Ready to take the plunge into genetic genealogy? Read on to discover the fundamentals of DNA testing to get you started.
More genealogists than ever before are turning to DNA testing to explore their family trees. In addition to traditional Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, which examine your paternal and maternal lines, testing companies offer autosomal DNA testing, which lets you explore the rest of your family tree. And third-party sites let you do even more once you have your DNA results in hand. Start your search for genetic genealogy tests and tools with these companies and resources.
DNA Testing Companies
Considering a genetic genealogy test? Look to these leaders in the DNA testing field:
This test provides information about your Y-DNA (if you’re male), mtDNA and autosomal DNA. Using innovative, visually appealing displays, the Ancestry Composition tool reveals the percentage of your DNA from each of more than 20 populations throughout the world. The Relative Finder tool compares your DNA to other test-takers in the company’s database in order to identify genetic relatives, although you’ll be able to communicate with matches only if they’re interested in sharing with you. You also can learn about your genetic predisposition to certain diseases and conditions, response to certain medications, and physical traits. Don’t forget to check out Ancestry Labs for an estimate of your Neanderthal ancestry.
Ancestry.com’s huge subscriber base means the AncestryDNA database is growing by leaps and bounds, with 3 million test-takers and counting. After testing, you can link your DNA to your Ancestry.com-hosted family tree, and the service will compare your tree to the Ancestry trees of any genetic relatives to help you find a common ancestor. AncestryDNA also offers a Genetic Ethnicity Summary that compares your results to the DNA signatures of populations around the world.
Family Tree DNA
One of the first genetic genealogy companies, Family Tree DNA has offered Y-DNA and mtDNA testing for well over a decade, and has built a comprehensive database of potential matches. Its autosomal DNA test, Family Finder, ranks your genetic cousins in the Family Tree DNA database by their predicted relationship to you (ranging from very close to very distant). You’ll receive contact information for Family Finder matches so you can share genealogical information. Family Tree DNA also allows you to upload your results from 23andMe and AncestryDNA to its database, making even more test-takers' data available to researchers.
With more than 6 billion online records and 85 million users, MyHeritage is on the rise—and has now entered the DNA testing market. MyHeritage DNA is the company's new autosomal DNA test, and those who take the test will receive an ethnicity estimate as well as possible matches to others in the MyHeritage database (though test-takers will need a MyHeritage subscription to contact genetic matches). In addition to offering its own test, MyHeritage DNA allows users to upload results from other testing companies, opening up the database for more potential DNA matches.
National Genographic Project
Autosomal DNA testing, called Geno 2.0, is a recent addition to this project’s Y-DNA and mtDNA testing. The Genographic Project is a joint nonprofit venture of the National Geographic Project and IBM to study human origins and migration. In addition to Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroup information, the Geno 2.0 test estimates your ancient ancestral origins by comparing your DNA to more than 40 reference populations. You’ll also learn about your Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry—two human lineages that have gone extinct, but that appear to have left their mark in our DNA. Note: To make the most of your results, you'll need to upload your results to Family Tree DNA.
Watch this short video to see Shannon Combs-Bennett offer her advice on what to do while you're waiting for your results.
In addition to the analysis your testing company provides, use these third-party websites and software to look for matches and learn more about your DNA test results:
Although created to help adoptees find their birth families, anyone can use this free resource. Family Tree DNA customers can use these tools to easily download and store Family Finder matches, as well as information about each DNA segment shared with those matches. 23andMe customers can download certain test result data and information about genetic cousins.
Upload raw autosomal DNA results to the free GEDmatch to search for genetic cousins, compare your results to those of someone in the GEDmatch database, or use admixture calculators to examine your ancient ethnicity in meticulous detail. You can also use GEDmatch to compare your GEDCOM with a match’s to help identify your shared ancestors.
This free browser-based tool from Stanford University analyzes your 23andMe raw data. You can learn more about your genetic propensity for conditions such as diabetes and analyze your ancient ethnicity. An added benefit: Your raw data isn’t uploaded to another location.
This free software uses test results from 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and other testing companies to report additional health and trait information. The analysis is performed using SNPedia, a growing database of information about the links between disease, genetics and physical traits.
More Genetic Genealogy Resources
: This free database of mtDNA test results is hosted by Family Tree DNA, but also contains results from other testing companies.
: This free website isn’t affiliated with 23andMe, but provides information about that service, links to third-party tools, and a list of genetic genealogy blogs and websites.
: The International Society of Genetic Genealogy offers a newsletter, beginner information, the ISOGG Wiki
and the DNA-NEWBIE mailing list.
Tip: 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.
From the July/August 2013 Family Tree Magazine. Updated 3/1/2017