DNA and Social Networking

A Guide to Genealogy in the 21st century

Debbie Kennet (The History Press Ltd, 2011) 26cm x 18cm, Hardback

The new millennium has brought many changes in the methods of researching family histories. First, the Internet where, for example, censuses from 1841 to 1911 are available. DNA testing for the purpose of family history burst upon the world. The rise of social networking has been equally explosive. Debbie Kennett's new book sets out the background to these developments, and explores in some detail how family history research have been affected. Part I deals with DNA, and Part II explores the developments in social networking.

 Chapter 1 expores the basic principles behind DNA testing. Different types of tests are explained, and their uses and limitations described. It is explained that DNA testing is not a magic solution, but simply a tool that can aid research. The author gives advice on identifying relatives for whom testing are likely to yield meaningful results. A brief introduction to the test companies is given along with the process of taking a DNA test.

 The most popular DNA test, taken by males, can determine father-to-son relationships. In chapter 2 the concept of ‘markers’ is introduced; these enable further analyses. Normally testing is linked closely to surname projects and can be used to prove or disprove hypotheses of family relationships. The author explains that illegitimacy and ‘non-paternal’ events, such as aliases, change of surname, adoption, and, of course, faulty research can upset DNA results.

 Also in chapter 2 is an extensive description of organising DNA projects. This may be surname or location based. This is followed by the method by which results are analysed, and some of the conclusions that may be drawn from them.

Some DNA test providers also have DNA databases that could also lead to matches of DNA results.

 In Chapter 3 there is a discussion of ‘haplogroups’, whereby it is possible to identify whereabouts in the world your DNA originated.

 Chapter 4 introduces DNA tests that can be taken by females. Such tests are more expensive than those for males, and they are a less precise tool for confirming or disproving relationships. The author explains in some detail the procedure for analysing the results of these tests, which also provide ‘haplogroups’. These can lead to the identity of one of the Seven daughters of Eve and their migration routes. Again, Some DNA testing houses have DNA databases that may lead to further matches. The chapter ends with an example of some historical mysteries for which maternal DNA testing has provided solutions.

 The DNA tests previously described are concerned with one’s direct ancestry. For a male, DNA tests will help with two of your 32 great great-great-grandparents; for a female, tests may only help with one of these. In chapter 5 the author describes how a new type of test: the ‘autosomal DNA test’. The results of this will assist the family historian to find genetic cousins in the ancestral line. The ins and outs of such tests, and how the two providers of these tests can analyse and make available the results are explained. However, it seems that these yield probabilities rather than conclusive results. Much of the subsequent analysis depends on intensive computing resources.

 How to set up and run a DNA project is the subject of chapter 6. Generally these projects will be surname based. Obviously a pre-requisite of initiating a project is that the manager has already undertaken extensive family history research. How to choose possible subjects for testing is described, as is choosing a testing company (including consideration of cost), the range of tests, project management tools, size of provider’s database, and more.

 The introduction to Part II is a brief résumé of the origins of the Internet and the rise of social networking.  Of course, family historians have always practised ‘networking’. In chapter 7, the author discusses some of the networking methods traditionally adopted. Family history societies and their journals have for some 30 years been the focus of much of this networking. Surname listings first appeared in 1981 in book form and subsequently there have been numerous surname listings available on websites. A spin off of such listings has been message boards and forums, enabling researchers to post their genealogical interests and a number of them are described. Mailing lists are another of these traditional networking tools such as the Discussion List run by Berkshire Family History Society.

Extensions of these networking tools are the subject of chapter 8. Several of the better-known genealogical societys’ network websites are mentioned and the principal features outlined: Genes Reunited (perhaps the first of this new generation of websites); My Heritage; Genealogy Wise and Lost Cousins. These and some other websites provide the facilities for researchers to build their family tree online. Readers need to be aware that there may be privacy and security concerns when using these sites.

 General social networking sites are the subjects of chapter 9 and several of the better-known sites are noted and the principal features described: Friends Reunited; Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn and others. Several pages are devoted to Facebook, which the author describes as an essential resource for family historians. Setting up a Facebook account is described and also means of setting up a surname group. Users are warned of privacy concerns. The author gives examples of her success stories when using Facebook. The features of Twitter are described including setting up an account and selection of twitterers to follow. Careful choice of what to put on your profile and how these details are used in Twitter directories are discussed.

 Blogs are the subject of chapter 10. A blog is a personal website that is frequently updated by its owner. Many genealogical societies and commercial organisations have created blogs in order to keep in touch with their members or customers. There are directories and other tools available to enable users to find blogs that are of interest to them. Several companies provide free blog hosting, storage and the software needed to create your blog. The author describes her own blog devoted to her one-name study, characters in her family history, about progress on the related DNA projects, and her means of communication with fellow researchers. The chapter concludes with a listing of blog service providers.

 Chapter 11 introduces ‘wikis’. A wiki is an easy-to-use collaborative community website that can be edited by anyone. Wikipedia, the most well known, has become the popular reference work on the Internet. It has a range of genealogical articles on notable families, genealogists, relationships, family history software and more. Readers are warned that one needs to take care with the contents of the site, as the accuracy of the entries can vary enormously, though most are higher than you might expect. There are wikis devoted solely to genealogy set up by specialist societies and research groups, such as The National Archives and the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). Several are described with features and constraints.

 Multimedia is the subject of chapter 12. The photo-sharing website Flickr is described, and advantages of uploading your photographs are outlined. The exact benefit to family historians is unclear. There are some specialist photography websites that will be more helpful to family historians, such as: Geograph, which aims to have a picture from every square kilometre in UK, the War Graves Photographic Project, the Gravestone Photographic Resource, which has photographs of gravestones. (Your reviewer has had some success with this site.) YouTube is a video-sharing website which, surprisingly, has some genealogical channels!

Podcasts or pre-recorded digital audio files are available on the Internet. The National Archives for example has an extensive collection on their website. The BBC also provides a number of podcasts including some from their radio programmes Tracing your roots and Digging up your roots.

 Chapter 13 details other collaborative tools which may be useful after making contact with a fellow researcher, and where you are embarking on some sort of collaborative project. Google has a free tool for collaborative editing. Both Google and Microsoft have systems that enable documents to be uploaded to the ‘cloud’ and made available to collaborators.

 The book has several appendices: DNA websites; testing companies; DNA projects; surname resources; bibliography and an index.

 And, finally, readers are advised to study the glossary before beginning to read the book so that they are familiar with all the acronyms and TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) and at least some of the technical terms used in this book.

 Ivan Dickason

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