Genetic Ancestry: Intro to Personal DNA Tests

Posted February 16, 2011 by Geni | One Comment


Our DNA holds the answers to a lot of questions. Ancestry is one of them. When we have our genome analyzed, we can compare our data to the community aggregate as well as known-relations. DNA testing provides us the ability to see who we’re related to, and how closely.

Family Tree DNA and 23andMe are two of the most well-known direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies. They both offer Y-DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, and Autosomal DNA tests. Family Tree DNA offers a wider range of tests with granular control, but 23andMe has a comparatively less expensive comprehensive package. The exact way that the two companies work with genetics is slightly different, but there shouldn’t be much of a difference to genealogists without a background in genetics.

Very simply put, Y-DNA traces your direct paternal lineage, Mitochondrial DNA traces your direct maternal lineage, and Autosomal DNA allows you to find out how closely related you are to other people. When you’re using genetics for genealogical purposes, that’s all you really need to know to get started. Once you’ve grasped the basics, you can read more about how genetics works.

It’s also important to note that the more data you can collect genetically, the more useful it will be for your genealogical research. For example, women don’t have a Y Chromosome, so they’ll need to have their brother, father, paternal grandfather, or paternal uncle provide a DNA sample. Also, having both of your parents’ DNA analyzed could potentially help figure out which side of your family you match on with a distant relative. If it weren’t for the substantial cost for each DNA analysis, I would recommend that you have your whole family genotyped. If you’re in the position to get the kits, they make pretty unique gifts.

I have gotten myself tested, and I’ll walk you through to process and results. Keep an eye on the blog for more updates on Ancestral DNA Tests.

Image Credit: Zephyris