DNA Testing Grounds

DNA Testing Grounds

What can your genealogy software do with genetic test results? We put popular programs’ DNA features under the microscope.

You’ve read a lot about the genetic genealogy testing process—how to choose a test, what the terminology means, what your results can tell you. But if you’re among the hundreds of thousands of genealogy test-takers, you face another question: How do you keep track of your results—and other relatives’—for use in your ongoing research? Can you simply plug the data into your family tree software like details from censuses, newspapers and oral history interviews? We looked at a number of Windows programs to see what genealogy software can—and can’t—do with DNA data. Our findings:
  • You can record Y-DNA test results. Many popular genealogy programs, including Ancestral Quest, Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic and The Master Genealogist, give you a place to enter Y-DNA (Y-chromosome) test results. Y-DNA is the most popular type of genealogy test because it can be used to determine if people with the same last name are closely related.
Typically, you begin recording a person’s DNA test results in your software by selecting the testing laboratory you or your relative used (see our list of genetic genealogy companies). Once you choose a lab, your genealogy program gives you a customized form for recording the DNA markers that company tests for.
Family Tree Maker lets you add a DNA fact, but not individual DNA markers. Personal Ancestral File doesn’t support DNA data at all.
  • You can record mtDNA results—in certain programs. RootsMagic and The Master Genealogist also let you record mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test results, which indicate relationships along the maternal line. In RootsMagic, you select a testing lab and record the haplogroup, as well as haplotype results consisting of up to three testing regions (HVR1, HVR2 and HVR3).
  • You can’t share DNA data via GEDCOM files. This isn’t the fault of the software makers: GEDCOM, the standard family tree file format that all software can read, doesn’t support DNA data. So if you’re exchanging files with someone who uses a different program, you won’t be able to swap DNA data.
  • Your software can’t search for DNA matches online. Many genealogy programs can search online genealogy databases for names in your file, but no genealogy software searches public DNA databases.
  • You can’t display or analyze DNA data in a meaningful way. Legacy can print a one-page DNA report, and its Legacy Charting utility can produce four kinds of “DNA wall charts”—but these charts don’t actually display or even require you to enter DNA test results. They merely show you which relatives would have identical or highly similar DNA, and they have a major flaw: They indicate that adopted children carry their adoptive parents’ DNA.
We didn’t find any DNA features that would be truly useful in your research—a chart that ranks or groups relatives by how many markers match, for example. That’s likely to change. As Dave Berdan, president of Legacy’s parent company, Millennia Software, explains, “[The] ability to record DNA markers is really a feature that will become useful in the future—possibly in ways that we can’t even imagine right now.”  
Here’s the process for entering genetic genealogy test results in two genealogy programs.
From the December 2009 Family Tree Magazine

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