Although human genetics have been studied now for over 30 years, the application of DNA to family history is a phenomena of the new millennium. The results of the first study that tested people of the same surname to see if they shared the same male-line DNA were published in 2000. Since then, some 25,000 people have been tested commercially, and over 1,500 surname studies have been set up, half in the past 18 months, of which that on Wells is the largest, numbering 303 participants.
Chris Pomery, organiser of the Pomeroy DNA project, has written the first book explaining specifically how genetics can help genealogists. DNA can indicate whether people with the same surname are likely to be related, and sometimes can show that people supposedly related through the same family tree actually are not. It is a fantastic tool for studying surnames, and investigating groups of supposedly-related people, such as members of a caste, tribe or clan. The results of this brand new science often - and amazingly - bear out ancient, oral traditions attesting to common ancestry. DNA also enables us to map the migration of humans out of Africa, and determine our own places in that extraordinary story.
Excellent features of this book, besides its clear text and useful diagrams, are crisp, boxed summaries at the end of each chapter and a supporting website, [...] which provides more detail and scientific background on many of the issues covered in the book.
This is no mere guide: this is Chris Pomery's manifesto to encourage us all to have DNA tests and set up surname studies, thus adding more genetic information to the growing databases of human DNA. The more DNA results there are, the more accurate and interesting results will be for everyone.
One of the ironies of genetics is that, just as we are learning how to decode the data contained in our genes, the signal is being lost. Isolated populations, with their distinctive genetic codes, are being diluted into the increasingly homogenised soup of modern human DNA, so data gathered in the future will be far less informative. The traditional marriage of male-line Y chromosomes to hereditary (male-line) surnames is also breaking down. In a few generations' time, far fewer people will have the same surname as their male-line great grandfather, making surname-based DNA projects far less easy to organise. Hopefully, many people will be inspired by Chris Pomery's excellent book and get testing now.