Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scientific vs. Traditional Genealogy

Randy Seaver’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge from last Saturday has created quite a stir among some regarding the validity of traditional genealogy (based on direct and indirect evidence found in a variety of source documents) when compared to scientific genealogy (based on DNA testing). In a comment to Randy's challenge, Tamura Jones stated:

I am disappointed that neither Randy nor any of his respondent gave the correct answer. It is so hard to leave the dogmas and misconceptions of traditional genealogy behind and become a scientific genealogist?

The scientific genealogy truth is simple: for most of you, your most recent unknown ancestors are your parents.

Neither family stories nor vital records constitute any proof of a biological relationship.  Only if a
DNA test confirmed who your biological parents are, does the MRU status move from your parents to your grandparents, etc.  It may be hard to face that fact, it may be an unpopular truth, but it is not less true because of that...

The Board of Certification for Genealogists provides the following definition and information about genealogy on its FAQ page (emphasis added):

Genealogy is the study of families in genetic and historical context. Within that framework, it is the study of the people who compose a family and the relationships among them. At the individual level, it is biography, because we must reconstruct each individual life in order to separate each person’s identity from that of others bearing the same name. Beyond this, many researchers also find that genealogy is a study of communities because kinship networks have long been the threads that create the fabric of each community’s social life, politics, and economy.

Good genealogists use every resource and tool available, emphasizing original records created by informants with firsthand information. Genealogists have long studied economics, geography, law, politics, religion, and society in order to properly interpret records, identify individuals and relationships correctly, and place their families in historical context. The modern field of genetics has added another valuable tool to their intellectual toolbox.

In thinking about this, I have concluded that I am, and will continue to be, a traditional genealogist. Why? Science only constitutes part of the study of genealogy.

DNA testing is a tool that genealogists can use to help solve genealogical problems. But it cannot answer every question we may have. And it certainly has no bearing on the relationships developed within a family unit.

In some cases, “blood” relationships are less a part of who we are than the relationships we have with those we consider our family. My son’s ties to his stepfather are much stronger than those to his father. My granddaughter feels a closer kinship to her adoptive mother’s parents and grandparents than to those of her birth mother.

I have had DNA testing done. If it were financially feasible, I would have my siblings, their children, my son, and my grandchildren all tested. But, even if that testing revealed that not one of them was related to me "scientifically," my family would still be my family!

© 2011 Denise Spurlock, Ancestral Trees Research

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