Sunday, December 23, 2007

Family Tree DNA and Other Firms Add New Twist to Genealogy

People seeking to find out about their ancestry now have a new high-tech tool to help them: what's being called genetic genealogy. As profiled on "60 Minutes" December 23rd, there are several firms that analyze DNA from customers (as simple as taking a swab from inside the cheek) and provide them with a list of other people to whom they are related.

Family Tree DNA, one company mentioned in the story, was involved in the key case used in the story, that of a black woman in Harlem who submitted her DNA and ended up meeting a previously unknown cousin of hers: a white rancher in Missouri.

Another company, called African Ancestry, specializes in helping black Americans find their roots in Africa. The company claims to have the largest collection of DNA on file from African countries.

Several experts interviewed on the show pointed out the limitations of this genetic genealogy. For one thing, a person can have many thousands of ancestors, and this DNA tracking can only offer information on a very small fraction of it.

Nevertheless, it's a fascinating new technological advance that can show some interesting connections between far-flung individuals who at first glance would seem to have nothing in common.

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