CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — In more than 25 years of doing genealogical research, Lisa Dougherty has gone from using paper documents and microfilm to unravel family trees, to computer searches on the Internet.
Now, with the popularity of DNA testing, those searches have moved to another plane entirely.
In January, Dougherty will put her hard-gained knowledge and years of experience forward in a free public presentation at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library. The program, titled “Using Basic DNA Tools to Solve Adoption and Family Mysteries” is the kick-off event for the Friends of the Library’s, Two Towns-One Book 2019 community read.
The program is scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 12 at the library, 475 Moe Road, Clifton Park. Organizers said that registration is appreciated.
Dougherty’s presentation has a close association with this year’s TTOB community read, author Lisa Wingate’s, “Before We Were Yours”. The plot of the book is centered on the struggle of siblings trying to stay together when faced with adoption in 1930s Tennessee.
Dougherty’s program taps into the popularity of genealogy research as a whole and DNA testing in particular. She’s used the test herself and saw first-hand how it helped solve a family mystery that had long presented her with a dead end.
“I got started as a teenager in the 70s when my dad got interested in his Irish roots. His last name was Walsh,” she said. “I went on to college, got a job and forgot about it. In 1990, when my dad passed away, I inherited his genealogical research and that got me going again.”
From there Dougherty, who was an art history major in college, dove into researching both sides of her family’s ancestry, while working a full-time job in the photography field.
When her place of employment closed in 2006, she found herself between jobs. Finding satisfaction in the field of genealogical research, she began doing more on her family.
As an extra boost, Dougherty began volunteering at the former National Archives Library branch in Pittsfield, Mass.
“When I started there as a volunteer there were still things being done with microfilm, but increasingly more and more things were being done with the Internet,” she said. “I volunteered there weekly, began doing it seriously, and eventually began taking on private clients.”
From working so assiduously on her own family tree, Dougherty has since traveled to Ireland five times and met cousins that still live there that she never knew she had.
“It’s pretty rewarding,” she said. “They’re all part of my father’s family that left Ireland in the 1860s.”
Dougherty’s father didn’t know where his family came from in Ireland. As part of his early research he was writing letters to potential relatives there and at one point took an advertisement out in an Irish newspaper.
From responses to the letters and the advertisement, he was able to find Irish residents he suspected were related to him. Using those contacts and the Internet Dougherty was able to prove her father’s suspicions were correct.
DNA testing is changing genealogical research immensely. Paper trails can have mistakes due to human errors. Dougherty said by using the DNA test kits one is able to add another piece to the evidence chain.
“You want to make sure you’re on the right track,” she said. “In my case, according to the paper trail, these people are my relatives. I have one person coming over in February and I’m going to have him take a DNA test so we can cement that connection.”
The program to be presented on January 12 is a new one for her and came from her own DNA test done a year-and-a-half back.
“One thing that became very apparent to me was, through DNA, people who are adopted or who have family mysteries, they are finding out answers to those questions using DNA,” she said.
In fact, from her own DNA testing, Dougherty was able to finally prove what she had long suspected, that her father had been adopted.
“Before I took the test I confirmed with my mother that my father was adopted,” Dougherty said. “She said he had been adopted and explained who his mother was. His mother’s side was Irish, so my identity was intact, that was a relief for me.”
Through the DNA test and with information from Ancestry.com Dougherty was able to narrow down the possibilities of her father’s biological father to two men.
“If you’re a person whose family has been here a long time, you’ll have thousands of matches if you take the DNA test,” she said. “But, you have to dig down into it. How successful you’re going to be at tracking down information once you take the test is going to be based on how close those matches are.”
DNA testing, she said, is bringing a lot of younger people to genealogy and that adds another dimension to it that makes it more interesting.
“What I want to do with the presentation is give resources to people. I want people to be able to go home and look for ways to educate themselves or look for help with their particular mystery,” she said. “I’ll give some basics of DNA and how it works, we’ll talk about some of my stories, and I’ll give them the resources they need.”