Futurelearn Course: Tracing Your Family Tree Week 4

Week Four of the course considered the Genealogical Standard of Proof and also DNA testing.

The Standard of Proof is important – in fact I wrote a page about this some time ago –  and I thought that this was well covered., with useful exercises. However, the final exercise – evaluating the evidence provided by four World War II ration books – had no tutor input at all, and students were left to decide for themselves how useful, if at all, these were. Opinions ranged from ‘Very’ to ‘Not at all’.

I thought that this exercise would have been of  far more use if it had replaced the end-of-module quiz, which was, as before, banal.

The section on DNA testing left me cold.  The basic principles were well explained (although the slide showing DNA inherited through several generations would have been loss confusing if a few more colours had been used on the slide!) – but after that I became more and more confused.  I’m just not science-minded, and was rapidly out of my comfort zone.

To be quite candid, I’ve never been too certain about the benefits of DNA testing.  If I can’t discover who great-great=great-great grannie was,  DNA isn’t going to help me here, because (a) we’re talking of the maternal side here, and (b) all a test can do is match me with other people who have the same markers, may therefore be related to me, and have their DNA stored by the same provider.  And DNA can’t tell you how you’re related to these people, merely that you are.  As far as I can gather, the advantage of testing is (a) you may discover hitherto-unknown distant cousins and (b) if you do, they may have some information that you don’t.

It all seems a bit of a waste of money to me.  Or have I completely misunderstood – feel free to correct me on this!

If I wasn’t confused enough already, the tutor then referred to someone whose DNA profile was “found to be a close genetic match to the current Macdonald chief of Clanranald using STR testing. Because it was already known from documentary evidence that the chief was a descendant of Angus Og of the Isles, who fought in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the closeness of the match confirmed that he was also descended from Angus Og.”

Now, I’m not doubting this for a moment, but – only two weeks ago the course dwelt upon documentary evidence (and indeed, this week has already covered the Standard of Proof), so it would have been useful to learn exactly what this documentary evidence was that proved descent from a chap who died in 1330.

Finally on this topic, this month’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ magazine includes an excellent article on illegitimacy, which advises that it’s only worth considering DNA tests once the paper trail is complete.

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Experienced genealogist but virgin blogger...
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