07 October 2007

TV Genealogy

The CBS investigative program 60 minutes aired an item on genetic genealogy on Sunday. Through a Y-DNA test they demonstrated a common paternal line ancestor for two people named West, one black, one white. Nothing surprising in that if you've followed the field, apparently one third of black Americans have a Caucasian direct male line ancestor. The finding could be quite a surprise for people new to the field, as it was to the Wests.

As an investigative program 60 Minutes needed to dig up some dirt. By testing DNA samples from the same person with different companies they attempted to show the companies were being deceptive in informing people about their geographic origins. In part this was because of the large number of ancestors, doubling each generation back. The program did a good job of explaining many of these ancestors will likely have different regions of origin.

60 Minutes tried to make a case that DNA science for geographic origin is oversold. Different companies use different DNA databases and can differ in there opinions as to the origin. I suspect there was also a bit of deception on CBS's part, maybe inadvertent. CBS appeared to claim the test used was only of mitochondrial DNA, which everyone inherits from their mother, whereas some of the companies mentioned analyze markers from the autosomal DNA to which many ancestors contribute.

On Saturday evening History Television Canada's Ancestors in the Attic aired an episode, the main story being about locating a descendant of a WWII Canadian soldier from a bracelet he lost on a European battlefield. The shorter segment, involving the panel of genealogists, was more interesting genealogy involving finding ancestors who fought in the Napoleonic War. The episode is to be shown again twice on Wednesday, and early on Thursday morning.

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