Employing genetic genealogy in your family history has almost become a necessity. Not because it can fully fill in your family tree—it can’t. Not because it acts as a quick substitute for traditional research—it doesn’t. But because it is an incredible tool when used in conjunction with your regular family research. DNA testing can connect you with your living cousins, steer your research away from dead ends and lead your ancestral investigations in promising new directions. It can provide strong evidence of an ancestral connection, and even suggest when—and where—the most recent common ancestor might’ve lived.
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What Genealogy DNA Test is Right for You?
Genetic genealogy can be defined as the use of DNA to study ancient origins and recent genealogy. These simple tests help us explore the genetic relatedness of humans all over the world, all the while finding cousins and family members we didn’t even know we had lost.
Since genetic genealogy launched in 2000 with commercial products offered by Family Tree DNA and Oxford Ancestors, more than 1 million people (and perhaps as many as 2 or 3 million) have taken a genetic genealogy test to learn more about themselves and their place in history. If you have not yet jumped into the world of genetic genealogy, it is our hope that you will soon choose to do so.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to have a degree in molecular biology to understand genetic genealogy. You don’t even need to remember anything from that biology course you took in 10th grade! This brief introduction will provide you with everything you need to understand the basics of genetic genealogy testing.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a component of the cell (the basic unit of life) that carries the instructions for the development and operation of all living things. A piece of DNA is typically composed of two long intertwined molecules that are made up of smaller units called nucleotides.The two intertwined molecules interact to form a very long single structure called a chromosome.
Chromosomes reside in the nucleus – or “control center” – of the cell. A typical human cell has two copies of each of 23 different chromosomes, for a total of 46 chromosomes. One set of each of the 23 chromosome pairs came from your father, and one set came from your mother.
In addition to the DNA in the nucleus, there are hundreds or thousands of copies of a very small circular strand of mitochondrial DNA found in the many mitochondria outside the nucleus. These mitochondria are tiny powerhouses of the cell responsible for, among other things, creating the energy our cells need to function.
Types of DNA Tests
There are essentially four different types of DNA tests for genetic genealogists:
- mtDNA Test – This test analyzes the small circular piece of DNA found in the mitochondria, and will tell you about your direct maternal line (your mother’s mother’s mother’s…mother).
- Y-DNA Test – This test analyzes the Y chromosome, a chromosome that is found only in males. As a result, this test will tell males about their direct paternal line (your father’s father’s father’s…father).
- Autosomal DNA Test – This test analyzes the 22 pair of non-sex chromosomes, including the copy of each chromosome you inherited from your mother and the copy you inherited from your father. As a result, these tests can tell you about both sides of your family.
- X-DNA Test – This test analyzes the X chromosome, of which men have one copy (inherited from their mother) and women have two copies (one from their father, and one from their mother). Some autosomal DNA tests also examine the X chromosome.
Bottom line: Genealogical DNA testing can’t replace traditional genealogy research, but it can complement it significantly. That’s why we’ve done our best to help out by providing you with this free ebook full of strategies and resources for applying DNA to your family history.
This ebook contains some of Family Tree Magazine’s best tips relating to genetic genealogy, including articles on debunking genetic genealogy misconceptions, tricks for using DNA to break through brick walls, and a resource roundup of tools to analyze your Y-DNA, Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Autosomal DNA (atDNA) test results. Together this collection stands as a comprehensive guide to understanding the complex relationship between DNA and family history: Jump into Genetic Genealogy: Use Genealogical DNA Testing to Solve Family Mysteries.
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What’s inside the Jump into Genetic Genealogy ebook?
Guide #1: DNA: Fact or Science Fiction?
Although genetic genealogy can add valuable information to your family tree, it does have limitations. For instance, DNA alone can’t fill your entire family tree. Others think a genetic genealogy test requires being poked by a needle, or will reveal unwanted medical information. To help you understand the benefits and boundaries of genealogical DNA testing, this article identifies the most common misconceptions one by one so you can learn the truth about your genetic genealogy testing options.
Guide #2: DNA Success Stories
The name change at Ellis Island. The American Indian “princess.” The unbreakable brick wall. Every genealogist has a mystery lurking within his or her family tree. Often the subject of years of persistent research, the mystery is pulled out of dusty files and re-examined from time to time, in hopes that a new database or new clue will finally reveal the answer. Genetic genealogy is a value tool that should be in your toolbox—answers to family mysteries often hide in our very DNA. Genetic genealogy tests allow you to uncover relationships and connections that have long been forgotten, or, sometimes, were intentionally concealed. This article will show four real-life examples of how genealogists are breaking through brick walls with DNA testing.
Guide #3: Top Genetic Genealogy Tools
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 now 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.
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