Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Genetic Genealogy for the Digital Age

Several years ago, I was contacted by a representative at who offered me the opportunity to submit my DNA using a saliva collection kit. I figured I would be able to get the results and then complete my family tree going back many generations. I set up an account and started to add relatives to my family tree. When I received the DNA test results back, they did not yield any surprises (99% Ashkenazi Jewish), and, unfortunately, there were not any matches of my close relatives or ancestors. This is because there were not enough people paying for and submitting the saliva DNA to the website. 

Fast forward to this past summer when I received an email alert from I had actually forgotten I ever set this account up. The alert told me that my first cousin was a DNA match and was likely my first or second cousin. This was not earth-shattering news to me since I already knew my first cousin was related to me, and I also knew how she was related. However, this piqued my interest yet again in my genealogy. 

I returned to the website, and sure enough, more DNA matches showed up for potential cousins. I began looking through other family trees that distant cousins had set up as well as 100-year-old documents that gave me hints about my long-lost relatives.

I immediately got lost in the genealogy black hole, spending hours researching my family tree and sharing my findings with my family members. I was amazed to see photographs of my great-great-grandparents. I located photographs of my ancestors’ grave monuments, which provided details including their Hebrew names, when they were born and when they died. 

I discovered an account belonging to my mother’s first cousin, who had already spent a lot of time adding relatives’ vital information and photographs to his family tree. In his collection, I was amazed to see photos of my grandparents (his aunt and uncle) I had never seen before. I started connecting the genealogy dots that led me to extend my family tree back several generations, and I was able to do this for my wife’s family tree as well.

While monthly or annual membership to (or to other genealogy websites) can be quite costly, I learned that many local libraries offer complimentary access to and other online genealogy resources. I was able to take advantage of the access provided by the Farmington Hills Library, which gives library members full access to the website by logging into the library website. 

In addition to the Ancestry website, I also have used both and to look up birth and death records and other helpful documents, like immigration records and high school yearbooks. The only time I spent money on this hobby was when I ordered a copy of my great-grandparents’ New York City marriage license.

One resource very helpful to me in doing this genealogical research is the website In a few instances, I was able to identify a cemetery in which a relative was buried, but no other information about that relative or a photograph of the monument was available. I simply clicked a button on the website that reads “Request a Photograph” and within one day I was notified by email that photographs of my ancestors’ grave monuments had been updated to the website.

Being able to use genetic ancestry testing together with historical documentation has been an exciting and very interesting way for me to delve into my genealogy. Had I not submitted that saliva DNA sample several years ago and created an online account at, I would never have discovered the fascinating hobby of genetic genealogy. Now, every time I receive an email from with another DNA match or a clue about where one of my distant ancestors might have come from, I’m intrigued and drop whatever I’m doing to log into the website.

Back in 2019, it was estimated that more than 26 million people had added their DNA to the four leading commercial ancestry databases, which includes At that time, it was predicted that if the pace continued, the gene troves could hold data on the genetic makeup of more than 100 million people within the next two years. That means that there’s a very good chance that there are DNA matches to long-lost relatives just waiting to be discovered on websites like 

In addition to discovering your roots, there are countless health benefits to identifying your relatives as well. I highly recommend the intriguing hobby of genetic genealogy. 

Cross-posted to the Detroit Jewish News

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