I Have Two Family Trees—And So Do YOU!

Everyone has two family trees. Yes, even those of you who aren’t living a double-life and have another set of wife and kids.


I’m not trained in this.

I went to college for English and spent most of high school biology class talking with my friend Ivan about video games instead of paying attention to the genetics curriculum. So to say I’m playing a little bit of catch up now is a bit of an understatement.

Luckily, both the internet and my library full of resources by people who are trained in this and did pay attention in biology class instead of joking about Let’s Play videos.

One book I picked up recently was The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Dr. Blaine T. Bettinger, a doctor in biochemistry and intellectual property attorney.

Man, does that make me feel worthless.

Inadequacy aside, the book provides a good primer on genealogy, and includes insights on the basics of genetics as well as an overview of the different types of tests there are. I highly recommend it to any burgeoning genealogists out there.

One insight I learned recently that I thought was very interesting was the fact that we actually have two family trees: a genetic family tree and a genealogical family tree.

Let me explain . . .

The Genealogical Family Trees

When people typically talk about their family trees, this is what they’re talking about. This is the tree that contains every ancestor you have who had a child, and their children, and their children’s children, and so on.

When researching for this family tree, resources like birth, death, and census records are utilized as well as newspaper articles and other paper sources.

Think of it as your grandparent’s way of doing ancestry.

The Genetic Family Trees

This family tree only contains ancestors with whom you share DNA. Often times, there is overlap between the your genetic and genealogical family trees. However, you do not necessarily share DNA with all of your relatives.

Heck, you don’t even share all of the same DNA with your parents since both of them give you about 50 percent of their DNA. Due to this, we tend to genetic similarities with relatives lessen more and more with each generation. In fact, once you go back just a few generations there’s a good chance you’re not “related” to any of your ancestors.

This family tree is much smaller than your genealogical tree then, and utilizes tools like 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and FamilyTreeDNA in order discover more of it.

When it comes to my continuing journey to find the identity of my grandfather, I’ll be utilizing a mix of both these trees.

Initially, I’ll be relying a bit more on the genetic family tree as there was little hard sources left after the Vietnam War. Once I get good idea of the shape of my genetic family, I’ll then utilize the paper trail to find my grandfather.

Low key: I love how much this makes me feel like a detective.

Next up . . .

  • School’s In Session: A lesson in the basics of genetic genealogy.
  • History of the Boat People: brief overview on the Vietnamese diaspora following the Fall of Saigon and where my family fits in it all.

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