Finding Our Roots: Fan Charts and DNA Tests

There are some obvious places—Rome, Bern, Zurich, Rotterdam—to visit on this pilgrimage. But there are some less obvious places too. Most of our ancestors were farmers in small villages in Switzerland and Germany. Figuring out where those villages are takes some specialized research.

Thankfully, my grandfather, David I. Miller, has been coaching me to do this research my entire life. When I was a child, he helped me fill out my family tree in the form of a fan chart. This past week after turning in grades, I pulled out it out. I was amazed all over again by just how many ancestors we all have. If you look carefully, I have 512 great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmothers and grandfathers.

Me and my Great Grandpa Ivan J. Miller
Me, Grandma Erma, Grandpa David, and my sister

I know who many of them are because Grandpa Miller has given me many genealogy books over the years at Christmastime. I also pulled those out to prepare for the trip. Here are some of the titles:

  • The Daniel Bender Family History (1985)
  • Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler, Immigrant of 1736 (1912)
  • Joel B. Miller History (1960)
  • Anniversary History of the Family of John “Hannes” Miller (1997)
  • The Swiss-German Forebears of the American Swartzentrubers (1985)
  • Weber-Weaver Family History
  • The Descendants of Lydia Zook and Abiah Byler

Not the most scintillating reading (I prefer stories), but necessary for the task. I took many photos of relevant pages and will be combing through them on European trains over the next three weeks. This will determine which villages we visit in the Emmental region of Switzerland and the Hesse region of Germany.

Of course, fan charts and genealogical books don’t always reflect real life. That’s where DNA testing comes in. As the great observer of the human condition Shania Twain once asked, “Whose lips have you been kissin’? Whose ear did you make a wish in? Whose bed have your boots been under?” Do 100 percent of my ancestors come from the Black Forest region located at the intersection of Germany, France, and Switzerland, as the books say? I suppose it’s possible, since they tended to marry within their own ethnicity and religion and tended not to travel far from home. But it’s also possible that some eyes wandered and boots strayed. Perhaps we’ll be surprised by the results.

We’ll find out soon enough, hopefully while we’re still on our trip. Our son Jonathan took a DNA test this morning. He spit into a vial, mixed it with stabilizing fluid, and packed it into a small box. Then I took it to the Nicholasville Post Office. At the processing facility lab, technicians will filter out the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates from his saliva and then isolate the DNA by binding it to glass and magnetic beads. Then during the genotyping phase, a microarray will detect around 700,000 DNA markers, which will identify his ethnic origins, ancestors’ migration paths, and living relatives. In a few weeks, we’ll get an email. Finding your roots has gotten more scientific.

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