SALT LAKE CITY — Family history can be a mystery. Take the case of Francis Vance and the two equally adventurous relatives who traveled with him from Ireland to Mississippi in the mid-1800s. Their tales were passed from relative to relative over the years, but the details got lost with time. His granddaughter, Angela Taylor, of Alpine, Utah, had no idea how the three men's lives were connected. Were they cousins? Brothers? She figured, since the others were so tight, they must be brothers and Vance their cousin.
The mystery was solved by two new developments in the ever-broadening field of family history research, both coming from Salt Lake-based GeneTree.com. First, Taylor tried the company's new Family Consultation Service to figure out what other avenues she might explore to get answers. That led to the new Y-19 genetic test, which GeneTree calls "the differentiator."
Both consultation service and the gene test are being introduced Thursday at the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake's Salt Palace. During the conference, GeneTree is offering free 10-minute consultations.
DNA testing has become a powerful tool in genealogical research, says Scott Woodward, director of the nonprofit Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation and president of GeneTree, its wholly owned subsidiary. Mitochondrial DNA can be used to trace lineage back through generations of female ancestors. The Y chromosome test takes the journey back through male ancestors. The need for a consultation center resulted from the "Now what?" that can happen when people reach the end of their own genealogical know-how, he says.
"We felt the need to establish a very strong guidance center, consulting service that would go along with DNA results," he says, "to help people understand what it means, what you can get from it and to help with other questions they have with genealogy."
Consultation, he explains, includes analysis of a person's work so far — the DNA work, the genealogy work, how it fits on the family tree and what holes and questions remain. Most important, he notes, is answering "What combinations of different approaches can be used to fill in those holes."
Looking at DNA signatures, with the mismatches that begin to appear on parts of the DNA as one travels back multiple generations, one can trace roots back many generations and even thousands of years.
GeneTree boasts that it is "powered by the world's largest, most comprehensive repository of genetic and genealogical information."
Standard DNA testing can say you belong in a pool of relatives. Sorenson calls the Y-19 test the "differentiator" because it can untangle threads. Because it's based on 19 new markers beyond the 46 typically used, the test, which costs $94.99, provides more detail.
Taylor had already tracked descendants of the two men who immigrated with Francis Vance. After consultation, they decided to use the Y-19. The descendants each swished some "mouthwash" and sent the samples into GeneTree, where the mystery was finally solved — and everyone was surprised.
The two men, close as brothers, were actually cousins. As for Vance, he was brother to one, cousin to the other.
The Y differentiator is not a good test to connect two people randomly off the street, Woodward said. But if you've already tied them into a family grouping of some sort, it can fill in some elusive details.
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