There is one traditional way to establish a family tree and that is the paper route.
Unfortunately this usually only gets us back to about the mid 1600s, so how can we establish earlier records and relationships?
This is where the recent technique of DNA testing is useful.
DNA testing enables us to establish groups (Haplo Groups) into which males fall.
There are several kinds of DNA testing. The type that I am discussing involves the Y chromosome, which only males have. Y-DNA testing looks at only the paternal line, a man's father's father's father etc.
For example my haplo group is R1b1 which is the same as an American called HIXSON. This means that our family trees will join, with 99% probability, two or three hundred years earlier. Actually it's a bit more complicated than that.
I have, with a lot of help, established family trees for many people called Hickson, Hixson, Hixon and Higson. I would like to join these into one, or as few as possible, groups.
With the aid of DNA testing this can be done with a high degree of accuracy. To do this one male in each known family group needs to do a DNA test. Obviously this can also reveal surprises. For example, an adopted child will not have the same DNA as his adoptive father. Nor will a boy whose mother went astray!! However we all have ghosts in our cupboards!
Once a family group has been attributed to a haplo group we will know much more easily where to search for more paper records.
And now I am going to be controversial.
I have always said that family trees should be established on the basis of proof.
However I have also heard (and seen) of paper records which are incorrect. Census records are renowned for their errors. Certificates, however, also include accidental and sometimes deliberate mistakes.
Therefore I will argue that any family tree should always include details of the evidence or sources of the information, even if it is not proof.
For example my ancestor, Thomas Hickson, was married in St Albans Abbey in 1673 (see the parish records), but no record of his parentage is recorded anywhere. However there was the recorded marriage of another Thomas Hickson 25 years earlier in the same place. No other Hicksons have been found recorded in this or the neighbouring county in that period or earlier. My guess is that I have found the parents of my ancestor. The documentation in any tree needs to show this. If at some later date more information is found then it can be added.
Please don't publish any more family trees on the internet without this documentation. Many include guesses which are not documented.
Of course, DNA testing would establish the proof but you need a body for that ...
What about the female line or testing of the ladies, I hear you ask.
The female line can be tested by mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). But mtDNA changes more slowly than Y-DNA. Even if two people match exactly on the usual mtDNA tests (HVR1 and HVR2) they may not be related within a genealogical timeframe.
As you see on family tree dna we now have HI*ONs in haplogroups I and J as well as R1b1. So there will be at least 3 groups. Some of the R1b1 men may have their most recent common ancestors before surnames were generally used, so there may be more groups. Of course the surname HICKSON could have arisen several times independently.
If there are any male Hicksons who would like to take the DNA test we would be able to sort out which lines are likely to be related and which are not.
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