DNA Tests for Genealogy
Image by jscreationzs (freedigitalphotos.net)
DNA tests have now become an important tool for genealogy. They allow you to contact your 'matches' (people who might be close or distant relatives whose DNA matches yours). Some testing companies also give you powerful tools to analyse your results.
I will gradually expand this page by adding more links to recommended reading, my personal tips about DNA tests, and announcements about discounts offered by the various testing companies. Links open in a new window.
I have done all of these tests - and you can too, because they use autosomal DNA, which is passed down through both male and female lines:
The results of my DNA tests have already put me in touch with several new relatives (ranging from a 2nd cousin to a 5th cousin), and there are many others whose relationship has yet to be confirmed by conventional genealogical research.
- 'Family Finder' test at Family Tree DNA. Advantages include (1) contacting your matches is easy and free (email addresses are shown); (2) the sample is stored, and you can also request additional tests (mitochondrial DNA and, for males, Y-DNA); (3) there are good tools for analysing your results. For example, when you upload a family tree that includes family members who have tested, and link each person's DNA results to that individual in your tree, the Family Matching feature may show whether other 'unknown' matches are connected through the paternal or maternal side of your tree.
- Ancestry DNA test. They now have the largest customer database, so I tested here as well as at Family Tree DNA.
- Living DNA test. Unlike the others, this allows you to break down your British / Irish ancestry within the last few hundred years into any of the 21 regions shown under 'Great Britain and Ireland' in the list of worldwide regions. My results have given me some clues as to which counties to focus on when I'm researching my brick-wall (end-of-line) ancestors. And Living DNA will also soon allow us to contact people whose DNA matches ours.
- Test older relatives as well as yourself. Some of my 4th cousins share enough DNA with my uncle to be listed as a match with him, but not with me.
- The more relatives you test, the easier it will be to figure out where your other (initially unknown) matches fit into your family tree.
- Test siblings. Because of the random way in which autosomal DNA is passed on, sometimes only one sibling will be detected as a match to a distant cousin. (My sister matches Barrie, our 4th cousin once removed, but I don't, because Barrie and I don't share a large enough DNA segment.)
- If you did the Ancestry DNA test BEFORE May 2016, do an autosomal transfer to Family Tree DNA. This transfer (which uploads your raw data) is free, and you will then find additional matches and their email addresses; but I recommend paying $19 to unlock Family Matching and other tools at Family Tree DNA.
- If you did the Ancestry DNA test AFTER May 2016, you should also do the 'Family Finder' test at Family Tree DNA. If you don't, you'll miss up to 80% of your matches. (That tip came from Roberta Estes.)
- Upload your raw data from either Ancestry DNA *or* Family Tree DNA to My Heritage. Currently the data transfer and subsequent matching are free, but in the future My Heritage may change fees, so do the transfer now. (I was thrilled to receive a copy of my great-grandparents' marriage entry in a German church book from an unknown distant relative in Germany who had only tested with My Heritage. Thank goodness I'd transferred my raw data to that site. She would not have found me otherwise!)
- You might also want to upload (free) your raw data to Gedmatch, which is great for genealogy matching when people have tested with different companies. It's also used by adoptees searching for their parents, and it played a role in the apprehension of the Golden State Killer.
- Before you contact your matches, read Tips and Tricks for Contact Success.
- Check your account settings, especially for Ancestry DNA. I decided NOT to give consent for participation in the Ancestry Human Diversity Project (ie, I didn't tick that box); and I suggest that you read Update in AncestryDNA Research Consent by Judy Russell (The Legal Genealogist).
Books about DNA
My favourite online bookshop (with free shipping worldwide) is The Book Depository.
Online articles about DNA
Saving money on DNA tests
DNA testing companies periodically offer discounts. When I hear about them, I list them on Genealogy Discounts and Freebies.
To be notified when I add more tips and links to this page, use this ChangeDetection button: