JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Re: Cloning & Genealogy #general


George Losonci's amusing post provides an opportunity to clarify the
distinction between genealogy and genetics. While related, they are
not the same thing. Genealogy is a branch of sociology, in that
genealogical relationships are culturally determined. Genetics, by
contrast, is a branch of biology. A couple of examples will serve to
illustrate how genetic and genealogical relationships may differ.

Identical twins possess essentially the same genetic makeup, as well as
nearly identical early environmental influences. Yet they are not the
same person, are shown separately on family trees, have different names
and legal identities, and in general are treated by our society as more
different than would be warranted by considering only their genetics.
Mr Losonci's hypothetical clone would of course be even more different
from the original, with entirely different early environmental
experiences. Of course the clone would be treated as an entirely
different person by society. The identity of the clone's genealogical
"parents" would be determined by society, either by legal fiat or by
cultural consensus, and would almost certainly not be the same people
as the parents of the original.

Conversely, consider an actual family with which I am familiar. A young
woman became pregnant by a man who would not marry her or whom she did not
wish to marry. A good friend of hers, not the biological father of her
fetus, married her to provide a family for her daughter (as it turned out
to be). The baby was born four months after the marriage. By law, by
genealogy, by actual family ties, the mother's husband was the father of
the girl. Although the marriage did not last, the father-daughter
relationship is still strong, although the daughter is now grown and
living on her own. The father did not adopt the child (did not have to),
yet is by any genealogical measure her father, although she carries none
of his genes. Indeed, in most jurisdictions, the mother's husband is by
law presumed to be the child's father. I believe that in some
jurisdictions, at least at some times, this presumption is or was not
even rebuttable.

Genealogy is confused so easily with genetics because, despite anomalies
such as the examples above, they do go together most of the time. It is
because of this strong correlation that we can use genetics to test
genealogical hypotheses, as in JewishGen's Genealogy by Genetics project.
But we can't assume that the genetic test is the "gold standard" for
genealogy. When a genetic test confirms or fails to confirm a presumed
genealogical relationship, we have acquired just one more piece of
evidence to take into account in building our family tree.

The central topic of JewishGen is genealogy, the study of relationships as
defined by society. To the extent that genetics can be used to help us
build our genealogies, it is relevant. But genetics per se, or DNA
testing in particular, is really not what JewishGen is here for. That is
why discussions of genetics and DNA testing properly take place on the DNA
list, not in the Discussion Group, which is reserved for discussions of
genealogy. A little humor is welcome >from time to time, but serious
discussions of topics such as cloning are not the focus of the JewishGen
Discussion Group.

Dick Plotz
Providence RI USA

MODERATOR NOTE: Further discussion of this issue should take
place privately, or on the DNA list.

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