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Carrie
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« on: January 07, 2007, 11:25:29 AM »

Frank Vascellaro
WCCO.com

Knowing where your ancestors lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago may now be as simple as a swab of the cheek.

Scientists said DNA testing is a modern way to dig up the past and new services promise to help you trace your genetic roots.

Steve Woodall wants to know everything he can about his family history. He's lucky he has records dating back to the 19th century, but that wasn't good enough.

"My goal was to get beyond the oldest known ancestor, which he was born in 1818," said Woodall.

He signed up for a new type of service that traces your roots the modern way.

"We can trace your ancestry back tens of thousands of years," said Bennett Greenspan of Family Tree DNA.

A growing number of companies now offer "genetic genealogy." They compare your DNA with DNA research collected by scientists worldwide. Hundreds of thousands of people have already signed on.

"Genealogy is something that touches upon, upon the lives of everybody," said June Wong of the DNA Ancestry Project.

You sign up for a service online and get a kit. You swab the inside of your cheek and mail the sample back to the lab. They test your DNA looking for mutations, called markers.

"Each marker is almost like a time and date stamp. It will tell us where and when our ancestors were at a particular time and place in history," said Wong.

The companies use whatever is known about your markers to map your family's migration. The scientific databases are constantly growing and depending on your background, could reveal a little or a lot.

"If someone's DNA has been part of several anthropological studies, the results that they may get may be very, very specific," said Greenspan.

The results also may be surprising. Despite stories that Woodall's father's lineage is 100 percent Irish, his report said he's Native American.

"My male ancestors have basically been on the North American continent for between eight and 12,000 years," said Woodall.

Population geneticist Marc Feldman said the new tests are exciting, but he cautions there are limitations. Research about cultures is still unfolding, so your results may be more of a probability than a guarantee.

"The information is going to be multiplied by hundreds of thousands of times in the next few years," Feldman said. "When it does come, people will be able to have a lot more certainty about their ancestry."

When new information is available, companies said your report is automatically updated online. Woodall is keeping tabs on his information and said learning about his family's past has changed his future.

"I've studied the Native American culture more. It's very important that we understand what has gotten us to where we are and made us who we are," said Woodall.

The DNA tests cost between $119 to more than $800, depending on the kit you choose.

Click here to read the article.
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