Autosomal DNA tests offer the potential to research both sides of your family tree.
When she died at age of 93, Marley Snell had no knowledge of her biological parents. Born Helen Marley Johnson in the spring of 1889 in rural Upstate New York, Marley was adopted by a family that often took in orphans. Following her adoptive parents’ deaths a few years later, Marley was passed along to at least two other families in different counties. Although my great-grandmother later married and went on to live a long, full life, her search for her biological parents never ended. Assisted by technology Marley couldn’t even have dreamed of, I’m hoping to finish her search.
Just a few years ago, my research would’ve been limited to paper records and family lore—both susceptible to the wounds of time, human error and deception. DNA wouldn’t have helped, because Marley didn’t have Y-DNA, and her surviving male descendants didn’t inherit her mitochondrial DNA. But now, with autosomal DNA testing, I can use biology to explore her past. With hard work and a bit of luck, I can identify pieces of Marley’s DNA in her living descendants and discover genetic cousins who’ll eventually lead me straight to her biological parents. Want to take a similar route over and around brick walls in your research? Here’s the 411 on autosomal DNA and how you can use it to explore your ancestry.