Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Money Well Spent?

I've been wondering the past few days whether the money I've spent on various DNA tests was worth it. There's no way to know in advance if the tests will result in a match with someone who has traced their family tree back as far as needed to identify that common ancestor especially considering the fact that there are different categories of researchers:
  • serious researchers who have well documented most branches of their family trees 
  • serious researchers who have several long and well documented branches with a couple of branches stuck at brick walls as soon as we cross back over the Atlantic or shorty after that. I fall into this category. 
  • researchers who haven't been able to trace their family back very far for any number of reasons (serious researcher but quickly hit brick walls, lack of funds to research "old country" records, or casual researchers using DNA as a shortcut).
The people in the first two categories are a pleasure to deal with. It can be a lot of fun comparing information even if we can't identify that common ancestor. Just comparing notes can give me a clue as to where to look for my next great discovery and maybe my information helps them too. The people in the third category can be the nicest people in the world but can be frustrating to deal with.

The first test I purchased for myself was in late 2005, a mtDNA test, which to date has yielded no matches...yes, NO MATCHES! I don't know what that means!! My maternal bloodline happens to be one I trace back several generations in Lithuania and with any match I might be able to identify a common ancestor.

Next I purchased the Y-DNA test and mtDNA tests for my father. We have an exact 37-marker match but were unable to identify the common ancestor. KLEIN and LANDE both mean "small" but I have a brick wall with my ggf in Kovno/Kaunas Lithuania (as a last residence, not even a birth, marriage, or death) and the LANDE family had been traced a little further back in Ukraine. On the mtDNA test, we have 353 HVR1 and 136 HVR2 matches and the numbers seem to grow every week. According to my cousin, a biologist, the mtDNA test is more accurate than the Y-DNA test but with the mtDNA we're not able to get that clue of the likelihood of how far back the common ancestor lived (those percentages from FTDNA on the Y-DNA test) so it's tough to decide which matches to contact.

Next I purchased a Y-DNA test for a SCHNEIDER first cousin. We have two 25-marker exact matches but no higher level exact matches. The common ancestor here lived too long ago for me to capture in my research.

Next was a Y-DNA test for a BERGER/BERGZON cousin. We have five exact 25- marker matches but again, no higher level exact matches.

After a break, I purchased a Y-DNA test for a newly discovered (thanks to Google and this blog) LUTSKY cousin. We have 35 exact 25-marker matches but no exact matches at higher levels. The two closest 37-marker matches (genetic distance 1) have the same contact person but neither responded to my e-mails. This was actually an interesting branch because one of those 37-marker matches was conceived via artificial insemination in the UK in the 1950s.

Last year, a TOKAR cousin purchased a Y-DNA test for himself. No close matches unfortunately. This family was pretty much wiped out during the Holocaust but some cousins did come to America before the war so identifying a common ancestor here would be really meaningful.

What I hoped would be the icing on the cake was the Family Finder test I purchased  for myself this year. I've had a lot of matches but in dealing with the various categories of researchers I haven't been able to find any documented matches. A couple are probably very close, just beyond the reach of surviving records. Many matches appear to be in that third category of researcher so luck would be the only way of identifying common ancestors with them. What I was really hoping for was to use Family Finder in combination with the existing Y-DNA results across the family tree. Unfortunately I found out from FTDNA last week that the fact that my Family Finder match list might include people who also matched my dad and cousins on their Y-DNA tests is most likely a fluke. Unless the Y-DNA match is a high level exact match I can't rely on these overlapping results. This really disappointed me.

I'm not giving up and it was really impossible for me to have not spent the money on DNA testing. I'd be surprised if most serious researchers haven't purchased at least one test just to see if they'd get lucky. Not sure how many have purchased seven though (actually my TOKAR cousin was good enough to pay for his). I'm still hopeful that one day one of those common ancestors will be identified. I don't regret spending the money but some more encouraging results would be nice.


Susan (Nolichucky Roots) said...

I'm trying to take the long view on these tests. It was important to me to get DNA samples for some of the senior members of my family. We have had one good match that has provided us with some really interesting data. But I suspect some of the better information/matches won't come in their lifetime - and maybe not in mine.

Amy Coffin, MLIS said...

I recently went on a DNA testing spree. I got several family members tested because--let's face it--we're not getting any younger.

The tests are still being done. I have no idea what they'll reveal if anything. I just feel a little better that I had the ability to get the DNA. I'll worry about the connections later. :)