April 02, 2007

Genetic genealogists gone wild

Amy Harmon has an interesting article in the New York Times about some extreme cases of genetic genealogists going to great lengths to fill in their family trees.

Derrell Teat, 63, a wastewater coordinator, recently found herself staking out a McDonald’s. The man she believed was the last male descendant of her great-great-great grandfather’s brother had refused to give her his DNA. So she decided to get it another way.

“I was going to take his coffee cup out of the garbage can,” said Ms. Teat, who traveled to the Georgia mountains from Tampa, Fla., with her test kit. “I was willing to do whatever it took.”


Since learning that she shares some markers with St. Luke the Evangelist, Kathy Johnston, 54, a dermatologist in Torrance, Calif., has been lobbying to have the saint’s remains more thoroughly analyzed.

She believes St. Luke’s mother was Celtic, as is her own lineage, not Syrian, as previous genetic tests on remains in Padua, Italy, have suggested. She is willing to pay for the test, but scientists at the University of Ferrara and the Roman Catholic Church have ignored her theories.


Bob Grieve, 55, stores a DNA kit in his refrigerator to use upon his father’s death.

After testing his own DNA at the request of a distant cousin, Mr. Grieve was shaken to discover that he did not match any of his extended family, including his first cousin, the son of his father’s brother.

That could only mean an occurrence of what genetic genealogists call a “nonpaternal event.” Either his father was not his father, or his grandfather was not his father’s father. But the elder Mr. Grieve has refused to surrender to the swab.

“I don’t put blame on anybody,” said Mr. Grieve, an engine design checker in Dearborn, Mich. “It would just be nice to know where I came from.”

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