Tuesday, August 28, 2012

DNA Accuracy in Genealogy is a Fallacy

It amazes me that some people believe that DNA analysis will tell them the truth about their French/native origins in Canada and even in the US. Many websites repeat this fallacy over and over again. I am even more amazed when someone with genealogical or professional credentials repeat the same thing!

Y-DNA and  mtDNA is passed down from father to son.  Mothers can only pass down mtDNA to their Daughters. They in turn pass the same DNA to their boys and girls in the same manner.  DNA lineages can only be accurate if DNA lines are unbroken.

We are the sum of all our grandparents. The science of DNA is being asked to prove, especially in North America, if we have the same DNA as the indigenous people related to the shared history of an ancestor.  Unfortunately, at this point, it cannot, with absolute accuracy, do this. It can point, suggest, infer, advise, propose, hint, intimate, indicate, pose etc, etc. etc. Companies who do the testing are careful to tell you this. They will also tell you that the format in which results are calculated could be faulty and as DNA science improves past errors will be corrected. It is the present rules of DNA that is referenced here. These rules are,so far, irrevocable. It may be possible that future DNA science will circumvent these rules to provide a far more accurate tracking of the identity of individuals as well as the finer footprints in the migration of small and large populations in the world:
  • Both mtDNA from the mother and Y-DNA from the father pass down to a son. When the son marries it is the mtDNA of his wife that passes to their offsprings. The mtDNA from the son's mother cannot pass to his offsprings even though his mother's genes are part of her grandchildren's genome. 
  • Only mtDNA passes down to the female. 
  • Lineage must be direct, son to son or daughter to daughter, for absolute accuracy.
  • To identify an individual in an identical group or family, the term haplogroup is used, and if these groups split off from the main group, the terms subgroup or subclad are used. Family Tree DNA explains this very well using the haplogroup X as an example:  http://www.familytreedna.com/public/x You must remember that there are other identical families as well. For example A, B, C. D, X etc., are indicators of Native peoples in North America. Check this website to see more:  http://www.scs.illinois.edu/~mcdonald/WorldHaplogroupsMaps.pdf.
  • Groups are determined by identical DNA mutations that, from time to time, appear and are passed down from generation to generation. The emphasis here is time. Mutations in our genes,, appear over time. Genes are those microscopic fragments that determine eye colour, hair colour, etc. The cause of mutations in our genes could be any number of things that are capable of dislodging or changing a part of our genes. This could be environmental, outside radiation, or possibly a result of  genetic processes. In this way by testing a large sample of the world population a migration pattern emerges making it possible to determine approximate historical dates and migration routes all around the world.
  • Haplogroups can mutate into an entirely new haplogroup.
  • Any haplogroup or subgroup can remove the detection of a previous haplogroup or subgroup. The implications of this rule is often traumatic in genealogy!
  • DNA science is in the infancy stage. Until we can map and categorize all mutations or unique genes in our genome, individually, we cannot be sure of the relative accuracy for genealogical use. The genome is the full and complete instruction in each and every one of our cells. Our cells are those little groups of individual, living biological microscopic pieces that tie together in the billions to create what we look like and possibly who we are! You can google the description of cells and how it's put together.
I have provided here a few examples of the application of these rules:
  1. Haplogroup H is a European origin. You have just been tested. The result is your grandmother's (mtDNA)  haplogroup H. Does this tell the truth? Absolutely, for the present, and for you and your unadapted sibblings only! But it can only give a result to a nearest grandmother who is in the  haplogroup H category. If one prior grandmother was native, then the grandmother in  haplogroup H trumped the native grandmother’s A, B, C, D, or X haplogroup. Thus a False outcome! (This does not remove a social kinship with your native grandmother. You're still fully entitled to identify with her culture and include her in your family tree.)
  2. In 1629 the French population of New France was displaced by the British. With the exception of a few people, like Madame Hebert, who had a house full of "mixed blood" and/or Native kids. Most couples and their families were deported to France or disappeared in the woods. These deportees were mostly "mixed blood" families. They made up many of the names in genealogical trees that do not have origins. Suppose a young French male (who’s mother was Native or "mixed blood"), while in France,  marries a French girl. They immigrate to New France (Canada)  in the years following 1632 when the French regained the colony. Do you think that DNA will determine the origin of the young "mixed blood" father who now has a boy and girl? Absolutely not! He cannot pass mtDNA native genes to his children, male or female. His Y-DNA would reflect his fathers European haplogroup and the mothers mtDNA would reflect European origin. Thus a false outcome!
  3. A distant grandmother is thought to be native and there may be an oral tradition in the family which suggests this.—but the problem begins when there is absolutely no documentation on her origin. Several ancestors want to verify this, so why not get a mtDNA test. The test provides a disappointing non-native haplogroup. So on the family tree record is written“born in Europe or France. DNA test confirms this”. What might not be known is that this distant grandmother had a European grandmother absorbed into a tribe. She is culturally identified as native but DNA does not show this. Thus a false outcome!
  4. Many more examples could expose the problem with genealogical DNA. There is nothing about present day DNA testing that should be accepted as the absolute truth about an ancestor. The test should only by used to satisfy your own curiosity and generally indicate the migration routes of ancestors. Canadian and US courts will NOT accept genealogical DNA testing to prove anything even if the test is in favour of a good outcome. It would be an injustice if DNA is arbitrarily included to determine Canadian First Nations status and non-status membership. 
If one is dealing with Family Statistical Genealogy or Family Biological Genealogy only then maybe DNA might be useful—but research in Family Sociological Genealogy is the only valid structure to reflect our cultural heritage. Being genetically or statistically related is not culturally important. We must keep in mind that it is the culture of our ancestors that maintains a strong lineage. It is the emotional bonding of people that creates the bases of family and lineage. We, as free people, can identify with any culture that we wish! Having said all this, there are circumstances that DNA might be useful pacifying the nay sayers.

Case in point. Radegonde Lambert has an unknown origin. Her direct family members got DNA tested. The outcome was inconclusive. She was categorized haplogroup (hg) X and X2b. This haplotype is definitely related to North American indigenous populations. But the hg X, a mutation of hg N, appeared in European populations much earlier than subgroups found in North American indigenous populations. The hg X2b occurred during, or just after the mutations of subgroup (sg) X2a  that were found in the native populations today. Hence, the outcome points to a greater likelihood that she is European.

But this is not all the evidence that is available from the science of DNA. Adding an historical and a
rcheological perspective may logically determine Radegonde Lambert’s origin. There are a number of theories tying to determine how the very rare haplogroup X came into North America. Some say it came with hg A, B, C, and D across the Alaskan land Bridge during the ice age. But others say that this was probably wrong because hg X is not present in Asian populations. Yet another theory is that people with hg X traversed the waters when the ice melted. Still others think that they simply followed the shore along the ice during the ice age somewhere in the Pacific. The problem with these probable routes is that the only population with hg X on the pacific side of North America were, I believe, the Navajo people. No other populations had hg X along the Pacific North American coast and Central Plains. The greatest concentration of hg X was on the North East coast of North American.

Haplogroup X is relatively sparce across Europe but has some concentrated areas in the middle east today. The origin of mutation hg X would have been somewhere in the middle, south Eurasian continent and moved all the way up to the Scandinavian countries in the north. Tests on 1000 year old skeletons of early Vikings indicated a high concentration of hg X. Present day populations have a higher concentration of hg I than hg X. The introduction of hg X as well as hg I into England and France very likely came from Viking raiders. Archeological evidence, such as the Viking settlement in Newfoundland 800 to 1000 years ago would explain the possible introduction of mtDNA hg X2b into a local Newfoundland indigenous population. It is also very likely that the ancient Viking wanderers introduced haplogroup X more recently than 15,000 years ago in North Eastern Canada. More extensive DNA testing of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia native and "mixed blood" residents may verify this postulation. Another possible source of hg X is from the European fishing villages set up during or before 1500 along the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland.

Radegonde Lambert from this perspective would have received her mtDNA haplogroup X or X2b from a European mother who lived 600 - 1000 years ago. She would have had many generations of ancestors among the Mi’kmaw indigenous people!




  1. Thank you so much for this very valuable information on mtDNA and, specifically, Radegonde Lambert, as she is my ancestor and I have been researching whether or not she is Mi'kmaw.
    I have a new point of view on ancestry research now, thanks so much!

  2. I think the best route is to balance DNA with traditional genealogy. In my case I am adopted but share large portions of DNA with many known Metis families from Alberta's historic past. Nonetheless,your blog addresses some common misconceptions and is very helpful in that regard :)