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Put your money where your mouth is or DNA sampling made easy
by Bruce English
There comes a time in family history research where you hit a brick wall (and that's a subject I also promised to write on but I hit the wall). Having hit the wall no matter what you do the future is clouded, all your contacts dry up and you resort to a good dose of navel gazing and heavy sighing. When that happens there are a couple of ways to move the matter forward and resolve the problem. You can:-

1. Double check, work real hard and find the missing connections, maybe;
2. Win a lot of money and relatives will find you. Unfortunately this will include some people who have absolutely no relationship with you;
3. You can pass the lot on to your kids and tie further developments to an inheritance clause; or
4. You can jump on the DNA wagon.

Now let's be quite honest about this, most of us are lazy and would really like things easy. So option 1 isn't too attractive. You have to go back through your connections and sources in the hope that you will find some clue. Some tiny pieces of information that may provide that vital clue. In addition, most access, be it paper or electronic, can be expensive and a bit hit and miss. Bluntly you need organisation, tenacity and patience so option one can go jump.

Option two. What do I say? The likelihood of winning a large amount of moneys is as likely as tracing your family tree back to point one. Mind you, you will probably find lots of relatives including some who have no relationship apart from wishing to share in your winnings. So in the interest of the integrity of the family tree, option two probably isn't a good way to go either.

Ah option three, rely on the kids. You have to be joking, besides, they'll suss out that there is no money forthcoming in the inheritance and that's the end of that.

So DNA, or option four if you prefer. New technology, easy as opening the mouth and voila, instant connections. Maybe but there will still be a lot of hard work following up with the references and source data. In addition, you have to rely on genetic relations participating in a DNA study. Mind you, some countries DNA test criminals so if you are really trying to save money that may be an option. However, not with standing the possible limitations this did not deter me!

For some time now I have been bemoaning the fact that good old William George English appears to have been the only one of his family that emigrated to Australia. Given his subsequent activities I have a pretty good idea why. Anyhow, family tradition, and everybody has at least one of these, has it that the rest of the English family emigrated to America. My best guess is that William George probably meant to tick America on the emigration form but got a bit confused and ticked Australia instead. Anyhow, I have been associated with the English Plantation site ( ) for some time and have had several interesting discussions with the web mistress ( a great visual concept). Around October 2004, I received an invite to participate in the English Surname DNA study ( Firstly it was an opportunity for me to participate in a useful activity and gain some information. It was also an opportunity for the study sponsors to look at how the process worked for a person in a remote location. This of course is a matter of perspective as to who is remote from whom.

Now people get upset about the concept of passing their DNA around all over the world but it's your choice. You either participate or you don't. Me, I'm in and my first disappointment was that I didn't have to provide a blood sample. I had visions of participating in Project Vampire but as the DNA test is based on scraping a sample from your cheek it's more like Project Spit. Hmm!

So what happens and how does one get on board? Well lots of things can happen and if you want to know the technical bits then check out the web site at ( However, if you want a short version, the project administrators and the DNA testing laboratory have their act together and can resolve any problem. Well I hope they can or my credit card is in for a rude shock. Seriously though both Georgia Bopp and FamilyTree DNA ( ) work really well together to resolve some of the issues that occurred.

First issue was there was an initial start up process whereby a pre-payment could be made towards the project. This amount was, through creative accounting, to later be deducted from the DNA test i.e. there was a positive incentive to join - it was cheaper. However, I found that after filling out all the details on the payment form I wanted to check back on the conditions before hitting the transmit button. Okay we are all wiser in retrospect but I found that the payment transmitted anyway. And yes I did repeat and made a double contribution. Georgia refrained from the obvious comment, after all depending what the DNA result shows we could be related, and swung into action. In short, she arranged with Max Blankfeld from FamilyTree DNA for the extra payments to be credited towards the account for DNA testing. After a series of e-mails it all worked out. So if things go wrong don't panic. Well not initially anyway. Remember that nobody involved in the project wants it to go wrong and it's easier to work together to resolve the problem. Both Georgia and Max do know what they are doing, unlike some of us, and work hard to resolve 'operator error'. Besides they thrive on the out of the ordinary. Can you imagine if there was no variation to their routine, it'd get pretty boring. So let them have the time to fix the problem before you panic.

Couple of observations about the actual DNA kit.

The kit arrives in a plain brown paper envelope (good for a laugh) and the instructions are quite clear if you take the trouble to read them. YOU SHOULD after all it's your sample and your money. You will find two small vials and two sealed scrapers. The idea is to open the sample jar A (be careful not to spill the storage media (let's call it water for convenience, after all this isn't science 101)) and take out the scraper. Now at this point resist pushing the non-scraper end of the sampling stick down otherwise the scraping piece will fall onto the floor; will collect dirt, cat/dog hair and certainly screw up your DNA sample. Probably impress the hell out of FTDNA though. So where was I? Oh yep, we have the scraper in our hot little hand. Next bit is easy, open the mouth and scrape along the inside of your cheek. Remove sampling stick, place in vial and depress the plunger. The scraper falls off and then you can cap the vial. It's a simple and even I succeeded. The hardest bit was remembering to mail it back to Max. Oh yeah, one very important piece of information. Do not forget to sign the authorisation to release information otherwise what's the point in participating in the study. I say again, do not forget to sign the authority (I did do it didn't I Barbara). So send off the sample and wait for all those relatives to roll in. I know I am and I reckon I can plan a holiday to the US staying with all my new relatives. You know, cousin Fred 14 times removed. Hang on, that may be a disincentive to participation. Anyhow, regardless the English surname DNA project is certainly worthwhile. So in short sign up to the DNA project, it will contribute to the English DNA database, help you in your research and lead to further improvements in exchanging information and ideas. The assistance offered by Barbara, Georgia and Max is exemplary and Max's company knows its stuff. So get on board and let's get related. [Bruce English - 14 December 2004]

Bruce's ancestry here


Page created: 14 December 2004 / updated: 21 Jun 06
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