So Who Made This Website Anyway? Why?
Like many of my generation, I managed to make it through my
small, rural high school without even hearing the acronym DNA. I did
take biology in tenth grade where my energy was spent memorizing such
useful minutiae as the mouth parts of the grasshopper and the names of
obscure African parasites. Then, by some combination of an
adventurous spirit and dumb luck, I found myself, in the spring of 1963,
in a beginning biology lecture by Dr. Sumner Richman at Lawrence College
(now University) in Appleton, Wisconsin.
I had arrived at college with a vague notion of majoring
in psychology perhaps even becoming a psychiatrist. But, on that
beautiful spring day, Dr. Richman stood in the front of the lecture hall
in his white lab coat and, with only the aid of a piece of chalk, an
ancient blackboard and his typical exuberance, focused my life.
Bounding up and down in front of the board, he produced a series of
diagrams to explain how DNA, a huge, simple, elegant, magnificent,
incredible molecule I had never even heard of before, encodes, utilizes,
and passes on with amazing accuracy, the information that directs every
process in every living cell. As I walked back to my dorm room, I
was awash in two miracles--one, this miracle of DNA, the other, the
miracle that scientists could actually know with such precision what was
going on in a minuscule living cell. By the time I arrived at my room,
I had decided that I was going to be where that kind of action was.
In 1966, I was graduated with a degree in chemistry and
biology. In 1972, I received a PhD in biology (in the field of
neurobiology) from Purdue University and from there went on to a post doc
however, family needs precluded a full time career
in research biology. While looking around for a way to put my
education to work in a productive way that was compatible with my family
responsibilities, I chanced on an ad for a teaching position in biology.
Before I knew it, I was teaching tenth grade biology in a large high
school in southern California. I was happily surprised to find that
I loved teaching and my students as much as I loved research. Though
I never fully realized my early ambitions to further unravel the secrets of
the cell, life has been good and my study of biology was indeed a major
defining element. I take tremendous pride in the accomplishments of
In 1999, I retired from teaching. From early
childhood, I had been fascinated by an old family tale that my
gggrandfather, Harvey Alexander Kelley, had changed his name from Dorsey
to Kelley shortly after the Civil War and, at the same time, left
Walhalla, South Carolina and moved to Cumberland County, Tennessee.
Over the years, I had collected bits of information to support this tale
but had no real proof. Having followed the development
of DNA profiling for forensics and medical science with great interest, I
began to think about the possibility of using the same techniques for
leaping over some of the brick walls of genealogical research. It
didn't take long to find out that my ideas were far from original. I
first heard of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Project in 2001. A
quick "google" for DNA and genealogy, turned up the then new company
Tree DNA. By fall 2001, I had tracked down a descendent of the
Dorsey family I thought was my gggrandfather's family and he had agreed to
join two of my cousins in a small project at Family Tree DNA. Details of that project can be found at
In the process of learning about DNA testing for
genealogy, I subscribed to the Genealogy-DNA email list at
There I found an eclectic collection of enthusiastic list members who
ranged from professionals in the field of molecular biology to
individuals who had not taken a biology class since tenth grade (not
to mention those who reached my teacher heart with "I wish I had paid more
attention in biology!") I began to realize that more and more people
were going to find this new technique for genealogy appealing. I was
especially concerned that a general lack of knowledge about DNA and DNA
testing would cause some people to form unrealistic expectations, some to
reject it out of hand and others to be scared away from a potentially
powerful tool. This website is an effort to address those concerns.
My goal here has been an introductory/refresher course in fundamentals of
DNA and cell biology with a bit about some of the principles and
techniques that underlie the use of DNA testing for genealogy.
Others have provided a plethora of information about the interpretation of
results and I have no immediate plans to expand in that direction.
The links bars at the tops and bottoms of each page are
arranged in a logical progression. To follow the whole "course" just
click through the pages from left to right. If you have a specific
interest and know what you are looking for, just jump right in
I hope this site will be useful to all who land here by
whatever referral. Though designed for the genealogist with a
limited science background, site statistics suggest it attracts a large
number of non-genealogy users as well. I wish you each well and hope
for success in every endeavor that has brought you here.
Nancy V. Custer, Ph.D.
The Sea Ranch, California
March 30, 2004