Visualizing Your Genetic Genealogy

In my genealogical research, I have sometimes found myself missing the trees by focusing on the forest.  I think it happens to many genealogists – we get caught up in the research, the dates, the places, and we forget that there was so much more to people than their vital statistics.

This can happen to genetic genealogists as well.  The connection between the results of a DNA test and the individuals in our tree can be easy to forget and difficult to visualize.  Take the results of an mtDNA test, for example.  The results are obtained from a tiny piece of DNA that has traveled thousands of years (and often thousands of miles) through hundreds of individuals to end up in your cheek cells and on the tip of a swab.  Everyone’s mtDNA is the product of an amazingly rich story that has largely been lost to history.

However, we as genealogists can do our part to connect the DNA to as much of the story as possible and prevent further loss.  In your own recent past, who were the people that contributed your mtDNA, your Y-DNA, or your autosomal DNA?

Visualizing My mtDNA Line

This is a compilation of the five most recent generations of my mtDNA line over the past 125 years, as shown in photographs:


From Cora to me, my mtDNA traveled 2100 miles and 93 years.

Visualizing my Y-DNA Line

Here is the seven most recent generations of my Y-DNA line over the past 200 years, as shown in photographs:


Did you notice that everyone except my son in this compilation is wearing a tie?  From George to me, my Y-DNA traveled 164 years but just 70 miles.

HT: These photographs are modeled after a similar construct that John Gabourel posted to a genealogy group I belong to.  I thank him heartily for the idea.

8 Responses

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  2. Megan Smolenyak 16 March 2009 / 9:42 am

    Hey Blaine, I do the same thing! In my talks, I often show what I call a “mitochondrial portrait” – a photo of my niece, sister, mother and grandmother who all share the same mtDNA. Like the series approach too!

  3. Cheryl Palmer 16 March 2009 / 10:56 am

    I think this was a wonderful idea! I loved your post! And especially all of those ties!

  4. Blaine Bettinger 16 March 2009 / 11:01 am

    Megan – I like the portrait idea too. I wonder who has the record for the most mtDNA or Y-DNA relatives in a single photo?

    Cheryl – thank you. I guess I could have called this post “Ties Through the Ages.” Hey, that would have actually made sense in a number of ways!

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