personal · Review

What Family Tree? Or: How The Internet Knew More About my Family than I Did

happyMy maternal 3rd great-grandparents. Note that ultra-luxe Tom Selleck ‘stache

Off and on for the past few months, I’ve been working on my family tree on ancestry.com It’s honestly amazing how far back you can look, though I have my doubts about the accuracy of anything from the 1700’s. If you’re feeling particularly trusting, you may even be able to trace your family through the 1600’s; at least, if you descend from Europeans.

It’s amazing what I’ve been able to find. I don’t know much about my paternal line, as I’ve never met my biological father, but my maternal line was easy to trace through marriage records, death certificates, and the US census. It’s also interesting to discover just how many of my family members came here through Canada. Supposedly, one of my maternal 3rd great grandfathers (sadly, not the one pictured) left Canada to escape the law, after he bit a man’s ear off during a fight.

house
The home of my maternal 4th great-grandparents in Ontario, Canada

I was only able to find these pictures through ancestry.com; they aren’t photos my own family has ever shared. Honestly, until recently, I’d never seen a photo of a family member from any earlier than the 40’s. There’s a book out there, somewhere, about my great-grandfather’s life, but I’ve never read it. It’s not as though I didn’t know my great-grandfather, either; I’ve spent at least a handful of occasions around him, before he passed. I suppose it never occurred to anyone that I might be interested, which is a pity.

As for my paternal side, I decided to do the ancestry.com DNA test to see if anything interesting might come up. This is an autosomal test, which means it looks at your DNA from both your mother and father. Since I was able to so thoroughly plot out the maternal side of my family tree, it was fairly obvious that the 12% Irish that showed up in my results came from my biological father; my mother’s side is almost entirely British and German.

What’s more, this test also shows you any potential relatives you have out there, who have also taken the DNA test. I found a second cousin through this system that I am almost certain is from my father’s side. Unfortunately, their family tree is private, and they have not logged in since July; hopefully, they will see the message I sent them.

My genetic breakdown

I would definitely recommend giving this test a try, with some caveats: this test only seems to be useful if you’re from either the USA or Canada, and believe you have at least some European ancestry. I’m not sure it’s of much use to anyone else, unless they’re strictly looking for DNA matches with others that have taken this test. As a friend also pointed out to me, this test may come with some mixed feelings for black folks who don’t want to think about how their European ancestry got there in the first place.

Another potential drawback is the cost. For $99, all you receive is your genetic makeup estimate. You do not get a free ancestry.com membership when you get the test, though you could use the (limited) 14 day free trial. All you will receive are your DNA results, and any matches that have also taken the test. In order to accurately place how they (and any of your other ancestors) are related to you, you will have to pay for the ancestry.com subscription. The subscription will give you access to things like census data, marriage and death certificates, and grave site information.

Ultimately, I decided that, for me, the cost was worth finding out about my family history, since I knew so little about it without this resource.

4 thoughts on “What Family Tree? Or: How The Internet Knew More About my Family than I Did

  1. I really love the first photo… Your ancestors’ personalities shine through!

    I have been contemplating DNA testing for genealogical purposes for quite some time now. Although, on the surface, Ancestry.com’s test would seem the most valuable to amateur genealogists, I am not convinced. Considering that not only must a person pay for a test, but he/she must also pay for an annual Ancestry.com subscription. As I do not feel like falling down THAT rabbit hole (I have been actively researching my family history for more than two decades without a paid subscription), I shall consider other options. However, I do understand why many people go this route. It is like a “one-stop shop” for genealogical research. The sheer convenience is a definite reason why many go that route.

    Best wishes in your genealogical research. May you “find” more relatives as effervescent as the ones above!

    Like

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