Burned out on DNA research

My brother’s Christmas present was a 306-page book pulled from my Family Tree Maker data, collected over almost 50 years. It wasn’t the entire tree, which has 1800 names, but it had a lot of ancestors in there with citations to sources, endnotes, indexes, and pages of pictures. I worked on the book creation part for almost a year, writing ancestor profiles, cleaning up sources and information, and rescanning all the photos.

But now I’m burned out. I’ve been doing research since 1970, when I was sixteen years old. And I love it, and I love finding people and figuring out connections and learning about history and places and migration patterns.

I’m just not interested in DNA research. At least not now. And these days, you can’t really do genealogy research without it. Oh, I’ve tested my own DNA and was able to get my parents tested before they died, and those results have been uploaded and can be found on Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, My Heritage, Living DNA; I’ve tested myself at 23andMe, too.

For a while everything was also loaded into GEDmatch, the database that allows people to check results across platforms using chromosome browsers, which Ancestry doesn’t have. But in May 2018, I pulled test results from GEDmatch after talking with my family. It had become the database used more and more often for crime-solving, and while we are all for solving crimes, there was real concern about what OTHER unknown uses might be made of freely available DNA results. Their terms of service had more holes than my lawyer-brother was comfortable supporting and I had my own concerns. So out they came.

To really make good use of DNA results, you need to be using all sorts of nifty tools such as DNA Painter, Charting Companion, Genomate, graphing tools, and more. You also need to test everyone you can find in a particular line to triangulate shared DNA and work backwards to shared common ancestor(s). You need education, too, because this stuff is complicated. I took a course in Genetic Genealogy, went to workshops and seminars, read blogs, and joined several Facebook Genetic Genealogy groups to try and keep up.

Do I have mistakes in my records because of Non-Parenting Events (NPEs)? Probably. Everyone has two trees, a genealogical tree and a genetic tree. Sometimes all the documents in the world that build the genealogical tree are blown apart by DNA evidence (and it’s evidence, not proof) that a recent or past relationship isn’t what we thought it was.

Do I care? Not really. Not now. I am almost never contacted by new DNA matches; I’m the one who does the contacting, and get very few results. People are happy learning whether they should wear kilts or lederhosen. And there is no reason why they should want or need to know more than that, just because I want to know how we connect.

Because of DNA testing and trying to figure out matches, I spent a lot of time over the past few years working on collateral lines and bringing my tree forward in time beyond just direct ancestors. It was fun and challenging and now many of the matches I find I can place on the tree without a problem. I have a few walls that are pretty solid and I’m not making much progress. Maybe working on figuring out relationships with 5th and 6th cousins would do it.

But I don’t want to. I don’t want to put the time into it because no matter what I was doing, it was never enough. So I’m giving myself a break. John Grenham, the guru of Irish genealogy said last year in his blog: “Leave something for the next generation to discover.” That also applies to “leave something for you to discover later.”

For now I’m leaving DNA results alone, as well as the Facebook groups and classes, and concentrating on documentary research to help other people who don’t know anything about their family history. My big project for 2019, though, is continuing to organize my notes and records in binders with original documents interspersed. This will be the Research Collection and if anything happens to me, my family can make sense of everything I’ve collected. It won’t be fast but it will be done by Christmas 2019.

2 thoughts on “Burned out on DNA research

  1. Vickie

    I might have mentioned this previously. One of the genealogists here submitted several family members to all the DNA sites and the results that came back were Inconsistent. It was the countries of origin type testing. Did you do that type of testing? Did find your results to be consistent? Correct information?

    And I had genetic screening for health information a couple years ago. I could not get correct information from my dad’s side. And there were a lot of rumors. I was looking for genetic female issues, what I got was positive for GI issues. One of my kids has major GI issues and we had been answering “no” to family history before my test.

    Both of my girls are interested in having theirs done too. But my husband is worried about having that medical information out there on computers somewhere. He thinks there could be insurance ramifications in the future. What do you think about that please?

  2. My brother is right in line with your husband with concerns about medical information available through testing having ramifications for insurance, and I think they are right be concerned. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it can’t go back in, and we don’t know how data will be harvested and shared in the future.

    I did autosomal DNA testing, which finds both ethnicity and “cousin matching.” I tested my dad as well for Y-DNA, which comes down through the paternal line from father to son, hoping we could break through a wall on that particular line. Alas, not yet, and it was expensive. The ethnicity results are continually being fine-tuned and have been pretty accurate in that they match documentary research. But let’s face it: European countries are really about the size of some states in the US, and since country borders shifted so much over time, being able to say “German” or “French” is just not realistic.

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