DNA lecture showcases uses in genealogy


Courtesy photo

Story by Andrew Dickinson, News Net Nebraska

There were talks of icemen, Genghis Khan and Irish kings in the basement of the Union College administration building at 3800 S. 48 Street on Dec. 13.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Genealogical Society (LLCGS) held its monthly meeting with eight presentations by members on their successes and failures using DNA testing to expand their family trees.

Sharon Sawyers, a member of the group and one of about 75 people at the meeting, has done extensive research on her family tree.

“I became involved by testing my mother for her 92nd birthday,” she said. “Not that she cared, really.”
Sawyers used a site called Family Tree DNA for her testing, a common resource for those looking to further their genealogic knowledge. Another common site is ancestry.com.

But DNA testing isn’t purely a means to an end, and it doesn’t make the search for ancestors a simple task.

“You’re still going to have to do genealogical research, because doing the DNA test just says, ‘My DNA matches your DNA,’” Sawyers said. “But you’re going to need to back that up with research.”

She described DNA testing as a tool enabling her to direct her efforts.

Despite it not being the ultimate tool, other members who had hit a “brick wall” in their search for ancestors found DNA testing helped them find deeper links.
Cindy Cochran ordered three DNA tests: one for her brother, one for her husband and one for her cousin. Two of the three showed no results.

But her brother, with the surname Anderson, had better luck.

“We found this whole cluster of people, and it was really great because we had hit this brick wall, and I had this ancestor who appeared out of nowhere in South Carolina,” Cochran said.

Groups like the LLCGS are pushing to widen the network of people connected through DNA testing, although the practice is still somewhat new.

“The information is just beginning,” Sawyers said. “They only mapped the (Human Genome Project) in 2000. It’s totally new, and we’re going to learn so much more.”

Sawyers recently bought a DNA test for her grandnephew, hoping to keep his interest in family history high.

“Everybody wants to be tied to someone else,” she said. “And this is about your life, your lifeline goes back to the beginning, and when you’re doing your DNA, you’re in touch with that lifeline.”

DNA tests can range from as low as $100 to as high as $200 for a more extensive test.

“There’s any number of different avenues you can take, but, basically, it’s about life,” Sawyers said. “Life from the beginning to now. And it’s your life, your ancestors.”