You probably have noticed genealogy magazines available at various bookstores. Some researchers find their favorite and subscribe to it; others purchase what looks interesting at the time.

The December 2009 issue of Family Tree Magazine has as its theme “Complete Guide to Genetic Genealogy.” That’s rather an ambitious claim, but there’s a lot there worth reading.

One really useful article is “DNA Fact or Science Fiction?”

DNA tests, done these days usually with a cheek swab rather than a blood test, identify one of two things in particular:

– The Y-DNA, male line, your father’s father’s father’s father’s line, etc. — what we call the surname line. If you are female, you have to submit a cheek swab from your brother, father, paternal grandfather, father’s brother or other male who shares your genealogy in that line.

– The mtDNA, mitochondrial line, your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s line, etc. Both males and females carry this DNA information, so either can be tested for it, but only females pass it on to their children.

My mother has three children, one boy and two girls. All of us got her mtDNA, but only the girls can pass it on. My sister has a daughter and a son, and I have two sons, all of whom have my mom’s mtDNA. But only my niece can pass it on.

So what about all that genetic information in between the Y-DNA line and the mtDNA line? That’s the autosomal DNA, and the information it provides doesn’t identify particular branches of the family tree.

Keep in mind, too, that DNA tests vary in how much they cover. As this article by Lauren Gamber explains, Y-DNA tests check 12 to 67 markers in men, and the price varies according to the number of markers.

There are online databases now for DNA, and if you find matches, then you may be encouraged to do the legwork, the traditional research to see where you and a prospective cousin may connect.

The tests themselves aren’t going to announce who your MRCA is — the Most Recent Common Ancestor you share with someone you match, or how far back in your family.

An interesting sidebar to Gamber’s article is “Testing, Testing,” by Kenyatta D. Berry, who underwent African DNA testing in hopes of finding out whether she had Ethiopian ancestry.

Her results revealed a “close” match to Ethiopia, but not exact, as well as exact matches for Cabinda in Angola, Sukuma in Tanzania and Mozambique Bantu. Bantu covers approximately 400 ethnic groups.

If you have an interest in mitrochondrial DNA, you might want to read “The Seven Daughters of Eve” by Brian Sykes.

Other resources listed in this month’s magazine include the International Society of Genetic Genealogy at

The group’s journal is free online, and its associate editors include geneticist Dr. Tom Roderick, former president of the Maine Genealogical Society.

The letters to the editor in Family Tree Magazine are always worth reading, because many of the writers offer information about Web sites they find useful.

A man with West Virginian ancestry recommends

Another writer had praise for two sites that had been listed in the previous month’s “101 Best Web Sites:”

– Seeking Michigan at

– The Brigham Young University Family History Archives at

This month’s “History Matters” feature by David A. Fryxell offers information about vaccinations over the years.

The first smallpox vaccine was tested in the 18th century.

Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was given by injection in schools in the late 1950s, as was smallpox vaccine, but my children received oral polio vaccine from their pediatrician in the late 1970s.

They also were born at the right time to receive the MMR — measles-mumps-rubella — vaccine. I thought that was great, because my siblings and I had been quite sick with measles in the early 1960s.

Only recently did I find out that my great-grandmother’s sister, Lucy, died during the 1918 influenza epidemic as a young mother in Millinocket.

We all have our own opinions about the H1N1 vaccine. I received the first swine flu shot in October 1976, at 25, and plan to receive the new one if it becomes available.

Another splendid article this month is Maureen A. Taylor’s “Medical Attention,” which points out that researching our ancestors’ ailments and causes of death can sometimes give us critical information about our own health.

As she points out, military records sometimes can give us added information. My Civil War ancestor, Alfred Hart of Dexter, died before vital records were centralized in Augusta, but his pension record gives information about him taking ill during the war. It also includes data on how much time he missed because of illness in later years as a laborer at the textile mill in Dexter.

Other sources Taylor mentions include a Web site I first learned about from historian Jack Battick of Dover-Foxcroft, Antiquus Morbus — also known as Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms — at

Family Tree Magazine is published seven times a year. Subscriptions in the United States are $30, sent to FTM, 4700 East Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45236.

Send queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, PO Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402; or e-mail

Roxanne Moore Saucier

Family Ties columnist