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DNA Testing

The subject of DNA testing topic is interesting, if for no other reason than the fact that very few people understand what current DNA testing is all about.  And, I suspect that in the coming years DNA testing will become an increasingly involved part of genealogical research.

In fact, Family Tree Maker has just announced a companion product to FTM, called “Charting Companion 7” which is of value if you 1) use FTM, and 2) have either already done your own DNA testing, or you and other family members are seriously considering having your DNA tested.

Types of DNA Tests

As background, there are two basic types of DNA tests, namely, 1) forensic DNA testing used by the government to identify individuals and compare their DNA test results with other individuals, and 2) genealogical DNA testing used to determine where an individual’s family roots originated.

Government DNA testing may be the more accurate and thorough of the two testing systems.  From a private lab, we get these comments on DNA testing by the police.

“Conclusive DNA test results have innumerable capabilities within the legal system. Thanks to TV crime dramas, the most commonly recognized use of forensic DNA testing is courtroom convictions. However, DNA has also been widely used to exonerate alleged criminals as well. To date, more than 300 people have been freed thanks to DNA analysis; around 20 of those people were on death row.

“Cold Cases have been able to be solved thanks to DNA evidence as well as local and national DNA databases like CODIS. Advents in forensic testing like new Rapid DNA technology expedites DNA testing from weeks or months to mere hours. Rapid technologies will enable labs to quickly process new cases providing time to focus on backlogs.

“Forensic Paternity testing is useful in missing persons or victim identification when a suspected family member is able to provide a sample. It is also helpful in proving rape or incest cases when conception results.”

“DNA Diagnostics Center, also known as DDC, is one of the leading and most highly accredited genetic testing laboratories in the world. We provide comprehensive DNA testing services in four areas: paternity and family relationships; lifestyle testing including ancestry, health and wellness, veterinary, and forensics testing.”

John M. Butler wrote an article in 2015 that discusses the future of forensic DNA testing.  The article is quite interesting if you want to learn more about the subject from the government’s perspective.  Interestingly enough, and in parallel, there seems to be a great effort by government to get everyone’s DNA sample.  Except for purposes of control, why would they want everyone’s DNA? [Rhetorical question]

Here is a link to Butler’s article if you are interested in reading it.

DNA testing done for genealogical purposes may be a lighter duty DNA testing.  For example, it is not able to legally determine paternity in legal cases, etc. but it still may be able to help identify someone’s parents. Also, forensic prenatal paternity DNA tests can cost $1,000 or more, so the expense of such tests is probably prohibitive for most people.

How Does DNA Testing Work?

Basically, the commercial genealogical DNA testing shows two basic test results, namely 1) where (geographically) the individual’s ancestors came from, and 2) how many other individuals in that same company’s DNA database of individuals tested may have a genetic connection with him.

How does the genealogical DNA testing actually work?  It’s a pretty simple at-home process that involves you doing the following steps.

  1. Go online and purchase a DNA kit to be mailed to you
  2. Set up your own personal profile while online
  3. After the kit arrives, provide your DNA sample
  4. Mail off your sample and wait 4-10 weeks for results
  5. Go back online and analyze your test results

The Big Companies in DNA Testing

In the genealogical DNA testing world, there are a few big companies that should be discussed.  Be sensitive to the fact that depending on which DNA tests you want done, your costs will vary from less than $100 to several hundred dollars.

Once again, because I am not an evaluator of these companies and their product offering, and because I refuse to have my own DNA testing done, I am going to point you to a company that has done the analysis of the top companies in the 2018 DNA testing business.  This website provides all of that detailed information for you.

#1  —  Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) is the best DNA ancestry test if you’re committed to serious genealogy research or if you want to identify living relatives. This company is the only service that offers all three types of tests separately: autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA testing. Their Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are much more in-depth than other companies’ maternal and paternal-line analysis.

#2  —  AncestryDNA, part of the wildly popular genealogical company, comes in an extremely close second to FTDNA as the best DNA ancestry test. This company offers fairly affordable pricing, an extremely active online community, a huge DNA ancestry database and access to millions of family trees and billions of historical records via the Ancestry website. Their autosomal test analyzes more than 700,000 genetic markers to find your genetic matches and gives you an unparalleled breakdown of your ethnicity.

#3  —  23andMe comes in third as our best ancestry DNA testing company for the unique services they provide. 23andMe is your best bet if you want to trace your lineage and get disease-risk and carrier-status DNA results. They offer two testing kit types — an autosomal Ancestry test for $99 or a Health + Ancestry test for $199.

If you want to learn where your ancestors lived around the world and, at the same time, gain insights into your health and risk for certain diseases, 23andMe’s Ancestry + Health test is the way to go.


Interestingly enough, I had always thought that AncestryDNA was number one because of its huge database size.  So, I looked at another (different) current evaluation site and Ancestry did show up as number one and for the reason I expected – namely its database size.

“We rate AncestyDNA very high relative to other DNA tests on the market. It has by far the largest customer database which is perfect for those doing family history research because it will match you with living relatives. Whether you’re looking for ethnicity estimates or to connect with distant family, AncestryDNA is a fantastic choice.”

I like this website, by the way, as it provides a lot of detail behind its evaluations, as well as a lot of additional DNA information.

We hope you find this information helpful.  There is a dark side of DNA testing that we will review in another blog post.


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