Thursday, February 26, 2015

Three Questions from Spitland

There are three things I think everyone needs to consider before taking a genetic DNA test. No, it's nothing sinister or scary. My three things are lessons I've learned long after testing.

My DNA journey began well over two years ago, when 23andMe dropped their genetic test kits to $99. Yep, please take and analyze my spit. After that, I was doomed. And by doomed, I mean time stolen by that genealogy 'shiny' we all fall victim to; that thing that sends us down the proverbial rabbit hole. DNA is my shiny. (You can read more about me in the DNA tab on the blog menu)

My name is Sally and I'm a DNA test addict. If you're still reading, you might be too.

So here are my questions for you to consider:

(1) Why are you taking a DNA test and what do you expect from it?

(2) Do you have some go-to resources to educate yourself before, during, and after testing?

(3) Do you have endless free time, extreme patience, excellent communication skills, and a knack for data analysis?

Those are the three questions I pose to you. Ideally your answers should be (1) to connect with distant cousins to help further my research, (2) yes, ISOGG is my friend, and (3) absolutely!

Let's explore these questions. These are things I know now but didn't know then, and will hopefully help you during your quest. I am not an 'expert' but I have been analyzing my own tests long enough that I feel like I have found another calling. Genealogy was the first, and adding DNA data analysis to it - ah, perfect! I have personally tested with 23andMe and Ancestry, transferred to FTDNA, tested each of my parents, have a Y test pending for my brother, use GEDMatch and GenomeMate faithfully, and answer questions on various Facebook message boards. Did I mention I check each of my DNA kit sites weekly at a minimum? Yeah, I'm that one.

Back to the questions...

(1) Why are you taking a DNA test and what do you expect from it?


'Because everyone is doing it' is not the right answer. It's great that so many people are testing, don't get me wrong. But ideally you will know what the test will offer you once you do have your results. I had no great expectations, other than hoping to find long lost cousins who could help me shore up some loose ends and further my various lines. I have been working on my own genealogy for over 20 years, like back in the Dark Ages of renting microfilm days. But there are many lines I just can't get past. I hope DNA, in time, will help connect me to others in my distant family.

Many testers I encounter have unrealistic expectations. DNA will not solve every mystery. DNA will not knock down every brick wall. It will not tell you your familial GPS coordinates many moons ago. It is a tool, a means of connection, another method of analysis, but it does NOT provide every answer.

(2) Do you have some go-to resources to educate yourself before, during, and after testing?


The best advice I can offer is educate, educate, educate yourself. DNA and genetic genealogy is so new and so rapidly evolving that it is nearly a full-time job to keep up with. I can't stress enough how valuable reading and learning from others is in this area.

These are the blogs of a few of the real pros in genetic genealogy:
These are but a handful of blog resources. They answer questions and are willing to help. There are many Facebook pages geared toward testing and the test sites. Read them, join them, and you will learn a great deal.

My best web resource is ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy. The website (wiki) is loaded with how-to's and charts and files and comparisons and everything a tester could want to know about DNA. Please check them out!

(3) Do you have endless free time, extreme patience, excellent communication skills, and a knack for data analysis?


DNA analysis is a marathon, not a sprint. You will have breakthroughs on occasion. Most of your time will be spent gathering and reviewing and learning.

Digging deep into all of your DNA's potential is not a casual endeavor. Every new test, new website, new cousin connection, and new tree link will take analysis. The one thing about DNA is that the DNA is exact but the connections are anything but. It will require your time. Lots of time. You will need a good way to manage your information or you will be quickly overwhelmed. You will email people with every level of exposure to DNA testing under the sun, so you need to be able to communicate well. You have no idea who is on the other side of your message - a long-time tester or someone brand new.

The only way to know who you may be matching is through your paper genealogy research. Do not neglect this! In fact, this is a great time to flesh out more tree branches, find those siblings of ancestors, create a map of where your people lived and their migration routes. DNA matching is only as good as the leaf to which it connects.

Questions and comments are always welcome. I wish you much success in your journey through genetic genealogy!

10 comments:

  1. Sally, your post was not only fun to read, but contained valuable items to consider. I'd like to piggy-back off your last point: attending to those gaping holes in that genealogical paper trail. As I'm winding my way through my 750 autosomal DNA test matches, I'm finding out that I do better when the branch of the family in question is well documented back through many generations--including what Amy Johnson Crow likes to call "Collateral Lines." Sometimes, it's knowing the brothers and sisters of your direct line for every generation preceding you, that helps--especially with those female siblings of your direct line, who may show up in your DNA matches only by their descendants' surnames.

    I'm always disappointed when I discover a DNA match who only provides a stub of a family tree for comparison. In addition to learning everything you can about the genetic genealogy world, the biggest difference is really in how much of your own genealogy you know. After all, once the test is done, the next big discovery comes with confirming matches. For me, that's when the fun really begins!

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    1. Thanks Jacqi. I agree completely. I think there are almost as many versions of how to manage DNA research as there are connections. The more information one can provide, the more likely a connection can be made. And maybe even more important than names are locations.

      More thoughts for future posts ;)

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  2. Great post Sally!

    I've tested with FamilyTree DNA and Ancestry. It is fascinating. Unfortunately, I haven't spent enough time understanding everything about my results, etc. That's something I need to put on my to-do list. :)

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    1. Just beware, Jana, you may never have time for anything else ;)

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  3. I'm not really convinced on this. We had my uncle do a DNA test for our Brown Line of ancestry and it came back as no relation to Browns at all. How do we know that the person that originally had their testing done was really who they said they were? Obviously my great grandfather was not who he said he was. If he had put in his DNA test as a Brown, then all the others would come back as not a match. I'm tempted to get a test for myself and my husband just to see if that tells us something different than what we actually now.

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    1. You bring up a lot of valid points. In order to 'prove' a line, in my opinion, you will need multiple family members as well as well-proven and -sourced genealogy. The DNA doesn't lie, but how you make connections or become convinced of a correct line of descent takes a lot of work. I hope you find what you hope. Thanks for reading.

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  4. Sally,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2015/02/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-february-27.html

    Have a great weekend!

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  5. Ah, discoveries in DNA that sound oh so familiar. I need to carve out more time to look at mine intensely. I have some good hits, solid research from the dinosaur days .....and gaps in the connections. Thanks

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    1. Thank you for reading, and good luck with your discoveries!

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