What is Genetic Genealogy?

The best book that has ever been written is in us and now we have the opportunity to read it.
(V. Utt, DNA Day 2012)

Genetic genealogy uses data from DNA testing as a powerful tool to help you break through those brick walls to expand your tree, confirm and find new relationships in your family tree, meet new cousins, join international surname projects and collaborate with a growing community of genealogists engaging in this exciting new technology that is rapidly expanding into new pioneer frontiers of science and family history. These are certainly exciting times!

Who should take the DNA test?

Because DNA testing for genealogy is most productive for looking into your family tree over a span of about five or six generations, it is very important to test the oldest members of the family first, as that will help you move further back into family tree. Then depending on your own family tree research goals, testing other family members will be useful in refining your research and opening up new areas of exploration. It is even possible to create a complete picture of your own genetic makeup and identify which bits of your own DNA you got from any of your great-great-great-grandparents. You are literally a jigsaw puzzle made up of DNA pieces from all of your ancestors, and now we can identify those pieces with remarkable certainty.

Which test is most useful?

Each DNA test has a different goal, so it depends on your own family tree questions as to which test is most appropriate. The Y-DNA test can only be taken by male members of the family (females do not have a Y-chromosome): the Y-DNA data relates to the patrilineal line of your family, passed directly from father to son, along with your family name and so connects you to others who share your surname and history. The mitochondrial DNA test, mtDNA, provides you with information about your matrilineal heritage; that is, it traces the direct line of your mother to her mother and back into deep ancestry. You can take the mtDNA if you are male or female. The autosomal DNA test gives you data about the genetic puzzle pieces that make up your own unique DNA signature inherited from all of your ancestors, and the results connect you to other people who share your DNA. For a discussion about the differences between these tests, see Louise Coakley’s Genie1 page or the other links suggested on the Resources page.

How much science do I need to know?

To use the test results for you family tree research, you don’t need to be a geneticist! The testing companies make it easy for you to understand your results and to connect with your genetic cousins. These companies also have wonderful resources for learning more about this fascinating field if you want to engage further. There are also many online forums, such as Facebook groups, that you can join and also professional genetic genealogists who can help you as well.

Which company should I use?

There are three major companies that offer to analyse your DNA for genealogy purposes: Family Tree DNA, Ancestry DNA, and 23 and Me. These companies have extensive databases and are very reliable with regard to accuracy and security. You can read a comparison of what is offered by the major players in genetic genealogy on the website of ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy), a nonprofit organisation that has a wealth of valuable information on genetic genealogy. For a great overview of the pros and cons of each of the major companies from an Australian-NZ perspective, see Louise Coakley’s Genie1 page.

Where can I learn more?

Check out the Resources page in the above menu.