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29 Sep 2017

Smooth Traveler: Heritage Hunting

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September 29, 2017 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Granite Mountain Records

By Renée S. Gordon

“History remembers only the celebrated, genealogy remembers them all.”

–Laurence Overmire

One of the things I strongly advocate is selecting a destination based on research, learning as much as possible about the destination prior to visiting. Vacation choices have been based on interest, activities, cost, ease of travel, and familiarity. I would like to now add to that list heritage travel, a deep dive into who you are and where your origins lie. Researching your roots is becoming increasingly easier and it is an adventure that revolves around you. You should begin where it all began, with your DNA.

Blood typing was the 1920s precursor of modern DNA technology. Austrian scientist Karl Landsteiner discovered the ABO blood typing system, identifying four human blood types that were biologically inherited from your parents. Dr. Charles Drew, an African-American scientist, made revolutionary findings that made blood storage and dispensation possible. DNA, inherited from both parents, was initially genetically tested in the 1980s in a procedure called Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP). By the 1990s RFLP was rendered obsolete by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) DNA testing requiring a much smaller sample and having an accuracy rate of 99.999 percent.


DNA Open

Testing your DNA is a good idea for more than just forensics, paternity and travel. In revealing your genetic journey tests will also reveal cultural lifestyle, genetic susceptibilities and attendant health issues. There have been cases of individuals who have traced a genetic disease to a country where it was more prevalent and found that country had developed alternative treatments and therapies. Genealogical DNA testing can also reveal predispositions to certain conditions.

There are numerous Genealogical DNA Test Kits on the market but there can be differences. I chose MyHeritage because it has been rated the best kit in 2017 on Top 10 DNA testing and consistently ranks among the top ten on other sites. It is one of the largest providers of DNA testing kits, has the largest international network of family trees, 8-billion records, and provides a menu of enhancements to facilitate your genealogical research. MyHeritage uses state-of-the-art technology and offers 24/7 customer support. It is cost-effective and is currently one of the least expensive Genealogical DNA Test Kit options. Most significantly tests are submitted using an ID number to protect anonymity.(

Once Polymerase Chain Reaction DNA testing was developed a cheek swab, totally noninvasive, became effective for gathering a large enough sample. The sample is sent to a team of technicians who inspect the specimen for possible contamination and, if found to be intact, extract cells from the sample and replicate the DNA to ensure that they have a sufficient amount for analyzation. The DNA is then placed onto a genotyping chip, heated and through hybridization the sample adheres to the chip. A computer yields the DNA information after a thorough computer scan and evaluation of the resulting data. Your DNA profile is sent to you between 4 and 6 weeks after submission.

The Mormon Church has been gathering and maintaining ancestral information since 1894, and began posting it online in 1999. Most genealogy kits and websites are connected to them in some way. You have the option of building you family tree at your genealogical DNA kit site only or using additional resources in your search. The absolute best family archive site is their website Family Search. It is the largest compilation of genealogical records in the world and the archives include birth, census, death, Freedmans’ Bureau, marriage, military, naturalization, probate and voter records. Visitors can create a family tree or booklet on the site and it is free. Online tutorials are also available on the web. They range from 5 to 59-minutes with an adjustable pace and are presented on three levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced.

Dr. Charles Drew

Original records are protected and digitized in the Granite Mountain Record Vault beneath 675-ft. of granite with entrance doors weighing from 9 to 14-tons each. Data has been collected from around the world and is stored at a constant 35 percent humidity, 55-degree temperature. The facility is off limits to everyone except church officials and employees but there are 4,600 centers in 70 countries where heritage hunters can not only access records but also get assistance from volunteers.

Philadelphia has two Family Research Centers. The Philadelphia Pennsylvania Metro Family History Center, located at 2072 Red Lion Road, is open Tuesday 10 AM to 3 PM, 1st Tuesday 5 PM to 9 PM, 1st and 3rd Saturday 10 AM to 3 PM. The last admission is 1 hour before closing. West Philadelphia Pennsylvania Family History Center, 3913 Chestnut Street, is open Wednesday 6:30pm to 8:30pm and the 1st and 3rd Sunday 9 am to 1 pm. Call for information prior to visiting any facility. (

Tracing your heritage is not only accomplished with technology. Some of the best sources are family members and family documents. You should ask questions, and I suggest that you begin with the elders. They can be a surprising wealth of information. Additionally, church records are often overlooked as sources. Obituaries yield a surprising amount of information and many churches maintain copies of them, as well as baptismal and marriage records.

Fall and winter are optimal times to research your history and plan trips to visit ancestral sites to enhance your knowledge of the people and places in your near and distant past. Heritage hunting is always worthwhile and often remarkable. (

I wish you smooth travels!

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