The Molecular Genealogy Research Project

The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation is currently working on a study known as the Molecular Genealogy Research Project (MGRP).

Molecular genealogy links individuals together in “family trees” based on the unique identification of genetic markers. This is accomplished by using the information encoded in the DNA of an individual and/or population to determine the relatedness of individuals, families, tribal groups, and populations. Pedigrees based on genetic markers can reveal relationships not detectable in genealogies based only on names, written records, or oral traditions. A genetic identification is unique and can even discriminate between closely related individuals or those sharing the same name. The fact that DNA is inherited and that each individual is the product of his/her progenitors means that DNA can be used to not only create unique identifications, but also to identify members of the same family, the same clan or tribal group, or the same population.

At this time, the use of genetics in the genealogical field is primarily limited to tests involving the Y chromosome (which follows the paternal line) and the mitochondrial DNA (which follows the maternal line). The use of these two genetic tests can detect the presence of a common male or female ancestor between any two individuals that have reason to believe they belong to the same paternal or maternal line (the two outermost lines found on a pedigree chart). Unfortunately, these two methods of testing are not sufficient to answer more complex genealogical questions concerning additional family lines.

The majority of people currently living in the US descend from immigrants of foreign countries. Genealogical investigation has shown that through the process of immigration, or because of adoptions, illegitimacies, or other causes, genealogical records have often been changed, lost, destroyed, or never kept in the first place. As a result, many individuals cannot find a country of origin for one or more of their ancestors. What can be done to restore the link to their rightful heritage?

The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation main objective is to find ways in which DNA can be used more effectively for genealogical research, in addition to the already available Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA testing. For the past four years, the Foundation has been collecting DNA samples and genealogies from thousands of people all over the world. Participation in the MRGP is free, voluntary, and confidential. Individuals with a minimum of four biological generations of pedigree information are eligible to participate in this study by submitting a small DNA sample together with a copy of their family tree to the MGRP database. DNA is immediately labeled to protect participants’ privacy and then is correlated to the genealogical information found on the pedigree chart of the donor. Only information for ancestors born prior to 1900 is used in the process.

When subsets of this large genealogical/genetic database become available, the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation will release them to the public free of charge. The first subset containing over five thousands Y chromosome profiles correlated to pedigree information was released on March 1, 2004 and it is accessible through the project website at The Foundation plans to add new genetic profiles and pedigree charts to the database on a regular basis. In the meantime, anyone that would like to contribute a sample of DNA and a copy of their genealogy to the MGRP is invited to request a free participation kit by visiting the project website at Project updates and other useful information about genetics and genealogy are also available on that site.