Special Assignment: Using science to research your family tree

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- For most people, the search begins on websites like Ancestry.com. You may have seen their commercials encouraging you to explore your own roots. The spokesperson says, "You really don't have to know what you're looking for, you just have to start looking."

Maxine Maloney, president of Augusta's Genealogical Society, knows all about it.

"As you know," Maloney said, "the branches just go further and further as you dig further and further. So it's like putting a puzzle together," she continued. "You just can't quit until you finish the full picture."

And a lot of the pieces to that puzzle are in her reference library on Broad Street in downtown Augusta. It's filled with more than 17,000 volumes of family history.

"And by finding your roots, you learn more about yourself," Maloney explained. "You learn what you're made of. You see the struggles and the sacrifices that your ancestors made through the centuries and you relate to that, because that was your blood."

Chances are, your family is in the AGS Library somewhere -- even if they came to America in the hull of a slave ship. It's a search that will send you back in time.

But how far back? In some ways, searching for your roots has never been easier.

Websites invite you on an adventure where one discovery leads to the next. But genealogy experts say this is one of those rare subjects where the Internet may not hold all the clues.

"But you get to a point that you can only search so far on the Internet," Maloney said.

So, there's the Internet, there's research and now you have a new partner: science. More people are turning to DNA to take them even farther back in time.

Just ask Chuck Stone.

"I knew very little about my family," Stone said. "My Dad died when I was 18."

But Chuck always heard he had connections to another Stone from across the generations. William Stone was appointed Governor of Maryland back in 1648.

"I thought DNA testing would help me prove whether I am or am not related to this governor," Stone said. "The first providential governor of the state of Maryland."

Stone said the DNA test was a simple as opening his mouth.

"They didn't ask a single question. They sent the kit to me, I swabbed my mouth. Next thing you know, you get the results," he said.

And he says the results were amazing. As it turns out, Chuck has a very strong genetic connection to Gov. Stone.

"It made me proud. To see what my ancestors went through to found this country," Stone said. "It just sent chill bumps up and down my spine."

And the story is much the same for Sara Beeland of Aiken. She says the biggest enemies of researchers are war and fire.

But through DNA, Beeland went way past the Colonial Carolinas and found her real roots in Ireland.

"So you thought you went back to Ireland -- what did the DNA tell you?" News 12 asked.

"It told us we did," she remembered with a laugh.

But even with all the science and technology and rooms full of research -- most people make very basic mistakes. And the AGS president has advice for you.

"Don't let your living relatives pass by without you asking those questions," Maloney said.

Questions like when and where they were born. But Maloney also has a warning about this journey into your own past.

"Once you get the bug," she said, "You just can't quit."

Most of those DNA tests start around $100. They get more expensive the more specific you want to get.

The Augusta Genealogical Society's research library on Broad Street is available for members to use, but they allow non-members to have one free visit.

They're always looking for new members, especially younger people who want to know more about who they are. You can find out more information on their website.


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