2015-01-13 14.59.48Just when I thought I was getting a handle on this new DNA language, I came to class for day two today, and quickly felt like Alice in Wonderland1 who fell down the rabbit hole and found a different world, only the world I’ve fallen into speaks a different language and finds value in lots of numbers. In fact, this world communicates in lots of numbers and strange words.

Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL, started out our morning with more multicolored gingerbread men, this time with the sporting an “X” on one foot, his daughter also has an “X,” but not his son. It was a way to help us visualize the lesson that a father gives the “X” chromosome (received from his mother) to his daughter, but not his son.

Wayne also taught what to do about our DNA matches, such as:

  • Don’t try to contact all 800 people in your match list.
  • Start with those with the largest DNA segments that match yours.
  • Compare your surnames with theirs
  • If you cannot find a common surname, look for locations that match.

Wayne warned us to be aware that sometimes the DNA takes us down a path that’s a surprise. DNA does not lie. Sometimes the paper trail may lead us to a conclusion, but the DNA may refute that assessment.  Wayne gave us some hypothetical problems to work out and put us to work. When we were done, we compared our answers with the correct ones and discussed the differences.

Feeling we were ready to fall deeper into the rabbit hole, Wayne turned us over to instructor Blaine Bettinger, PhD. Bettinger’s background is a PhD in Chemistry with an emphasis in Genetics and writes the Genetic Genealogist blog.

Bettinger taught us about Y-DNA. The Y-DNA is passed from father to son, to son, to son, etc. Now, I’m really interested in the Y-DNA because my Irish immigrant ancestor, Thomas Francis Farrell, has yet to be linked up with a family/location in Ireland. I’ve searched every record possible once he arrived in the U.S. There’s only one document that may lead to his nativity. In his Petition for Naturalization, he swore he was born in County Galway, Ireland.

Bear in mind, he was orphaned at age eleven and shipped off to England to apprentice as a tailor. So, I have to question if he really knew where he came from in Ireland, or just used the same place of birth as the wife he married in the U.S.? I don’t know the answer.

So I’m thinking that the Y-DNA will help me connect those dots. My dad is no longer living. I have one uncle left. So I had my uncle and my brother tested for the Y-DNA. (I’ve learned I should test another descendant of my immigrant ancestor, preferably from a different branch of his descendants.) That was several months ago and since then, I haven’t known what to do with the test results, short of hiring someone to solve it for me!

So back to Bettinger. This is a complicated topic! Remember those SNPs and STRs? Now he’s added markers and mutations into the mix! There’s fast mutating markers and the ones that are not so fast. A fast changing marker is fast changing! Right.

Once he was done explaining how to work with the numbers and charts, he put us to work on an assignment. When we finished, he showed us the answers and we discussed them. It was not an easy assignment, so Bettinger encouraged us to not be discouraged, and said we would have to do these exercises several times before they jelled.

So, I fell down the Genetic Genealogy rabbit hole and won’t be able to find my way out for a few more days. Will someone please tell me, which way is up?


Photo used with permission granted by Blaine Bettinger, 13 January 2015.

  1. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (London: Macmillan & Co., 1865).