How can DNA help in Genealogy


  • There are many Gatter surname lines in the United States that we cannot connect to each other through the use of conventional documentary civil or church records.

  • Many Gatters living outside of Europe do not know where their ancestry came from. Was it Germany, Austria or Great Britain? And even if this is finally established, from which of the many German, Austrian or British Gatter lines did these emigrants descend?

  • In Europe itself DNA-testing could help to document whether or not, the different Gatter lines descend from a common ancestor, and how many generations back this person lived. Since church records in many areas only start after the 30-years war around 1650 this seems quite promising and maybe the only way to get certainty.

  • DNA-testing could also give us last evidence if British Gatters and Continental European Gatters (e.g. from Germany and Austria) are related, or if the common name is just a linguistic coincidence.

How does it work?

From elementary genetics we learn that the 23rd chromosome is the "sex" determining chromosome. Males have both an "X" and a "Y" 23rd chromosome. Females do not carry such a "Y", but have two "X" instead for their 23rd chromosome. The human egg becomes a female embryo if the male sperm carries an X-chromosome and a male embryo when the sperm has a Y-chromosome. Thus the Y-chromosome is passed down from generation to generation only through the male line. You might want to read an article about the Y-chromosome.

Several recent projects have reported on the use of the Y chromosome to trace and analyze surnames. Reuters issued a news release in early 2000 entitled, "Gene test helps scientist trace family names". In the article, Bryan Sykes of Oxford University was able to demonstrate, using DNA test results from a random sampling of 250 men with the Sykes surname, that they came from a common ancestor. Another fairly famous case involves the question as to whether or not President Thomas Jefferson fathered any slave children by Sally Hemings. The results clearly showed that one of her sons had a Jefferson Y chromosome, either from Thomas or one of his near relatives. A third study involves Jewish men who are kohanim, a Hebrew word literally meaning "priests". During the time of the First and Second Temples and up until the latter's destruction in 70 AD, the kohanim were responsible for performing elaborate rituals of animal sacrifices and grain offerings. Based on a study of 306 Jewish men in Israel, Canada and England, the researchers discovered that the 106 Jews who had identified themselves as kohanim shared genetic markers in their Y-chromosomes that members of the general Jewish population did not.

Thus, it has been demonstrated that DNA tests of the male Y-chromosome can be used to trace the descendants of a particular man through many generations. See Alan Savin's short article Introduction to Genetic Genealogy as well as two excellent articles called "Genetics and Genealogy" by Kevin Duerinck and "The Y-Chromosome in the Study of Human Evolution, Migration and Prehistory" by Neil Bradman and Mark Thomas.  

DNA testing will not help in genealogy if the family name was at one point passed on by a woman (e.g. if she had a child born out of wedlock). The child might have inherited this family's name, but not its "Y" chromoseme, but the one of its biological father. DNA testing will also not help if there was an unknown case of adoption down the line, or if one ancestor was the product of infidelity or rape. Again, he might have carried the family name, but he did not carry the family's "Y" chromosome.  

The proof that DNA testing in privately funded family genealogy works and is not only a utopian dream, is the "Mumma Surname DNA Project" which has inspired this Gatter project.

There are several laboratories carrying out such test. From the experience of the Mumma Surname DNA Project the Family Tree DNA, Inc. proved to be the most reliable and cheapest choice.


Extracting DNA is very easy. No blood is needed. Special cotton scrapers are used to rub the inside tissue of the mouth, more or less like a little tooth brush. This does not hurt.

To the right you see a "DNA extraction kit" as we use it for our Gatter DNA research. The test kit consists of two cheek scrapers and two collection tubes---designed for a single persons use. Each tube contains a fluid designed to arrest bacteria growth, so you can scrape your cheek and return your kit in any type of weather (hot or cold). The freshness of your sample will remain intact for months.

If you sign up to participate in the Gatter DNA project such a DNA extraction kit will be sent to you by mail along with a short manual on how to use it.

DNA Extraction Kit used for the Gatter Project


If you have any further questions about the Gatter DNA project, please direct them to: <contact>

To safeguard our (I also took part) privacy no DNA information will be published (in the book or on the internet) mentioning the names of participants. In the evaluation report all participants will be presented with code numbers that cannot be traced back to the participant. This code number is mentioned together with the Gatter line they come from.  

If you want to participate in the Gatter DNA testing then sign up here.


back to main page

Copyright: Gatter Archive 2000-2008
Any distribution and use of material displayed on the Gatter History Archive Web Page
other than for personal purposes will be prosecuted