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Slaven DNA Project

Is this only for people named Slaven?
What is the purpose of the Slaven DNA study? What does it hope to prove?
Can the DNA study prove that the patriarch of family A and the patriarch of family B were brothers?
How does this DNA testing work?
Why a Y-chromosome study?
How many descendants in a family line should be tested?
What's the deal with the 12-marker and 25-marker tests mentioned earlier?
What about privacy?
I'm interested in participating. What do I do now?
I only know a couple generations of my family history. May I participate?
What's in it for you?
Where can I find other information on genealogy and genetics testing?


Q. Is this only for people named Slaven?

A. No, we definitely want participation from Slavens, Slavin, Slevin, Sleven, Slavey, and other variations of the surname. It's just too long to list them all in the project title. (It's the same problem that this site has in general-- how can you show that the intent is to include all variations of the surname without becoming unweildy?)

Q. What is the purpose of the Slaven DNA study? What does it hope to prove?

A. Throughout the world there are many family lines with similar surnames-- Slaven(s), Slavin, Slevin, etc.-- who appear to be unconnected based on documentation and the work of dozens of genealogists over the past decades. For some, a connection between lines is suspected but unproven. There are also many people who hit their "brick wall" just a few generations back and do not know to how-- or if-- their family line connects to other lines.

In the United States, there are several family groups that predate 1800 for which no common ancestors are known: John Slavin of Highland County, Virginia, William Esleven/Slavin of North Carolina, Barnabas Slaven of Pennsylvania/Ohio, and others. Later in the 19th century additional families without proven links to the earlier families appear, and the migration of new families from Ireland and Scotland continued. At the same time, other families emigrated to Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of the world. There are still "native" lines in Ireland and the U.K. who may be the descendants of the same ancestral lines as those families in the United States and elsewhere. And the situations apply to those with the surname whose families came from Eastern Europe, Russia, and other areas.

By analyzing the DNA of male descendants of the various lines, we can determine which lines are connected-- with a rough estimate of how many generations ago the lines split-- and which lines are unique.

DNA testing is not a substitute for traditional research, but a supplement to it. By showing relatedness between lines-- or the lack of it-- a researcher may have a better idea where to concentrate their efforts.

Q. Can the DNA study prove that the patriarch of family A and the patriarch of family B were brothers?

A. To show a connection, one or more straight-line male descendants of each patriarch will need to be tested. Even then, we can't tell that the two ancestors were brothers. If the descendants DNA match it does prove that patriarch A and patriarch B were members of the same family-- brothers perhaps, but the relationship could have been first or second cousins, or more distant, or they could even have been father-son. But both patriarchs would have had a common ancestor, and by extension, so do all their descendants.

Q. How does this DNA testing work?

A. If you decide to participate in the study, you will be sent a kit with two plastic swabs. The swabs are rubbed against the cheek inside your mouth to collect buccal cells, and then mailed back to the lab. Markers on the Y-chromosome are analyzed, with a numeric value assigned to each marker. The sets of numbers are then compared to the results from other subjects in the study. The higher the number of matching values, the more likely that both subjects have a common ancestor. In a 12-marker test, a 12 of 12 match is considered an indication of common ancestry; a 23 of 25 marker or better match in the more sophisticated test is a strong indicator of relatedness.

A participant in another Y-chromosome project has created a website showing how simple the sample collection process is. Thanks for sharing this with other projects!

Q. Why a Y-chromosome study?

A. If you remember high school biology, in humans the 23rd chromosome is the "sex" chromosome-- females have two "X" chromosomes and males have an "X" and a "Y". The Y-chromosome is passed from father to son, from one generation to the next, almost always letter-perfect . Tiny chemical markers in a part of the Y-chromosome that change (mutate) slowly over time are tested to determine numeric values, which are collectively called a haplotype. This haplotype is compared to haplotypes of other individuals to determine if they share a common ancestor.

Because the study uses the Y-chromosome-- sorry, ladies-- the study is only open to male subjects. Since most Western societies trace surnames through the male line, it also means that men need to have some variation of the surname to participate. The exception would be a man whose natural father was a "Slaven" but who has a different surname because of adoption or some similar legal/civil matter, or the straight-line descendant of such a person.

Q. You said earlier "one or more straight-line male descendants of each patriarch will need to be tested." Why would more than one be needed? Would five or six from a line be even better?

A. Two samples may be needed from a family line to "prove" the Y-chromosome reading of that family."Non-paternity events" is the term used in these studies for situations where a presumed straight-line descendancy is broken. These events would include undocumented adoptions, infidelity, a child born to an unwed young woman and raised in her family as a "brother," and similar circumstances. If one subject's haplotype doesn't match any of the other haplotypes in the study, he may be descended from an entirely separate "Slaven" line or he may have a "non-paternity event" in his background. In such cases, another member of his family line could be tested to help determine the answer to the new line versus non-paternity event question. This second subject should be as distantly related to the first as is feasible-- i.e. testing a first cousin isn't going to reveal a non-paternity event if happened earlier than one of their fathers, as they have the same ancestors from their grandfather on back. Finding a third, fourth, or fifth cousin to be the second subject would be more beneficial.

Also, there is value in testing several members of the same ancestral line. We have several different lines of descent from Richard Slavey/Slaven in the project. The results of the testing confirm Elisha, Alexander, and James Slaven as members of the family line. Descendants of other presumed sons of Richard Slavey-- for example, descendants of Andrew, Pleasant, William, or Absalom may want to be tested to confirm genetically the link to the family.

Q. What's the deal with the 12-marker and 25-marker tests mentioned earlier?

A. One of the labs handling the Slaven DNA project, FamilyTree DNA, will test 12 markers on the Y-chromosome for a group rate of $99, or 25 markers for $169. If someone starts with a 12-marker test and later wants to upgrade to the 25-marker test, the upgrade costs $90. DNA Heritage does not do 12-marker tests; their 25-marker test costs $149.75.

The 25-marker test can screen out "false matches" or subjects who appeared to be related because they matched on all 12 markers on the first test, but matched on fewer than 23 markers on the 25 marker test. The 25-marker test also can "bring in" the time span to the most recent common ancestor between matched subjects; with a 12 of 12 match in the first test, there's a 50 percent probability the most recent common ancestor lived within 14.5 generations (approximately 350 years) while a 25 of 25 marker match has a 50 percent probability the common ancestor was within 7 generations (approximately 175 years).

The value of the 12 versus 25 marker test has been debated on the Rootsweb Genealogy-DNA mailing list several times. To me, one of the best points was put forth by Orin Wells, who has been coordinating the Wells Family DNA Project. He wrote, "...in my opinion the single advantage I can see to a 12 marker test is that if you have a lot of mis-matches you can exclude some samples from being members of a family. BUT if two people match on 12 out of 12 you can NOT say they are from the same family EVEN if they share the same surname. And since the objective is not to find out who you don't match up with but rather who you DO match, the 25 or 26 marker test is the better way to go. We have one case in our study where a subject was a perfect match for one of the families on the standard 12 markers. If we had left it at 12, we would not have discovered that on 26 markers he missed by 7 and was clearly not connected to that family. In fact we can't match him at all yet. While it IS cheaper for the 12 marker test and we have discussed the advantage of attracting participants at the lower price, if you are serious about placing the pieces, you must eventually go to the 25/26 marker test (or better)." (Orin's full post)

Since the testing has shown that there are several distinct unrelated lines, we're not insisting that anyone start with the 25-marker test. The important thing is to get the various lines tested, at least at the basic level. However, all but two participants who started with the 12 marker test upgraded to the 25-marker test to see if matches held up under the more stringent test.

If you expect (or hope!) to connect with one or more lines already tested, you should strongly consider starting with the 25 marker test and save the money over starting simple and then upgrading.

Q. What about privacy?

A. Names of the subjects will be kept confidential; the results page will list the participants by number and provide a brief lineage. FamilyTreeDNA has their own privacy policy. It should be noted that these tests look at only "junk" DNA in the chromosome; they are not being tested for genetic diseases or other inherited disorders and the DNA is not shared with insurance companies or anyone else. Kevin Duerinck has an excellent privacy FAQ at his site.

People that wish to discuss their own test results on the Slavey/Slaven Rootsweb mailing list or elsewhere are free to do; their identities still will remain confidential here so that those who want to remain anonymous will not feel that they're being pressured to announce their participation.

Q. I'm interested in participating. What do I do now?

Contact me.To get the special group rate on testing ($40-50 off the regular price), the test has to be coordinated through the Slaven DNA Project. This will also help prevent two closely-related individuals from unintentionally signing up.

Q. I only know a couple generations of my family history. May I participate?

A. You bet! Testing may show your line has a common ancestor with a documented family. This may help you plan your research-- what counties, states, or countries to concentrate on..

Q. What are you getting out of it?

A. As administrator, I don't receive any payment, commission, discount, etc. from FamilyTreeDNA, DNA Heritage, or any other party. Fees go directly to testing company, not to me.

Q. Where can I find other information on genealogy and genetics testing?

A. Oh boy, there's lots and lots of (sometimes conflicting) information out there. Two excellent books came out in 2004. Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak and Ann Turner's Trace Your Roots With DNA is widely available at bookstores in the U.S. and Canada and is also available through the Quality Paperback Book Club, and maybe available at your local library or through interlibrary loan. For those in the U.K., Chris Pomeroy, who started one the first surname DNA studies several years ago, published DNA and Family History. The book is available from Amazon/Amazon or from the author at http://www.dnaandfamilyhistory.com/ where he also has general information on DNA testing in genealogy.

In addition, here are a few web sites that I found useful:

Introduction to Molecular Genealogy sounds like it's going to be a scary high-tech site, but it's actually a site with short intro-level videos on the various types of DNA testing, including Y-DNA. Recommended.

The Blair DNA project website. Great introduction page, and a tremendous FAQ-- be sure to follow the link on the left side of the page. Highly recommended!

A good introduction to DNA testing.

Another surname DNA study, with a glossary of terms and more links.

The Rootsweb Genealogy-DNA mailing list archive.


Copyright © 2012 Larry Slavens. All rights reserved.