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DNA changing the scope of genealogy research

I remember the first time I was introduced to a family history library, an intimidating mountain of filing cabinets, microfiche viewers, and ancient, DOS-based computers. It was daunting to say the least, especially to my patience. Researchers could look for hours at parish records and social security death records and come up with the tiniest of insights into your great-grandmother’s uncle’s resting place. The thought of tracing back my ancestry hundreds or thousands of years seemed nearly impossible.

Modern genomics and affordable DNA testing, however, are expanding the reach of family history research. With single DNA swab, you can trace your genetic makeup back thousands of years. You can find clues about your lineage that would be nearly impossible to find using records and gravestones. Most intriguingly, you may stumble across ancestries you never even supposed existed.

Case in point: in National Geographic’s recent special "The Human Family Tree," a man from Ghana, who had previously supposed his ancestry would be strictly African, found out he had just as much European blood. A wide number of Asians unexpectedly discovered Native American genes in their makeup.

DNA testing will likely become a way to give family history researchers a bird’s eye view of their ancestry. From there, it will be up to genealogists to track down the details.

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