Genealogist Kelli Bergheimer is occasionally asked if there’s a test out there that can prove if someone is related to royalty or maybe even Jesus Christ.
The answer to that is no, Bergheimer tells them. And rather than imagining they are descended from history’s greatest movers and shakers, she tells people seeking out those tests to instead think about less celebrated people who are lurking in their lineage.
She cites her eight great-great-grandfathers, all of whom fought in the Civil War. If just one of them had been felled by a minie ball, Bergheimer points out, her life never would have gotten underway.
“What are the odds of one being killed, with these hundreds of battles that happened?” she said.
Bergheimer, who hails from Columbus, Ohio, was at Peters Township Public Library on Oct. 26 for an all-day workshop, “DNA 101,” which explored the ins-and-outs of at-home DNA tests, misconceptions about ethnicity and more.
Taking DNA tests has become increasingly popular. It typically involves generating some saliva, spitting it into a vial, shipping it off to a company and waiting to hear the results via email. In some instances, the results can raise eyebrows – some people discover that, say, they are not nearly as German as they believed, or they have roots in some unexpected corner of the world.
Bergheimer warned, however, that initial results from DNA tests should not be taken as carved-in-stone gospel. Because the pool of participants is steadily increasing – some 26 million people have taken at-home DNA tests – companies like Ancestry and 23andMe are continually able to update the results and make them more precise.
She also noted the DNA tests can explode some much-loved family myths, but they cannot determine race.
“Race is a social construct, not a biological one,” she said. “Racial purity is a construct without scientific merit.”
Other sessions in the workshop dealt with DNA health reports, tools used by genetic genealogists, privacy and ethics.
The workshop was sponsored by both the Peters library and Citizens Library in Washington, along with Peters’ Roots Genealogy Club.