Pat’s Genealogy Tips: Diving Into DNA

These days, most people have heard about DNA testing whether they are interested in genealogy or not. At first DNA was mainly used to solve crimes, starting in 1986. The organization Family Tree DNA first offered Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests to the public for genealogy purposes in 2000.

Y chromosome, or Y-DNA tests, determine paternal ancestry direct from father to son, and the test must be taken by a male because females do not have Y chromosomes. Cousin matches are through the Y chromosome.

Mitochondrial DNA tests follow the X chromosome straight along a maternal line and any cousin matches are through shared X chromosomes.

Autosomes are pairs of chromosomes, one copy from the father and one from the mother. Out of the pairs numbered 1–22, the amount that match other persons’ chromosomes determine cousins and the degree of relation and help estimate a person’s ethnic mix.

What follows is an overview of the testing companies I’ve found through magazine articles and online and what they offer. By all means if one or more interest you, check out their website. Pricing changes daily depending on “specials” being offered and the tests offered may have changed or been upgraded since I wrote this.

Family Tree DNA as noted above, is the first company to offer genetic DNA testing for genealogy. They offer an autosomal test, an mtDNA (maternal ancestry) test — both of which can be taken by males or females; and a Y-DNA test (paternal ancestry) which must be taken by a male. If you are a female and want this information on your family, you will need to get a male relative to take this test. Their website has easy-to-understand explanations of each of these tests. They also have an extensive list of forums on topics related to in-depth DNA genealogy.

Ancestry DNA Ancestry’s tests search for autosomal DNA connections — cousins from first to eighth cousins, ethnicity estimates, and historical and geographical insights — possible paths your ancestors traveled to where you are now. Once you have your test results, attach your family tree to help your cousins figure out how you are related. New cousins are added as more people submit tests. Ancestry periodically updates their evaluation methods so your ethnicity percentages may change a bit.

Ancestry now offers AncestryHealth DNA testing as an upgrade to an existing record for $49 or $149 for a new tester (DNA plus Health.)

23andMe Offers tests for autosomal DNA, mtDNA, and Y-DNA in several tests. For $99 they offer Ancestry and Traits which includes DNA relative finder, tree builder, trait reports, and geographic regions. For $199 the test gives results for everything in the first test plus health predispositions, wellness, and carrier status reports. The $499 VIP Health and Ancestry test gives you 2 tests, priority lab processing and shipping and premium customer support.

LivingDNA These tests use autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA to give results for four different tests at costs from $49 to $99 (some of these prices may be “specials”) The starter kit reveals family ancestry compared with eight continents. There are three other kits for more detailed ancestry, wellbeing, and a kit that tests for both of the last two.

MyHeritage There are two tests using autosomal DNA only. One reveals ethnic origins and any relatives in their database, the other adds health insights and detailed reports. This site offers a free 14 day trial to build a tree or upload your tree in a gedcom and search a huge international database.

HomeDNA This site offers several tests ranging from $69 to $199 – the basic ancestry test uses autosomal DNA to find ethnic origins. They also offer separate tests for African ancestry, Asian ancestry, and maternal (mtDNA) and paternal lineage (Y-DNA), and an advanced ancestry with more details. All of their tests can be ordered from their website, but some can be bought at chain-store pharmacies.

Helix By National Geographic, Helix offers a straight ancestry test (Ancestry and Traits), and a health evaluation (Mayo Clinic Geneguide) that gives results for disease risk, carrier screening, and family health history and more. They use autosomal DNA, mtDNA, and Y-DNA.

There are two more tests that concentrate on health aspects: This site requires approval of your doctor or from their network of doctors. Their tests cost from $99 to $249 . This site may be hard to use right now – today (4/15/20) their banner advertises they are launching a Covid-19 testing procedure soon, so they may be very busy.

My Prescription Plan This company tests your DNA to evaluate if your prescriptions are working for or against you. Results include directions for your doctor and a support team for you and your doctor to achieve optimal results.

It’s exciting to send off a DNA test and anticipate what the results will be. Will there be new information about your ethnic background? Will you find new relatives to connect with and share family stories? What most people don’t consider is getting unexpected answers — finding out they aren’t actually related to a parent or grandparent or a sibling is really a half-sibling. There are many situations that can cause surprise results, from parents who wanted to keep an adoption secret to situations where nobody could know what happened at the time.

The book Inheritance by Dani Shapiro is about her journey after finding out from a DNA test that her father was not her biological father. Through research and luck, she discovered her parents had gone to an infertility doctor in the early days of the science, when the father’s sperm was often mixed with a donor’s sperm, without telling the patient, for artificial insemination — a practice she was not sure her parents understood at the time. She was lucky to find an information trail since the records of patients were often destroyed.

So before sending for a DNA test, ask yourself how you will react if you get results you aren’t expecting. And if you are asking other relatives to join you in testing, make sure they understand the possibilities as well.

For anyone interested in more detail on the science of DNA for genealogy, I wanted to give you a link to a good article in the July/August 2019 issue of Family Tree magazine, but they haven’t made it available online yet. We do have 7 copies of the author’s book The family tree guide to DNA testing and genetic genealogy by Blaine T. Bettinger in the OWWL system — they’ll be available when the libraries are open again.

I took an AncestryDNA test a couple years ago. There were no big surprises. They periodically improve how the information is evaluated, so my ethnicity percentages have fluctuated and as more people submitted tests, my cousin list has grown. I currently have more than 1000 people on my list evaluated to be my fourth cousins or closer. I can contact them through the Ancestry site.

I used this feature last fall to see if I could find relatives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where my mother grew up, since my husband and I were planning a trip there. I did end up corresponding with a young man whose parents and aunts sill live in the U.P. and he shared another section of the family tree with me but unfortunately I did not connect with his parents or aunts. This brought me to the realization that not everyone is interested in family genealogy or connecting with long lost relatives and those of us who are simply have to accept that.

P.S. I had a wonderful trip and now have a photo of my grandparents’ gravestone which the person who submitted photos of the cemetery to somehow missed.

Have fun exploring the DNA aspect of Genealogy! — Pat

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