How to Get Started with Using DNA for Family History

Test DNA for Family History

 Anyone can Test DNA for Family History

DiahanSouthard genetic genealogyFrom Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems: DNA testing is one of the most personal ways to get involved in your family history. You have DNA from your parents, who have DNA from their parents, and so it goes, back into your greats and great-greats. The technology of genetic genealogy is all about tapping into that DNA record and pulling out information that might be useful in your family history. DNA can do this for you in two ways:

  • First, it connects you to places. These are places where your ancestors came from a hundred, a thousand, or tens of thousands of years ago.
  • Second, it connects you to people. These people are your genetic cousins, other living people who have taken the same DNA test that you took. The similarities in your DNA tell you that you share a common ancestor. You can then examine the pedigree of your match and work with them to help verify your family history, or give you new ideas about who your ancestors might be.

Types of DNA Tests for Family History

You have three choices of DNA tests, each with its own unique purpose.

YDNA – Essentially, if you want to know about a male ancestor, you need to find a direct male descendant to be tested. So if I want to know about my 3X great grandfather Morris Mitchell, I need to find Morris’s son’s son’s son, etc. until I find a living male with the Mitchell surname who can be tested on the Y chromosome DNA (mtDNA) test at Family Tree DNA.

mtDNA – If I want to know about a female ancestor, let’s say Mary West, I need to find Mary’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s etc. child (male or female) to take the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from Family Tree DNA.

Autosomal DNA – For any ancestor, male or female, who is fewer than 5 generations from you, you can take the autosomal DNA test at either Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage to find out more about that individual. Remember with the autosomal DNA that you always want to test the oldest generation first. So anyone who does not have both of their parents living should take the autosomal DNA test.

Companies that can Test DNA for Family History

There are several companies that test DNA for family history including:

Each of these companies is offering a very similar kind of test, but each has their own unique tools and databases. Decide which company you want to test with by evaluating things like:

  • their website accessibility
  • their company goals
  • and especially the size of their database

You can see a table comparing these companies here. The MyHeritage test is new, and is not on the chart yet, but will be soon.

Great (DNA) Expectations

The best thing you can do when setting out on your genetic genealogy journey is set good expectations. You can expect that the test will document the personal genetics of the person who takes it. By so doing, you are creating another genealogy record that will last for generations. This test will link you to your ancestors via your cousins. That means that you may take the test looking for ancestors, but what you get are cousins. It will take traditional genealogy work to turn those cousin connections into ancestral connections. Above all, expect that this is a growing industry, and what we know today is different than what we will know tomorrow, so enjoy the journey!

DNA Resources

There are several comprehensive books on Genetic Genealogy out there. However, for the layman who just wants to understand their DNA test results and get some additional value from them, an entire book full of scientific explanations can  be overwhelming and daunting. The following email is one we receive regularly:

Could you direct me to an understandable publication which explains DNA results in layman’ terms?

Thank you
Anne B.

Genetic Genealogy for the Layman

Lisa Louise Cooke Genealogy Gems Family History PodcastFrom Lisa Louise Cooke, host of The Genealogy Gems Podcast: I put myself in the category of “layman” when it comes to understanding DNA test results. And that’s why when I met DNA expert Diahan Southard at a genealogy conference, I immediately invited her to join Genealogy Gems. Diahan’s enthusiasm is contagious, and her ability to explain genetic genealogy to the layman is second to none!

I encouraged Diahan to immediately get to work putting her easy-to-follow explanations into a new series of quick reference guides. Genealogy Gems Publications is proud to publish her wonderful series of DNA quick reference guides for understanding your DNA results in plain language, and helping you get the most out of the investment you made in testing.

Start Here to Jump into Using DNA for Genealogy

Here’s a link to our DNA videos on YouTube with the author of the guides, Diahan Southard. As you will see, she has a ton of enthusiasm for helping the layman understand and get the most out of their DNA!

Diahan has a regular segment on my free Genealogy Gems Podcast where she answers your questions and provides invaluable insights into the latest in genetic genealogy. You can also find the complete archive of DNA articles at Genealogy Gems by clicking here. The most recent will appear first and then scroll down to read through the past articles.

For those who have tested with Ancestry DNA

If you took the Ancestry test, I would definitely recommend the following guides:

The beauty of the DNA quick reference guide series is that you can mix and match the guides to perfectly suit the testing you have done. We’ve published Diahan’s guides that delve into the testing companies FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe, as well as the other tests available such as Mitochondrial (for your maternal line – both men and women can take this test) and YDNA (for your paternal line – only men take this test.)

Take Your DNA Test Results to the Next Level

If you’ve already tested and feel like you have a good foundation, then I highly recommend Diahan’s Advanced DNA Bundle. It will take your DNA test results to the next level by instructing you on the heart of what matters in plain English.

 

DNA and Privacy: No Man is a Genetic Island

The recent identification of the Golden State Killer through a DNA database for genealogy is just one way your DNA may be used in unexpected ways. Lisa Louise Cooke shares 5 key principles to keep in mind when considering your online DNA presence.   Golden State...

DNA Problem Solving – Using Genetic Genealogy to Find Answers

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 44 Show Notes

Do you have a DNA problem?

Maybe it’s as simple as having a ton of matches and not knowing what to do with them. How do you keep track of all those matches. How to you know which matches to focus on? How can you can use all your matches to do what you really want to do, which is learn more about my family history?

In this episode of Elevenses with Lisa we are visiting with someone who has worked past many of those problems. She uses her DNA matches to solve some of her genealogical questions and the questions of her patrons. Today she’s here to help you!

My special guest is Sara Allen, a librarian at the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library. I wanted to talk to Sara because she’s not a biologist, or a Genetic Genealogy Guru. She’s like you and me: she’s passionate about family history! She shares genetic genealogy with folks in a very practical, and easy-to-understand way.

As a side note, we were lucky to record this episode because the day Sara and I were to meet to record the library was closed due to a snow storm. I’m in Texas and we’re buried in a deep freeze with devastating power outages, and at our house, no water for a time. But we moved things around and got it done. However, in all the chaos I managed to put my microphone on the wrong setting, so I’m going to sound like I’m sitting in a Folgers coffee can. But that doesn’t matter because it is what Sara has to say that’s really important. 

Oh, and they were also doing construction at the library the day we finally recorded, so it’ll sound occasionally like we use jack hammers on our DNA! However, neither snow nor ice nor lack of water nor construction zones will keep us (as your faithful genealogists) from the swift completion of this appointed show.  

Special Guest: Sara Allen, Librarian, Genealogy Center at Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, IN
Email: genealogy@acpl.info

How to Start Solving Genealogical Problems with DNA

Sara shared her basic over-arching plan for using DNA to answer a genealogical question:

  1. First, do comprehensive traditional genealogical research on the problem.
  2. Then do DNA testing.
  3. Follow the clues where they lead.
  4. Use the genealogical proof standard to come to an accurate conclusion/solution. Also view the DNA standards.

Then she shared the specific steps for her research plan.  

Research Plan for Solving Genealogical Problems with DNA

  1. Identify your research problem.
  2. Summarize genealogical research results.
  3. Choose most relevant DNA test/tests to order.
  4. Choose the most helpful family member(s) to test. These are people who carry the particular DNA that falls you will need.
  5. Complete the rest of your family tree to at least 4th great grandparents (4GG) if possible.

Choosing the Right DNA Test

Step 3 was to choose the most relevant DNA test. This is important because there are three main kinds of tests out there. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Understanding what each test is capable of is key to getting the results you need.

  1. Autosomal test – autosomal DNA is inherited 50/50 from mother and father. Both men and women can be tested. Start with this test, unless your mystery goes farther back than 5-6 generations of great grandparents.
  2. Y Chromosome test – only males can test. It tests a man’s direct paternal line.
  3. Mitochondrial (mtDNA) test – Both men and women inherit Mitochondrial DNA and can be tested for it. However, it’s important to understand that only women can pass it on to the next generation. Follow the line of potential inheritance in order to identify the right person to test. The Mitochondrial test tests the direct maternal line only.

How to Choose the Best Family Member to DNA Test

If you’ve decided that an Autosomal DNA test is what you need, a relative one or two generations older (on the correct side of the family) is always better. Examples:  Parents, Aunts/Uncles, Grandparents, Great-aunts/uncles, Parent’s first cousin

If you’re going to do a Y or mtDNA, choose a family member who falls within the correct path of DNA inheritance.

Sorting DNA Matches

  1. Sort your matches out by family line or common ancestor couple.
  2. View your match’s name, family tree or family names, and shared matches to help you sort into family lines.
  3. Use known cousins to help you sort. If you are related to a cousin in only one way, then your “shared matches” with that cousin should be “relatives” on the same side of the family as the cousin.
  4. Sara uses color coding dots to stay organized and detangle matches.

If there is a family tree, copy it, either electronically or print it out on paper. Compare and contrast trees looking for common names, common ancestor couples, common places. Work on establishing relationship between the different matches based on their trees. In other words, do genealogy!

Case #1: Who Were the Parents of Dovey Renolds Allen?

Here’s an outline of the case Sara covers in this episode so you can follow along.

Step 1: Define the Problem

Dovey Reynolds was born around 1822 in North Carolina and was married in 1846 in Owen County, Indiana to Phillip Allen. She died in 1901 in Jefferson County, Kansas. No records have been found naming her parents.

Step 2: Write a Research Summary

  • Records for Dovey as a married adult were found
  • Dovey’s obituary and death certificate from Kansas were sought. No death certificate found. Obituary did not name parents.
  • Owen County Library, Archives and Court house were searched. Extensive research was done, but not exhaustive; I did not document the sources that I used….so this work needs to be redone
  • 1840 Census searched for Owen Co. Indiana Reynolds. 1 household found with female 15-19 years old (age Dovey would be), headed by William Reynolds.
  • William Reynolds died in 1856, leaving a widow Amy, and naming children Jane, Solomon and Edmond in his will.  Dovey not mentioned
  • Possible father. No records found linking Dovey to this father

Step 3: Select the Right DNA Test

  • Autosomal DNA:  Dovey was my 3rd great grandmother. I have inherited approximately 3% of my autosomal DNA from her.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is not relevant to this case due to inheritance path.
  • Since she is a female, Y-DNA is not relevant.

Step 4: Select the Right Relative to Test

Autosomal DNA – test the closest living person to the mystery ancestor: Test my father or his sister (aunt) to get one generation closer.

Step 5: Complete Family Tree for Other Family Lines

DNA Match Analysis Strategies

  • Search DNA matches’ trees for “Reynolds” surname.
  • Each DNA company has a tool for searching your matches (23andme is not as good as others.)

Results of our search for “Reynolds” in matches’ trees: Look for Reynolds in key locations in Dovey’s life such as NC and IN, especially Owen Co. IN, and maybe KS:

  • Matches with Reynolds in their trees from New England, Canada, England, etc. probably NOT related.
  • Create a note for yourself, saying, for instance, “Maine Reynolds family” so you don’t waste time on probable irrelevant matches.

Match Summary

24 matches to William Reynolds’ descendants  (27 cM – 8 cM)

  • 10 matches from daughter Lucy
  • 4 matches from daughter Diana
  • 1 match from daughter Temperance
  • 3 from son Solomon
  • 2 from son Edmond
  • 4 from daughter Deborah

DNA Preliminary Conclusions

  • DNA links my aunt to descendants of 6 of William Reynold’s children.
  • This does not prove that Dovey was William’s daughter. She could have been his niece or other close relative.
  • Aunt shares the correct  number of cMs with the matches to be 4th-5th cousins with them.
  • Aunt’s shared matches with these Reynolds matches are on her paternal line – which is the correct side of the family.
  • More genealogical research could provide the definite link.

 

Case #2: Mysterious Leroy Porter

Step 1: Define Problem:

  • Leroy Porter was born in 1897 in France or PA
  • Married Ina Hill and died in Michigan.
  • Leroy was a teller of tall tales; family wants to know his origins, his parentage, and was he really from France?

Step 2: Research Summary

  • Death certificate (informant wife) says parents were Daniel Porter and Mary Baschley of PA.
  • Leroy cannot be found on any census prior to 1920 as Leroy Porter.
  • No trace of parents of those names found

Step 3: DNA Testing Options

Granddaughter Kathy took the autosomal DNA test.

  • Y-chromosome test not applicable for Kathy (there may be a candidate for Y DNA testing within the family)
  • Mitochondrial DNA not applicable

Step 4:  Test the correct person: 

  • Several of Leroy’s daughters are alive, so if they took an autosomal test, would be one generation closer.

Ancestry DNA match sorting options:

  • “Add to Group” option
  • Allows you to name the group, and add colored dots, up to 24 different colors
  • Notes field = enter free text notes about matches

Results

Evaluated trees of the possible matches from Leroy’s side. Two match groups identified:

  1. Hedges family of PA
  2. Crute family of PA

Can we find a marriage between these 2 families? Yes – Daniel Hedges married Alice Crute ca. 1894 probably Warren Co. PA.

More Genealogical Work

  • Sara found “LeRoy Hedges” in the 1900 Warren Co. PA Census!
  • She went through Kathy’s tree to find matches to Hedges/Crute family
  • Were the cMs within range for the relationships? Yes = 2nd DNA points to Leroy Hedges being Leroy Porter.

Leroy Hedges = Leroy Porter Summary

  • Family broken up by 1910
  • Parents remarried
  • Siblings in orphanage
  • Leroy Hedges ran away and was not heard from again
  • Did he go to Michigan and marry Ina Hill as Leroy Porter?
  • No official name change document found
  • Could compare photographs if Hedges family has one…

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