If you are interested in doing your DNA, here are some guidelines that I think are extremely important.
First, your DNA is your property and you should treat it as such.
Let me use an analogy that I think most everyone can relate to. Most of us, at one time or another, have owned a car. As an owner of a car we had to pay property tax on it, which although not much fun, was proof that, that car belonged to us and no one else. If that car was a bright and shiny brand new one, or a restored antique that we slaved over getting into pristine shape, it was very doubtful that we would loan that car to just anyone. In addition, we definitely would not give them the title to the car to carry around with them while they were driving that car. If we did, we might just as well kiss that car good by because with that title, they essentially became the owner, not you.
There are many testing companies doing DNA, so how do I know which one(s) to use?
I started researching everything I could about DNA at least two years ago. In my opinion, there are two categories of DNA testing companies. It is important to understand the difference between them.
Category 1 includes a multitude of DNA projects, sponsored by individuals, groups, etc., many times created to research out a certain family, or group of families, or connect to a common ancestor.
I do not recommend using any of these companies, or groups. There is a good chance that someone would offer to pay for the DNA test, so they can see if you are related to them, especially the common ancestor that they are trying to research in that group. Sounds good on the surface but remember what I said, that your DNA is your property. When they offer to pay for your DNA test, or if you pay for it yourself, they usually expect that when they get the results back, the DNA results belong to them and their database,not you! Depending on the integrity of the group administrators, you may or may not ever see the results that you were hoping to receive. If you truly are interested in that group, there is a better way to help them, and you and I’ll describe it later.
Category 2 includes three major DNA testing companies. They are “AncestryDNA”, “23 and me”, and “FTDNA” (Family Tree DNA). These are well known, fairly even in cost, but have some major differences in how you can use the results. Each of these have differences in what you get for your money and what you can do with the results. I’ll not go into those differences here.
In my opinion, AncestryDNA is by far the best choice on the market today. If you want to know more of my reasoning, just send me a private message and I’ll be glad to share.
They only offer the Autosomal DNA test. Over the last few years, the tests available were either “Y-DNA” (only for male ancestors), or “mtDNA” (only for females), the Autosomal DNA tests everyone, both on the paternal side and the maternal side.
In addition, you have the opportunity to do more with the results. For instance, once you get the results, you can download the “raw data” and upload it into other companies database. That is what I have done and I’ll explain it a little later.
It takes about 6-8 weeks to get your results after you send in your DNA sample, which is a vial filled with your spit, that’s all. The kit you receive has an identification number only and therefore your personal information is private, and not shared by anyone.
When you get the results, you get three things. First, an ethnicity graph (which is nice, but in my opinion, not that useful). Second, a list of matches, ranked by the most likely to be a match. Third, a list of all the DNA circles that you are a member of.
The matches give you immediate contact information to pursue to find out if you really are related.
The DNA circles are like the groups you belong to on Facebook. You have friends in Swisher Genealogy,(my companion Facebook Group,) that are not friends in other groups you are in. So if you are in a DNA circle, you can count on their most likely being a relative there, and contact information is provided.
This information changes as more people test their DNA. On day one for me I had 52 close matches (2nd cousin to 4th cousin range) and over 200 additional possible matches. I also had about 8 different DNA circles. Each day those lists vary a little, based on newly added DNA database information.
After I received my AncestryDNA results, I download the “raw data.”
By itself, it is useless for you to work with. It comes in a ZIP file, because it is so large it has to be compressed for you to receive it. Make sure you keep that ZIP file. It is your property. You will need it to upload to another company called GEDmatch.com. By the way, after I uploaded my raw data to GEDmatch, I did also open an unzipped file of the raw data. It was over 700 pages long, and virtually meaningless to me.
Next I uploaded a copy of that zip file to GedMatch.com
com is a company that is totally FREE. They operate on donations only, if you desire to donate.
com asks you to upload your “raw data” in the “ZIP” format. Once done, they have many different tools to assist you in locating relatives.
Optional, but very useful to your search is to also upload a GEDcom. That way potential matches can see if it is worth their time to contact you.
For instance, when I uploaded my file, I also had to supply my Kit #. Everyone that contributes to their database includes their Kit #, from whatever company they used. Their database includes not only the autosomal DNA, but the Y-DNA and the mtDNA, each with the appropriate kit #, so one can look for matches in their database and see exactly how close a match there is across all formats.
GEDMatch works perfectly well as a companion to AncestryDNA, and I have been able to find cousins very quickly because I used it.
If you want to help out one of those groups in Category 1, that I talked about earlier, this is the way to do so. They can have access to your data, via GEDMatch, and your data is still owned by you.
So bottom line, I hope many of you will have a better understanding about how doing a DNA test, works, and how quickly it can help those who are serious about researching for their ancestors and cousins. Just be prepared to be sending and receiving quite a few emails. One aspect I have not talked about is how to keep track of all this new information and contact information. That is a whole separate issue and I will share in another post.
And lastly, please remember that your DNA is your property. Don’t give it away, but do use it to help your research.