by Laura

I am always looking to hone my (amateur) skills as a researcher. Tracking down DNA matches is one way to do that. I’ve pretty much worked through cousins up to fourth cousin level. At that point, it gets rather tricky because I’m looking for common great-great-great-grandparents (3g-grandparents)…and everyone has 32 of those. For me, we’re talking about ancestors born in the late 1700s who had a LOT of children. It can be challenging finding records going back that far, and tracing their children…who had children…who had children…and so on.

Then there is testing.

I am a firm believer you can never do too much testing. Yes, it can be pricey, especially the more detailed tests like mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-DNA tests for men that look at as many “markers” as possible. But basic autosomal testing (atDNA) isn’t too bad. At this time of year, you can often find sales that reduce the cost. The tests are simple (spit in a tube or cheek scrape), and the results are ALWAYS interesting, if not downright surprising. Dna Adoption has a methodology that suggests testing at Ancestry, first, then downloading your raw DNA from them into Gedmatch, a FREE site that has all sorts of DNA tools that will help you sort out your matches (and give you some more from the other testing companies).

FTDNA also tests atDNA for a reasonable fee, but you cannot, at this time, test at Ancestry and upload your raw DNA to them. You can, however, test mtDNA and Y-DNA with them. mtDNA is fascinating in an historical sense, but not a lot of help if you’re wanting family-tree matches. I tested with them and it has been quite interesting. But I haven’t learnt anything of any real value, except I’m probably descended, way, way, way back, from Vikings.

23 andMe is the other company. I have no experience with them, so I’ll just leave it at that. They include medical genetic analysis with their tests, but you can test at the other two companies, upload your raw DNA to Promethease, and, for $5.00, get a downloadable report of your genetic makeup. DISCLAIMER: This is RAW INFO; it takes a doctor or genetic counsellor to interpret this, so this is just for your personal curiosity. They are currently doing some beta testing with blood types, and my experience, so far, is that they’ve been accurate. They link to SNPedia for explanations of your results (where results actually exist…remember, so much of our genome is still not understood). So, caveat emptor (buyer, beware). In any case, it’s terribly interesting and they are adding new information about our genes all the time.

So. All that to say, I am always encouraging folk to test. I understand that there is a lot of hesitancy. It does, indeed, open one up to the proverbial “can of worms” as many families do have skeletons and they have a tendency to fall out at this point. But there is nothing more exciting, to me at least, then getting a “new” cousin then running up that “new” tree to see what can be discovered. Just this past week, a woman contacted me about David’s family tree. He and his Mom are her closest matches. She lives in Canada, and they are 2 cousins, 1x and 2x removed. By sharing well-researched family trees, often you discover some hidden gem of information; some family history of which you knew nothing…and the search continues as you realise some long-lost ancestor wasn’t ever truly lost; he wound up in Canada!

I am beginning to work on other folks’ trees as well as there are many adoptees who haven’t the time to do this for themselves. This can be difficult, intensive work. But the satisfaction of finding just that one right family is so wondrous… And I really do love the research and the untangling of these mysteries. You never know what amazing stories you will find, either.

I hope this will inspire you, Gentle Reader, to consider DNA testing, then to follow that up with, at least, a rudimentary family tree. A lot of people are testing for their ethnicity, but it’s the tree that shows how truly interrelated we all are. Again, I recommend Ancestry because of the size of their databases, and the efficiency of their program to aid you in building such a tree. It’s easy, at least at the beginning, and it’s fun.

Then, when you eventually discover you’re royalty, and you are almost certainly sure to do so, there are so many professional trees available, you hook into one of those, and you’re done; bragging rights are yours!