The consumer ancestry DNA kit, did not come about until 2001. Before then it was just in university departments and other such scientists, that were experimenting and trying out these techniques.
For the most up to date tests, please see our page of ancestry dna test kit reviews .
It was a long road to get to where we are now:
1, Theories of evolution, before the technology even existed to see DNA
2, The discovery of DNA itself
3, The techniques and processes to analyse DNA
4, Genealogists finding out how DNA can help
5, Making the products ready for consumers
This page will go through this exciting history.
The scientists that first discovered DNA
The scientists that first discovered DNA and then developed techniques for seeing and analysing it, were not genealogists that were interested in family trees.
Many of them wanted to see how life develops and what causes things to be as they are.
Then genealogists, like people in many other fields, could see the advantages of this technology and so used it for that purpose. There have been many parties trying to find uses for genetics, genealogists are just one of them.
The first non medical and general research use, was forensics to investigate crimes. Then genealogy came later.
This page will just look at the specific history of the ancestry DNA test kit.
The beginnings of ancestry DNA history
The history of ancestry and genealogy techniques and research, started with with just YDNA, where men can see the genes of their father, their fathers’s father and so on.
There was also MtDNA, where women can see the genes of their mother, mother’s mother and so on.
However MtDNA did not give as much information as YDNA and at the beginning was not a very good tool. This was a serious issue, also women as a result felt excluded from genetic genealogy.
Being able to use AutoSomal DNA where lots of chromosomes on DNA are compared with others, was still a way off. This technique works the same for woman and men.
In the 1990’s DNA testing was just for specialist and advanced university departments. So it was only used on findings of great interest.
Russian royal family in 1991:
The test they started with was MtDNA, which is a shortening of mitochrondrial DNA. This is the gene that comes just from a child’s mother. It goes down the line through mothers to their children.
So daughters mother, grandmother, great grandmother, great great grandmother and so on. It goes down this single line, through just one person in each generation. It also does not change much, with one change about every 1000 years.
Samples were taken from skeletons in a shallow Russian grave. The test results made it clear that they were from the Romanov family who ruled Russia before the communist revolution. During the revolution many of them were killed, others managed to escape to other countries.
The original sample used for the test, was provided by Prince Philip, who is the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of the Queen of England. He is also a great great grandchild of Queen Victoria of England.
This information meant they could work out that one of the skeletons in the grave, was probably Tsarina Alexandra, as from her mother’s side. As she is a grand daughter of Queen Victoria on her mother’s side.
This is why the MtDNA test works well, because Queen Victoria would have been on the same unchanged line for their MtDNA test.
After that AutoSomal DNA was also used, so they could find the remains of the Tsarina, her 5 children. Plus Tsar Nicholas II and all of his family.
American Presidents children in 1998:
Many people had said over the years, that Eston Heming’s father was US President Thomas Jefferson. This of course had implications for all his descendants.
Eston Hemming’s mother was Sally Hemming, who was a slave of Thomas Jefferson.
Was it true though!
Other historians thought that his father was the son of Thomas Jefferson’s sister, so Thomas Jefferson was the child’s uncle. This would also explain the genetic similarties in how they looked.
There were ways that Eston looked like President Thomas Jefferson.
Other historians believed that Eston’s father, was the son of Thomas Jefferson’s sister.
They used YDNA, which is passed down from male to male. As Thomas Jefferson has no known surviving male descendents, they used genetic samples from 5 male descents of his paternal uncle, called Field Jefferson, to get the samples. They would have the same YDNA results as his own male children, because they also came from this same male line.
They could then compare this sample with that of Eston Hemming’s descenents..
They were a match. So now everyone accepts that President Thomas Jefferson was the father of the Eston Hemming. He did indeed have a child, with one of this slaves.
Around 2000, Brian Sykes in the United Kingdom, looks for relatives
Together with scientists, he analysed the DNA of 48 males with the same surname as him. They used low resolution YDNA tests and found half of them were related to him. This meant that all the matches came from the same father.
From this they found that YDNA could be of great use to geneologists.
From this study and technique, genelogical DNA tests first came on the market.
Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution, are where science first recognised evolution and the idea of genetic selection. As science was not advanced enough to see DNA itself, it was called Natural Selection.
Most of current genetics is based on this work of his in the 1800’s.
Personally I have a hard time seeing that before then, parents would not have also naturally see that their children had co incidental similarities to themselves. However it is putting it into a scientific setting, that science managed to progress with the idea.
In 2010, his great great grandson in Australia called Chris Darwin, had his YDNA tested. It was done by the National Geographic’s Genographic Project. It showed that he is was part of the h1P haplogroup, this is the most normal in males of European descent.
A haplogroup is where humanity is genetically split into other large groups. These are the main groups, that descend from the very first human in Africa, 50-60 000 years ago.
Mis understandings from not knowing how things have progressed
People often have mis understandings, because they do not know how things have advanced. So people who have previously used genetic ancestry, are not aware of how much and quickly things have moved on.
These people sometimes have very pushy opinions that they push onto other people. They are convincing because what they know was correct and so they passionately believe it, but is not now.
Women may say they cannot get the results that men can, because it was only in 2010 that MtDNA tests were as good as YDNA tests.
Also as things progress, more and more AutoSomal chromosomes are being analysed with domestic test kits. This means that the best ancestry dna test kit results are improving all the time.
It used to be 100 and now it is 800 000. Things are continually progressing as new chips for analysing DNA are being created.
Consumer Ancestry DNA test kits first appear on the market
There are now lots of choice of test kits, so we have written a page to find the best ancestry dna test kit for you.
It has been a long road to get to where we are now.
There are two places that DNA testing kits have come from:
1, Geneticists who have created laboratories that do all kinds of genetic testing, such as paternity, medical and so on.
2, Businesses that have created testing kits that sub contract to these laboratories. There have been two groups of these marketing organisations:
a, The ones that do all kinds of genetic testing and ancestry is just one part of it.
b, Genealogy companies, who add this to their family tree software.
The first was in 1997 and called GeneTree and was started by a geneticist called Terrence Carmichael. It started out mainly doing paternity testing and at the beginning did not do genealogy testing.
In 2001 it sold it’s assets to Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. They are wanting to show how all people are related. They did this with DNA testing from people and getting genealogical information.
They created an online database called the Sorenson Database which has over 100,000 DNA samples and familial pedigrees
In 2013 the geneaology company called Ancestry, bought GeneTree, from Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. Soon after this, they brought out their own ancestry DNA test kit.
GeneTree had only ever done YDNA and MtDNA testing though and not AutoSomal. This is probably as to show how each person is related, they wanted the tests, that go furthest back in an unchanged way.
Soon after Ancestry started their ancestry DNA test kit, they stopped doing YDNA and MtDNA. They just did AutoSomal testing, as they are more about showing closer relatives.
The progress and future, of the ancestry DNA test kit
At the moment there are limits to how we can interpret DNA data.
This is especially with how the DNA results are interpreted and analysed. There are compromises and assumptions everywhere.
For example at the start of the 21st century most ancestry tests were MtDNA and YDNA and not AutoSomal DNa tests. The AutoSomal tests that did exist compared 100 markers when now tests do 800 000 and this is growing all the time as new testing chips come out.
It is only in 2006 that the whole human genome was even available. It was done by the Personal Genome Project and took 15 years. To show the generic human genome is one thing, but to analyise it for each person is another so consumer tests are limited due to price constraints.
Basically as things improve and that includes computing power, it is getting cheaper to analyse things. So more can be done, more quickly and for less cost.
In the film 1997 Gattaca dna tests are taken as quickly and easily as nowadays a mobile phone takes a thumb print. This is of course very possible as computing power and technology improves. The system could get dna from the sweat on a person’s body, or a tiny hair sample.
Even the records that your sample will be compared to, to see your ancient heritage and ethnicity are being changed and improved all the time as we get more data and learn more.
This is why the best results come when you mix traditional genealogical documentation and research, with DNA testing.
A genealogist is always learning and there is so much to learn. The biggest thing is experience and when looking through records there are always lots of questions to work out the answers to.
The next progression maybe when genetic testing services can match you up to people that have not already done the test