DNA Testing – Questions Answered

img_0466When I posted “Would you dare” a couple of days ago, it brought up a lot of questions, so I researched some answers.  Please note that I am not an expert in this field.  I’m just a consumer, like you.  I do not have any affiliation with any of the companies mentioned here.  Use your own judgment.

Why should I do it?

This is the first question to ask yourself.  In my case, it was curiosity, pure and simple.  My family are fairly recent immigrants to the US (within a couple of generations), and researching your genealogy gets complicated and expensive when you have to search overseas.  For me, it was a simple and painless way to see into my ancestry.  There is a little romance in uncovering the mystery of my past.

Depending on the company you deal with, you can also find matches with other genetic relatives you didn’t know you might have.  You might be able to find more branches to your family tree, or round out your genealogy.

Don’t do it for paternity testing, though.  That is a different kind of DNA test.  These tests are to determine ethnicity.

How do I get a test?  Is it expensive?  Hard to do?

The first thing I would tell you is that DNA testing has gotten to be very big business, and there are a lot of companies trying to get a piece of the action.  Be wary of who has your personal information.  I’d recommend going with the acknowledged leaders with a good track record:  Ancestry.com, 23andMe , Family Tree DNA and National Geographic.  The results are only going to be as accurate as the size of the company’s database, so this is the time you want to stick with the leaders in the field.  Family Tree DNA is running a special right now.  I went with Ancestry because they were running a special when I was ready to get mine done.


It’s getting cheaper all the time.  Right now a test is running $99 USD, but you can shop around.  National Geographic is the most expensive because they are doing more complex research.

Hard to do?

Absolutely not.  It’s unbelievably simple.  Painless.  Easy.

How much will I find out?

Here’s the complicated answer.  We don’t have that much knowledge of DNA yet.  These companies can only compare your data with others on file.  Can they tell you if your Native American ancestors came from the Apache or Cherokee nations?  No.  There isn’t enough data for that yet.  Can they tell you what specific countries your ancestors came from?  Not really.  Remember that country borders shift through history.  What they will do is compare you with people who have live in different areas and make estimates from there.  You’ll get broad ideas but not granular details.  For example, both my mother and father’s families came from Bavaria, and the closest my test could come was “Western Europe”, which could be France, Germany, the Netherlands, etc.  Read each company’s information to get an idea of what to expect.

If you had to do it over again, would you?

Absolutely.  I’m an amateur historian and it was fascinating to think about where people have migrated to eventually end up in the creation of me.  In fact, I would love to get a full mitochondrial DNA workup to track my mother’s line.  (Family Tree DNA’s mt Full Sequence test, on sale now for $179 USD)

Some more reading:

2015: Most bang for the DNA buck by The Legal Genealogist

List of DNA testing companies by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy

Good luck and have fun!

12 thoughts on “DNA Testing – Questions Answered

  1. This and your other post on the subject are really interesting, Chris. I have also had my DNA tested (via Ancestry) but in my case it more or less confirmed what my family history research has shown, i.e. that the ancestors who contributed to it were mostly Scottish, with some English, Western European and Scandinavian thrown in! I’ve also made contact with some ‘new’ 4th cousins or thereabouts as Ancestry gave me a list of close matches and some of their family trees matched part of mine. Personally I find it much more satisfying if people link a family tree to their results so that I can see where they fit, so to speak.So far the 4th cousins I’ve identified have all been on my mother’s side of the family but I don’t know if that’s just a coincidence or if that’s more likely to happen with this kind of general (autosomal) test.

  2. I’ve tested with 23&Me and have done 3 different tests with FamilyTreeDNA. I also uploaded my raw DNA to GedMatch and to Columbia University’s dna.land. All use different algorithms, and some are more specific than others. It’s been amazing!

    • I’m really considering doing FamilyTreeDNA’s mtDNA test. Did it reveal anything unexpected for you?

      I’m going to transfer my results from Ancestry to FamilyTree as soon as they are ready. If I do the mtDNA test I would transfer them to being part of the GeoMatch. I think the more we understand us as human beings, the more we’ll learn to appreciate each other, and maybe even love each other some day. One can only hope!

      • The mtDNA didn’t really reveal anything unexpected. However, the matches from around the world seem to confirm Sephardic Jewish ancestry that I always suspected. It was 23&Me that revealed the unexpected after my younger sister and my father also tested. We discovered that my sister is not my father’s child. That’s a hard thing for a man in his 80s to discover, that his youngest daughter is not his child. It has been a difficult revelation for all of us. (My mother passed away before my dad and sister tested.) These companies do issue disclaimers about unexpected results, but I was thinking along the lines of unexpected ethnicity, not what we found out!

  3. My family history group in England had a talk on this yesterday. The cost in the UK is £75. The data from Ancestry is processed in Ireland and results are emailed to you. Two people had done one and both recommended it. Thanks for this post.

  4. Pingback: DNA Testing – Part 3 | 61 Musings

  5. Pingback: Noteworthy Links – Rootseeker74

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