Archiver > GENEALOGY-DNA > 2001-01 > 0980287261

From: "Richard A. Pence" <>
Subject: Re: [DNA] A message from a skeptic
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2001 17:01:01 -0500
References: <>

Alan Savin <> wrote:

> > ===== begin text of Richard Pence's message posted to
> > soc.genealogy.methods:

> > The author said that Prince Philip was a "descendant" of
> > last Czar of Russia (I don't think so, am I wrong?)

> I did not actually say that Philip was a descendant of the
> what I actually said was "various descendants alive today
> including Prince Philip........gave samples of their DNA
> matched those of the Czar and Czarina respectively." Look
> again.

I have, and darned if "various descendants alive today
including Prince Philip" doesn't lead me to the same thought
as before. Makes no difference, as it is not material to
either your point or mine.

> > My recollection of the findings is that DNA testing was
only a
> > part of what was used in deciding who was in the graves.
> > testing, by itself, could not prove such a thing, at
least at its
> > present level of sophistication.

> There was other evidence as well as the genetic. But as
well as
> a common mtDNA lineage a rare mutation called heteroplasmy
> was also in his mtDNA. The odds of this mutation are many
> million to one. Therefore genetic evidence alone is
> reasonable doubt" to use a legal phrase.

Without getting into a discussion as to whether "beyond a
reaonable doubt" is sufficient in cases such as this, the
articles I read on this noted that the scientists went out
of their way to emphasize that their conclusions were based
on the total package of evidence and particularly did not
rely on the DNA studies alone as "proof."

> > Secondly, the article said that DNA testing "proved"
> > Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally
> > children. It did no such thing. What DNA testing
showed - and
> > this is all it can do at this point (or at least at the
point the
> > Jefferson tests were made) - is that Thomas Jefferson
and the
> > descendants of that slave descended from a common female
> > ancestor.

> Don't you mean a common MALE ancestor, it was the Y -
> chromosome being tested

Yes, I have since learned that I was at the right church but
in the wrong pew. Whether it was a common male or female
ancestor, however, doesn't affect the validity of my
statement. Contrary to your statement, the test did not
prove that Thomas Jefferson was the father of one of the
children of Sally Hennings. A more accurate statement is
that it did not deny that possibility.

> > First, at least at this point, DNA testing is not
precise enough
> > to answer the kinds of questions genealogists seek to
find the
> > answers to. Chasing a DNA thread can lead you up at
least as
> > many different trails as the knottiest genealogical
> > already has. How do you know that the DNA matching
> > evidence is actually from this person? You could have
> > inherited from another widely separated person whose
> > sister married an ancestor of your subject.

> How do you know any genealogical evidence is of the right
> person. You use it in conjunction with other collaborating
> evidence.

Doggone. And I was just going to send Ann a nice note saying
what a pleasure it was to be a participant in a mailing list
where the evidence is corroborating and not collaborating. I
suppose, however, there are both kinds. <G>

I probably didn't say it clearly, but my point above was
that one has to do what you say - the evidence, including
DNA testing if that is a part of it, has to be taken as a
whole. What I am seeing, however, is something different:
The "scientific" DNA evidence has a tendency to blow
everything else away.

> > Secondly, it seems unlikely to me that people will go
> > digging up graves as a matter of course to find out
> > Titus was really their great grandfather. (And besides,
> > most elusive ancestors are the ones whose graves you
> > not found.)

> No graves were dug up for the Jefferson case, the Czar's
> was exceptional

Granted. However, that point doesn't affect my point.

> > And, thirdly, it seems to me if the technology does take
us to
> > the level where we can determine whether this person or
> > person was an ancestor of a given person then we are in
> > world of a new science that is emphatically NOT

> But would it not still fit most people's defintion of
genealogy, and
> therefore still is?

My experience is that most people don't have a definition of
"genealogy." For a great many it is collecting names on the
Internet and seeing how many of them they can get in their
Family Tree Maker program.

However, I'll concede this point to you. My statement is
decidedly a personal view of what it is I have been doing as
a pastime for the past 30 years and the detective work

When I wrote the statement I was thinking in terms of a huge
scientific factory where you line up, they take a blood
sample and by the time you walk out the far side they will
hand you a 15-generation ancestral chart with the DNA
numbers on you and all your ancestors. Even something
decidedly less than that wouldn't be "genealogy" to me.

I know that's not what this is about and It is even possible
that I may one day want DNA testing to be a part of my
"research arsenal." Who knows?

> I rest my case.

> Alan Savin

And I mine.

Thanks for your comments.

Richard A. Pence

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