Expert unlocks DNA for county genealogy society

DNA genealogy expert Debbie Parker Wayne spoke at February’s regular meeting of the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society.
A hot topic in the genealogy field, as well as in law enforcement and health care, DNA can seem technical and hard to understand. Ms. Wayne, president of the Lone Star Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, put DNA in layperson’s terms.

Ms. Wayne compared the average genealogist’s understanding of DNA and genetics to a hobbyist’s understanding of astrophysics.
“The backyard astronomer can watch comets without having to get a Ph.D.,” she said.

In the same way, family historians can learn about Y-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal DNA, she said. And she went on to prove it in her lecture.
She said DNA is made up of “billions and billions of pairs of chemicals.” DNA laboratories analyze these biological chemicals and sort out the DNA “matches.”

·        Y-DNA can be used to follow a direct paternal line through male ancestors. For genealogists in this culture, this equates to tracing surnames. This is the form of genetic coding that resides in a cell’s nucleus.

·        Mitochondrial DNA, or “mtDNA” in the geneticist’s jargon, exists within cell structures known as mitochondria. This form can be used to analyze direct maternal lines.

·        Autosomal DNA exists throughout cells and can be seen as a mixture of a person’s entire genetic legacy.
Consumer testing can be had for all three of these types of DNA, said Ms. Wayne. Prices, which were once prohibitive, are coming down, with some tests as low as $99. So, in addition to untangling the technical information about DNA, Ms. Wayne gave some consumer tips about purchasing tests.

Some companies charge a monthly service fee for your data. Ms. Wayne suggests downloading your raw data, no matter which company one uses.
“Make sure you know what you’re ordering and what you’re paying for,” she said. In addition to her website,, she also recommended the International Society of Genetic Genealogy website, A Texas-based company with the largest database for comparison is Family Tree DNA at

The most important factor in hiring a testing company for genealogical matching is how big its database is. The more test results a company has, the more possible matches are available.
Ms. Wayne also said that genealogists should be aware that tests can only “support, not prove, relationships.” Certain tests, however, can rule out some family relationships.

The tests are “not a magic bullet. You still have to research the old fashioned way. (DNA) is not going to replace your paper trail.”
In other business, the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society also applauded that “paper trail” research by awarding its 65th “First Families of Van Zandt County” certificate to descendants of pioneer William Pate Carter. Charles William Archer and his sister Janice Morris of Dallas each received certificates based on family research.

The Society honors those whose research proves an ancestor who was in Van Zandt County by December 31, 1860.
Archer’s research states “William Pate Carter followed his father, Solomon Carter, and his brothers to Van Zandt County between 1855 and 1858.  He first settled at Four Mile Prairie and later farmed in the Tundra community.”

Carter served as County commissioner in 1878 and 1880. He died in 1903 and is buried at Cool Springs Cemetery.
For those who want to research ancestors from Van Zandt County or elsewhere, the Society maintains an in-depth genealogical library in the Van Zandt County Courthouse Annex, including books, periodicals, microfilm as well as digital information.  Volunteers staff the library full time.  Volunteer genealogists also serve the public by offering research services to family history buffs all over the nation.

Publication of genealogical and historical information is a major emphasis for the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society.  The Society also maintains an award-winning website,
Meetings are held at 2 p.m. the fourth Saturday of each month at the main Van Zandt County Library on Hwy. 859, and newcomers are always welcome.