DNA testing for family history

In recent years, DNA testing has been linked closely in the popular mindset with those tv programmes which are on during the day, with titles such as “I’m going to prove you’re the dad of the baby we had before you decided to run off with the babysitter”.  And in some ways, lots of people think of that sort of scenario when you mention the words “DNA test” to them.

However, in this post, I am aiming to explain that DNA testing can be very useful for family history and genealogical research.

It was only relatively recently that the cost of having a DNA test has fallen, making it more affordable for many people, who couldn’t previously afford it, to take one of these tests.

There are several different types of test available however, with different testing companies.

Many who have taken a test with one company also choose to take a test with another company.

One of the tests which is useful to take for family history purposes is called the “autosomnal DNA” test.  Different companies will obviously market their own products differently.

Another interesting thing which various companies test is the geographical genetic composition within your dna.  Here’s an example of mine from Ancestry DNA:

Ancestry DNA geographical DNA screenshot

23 and me is a company which also tests for certain traits and potential risk factors for various health conditions, however, you can easily opt out of receiving your “health reports” by ticking a box on their website.  As you can see from the screenshot below,  they also provide a geographic genetic composition results section for those who test with them.

23andme screenshot

While Family Tree DNA is another provider of DNA test services.  I uploaded my Ancestry DNA results to FTDNA, which you can do free of charge.  Although haven’t yet made any confirmed matches through that website.  Their services, however, do seem very professional.  This is a screenshot as an example of how matches will appear.  (I’ve scrubbed out some of the personally identifiable information here)

FTDNA Matches page screenshot

A more recent addition to the trio of dna testing companies above is My Heritage. You can find out more about what they offer by clicking here.

So, as you can see, there are different companies available for you to test with, if you are interested in using DNA to further your family history research.  And, using DNA for this purpose can certainly help.

I’ll give an example.

One of my 8 times great grandparents, called Randulph (or Randle) Poynton/Pointon was a potential son of 2 different sets of parents.  Looking at baptismal records from Norton in the Moors, Staffordshire, and then searching through my match lists for people with the surname Poynton/Pointon in the family trees also solved this riddle.

I could not have been related to another match via one of the baptisms as following that line would have taken me well beyond the predicted relationship range of the match, while looking at the predicted relationship range on Ancestry, and then using the Gedmatch website to check what it said about the number of estimated generations to our most recent common ancestor, the other baptism was a perfect match when comparing our trees also.

And that is a key thing I believe, when you decide to take one of these DNA tests, make sure you have a family tree available for comparison, otherwise, the process doesn’t seem to make any sense.

When I first took a DNA test, I didn’t have a clue how they worked or how the matches worked, I still don’t know a lot, however, i’m learning more now.  One of the main things is to provide some method of comparison, or at least provide a method of contact so that somebody who is a potential match can get in touch to share notes, and ask how they may be related.

This is a screenshot of some of my closest matches at 23andme, I haven’t scrubbed any of the names, or anything else out, this is how they appear, except for the one at the very bottom of the image whose name just showed up on the image:

23andme DNA relatives screenshot

As you can see, none of some of the most closest matches have any method of either comparing results, getting in touch, or have provided even surnames they are interested in, or places of interest.

When you have provided your sample with one of the companies, and registered the DNA kit, before sending the kit back to the company, please take a little time to familiarise yourself with the settings on the website, and to at least add some family surnames and places where the family lived, possibly add a tree, privatising any people who are living if you would like to do so, or, indeed, any other family members, and, please, if you are going to take a DNA test and add no other information, please at least provide a means for contact.

Finally, when you have your results and are able to log in and view them, I highly recommend the Gedmatch website.

Gedmatch Analysis tools screenshot

It’s a great free tool for making comparisons with others who have been tested, and, it gives you an estimated number of generations to a most recent common ancestor. So far, the estimated number of generations with my confirmed matches has been pretty much exact.

Additionally, and, crucially, I believe for DNA and family history research combined, it does combine DNA and family tree data pretty well.

Your testing company will have a section allowing you to download your DNA data.  If you do that, you can then upload it to Gedmatch, there is even a section which checks your DNA and brings up family tree results for people who match your DNA.

DNA testing is fascinating stuff which I don’t fully understand, I don’t believe that any of the sites quite understand how to combine both DNA testing and family trees fully as yet.   However, it’s clearly the case that DNA testing can bring some successes, and can sometimes confirm your research, if you are unsure.


3 thoughts on “DNA testing for family history”

  1. this is very interesting, I wat to get my done to be positive of my clan ) Morrison) that I belong to. I am not dark I am very light with blonde hair and very blue eyes, plus short and a little on the round side, My papa who was Scottish always said we were of good highland stock( pesant stock)LOL LOL

    Liked by 1 person

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