Diving into DNA

I have been slow to adopt the use of DNA testing in my family history. But this past week I finally gave in. I bought the test, spit in the tube and mailed off my sample. It will take a couple of months before I get results.

What am I hoping to learn?

That is the whole thing about DNA testing and why I have been a slow adopter.

I have not felt that I needed DNA testing to do my family history. I know where I come from on all sides. Yes, I have certain “holes” on my lines, just as anyone does, but there is no burning mystery that I have felt a DNA test would resolve.

So why do it?

Critics of DNA testing point to security and privacy as reasons to avoid taking a test. I think that’s over boiled conspiracy stuff. The truth of the matter is that if anyone really wanted and valued my DNA they could get it. I leave it everywhere, as does anyone else.

Some call DNA testing a lazy way of doing family history. But I don’t buy into that either.

The truth is that for many people family past has been taken from them, hidden from them. Adoption, family secrets, hidden shame, criminal lives, and a whole host of “reasons” deny many people access to traditional means of uncovering roots. DNA testing provides a scientific method outside of human record keeping to point towards some answers.

Is there any of that in my family past? I don’t know. Probably. I don’t see how any family can avoid this kind of stuff over time.

The truth is that I do have unsolved mysteries. I am seeking answers from my Croatian family and I’d like to know more about family from my mother’s side where I’ve run into a variety of roadblocks.

DNA might help with that.

Over the course of the past year especially I have heard some stunning stories that have come as a result of DNA testing. I have heard of brothers and sisters separated at birth being reunited. I have heard of cousins finding each other and connecting dots for each other as family history was shared.

Think of DNA as a kind of social networking tool for family history. You walk down the street you have no way of knowing if that stranger you pass is a relative of some kind.

I’ve often wondered about that living as I do in Cache Valley. Our Westover family DNA is all over this valley. There is no wonder why when I some times mention my name I get long stares and questions of what relatives I have or have had living here.

I think DNA testing is a byproduct of the age of the Internet. It is one really cool way for us to find common threads among us and connect.

My sister-in-law, Mary, has been a major influence in embracing DNA testing for purposes of family history. She is herself a child of past family members who changed identities for whatever reason. It’s been left to her to unravel the story and DNA I think has connected her with individuals who are helping to piece the story together.

Those individuals are cousins – family, really.

And they are searching for answers too.

I also know that as more and more people get DNA tested and make themselves available to potential “matches” out there the more valuable the overall data becomes for everyone.

If I publish my DNA with my family tree perhaps I can help others out there figure out their family story.

That appeals to me greatly.

When it comes to the nuts of bolts of family history – the names, places and dates – I cannot claim to be a passionate genealogist. I gather enough of what is important to prove my ancestry and to get temple work done but for me the real meat and potatoes of family history comes from figuring who these people really were.

I want the story. I want the lesson. I want the heart.

In the end, that’s what I see that DNA accomplishes. It gets people out the quagmire of data and into the sunshine of family relations.

After all, who doesn’t want to meet a new cousin they’ve never known?

I don’t know where my DNA trail will lead. But whatever happens you will bet I will share here.

Jeff Westover
Jeff Westover

Husband, father, Latter-day Saint, 11th generation American, and web geek currently residing in Smithfield, Utah. Please visit my website at JeffWestover.com

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