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 I Weave Together Information


Basic Molecular Biology:  The Cell and DNA
More About Chromosomes
The Y Chromosome in Particular
DNA Testing: Applications in Human Anthropology, History, and Genealogy (journal articles)
Surname Projects
How It's Done: Techniques for Studying DNA
Companies Offering DNA Testing for Genealogy
Do It Yourself (Well, Maybe just for fun)

 Basic Molecular Biology:  The Cell and DNA
 From The National Human Genome Project

A short, narrated 3-D animation of how the information in DNA is used by the cell to manufacture proteins, produced by The National Human Genome Project
. The animation progresses from cells to the nucleus, chromosomes to DNA, and the scale, structure, and function of the human genome is portrayed. The mechanism of converting genetic instructions into active proteins is explained through accurate 3D animation of the processes of transcription and translation.

Talking Glossary of Genetic Terms

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) has also created the Talking Glossary of Genetic Terms to help people without scientific backgrounds understand the terms and concepts used in genetic research.

 From the Genetic Science Learning Center (University of Utah)

Basic Genetics

A great website that covers the basics of genetics.  Especially nice is the Flash Presentation
Tour of the Basics

Topics include
What is DNA?
What is a gene?
What is a chromosome?
What is inheritance?
What is a protein?
What is mitosis/meiosis?

Another section of the same website has sections on Genetic Disorders and Genetics in Society

 From the National Center for Biotechnology Information

A Science Primer  Molecular Genetics 
Recommended for the genealogist who wishes to understand the science behind molecular genealogy. "Molecular Genetics" contains a very comprehensive survey of the chemistry and biology of the cell written in understandable terms.


From the Genetic Science Learning Center (University of Utah)

What Can Our Chromosome Tell Us at the Genetic Science Learning Center website. Particularly interesting are pages describing and explaining chromosomal abnormalities (mixed up pieces of chromosomes?, too many / too few chromosomes?, 46 chromosomes?, missing pieces of chromosomes?).

 Y Chromosome

STR Fact Sheets from the National Institute of Standards and Technology

While the use of STRs (Short Tandem Repeats) for genetic mapping and identity testing has become widespread among DNA typing laboratories, there is no single place where information may be found regarding STR systems. This web site is an attempt to bring together the abundant literature on the subject in a cohesive fashion to make future work in this field easier. Facts and sequence information on each STR system, population data, commonly used multiplex STR systems, PCR primers and conditions, and a review of various technologies for analysis of STR alleles have been included in this database. Addresses for scientists and organizations working in this area have also been included as well as a comprehensive reference listing of material on STRs used for DNA typing purposes.  It includes a brief introduction about STRs.

 DNA Testing: Applications in Human Anthropology, History, and Genealogy

  • Kayser, Manfred ,  Michael Krawczak, Laurent Excoffier, Patrick Dieltjes,  Daniel Corach, Vincente Pascali,  Christian Gehrig,  Luigi F. Bernini,  Jørgen Jespersen,  Egbert Bakker, Lutz Roewer, and Peter de Knijff, An Extensive Analysis of Y-Chromosomal Microsatellite Haplotypes in Globally Dispersed Human Populations, Am. J. Hum. Genet. 68:990–1018, 2001

  • Bradman, Neil and Mark Thomas, "Why Y? The Y Chromosome in the study of human migration and prehistory" Science Spectra, Number 14, 1998

  • Weidenback, Kristen  "Why Study the Y: Chromosome reveals the path of ancient humans"
    Stanford Report, November 8, 2000

  • Schurr, Theodore G.  "The Story in the Genes Genetic Research Finds More, Older Options for First Americans" reports on studies using DNA to examine the origins of Native Americans
    (The archeaologytoday site is apparently undergoing a complete redesign and this link is not currently working.  Keep checking.)

  • Sykes, Bryan and Catherine Ervin,  "Surnames and the Y Chromosome" Am. J. of Hum. Gen 66: 1417-1419, 2000

  • Jobling, Mark  The Y chromosome as a marker for the history and structure of human populations , September 2001

  • Jorde, L. B., W. S. Watkins, M. J. Bamshad, M. E. Dixon, C. E. Ricker, M. T. Seielstad, and M. A. Batzer, The Distribution of Human Genetic Diversity:  A Comparison of Mitochondrial, Autosomal, and Y-Chromosome Data, Am. J. Hum. Genet. 66:000-000, 2000

  • Kayser, Manfred, Lutz Roewer, Minttu Hedman, Lotte Henke, Jurgen Henke, Silke Brauer, Carmen Kruger, Michael Krawczak, Marion Nagy, Tadeusz Dobosz, Reinhard Szibor, Peter de Knijff, Mark Stoneking, and Antti Sajantila,  Characteristics and Frequency of Germline mutations at Microsatellite Loci from the Human Y Chromosome, as Revealed by Direct Observation in Father/Son Pairs.  Am. J. Hum. Genet. 66: 1580-1588, 2000

  • BBC Beyond the Broadcast Surnames, Genes and Genealogy

  • Powledge, Tabitha M. "The Polymerase Chain Reaction",  Breakthroughs in Bioscience

  • M. F. Hammer, A. J. Redd, E. T. Wood, M. R. Bonner, H. Jarjanazi, T. Karafet, S. Santachiara-Benerecetti, A. Oppenheim, M. A. Jobling, T. Jenkins, H. Ostrer, and B. Bonné-Tamir,  "Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes"
    (from the lab that does the testing for Family Tree DNA)

  • Helgason,, Agnar, Sigrún Sigurðardóttir, Jayne Nicholson, Bryan Sykes, Emmeline W. Hill, Daniel G. Bradley, Vidar Bosnes, Jeffery R. Gulcher,  Ryk Ward,  and Kári Stefánsson, Estimating Scandinavian and Gaelic Ancestry in the Male Settlers of Iceland, Am. J. Hum. Genet., 67:697-717, 2000

  • Wilson JF,  Weiss DA,  Richards, M, Thomas MG,  Bradman N & Goldstein DB (2001) Genetic evidence for different male and female roles during cultural change in the British Isles, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA, 89: 5078-5083. 

  • A simple game from NOVA that explains the use of the Y chromosome to build a family tree.  You will need Macro Media's "Shockwave" to play, and the game is simplistic and tends to minimize the complexity of the science behind the science. Interesting nonetheless.

 How It's Done: Techniques, Procedures, Protocols

 From PBS

Sequence for Yourself  is an interactive presentation  that is companion to NOVA's "Cracking the Code of Life.  This presentation lays out the process of DNA sequencing in layman's terms.  It cleared up a few things that I hadn't realized I didn't understand (and I'm a biologist!)  I recommend viewing this first then viewing the National Genome Project's "How to Sequence a Genome" (see below)

It is also possible to watch the entire program "Cracking the Code of Life" in segments from this website.   It is available in both QuickTime and RealVideo, and closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.  Watch the Program Here

 From the National Genome Project

The National Human Genome Project website, has a fantastic multimedia video entitled
"How To Sequence a Genome"
  "Animated and narrated segments presenting all the essential steps in sequencing a genome. "  It is presented in segments (below) which seemed to load quickly and play smoothly despite the size of the files.  The "How To Sequence a Genome" video is a selection in the left column of the page.

 From the National Center for Biotechnology Information

A Basic Introduction to the Science Underlying NCBI Resources

An introduction to the various techniques used in molecular biology (some of which are used in DNA testing for genealogy)  Written for the layperson but comprehensive.  Topics include  Bioinformatics, *Genome Mapping, Molecular Modeling, SNPs, ESTs, Microarray Technology, *Molecular Genetics, Pharmacogenomics, and Phylogenetics

 From University of Michigan Medical School

How Do We Sequence DNA

 From Andy Vierstraete at the University of Ghent

A good discussion of PCR and DNA sequencing for the "layperson"

A review of the various techniques and instruments used to determine the number of repeats of  STR alleles

 From Family Tree DNA

A flash presentation tutorial about the collection process and analysis work for genelogical DNA.

 Surname Projects

Chris Pomery's DNA Portal

A plethora of information for the genealogical geneticist!
Also includes Chris Pomery's exhaustive collection of links to surname projects currently underway.  Because Chris's list of links is so comprehensive and continually updated, I am only providing a few links to Surname Projects rather than duplicate his effort! 

The Mumma Surname Project 

The data for this project is especially nicely formatted and presented for interpretation.  The whole project is a classic example of appropriate use of DNA for genelaogy.

Duerinck Surname DNA Project

A lot of information and links!

 Companies Offering DNA Testing for Genealogy

 Family Tree DNA

 Oxford Ancestors

 Relative Genetics

For those interested in more extensive DNA testing such as for establishing paternity, identifying missing persons and other non-genelaogical applications, there is a directory of a large number of DNA testing companies at

 Do It Yourself (Well, Maybe)

Extracting your own DNA at home is not too tricky.  The materials are cheap and easy to get. However, the result is a crude preparation and you would NOT have the necessary equipment to do any reliable analysis for genealogy (so much for "do it yourself") It's fun though and not very difficult--I know fifth graders who have done it in their kitchens at home.  The article on PCR in The Amateur Scientist includes instructions for sorting your resulting DNA molecules by size using electrophoresis--still too crude for genealogy though!

 Extract Your Own DNA

From a NOVA unit for teachers

 PCR At Home

This one requires some prior lab experience!

Shawn Carlson, editor of Scientific American's "The Amateur Scientist", explains how you can carry out the polymerase chain reaction in your kitchen.

surf over to the Web site of the Society for Amateur Scientists, and click the "Forum" button. As a service to readers, the society is offering a PCR kit containing all the necessary chemicals, as well as latex gloves and containers to hold your PCR samples. The cost is $40. Because the ethidium bromide included is a mutagen, this kit will be sold only to adults. The society can also supply an electrophoresis kit for $60. You may call the society at 619-239-8807 or write to 4735 Clairemont Square PMB 179, San Diego, CA 92117.

 Microscope Simulation

For a simulated, interactive look at cheek cells through a microscope try:


These databases have been generated by  Manfred Kayser and Mark Stoneking at the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology Leipzig, Germany in cooperation with Mechthild Prinz (New York City) and Lutz Roewer (Berlin).  Their stated purpose is:

  1. the generation of reliable Y-STR haplotype frequency estimates for minimal haplotypes and extended haplotypes to be used in the quantitative assessment of matches in forensic casework (paternity testing, criminal investigation)  
  2. the assessment of male population stratification among European and world-wide populations as far as reflected by Y-STR haplotypes

The databases have been generated by typing Y chromosome markers from volunteers in a variety of geographical locations.  Multiple labs have contributed data.  While they are available for searching by the public, they contain NO identifying information including the surnames.  Geographical distribution of haplotypes is reported but there is no guarantee that the any haplotype is exclusive to any geographical location.  They are fun to search and compare but it would be naive to draw any conclusions about surname origins based on matching values. 

YSTR Database for Europe
     80 European population samples
     11078 minimal haplotypes, 3237 of these are extended haplotypes

 Y-STR Haplotype Reference Database for U.S. Populations
    30 regional U.S. population samples:
    10 African-American, 11 European-American, 9 Hispanic
    1705 9-locus (minimal) haplotypes:
    599 African-American, 628 European-American, 478 Hispanic

Kayser M, Brauer S, Willuweit S, Schädlich H, Batzer MA, Zawacki J, Prinz M, Roewer L, and Stoneking M (2002) Online Y-chromosomal short tandem repeat haplotype reference database (YHRD) for U.S. populations. Journal of Forensic Sciences(2002), 47(3): 513-519

YSTR Database for Asia
     13 Asian population samples
     1864 minimal haplotypes, 302 of these are extended haplotypes


Savin, Alan,  DNA for Family Historians

This inexpensive little book explores the potential use of DNA for family history research. Simplified genetic theory and case studies are examined and the usefulness and problems of using DNA as a tool for genealogy are discussed. It is written at a level to be understood by any lay person. Click on the link for ordering information. 

Sykes, Bryan,  The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry,
 available from


As a former biology teacher I have a large library of high school and introductory college biology textbooks.   The chapters on Molecular Biology are an excellent place to learn or review the basics of DNA. 

You might even call your local high school science department to see if they have any discontinued textbooks you might borrow.  Quite often they are saved for reference but you might get lucky.

One of my favorites is:

Purves, William K., David Sadava, Gordon Orians, and H. Craig Heller, Life, The Science of Biology, sixth edition,  2001, W. H. Freeman & Co,

address orders to:

VHPS/W. H. Freeman & Co. Order Department
16365 James Madison Highway
US Route 15
Gordonsville, VA 22942

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Where Can I Go From Here?? 

Contexo Home Page ] Introduction ] Basic Chemistry ] Cell Chemistry ] Cell Structure ] Mitochondria ] Cell Nucleus ] Chromosomes ] Mitosis ] Meiosis ] Proteins ] DNA ] DNA Replication ] Gene Expression ] Mutation ] Molecular Genealogy ] Collecting Your Own DNA ] Polymerase Chain Reation ] Primers ] DNA Sequencing ] How Microsatellite Repeats Are Counted ] YSTR Database Allele Frequency Charts ] Dorsey DNA Surname Project Home Page ] [ Links ]

This web is lovingly dedicated to the memory of
Mr. James Dorsey
who so graciously and enthusiastically
donated his DNA to solve our family mystery. 

Jim Dorsey
2/12/1930 — 4-30-2002

 ©Copyright 2002-2009
Not for profit, educational website