DNA Testing Dispels a Genealogical Myth
A bunch of people named Smolenyak, all hailing from the same tiny village, thought they shared a common ancestor. We were wrong.
Many are not aware that genetic genealogy has been around for slightly more than two decades. I was introduced to using DNA for forensic purposes back in the dark ages of 1999 when I began my work with the U.S. Army assisting with the identification of soldiers still unaccounted for from conflicts ranging from WWI to Vietnam. As a result, I was an early adopter when the first commercial testing companies launched in 2000, but as often happens with new technology, there was a lot of resistance in the early days.
In spite of already being an established writer and speaker, as the first professional genealogist to be a proponent for genetic genealogy, it took me two full years to get anyone to accept an article or talk on the topic. This article, the first one I managed to get published, had been turned down by all the other genealogical magazines. “Everton’s Genealogical Helper” ran it in their May/June 2002 issue. I share it today to provide some insight into how much has changed — and how much hasn’t.
Our History Mystery
Smolenyak is a genealogically convenient name. There aren’t all that many of us, and although we are now scattered from Ukraine to Antarctica, years of research have revealed that we all trace our roots to the same geographically isolated village of Osturňa, Slovakia. As if that weren’t tidy enough, the records of St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church, the only church in the village, show that the Smolenyaks lived decade after decade in the same four households: numbers 88, 96, 103, and 135.
Following the paper trail of church, land, and census records, we were able to track these households as far back as the 1740s. As we worked our way back from generation to generation, we kept looking for hints of the four households converging. Surely such a secluded cluster living in such close proximity to each other must have common roots, we reasoned. When 1715 military conscription records contained only a single draft-eligible Smolenyak, we became even more convinced that we had a common…