Exploring genetic genealogy

Exploring genetic genealogyWhen I was at the RootsTech conference in February, I was inspired to check out getting a DNA test to help me in my genealogy research. I hadn’t been tempted before, primarily because genetics always made my eyes cross when I studied it in biology class. But I grew to understand at RootsTech (primarily from the great keynote from Dr. Spencer Wells) that the more people who get genetic testing and open their results to others, the more valuable it becomes. It’s part of that genealogical generosity I blogged about after the conference.

Today I was reading a primer on DNA testing for ancestry on the terrific blog Family History Daily. It was really informative, but I have to admit I’m getting a little paralyzed by the options. I did a little Google search and found myself wishing I could find an article in which someone would just tell me what test to take. I did find this terrific roundup, Top Genetic Genealogy Tools by Blaine Bettinger on Family Tree Magazine’s blog, and was struck by the last sentence, “Having a clear purpose in mind–such as finding out where your maternal roots lie or whether you’re related to someone else with your surname–is essential to choosing the right genetic genealogy test.” That makes so much sense. Keeping your goal in mind is always helpful in making choices.

Now I realize I don’t really know my goal. I’m motivated by curiosity and the desire to be helpful but that’s not much of a goal to guide my choice of which test to take.

So I thought I’d turn to the helpful readers of this blog. Have you had a DNA test to help your genealogy? If so, what was your goal? And what service did you use? Were you satisfied with the test results? Would you recommend that testing service?

I appreciate any advice or experiences you’d like to share!

Photo by Alf Melin via Flickr


  1. Hi Janine,

    I’ve actually taken DNA tests with two different companies – Ancestry.com and FamilyTreeDNA. It was quite interesting to see my ethnicities breakdown. And I can see that AncestryDNA Member Matches may be quite helpful in connecting with cousins.

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/05/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-may-2-2014.html

    Have a fantastic weekend!

  2. Janine,
    I did the FamilyTreeDNA test a couple of years ago. I chose them because they have the largest database, which means that I’m more likely to find matches. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about which is the best test, as I have recommended it to my family members and wanted to be sure we got the most bang for our bucks. I agree with the advise that you need to understand your goal. If you don’t have a specific goal, which sounds like you don’t, I recommend beginning with the autosomal test (on FamilyTreeDNA it’s called Family Finder). This is the test that will link you to cousins. It won’t tell you how you are related, but it will suggest a relationship such as 2nd, 3rd or 4th cousins etc. This is the broadest test, so it will cover matches that are found on the mitochondrial test (only direct maternal line) as well as paternal line (Y-DNA, test which is obviously only available for men).
    Identifying the relationship with matches is difficult. The more family members are tested the better, because you start mapping your family and you can see how many family member a particular DNA cousin matches and which branch. The mitochondrial test is very specific, I don’t recommend starting with that one.

    Until recently, I have not been able to work out any family relationships with any matches (most people really don’t know enough about their family tree). All this changed when I found a cousin through my research. Both of us linked to a common ancestor who we only knew about through documents we discovered. We compared our DNA and indeed, we are 2nd cousins once removed, like our research suggested. It was very exciting to be able to confirm our research with the DNA test.

    I wrote a few posts about my experience with the DNA testing if you are interested:

    • Smadar, thank you so much for your input! I really appreciate our recommendaitons. And thanks for providing links to the blog posts about your DNA experiences. I can’t wait to read them!

  3. I have a page on my blog about the choices:
    Personally I like 23andme the best since it has the largest database with many Norwegians (half my ancestry) and gives you your haplogroups in addition to your autosomal markers but family tree DNA is probably better for the ashkenazi population and for adoptees and ancestry perhaps has more of the colonial descendants. The problem wth ancestry is no tools for looking at the raw data and comparing it so you have to upload to GEDmatch to learn more.

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