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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The genie is out of the bottle


Presentation features new realms of DNA, genealogy

In a world centered around science and its effects on our everyday lives, deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is an especially important component since it is the fundamental unit of life. Genealogy is a vast field of study that enables people to find out more about recombinant DNA and family lineage.

On April 19, the Davis Senior Center held a presentation entitled “Opening Pandora’s Box: When DNA Finds Unexpected, Improper Ancestors” in which speaker James Baker discussed aspects of DNA that most people might not already know. One main concern with DNA testing is that some results may show that a presumed genealogical family member is not truly genetically related. This is due to the fact that there are missing connections along the way. For example, two siblings who are genetically related might not have the same ancestors show up in their DNA lineage. Typically, research is done on an autosomal test, and the data shown is later confirmed with a mitochondrial or y-test.

One common way to trace back family lineage is to use the Ancestry DNA Family Finder test. This provides thousands of matches that help to establish possible familial connections.

“Personally, I’ve had my dad tested; it’s important to try to get the older generations tested as soon as possible because they won’t be with us forever,” said Lisa Henderson, the vice president and program chair of the Genealogy Club at the Davis Senior Center. “So I always encourage our members to have their relatives tested.”

Baker, who gave the presentation on DNA, has presented over 200 times on genealogy in the past five years. Although he mainly gives talks in the Sacramento area, Baker has given several presentations at the Davis Senior Center as well. Having previously taught in both the UC and CSU systems, Baker is now retired and writes for the Sacramento German Genealogy Society Newsletter. The German society in Rockland, where Baker lives, was what first introduced him to the field of genealogy.

“DNA is becoming big in genealogy and is the newest frontier. It’ll do things for you,” Baker said. “I know a few of my matches personally and where they go in the [DNA] tree.”

Many people in attendance at Baker’s presentation were a part of the Davis Genealogy Club, which was established in 1979 and meets on the third Tuesday of every month. The club aims to promote the study of genealogy by assisting others in delving deeper into family history research. They also have a library, located at the Davis Senior Center, which holds over 1,000 volumes pertaining to genealogy and family histories. Glen Erickson, the chair of the Genealogy Library, has looked into his own family lineage, specifically from ancestors in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. He travels frequently to Scotland for vacation and even continues his genealogy work there.

“When I’m over there [in Scotland] and I meet somebody and we find that there is a [genealogy] meeting or a library, we’ll go in for a lunch or something […] we quickly call up the President, who would come over and talk to us about what we do and so on because they don’t get that many who are chasing back family,” Erickson said.

Baker’s presentation captured the interests of not only the Genealogy Club, but also non-members interested in genealogy. Baker himself has also looked into his ancestral DNA and encourages others to do the same.

“I have reached out to people I have matched with because it’s sort of interesting to find a new second or third cousin that you didn’t know existed and related to you,” Baker said. “The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s just no putting him back.”
Written by: Kaelyn Tuermer-Lee — city@theaggie.org


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