DNA - Where Do I Test? Part 2


Last week I answered a question about Y-DNA and mtDNA testing. Most people today are testing using autosomal atDNA. Here you have more options. Instead of testing only the direct paternal or maternal lines, atDNA will find matches with all those in between back about 4 - 5 generations. Rather than make a recommendation, I’ll pass on my experience and point you to an article on the International Society of Genetic Genealogy WIKI (ISOGG) on choosing a testing company.


When you do a atDNA test with one company, your results are compared to others who took the test with the same company; in other words you're only playing in one pool. If the cousin you're looking for tested with another company you won't have a match, so you should consider how to get the most matches in as many pools as possible.


I tested originally at 23andMe, and as I mentioned, it was primarily for medical reasons. I was very happy with the results I got, but it was in 2010, before the FDA stopped the medical testing. Today, 23andMe has worked with the FDA and some (but not all) of the testing has been reinstated. They currently offer reports covering Health Predisposition, Wellness, Traits, and Carrier Status. Initially I did not spend any time with cousin matches. For the most part they were distant and I didn’t recognize any of the names. I had two close matches which I contacted. One did not respond, and the second indicated she had tested for medical reasons and didn’t know much about her family except that her grandmother had emigrated from Liski in the Ukraine. If you’ve read many of my blogs, you’ll recognize that this is the town where my grandfather was born. Unfortunately, she had no additional information. Today, 23andMe charges $99 for an ancestry test and $199 for health and ancestry. When you consider whether to transfer your results from 23andMe you need to know the version of the testing chip that was used. Once you log in to your 23andMe account, go into your Profile and select Settings. Scroll down and you will find the Genotyping Chip Version (mine is 3).


Once I became more familiar with DNA and testing, I transferred my results from 23&Me to FamilyTree DNA. This was relatively inexpensive at the time and today it is free for matches and $19 to unlock the file and get additional features such as chromosome browsing. FamilyTree DNA can accept results from 23andMe, Ancestry and MyHeritage but check on the version of your original test. Moving my results to FamilyTree DNA allowed me to play in a second pool so instead of getting only matches from 23andMe, I now got matches to those who had tested as FamilyTree DNA. Another benefit of FamilyTree DNA is the ability to join a Project...perhaps your surname, or a geographic area. I'm a member of the North of Ireland Project (more on that next week).


I next tested at Ancestry. Why? Because I could not transfer my results into Ancestry and they had the largest database of testers. Again, the idea was to expand the pool of possible matches. Most genetic genealogists recommend you start at Ancestry because it has the largest database, and also because you can transfer out of (but not into) their database.


MyHeritage also offers atDNA testing. I moved my results to MyHeritage, in order to see my matches. Like FamilyTree DNA you can unlock additional features or a fee. MyHeritage is interesting because it has a large presence in Europe, but not particularly in the UK or Ireland. They are now also offering health testing.


LivingDNA is a UK company. They have partnered with FindMyPast and provide ancestry breakdown across 80 world regions, including 21 in the Britain and Ireland. I was curious as to the UK/Ireland breakdowns. Would you be able to identify a specific area of Ireland to focus your research if you didn’t know where in Ireland your ancestors were from? My results showed 98.2% in Europe broken down to 73.7% Great Britain and Ireland. Breaking that down further, 24.5% was from Southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland and 20.3% from Central England and South Yorkshire. I have a paper trail that matches that information. Unfortunately, other areas of Ireland are not identified yet. LivingDNA also provides your “motherline” or maternal haplogroup and if you are male, your “fatherline” or direct paternal (Y-DNA) line...interesting information. They have just rolled out their "cousin matching" and unlike the other companies, I have just one match. It is a known match who also tested at all of the other companies. I’ll be watching to see what happens with this company. If you have British ancestry I would recommend you give this a try.


The last site, GEDMatch, is not a testing company, but a free site where you can upload your data. They accept raw data files from Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and some 23andMe files depending on the testing chip used. The good news about this site is that you're more likely to get someone to respond, since if they've uploaded their information, they're interested in finding matches. On what some consider the down side, GEDmatch was the database that was used to identify the Golden State killer as well as others. This has presented some concerns about privacy and they recently removed everyone in the database out of Law Enforcement Matching. If you would like to allow your DNA to be used by Law Enforcement, you must opt in.


One of the biggest complaints I hear about DNA testing in general is the lack of response from matches. As I mentioned when discussing 23andMe, many people tested for medical results and therefore don’t have any interest in finding cousins. It’s hard to miss the Ancestry commercials which focus on ethnicity…should I wear a kilt or lederhosen. My experience is that many people at Ancestry have tested just for ethnicity results and don’t have any interest in connecting. With GedMatch however, people who upload their results are looking for cousins and have provided the best response.


If you are just deciding to test, or if you need to order additional tests for family members, now is a great time to do it. All of the companies are currently offering special summer pricing (check out my Promotions page). You decision may be where you know relatives have tested, or the largest database, or where you already have an account. It’s up to you. You need to educate yourself and I've listed lots of resources on my Links and Resources page for DNA. If you miss the summer promotions, there will likely be more in the future. I always keep a supply of tests in case in run into a cousin. I also travel with them when I go to Ireland.


DNA testing will not provide your family genealogy. It is only one tool for genealogists to use and like all research you should start with a plan. What is the research question you are trying to answer? Simply testing can be overwhelming. You might want to start by having a maternal and paternal first cousin tested. Then, when looking at shared matches you can begin to determine which side of your family a match is on. I have over 16,000 matches (they’ve taken the totals off the results page, but I have 330 pages with 50 results on each page). The majority of those are 5th - 8th cousins, but I have 174 4th cousins or closer. How do you make sense of the matches. Well, that’s the topic for next week.


Happy Hunting!



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