Marilyn Teaff Barton
by Linda Stern
Sept. 26, 2005 issue
If a Salt Lake City nonprofit has its way, everyone in the world will be able to use DNA to find his or her forebears. The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation is building a huge database of family trees and DNA samples in hopes of demonstrating worldwide biological connections. Its Web site, smgf.org, offers free access to 13,489 genetic profiles linked to 550,000 ancestors. There's one condition: people have to get a DNA sample (via a cheek swab or mouthwash analyzed by a private lab, typically for about $125) and send in their records. Some 60,000 individuals have already contributed.
Participants can get information about long-deceased forebears, but not for anyone born after 1900. The SMGF claims to be the only major DNA-matching genealogy project that is nonprofit and aims to test the entire world. But other organizations are in the game. The National Geographic Society is collecting some 100,000 DNA samples in a five-year effort to map how humankind populated the earth. Called the Genographic Project, it will provide participants with data on which parts of the world their families might have come from. Family Tree DNA, a Houston company, is doing the lab work and has posted its own free database at ysearch.org. African Ancestry (africanancestry.com) offers services to black genealogists.
Some of the projects have understandable links to religion. The SMGF's chief financial backer, James Sorenson, and its chief scientist, microbiologist Scott Woodward, are Mormons, whose church emphasizes genealogical research. Their goal is to show the close relationships "shared by the entire human family."