In the future, genetic testing will become an increasingly integral part of the fields of family history and genealogy. Even now, genetic testing is sometimes considered necessary as part of the reasonably exhaustive search required for the genealogical proof standard.
In this introduction to DNA testing for family history purposes, we’ll outline how DNA tests work, provide an explanation of the tests available and the companies that offer them, and finally, explain what results you can expect and how they can be used to answer family history questions.
There are four main companies that offer tests which are useful for family history. In order for a DNA test to be useful for genealogical investigation, it must analyze informative markers on the DNA and it must connect the results to a database of other tested individuals. Although there are many companies that offer DNA testing for some type of ancestry analysis, only four of these companies meet the aforementioned criteria: MyHeritage DNA, , , and .
Taking the Test
Each of these companies use a similar collection method. After a customer purchases a test, they will receive a kit in the mail. Ancestry.com and 23andMe both use a saliva collection tube, whereas MyHeritage DNA and FamilyTreeDNA both use a cheek swab. These non-invasive collection kits do not require the subject to draw blood. They are simple to use and come with a detailed set of instructions.
MyHeritage DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry.com require creation of an account in order for the test to be fully processed. FamilyTreeDNA will request an email address where the results can be sent.
There are three types of tests offered for family history purposes: Y-chromosome tests, mitochondrial DNA tests, and autosomal DNA tests. The meaning behind these names will be explored below in the section titled “DNA Types.”
All four companies offer an autosomal DNA test, and this is the only test offered at Ancestry.com, MyHeritage DNA and 23andMe. FamilyTreeDNA’s autosomal DNA test is called the “Family Finder.” In addition to the Family Finder autosomal DNA test, FamilyTreeDNA also offers several Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests.
Although 23andMe includes some analysis of the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA as part of their product, this analysis only investigates the very deep ancestry of these DNA types. Sometimes deep ancestry information can offer clues, but it does not provide enough information to draw genealogical conclusions.
The test results from each of the companies differ from one another in some aspects, but have some basic shared elements. When your test results are ready, you will receive a notification to your email and you will be able to view them by logging into your account. Autosomal tests include ancestral ethnicity estimates as well as a list of genetic cousins or matches who are estimated relatives based on the amount of DNA that you share in common with them. Each company offers different tools for additional analysis of autosomal DNA test results. MyHeritage currently offers users the option to upload their raw DNA from other companies in order to receive .
Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests also include some basic information about the geographic distribution of your DNA types, and also include a list of relatives based on the markers that you share in common. These test results also include a summary of the mutations on your own Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA that make them unique from other lineages.[continued tomorrow in Part 2]
NOTE: Legacy Tree Genealogists is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this blog post. However, our resident DNA experts would be happy to help you analyze and make sense of the results you get from any of them. Give us a call or drop us an email and let us know how we can help you: .
Legacy Tree Genealogists is the world's highest client-rated genealogy research firm. Founded in 2004, the company provides full-service genealogical research for clients worldwide, helping them discover their roots and personal history through records, narratives, and DNA. For more information on Legacy Tree and their services, visit: