

Genetic Communities

#2—DNA testing can connect you with distant relatives. One advantage of DNA testing is that you’re introduced to DNA matches, which are usually second, third, or fourth cousins. Reaching out to these matches can provide you with new insights, old pictures, and family stories. You may even find a new ancestor! Earlier this year, a second cousin contacted me through ancestry.com. We compared notes, and I was able to learn more about her mother’s line. It was a wonderful experience that was made possible by DNA testing.

#3—DNA testing can verify the information in your tree. DNA testing is a way to verify the accuracy of your family tree through scientific means. I had always known that my direct ancestors came from Sweden, Denmark, and England. When my DNA test confirmed this, I felt confident that my genealogical research had been sound. You may experience the opposite, however. You may uncover biological relatives you didn’t know about, which can expand your family tree to other areas of the world.

#4—DNA testing can conquer family tree roadblocks. This happened to me when I was researching the Stafford line. The earliest Stafford I found was John Miles Stafford, my 5th great grandfather. John was born on February 17, 1783 in Walkers Creek, Giles, Virginia. On May 10, 1803, John married Nancy Runyon in Tazewell, Virginia. They had eight children.

For the longest time I was unable to identify John’s parents—the line simply stopped at John. That was until I received a message from someone on ancestry.com who matched my DNA profile. Here is an excerpt from the message:

We have family lore that John Miles Stafford was “raised by the Compton’s” from the memoirs of one of his grandsons and as it turns out, our Y-DNA is a match for the Compton surname. That tells us that John Miles Stafford was born out of wedlock to a COMPTON male and a STAFFORD female, and we are nearly certain of who the couple is, and believe that it is John Compton Jr. and probably Absolem’s daughter Sarah Stafford. Absolem Stafford and John Compton Sr. (father of John Compton Jr.) shared a property line in Tazewell Co, VA and can also be found living in very close proximity during the years of their migration from the east coast.

Jackpot! It turns out that John Miles Stafford is a descendant of the Compton line. After diving deeper into the family history, I began noticing Stafford males with the first name of “Compton.” Compton Stafford (1805-1890), one of John’s sons, was married to Eleanor McCoy (of the famed Hatfield versus McCoy feud). My second great grandfather was also named Compton Stafford (1847-1905). Could it be that “Compton” became a family name out of respect for the Compton family who raised John Miles Stafford?

Are you convinced yet? I hope so. DNA testing can be an extremely valuable tool no matter how developed your tree is. Various DNA tests are available, so do your research to see which one is best for you.

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