November 24, 2017

Why Do DNA Testing for Family History If You Already “Know” Your Tree

“I don’t need DNA testing for family history: my pedigree is full!” I still hear this occasionally. But here’s why everyone doing their family history should take at least one DNA test.

Full tree You still need DNA testing

Teenagers (including my own) are always talking about the things that “everyone else has,” a phenomenon that Malcolm Gladwell describes as the “tipping point.” He says that the tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” for change in human behavior. For my kids, it’s everything from the point at which a party becomes fun to doing everything humanly possible to procure a fidget-spinner (if you don’t know what that is, ask the nearest 11-year-old).

In DNA testing for family history in the United States, that tipping point is now. We have reached the point where most genealogists at least have the passing notion that genetics can be useful in genealogy. Most genealogists (I would guess 85%) who attend the lectures I give have already had at least one DNA test completed.

Let’s stop for just one minute and recognize how incredible that is! Not too long ago I was still trying to convince people that this was a good idea and that you didn’t have to dig up your ancestors to do it. But now we have scores of genealogists who have not only tested themselves, but have convinced half their family to test as well!

“I don’t need DNA testing for family history.” Really?

This got me thinking though: who are those people who haven’t tested? And why not? One category of people sans DNA test is those who have full pedigree charts. I have heard many of them say that they don’t see the need to do DNA testing since they have most of their lines “way back.”

To those with the blessing of ancestors who kept better records than mine, I am offering four reasons why you should RSVP anyway to your invitation to DNA test.

1. To create and preserve a unique record. First and foremost, your DNA is a record. Just as you have obtained birth certificates and marriage licenses for your ancestors, your DNA is a unique record. It does represent you and your family in a way that no other record can. It is a document of your genetic history and should be preserved. Further, while you may doubt the ability of your DNA to shed light on your current genealogy, don’t underestimate the contribution it might make in the future.

2. Because you have second cousins. And third cousins, and fourth cousins, etc. Having your DNA tested means you can see a biological connection between you and other relatives that have had tested. For many, the idea of meeting or forming relationships with distant cousins is not appealing. But even if you have no intention of attending DNA family reunions or even in corresponding with these relatives, there is something reassuring about seeing them there on your match list. There is a certain thrill that comes with recognizing the connection between you and someone else. A connection that may not add any new names to your tree, but it helps you feel a deeper connection to your ancestor, and a greater appreciation for your biology.

Genetic vs Genealogcial Cousins3. To verify what’s on your tree. Which brings me to the next point. Seeing these cousins on your list can actually help verify the genealogy you have already collected and documented. It helps to reassure you that you have made the right steps along the way, and may help you gain additional resources about your relative through their descendants that you find on your match list. Resources that can help turn that ancestor from a name on a chart to a story and a life worth preserving.

Verifying what’s on your tree brings with it a certain amount of uncertainty, it’s true. In fact, in the process of verifying your tree, you may discover new genetic truths about it. You may find that some who you thought biologically related actually aren’t, and you may discover new biological relatives you didn’t know about. Not everyone is prepared for this, especially if they’re pretty sure they know everything about their ancestry. But increasingly, I’m finding, people do want to know about a second cousin who was adopted out of the family or their grandpa’s secret half-sibling–and these connections may never emerge unless you participate in DNA testing for family history.

Remember, your genealogical pedigree is not the same as your genetic pedigree! Click here to read about different things you may learn from each one.

4. To help someone else build their tree. The last reason to go ahead and have your DNA tested is to help others. If you have been lucky enough to fill in most of the blanks on your tree, you can help others do the same by simply having your DNA tested. Your DNA provides a link to your tree that might be just what someone needs to overcome a brick wall in their family history.

So, if you have been hanging out on the outskirts of DNA testing because you feel like your tree is full enough without it, remember to RSVP to your invitation to be DNA tested, and join the party!

Test DNA for Family HistoryClick here to get started with DNA testing for family history. You’ll learn who to test, why to test, what tests you can take and where to purchase them. You can watch a short video about getting started and see additional resources that will help you get the most out of your testing experience all along the way.

 

Why You Should Contact Your DNA Matches: “Now I’m Climbing a Whole Different Tree!”

Trying to contact your DNA matches can be frustrating when they don’t respond, but it’s still worth reaching out to them. This researcher’s example shows a good reason why.

contact DNA matches

Contact Your DNA Matches

Recently, I heard from Genealogy Gems Premium website member Ruth*, whose DNA success story reminds me of the value of reaching out to DNA matches, even if the general response rate is low or slow. She says:

“I’ve been researching my family tree for over 20 years and sometimes it can get boring…because most of the lines are pretty much out as far as I can go and I’m now just working on brick walls! I love listening to your podcast because it motivates me to keep going!

Like many of your listeners, I have taken the autosomal DNA test. It has been an awesome tool helping me confirm family lines and sometimes finding new ones. However, I’m sure most of your readers know that for some reason a lot of those DNA matches and even tree owners in general, do not respond to emails or messages. It can be very frustrating, especially if it is one of those lines that you really could use some help on. The lack of response to inquiries sometimes makes me wonder if I should even try to make contact. Well, I want to tell your listeners, that yes it is worth it.

Recently, I was browsing trees and I came to a tree that listed my 3rd great-grandfather Daniel Cannon; however, this tree listed Daniel’s wife as Mary Ann Watkins and I had her as Mary Ann Cook! Well, I decided to contact the owner of that tree and explained I had Daniel’s wife as a Cook. The two of us started emailing back and forth and I found out this gentleman, whose last name is Watkins, had taken a DNA test and was in Ancestry.com’s database.

Sure enough, when I searched my mom’s matches I found him. Mr. Watkins shared the information he had [which was] an excerpt that listed the heirs of G. B. Watkins and Elizabeth Smith. On that list was Mary Ann Constable. From the census records, I knew that Mary Ann Cannon had married Thomas Constable after her husband had died. The marriage license for Mary Ann Cannon and Thomas Constable is no longer at the courthouse, but I was able to get a copy of the excerpt of the book it was recorded in. So now I’m climbing a whole different tree!

So, go ahead and reach out to those matches or those people who have trees with different information from you. You never know when you’ll find information and end up with a new line to research!”

Time to Maximize Your DNA Matches

Our resident genetic genealogist, Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard, has written a series of 3 DNA quick guides to help you maximize your DNA testing experience:

This “value pack” can help you sort your matches more wisely, reach out to them in a positive way, and track your correspondence. Click here to read more about these guides and order your own. (Also available as digital downloads.)

Time to Test Your DNA Today

These companies all provide autosomal DNA testing, the most popular kind of DNA testing, and the kind Ruth used. Autosomal testing matches you to genetic relatives on both sides of your family tree to a depth of about 4-6 generations. Learn a little about each by clicking on the names below.

Ancestry DNA

MyHeritage DNA

23andMe

FamilyTreeDNA

*Ruth’s letter was erroneously attributed to Liz when it was shared and discussed in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 200. Sorry for the mix-up!