I read another of my Christmas books yesterday. I don't recommend it, but it had some information worth passing along.
It should have been named Trace Your Roots! With DNA! And Cliches! by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak! and Ann Turner! The exclamation points, and Megan using such a surname twice should tell you everything you need to know about the style.
But it was the content I was after, so I plodded through it. It runs 270 pages, but a good editor could have had it down to 100. Okay, maybe 10, plus charts and appendices. Megan teaches you some basic genealogy. Then she teaches you some basic genetics. But what you are looking for is "What tests are available?" "What will they tell me?" "What do they cost?" "Where do I get them?"
You can have a Y-DNA test, which tells you only about the single line from sons to fathers, running up the left, or along the top, or your pedigree chart. As this is the surname line as well, it is often one of the ones people are most interested in. If you're female, you don't have a Y to test, but you can get your father or brother to take one to get equal results. If you believe your mother, that is. And therein lies the possibility for unpleasantness - not with your mom necessarily, but that many generations, everyone's telling the truth, what are the odds? About 98.7% per generation, actually. But that adds up, and finding out that all the Heinzenbenners at the reunion have a proven common ancestor, but you emphatically don't, can be dismaying to some. It can be useful for clearing up mysteries, though, like showing that the Neals of North County and the Neales of South County are related. Or not. Which can be useful for the Neal genealogists if one of the Neales has traced the line back to the 2nd Century or something. If your Y-line goes to Britain, you can get it identified as Viking, Celtic, Angle. That's cool, though it doesn't tell you which generation or where.
You can have an mtDNA, which traces the complement daughter-mother line. Sons on this line also have the mother's mitochondrial DNA, but they don't pass it on. Even more than the Y-DNA, you want to use this test to answer a specific question, or all you get is a string of numbers which mean nothing to you. They use this one to identify remains, or to figure out which of someone's wives you are descended from. This is also good if you hit up against three of the same name marrying nearby about the same time. We have that for Sarah (Sally) Moor(e) in the early 1800's. Daniel married Sarah, who died known as Sally, but which one was she? With some reverse genealogy, you might be able to find out by checking your mt against others.
Autosomal DNA - now this was the one I was interested in. It is much more general than I though it would be. It tells you what percentage (healthy margin of error - get a sibling done as well) of you is Sub-Saharan, Native American, East Asian, or Indo-European. I suppose we could easily have gotten some MicMac mixed in up in Nova Scotia over a century and a half, or less likely a Narragansett in Massachusetts, but Sub-Saharan's awfully unlikely, and even East Asian is only remotely possible with some sort of Uralic/Lappish thing. I was hoping that the test could turn up Jews, or Roma, or Turks, particularly with my Romanian sons. But if all it's going to say is 100% Indo-European, given how different we look, it hardly seems worth the bother. Wait 10-20 years on this one, when they might be able to tell you a little more. For African-Americans or those of mixed race, however, this one is quite cool, as it gives you some percentages to work from: 70% Sub Saharan African, 15% Indo-European, 15% Native American, for example. With the scantiness of some slave records, that may be the most solid news you'll see in a year's research. As many African tribes have remained discrete there, you might get a tribal match as well.
Next of Kin and DNA profiles are great for adoptees or "non-paternity events" finding out which family reunion they belong at.
The Surprise: I still don't care much. We put a lot of energy into our respective genealogies in the first 20 years of our marriage and got some great stories out of it. "Perley Wallace," who was probably not born where he was said to be, but died right under his headstone down in Londonderry, will probably bug me until I die,just because it's so ridiculous to have a person just show up on the earth like that, with no one with of any of his names born anywhere near where his death certificate says, within several decades of his age. I figure he's lying, and I want to know why, but I never will. Or he said something other than "Bethel" and something other than "Maine," but the people in Londonderry darn well heard it as "Bethel, Maine." A mystery. And we've got lots of them now, because in genealogy, every answer leads to two more questions.
Once we adopted the boys, my interest in genealogy pretty much evaporated. We've taken a couple of wild swing at it, mostly trolling the internet for easy pickings, but I just no longer find it important. I even tried to snatch up some of the boys' history when I was in Romania, but the records are closed. The people are puzzled why anyone would care. I'd be interested if they're part Hungarian, part gypsy. Why do these stupid Americans want to know these things? I thought this book would get me excited again. It didn't.