I know that many readers of this blog are cousins to me and Dale and many of you have had your DNA tested on Ancestry or other services. I even see some of your names or user IDs come up when I look at DNA match lists.
Many of you are probably wondering if you’re getting the most out of your DNA test results. I’m currently enrolled in an online class about using DNA for genealogy, and I’ve accumulated some ideas about next steps you can take – and how we can collaborate together to make sense of our test results that show we share some DNA.
Are you just curious about ethnicity? Many testers just want to know if science can confirm the stories they’ve heard about their ethnic heritage. All of the major testing providers can give you some idea about your ethnicity and they’re getting better and better at it all the time. If you haven’t re-checked your ethnicity results in a while, you should log on and check it out. For example, Ancestry finally clued into the fact that my dad is 100% Swedish! If this is all you want out of your DNA test, then simply downloading a copy of the ethnicity report is all you need to do.
Are you curious about your family tree? Maybe you were hoping that Ancestry or one of the other testing companies would use your DNA to find a bunch of cousins and offer a ready-made family tree built out for you. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. I know a lot of people who have started building a family tree on Ancestry and only make it a generation or two before deciding this really isn’t their “thing”. Your DNA results sit there in a half-made tree and you kind of wonder why you did all of this. My suggestion to you is to share your results with me and other researchers and we can all collaborate together. In fact, you can sit back and relax while the genealogy nerds among us do the work for you.
Do you want to preserve your DNA test results for future generations? Your DNA test results contain vital clues about our shared heritage and also potentially about our shared medical conditions. That data could be lost forever if you don’t have a plan to pass it on to someone. A prominent expert recently wrote about how to put this into your will! Another thing you can do is download the “raw data file” and save it to your hard drive and/or give it to someone who can safeguard the file for you.
What you can do with your DNA test results
- Go back and look at your ethnicity results, print out a copy, and come back every year or so to see how the estimates have changed since the last time you looked. Here’s an article from Ancestry that has explanations and links about changing ethnicity estimates.
- Check and see what your privacy settings are.
- You may want to keep your data all private, but understand that cousins like me can’t find or use your data. It’s sitting alone on an island. But if that was your intention and desire, leave those privacy settings alone.
- If you DO want to leverage your DNA results for genealogy purposes, make sure your privacy settings allow for others to see you as a match. Send me an email and let me know what your username is so I recognize you when I’m researching.
- On Ancestry, go a little bit further by sharing your matches with me! Follow the instructions on this page and invite me (email@example.com) as a “Viewer”. I won’t be able to see your raw DNA data, but by seeing your matches in combination with other testers’ matches I can jump-start my research to find our common ancestors. And I will return the favor by sharing my matches with you!
- To take your Ancestry results even further, download your raw DNA data and then upload it to another company that has more detailed analytical tools. My recommendation is to upload to MyHeritage – it’s free. Their tools allow me to see groups of cousins clustered together and it’s a whole lot easier to figure out how the distant cousins are connected. Boy, if ALL my cousins on Ancestry did this I would be in Genealogy Heaven, please consider it! And let me know if you need any help.
- Provide a copy of your raw DNA data to someone else for safekeeping. I will offer to accept raw DNA data files from you with the understanding that you will allow the data to be used for genealogical purposes.
Haven’t tested yet?
- Ancestry is user-friendly and has the biggest database of matches. I think it’s the best all-purpose genealogy site out there, and their tree-building interface is fun to use. It’s a great way to start a genealogy hobby. But to make the most of possible cousin connections, you will want to (1) share your results with me and other cousins and (2) export your data to MyHeritage or one of the other companies. Currently $99 but watch for deals.
- MyHeritage is the least expensive and will provide the most value to other researchers if you’re not interested in doing research yourself. (But you can do research on MyHeritage, too – they also have tree-building tools and lots of records available. I just prefer Ancestry, maybe out of habit.) Currently $59.
- 23andMe is the “high science” site. It also provides some haplogroup and mtDNA results. It has some really great analytical tools too. Currently $99.
- FamilyTreeDNA is the only company that offers Y-DNA testing (this traces male DNA back through an uninterrupted patrilineal line). Basic test is $79, advanced Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are more expensive.
One final note. DNA data can help us find ancestral connections, but it also has the potential to deliver unwelcome surprises – family secrets that have been hidden away for generations. Just something to think about before you start a DNA adventure.
Looking forward to hearing from you! And don’t hesitate to contact me by email if you have questions or need help taking the next step.