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The potential advantages and disadvantages of having your DNA tested

There are two separate issues to consider here - the pros and cons of Y-DNA testing, and the pros and cons of joining a surname project website (like our Spearin Surname Project).

Y-DNA Testing - pros and cons

Before you take a Y-DNA test, it is important to understand the potential risks as well as the potential benefits. We've discussed many of the benefits and some of the drawbacks above, but below are some additional considerations that should be taken into account before you decide to take a test. The biggest considerations are privacy, confidentiality, data protection, and unexpected results.

Privacy, Confidentiality and Data Protection

The approach to this issue varies from company to company. FTDNA's Privacy Policy can be read here - (http://www.familytreedna.com/privacy-policy.aspx). They will not share your personal information with anyone (including anyone who may match your DNA markers) unless a Release Form has been signed (see http://www.familytreedna.com/forms/FTDNA-release-form.pdf). By signing the form you give permission to FTDNA to give possible matches your name and email address so that these potential matches can contact you if they wish. Of course, you don't have to sign it if you don't want to, but this limits the usefulness of the test.

In addition, FTDNA adheres to the Safe Harbor Privacy Statement in connection with the transfer and protection of "personal information" received from the European Union (EU) or Switzerland (click here to read the statement - http://www.familytreedna.com/pdf-docs/FTDNA-Safe-Harbor-Standards-12-08.pdf). Your privacy is further maintained by Federal Law, specifically the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA, http://www.familytreedna.com/genetic-information-nondiscrimination-act.aspx) which protects against discrimination regarding health insurance and employment.

On the FTDNA website, you can also personally control how email is sent to you regarding possible matches and what kind of additional information you want to display publicly (e.g. most distant known ancestor) by going to myFTDNA / User Preferences (see http://www.familytreedna.com/faq/answers/default.aspx?faqid=36#1450). You can change these preferences yourself at any time.

For further info on the privacyissue, see http://dgmweb.net/DNA/Carrico/CarricoDNA-FAQs.html#privacy. And as this is an evolving science, you may be interested in some of the potential concerns about genetic testing that may emerge in the future - see http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0117/features-dna-databases-gene-scans-genome-hackers.html and http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/GENEALOGY-DNA/2011-01/1294230339 for a subsequent discussion at Rootsweb.

Unexpected Results

Occasionally, the results of Y-DNA testing are not what you expect. The most common surprise is that you do not belong to the same genetic line as known or supposed relatives. These are commonly called 'non-paternal events' or NPE's. Most people assume that this means there has been an illegitimate birth somewhere along the paternal line - for example, a woman gives birth to a child whose father is someone other than her husband but the child is given the husband's name. Alternatively, a child born outside marriage may be given the mother's surname instead of the biological father's.

Illegitimacy has occurred several times in my family tree, including (at least) once on the Spearin side - the will of Mathew Spierin from 1718 talks of his 'supposed son, William Spierin' i.e. one that he did not think he had fathered. It is quite possible that this is one way that a different genetic line entered this particular branch of the Spierin family.

But there are other important explanations for why the paternal genetic line may differ from that expected, including the following:

· Formal name change in order to marry and/or inherit land (from wife or father-in-law)

· Unrecorded adoption

· Change in surname before they became strictly hereditary (e.g. Oliver Cromwell took his mother's name because she was of higher social status than his father)

· Naturalization, or arriving at the same name variant from two or more entirely different sources (e.g. the names Spierin and Speranski may both have become Spearing when immigrants arrived in the USA).

FTDNA estimate that the rate of unannounced adoption or false paternity is about 1-2% per generation - see James Irvine's article[1] for further analysis of NPE's.

Joining our Spearin Surname Project - pros and cons

The pros and cons of joining a surname (or other) project website hosted by FTDNA can be found here - http://www.familytreedna.com/faq/answers/default.aspx?faqid=6. Many Y-DNA projects are run in conjunction with a One-Name Study registered with the Guild of One Name Studies[2] (GOONS). It would be great if we could eventually do this for the Spearin family but this will entail a lot of work. Several such studies have been published and Y-DNA testing has enabled additional advances to be made when documentary research had hit a brick wall. For example, in Chris Pomery's surname project[3], he was able to reduce the number of separate Pomeroy families from 300 to 49 because Y-DNA testing was able to identify which families were directly related to each other. This could also be the case with the Spearin Surname Project.

All surname projects registered with FTDNA are governed by the GAP Guidelines, a set of rules for project administrators developed by FTDNA - see http://www.familytreedna.com/documents/GAP-Guidelines-7-22-08.pdf. If you choose to participate in the Spearin Surname Project, the group administrator will be able to view your results and contact information so that he may best help members of the project learn about their ancestry. Also, with your permission, the results of your Y-DNA test will be uploaded to the Spearin Surname Project website and will be visible to the public. The website will be run in accordance with best practice for such websites, and in this regard the review article by James Irvine[4] (and the 14 well-run Y-DNA Surname projects that he reviews therein[5]) has served as a useful source for determining what may be considered to be best practice.

On the Spearin Surname website, publicly viewable data will be anonymised and only the following personal information about each participant will be visible to the public (as well as the kit number and testing company):

  • the family name of the donor (but not the first or middle names)
  • the initials of the researcher(s) of the donor's line
  • the earliest known Spearin ancestor and subsequent ancestors, but not the donor or his parents or his grandparents, unless either a) specific permission is obtained to do so; or b) the parents/grandparents were born before 1900.

There are a few other points worth considering. If you wish, you could take a Y-DNA test WITHOUT joining the Spearin (or any other) Surname Project. This is entirely up to you. In that case you would still be able to compare your results with any results publicly posted on the Spearin Surname Project webpages.

Also, it is also possible to take a test completely anonymously - in this situation, you would pay the project administrator to order the test for you and fill out all the necessary paperwork. Your given name would simply be "Anonymous" in the FTDNA database, and the project administrator would sign the Release Form and be the contact person. In this way, your anonymous data would be shared with the project.

If you have any doubts about any of the above issues, then email FTDNA (or whichever testing company you want to go with) for further information. If you still have doubts after this, then please don't take the test until your doubts have been addressed to your satisfaction.

[5] Websites reviewed in Irivne article:

Creer: http://www.creer.co.uk/ , Pomeroy: http://www.one-name.org/profiles/pomeroy.html , Plant: http://www.plant-fhg.org.uk/dna.html , Cruwys: http://www.familytreedna.com/public/CruwysDNA/default.aspx , Dalton: http://www.daltongensoc.com/dnaproject/index.html , Blair: http://blairdna.com/ , Irwin: www.clanirwin.org > DNA Study, Phillips: http://www.phillipsdnaproject.com/ , Wright: http://www.wright-dna.org/ , Walker: http://www.familytreedna.com/public/Walker%20DNA%20Project%20mtDNA%20Results/default.aspx, Taylor: http://www.familytreedna.com/public/taylorfamilygenes/default.aspx , Williams: http://williams.genealogy.fm/dna_project.php




Join us today ... you could find out more than you ever imagined!

Maurice Gleeson, April 2011

Copyright 2011 (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~spearinAll Rights Reserved.  Creative Commons License
The Spearin Surname Project at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~spearin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Information and data obtained from the Spearin Surname Project must be attributed to the project as outlined in the Creative Commons License. Please notify administrator when using data for public or private research. 

Last update: April 2011

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