Using Genetic Genealogy to Discover Royal Relatives

map of Africa Wouldn’t it be exciting if your genealogy research led you to learn that you are related to royalty? That is exactly what happened for one man, who used genetic genealogy to help him find his ancestors. This information came to him as a result of having his DNA tested by a company that compares DNA from different sources, in order to make connections between relatives.

The Cosmic Log website tells the story of William Holland, a genealogist from Atlanta. He has been working on his family tree, and has uncovered some unusual information. He learned that his grandfather was a black slave who went on to serve as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. As it turns out, this was not the only surprise in Mr. Holland’s family tree, that was just waiting to be uncovered. The DNA testing revealed that Mr. Holland is a long-lost relative of a ruling family in Cameroon, West Africa. In November, Mr. Holland will take his American family, including his 79 year old mother, to Cameroon, to visit with his African family. How exciting!

This is one example of how genetic genealogy can be used. Genetic genealogy looks at a select number of DNA markers, (instead of examining the entire genome, or the information used for paternity tests). In general, there are two ways to go. The company offering services in genetic genealogy may look at the Y-chromosome, which is passed from fathers, to sons, to the sons of the sons, and so on. Or, they might look at mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mothers to their children. From this information, they are able to give a person some idea of who their paternal relatives, (or their maternal relatives), are.

Mr. Holland put his genetic markers into a database that was provided by the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. This foundation combined information from GeneTree, information from Mr. Holland, and information that was gathered from thousands of DNA samples from people who live in Africa. The result was that Mr. Holland, and his family, are related to royalty. From there, Mr. Holland traveled to Cameroon, bringing with him the information his own genealogy research revealed about his family. After meeting with local elders, and comparing pedigrees, it was clear that Mr. Holland had found family.

Image by Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL on Flickr