Science

Genealogy receives boost as more get 'DNA bug'

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A growing number of companies offering DNA analysis is perhaps fueling interest in genetic and genealogical research, Diahan Southard said.

That’s a good thing, the prominent genetic genealogy consultant told dozens gathered Saturday at the Allen County Public Library. But budding genealogists should also be careful when choosing a company to analyze their genetic markers, she said.

“There’s a lot of companies out there saying, ‘Hey, give us your data,’” Southard said. “They’re not all reputable. Be careful.”

Southard was “bitten by the DNA bug” in high school, according to her website, earned a degree in microbiology from Brigham Young University in Utah and was among the first researchers to study the correlation between genetics and genealogy. She writes for genealogy publications and is featured on a podcast dedicated to the research.

In four lectures that spanned most of the day Saturday, she helped dozens of participants learn more about genealogy and how those looking to find out more about their family histories can use DNA analysis from trusted companies such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe.

The first lecture – “Three Powerful Ways to Find Your Best DNA Matches” – outlined how the companies use DNA samples given by users to provide information on nationalities and possible matches with shared relatives. All of the information is based on sound science, Southard said, but each company approaches the analysis differently and can provide slightly different information.

For example, 23andMe can narrow nationalities to more countries in Europe than some of the other companies.

“There are more companies that are joining in to this,” Southard said. “And that’s fantastic. I’m all for doing this.”

The intersection of genetics and genealogy is one that’s grown popular in recent years, as companies have made DNA analysis easier and less costly. MIT Technology Review – a technology website run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – reported in February that people who tested their DNA using direct-to-consumer kits doubled in 2017 to more than 12 million.

Tests range from about $60 to about $100.

“Most of those tested are in the U.S., suggesting that around 1 in 25 American adults now have access to personal genetic data – a figure that could spur a range of new genetic analysis services,” the website reported.

One of those who has taken advantage of the trend is Patrick Deady, who attended the morning lecture and said he’s been doing genealogical research for about a decade. The Fort Wayne resident also had his DNA analyzed and found a surprise.

“Probably the most exciting thing was I found out I have a cousin in New Zealand,” he said.

Since then, he has visited his newly discovered family member and regularly texts and video chats with the cousin.

“It’s been an amazing thing to have happened,” Deady said.  

mleblanc@jg.net

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