Climbing Your Family Tree with DNA Testing

Have you ever wondered how can determine whether you should swap your lederhosen for a kilt? Thanks to the program “It’s Elementary My Dear Watson: Solving Mysteries with Genetic Genealogy” presented by Anthony May at the NJ State Library on Jan. 26, about 50 of us now know.

May, a molecular biology and genetics researcher for the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, began his lecture with the basics: the history of genetics and DNA; Mendel’s ground breaking studies of pea plants; what causes our differences in our DNA. From there he explained the three types of DNA,:

autosomal – found in all cells of the body; we receive one copy from each parent (22 pair);

sex chromosome (#23) – the “x” in males can be traced back from father to father through the same male line;

mitochondrial – which is only inherited from the mother, enabling a similar traceback for the female line.

To simplify May’s very interesting conversation: the information on our genes is used to compare to “haplogroups” from all over the word. These were groups selected because of their remote locations and purity of genes. A lot of information was collected during the 1000 Genomes Project (2008-2015).

When you send your saliva sample to the DNA test companies, it will be scanned in many places and will give an average assessment indicating your heritage and to whom you might be related. It can go back seven generations. Commonalities in DNA are halved for each generation going back, so for those of you reading this, your genetic material is half of your parents, one-quarter of your grandparents, 12.5 percent of your great grandparents. That is why seven generations is the limit.

To explore your family history, stop by the State Library and take advantage of our genealogy reference section and our experienced librarians. Below are some websites for more research options:

The Genetic Genealogist by Blaine Bettinger:

Kitty Cooper’s Blog:

Krista Cowan at

DNAeXplained by Roberta Estes:

Roots and Recombinant DNA by TL Dixon:

International Society for Genetic Genealogy: