September 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.

 

AncestryDNA Privacy Policy Update: Why This Change Is Good

An update to AncestryDNA’s privacy policy requires us to take to take one more step when managing someone else’s DNA test. Here’s why Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard thinks that’s a good thing.

Like many teenagers, my 14-year old sees every situation only from her own point of view. I call it myopic-itis. This is, of course, how most of us react to every new situation. The difference between those suffering from this condition and the rest of us is that fairly quickly, perhaps once the shock has subsided, we can see things from the point of view of others, and can therefore be more understanding about the whole situation.

AncestryDNA recently caused an attack of myopic-itis when they announced a change to their policy on how DNA tests are registered. Previously, you could register anyone’s test under your own account. Say you were gathering the test for an aged aunt or disinterested cousin. You handle everything from the order to the test registration to managing all correspondence. Your aunt or cousin merely needed to spit in the tube.

However, effective today, July 18, 2017, that has changed. Each person who takes an AncestryDNA test must have their very own account at AncestryDNA.

A natural reaction is to immediately reject this as a terrible idea that will certainly slow–if not halt–your efforts to gather the needed genetic information from your less-than-enthusiastic relatives. Your myopic-itis flares up and threatens to cause you to throw up your hands in frustration and just forget the whole thing.

But don’t! Really, all that is changed is that you have to take one more step when administering DNA tests for your friends or relatives: create AncestryDNA accounts for them. Then, they can assign you as the Manager of their DNA kits. Doing so allows their DNA results to show up in your Ancestry account, just as if you yourself had registered the test under your account. Viola! (Well, if your relative doesn’t have an email account, you may have to create one, so that would be one more step.)

Now, why would Ancestry decide to so inconvenience your life with another step or two? Well, to protect the rights of the cousin and the aunt that you are asking to take the test. It is that simple. Not that you would, but if the results are in your account, you can delete them, you can limit their access to them. In short, you have ultimate control. Causing each test to have its own account tries to put that control back in the hands of the test taker.

One of the criticisms of this announcement is that Ancestry is doing this just to make more people buy subscriptions to Ancestry. I don’t think this is their primary motivation. In fact, a blogger in the UK, Debbie Kennett, suggested that it may be partially in reaction to a new law in the UK that, starting next year, will require this personal access inr order for Ancestry to continue selling tests there.

But even if getting more subscribers was their primary motivation for the change, how is encouraging interest in genealogy a bad thing?! Think of it this way: let’s say you tell your cousins, “I got this. Don’t worry about anything. I will do it all.” Then they will let you, and they won’t take any ownership of the process or the results.

Instead, now you can say, “I have created a login for you at Ancestry so you can view your own results. I will also be able to see them in my account. I would love to go over them with you, if you are interested. But you can go in anytime and look around.” Then wouldn’t it be great if they really did that? Maybe they’d even get so interested that they’d decide to help you research?!

DNA is one of the biggest hooks we have to get our friends and family interested in family history. I think this change is just one more way that we can spread our love of family history with our family–not to mention protect their privacy and their rights.

In addition to Debbie Kennett’s post I mentioned above, make sure to read the official announcement by Ancestry, and these two blog posts about questions you may have: Reality Check–Changes at AncestryDNA and Managing Multiple Kits and the New AncestryDNA Change.

Ready to test some relatives? Click here for tips on talking about DNA at your next family gathering (like, this summer’s reunion?). Then sign up for the free weekly Genealogy Gems e-newsletter and/or follow us on Facebook to learn about the fantastic DNA sales we’ve been spotting lately.

What do you think about Ancestry’s new privacy policy? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.

 

ENDS TODAY! BIG DNA Test Kit Sale

If you’ve been waiting for the next big DNA test kit sale, it’s here! We’ve gathered up big discounts being offered by several DNA test providers. A DNA test kit makes a great Father’s Day gift–and at these prices, you might want to buy several!

DNA test kit sale

AncestryDNA DNA Test Kit Sale: Save 20%

DNA test kit saleWith an AncestryDNA DNA test kit, you can uncover your ethnic origins and find the people, places, and migration paths in your family history.

What’s to love about AncestryDNA:

  • Strong genealogy connection possibilities–more than 4 million potential matches!
  • Ethnicity estimates include 26 genetic regions
  • Unique Genetic Communities migration maps

AncestryDNA DNA test kit SALE PRICE $79.
Reg. $99. Excludes taxes and shipping. This offer is for U.S. customers only. Sale ends 6/18/17.DNA test kit sale

 23andMe DNA Test Kit Sale: Save $20 + FREE gift wrap!

DNA test kit saleWhat’s to love about a 23andMe DNA test kit: The optional health reports you can purchase along with ancestry information! Sale kit prices:

Reg. $99-$199. Limit 2. Shipping to continental U.S. only. Sale ends 6/18/17.

DNA test kit sale

Family Tree DNA Test Kit Sale: Save $20-$30

DNA test kit saleWhat’s to love about a Family Tree DNA test kit: Again, options! At Family Tree DNA, you can do an autosomal test (like the ones above) OR you can choose to test a man’s YDNA to look JUST at his paternal roots. A great Father’s Day gift!

  • Family Finder Test$69. Map ethnic and geographic background, gain insight into ancestral origins, and confirm family history and traditions.
  • YDNA 37 Marker Test$139. Explore direct paternal line & ancestral origins, uncover paternal heritage going back to Africa, and trace male ancestors’ ancient migration paths.

Reg. $89-169. Sale ends 6/18/17. 

Click here to learn more about DNA testing for ethnicity and to connect with your genetic relatives.

Thanks for sharing this excellent DNA test kit sale with your friends!

Offers and availability subject to change by the companies providing them. Contact individual testing companies with specific questions about testing, results, subscriptions, etc. Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you purchase through these links. By doing so, you support all of the free content that we bring you, including the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, our YouTube channel, and this blog.

Exploring Family Health History: DNA and Your Health

Exploring our family health history is just another reason to look forward to the future of DNA testing. As science advances and we find out more regarding the specific genetic code responsible for various nefarious outcomes in our health, we learn there is more in play than just our genetics.

family health history chart

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a family who has been plagued with sudden deaths, ten in recent generations. Without warning, their hearts were stopping and no one knew why. That is until Daniel Wiggins died suddenly at the age of 29 and his family sought out a molecular autopsy. Becoming more accessible to researchers as the cost of running these tests drop, molecular autopsies allow a scientific team to analyze the DNA of the deceased, looking for genetic clues to the cause of death. In this case, the genetic sleuthing was able to turn up the perpetrator: a mutation that alters the electrical signals in the heart, causing it to stop. [Read more about this here.]

While this case was clear-cut and the gene was acting seemingly alone without an accomplice, researchers of this disorder say it only happens in 20% of cases. Which means, this devious genetic criminal has other methods we still haven’t tracked.

But for Daniel’s family, they can pursue genetic testing to determine if this specific culprit is lurking in their own genes. If found, they can take precautionary measures, like having a defibrillator installed.

Doing Our Part

Similarly, a family from Pennsylvania used their family reunion as a format for gathering family history and genetic information in order to arm its members with an action plan against a plague of cancer that is sweeping through their family. [See an article on this family here.]

Several members of the Shaffer-Peterson family have discovered a genetic test can alert them to possible pancreatic or skin cancer. Again, a gene affecting a very small number of melanoma patients was identified as the perpetrator of the Shaffer-Peterson family  and has been given a 67% crime rate. This means that the chance of developing cancer if you have this particular gene is elevated by 67%.

Thankfully, melanoma is a particularly curable kind of cancer when caught early. This family has done their part in informing the family as a whole. And, they now have a sort of insurance plan that may protect the lives of their loved ones.

For both the Shaffer-Petersons and the family of Daniel Wiggins, genetic tests produce actionable results to those testing positive. There is something they can do to positively impact their health once they are aware of the presence or absence of these genes in themselves.

Environment or DNA?

Not all diseases or conditions can be attributed to our DNA. This past fall, after talking with my mother about kids and schedules, she added almost in passing, “Oh, by the way, they found another spot on my back, I am going to have it removed next week.” This is the third melanoma spot she has had removed in the past 5 years.

While my mom’s melanoma is less likely to be the result of a genetic abnormality and more likely linked to spending hours lifeguarding at the local pool, the fact she had melanoma was the sole reason I went to the dermatologist. My spot wasn’t cancer. I was just getting older. But, I am glad I went and I feel like knowing my health history has made me more aware of the measures I can take to improve it.

Tracking Your Family Health History

YourDNAGuide Diahan Southard

Diahan offers Genealogy Gems fans a discount on access to her series of videos on understanding DNA testing for genealogy. Click here to learn more.

For most people, molecular autopsies and DNA health tests are not easily available. Not yet. For those that are, there are hundreds of questions surrounding the kinds of genetic tests and the implications for both health and legal issues.

One thing is certain. In these cases, the common thread is family history. We need to know not only the dates and places of our ancestors lives and deaths, but also the stories behind them. Whenever possible, we need to track our health history, so we can identify any trends that our DNA might be trying to tell us.

If you want to start tracking your own health history there are plenty of free and subscription online tools to get you started. In particular, TapGenes was the winner of the 2016 Innovator Showdown at RootsTech. This online and app tool is designed specifically for your family health management.

You can also create your own alternate family tree. In this unique way, you can visually look at age-at-death, diseases, or other factors pertaining to your health. Read our article titled, “How and Why to Create an Alternate Family Tree.”

 

Learn More About Genetics and Genealogy

This special bundle features the 3 new advanced DNA guides by Diahan Southard!
Digital download also available.

Gedmatch: A Next Step for Your Autosomal DNA Test
Gedmatch is a third‐party tool for use by genetic genealogists seeking to advance their knowledge of their autosomal DNA test. This guide will navigate through the myriad of options and point out only the best tools for your genetic genealogy research.

Organzing Your DNA Matches
With over 2.5 million people in the possession of a DNA test, and most with match lists in the thousands, many are wondering how to keep track of all this data and apply it to their family history. This guide provides the foundation for managing DNA matches and correspondence, and for working with forms, spreadsheets, and 3rd party tools.

Next Steps: Working With Your Autosomal DNA Matches
This guide outlines what to do next to maximize the power of DNA testing in genealogy. With this guide in hand, genealogists will be prepared to take their DNA testing experience to the next level and make new discoveries about their ancestors and heritage.

DNA Testing for Kids Sparks Interest in Family History

DNA testing for kids is a great way to spark their interest in their heritage, while teaching science, math, geography, and more. Consider these reasons and start with the budget-friendly option of an autosomal test.

DNA testing for kids

According to a 2010 study out of Emory University, if we want to encourage kids toward an activity that will positively impact them, we should steer them toward family history. The researchers reported, “Children who know stories about relatives who came before them show higher levels of emotional well-being.”

Now, I know I don’t need to convince you of this. You are already sold on genealogy. But let’s explore how DNA testing might be able to help you share your love of family history with your children and grandchildren.

Why Try DNA Testing for Kids

Since you know this is me, the genetic genealogist talking, you can probably guess what I’ll suggest for getting kids interested in family history. DNA testing is a great way to personally and physically involve them. There is the tangible process of taking the sample at home, and the marvel at how such a simple act can produce the amazing display of our ethnicity results. Since each of us is unique, it will be fun for them to compare with you and other relatives to see who-got-what-from-who. This will naturally lead to questions about which ancestor provided that bit of Italian or Irish, and wham! You’ll be right there to tell them about how their 5th great-grandfather crossed the ocean with only the clothes on his back, determined to make a new start in a new land.

Kit for DNA testing for kids

If there are parts of the ethnicity report you can’t explain, use that as a hook to encourage them to start digging and to find out why you have that smattering of eastern European or Southeast Asian. Taking them for a tour of the DNA match page, you can show them how they share 50% of their DNA with their sister (whether they like it or not!) and how they share 25% with their grandparent!

DNA test results give kids a totally unique look at their personal identity with technology that is cutting edge. Looking at their DNA test results can turn into a math lesson, a science lesson, a geography lesson, a lesson on heredity or biology, or a discussion on identity. DNA is the perfect introduction to the wonders that genealogy can hold, especially for children.

A Warning and Caution

As with all DNA testing pursuits, this one should not be taken lightly, even with all of its benefits.

An important word to parents: Be sure to keep unintentional consequences in the forefront of your mind. This includes the possibility of revealing family secrets. Talk with your spouse and make sure you are both on the same page. In the end, this is your decision.

An important word to grandparents and other relatives: DNA testing is a parent’s decision. Even though you’re passionate about preserving the family’s history and the benefits of including children are numerous, you must obtain parental consent if you are not the parent.

More About Autosomal DNA Testing for Kids

Click here to learn more about my series of how-to videos (available to Gems fans for a special price) or start your kids’ or grandkids’ DNA journey with two of my genetic genealogy quick guides. The first is a great overview and the second talks about autosomal testing which is a good test for genetic genealogy beginners.

mtDNA Testing for Genealogy: A Study on Ancient Ponytails

Sometimes history provides us with a situation that is just too outlandish to be false, like this one on mDNA testing for genealogy by using ancient ponytails! In these lucky, true-to-life conditions, clues to help us unravel genealogical mysteries and tell our own crazy stories might just be found.

mDNA testing on ancient ponytails

English Mutineers Create Endogamous Population

mDNA testing for mutineers

By Trailer screenshot (Mutiny on the Bounty trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Do you know the story of the mutineers of the British HMS Bounty? Rewind back to the year 1789, three weeks into the 10-month journey to deliver their cargo from Tahiti to Jamaica. Twenty-five crew members, led by first mate Fletcher Christian, ousted their captain and loyalists. Then, they turned back toward the Tahitian paradise where they had spent the previous 5 months. For their crime of mutiny, they were hunted down. While 16 were later captured in Tahiti and returned to England, 9, including Christian, hid on the tiny island of Pitcairn.

And when I say tiny, I mean tiny. 1.75 square miles tiny.

But considering that 9 English mutineers, their Tahitian brides, and a couple Tahitian men were the founding population for this island, it provides an amazing genetic and genealogical view into endogamous populations.

The Proof is in the Pigtails

This fascinating tale is about to get richer, as ten pigtails of hair claiming to be from some of the original mutineers and their wives, have recently been acquired by the Pacific Union College’s (PUC) Pitcairn Islands Study Center in California. The King’s College London has contracted them to perform DNA testing.

Pay close attention to this next part: Researchers are going to conduct DNA testing on the hair samples. But this does not mean you are going to be able to test the locks of hair stowed away from one of your ancestors!

Why, you ask?

First barrier: Cost. This process of trying to extract DNA from a hair sample, especially a very, very old hair sample is meticulous work. It will cost the average consumer a pretty penny. And, you may not be able to find a DNA testing company who wants to do it for you. All major genetic genealogy companies will just flat out tell you “no.” Most paternity testing companies will require your hair has the root attached. In fact, in my quick search, I can’t even find one DNA testing company that will attempt to get DNA from your lock of hair.

Second barrier: Results. Even if you could get a lab to extract the DNA for you, the only available DNA type retrieved from a cut piece of hair is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The mtDNA will trace a direct maternal line. This is opposed to the YDNA that traces a direct paternal line and the autosomal DNA which traces both sides of your family tree. Even if they do get mtDNA from your sample, it is likely to be damaged and incomplete. Therefore, the best you will likely get is an assessment of your deep ancestral origins.

For you, that might not be quite enough to determine and document your family history. But for those interested in verifying this story of mutineers settling in the Pitcairn islands, it might be.

Will it Work?

If they do get mtDNA from the 10 pigtails, they will get 10 mtDNA lineages represented. Those stemming from the mutineers should have their deep origins in Europe, while their Tahitian brides will have a very different mtDNA signature. Likewise, if an mtDNA signature can be obtained, then the mtDNA of those still living in Pitcairn and nearby Norfolk (where many went in 1857) should match these pigtails. If it does, they can measure how many of the current residents are directly maternally related. Of course, in order to truly verify the claims, some serious genealogy work must be completed.

I will be watching this story closely over the next few months as research progresses. If successful, this will be another victory for the rarely celebrated mtDNA. This study shows that if your goals are understanding deep heritage, or testing out a particular hypothesis on your maternal line, mtDNA can be a useful option.

While the DNA studies you read about in the paper won’t always be something you can learn from, others are. Take for example the stories I shared several months ago on the Genealogy Gems podcast and blog about DNA confirming the love affair of President Warren G. Harding and the story of how experts proved it was King Richard III buried under that parking lot. You can definitely learn about using DNA for genealogy from these very public examples!

More on mDNA Testing for Genealogy

When to Do an mDNA Test for Genealogy

mDNA Quick Guide for Genealogists by Diahan Southard

 

The Power of DNA Matching

As genealogists, we spend our time trying to ferret out the real story in our family’s oral history, or at least from the records they left behind. Record research is critical, but now we have an amazing new tool…DNA matching.

DNA matching results

Genealogists constantly check family stories against the information on records, searching for what sounds plausible and what doesn’t. Even when we have total agreement in our records, more information often comes along…like DNA testing. In fact, DNA matching may shed light on even more apparent discrepancies.

Family Lore vs. DNA Findings

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a reporter, Cameron McWhirter, who shared finding that kind of discrepancy between his family lore and his DNA. He even goes so far as to say, “I am descended, at least partially, from liars.” He makes the point, “many immigrants reinvented themselves when they arrived here (the United States).” This could be a nice way of saying they had a chance to invent a new legacy, not just re-invent it. His assessments were certainly interesting and worth reviewing. It helps us see how DNA testing can affect the way we look at our family stories and traditional research results.

McWhirter may be like some folks today who have never set foot inside a courthouse or scanned through microfilm, but instead relies heavily on internet research. Some of these modern genealogists never gave their family history a second thought until, like McWhirter, the death of parents started to inspire them to dig deeper. Due to the large volume of information online, the budding genealogist is “quickly pulled into the obsessive world of modern genealogical research.”

DNA matching ethnicity

Example of an ethnicity report from Ancestry.com.

McWhirter’s personal story was that while his dad was proudly and solidly a self-proclaimed Scot, the records and DNA matching revealed his heritage was actually from Ireland and eastern Europe. McWhirter says that his “father hated Notre Dame, but judging by my results he could have been one-quarter to one-half Irish. He spoke dismissively of people from Eastern Europe, but part of his genetic code likely came from that region.”

McWhirter’s evaluation of his genetic report includes only his ethnicity results, which as you can hear, were meaningful to him in the way that flew in the face of his father’s prejudices and assertions of his own identity.

However, the ethnicity results fall short of the point of testing for most genealogists.

He has the opportunity to more powerfully transform his sense of family identity by taking a look at his match list. Here, he may see an actual living cousin who was also descended from his German great-grandmother, who maybe never mentioned that she was also Jewish.

The Real Goal: DNA Connections to Living Family

Connecting with other cousins who also have paper trails to our ancestors serves to provide further confidence that we have put all the pieces together and honored the right ancestor with a spot on our pedigree chart. We multiply our own research efforts by finding more people like us—literally—who are descended from the same people. As long as they are as diligent in their research as we are, we can make these connections that could finally bust through those genealogy brick walls and more.

At a recent conference, I met a fifth-cousin. Even with a connection that distant, it was exciting and it encouraged us to want to look again at our connecting ancestors. To me, that is the bigger picture and the real goal—when the paper trail comes together with the DNA results and turns into real live cousins.

The Next Step: Using Your DNA Results to Find Living Family

Advanced DNA Bundle by Diahan SouthardMaybe you are like Cameron McWhirter: you’ve taken a DNA test, been intrigued or disappointed by the ethnicity results, but haven’t fully explored your matches on your list. You may be seriously missing some opportunities! If that is you, I have written my new DNA quick guide just for you. It’s called “Next Steps: Working with Your Autosomal DNA Matches.” This guide will teach you how to leverage the power of known relatives who have been tested. You will get an intro to chromosome browsers and their role in the search process and access to a free bonus template for evaluating genealogical relationship of a match to the predicted genetic relationship. This guide also gives you a methodology for converting unknown relatives on your match list into known relatives.

So check it out, either by itself or as part of my Advanced DNA bundle, which comes along with my new Gedmatch guide and a guide expressly for organizing your DNA matches.

 

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!

dna_beforeyouspit_featureimage

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:

1. FTDNA
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!

 

 

DNA for Adoption: Katie’s Genetic Roots Were Closer Than She Thought

DNA and adoption mysteryThis story of DNA for adoption research tells how one Genealogy Gems listener discovered biological roots that were closer to her adopted home than expected.

You never know what you’re going to learn when you start researching the biological roots of an adopted ancestor. And that was certainly the case for Katie from Pacifica, CA.  Recently, she wrote me to share her story of researching an adopted ancestor. Understandably, people hope for a happy ending when using DNA for adoption research. But in Katie’s case, it may be just the beginning. Here’s why:

genealogy gems podcast mailbox“When I set out on this geni-journey, my goal was to find my grandfather’s birth parents. [He was adopted.] But as I read all the old family letters and newspaper clippings, I found myself getting so attached to his adoptive family. I was saddened that we weren’t blood-related, because I felt so connected and proud of them.

My mother and I decided to take the AncestryDNA test, not sure what we’d find. When we got the results back, the strangest thing happened. My closest match with a family tree was a descendant of my grandfather’s adoptive grandfather.

My other closest match was adopted. He had been searching for his birth parents since the 1970s. When I called my adopted match, I think we were both excited and confused, not really sure how we’d be able to help each other in our search. As we compared notes, everything started clicking together. He began to cry. This mystery cousin of mine was no cousin at all. He was my grandfather’s half-brother. He was my great uncle, who was raised by a different, unrelated adoptive family!

DNA for adoption research

Katie’s grandfather at 4 years old, shortly after being adopted by Angela.

My grandfather, Joseph, turned out to be the biological nephew of his adoptive mother, Angela. His birth father was Angela’s brother, Paul. Angela’s own son tragically died of a ruptured appendix at age 4. Her husband, Ralph, was a merchant ship captain who traveled regularly all over the world, but most commonly between Oakland, CA and Brooklyn, NY.

According to family lore, less than a year after their son’s passing, Ralph mysteriously brought a freckly little boy (my grandpa) home to Oakland with him from Brooklyn, shocking his wife with this child she was suddenly expected to raise. Can you imagine that boat ride, all the way through the Panama Canal, as a confused orphan? And oh the family rumors that started!

Using DNA, we were able to put those rumors to rest. I’m not sure if Angela ever learned the truth– I’m not sure what Ralph told her, whether she even knew she was raising her own brother’s boy. All those years grandpa never asked who his birth parents were because he was afraid of hurting the family’s feelings, and little did he know he was being raised by his aunt the whole time. He probably met or at least wrote to his father without ever knowing it.

I have now met both my great half uncle, whose adoptive name is Bill (born Paul, in honor of his deceased birth father)– he lives in NY– and his son [Tom].

William Paul Nolan (left), born Paul Toomey, and his son, Tom (right), meeting Katie, their first known blood relative.

William Paul Nolan (left), born Paul Toomey, and his son, Tom (right), meeting Katie, their first known blood relative.

At 69 years old, that was his first time meeting a blood relative. I also connected with two living cousins in their 90s thanks to their very sweet children and nieces. I had photos of them from 1935, standing with my grandfather when he was only four years old, having no idea who they were until I started doing research.

DNA for adoption research

Katie’s grandfather as a little boy (in the sailor suit, second from left) with his adoptive first cousins (who were of blood relation), including Jack (10) and Loretta McKinnon (13). On the right is Katie’s grandfather’s adoptive sister (who would have been his first cousin by birth), Clare.

Jack (90, left) and Loretta (93, right) McKinnon meet Katie for the first time in 2015, 80 years after the photo with her grandfather was taken.

Jack (90, left) and Loretta (93, right) McKinnon meet Katie for the first time in 2015, 80 years after the photo with her grandfather was taken.

I couldn’t believe they were still around! I was able to meet them last year. I was also able to provide them with photos of their father, as they had only a few of their own.

I now send regular emails to the whole reunited family to update them on my genealogy discoveries.

I went on an homage journey to Prince Edward Island, the place my adoptive and birth great grandparents grew up, and was able to lay flowers at the gravestones of our long lost family members. The house they grew up in was still standing. Still being lived in, even!

It was such an amazing discovery after feeling so mysteriously close to that family, to know that it wasn’t all in my head. And to find out I had an uncle still living? Amazing.”

When Katie’s story landed in my inbox, it reminded me how lucky I am that so many of you share your personal, and inspiring stories! Thank you to Katie for giving us permission to share this inspiring story about using DNA for adoption research. You can read more about her family history adventures at her blog called McKinnon Ancestry.

WDYTYA 2014 genetic genealogy AncestryDNAMore DNA for Adoption Gems

DNA for Adoption Research: Nice to Meet You!

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 178: CeCe Moore Talks about Genealogy and Adoption (Listen for free)

DNA Testing for Adoptees: Advice from Your DNA Guide

3 Ways to Talk about DNA at Your Next Family Reunion

talk about dna at your next family reunion

Wish your family would take more interest in its history and even have its DNA tested? Here are 3 tips for talking about DNA at your next family reunion or gathering.

In the northern hemisphere, it’s summer time–prime family reunion season! If any of your plans this summer involve visiting with extended family, check out these 3 tips for using DNA to get your family excited about family history.

1. Show your ethnicity results.

Start off with the most flashy and entertaining part of the DNA test, your ethnicity results. Most of the time they don’t actually help you DO family history, but they definitely get people interested.

When you pull out the results, you might also want to have handy your family’s migration chart. This was recently popularized by J. Paul Hawthorne and is a simple way to describe the birth locations of your ancestors so you can visualize the migration of your family over the course of several generations. If you want to try it, here is a link to a spreadsheet I made based on his.

Then you can pull out your DNA test results and talk about how much of your DNA test results are reflected in your ethnicity chart. You might even have a good chuckle over some of the more outlandish claims (22% Scandinavian?! Where did that come from?). Now is a good time to mention any family stories about Native American Princesses or African cousins.

2. Show your DNA match list.

Next, it’s time to segue to how DNA testing really helps your family history. Show them how your relatives show up on your DNA match list. You can then show them an individual on your match list that you have figured out your relationship to.  You can weave in just a bit of the genealogical research you did to find your common ancestor, and end with the cool fact that you actually have DNA from that ancestor, and so does your match! If you are especially lucky, the person you are talking to will also have some connection to this ancestor, and you can tell them that if they take a DNA test, it can help them document their relationship to this ancestor as well.

3. Invite relatives to test.

If you find yourself at a family reunion for a particularly pesky set of ancestors for whom you don’t know much about their parents or grandparents, this is a perfect time to help your family members understand that they might be THE ONE, the one who holds the right combination of genetics to help you bust through that brick wall.

I myself will be attending the Chenoweth Family Reunion this year, though I am only an honorary Chenoweth. They have the ambitious goal of finding direct paternal line descendants of the 21 continuing lines of the 29 grandsons of John Chenoweth and Mary Calvert, and they are over half-way there! As part of their festivities they are including a special DNA lecture on the progress of their project.

Having a specific goal like this really helps focus your family on a particular effort, and lets them track the progress of both the DNA and the traditional research. It is also very unifying, especially for a group as large as theirs. They all wear different colored T-shirts to represent the different lines they descend from. But when we look at the DNA, it is clear that, at least in their YDNA, there is no distinction, they are certainly all part of the same paternal line.

DNA ethnicity results may varyMore DNA Gems from Diahan Southard

3 Reasons to Test Your DNA for Genealogy

When to Do an mtDNA Test for Genealogy

Results May Vary: One Family’s DNA Ethnicity Percentages