Genetic Test Pinpoints Origins ‘To Within 5 Miles’


If tracing ancestors through DNA wasn’t futuristic enough already, genetic technology for genealogy is set to get even better.

A team of researchers at Edinburgh University recently tried to trace ancestors to a level of precision previously unheard of. Current technologies can tell you which country or even which province your ancestors came from, but aren’t able to do much better than that.

“We’ve just worked up recently to telling apart, in one study at least, people who came from the north of Italy and people who came from Tuscany,” said lead researcher Jim Wilson. “I just wanted to see what the limit of this was, how far you can go.”

Dr Wilson enlisted volunteers whose grandparents had come from the same village in Scotland, Croatia, or Italy. None of the volunteers were related to each other.

The results found that genetics could predict the correct village of origin for 100% of the Italian volunteers, 96% of the Scottish sample, and 89% of the Croatian sample. They explained the pattern by arguing that, since long ago people tended to marry within their own community, after several generations different villages developed their own genetic ‘fingerprint’.

“We had samples from villages very close together,” said Dr Wilson. “We were able to ask whether you can tell people apart from basically next door.”

The research team hopes these techniques will become commercially viable in the near future. “People are very interested in the past and where they come from,” said Dr Wilson. “I think a lot of people in the New World – Canada, Australia – are interested in where they come from. They’ll do their family tree and they’ll hit a brick wall. The paper records run out and they’re still stuck in Virginia in 1770 and they can’t get beyond that. They’re the people who are very interested to see whether their family stories are true.”

The details of the study can be read in The European Journal of Human Genetics. The full article (journal access may be required) can be found here. Further information can also be found in an article on the Daily Mail website.

And if you’re interested in a genealogical DNA test, check out the special deal for MyHeritage users at Family Tree DNA, the most trusted genealogical DNA testing company worldwide.

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  • Donella

    July 6, 2010

    fascinating. now… does this have to be thru a male line, like everything else seems to be. or thru an entirely female line, like somethings. or can ANYONE have their DNA traced, in this manner!?!

  • LukeB

    July 14, 2010

    The way I understand it is there are two different tests, paternal, and maternal. Maternal can be used to exclude persons from your maternal line. The paternal test can be used how far back two people share a common male ancestor. Both can be used to reveal ancient lineages, but that is pretty useless.

  • Caroline Volle

    July 28, 2010

    My mother was adopted in the early 1900’s and is now deceased along with all other family members of her generation. I know who her mother was, but not her father. I know the community he/they lived in. Can we use genetics to find out who he was or at least the family he was from in that community? If so, how would this be done…what would be needed?

  • Robert

    July 28, 2010

    Hi Caroline,

    I don’t know how that could be done, and I imagine it would be quite difficult. As far as I know the current commercially available technology cannot pinpoint beyond general regions and ethnic groups. Although the technology in the article promises to do better, it’s not on the market quite yet as far as I know.