The Role of Gender in DNA Testing
9/28/2009
Gender plays a big role in determining which DNA test could solve your research problem—and in what answers a test can give you.
DNA testing can connect you with living cousins, steer your research away from dead ends and lead your ancestral investigations in promising new directions. But trying to figure out which test (Y-DNA? mtDNA?) will provide the answers you seek can get confusing. A genetic test costs anywhere from $100 to $1,000, so you don’t want to waste money on the wrong one.

So first we should mention what DNA testing can’t tell you—regardless of gender. It won’t reveal ancestors’ names or their birth and death dates, or the country they were born in; you’ll have to turn to traditional resources to learn these details. It also won’t prove that two people are related, though it can provide strong evidence of an ancestral connection and even suggest when—and where—the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) might’ve lived. Bottom line: Genetic testing can’t replace traditional genealogy research, but it can complement it.

Gender plays a big role in determining which DNA test could solve your research problem—and in what answers a test can give you. Here are some common research questions and how you can attempt to answer them, whether you’re a man or a woman.

Have a more complicated scenario you can’t sort out on your own? Contact the testing company before ordering to ask what test you should choose and who should get tested. Remember that a DNA test can point your research in a new direction, but you should confirm your hunches through records.

You and your male co-worker have the same last name. Are you related?
Men: Both of you should get your Y-DNA tested and compare the results.

Women: Assuming your maiden name is the one your co-worker shares, ask a male relative with that name (your father or brother, or your father’s brother or his son) to get his Y-DNA tested. You’d then compare your male relative’s test results to your co-worker’s. If your married name is the same as your co-worker’s, have your husband take the Y-DNA test.
You and your female co-worker have the same last name. Are you related?
Men: If your co-worker’s maiden name is the same as your last name, you should get your Y-DNA tested, and she should ask a male relative with that last name to get his Y-DNA tested.

Women: If your maiden names are the same, then each of you should ask a male relative with that name to get his Y-DNA tested.
Your mother’s maiden name is Wheeler. You want to know if her father was related to other Wheelers involved in a surname study you heard about.
Men and Women: Your grandfather didn’t pass down Y-DNA or mtDNA to your mother, so niether she nor you can get tested. If your grandfather’s living, he could take a Y-DNA test, which you can compare to results in the study. Your grandfather would’ve given his Y-DNA to a son (your uncle), so your mother’s brother could take the test. If this uncle had sons (your cousins), they share his Y-DNA and could get tested.

Can’t find any male relatives who inherited your maternal grandfather’s Y-DNA? Cast your net wider by climbing further up your family tree—see if that grandfather had brothers who had sons, or if his father (your great-grandfather)
had brothers who had sons.
According to family lore, you have an American Indian ancestor on your father’s maternal line.
Men and Women: To confirm this story, you’d need to have your father’s mtDNA tested—not your own, since your father didn’t pass down his mtDNA to you or your siblings. You also could have one of your father’s siblings tested, since his mtDNA is identical to theirs. If your father has a sister, she would’ve passed down that same mtDNA to her children, so they could be tested. And if your father’s sister has a daughter, any of the daughter’s children can be tested.
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