Mashantucket Pequot Museum Library and Archives Blog

Saturday, November 1, 2008

That Bloody Question

The Research Library reference desk gets its fair share of unusual requests, as I'm sure any other library does. One of our strangest questions is also a recurring one. Within the past eight months I have been asked three times, "Can I get my blood tested at the library?" They mean a test for DNA analysis in order to prove Native American ancestry. The notion that you could get your blood tested at a library seems slightly less incredible when you consider the high frequency with which we receive questions related to personal genealogical research. Still, I am so taken aback each time I am asked, that I felt pressed to research the issue, if only to arm myself with some knowledge the next time I get the question.

Local genealogy resources

First, to address the issue of our genealogy resources, while the MPMRC library collections have not been developed to support this type of research, we do have a small collection of materials that could help a beginner get started: You may download our bibliography here. Visitors researching family histories from the vicinity of New London County are welcome to use our microfilm collections of census, vital, and land records from this locale. Please contact the library for more details about these records. Most often, we refer patrons with serious genealogical inquiries to the Connecticut State Library or Mystic, Connecticut's Indian & Colonial Research Center, where they have more resources and trained genealogists on staff to help.

Genetic genealogy

Back to the blood test question, genetic genealogy has been a rapidly developing field since breakthroughs in the late 1990's. It was popularized with the publication of Bryan Sykes' The Seven Daughters of Eve in 2001, and since then a number of commercial enterprises have sprung up offering services by which individuals can genetically verify their ancestral origins. Family Tree DNA, self-described as the first and largest, claims to have "the largest DNA databases in the field of Genetic Genealogy with 216831 records", but there is also, GeneTree, and DNA Heritage, among others. Prices for most of these tests appear to range from $100-$200.

No blood required

According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, "Commercial DNA testing companies utilize saliva/buccal cell sampling via swabs and various other collection containers." A typical DNA kit contains a Q-Tip type cotton swab, some instructions, and a return envelope.

What can the test tell you?

These companies get their results from matching your DNA structure against those of other samples in their database. Again from ISOGG, "If there are any matches in the database of the testing company, it will show the people you match. Depending upon the company you test with, other information may be made available to you, like your ethnic origin, [including] Native American ancestry." Test results also typically include certificates, charts, graphs, migration maps of ancestors, and in the case of Native Americans, a map of tribal origins.

For more information see:

International Society of Genetic Genealogy's FAQ:

Jobling, Mark; Chris Tyler-Smith (Aug, 2003). "The human Y chromosome: an evolutionary marker comes of age" . Nature Reviews Genetics 4: 599–612. Nature Publishing Group.

Shriver, Mark D. & Rick A. Kittles "Genetic Ancestry and the Search for Personalized Genetic Histories." Nature Reviews. Genetics (2004) 5:8: 611-18.

Genetic Genealogy on Wikipedia:

Update 5/29/2005: We continue to find interesting articles on this topic online. Please see our bookmarks at


Anonymous said...

Good & interesting info. Perhaps the Library could also provide the "public service" assistance of directing people to local Department of Health and/or Family Court offices for information on what is acceptable testing for purposes of establishing paternity, for example for "child custody & support" & inheritance proceedings!

Mashantucket Pequot Libraries & Archives said...

Please see also this article on some of the limitations of genetic testing: