Branching Out: Why DNA?

By Diane Haddad Premium

The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF), which is continuing the Molecular Genealogy Research Project begun at Brigham Young University (BYU) <> in 2000, has debuted a genealogy Y-DNA database at <>. The site catalogs Y-DNA test data from men who’ve contributed their DNA to the project.

The SMGF database contains 5,500 individuals so far, with more to be added regularly, says project director Scott Woodward. Although SMGF has analyzed DNA samples from 40,000 individuals, the database will include only the 18,000 to 20,000 samples from men. That’s because it tracks results from tests on the Y chromosome, which is inherited only by men.

SMGF researchers aim to collect 100,000 samples from around the world, which would give the database wider-ranging genealogical benefits, Woodward says. In addition, SMGF plans to become the only genealogy DNA database to profile test results for chromosomes called autosomes, which store more genetic information than Y-chromosomes — and which both women and men inherit.

Woodward estimates that 13,000 people search the SMGF database daily, down from 20,000 a day after the March 1 launch. Anyone who’s had a Y-DNA test can search for free by using pull-down menus to enter results for each of 28 genetic markers. Individuals who have test results for 12, 18 or 24 markers still can perform searches; they just skip the markers for which they lack results. (A woman who wants to search the database can enter test results from a male blood relative.)

Matches show a graph representing each family generation as a data point. Rolling your cursor over a data point displays information such as surnames, dates and places of birth. To protect living people’s privacy, you’ll see only names associated with pre-1900 dates. You can add your own DNA to the database by requesting SMGF’s free Geneti-Rinse “mouthwash” DNA sampling kit, but you won’t receive any information about your DNA unless you pay $200 for a results report. SMGF prefers donors who’ve documented at least four generations of their family tree.

Utah billionaire James LeVoy Sorenson, owner of Sorenson Development, funded the Molecular Genealogy Research Project from its beginnings at BYU, and his SMGF took on the project after it outgrew the university’s capabilities. Project managers also wanted to maintain autonomy from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors BYU, says Woodward. He adds that the same researchers and labs are handling the DNA samples.

From the August 2004 issue of Family Tree Magazine.