The field of genetic genealogy still is in its early stages, but is exploding! The new technology is fascinating, but there is a lot to learn. If you want to learn more, then check out Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond, by Emily Aulicino (2013). It is a bargain at about $3 on Amazon Kindle and Google Books. This book includes a good list of “Additional Resources”. Also, check out Blaine Bettinger’s The Genetic Genealogist, the granddaddy of blogs on this subject, and his other publications.
Which DNA Test Should You Take?
The following is adapted and updated from the February 2017 issue of the Newsletter.
We are being asked this question a lot lately. The answer depends on what you seek to accomplish.
There are three big DNA testing companies for genetic genealogy. (Others do forensic and paternity testing.)
Ancestry.com offers only a so-called “autosomal” DNA test. This is the one that you see advertised on TV. An autosomal (”aDNA”) test: 1) can be taken by both males and females, and 2) matches you to your “blood” relatives in their database – from all of your branches. The matches go back six generations or so, with diminishing reliability. You do not need to be an Ancestry subscriber to get basic information about your matches. Their test also estimates your ancient origins, but not precisely. Ancestry’s TV advertising has worked: They already have a huge database of testers, recently surpassing 4,000,000 – and growing exponentially.. So, they give you the best chance of being matched with cousins, known and unknown. Ancestry targets the casual user. They do not host any surname or other genealogy projects.
23andMe.com also offers only an aDNA test. The advantage of 23andMe is that they provide reports on “Traits” and “Wellness”, as well as on “Ancestry”. Their database includes about 2,000,000 testers. Like Ancestry, 23andMe targets the casual user, and it does not host any surname or other genealogy projects.
FamilyTreeDNA.com (ftDNA), in contrast, targets professionals and enthusiasts – and their site is devoted exclusively to genetic genealogy. In addition to an aDNA test, they offer: 1) yDNA tests and 2) mitochondrial (mtDNA) tests. Currently, ftDNA’s database is the smallest, about 500,000 testers. However, ftDNA allows testers to upload their raw Ancestry or 23andMe DNA test results to ftDNA’s database for free, but not vice versa. (For a small, one-time fee, they provide you with all of your matches in their database.) ftDNA hosts a myriad of surname and other original genealogy projects of all kinds.
Note: The primary purpose of National Geographic’s Genographic Project, a fourth testing company, is population genetics – “deep ancestry” – research. It does not not make DNA matches between relatives. ftDNA allows testers to upload their Nat Geo results to ftDNA for free.
A yDNA test traces a male’s patrilineal (father-to-father) lineage only, all the way back. Only males carry the y-chromosome; in almost all cases, this test will trace a male’s surname line. A woman can have a male relative with her (maiden) surname take the yDNA test on her behalf. An mtDNA test traces a male’s or female’s matrilineal (mother-to-mother) lineage only, all the way back. These two tests are better suited for untangling lineages than for making DNA matches. The Doty-Doughty DNA Project on ftDNA (see below) is a good example.
The International Society of Genetic Genealogy’s Website maintains an “Autosomal DNA Testing Comparison Chart” that compares the competing tests in much more detail. This chart notes, among other things, that the quality of the European “ancient origins” information provided by the testing companies varies widely.
So, what is our recommendation? If you are building your family tree and want to connect with cousins, then choose Ancestry’s DNA test. If you want to contribute to the understanding of your surname lineages, then choose ftDNA’s y37-DNA test. Good luck!
FamilyTreeDNA Surname Project: Doty-Doughty DNA
In 2006 the Society launched a yDNA surname project on ftDNA. The objectives of this project were:
- To provide a reliable database of likely DNA signatures of Edward Doty and his sons, to which any male could compare his yDNA signature;
- To enable researchers to untangle the Edward Doty’s lineage from that of other, unrelated Dotys.
- To facilitate research investigating the origins of Edward Doty.
Subsequently, the Society combined the DNA testing results of its project with those of the Doty-Doughty DNA Project, which shares the same goals. For this Project to be successful, it needs as many males with the Doty surname (or its variants) to join the Project and to take a yDNA test. (The yDNA-37 test is a good start. It can be upgraded later, without re-testing.) To participate, go to the Doty-Doughty DNA Project site.
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