July 26, 2017

DNA Testing: 3 Tips Before You Ask Your Relatives to Spit

Here’s what you need to know before you encourage your relatives to join you on your genetic genealogy journey. There are a few things to think about before they spit in that tube and our DNA Guide, Diahan Southard, is here to help!


Did you see those holiday price wars on DNA testing over the holidays? I’m guessing we haven’t seen the end of these now that it’s becoming so trendy! Genealogists are seeing the research payoffs of DNA testing and now another major genealogy website (MyHeritage) is offering testing services, as well.

As the prices and sales generally become more attractive, more of you will want to expand your personal genetic database to include aunts, uncles, and cousins. But what is the best way to proceed? How exactly do you ask someone for his or her DNA? You may just have one shot at this. If so, which test? Which company? Here are three tips to consider before spitting into the tube!

Tip One: Test the Eldest Generation First

You likely have a limited amount of funds with which to populate your family genetic database, so you’ll want to use them wisely. Anyone who does not have both parents living should be tested first. Here’s what I suggest:

  • ordering an autosomal DNA test for everyone
  • ordering a YDNA for one male delegate for each surname you want represented

As for the testing company, you now have four choices:

2. 23andMe
3. AncestryDNA
4. MyHeritage

While there are several factors to consider when choosing a company, database size is probably the number one factor. Currently, AncestryDNA has the largest DNA database. The reason this is important is because your DNA will be matched and compared to others who have taken a DNA test. By testing with a company that has done lots of tests, your chance of finding matches goes up tremendously. You can also go to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy’s wiki for a full list of characteristics of each company.

Tip Two: Take Care of Everything for the Person Being Tested

Depending on the needs and interest of your relative, you can handle everything from ordering, payment, to even correspondence. All they have to do is spit or swab! This will often alleviate feelings of trepidation on part of the person being tested, especially if they aren’t really into this genealogy craze in the first place. Here are my recommendations:

If testing at Family Tree DNA: You will need to keep track of the log-in credentials for each relative.

If testing at AncestryDNA: Make sure all kits are registered under your account. The easiest way to do this is to have the family member take a photo of the activation code on the sample collection tube and send it to you so you can register it after you have logged into your Ancestry account. Hint: Register everyone’s DNA test results under the family member who has a subscription to Ancestry!

If testing at MyHeritage: Make sure that all kits are registered under your account. To the best of my knowledge, you order the kit under your account.

If your relative does want to be involved, all the better! You can have them share their Family Tree DNA or 23andMe login with you, or they can share their AncestryDNA results with you. To share their AncestryDNA results with you, visit my website at https://www.yourdnaguide.com/sharing-ancestrydna.

If you haven’t tested with a particular company yourself, familiarize yourself with the sample collection so you can be helpful when they have questions:

FTDNA: https://www.familytreedna.com/learn/using-the-kit/use-swabs/

AncestryDNA: https://www.ancestry.com/dna/activationinstructions

23andMe: https://customercare.23andme.com/hc/en-us/articles/202904700-Registering-your-kit

MyHeritage: Not available online (yet)

Tip Three: Share Your Own Experience

First of all, nothing speaks louder than your own experience. Before asking your relative to take a test, consider starting with a short summary of your own DNA journey. Keep in mind what might interest them – do they like deep history? If yes, you could share the ethnicity results of your own test. Did they have a special connection to Great-grandpa Joe? In this case, you could show how your DNA connected to a 2nd cousin who was also a descendant of Joe. Maybe you could bust out the photo album. Remind them that while Joe is gone, there are threads of DNA that can speak for him and we need as many of his descendants as possible to be tested in order to preserve his genetic legacy and unravel the mystery of his past.

A Few Last Thoughts on DNA Testing

MyHeritage DNA test savingsOf course, your family is likely going to have questions; questions that you might not be able to answer. My Getting Started: Genetics for the Genealogists quick sheet might be just the thing you need to help them understand exactly what this DNA testing thing is all about and to prepare them for the results they are going to receive. You can also send them over to my website, Your DNA Guide, where I have a bit of information for them to look over. As always, anyone can contact me directly and I will answer any and every question they might have. Well, you know, at least questions about genetic genealogy!

Do you want to try out the new MyHeritage DNA test? Now, you can click on the image to the right for a $20 savings!



About Diahan Southard

Diahan Southard is Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems! She has worked with the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, and has been in the genetic genealogy industry since it has been an industry. She holds a degree in Microbiology and her creative side helps her break the science up into delicious bite-sized pieces for you. She's the author of our DNA guides Getting Started: Genetics for Genealogists, and Y Chromosome DNA for Genealogists (click STORE in the menu above)


  1. There’s also Living DNA

  2. Ania,

    Yes, Living DNA is new to the market and I haven’t received my results yet so I am not ready to add them to any of my lists. So far they are only offering ethnicity results, and not cousin matching, though I understand this will be coming soon. I will definitely let you know when I get my results!

  3. Kenneth Hess says:

    I would like to get clarification about where to go now. I just had my DNA done on Ancestry, which is autosomal, if I am corrct. Which on to go to now for my YDNA? I work in Family Search, but is it the best or best results for the YDNA.

  4. Kenneth,
    For the YDNA you only have one choice – Family Tree DNA (www.FTDNA.com). They are the only company offering YDNA testing. I recommend the 37 or 67 marker test (more is better, but 37 is a good solid start).

  5. Bruce Lloyd says:

    You forgot to mention Y-111 from FTDNA, gedmatch.com, and avoid ancestrybyDNA (scam). If you can afford it, test at all DNA test sites to get maximum exposure to all relatives and upload to gedmatch.com to see more cousins.

  6. I am new to this site. While an ancestry search is not on my hot list right now, I am interested in DNA testing for other reasons.
    My siblings and I grew up in an area where a hundred years or so of mining, smelting, and wood treatment contaminated the sediment and soil as well as both ground and surface water with PCP, PAHs, dioxins, furans, arsenic, copper, zinc, cadmium, & lead. When the extent of the contamination became known we thought we were lucky because we were so healthy. However, we are now entering our fifties and sixties and the number of immune system health problems the seven of us have is staggering.
    Our paternal great grandparents married and lived here, gave birth to and raised 3 children here. All lived healthy lives well into their 80’s. Our paternal grandparents had 4 sons who were also born and raised here. Two died in their sixties but not from immune system illness (our father was one of the two). A third died in his late seventies, and the fourth is now in his 80’s. A dozen cousins who were not born here and did not spend much time in the area do not seem to have the immune issues plaguing my siblings and me.
    This has brought up many questions which may (or may not) be answered by DNA testing. Could environmental factors have played a part in the deterioration of our immune systems through changes in our DNA? Would DNA testing show this or would it provide insight into why our immune systems seem to be compromised? Could it provide our offspring with genetic information they might be able to use for future health decisions?
    If anything, could the genetic make-up of a large number of family members possibly affected by environmental contaminants help genetic researchers in any way?
    If we want to go further with this, where would we start? What DNA tests would we need done? What is the best way to provide quality DNA samples? What sites would be best to look at for more comprehensive tests?
    Any guidance or direction you can provide is appreciated. Knowledge of the subject is limited, but questions are not.

  7. Dear M. Haller,

    All good questions! You are actually ahead of the game, as many of us can’t think of the right questions to ask to find the answers we need! First of all, I am not an expert in medical genetics, only on genetics for genealogy. However, environmental factors as you have listed can certainly effect the health of those exposed. However, testing for the impact of these factors in your DNA is outside the scope of the tests you can take for genetic genealogy. What you and your siblings need to do is consult a genetic counselor. There is one in nearly every major metropolitan area these days, so hopefully you can find one near you. They will be able to sit down with you and fully evaluate your medical history and that of your family, as well as discuss the known impact the environmental factors you cited could have on your health. Best of all, they can recommend next steps for you and your offspring to help determine what, if anything can be done to stem or prevent future problems.
    You are right, there is much to learn – and luckily we are living in a time when this is such a growing area of research. So even if the answers you need aren’t available right now, they may be in the near future.

Speak Your Mind