Friday, February 14, 2014

Book Review: DNA and Family History by Chris Pomery

Another day, another DNA book.  This one is relatively old -- 2004 (can you believe that something from 2004 is 10 years old?)

DNA and Family History: How Genetic Testing Can Advance Your Genealogical Research, by Chris Pomery, is a short book and a quick read.  In some ways, that may be its best feature -- you can actually read this book without furrowing your brow.  Admittedly, even I could tell it was dated -- at one point in the early chapters he declares that DNA research has conclusively established that there was no human-Neanderthal interbreeding.  But, in an odd way, the fact that this was written in the early days of DNA testing makes the book easier to follow, since it's not trying to cram in quite so much material.

The good:  Pomery acknowledges the existence of autosomal and mitochondrial testing, but declares them off-limits for his book; he focuses on Y-DNA and surnames only.  This clarity of purpose allows him to tell a reasonably coherent story about how testing works, what questions it will answer, and the steps involved in reaching a conclusion.  For many folks, nailing down Y-DNA alone would be a really good starting place.

Also good: Pomery emphasizes the interplay between DNA test results, documentary genealogical research, and general geography, history and statistics.  His list of 11 factors for evaluating DNA surname project results are clearly presented and nicely illustrated.  And his example of how to present surname project results are also the most clearly presented I've seen so far.

Amazingly, his list of predictions for the future of genetic genealogy are, for the most part, coming true.  Much better than a lot of other lists of predictions!

The bad:  10 years is an eternity in genetic genealogy.  The website Pomery established to host all the detailed examples and references has been reformatted to market his professional services (a cautionary tale for all print-web experiments!)  Although he makes references to US genealogists, his focus is really on UK surname research.

My takeaways?  A good surname project coordinator is probably worth his or her weight in gold, look for context in the form of geographical distributions of surnames and haplotypes, etc, and don't write books that refer to the web for critical clarifications if you're not prepared to maintain the website.

Should you read this?  Read, maybe.  This might especially be good to loan to someone trying to understand a Y-DNA/surname project who is getting drowned in all the references to other kinds of testing.  Definitely try to check it out from the library rather than buying it -- there are probably more recent books you should spend your money on first.

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