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DNA Testing: 'Roots' Author Haley Rooted In Scotland, Too

Publication Date: 
April 06, 2009
USA Today
Rita Rubin

Professor Henry T. "Hank" Greely is quoted in USA Today in a story about DNA testing to find genealogical roots:

In 2007, Haley swabbed cells from inside his cheek and sent them off to see whether DNA on his Y chromosome, which, like last names, is passed from father to son, matched any of the more than 50,000 people in the DNA database. A different test checks mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to son or daughter.

Almost at once, found a perfect match. Unfortunately, that person was anonymous and has not responded to an e-mail Haley sent through In February, though, Haley learned that all but one of 46 markers, or locations, on his Y chromosome matched that of a 78-year-old man in Scotland named Thomas Baff, who took the DNA test to help his daughter, a genealogy newbie.


The science is new, and some of these firms marketing DNA tests have fairly small databases, says Sandra Lee, a senior research scholar at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.

"These companies are giving only a partial look at your genealogy," Lee says. So, she says, genealogists considering paying $199 —'s fee for a 45-marker Y-chromosome test — or more for testing should know they might not find a close match.

"If you get interested in genealogy and you're willing to throw a little money away and accept that you're probably not going to get powerful results, go for it," says Hank Greely, a Stanford law professor who specializes in the implications of new biomedical technologies.