Thursday, March 25, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are? Episode 2 - Emmitt Smith

Tonight, I watched another interesting episode of the NBC/ mini-series: “Who Do You Think You Are?” Being that I did not get to watch it when it aired two weeks ago, I watched it on Hulu. The video is posted below.

Former Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith traces his heritage from Texas to Florida to Alabama to Virginia to the slave coast of West Africa. I can’t imagine what it would be like to trace ancestors who had once lived in the bondage of slavery, and as the episode continued, Emmitt became emotional at times as he learned intricate details of his ancestry.

This episode taught some important lessons about tracing one’s family - often, you have to go to the place where your ancestors lived to extract the information from local records about your family. The Internet has become a wonderful tool to learn about your family; however, it will not totally replace traditional genealogical research. While sites like Ancestry, Footnote, and provide a great deal of information, not everything thing is online nor will it ever be. Emmitt was, however, able to use the tools provided by for finding information in the census records that aided his search of local records.

Like Emmitt’s journey from his home in Dallas to his ancestral locations, some mysteries can only be solved by traveling to the local county courthouse or public library. Unfortunately, records of a genealogical and/or historical nature are not standardized from state to state and locality to locality. It can be a hit or miss proposition to travel to one location and not find much. The turning point in my research was to find a will in Newark, NJ that listed a living relative that had quite a bit information on the ancestor I was trying to trace. The drive to Essex County, New Jersey was invaluable as it opened up doors that appeared permanently shut otherwise.

Eventually, we all hit brick walls and that is where Emmitt turned to DNA research. I have several posts on DNA that are worth checking out. One type of DNA test in which Emmitt has participated and I have not is the Autosomal DNA test. This test measures the 22 non-gender related chromosomes and estimates percentages of nationalities based on the markers that are found in each.

The test is not 100% conclusive of all of your ancestry, as certain markers of your ancestry may not always be passed down to you. For example, we have approximately 25% of the same DNA as each of our grandparents. If your grandfather had a marker in his DNA indicating a 10% Native American ancestry and none of the Native American markers are present in the 25% DNA passed on to you, you will not have any indication that you have this heritage in your bloodline by the test alone.

No doubt from the results, Emmitt’s Y-DNA and mtDNA were also tested as his origins were narrowed to a specific geographic region of Africa. With these two tests and because of the frequencies of genetic mutation, it is possible to get an estimated place of origin. While Emmitt’s was a specific region in Africa, my Y-DNA takes my paternal line back to Scandinavia and my maternal line to the Pyrenees Mountain region. Neither is very specific, but enough to satisfy my interests at the present.

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