Random Ramblings: DNA matters

By Daniel Jones, editor

It was the holiday season of 2017, and I glanced on Amazon to see that the AncestryDNA kit was on sale for sixty bucks, so I pulled the trigger and took the test. 

Several years before I began researching family history, which went back to the 1100s on my mom’s side, but not very far on my father’s side.  All I knew was that my grandfather was named George Jones and born in 1896.  My grandmother was Esther Ainsworth, born 1897.  Both were born in Mississippi in Jones County.  Of my ten aunts and uncles on that side, I met only two or three, and even then, I was a child or teenager at the time. 

It took around a month for the results to come back, and I wasn’t really surprised by the results.  They came back as 62 percent England and Wales, 32 percent Ireland and Scotland, four percent Sweden, and two percent Germanic Europe.  I also received a profile of my family’s migration across the United States.

What I could have never expected came several months later.  I received an email and message on Facebook from a man named Richard Lambert, who claimed to be a second cousin of mine.  Of course, my “this is some kind of scam” alarm went off immediately, but I continued the conversation.  I verified what he was saying through the ancestry website, and we were indeed second cousins.  The thing is, he was adopted and looking for his birth parents.

He put me in touch with Jennifer Eckman, also a distant relative, who was helping him find his parents.  She had me upload my DNA profile to a website named GEDMatch, which is a personal genomics database which allowed her more access to my data to triangulate who Richard’s parents were.  I’d field questions with my limited knowledge of my dad’s family over the next few weeks.  Eventually, Richard did find out who his parents were and even met his biological father.

Cut to a couple of months ago, when I received a similar message from Leigh Davis, who is also an adoptee searching for her parents.  Much the same way as before, I fielded what questions I could answer, but my limited knowledge of my aunts and uncles on dad’s side were a bit daunting.  However, with the help of Jennifer, she’d also find the identity of her biological parents.

Needless to say, if you can, take the test.  I did out of selfish curiosity and ended up helping two people to end their quest to find their birth parents. 

The DNA database and your test can help in other ways.  Jennifer, our DNA expert, has used the information contained on GEDMatch to help solve a crime.  More and more, police agencies are turning to these databases for help on cold cases.  A report states that in December 2018, police forces in the United States have used GEDMatch in a total of 28 cold murder and rape cases during that year. 

California law enforcement investigating the Golden State Killer case uploaded the DNA profile of the suspected killer/rapist from an intact rape kit in Ventura County.  The profile identified 10 to 20 distant relatives of the killer.  A genealogist used it to construct a large family tree, which led to them identifying former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo as a suspect.  Officers attained his DNA from items discarded outside of his home and arrested him in April 2018.

Two genealogical researchers started the DNA Doe Project in 2017, which is in place to identify unknown bodies using DNA.  They use volunteers to construct large family trees from genetic data, in order to locate the identity of the deceased.  So far, they have put faces to over 12 previously unknown persons.

For being taken on an absolute whim, the simple test has turned out to be quite helpful both for me and those in my family I knew nothing about.  Taking the test took three minutes, and it changed the lives of several people for the better.  In the future, it could be of assistance to law enforcement officers in helping others.  Please, if you have the means, consider taking your DNA test.  It matters.

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