DNA Testing Brings Science To Genealogy

Wednesday, December 16th 2015, 10:10 pm

By: News 9

Tracing your heritage is no small task, sometimes taking years to find past relatives. But DNA testing can take you further into your history.

"It's just kind of interesting to see that shift of people and movement of people," said Katie Bush, a research librarian at the Oklahoma History Center.

It was through Bush's job where she stumbled upon a fascination with her own past.

"You want know, I think it's just human nature, where did I come from," she said.

According to GenealogyInTime.com, she's among nearly 8 million others doing genealogy in the U.S.

"It can be difficult especially the further you go back," she said. "It's getting easier now that everything's being digitized and word searchable, but it can be really discouraging and difficult for people because the records might not be there."

But when the paper trail ends, genealogists can continue their journey into history using science. Bennett Greenspan developed a DNA test to help people uncover their family's heritage.

"I realized if I could use molecular biology as my evidence or as my proof then I really didn't need to have that piece of paper," Greenspan said.

He calls it genetic genealogy. Processing DNA samples inside his lab in Houston, he's able find recent and distant relatives, confirm relationships and uncover where your ancestors came from, even tracing migration routes.

"We're all genetic mutts and that's what most people don't realize and you take one of these DNA tests and you find that your DNA is really from all over Europe and that's the surprise most people find and when they start reading history is starts to become a lot clearer," he said.

"I think that the reason genealogy has grown and so many people are interested in it is that by and large Americans are of European descent but we've lost contact with our European roots. Most of the time when our ancestors came to this country from England or from Ireland or from Germany or from Italy, they didn't want to talk about the old country because the old country for them wasn't a good old country, they were running because of religious persecution or because of famine or because of wars or other political events that they didn't want to get swept up in."

News 9 anchors Amanda Taylor and Kelly Ogle decided to test it out for themselves, mailing off samples to be tested at Bennett's lab.

AMANDA TAYLOR: "Did anything jump out at you when you had a chance to test our DNA?"

BENNETT GREENSPAN: "Amanda, your DNA is mostly European, actually about a 40 percent of your DNA matches people from the British Isles. You actually have two matches in our system on your mom's DNA, both of those women came from England so I would presume that your mother's mother's line is either English or from the UK."

KELLY OGLE: "So were you able to trace any of my ancestral background?"

BENNETT GREENSPAN: "You ended up having over a dozen matches in our database all to people whose names, whose last name is the same as yours. A few of your exact matches claim that they are actually descendant from a guy named Humphrey D. Ogle from a place called Ogle, England. I'll have to admit, I'm a little suspicious of that claim, it almost sounds as a genealogist 'too good to be true.' I think that you can take to the bank that you're a descendant from John Ogle born in 1648."

AMANDA TAYLOR: "So does that mean he's royalty?"

BENNETT GREENSPAN: "I don't know if the Ogles were of royalty Amanda but I can tell you from the genetic genealogy world, getting a match like Kelly did makes him royalty."

But aside from tracing people's roots, Bennett's DNA testing lab is providing a medical benefit too. In November, he launched the pan-ethnic pre-conception test, so couples can see the probability of certain diseases being passed down to their child.

"The benefit is that if you know that you're a carrier and your spouse knows that he's a carrier then you can seek genetic counseling," Greenspan said. "You can decide whether to use a different egg or sperm or more expensive tests to ensure you have a healthy child, this is something we couldn't do 100 years ago."

Diseases like sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis are two that could be detected.

"It's actually an opportunity to make a real difference in people's lives and for me that would be a gift if we had the opportunity to do so," he said.

You can inquire about the medical test through your doctor. As for the DNA test for genealogy, it costs $99 to $359, depending how in depth you want to go. Click here for more information

Click here if you would like more information on the genealogy resources through the Oklahoma Historical Society


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