Monday, October 08, 2007

What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (DNA Testing)

Have you ever thought about how much your genealogy addiction costs you? What price have you paid to collect all those names on your family tree? If you had known what the cost would be when you began, would you still have started down this road?

For some people money is not an issue. They are fortunate enough to have been born into money, they've inherited it along the way, or they've managed to find a way to make a very comfortable living for themselves. For many people, especially those living paycheck to paycheck, there is no money for hobbies or family history research. Everything they bring home goes back out again to pay the bills. And then there are a whole lot of us somewhere in between. We're doing better than scraping by, but we're not exactly set for life. We have to make choices about when and where we spend our money. Is family history research the place to put it?

I've been thinking about the cost of compiling one's genealogy, both in terms of time and money. I wonder how many other people have stopped to think about the price they've paid for the hobby they love. Do you know what it has cost you?

I'm going to take a look at some of the expenses one can incur in the course of doing their genealogy research. I'm doing this not to raise eyebrows or make an issue about the price we pay for discovering our family's history but more so to look at the time and money investment it requires. The costs for researching one's family history will certainly differ from individual to individual. But most people starting out probably have no idea how much time and money is involved in discovering, recording, and maintaining their family history. This isn't exactly a poor man's hobby. Or is it?

The first consideration we'll look at is DNA testing.

DNA Testing

After watching last night's 60 Minutes show with the segment on "DNA and Genealogy" I got to thinking about how much it would cost me to bankroll the DNA testing for my ancestral lines.

I never stopped to think about the fact that my own DNA would only give me a peek at the genetics of my mother's mother's mother's mother's mother's mother's line (Mizera, Bober, Piechowicz, Opiela Kawlasczka). If I could get my brother to donate some of his saliva I could then get a peek at my father's line (Laska). If I could get my dear uncle to go along with DNA testing, that would provide insight into my mother's father's line (Lisowski). And if Cousin Tommy were willing, I could find out more about my father's mother's mother's mother's line (Lipa, Knot, Kitrys, Kliviewicz). I have a first cousin once removed who could give me DNA for my father's mother's mother's mother's line (Laska, Furman, Lesniowski, Rzegocki, Killian). If I was willing to try to explain to my cousins in Poland about DNA testing and could get their cooperation I could also learn about the Mizera line. And my dear cousin Wacek out in Las Vegas could give me my mother's father's mother's mother's line (Lisowski, Adamski, Cieslak).

I'm going to stop here, with seven genetic tests, because that's sufficient to make my analysis. A quick online survey shows that there's a wide range of prices for genetic testing of DNA, from $100 to $250 per test. I don't know about your family, but in my family I stand alone with my passion for genealogy. I can't think of a one of these seven individuals who would be willing to pay for the test themselves (except for me, maybe, I haven't definitively made up my mind to do this yet ;-). If I wanted to know the results that the DNA testing could provide for these individuals/lines on my family tree I'd be looking at shelling out somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 when all was said and done (using $130 per test times 7 tests plus a couple books to explain the results to me). So the price to learn about just a handful of my ancestral lines is pretty steep. Of course I could choose to have a smaller number of DNA tests done but how would I choose which ones to do? How do I care about some of my ancestral lines more than others?

Is there a way to find the results that DNA testing will give you elsewhere at a lower cost? Not really. The thing about DNA testing is it gives you information that goes back in time before standard, precise, and universal record keeping. So you don't really have the option of renting a microfilm from the Family History Library or checking an online database for this information. If you don't have a degree in genetics and access to a genetics lab you pretty much can't do it yourself. If you want this information you're going to have to pay up.

At first glance, the price of genetic testing seems high. But if you divide the number of individuals in one family line by the price of one test it isn't much different a price per person than ordering a document or two.

Next I'll look at some of the costs involved in ordering genealogy documents and other fees associated with research for do-it-yourselfers'.

Here is the series of articles I've written on this subject:
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (DNA Testing)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (DIY)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (Recording)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (Sharing)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (Reflections)