Tracking Your Past: DNA Testing

My mother’s grandparents, Jan and Terezie (Zahradnikova) Makovsky, emigrated from Bohemia to Wisconsin in 1855. Terezie had nine siblings, four survived to adulthood. Her three surviving sisters also emigrated while her brother, Vaclav, stayed in Bohemia. Born in 1828, Vaclav and his wife had four children before he died in 1863.

After Vaclav’s death, his American sisters lost contact with their Bohemian relatives. Their descendants always wondered what had happened to Vaclav’s children.

Until last fall. Thanks to DNA testing on both sides of the Atlantic, the sisters’ descendants now receive emails from Vaclav’s great-great-granddaughter Jana in the Czech Republic. More than 160 years after most of the family emigrated, Jana sends photos of the hills and homes left behind.

DNA testing has become an important genealogy tool. When combined with census and other records, DNA test results can confirm or disprove connections and point to new research possibilities.

Testing determines genetic make-up, which is as individual as fingerprints. Testing looks at the genetic information stored in 22 pairs of chromosomes plus two sex chromosomes (XX in females and XY in males) within the nucleus of most human cells. When a new human is formed, she/he receives about half of her/his randomly allotted genetic material from each parent.

Like any cutting-edge endeavor, DNA testing can give rise to fears. Some people fear learning they have a genetic disposition for a certain disease, though not all DNA tests provide medical information. Some worry their privacy may be compromised. Some worry about ethnic surprises: How might your white Catholic father feel if he learned an ancestor was African American or Jewish?

Yet DNA testing is on the rise as people are either unaware of these fears or decide the benefits are worth any risks.

Testing reveals the deep ancestry of our origins and where our ancestors lived thousands of years ago. Though not country-specific, test results can document percentages of broad regional ancestry, such as Asian or Scandinavian.

DNA testing documents how much DNA we share with relatives. It reconnects us to lost relatives and finds a way beyond genealogy “dead ends.”

Testing leaves a legacy for future historians. Even if you are childless, your test results help complete a family genetic profile. As your family builds a more complete picture of your ancestors’ DNA, it may one day be possible to recreate the faces of your fourth or fifth great-grandparents. How cool is that? Several companies offer tests, one is Family Tree DNA: https://www.familytreedna.com.

Doris Green is the author of “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery,” available from http://henschelhausbooks.com, Amazon and bookstores. Meet her at the Verona Public Library, 500 Silent St., at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 8. Register online at www.veronapubliclibrary.org or call (608) 845-7180.