26 June 2014: Fourteen years ago, on 26 June 2000, it was announced that the first draft of the entire human genome had been completed. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair commented that “every so often in the history of human endeavor there comes a breakthrough that takes humankind across a frontier and into a new era. … I believe that today’s announcement is such a breakthrough …”.
The sweeping impact of a map of the human genome is still unfolding in science, medicine, and many other fields. One of these fields is genealogy. DNA testing for genealogy has been advancing rapidly — becoming more reliable, more informative, and less expensive.
Parallel to this, progress on a single family tree for humanity has been advancing rapidly thanks to Internet “crowdsourcing.” Genealogists are pooling their research and collaborating on websites such as WikiTree.com. Until now, this family tree collaboration has been based primarily on research in public records and information handed down through families.
The combination of DNA testing and a collaborative worldwide family tree is enabling something that most genealogists never expected: scientific confirmation of their genealogy.
Today WikiTree is announcing the DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid, a tool to help genealogists confirm their ancestry. Because of the broad-based collaboration on WikiTree and the fact that the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA is passed down relatively unchanged for many generations in known inheritance patterns, a DNA test taken by one genealogist can aid the research of many distant cousins. In turn, the research of one genealogist can dramatically expand the utility of other people’s DNA tests.
The DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid shows step-by-step how to confirm father-son and mother-child relationships in a family tree. It enables genealogists to discover if any other descendants of their ancestors have already taken DNA tests — something becoming more common as the cost of testing goes down and as ancestries become more deeply interconnected. When there’s an opportunity for confirmation by comparing test results, there are direct comparison links. When additional testing needs to be taken for confirmation, it links to potential test-takers.
The DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid is intended to help genealogists of all levels, including those who are completely new to DNA testing. More experienced genetic genealogists will also find benefits. Roberta Estes of DNAeXplain says, “this is particularly useful for mitochondrial DNA because there is no other ‘connecting’ mechanism. I’m sure that many of my ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA is represented in the thousands of people who have tested — but until now — there was no way to find them, since the surnames may have changed a dozen times since our shared ancestor.”
Nathan J. Bowen, PhD, genome scientist at the Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development at Clark Atlanta University, sees potential long-term benefits we can all share: “The release of the working draft of the human genome 14 years ago was a huge moment, democratizing the use of the sequence for everyone, not just corporations with private databases. Now genealogists at WikiTree are building a public family tree for humanity, confirmed with DNA. Ultimately this may reveal patterns of human migration, inheritance and disease that return significant benefits for science and medicine.”
Growing since 2008, WikiTree.com is a 100% free shared family tree website that balances privacy and collaboration. Community members privately collaborate with close family members on modern family history and publicly collaborate with other genealogists on deep ancestry. Since all the private and public profiles are connected on the same system this process is helping to grow a single, worldwide family tree that will eventually connect us all and thereby make it free and easy for anyone to discover their roots. See http://www.WikiTree.com.