Some people do genealogy research in order to locate living relatives. Others want to know from which branch of the world tree (or haplogroup) they originated and whether there are any famous (or infamous) people in their ancient line. Having an X and a Y chromosome, men can identify the haplogroup of both their maternal and paternal lines and trace paternal surnames. Women can only trace their maternal line. Yet, with a DNA sample from a close male relative — a brother or father — they can trace the paternal haplogroup. This becomes increasingly difficult with more distant relatives.
In simplified terms, human cells contain organelles, or mitochondria, which contain identifying DNA. This mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, tells the story of your ancestry. As groups of humans travelled away from their origin, the DNA of each haplogroup mutated over time, creating markers that you carry today. These markers identify your haplogroup's travels, linking it to a specific time and place. Markers of individuals are then compared in order to identify and link specific relatives.
How close can genealogy sites come to my family origins?
Reputable genealogy research sites don't promise to use DNA results to pinpoint your haplogroup to the exact spot, region, or even the country from which your family originated. Instead, they can reliably provide information of a wider nature, such as to which one of several dozen ancient groups you belong and the general time and course of your group's migration.
As DNA testing becomes more affordable and easily collected (swabs are generally used for these tests), more results will be available for comparison. You may even find that someone of note lies along your family tree. Many famous people, living and dead, have been tested — Katie Couric, Marie Antoinette, Czar Nicholas, and Jesse James to name a few.
Genetic Genealogy (
Other sites are available, but be very careful which ones you use. As with anything on the Internet, be sure of a site's reputation and reliability before you provide identifying information. Also, remember that many records aren't available online. A great deal of information, especially older information, hasn't been digitized or even entered onto microfiche. In these cases, you'll have to travel to wherever the records are held to do some digging.