Friday 23 September 2016

A Guide To DNA testing for Family Research


Would you like to have your DNA tested but not sure where to start? A guide to DNA testing for family research will describe the different tests, who they are best for and what you will learn from each. 

DNA and family history are a popular way to learn more about your roots. Those of us interested in family history would really love to know exactly where we came from. That's one of the reasons we do the research. We would all love to be related to someone famous or to royalty. A Russian great grandmother sends thoughts of being a descendant of the Tsars or maybe we have a surname that leads us back to the Vikings.
There is one sure way of proving it and that is a DNA test. Or is it? There are different types of test and they are all so expensive. Can they really tell if you are descended from Vikings?

I too was very confused and so I have done some research and would like to share what I found in A Guide To DNA testing for Family Research.


What is DNA?

DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the material that makes genes. Genes are the basic unit of heredity. Everyone has two copies of each gene, one inherited from each parent. 
DNA, and therefore genes, are inside every cell and they form chromosomes. There is also some DNA (and genes) in the mitrocondria of a cell.

Each cell normally contains 23 pairs of chromosomes giving a total of 46 chromosomes. Twenty-two of these are the same in males and females and are called autosomes. The last pair are the sex chromosomes. Females have two copies of the X chromosome and males have one X and one Y.

1. Y DNA

Y DNA tests the Y chromosome which is passed from father to son, usually with the surname. Only men can test for this as only men have the Y chromosome. This test will tell you your father's father's father and so on. Females will have to ask their father, brother, paternal uncle or paternal grandfather to test for them. This line goes back to Y-chromosomal Adam. Different branches of his descendants are different haplogroups.

2. Mitochondrial DNA 

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed from mothers to their children. Males carry their mothers mtDNA but only females can pass it on. Females traditionally have not kept their surnames so it is harder to make genealogical connections. This test will tell you your mother's, mother's mother and so on. All humans descend from Mitochondrial Eve, a female who lived probably around 200,000 years ago. Different branches of her descendants are different haplogroups.

3. Autosomal DNA 

Autosomal DNA (atDNA) tests the rest of your DNA and will be able to identify your cousins, if they have also taken the test and submitted it to the same database, but will not tell you how you are related.

4. X DNA

The X chromosome in males is inherited from their mothers (the Y is from their fathers) and in females from both their mother and father (if they had a Y from their father they would be males). 

Who They Are Best For and What you will Learn From Each

Are you descended from the Vikings? 

DNA tests by themselves will only give you your haplogroup, it can tell you whether you may be or are definitely not a Viking. What it can't do is tell you if you are Queen Victoria's descendant. To do that you need to compare your DNA with those of known descent. This is what the DNA testers do. They test your DNA and then compare it to those on their database. It was mtDNA that confirmed Richard III remains were his. His mtDNA was compared to a known descendant. 
There are three ways of buying DNA tests in the UK. Ancestry, 23andme or Family Tree DNA also available through Find My Past.

Ancestry DNA 

Ancestry have one test that is autosomal so both men and women can take it. They say that it will reveal where your ancestors came from in the past 500 - 1000 years and find relatives you never knew you had. It costs £79 plus delivery charges

Family tree DNA 

Has three DNA tests available at a small discount for members of findmypast

1. Family Finder which is autosomal and both males and females can take it

"it reveals new relatives as distant as a 5th cousin. In addition, you'll see a comprehensive breakdown of what part of the world your ancestors came from."

2. Y-DNA37  Is YDNA and only males can take it $169 reduced to $139 through Find My Past

"can help you find your paternal relatives and trace your paternal ancestry. It is only available to males."

3. mtFullSequence  is mitochondrial and anyone can take it $199 reduced to $159 through FindMyPast

"can help you find your maternal relatives and trace your maternal ancestry."


They have one test that they say will tell you your ancestral origins and trace your lineage. It offers Neanderthal  percentage and both paternal and maternal lineage. The test claims to give health reports including inherited risk factors. It costs £125 with a price increase to £149 planned on 29 Sept 

What test should I take?

Before you decide which test to take consider the implications too. Would you be happy to find that your roots are or are not what you thought? What if it showed that your line was not the expected line. That somewhere you have an illegitimacy in your tree. 23andme claim to give you health reports, do you want to know? If it reported that you had the gene for something awful how would it affect you?

At present genealogical DNA is on separate databases to DNA taken for forensic reasons but if the law changed and the authority's had access to your DNA how would you feel? I'm not saying only if you are on the run but what about your personal freedoms and privacy?

If you are OK with all of this then the choice depends on your budget and whether you have a family tree on either Ancestry or Find My Past. The easy answer would be try all of them but that would be very expensive. It boils down to what exactly you want to know. If you just want to know if you have Viking roots then either the Ancestry or Family Finder would suit. Unsurprisingly the cost is very similar. 

I hope the information above helps with your decision. It costs a lot of money so it needs some thought. Have you already had a DNA test? I'd love to know what you discovered.

Would you like to read more tips for beginners?  Then just click on the tree below or the Family Tree tab above.



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