Genealogy, the study of tracing one's family roots, has become something of a national obsession. It is now ranked as the second most popular hobby in American, behind only gardening. When the paper trail hits a dead end, hundreds of thousands of people have found they can still plow ahead by using the science of DNA testing. I put it to the test.
Grandparents on my mother's side are an open book. My mother used traditional genealogy records to discover that Grandmother's family came from Switzerland. Grandfather's from Norway.
Traditional genealogy maps out Mom's past for centuries. Dad's is almost a total blank.
Grandmother Ray thought her family had come from Bohemia, present day Czech Republic, but she was raised by relatives and never knew her father. Grandfather Ray was even more of a mystery. He told us his Great Grandmother was Native American and he was Black Irish, but that's a term that can mean many things.
One day last summer I met up with Bennett Greenspan before his speaking engagement at the Dallas Jewish Historical Society. Greenspan is founder of a Houston based company called Family Tree DNA.
Debbie Tobias of the DJHW explained that genealogy is of particular interest to her group because so many of their families were scattered by war and oppression over the last hundred years.
"With the fracturing of Europe after WWII, families destroyed, families split up, there's been a great need and I think people are really desperate to find their origins. Folks ranging in age from their 30s all the way to their 80s," said Tobias.
Through a simple cheek swab and testing at Bennett's company, people can now trace our ancestors country of origin. They can identify others who share genetic markers and potential fill in the blanks on the family tree.
It takes a couple of weeks to do the testing. In my case, the analysis answered some key questions but raised some new ones.
There's no indication of Native American ancestry. Instead, my line clearly goes back to Ireland, maybe Scotland.
The DNA test also provided me with dozens of potential relatives, people who share specific genetic markers that could be related, through my father's father. I've begun to email and share information with these possible relatives. Potentially, one or more will have answers to a lot my questions.
It's an ongoing process that may, eventually, fill in the blanks on my family tree. Researchers long ago concluded that, if you go back far enough, every man and woman on the planet shares DNA with one man and one woman. Scientific Adam and Scientific Eve lived about 70,000 years ago in northeast Africa.
"There's a lot more as a species that unites us than divides us," explained Greenspan. "We're 99.8 percent the same. As you study it for awhile it becomes very, very clear that there's one race and it's the human race."
For more information please visit Family Tree DNA's website.