DNA with Pictures

Never, ever did any of these men guess they could perform a simple test that could reflect the genetic code of their father, grandfather, great grandfather back to their great-times-fifth grandfather. That’s at least eight generations. Think of it. For these men, that was the 1700s, the 18th century.

It means that the y-chromosome of a man who lived eight generations ago was passed on through each of his male heirs to the present day. If you’re male it means you have an almost identical profile of the Y-chromosome that your five-times grandfather had.

The value of understanding our genetic profile is an unfolding story. For one thing, there are medical benefits from understanding inheritance and the origin of genetic diseases. Crime investigation and forensics are another area that uses DNA in distinguishing people. Anthropologists use DNA to study where the world’s populations originated and how they have moved around. And closer to home, genealogists and family historians use DNA to find and confirm family relationships and confirm from where our ancestors migrated.

These men are the first generation who could have done this. Their fathers could not have done so because several scientific discoveries were necessary before it was even possible. Though inheritance has been studied since 1865 when Gregor Mendel studied garden peas, it was as recent as the 1990s that the Human Genome Project was started and, over the following decade, a map was created of the human genetic landscape.1

First of all, the chemists and molecular biologists who know their way around DNA—short for deoxyribonucleic acid—had to invent easy tests for people who wanted answers about their family history. The men pictured here performed a cheek swab, rubbing a little brush on the inside of their mouth, then returned it to a company that specializes in reading the results. Each allowed his results on a website where in 2013 there were 401 other Cook-Cooke-Koch men also interested in kinship lines.2 That is one way to find long-lost relatives.

These fellows don’t look alike, you say. “How do you know they’re related?” True. They had mothers too, of course. Rather than their appearance, it’s their genetic fingerprint where their DNA resemblance is stunningly alike. And it’s a great benefit to family history because genes reveal actual truths. Going hand-in-glove with genetic profiles is the paper trail of evidence. We know our father’s name; probably his full name. We may also know the name of our paternal grandfather. Earlier than that, we have to look up the name wherever family records are kept. When we go earlier still, we need names, dates, locations and so on. The more detail we have, the better the record.

These six men are all related to one another, their DNA tells us so. Precisely how requires a more complete paper trail than presently exists but, like most family histories, continues to be under construction.

Allan Patterson Cooke David Lawrence Cook George Melville Cooke

Allan Patterson Cooke,
Joan Cooke Hoxie Collection

David Lawrence Cook,
Nova Scotia.
David L.Cook

George Melville Cooke,
Nova Scotia.
George M. Cooke Collection

Jeffrey Mark Cook James Robert Cook James Kevin Cook

Jeffrey Mark Cook,
Susan Gautier Cook

James Robert Cook,
Karen Cook Hubbard Collection

James Kevin Cook,
J.Kevin Cook Collection

1 wikepedia.org/wiki/Human_Genome_Project
2 FamlyTreeDNA, Houston, TX 77008, www.familytreedna.com