Generally speaking, those people who have tested with FTDNA, AncestryDNA or MyHeritage DNA have done so for genealogical purposes (even if it is only curiosity about their family’s past) so the response rate from contacted matches is fairly decent. Oftentimes matches are open to being contacted by relations and are eager to compare trees. This is, of course, not always the case, but we have found it to be true for the most part.
Family Tree DNA (the longest running testing company) offers a well-established database of “cousins” and advanced tools for exploring your results. MyHeritage offers the ability to sync your results with your family tree research in a very unique way. Both are a good choice, but since every person’s needs are unique we suggest you read the full guide before deciding.
Similarly, mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, is used by direct-to-consumer DNA tests to trace your direct maternal lineage and determine maternal haplogroups. While most DNA lives in your cells' nuclei, mtDNA lives in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the cells' powerhouses – their 37 genes are necessary for cellular energy production and respiration. Previous research suggested that mtDNA is inherited directly from your mother, but a recent study found that biparental mtDNA may be more common. This discovery may affect maternal haplogroup testing in DNA tests in the future, but for now, it’s safe to assume your results are correct.
If you’d like to take extra measures to provide a means of identifying your DNA in your absence, you can also choose to store your biological DNA sample – this is known as DNA banking. It can provide reassurance to know that a DNA profile can be produced from your securely stored DNA sample, and depending on your circumstances, you can either pay to have your sample stored with the company you purchased it from, or order a home banking kit which will provide the materials you need to securely store your sample at home. If this is of interest, you can check out the companies that offer DNA banking.
It should be said that if these Family Finder tools sound like a good way to add to your family tree, the majority of the matches you’ll be shown will be 3rd cousins or more distant, and it can take a significant amount of research to place them on your tree. That said, if you’re prepared to contact your matches and try to piece together your familial connection, using the Family Finder feature can be lots of fun and a great way to make friends all over the world!
Four testers took 23andMe DNA kits during testing. We received our results 32 days later, and testers were highly satisfied with the overall experience, from ease of sample collection to the thoroughness of the results. Recently, the company updated its database and increased the number of geographic regions from around 170 to more than 1,000. The updated ancestry reports are also more detailed, especially for non-European regions. 23andMe’s ancestry tests give you information split into several different reports spanning your ancestry composition, maternal and paternal haplogroups, neanderthal ancestry and DNA family. Testers particularly liked the timeline feature, which estimates when your most recent ancestor lived in each of your matched regions.
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My favorite DNA test for finding ethnicity is Ancestry DNA. My second favorite is 23 and Me. The way Ancestry presents their DNA results is easy to understand, and their test is general less expensive than 23 and Me. I have also found Ancestry DNA’s ethnicity estimates very closely represent what I have been able to research the old-fashioned way, both in my family and that of my husband and other family members.
So, back to the example of the two men (lets call them John and James) we think might be brothers: We find two g-g-grandsons (or any male descendant in a direct father-son line) of each, preferably the most distant cousins we can find, and get a Y-DNA test done for all four men. Usually a 37 marker Y-DNA test is a good place to start. This looks at 37 sections of each persons DNA that the genetic scientists think are most useful for our purposes (the bits that are least likely to randomly change over generations). The results come back looking like a fairly meaningless string of numbers which are fairly useless on their own, but allow us to compare each persons result with others in the database of the testing company.
Almost immediately after the technique of DNA profiling was developed, it was put to legal use. The case of Colin Pitchfork, the first criminal convicted using DNA fingerprinting, is well publicised, but the very first use of this technique was actually in an immigration case. Alec Jeffreys (the person who developed the technique) helped a Ghanaian boy to avoid deportation by comparing his DNA to that of his alleged British mother’s, to prove that he was her biological son. Since that case, DNA profiling has been used in thousands of cases of immigration, by either keeping families together or reuniting them by proving biological relationships.
The last ancestry-related report from 23andMe is your DNA Family. This report is separate from the relative matching feature, which you have to opt-in to. It tells you very generalized information about the people in the database who share segments of DNA with you, including states of residence, similar geographical ancestral regions and traits like the ability to wiggle your ears or whistle.
McCartney says that anxious people often contact her, saying they wished they hadn’t done the tests. “These companies often say that it’s worth it for the helpful advice. But I can give you really good advice right now without seeing a single test result: be active, have lots of social networks, do work you enjoy, try not to smoke or drink too much, don’t be overweight or underweight, eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Nobody needs to get tests done to get that kind of basic lifestyle advice.”
— Once you have chosen a test and received your autosomal results there is still a great deal more fun to be had. Independent tools and websites created by scientists and enthusiasts allow you to take the raw data provided from FTDNA, 23andMe and Ancestry DNA and explore them in astounding detail–giving you a wide variety of new admixtures, phasing options, chromosome browsers, SNP tools and connections with family across the world. Gedmatch is our favorite because they have so many wonderful and meticulously updated tools from a variety of sources. Easily upload your raw data and run your results for free (if you love the tools, don’t forget to donate and uncover even more options.)