Are you at a Brick Wall ? .. Try DNA

A month ago I signed up for a Genealogy course at my local Senior Centre, that was being presented by one of the volunteers from the local Family History Centre. I have been researching my Kettles family for the past 23 years, and I, along with six other family researchers have reached the proverbial brick wall at year 1762 in Perthshire, Scotland. I was hoping that if I came away from the course with a couple of Url’s for websites it would have been worth while. Little did I realize what would be forthcoming.

There was a thirty minute introduction into the use of DNA as a genealogical tool. This got my attention and from there I have found myself being the Administrator for a Kettles DNA Surname Project. This has been set up with a company based in Rochester, NY, USA. I am aware of at least another five Kettles lines originating in Scotland that I have been unable to connect with. It is my hope that a DNA connection can be made to one or all of these lines. So, as part of the ongoing research into the Kettles family name, this DNA study is being carried out to help support (or disprove) the current paper genealogies and to help connect with others of the same surname world- wide.

Armed with this new found tool I immediately made contact with members of these five elusive Kettles lines and have invited them to join the project. To participate they would require a male member with the surname of Kettles to take the DNA test. It would be preferable if two members of a Kettles line got involved and tested, these people should be second or third cousins.

If the participating person/persons who MUST be a Kettles are prepared to provide a DNA sample to the DNA Lab of DNA Heritage in order to obtain a 23 marker test we would be able to determine if two Kettles lines have a common male ancestor. Only DNA from the Y-chromosome will be tested and as such, only males who are directly descended (or suspected) from the Kettles family name are eligible.

The two biggest concerns that people will have are that the test is medically informative and can identify someone as an individual. In fact, DNA Heritage only test ‘junk DNA’ which has no medical value, and the tests are certainly not as discriminating as a standard ‘forensic’ profile used by the police. Many have reservations about giving their own DNA, yet on learning a little more will think it is a great idea.

If you are concerned that the Y-DNA test can prove paternity, you can relax, paternity tests examine different chromosomes altogether for which there are a number of specialist companies. The Y-DNA tests do not have the discriminating power of paternity tests and cannot determine the father of a child. However, Y-DNA tests will show if two males are not related. For example, if two brothers have vastly dissimilar Y-DNA results they cannot have the same biological father. You should be aware of this possibility before requesting Y-DNA.

If you want to learn more about Y-chromosomes and genealogy, the testing laboratory has an illustrated tutorial which has been written especially for non-scientists. There is also a FAQ’s page.

The testing laboratory provides a small sampling kit for each participant. This contains three small swabs, which are rubbed on the inside of the cheek and then placed in an envelope for their return. This is quick, easy and totally pain-free and enables the DNA to be safely transported back to the laboratory via the postal service. Each participant receives their own ‘customer code’ and each sample kit is coded so that, by logging onto the secure web-page set up for each Surname Project, participants can check the progress of their sample.

DNA Heritage carry out testing on 43 Y-chromosome STR markers as standard for each person even if less markers are ordered and paid for. If extra markers are wanted at a later date, the results can be received instantly because they have already been tested upon. The minimum number that must be ordered is 23 markers. This is a high-resolution test as it has been found that low-resolution tests (i.e. that use 10-12 markers) can often only exclude a link between two people and provide false positives. Also, the DNA markers tested are only in the ‘junk’ region of DNA and do not contain medical information. The test will not identify you as an individual as you will likely share the same results with many other individuals.

For a 23 marker test when two people with similar surnames match on all 20+ markers, a connection to a recent common paternal ancestor can be confirmed. Less exact matches indicate more distant connections or may exclude a connection altogether. The 43-marker test is the highest commercially available and provides the highest confidence in the results.

Most genealogists are trying to compare two or more people that are suspected relatives. They are trying to determine if they are related and, if possible, an estimate of when their Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) lived.

If an exact match is made between two people and there is no genealogical paper trail linking the two people, then how far back based on the number of markers taken in the test can we expect the common ancestor to be? Estimating when that common ancestor actually lived is left down to mathematics and statistics. There is a calculated margin of error that is explained in the Tutorial, so the MRCA could occur much earlier or much later than the below chart indicates. If we have an exact match on all markers in a 21 marker test, the average time when the MRCA lived is only 8.3 generations ago.

# of Markers matchedAverage # of Generations to when MRCA lived
12 out of 1214.4
21 out of 218.3
25 out of 256.9
43 out of 434.0

Since this Kettles Project is in its infancy, started March 2006, at the time of this writing only three people have joined up and none of the test results have yet to be returned from the testing lab.

I am hoping for some positive results, and strongly believe this is one way of surmounting those Brick Walls.

Bruce Kettles

Last update
24 March 2006
Kettle Genealogy
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