I have been doing genealogy for over 4 decades, going to libraries, vital records repositories, city clerks, historical societies and surfing the world wide web for genealogy related websites, I have also subscribed to several magazines, societies, and membership websites and I spent countless hours walking through cemeteries, and interviewing relatives, but there was one thing I had not done to help me in my ancestry search and that was DNA testing.
Back in 2000, two companies: FamilyTreeDNA.com based in Houston, Texas and Oxfordancestors.com based in Oxfordshire, England) started out offering the opportunity for genealogists to use DNA to aid in finding the family connections. Oxfordancestors has recently went out of business, but FamilyTreeDNA is been growing. In the early days it was quite expensive to have your DNA testing done and the testing results was still in its infancy. Now a days there are several companies that offer DNA testing services. Testing methods have improved and some companies offer MtDNA and YDNA testing, along with Autosomal DNA. I talk more on these shortly. These companies have been creating databases of the DNA information from the people that have had their DNA done and some do have family tree information also. It has been 18 years since the DNA Genealogy endeavor began and billions of people have now had their DNA done, which has helped to create huge databases of genetic information. People are not only using the information from DNA matches to help them in their genealogy research, but people who were adopted are using DNA testing to find their biological families. Websites such as Ancestrydna.com , Familytreedna.com, Myheritage.com and 23andme.com, just to name a few are helping people to find these DNA matches. And people are learning where their ancestors may have come from by the Ethnicity estimates that are provided when you have your Autosomal DNA tested.
After years of doing genealogy researching, I have run out of ideas as to where to look for more documentation on a few branches in my family tree. I have come to what is known as a genealogy brick wall, so I decided to take the jump and have my DNA tested in hopes that it may give me some new leads on my family tree.
The DNA test itself is very simple, you either swab the inside of your check or spit into a small vial and then mail the sample back to the company. It is harder to decide what type of test to have done and with whom to go with for the testing then doing the test itself. There are currently three main types of DNA testing, which I mentioned above, Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA), which is the DNA passed down to sons and daughters from their mother, but only daughters can pass it on to their offspring. Y-Chromosome DNA (YDNA), which is the DNA passed down to only sons from their fathers, so only sons can pass it on to their sons and the third test is the Autosomal DNA (AtDNA), which is made of 22 pairs of your Chromosomes. We receive 50% of our DNA from our father and 50% from our mother. We have a total of 23 pairs of Chromosomes. The 23rd pair are different in that they are sex Chromosomes. Our mother’s contributes the X Chromosome and our father’s contributes a X or Y chromosome.
There is a lot more about DNA to understand, I am giving you a very brief overview. Each of the companies that provide DNA testing offer a little different take on your results. They have tools on their websites to help you to understand your results and connect your matches.
I would like to share with you my journey with DNA testing, and hopefully it will help give you a little clearer understanding of the process and what you can expect. I will talk about the type of DNA testing that I have done and about the DNA companies and websites that have used. I will also give you an overview of the DNA tools that each of these websites have to offer in future blogs.
My journey began in November 2017. On Black Friday, several of the DNA testing providers offered discounts on their DNA testing services, so I decided to buy an Autosomal DNA test kit from MyHeritage.com. It was $49 plus $12 shipping. I admit I went with this company because they offered the cheapest Autosomal DNA test of the four most popular DNA testing companies and they have the 3rd largest database. MyHeritage is an online genealogy platform with web, mobile, software products and DNA testing services. This website was first developed and popularized in 2003. I purchased my DNA kit 11/24/17. I received it 12/9/17. Their test is a swab of the inside of your cheeks. I did the test and put it in the postage paid mailer and mailed it out the next day. You can check out this Youtube video link on how to take a DNA test with MyHeritage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaxTF5Ev6rw . You have to activate your kit on their website and create a family tree account. This let’s them know you received it and that the kit# belongs to you.This number is for your DNA results and will help with your matches. Here is a Youtube video link that explains what happens with your DNA sample https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_806nvZF2o . To see your matches’ family tree information on this website you will need to have an annual membership with MyHeritage.com. There is several perks with each of their membership levels. They offer three different options. Premium, Premium Plus and Complete. I did enter three generations of my family tree (myself and family, my parents, my two sets of grandparents) in their online familytree builder. You can build a family tree on their website or download their tree builder software which is free. Here is a Youtube Video link to show you how to use it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmxmladLrTs . They also have a mobile app. The family tree builder software can sync with your online account. All smart matches can be downloaded into your tree. You can build a tree from scratch or import a GEDCOM file. You can build your tree on line if you don’t want to install the free software program. See this Youtube video link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YTcS3VMMKY for building a family tree on line.
Before I received my DNA results I started receiving emails from MyHeritage.com letting me know that they found possible family tree matches for me, but I wasn’t able to view anyone’s family tree, because I hadn’t purchased a membership yet. In February I received a 50% discount off their memberships, so I decided to purchase one year of their Complete Membership level. You can join their memberships for 1 -3 years.
While waiting for my results I decided to read and learned as much as I could about DNA testing and genetics genealogy. One of the best books that I read thus far is “The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy” by Blaine T. Bettinger. It helped with understanding what DNA is and how it works. He gives a ton of useful information on the different DNA testing providers and 3rd party services to help with interpreting your results. I learned about a few other websites that once I had my DNA results I could upload my raw DNA file and they would also provide DNA matches and information. I also joined a few Facebook groups: DNA Genealogy, and Ancestrydna, Myheritage. It is interested to read what other people are finding with their results.
MyHeritage emailed me on 1/27/2018 that my DNA results were ready. I went to my account on their website and clicked on to the DNA tab and my results came up.
It showed me that I had DNA traces from 8 Ethnicities, 97% from Europe, (43.1% Irish, Scottish, and Welch, 13.2% English, 5.9% Finnish, 4.9%Scandinavian, 21% Sardinian, 9.8% Greek, 2.1% from Northwest Africa. Well I was surprised that there wasn’t anything listed from Canada or North America. Most of my ancestors through the late 1600s came from Canada. So it tells me these ethnicity estimates are from a lot early ancestry links. Below this it showed me that I have 3576 DNA matches. The list started with highest total of DNA which was a 1st cousin once removed. We share a total of 521.9 cM (CentiMorgans). The higher the total DNA the closer the relationship to the match. Meaning if I had a match that had approximately 3900 cM that would most likely be a parent or sibling match. Matches with low DNA such as least than 7cM are possibly very distantly related. Because I didn’t have a membership at the time when I first received my DNA results, I was not able to view my matches’ family trees if they had one. You can see how much DNA a match has and you can contact them to ask questions without a membership. Not everyone that is a match includes family tree information and not everyone has a membership. MyHeritage has a few really nice tools you can use to help you interpret your DNA matches. Their Chromosome browser is great to compare matches with other matches and /or your DNA. I explain more about tools in a future blog.
I have been going through the closest matches and have found connections on both my mother’s and father’s sides. I will get more into the details of these matches in next month blog.
I downloaded my Raw DNA file and uploaded it to Familytreedna.com website and to Gedmatch.com. Both of these websites accept uploads for free and they provided DNA matches with their own databases. From the results I found a few matches that were the same as on MyHeritage, but many were different. I believe this is because of where people have their DNA done. So not all databases are the same, because not everyone tests at all or more than one DNA website. I have been able to find several matches, but my closest match so far has been a 1st cousin once removed on my mother’s side. I don’t know of anyone in my immediate family that has had their DNA tested as of yet. As time goes on and more people do DNA testing more matches will appear in my account.
There is one DNA testing provider that has the largest database and seems to be the most popular from what I have learned since I started this DNA journey and that is AncestryDNA.com. Ancestrydna advertises their DNA testing on TV. They started out as a genealogy website and have millions of family trees that you can match up with. In 2012, Ancestry acquired Genetree and created AncestryDNA.com. They do have an annual membership to access the family tree information, but your DNA information is accessible without a membership. They currently only test for Autosomal DNA at this time. I decided that I wanted to test with them also, but instead of buying my DNA test kit from AncestryDNA directly I went on eBay and bought a new AncestryDNA sealed test kit for half of the cost of what AncestryDNA charges. I paid $38.00 with free shipping. The kit arrived within a week and I activated it on AncestryDNA and then mailed it back to AncestryDNA after I did my test. Ancestry has you spit in two small vials. Besides being cheaper I didn’t have to pay for the shipping cost that AncestryDNA charges. I have gotten confirmation that my DNA test sample have arrived to their lab, but they have not started to process it as of yet. From what I have read on the Ancestrydna Facebook group it can take 6-8 weeks or more from when they receive it. This must be due to the high volume of samples that they receive. They will email me when my results have processed it. I due plan to download the raw data file from AncestryDNA and upload it to familytreedna and Gedmatch to see if there is any difference between this sample and the one I had done with MyHeritage.
I would have to say that I find DNA Genetic Genealogy very intriguing and I know that I still have a lot more to learn in order to make the best use of all the information that is being revealed to me. Next month I will get into more details on what I have learned from my results and how I got them using MyHeritage.com, Familytreedna.com and Gedmatch.com . Wishing you all the best in your search.