DNA and the Next Generation: Part II

Click here to read Part I in this series about DNA and the Next Generation. 


Genetic genealogy will play an increasingly important role in the future of family history. In fact, it has become so prevalent that we can no longer ignore DNA testing as a valuable resource for family history research. The Genealogical Proof Standard, a set of standards for crafting proof arguments, suggests that a conclusion can only be proven if reasonably exhaustive research has been performed. DNA testing is now considered to be a common element of reasonably exhaustive research.1

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In order to understand the importance of genetic genealogy for this generation and the next generation of genealogists, we have to explore some fundamental questions about the nature of the field. Who researches their genealogy? Why? How? Who will be researching their genealogy in the future? What role does genetic genealogy currently play? What role will it play in the future?

In an open market, we might expect that supply of genealogical research services would be indicative of demand. A review of the largest registry of professional genealogists with the Association of Professional Genealogists shows that, by far, the most popular region for genealogical research is the United States. In regards to foreign research, within the APG registry there are twenty-two countries with more than twenty registered professionals offering research services. Seventeen of these countries were the top source populations for immigration to the United States between 1900 and 1910. Of the five remaining countries, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel also have strong histories of immigration, and the Netherlands and Spain both had major diasporas and long histories of emigration. Viewing this correlation from the other direction, all source populations that contributed more than 1% of the foreign born population of the United States between 1900 and 1910 are currently among the highest demand areas for research services according to the survey of the APG registry.

Through this observation, we hypothesize that genealogical interest is most often born of a displacement and disconnect from an individual’s cultural roots. Immigrants themselves often maintain connections to their native land. Children and sometimes grandchildren of an immigrant likewise benefit from these connections. However, by the third and fourth generations, descendants of an immigrant may not know the immigrant themselves, may not have connections with their distant family, and in their absence may have increased interest in discovering their cultural roots and heritage. Accordingly, interest in genealogy often increases about one hundred years after migration. Since the history of the United States has included frequent and constant internal migration, this constant displacement maintains a healthy culture of American genealogical investigation.

In observing this trend, we propose that growing fields of genealogical research specialty in the coming years will include Finland, Greece, Former Yugoslavia, Lithuania and Romania, since these regions experienced peak emigration to the United States approximately one hundred years ago. Similarly, in twenty years, demand will increase for research in China and Japan. In the next fifty years, demand will increase for research services in Portugal, Cuba, India, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. In addition to these new areas, demand for research in Mexico will also continue to increase.

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However, these trends only take into account immigration patterns in the United States. Other major international migration trends will accentuate demand for the countries listed above as well as increase research demand in South America, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Whereas current areas of high research demand typically have good record preservation and accessibility, some areas of future research demand have suffered serious record loss and poor record preservation. Therefore, genetic genealogy will be an essential component of these research fields – compensating in genetic data for a lack of historical records. With projected expansion in these research areas, we should work now to preserve historical records and collect the genetic information that will make future research endeavors successful.

Currently, most people involved in the field of genetic genealogy fit into one of five categories: adoption, unknown paternity, recent brick walls, specific questions, and general interest. Though general interest is sometimes driven by a gradual loss of cultural connectedness, for many other participants in genetic genealogy, their displacement and disconnect from their roots is often much closer than those engaged in traditional research. As a result, many genetic genealogists are searching for answers to questions within the last thirty to sixty years. In the United States, adoption reached its peak in the late 1960s, meaning that even now, there is a huge demand for adoption research which in turn has led to increased demand for genetic genealogy research. Current statistics on mixed families, single-parent households, divorce, sperm and egg donation, and teenage pregnancies all suggest that in future genealogical research, the prevalence of recent brick walls will only increase.

In the future of family history, we can fully expect that brick walls due to lack of records, or recent disconnect due to different family dynamics, will only increase demand for DNA testing. As a result, genetic genealogy is the ideal tool for the future of family history.

1 Melinde Lutz Byrne and Thomas W. Jones, “Editor’s Corner,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 102, No. 3 (Sep. 2014).


 

Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., J.D., is an intellectual property attorney by day and a genetic genealogist by night. He is the author of the long-running blog The Genetic Genealogist, and frequently gives presentations and webinars to educate others about the use of DNA to explore their ancestry.

 

Paul Woodbury is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University where he studied genetics and family history. Currently he works for Legacy Tree Genealogists as a client researcher with specialties in French, Spanish, Italian, Scandinavian, and genetic genealogy. He frequently presents on these and other research topics at family history conferences.

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