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My DNA Recommendations

There are many reasons to do a DNA test for genealogy, as well as many limitations with ever-evolving results. Companies also offer an optional health profile with your DNA results that may or may not be helpful to some people. 


Here's a summary on the types of DNA tests out there, potential concerns, and the major companies who offer tests:

  1. Autosomal DNA - this looks at a general sampling of your genome and where the “ethnicity” percentages are derived from. This is the most common type of DNA test to yield useful matches in helping with genealogical research.

  2. Mitochondrial DNA - this looks at the DNA inherited from your mother’s mother’s mother’s etc line. It will take you back to one of the relatively small number of “mothers” in global prehistory. It’s interesting, but I have yet to see how it helps in more recent genealogy research. If a relative who descends from the same matrilineal line has taken the test and you know those results, there’s no need to spend money to take this test. In rare cases a high-level match might reveal who a great great etc grandmother is. It also could confirm that a DNA match comes from the same maternal line.

  3. Y-DNA - This test only pertains to men and will reveal the father’s father’s father’s etc line. If you’re a woman with a living brother, father, paternal uncle, or nephew you can potentially learn a fair amount about your paternal line if one of them takes the test. This could be especially useful if you have reason to believe a particular line had a non-paternal event. That is, that the presumed father of an ancestor was passed off as biological when that wasn’t the case.

I personally think DNA tests are an incredible tool for aiding in genealogy research. So I highly suggest taking a DNA test (or 2 or 3;-)—with a few caveats:

  1. You might get some surprises you aren’t expecting. These could be relatives you didn’t know about, or even a whole different lineage than the one you were told about growing up. So if you don’t think you can handle potential dramas like that, maybe don’t test

  2. You might get results that seem kind of dull or unhelpful. So it’s best to go in with an attitude of curiosity and patience. New matches come online all the time, and a helpful match just might not be there yet. Also, ethnic percentages and technology are always changing. What seems like a soup of matches might turn into strong and provable ancestry lines as technology advances.

  3. You might get an overwhelming number of matches. If part of your ancestry stems from endogamous groups (populations with generations of intermarriage) or isolated regional groups, there will be an inordinate number of matches that show as closer-than-they-actually-are relatives. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but depending on what the goals are, it’s possible to solve familial mysteries and flesh out the family tree. It will all depend on the quality of your matches--as well as your level of patience.

  4. Privacy concerns. I totally get why it’s nervous-making to put a DNA sample out there. Although companies say they anonymize the data and don’t sell personal details, it’s reasonable to be protective. One way to minimize access to your information is to submit your DNA without identifying information. You can set up an account with a separate email and non-identifying username. And while perhaps cynical, it’s worth stating: If someone really wants to find private details about you, they can and they will. With minimal skills, I’m guessing even my teenager could probably track someone down. As for DNA, it’s already technically possible to gather it from the air. But as always, taking a DNA test comes down to one’s comfort level balanced with the potential benefit.

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