Last Sunday’s New York Times Week in Review had a story (“Who’s Your Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaddy?”) about how people have begun using genetic testing to find out whether they are related to any famous historical figures. For a couple hundred bucks and a cheek swab, a lab will do a profile of your DNA, the results of which can be entered into a genealogical search engine. The Times article mentions an accounting professor in Florida who discovered he is a likely descendant of Genghis Khan, and a man from Hawaii who found out he shares a common ancestor with Marie Antoinette. (Not all genetic searches end happily; it seems there are a slew of Lees living in the deep south who have been crushed to learn that, no, they aren’t related to Robert E.)
You can also do a “deep ancestry” search—if you want to know what part of the world your ur-grandmother was living in 20-40,000 years ago, mitochondrial DNA will tell the tale.
The testing companies mentioned in the article are Relative Genetics, located in Salt Lake City, and the U.K.-based Oxford Ancestors. Of the two, Relative Genetics seems to have a wider range of services (and better prices), but Oxford Ancestors has funnier ad copy: right now they’re offering a Father’s Day special on Y-chromosome analysis.