1. Read up.
- International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), which provides education and support for those using genetic genealogy as a research tool
- Journal of Genetic Genealogy, an online magazine
- Guild of One-Name Studies, which focuses on one-name, or surname, DNA studies
- The Genetic Genealogist by Blaine T. Bettinger, whose name you may recognize from his autosomal DNA article in the December 2011 Family Tree Magazine. Bettinger has a PhD in biochemistry with a concentration in genetics, and writes about new developments in the field in an understandable way.
- Your Genetic Genealogist by CeCe Moore, who stays in touch with several testing companies and works with ISOGG to help people understand their test results. She also explains the tests and analyses available.
2. Pick and choose.
For a more general test that has the potential to give you information on any of your family lines, there’s the auto-somal DNA test. This test analyzes all the chromosomes you’ve inherited from both parents, so both men and women can take it. Due to the way genes are inherited, most people will find reliable results for five generations back. But remember that genetic science can’t yet tell you which chromosome came from which ancestor.
Dad and I both wanted to know if family stories of Scottish ancestors were true, and we were hoping to find a relative—perhaps a cousin who’d figured out where in Virginia my father’s third-great-grandfather Charles Combs came from. Because Dad is a male-line descendant of Charles, they have the same Y-DNA (barring any mutations or “nonpaternity events”). I ordered a Y-DNA test to learn the genetic fingerprint of Dad’s paternal line.
See a list of DNA testing companies at familytreemagazine.com/article/dna-testing-companies. Study the company’s website, call to ask your questions, and make sure you understand what kind of analysis your test includes.
3. Get a good scrape.
The testing company will give you a timeline on when to expect your results. Generally, you’ll receive them by mail or online within four to six weeks. It seems like an eternity, I know, but think about all the other genealogy-related to-dos you could check off your list in that time.
4. Run your numbers.
5. Take the next steps.
Unscrambling The Code
- D = DNA
- Y = Y chromosome
- S = a unique segment
- 393 = identifying number for this unique segment
- Value = how many times that marker repeats
So translated, DYS393, Value 13, means that the DNA from the Y chromosome on segment 393 repeats 13 times.
When you find a potential match in a DNA results database, you’ll compare your values to that person’s values. If there’s a different value for a certain segment, you can calculate the genetic distance. The smaller the genetic distance, the better.