Analyzing Your DNA Results: The Two Family Trees You Need to Know About

By Family Tree Editors Premium

The distinction between your genealogical family tree and your genetic family tree is important when it comes to analyzing your DNA test results. Understanding the difference between these two groups of relatives—and noting where they overlap—can often make or break your genetic genealogy strategy: 

Genealogical family tree

This includes all your direct-line ancestors who had a child who had a child who had a child, and so on, ultimately leading to you: your two parents, your four grandparents, your eight great-grandparents, etc. This is the tree you research in historical records, such as birth and death certificates, census records and newspapers. Many genealogists find that the paper trail ends or becomes much more difficult to identify before the 1700s or 1800s, making it difficult to fill in beyond that point.

Genetic family tree

This tree contains only those ancestors that contributed to your DNA. A parent passes on only about 50 percent of his DNA to his children. As a result, pieces of DNA are lost with each generation, and so not every person in your genealogical family tree contributed a segment of his or her DNA sequence to your DNA sequence. Five to seven generations back, ancestors on your genealogical family tree are no longer reflected in your genetic family tree, as shown by the white spaces in the family tree fan chart below.

Knowing that someone who appears in your genealogical family tree may not appear in your genetic family tree is crucial to understanding your test results. 

In Family Tree University’s April 25 webinar class, DNA and the Paper Trail: Putting it All Together, you’ll learn how to analyze your genealogical and genetic trees together to discover new information about your ancestors. Register today at Family Tree Shop.

And register for our Genetic Genealogy 201 online course for guidance on analyzing your autosomal DNA test results and use them in your genealogy research—all from the convenience of home. Register for Genetic Genealogy 201 today at Family Tree University.