Monday, September 11, 2017

The Foundling (book review)

Fronczak, Paul Joseph and Tresniowski, Alex (2017). The Foundling: The True Story of a Kidnapping, a Family Secret, and My Search for the Real Me. Published by Howard Books. ISBN 9781501142123.
From the publisher's book description: "Paul took a DNA test. The test revealed definitively that he was not Paul Fronczak. From that moment on, Paul has been on a tireless mission to find the man whose life he’s been living—and to discover who abandoned him, and why."

The Foundling is a fascinating and gripping story about uncovering the true identity of Paul Fronczak, an abandoned baby in the 1960s whose unknown parentage case is inextricably linked with a once high-profile FBI case about a stolen baby, using the latest DNA technology and old school detective work. It details the deeply personal experiences of all the people involved in such a search, the sacrifices made, the highs and lows, and the drive to persevere without any guarantee of closure or a happy ending.

Paul uncovered his origins thanks to modern technology, the help of several experts, and the luck involved in matching relatives who had also submitted their DNA to genetic genealogy databases and were willing to help. There is a fair amount of detail about the search methods used, without being overly technical. This book should be of interest to anyone undertaking an unknown parentage search.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

We've come a long way, baby

[Subtitle: An overview of AncestryDNA's Genetic Communities for someone with predominantly British Isles ancestry, highlighting the benefit of testing multiple family members.]

I tested my DNA at 23andMe and FTDNA around 2010, when autosomal SNP tests with genealogy features first became available, and have subsequently tested at AncestryDNA. I was trying to figure out where my then mysterious father came from. In the early days my ethnicity estimate was 100.0% European, jokingly referred to on genetic genealogy forums as "boring vanilla". That's it. Accurate, yes. Helpful, no. I later got some geographical resolution in terms of European countries (more accurately speaking, regions labelled as countries). It was better, but still gave a rather fuzzy picture.

This week AncestryDNA released its Genetic Communities feature representing ancestral origins hundreds of years ago versus thousands of years ago to all AncestryDNA customers. I am pretty impressed with the results, which are consistent with what I have discovered about my ancestry to date.

My father came from Liverpool, not far from
where my mother was born near Birmingham.

1881 census record for my great-great-grandfather
James Burke, born West of Ireland

This is what my family tree looks like now in terms of place of birth, showing the nearest large city in the British Isles where known. Almost half of my great-great-grandparents are concentrated in the Midlands and North West England [AncestryDNA's English Midlanders & Northerners and Welsh & English West Midlanders regions]. My maternal grandmother was born near Dublin in the East of Ireland [AncestryDNA's Munster Irish region]. One of my paternal Irish ancestors, James Burke, came from the West of Ireland [AncestryDNA's Connacht Irish region] and his second wife Ellen Gilheany from whom my father descends probably came from County Leitrim as her maiden name is quite rare and specific to that county [AncestryDNA's Irish in the North Midlands region]. I don't know whereabouts in Ireland John and Elizabeth Monaghan came from or where John Pattison came from in Scotland. There is another Irish line and probably a Welsh line one generation further back (not shown in the tree below).


So what AncestryDNA Genetic Communities did I get? Testing several family members helps to provide a fuller picture. We have tested three generations in our family, including our paternal aunt, my sister and I, a maternal first cousin, and my sister's children. Taking into account our combined results, all my recent ancestral origins are covered excluding Switzerland which is not yet included in AncestryDNA's list of over 300 Genetic Communities. All three generations got the English Midlanders & Northerners Genetic Community. Our aunt got Scots while we did not and out of the two nephews tested at AncestryDNA only one has a Genetic Community. My nephews' South African father has British Isles and Dutch ancestry and he and one nephew did not get any Genetic Communities.

Our paternal aunt
Me (maternal first cousin also has the top two)
My sister
My nephew
Brother and father of above nephew

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Genetic Genealogy in Practice (book review)

Bettinger, Blaine T. and Wayne, Debbie Parker (November 18, 2016). Genetic Genealogy in Practice. Published by National Genealogical Society, Inc. ISBN 9781935815228.
From the publisher's book description: "At their own pace, readers learn the basic concepts of genetic genealogy. They then build on that knowledge as they study the testing, analysis, and application of YDNA, X-DNA, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and autosomal DNA (atDNA) to reach and support genealogical conclusions. Each chapter includes exercises with answer keys for hands-on practice."

This excellent workbook by two industry experts covers genetic genealogy theory and current tests and tools. About one third of the book comprises exercises (with solutions) exploring how to apply the theory in practice to a wide range of genealogical problems. The book also covers how to present results professionally.

I would recommend it to genealogists with an academic mindset but anyone with an interest in the subject can learn from it.