DNA Testing for Genealogy – Getting Started, Part Four

Posted August 8, 2012 by Geni | 26 Comments

We’re excited to bring to you a special guest series by genetic genealogist CeCe Moore. Some of you may recognize her from her popular blog  YourGeneticGenealogist.com. She’ll be providing a great overview about DNA testing for genealogy. Here’s the final installment of her very informative series. Enjoy!

We have covered the three types of DNA tests for genealogy over the last few weeks, but there is one more aspect of genetic genealogy that should not be overlooked. In fact, one of the questions that I am asked most frequently is: How can I get a percentage breakdown of my ethnicity? With popular television programs recently highlighting this compelling area of genetic genealogy, it is no surprise that interest in DNA testing has grown.

Percentages and Pie Charts

Many viewers of “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” were intrigued with the pie charts presented to each guest breaking down their ancestral origins by percentage. These charts were made using data from 23andMe and Family Tree DNA’s autosomal DNA tests. “Who Do You Think You Are?” offered a sneak peak at Ancestry.com’s version (available by invitation only) and the blogs have recently been abuzz with the news that National Geographic has started taking orders for, perhaps the most advanced version yet, the new Geno 2.0.

Percentages of Ancestral Origins, Family Tree DNA’s “Population Finder” 

I find that this subject fascinates most people and is a really fun way to engage non-genealogists. So, even if your family members’ eyes glaze over at the mention of traditional genealogy, you may be able to interest them in DNA testing by talking about this feature.

In spite of its growing popularity, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that this area of DNA testing for genealogy still has a long way to go. As many customers have discovered, comparing across companies will often yield different results for the same person and it is difficult to determine which one is the most valid.  For now, a good rule to go by is the more conservative the estimates are, the more accurate they are likely to be (as long as they are from a respected company). In other words, if the report includes only a few populations, you can feel pretty confident about its conclusions. This is because it is relatively easy to tell a person that they are, for example, genetically 100% European.  However offering more detail, such as percentages of British, French, Scandinavian and/or German, remains a challenge.  As a result, I read lots of comments from genealogists who are puzzled by their results. If you receive an unexpected report, please don’t think that you need to throw out your years of research or worry that you may have been adopted! For now, regard this aspect of your results with a grain of salt. Hopefully, with the refining of the tools currently out there and the new offerings on the horizon, we will soon see promising strides in this area.

Put simply, these tests work by comparing your DNA to reference samples gathered from around the world and determining which of these your DNA most closely resembles. Since the sample coverage is still relatively insignificant on a global level, it follows that this science will undergo enormous advancement as an increasing number of people are tested from around the world.


Do you remember the questions I posed in the first part of this series? Let’s review them in light of what we have discussed over the last month:

Q: Are you primarily interested in researching your surname?

If the answer is yes, then consider a Y-DNA test. If no, then consider an autosomal DNA test.

Q: Are there specific brick walls that you wish to target with the use of DNA testing?

If yes, then see the next two questions.

Q: What is the ancestral pattern back to these brick walls?

If the brick wall is on your direct paternal line, then choose a Y-DNA test and if it is on the direct maternal line, choose a mtDNA test. If it is any other pattern, such as your mother’s father’s mother’s line, then either do an autosomal DNA test or find an appropriate direct line descendant to take a Y-DNA or mtDNA test.

Q: How far back in your family tree are these brick walls?

If the brick wall is within the last five or six generations, consider an autosomal DNA test. If further, then attempt to find an appropriate direct line descendant of the person in question to take a Y-DNA or mtDNA test.

Q: Are you ready for a long-term project or do you desire quick answers?

If you are looking for quick and easy answers, then DNA testing for genealogy may not be right for you. If, on the other hand, you are prepared to embrace a long-term project, then let me welcome you to the fascinating world of genetic genealogy!

Q: Are there adoptions in your family tree that you would like to explore?

Female adoptees should take an autosomal DNA test.  I recommend that male adoptees first take a Y-DNA test to attempt to determine their genetic surname and then an autosomal DNA test to explore the rest of their heritage. If you have an adopted person in your family tree within the last few generations, then either attempt to find a direct male descendant for Y-DNA testing (if male) or order an autosomal DNA test for the person most closely related to that adopted person. Nothing is guaranteed, but as the databases grow testing will become increasingly informative, resulting in more frequent success stories.

Q: Is your primary interest receiving a percentage breakdown of your overall ancestral origins or “ethnicity”?

Order an autosomal DNA test like 23andMe, Family Tree DNA’s “Family Finder”, AncestryDNA or the new Geno 2.0.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about DNA testing for genealogy and are encouraged to give it a try.

Resources to continue your learning:

  1. Join the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG). It’s free!
  2. Join the ISOGG DNA Newbie Yahoo Group. Ask questions!
  3. Follow my blog: Your Genetic Genealogist.

CeCe Moore is a professional genetic genealogist and writes the popular blog Your Genetic Genealogist. She is the Southern California Regional Coordinator for the International Society of Genetic Genealogy and the administrator of the organization’sDNA Newbie Yahoo Group. CeCe serves as an “Ancestry Ambassador” to 23andMe and on the advisory board of the Mixed Roots Foundation and is a member of Mensa. Her favorite genetic experiment is her seven-year old son, Nicolas.


  • IsraelP

    CeCe, you have been great with both guidance and encouragement.

    I still don’t feel I know what I am doing, but like the bumblebee which did not study aerodynamics, I am making significant progress nonetheless. I have posted the first part of a three-part blog on my DNA project and will be presenting a Power Point later this week to family members, which I hope to make into a lecture.

    I do plan to join the ISOGG, but want to get a better handle on the nitty-gritty first.

    I’d love to see you blog on DNA testing as a proof in a genealogy database. When is it proof and when is it just a strong indication. And who decides?

    • CeCe Moore

       Thank you, IsraelP! It is great that you are passing the knowledge on and I hope your relatives enjoy the presentation.
      You don’t have to know anything specific to join ISOGG! It is for anyone interested in the subject. Everyone is welcome!
      DNA testing as genealogical proof is a still developing subject that I don’t think anyone has addressed formally yet. Like I said above in  my last comment, Y-DNA cannot give a specific relationship, so it would be difficult to use it as proof except when the question is “Are these two families related?” An exception to that would be when a very thorough surname project has been able to determine the exact mutations that occurred on specific ancestral lines – like the different sons of a progenitor. It can certainly be used to disprove a relationship!
      Autosomal DNA does have the potential to be used as “proof” in close relationships because it is so good at determining exact relationships. If it is being used beyond five generations, one must be cautious, however it can certainly be used as a strong indication in certain situations just beyond that. As far as who decides…there needs to be a strong set of “rules” set out to follow for the very confident situations. For the more complicated applications, it will be very difficult to determine “who decides” since the majority of genealogists do not have the genetic genealogy knowledge to understand the implications when the proof is laid out in front of them. As DNA testing is increasingly used, we will have to spend a lot more time looking at this issue. Good question!

  • Ss Shuford

    We are trying to break a brick wall in a direct paternal line.  We have done y testing on the oldest male of the line.  From him, the unknown father is 4 generations back, i.e. his gg grandfather.  You state that autosomal testing is preferred if the brick wall is within 5 or 6 generations.  I am not sure I understand why that is the case.

    • CeCe Moore

       @47f4f29d2a588316e65d95e4164f6f36:disqus – It is a complicated question which depends on several factors. For direct paternal lines, Y-DNA testing would be my first choice if you are trying to determine a likely surname and you can locate an appropriate male to test. However, if one can’t be tested, then I recommend autosomal DNA testing if it is within 5 or 6 generations. Autosomal DNA testing is great for really close relationships like trying to find an unknown close relative, like a grandparent or to test out a theory like determining if two people are related within five generations. You have done the appropriate test, but if you don’t find the answer, you may want to supplement with atDNA testing. Y-DNA can definitely help find your direct paternal ancestors, but in your case, since the brick wall is relatively close, atDNA testing may give you a more exact relationship. For example, a Y-DNA test can tell you that someone is related to your direct paternal line, but not how closely because the Y chromosome can be passed down virtually unchanged for generations. Therefore, a 67/67 match on Y-DNA could mean brothers, father/son, grandfather/son, 2nd cousins, 6th cousins or beyond. An atDNA test can determine the exact relationship up to 2nd cousins confidently and 3rd cousins much of the time. So, if you tested this person’s atDNA, it is possible that they might match someone as a third cousins who shares the same gggrandfather. Since I don’t know all of the factors and every case is different, that is the best explanation I can provide. I hope it makes sense to you.

      • Ss Shuford

        Thank you so much, that is very clear.  If we continue and do atDNA testing, would testing my DNA rather than his make a significant difference in locating matches that would help with this brick wall?  I am one generation further from the unidentified individual.  He would be my three great grandfather rather than my cousin’s two great. 

        • CeCe Moore

           @47f4f29d2a588316e65d95e4164f6f36:disqus – Yes, it could make a big difference since you are already right on the edge of where atDNA can be quite confidently used. If you decide to do atDNA testing, you should always test the individual who is most closely related to the ancestor in question. BTW, 23andMe has a sale ending in two hours. The discount code for $50 off is on my blog.

      • IsraelP

        How important is it to test how many markers? I did 67 myself, but other members of my project did only 37. Should I be upgrading them? Should I be looking at 111? Would a match there allow me to say “proof?”

        • Lorrie

          I am so frustrated and confused at 23 and me I come up 100 european , No asian, No African No Native American…. Here I am told there is Asian and African bloodlines in my ancestry…..I don’t know what to think or do help please

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Glenn-J-Hill/1647122326 Glenn J. Hill

    Hi CeCe I have not seen a mention in your blog of DNA-Tribes? Have you seen their results and can you offer a comment on how accurate they are ? I have had both their autosomal DNA test, and their SNP test, as well as the at tests from both Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com. The results from all three companies are similar, though Tribes gives way more detail. So I am interested in if anyone has done a detailed comparison of the at tests, as well as looking at the SNP results form Tribes. My understanding is that Tribes uses the global data base that is used normally for individual identification purpose as in criminal investigations, in their SNP testing.

    Thanks for any insight into just how accurate Tribes testing is?

  • CeCe Moore

    I have written a post comparing the 4 major companies’ admixture results or “ethnic” breakdowns here: http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2012/12/comparing-admixture-test-results-across.html

  • Larry

    I enjoy your blog. I recently completed the Genographic 2.0 test. I have good genealogical data indicating my ancestors were English, Scottish and Irish. I was very surprised when the two closest profiles attributed to my genetic markers were German and Greek. The German made some sense to me as it could be a result of Anglo Saxon migration into Britain. However, i’m stumped as the Greek designation? Any thoughts?

    • http://www.danaseilhan.com Dana

      If you read Greek mythology stories they will frequently allude to a people they called the Hyperboreans (“people from beyond the North Wind”). They traded with them for tin to make bronze. I’m guessing they probably meant the people of the British Isles. That alone could be where it came from–some Greek merchant had a British girlfriend perhaps?

  • Alex McFadyen

    CeCe, I had a DNA test done just a couple months ago by Ancestry.com My father was adopted and he was a illegitimate child so no father is known. I only have his mothers name so the search goes on. I may have found her, she married a couple years after my fathers birth and had two son’s who may still be alive. If not would one of thier children provide a good DNA match to compare to mine?

    • CeCe Moore

      Absolutely, Alex! This is a perfect application for autosomal DNA testing. Since your theorized relationship with her grandchildren would be half first cousins (assuming her husband is not the same man as your paternal grandfather), they would be expected to share about 6.25% of their autosomal DNA with you. At AncestryDNA, this would translate to a prediction of first to second cousins. (Also at 23andMe and FTDNA’s Family Finder.)

      Remember that the autosomal DNA test at Ancestry.com is called AncestryDNA, so please be sure that is the test that you took and not their older Y-DNA or mtDNA test. This is important since you would both need to take the AncestryDNA test (or any autosomal DNA test) for this to work.

      Best of luck! I hope you get the answer that you desire.


  • Will Tay

    CeCe, you are very correct on all you have said about first using YDNA and then Autosomal, I have a family Tree that goes back to my 4th GG Father then a brick wall, I had a YDNA Test and after a while I noticed that no matches with my Surname came up… I started getting lots of matches with a Johnstone and variation surname, In some of my Family history there was a Johnson who lived with my 4th GG Grandfather who had served in the Civil war with my 3rd GG Father, we never knew that the Johnson tied in with our family until I did the testing, we still have not made a Family connection with the Johnstones but are closer than before, but it is strange knowing after 200 years I am not a Taylor, LOL
    I did have a Cousin test who is from my 3rd GG fathers Brother and he matches myself, so that means it happened before my 3rd GG father.. Ancestry is very difficult to follow..

    • jean

      My husband was in the same situation. I tried for four years to get past 1840. That is as far back I could trace his family and then it is like that ggggrandfather just appeared out of no where. I thought if we did his ydna then at least it would show us which “branch” of his surname we should be focusing on and then fill in the gaps. WRONG. He is not at all related to what his surname is. He came back related to Moore/Muir’s! Talk about a shock! Still don’t know where the Moore happened but his great grandfather worked with a Mr Moore and they lived on the same block of the same street in 1930 but that is only speculation. Shocking to find out your last name is not where your dna is from!

  • Malcolm Jones

    My question is how can a Black American (Myself) have Near Eastern and Southwest and South Asian.
    Various runs of my Raw Dna from ancestry.com shows North African,South Asian,Mediterranean and General Middle Eastern ancestry which i was excited about because i love middle eastern and East Indian culture.

    I get results like 5.95% Moroccan , Gedrosia 1.04% , Baloch 1.99% , East African

    Could this come from my Saharan- African or European ancestry ?

    My European ancestry comes from my maternal great grandfather which is mostly West European Irish British. I know at on point Britain had colonies in India.

    My Paternal 3Greatgranfather was from South Carolina my dad spoke about American Indian Ancestry in our family but never specified what tribe or state it came from. I theorized my paternal line may have some connection to the Turks of South Carolina who married American Indians who married Black Americans.My Paternal great grandmother was listed in the census as Basim Read but later it was Betsy and then Bessie.

    Gedmatch Oracle Calculator gave me results of 5.95% Lumbee and 6.04% Aleut.
    But other calculations listing for American Indian are 1.96% Athabask , 1.09% Pima , and 2.82% Mayan.

    I also on test my Ancestry.Com got 1% Polynesian.
    But on Gedmatch i get tiny percentages of East Asian, South Asian,Australian, Melanesian,Siberian and South East Asian.

    I also Prometheus report which said i carried a rare Gene that is responsible of Native American Myopathy

  • Keithet

    Ok, A couple of months ago my family received news of possible new relatives, my dad’s dad may have had a daughter by a previous trice. This daughter had two daughters Am I right in assuming the best test to find out if they are related is by getting my female cousin whose mother is my dad’s sister to have a DNA test like family finder. All the original siblings are dead. This would be, dad, daughter, daughter, I have done the DNAfamilyfinder, and now have upgraded to the Y-DNA 37 test. One of the daughters is doing the DNAfamilyfinder test,

  • Tracy Cope

    CeCe, I took an AncestryDNA test as did my maternal aunt. My aunt showed up as a first cousin! Why would this be?

  • Richard Sloop

    CeCe, My family has good documentation of our family tree back to a paternal ancestor appearing in the 1770′s in SC. Unfortunately there is a great deal of question as to where he came from before showing up in Charleston. What is the best test (and provider) to try and answer this question? How accurate would thus be? How specific would it be? Just continent or can the data see to country or city level?

    Also, great appearance on last nights PBS show!

  • R Bridges

    I’m a female. I took an autosomal DNA test through Ancestry. Later I transferred the raw data to FTDNA. On the FTDNA site I matched a male who had taken a Y-DNA 37 test at 2nd to 4th cousin. The majority of our match was on the 2 chromosome. Can I assume that the match has to be on his paternal line ?

  • Penny Alvarez

    CeCe, there is a major brick wall in my family tree…my mother’s father’s biological father used an alias name according to divorce records and my Great Grandmother could not recall his name. What makes things even more difficult is that my Grandfather only had two girls, my mother and aunt. They have both taken autosomal DNA test and I was able to talk their 1st Cousin (my Grandfather’s 1/2 sister’s daughter) into doing a autosomal DNA….So I was able to eliminate some of the matches bc they belong to their Grandmother’s side of the family. Is there a way that someone in my mother’s and aunt’s case could narrow down possible matches to their Grandfather who used the alias name?

  • Christina-DNA Newbie

    CeCe, these segments are awesome and timeless and I recommend them to anyone else interested in DNA genealogy. I have just recently started delving into genealogy and have been on Ancestry.com and submitted my AncestryDNA test (before I found this site) still being processed. First some ground work for my questions, I have a common last name Price and my mother’s dad side is Powell. I have already ran into brick walls in my paper record research mainly Ancestry Family Member Trees which are not reliable to identify my ancestors. One brick wall is my paternal 4th great grandfather which I am unable to identify his father with any real confidence. I recall from this segment to test your eldest living relative when doing autosomal DNA tests because they only go back a few generations to get around brick walls. I was going to test my twin brother with the Geno 2.0 test, as well as FTNDNA’s Y67, Family Finder, and mtFullSequence tests to help find and confirm ancestors for both paternal and maternal lineages. Should I have my twin brother do all of these tests or have my paternal grandfather, my maternal Uncle, and my great uncle on my maternal grandmother’s side complete the Geno 2.0 and/or FTDNA tests? Should I bother with FTDNA’s Family Finder tests if I am having them complete the Geno 2.0? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.