Bio 4955: Genealogy and kinship

Who are you? Who are “your people” … and what is your family history (in both narrow and broad senses)? How do you go about finding your roots? And why do we (and non-human animals) care so much about kinship?

This course (first offered in S21) tackles these exciting questions, with extensions to connected areas of population biology, evolution, and biological anthropology.

We will apply conceptual and factual foundations of genetics to a focus on genealogy and human family trees. We will also explore theories and data regarding deep human origins and ancestry. The course will additionally address broader applications of information about genetic variation and kinship within behavioral ecology and conservation biology.

The court fulfills the breadth requirement for BIO majors in the area of population biology & evolution. Bio 3351 Genetics is a prerequisite (can be taken concurrently) … but the course is more about evolutionary relationships revealed by genetics, and about population genetics facts and concepts, than genetic mechanisms.

Laboratory work focuses principally on students analyzing results of test of their own DNA and construction of their family tree through combined genealogical and genetic analysis. Other laboratory exercises explore genetic techniques (DNA extraction, PCR amplification, RFLP analysis of SNP variation). Field trips may investigate the importance of genetics in zoo collection management, and connections between human longevity and genealogy. Interdisciplinary links in the course include consideration of historical events as well as sociological and other influences on each student’s ancestors and collateral relatives.

Informed consent

Because students in the course will need to have their DNA tested, it is essential for each person considering the course to understand and acknowledge various aspects in advance. All prospective students should visit these pages before registering: 

Costs to students

The Department of Biology will provide each course participant with an AncestryDNA test kit that the student will submit soon after registering. (Should the student not remain registered for the course after the F23 drop/add deadline, we will expect the student to reimburse the Department for the $60 kit cost. We will ask you to sign an agreement about this when you register for the class.)

We will require each student to purchase the Traits function from Ancestry (a $20 expense) after receiving their test results.

Do you have questions or concerns as a prospective student in Bio 4955? Please do not hesitate to contact me ( for more information.