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Re: Wright Family DNA Results Of Interest
Posted by: Ann Turner (ID *****1762) Date: February 08, 2005 at 17:03:35
In Reply to: Wright Family DNA Results Of Interest by Robert Grant of 4683

Yes, indeed, I found your post of interest, and not just because my uncle is one of the participants in the Wright DNA project. I think it illustrates several general points for people who wonder about the utility of joining a DNA project for such a common name.

I always advocate formulating a hypothesis before doing a DNA test, and it sounds like you and the other party did just that, by testing several descendants of each line to see if the results supported your paper trail. There are other hypotheses worth pursuing, too, for example locality-based questions, such as "Are all the Wrights in Allegany County, NY related?" or "Are the Wrights in Allegany County related to the Wrights in Northumberland County, PA?"

For a common name like WRIGHT, these are like projects within a project. As the size of the project grows, we will begin to see some unanticipated findings like yours. As you say, "If it were not for the DNA sequencing results, I suspect our efforts would never have led in that direction."

However, I think we need to be a bit restrained in the way we present these bonus results, so that people won't have unrealistic expectations. It's a little bit like the "birthday paradox," if you're familiar with that from a statistics class. If you're in a room with 23 people, there's a fifty-fifty chance that two of them will share the same birthday. It's not a fifty-fifty chance that YOU will share the same birthday with someone, but there are a lot of pairs to compare.

Likewise, if you're in a big enough project, there may indeed be some unexpected connections, just because there are so many pair-wise comparisons. But I think it's premature to join a project in the expectation of finding a match "out there." There will be a more immediate payoff if you can test a few chosen people and get a yes-no answer to a question.

Now, having made all those high-minded pronouncements, here's a true confession: I didn't have a hypothesis when I entered my uncle in the project. But he is in his eighties, the last WRIGHT close to me, we've hit a brick wall with no paper trail to follow, and I had already tested representatives for the other three of my four great-grandfathers. I couldn't leave him out! I almost wonder if our most distant known ancestor changed his name, so having his DNA in a database is like having a lottery ticket that never expires, even if the chance of a payoff is slim.

Ann Turner - GENEALOGY-DNA List Administrator
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