Tracing your ancestors using DNA review

Tracing your Ancestors using DNA: a guide for Family Historians is published by Pen & Sword and edited by Graham S. Holton, with contributions from John Cleary, Michelle Leonard, Iain McDonald & Alasdair F. MacDonald.

Having previously read Blaine Bettinger’s book on the same subject as a beginner a few years ago, I was ready for something a little more complex and up to date, as the field is changing rapidly. Indeed, a couple of items referenced in Tracing are already out of date.

The book provides clear chapters on the 3 types of direct to consumer DNA tests (Y, mitochondrial and autosomal). The autosomal chapter is excellent and takes the reader through basic and advanced methods as well as how to contact people. I found the mitochondrial chapter a little on the short side, which perhaps reflects the fact that it’s the least popular test on the market, despite the fact that you can actually get a whole sequence done now (which is not yet available for Y tests). I’ve recently ordered a mtDNA test so I’ll be blogging about the results in due course. The chapter on Y DNA was the hardest for this citizen scientist to comprehend and, while I have gleaned some understanding of why I’ve got nothing useful from my uncle’s test, my main take away is that I need to spend much more money on this front.

Chapters on ethics and how to get involved/run projects are particularly good. I enjoyed the case studies using British and Irish examples. There’s also a useful glossary at the back – no need to worry about spoiling the ending of this book by looking there at the beginning!

One small criticism – the standard of illustrations varied from chapter to chapter, presumably reflecting the graphics design abilities of the author, and some came out a little fuzzy in the print. In addition, some of the illustrations would clearly have benefited from being in colour. In one chapter, long hyperlinks were provided to enable the reader to view a colour version of particular charts, but I’d be amazed if many people actually took the trouble to type them in. Presumably if you’re reading on a Kindle, you could just click the hyperlink though.

At only 255 pages, this book isn’t a huge time investment and is well worth your time and the modest price. Indeed, I hoovered it up in less than a day, but then I’m very keen!