LAST REVISED: 24 April 2002

"Why DNA Testing For Genealogy and How To Manage It"
by Kevin F. Duerinck, Esq.
3 March 2001

You've heard it before, and you are probably asking yourself this question -- WHY DNA testing for genealogy? Why not just look up the records and be done with it? The reasons I decided to take the plunge and forge ahead with DNA testing were many. First, I am trying to relate all Duerinck's and variant-spelled clans from around the world. After working in genealogy for over 20 years and interacting with these various clans for almost 4 years, it was clear to me that we might have to test our DNA in order to relate all of the clans together. Let's face it -- the paper trail runs cold or is nonexistent before a certain date in time.

Second, there are many etymology books available concerning surnames that say your name means xxxxxxx and it is derived from xxxxxxx, or that it is an old Germanic name from the xxxxxxx region in what is now Germany. Well, I wanted to know more. Previously I had considered myself of Flemish and Walloon extraction from Belgium and many of my relatives live in Belgium. I wanted to know whether the ancestors of the Duerinck's and like spelled surnames came from Germany, and where in Germany did these people emigrate from? Was it really the area known as Thuringia?

Third, in my case the books spoke of a Germanic tribe from which the surname Duerinck was probably from. Are we all really related to the Thuringii Tribe, which was a Germanic tribe operating in what is now Germany before 700 A.D.? That may be overstating things a bit, but my imagination was running wild, of men on horseback raiding the Roman camps, stealing food and more horses. What is probably true is that the name Duerinck came from the Germanic given name Duro or Duringius, Dure or Thuro, or from the Germanic word element "tur" (to dare). It is also possible that during the Middle Ages, when people started taking surnames, that they took the name Duerinck because they were simply signifying that they came from an area of Germany called Thuringia.

So let your imagination run wild if you want, but we genealogists look for skeletons in the closet, for interesting stories to liven our search for the truth about our ancestors. Come on, would it not be amazing that in the future, after many people from around the world have had their DNA tested, that it is found that yes, the Duerinck people were descended from the Thuringii Tribe in Germany! And you thought that you had skeletons in the closet! It may not possible to establish this conclusively, unless we run across some ancient poor soul who was frozen in ice all these years in that region and we then tested his DNA. I would not hold my breath!

So I brushed up on my knowledge of genetics and read many research papers on the use of y-chromosome testing of males, including the procedure. I contacted many DNA testing labs, found a few that do this y-chromosome testing of males for genealogical purposes. I interacted with the company presidents. They were new in the area and found out that people like me were furnishing them with many questions. They knew that they would need to answer these questions and that there would be more people with more questions following in my wake. We interacted, exchanging ideas about what would genealogists like to see in reports that they would generate once DNA testing was done. How should we submit many samples to the lab and would there be a reduction in price if we did so, etcetera.

One very important procedure to come out of all this related to Surname DNA Project Management. My internet buddy Doug decided to charge ahead and was one of the first to become a project manager for a DNA testing project for his clan. That way anybody with privacy concerns could rest. Under this project model, the lab might have the number assigned to your DNA specimen, but only the project manager would know the name to whom it belonged. In any event, privacy concerns are really not concerns at all regarding testing. The only time that it is of concern is if you test somebody with your last name but find out that they are not genetically related. This occurs because of infidelity, adoption, or the chance occurrence way back when that somebody had a name change. Imagine that!

Regarding privacy, also be aware that only "junk" DNA is being tested--that DNA that is found in noncoding regions of the cell. They are NOT running tests on your DNA to find medical maladies! For people that have genetic tests run to find evidence of inherited medical conditions, those are different types of tests and are performed on coding regions of the cell.

Now do not forget that while all of this is going on, you better be searching the internet telephone books, writing letters, e-mailing, calling people with your same last name all over the world. You see, you need people to be tested! I basically e-mailed people, and kept on doing it over many months. I did call a few people. Of course you might get better results by giving people an introduction to what you are wanting to do, and then after a few e-mails, call them and lend the personal touch. Get them to sign up for the DNA Project. I ended up with 11 out of 13 people at the very final count, all males signing up for y-chromosome testing, and a few of them also agreeing for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing.

So you have found some willing men for y-chromosome testing -- who is going to pay? Not being a wealthy man, I had counted on the various "clans" or families to support financially their own candidates. I knew it might be difficult because I also wanted to test families with names like mine but which could be termed significantly different. Some of the names were not just a missing or additional letter. They had different endings, etc. So what I did was keep conversing with people, getting the people to join that would pay their own way, then offering to others to pay half their testing cost. Finally, if people were just not interested in paying at all but thought that it might be a worthwhile goal, I offered to pay their testing costs, but then I wanted them to get both y-chromosome AND mtDNA tests.

Meanwhile, I had to choose a testing laboratory. What lab should I choose? For purposes of my dialogue here, I chose one lab that dealt exclusively in genetic testing of relationships, or what some of us term "genetic genealogy". The lab also had a relationship with a scientist who is one of the few who are at the forefront of this genetic genealogy wave and who are still actively researching. I looked at price. I also looked at who was testing the most genetic markers and the quality of those markers. There are other fine labs that have added relationship testing to their arsenal, but maybe their price was too high, maybe they were not affiliated with an active researcher, maybe too few markers offered for testing. Just to let you know that among the labs that I conversed with, some even by phone, I was impressed with their professionalism and willingness to help.

Once choosing a lab I narrowed down what steps that I had to do in order to be the project manager. I sent out a waiver to all participants asking them to sign and date it in order to relieve me of legal liability in exchange for me being project manager. I ordered buccal (cheek) swab test kits from the lab to be sent to my house. I then sent the kits individually to the participants. They collected their DNA by scraping the inside of their cheeks per instructions from the lab. They sent these kits back to me and I shipped them in one batch to the lab. I also established computer files where I set up a table listing my participants names, their test kit number (after ordering the buccal swab test kits), whether they signed and returned the waiver I sent them. I also had a column for what tests they wanted performed, how much they needed to pay, how much they ended up paying, when their test kit came back to me, and when all kits were sent to the lab for testing.

I now am waiting for the results. What do I expect? I believe that if I expect nothing, then nothing will shock me. I can only be pleasantly surprised (I hope). I do hope that anyone with the name Duerinck, Durinck, Duerink, Duering and Von Duering are related. The other names are a little bit different and I don't know what to expect from them. Even the results may not be significant. If there are 2 Duerinck's from currently unrelated clans and they don't match, then I have to do more testing. As anyone who has a science background will tell you, you need a large sample size (more participants) to show a theory (or guess) as being statistically significant. I will probably do more testing down the line, but I may wait until they have gone from testing 12 markers to 20 markers. What you must also realize is that the lab will keep my participants' samples, of which the DNA has been extracted and purified, STORE them, and at a reduced cost later retest the samples using more markers.

All in all, whether the price of testing goes up or down, I didn't sit on the couch letting the world go by. I realized that the paper trail in many instances was nonexistent or growing cold, and that I needed, no, I wanted to do something about it. I have put in my time as a genealogist working with paper, with microfiche and film. Now was my time to keep up with the times. I may be surprised or shocked at the results that will be coming soon, but I will never be disappointed. I also know that this area will evolve more and more. There are many discoveries to be made, and I am a part of it all. I am happy to be not only a genealogist, but someone helping to show others how genetics can play a part in genealogy.


GENETICS AND GENEALOGY: Y Polymorphism and mtDNA Analyses
Genealogists, relate clans using DNA tests!

Duerinck Surname DNA Project

DNA Project Waiver/Release Form

Genetic Laboratories and Testing Sites (Y-Polymorphism/mtDNA)

DNA Storage Methods

Genetic Definitions

Genetics and Human Migration Patterns

Medical Genetics and Genealogy: Genetic Diseases

Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP)

Short Tandem Repeat (STR) DNA Profiling

Human Gene Patentability

Genetics and Privacy

State of Illinois Genetic Information Privacy Act -- Selected sections




Copyright © 2001-2003 Kevin F. Duerinck