Lets suppose, as we have in the Sinnott/Sennett one name study, we have a whole lot of families who all believe their common ancestor came from Co Wexford, but the paper trail for conventional genealogy research has dwindled away, or we suspect that John and James who emigrated to the US about the same time were brothers but there is no documentation to prove it – genealogical DNA studies can now be used to show whether its possible that two families (that are at the moment quite separate on paper) are actually related and have a common ancestor. And no, we don’t have to go digging up g-g-g-g-grandfather John to get his DNA – remember, he passed it on to his son, and his son’s son, and so on to the present day. So we find a living male descendant and they get their Y-DNA analysed. That gives us a pretty good indication of the genetic signature for the whole family tree (well, the male side, anyway). If we want to check it, we find a distant cousin of the first person who tested and get their DNA analysed. If its a very close match, then bingo – we know the Y-DNA genetic signature (and whats known as a haplogroup) for our whole family group.
With autosomal, mitochondrial and Y-DNA genotyping, the Geno 2.0 test examines your ancestry in three time periods, including your Regional Ancestry report, which spans 500 to 10,000 years ago. The test also delves into your Deep Ancestry through your maternal and paternal line haplogroups and you Hominin Ancestry, which tells you how much Neanderthal DNA is hanging out in your genetic code. One quirky but interesting feature explores possible relations to famous geniuses throughout history and estimates how many thousands of years ago you shared a common ancestor with Abraham Lincoln or Charles Darwin.
Although, I have absolutely no British or Irish ancestry, I found my results extremely satisfying. I particularly appreciate that living DNA gives you a lot of ways to view your data. You can see your ancestry results as color-coded dots filling up a person’s silhouette, on a map, as a pie chart or on a timeline. All the graphics present the same set of data, but each has its own appeal. Within each graphic, you can also choose to view global or regional matches and cautious, standard or complete estimates, which each have a different level of detail and certainty.
More controversially, some of these kits profess to tell you your biological (as opposed to actual age) by measuring the length of your telomeres (in basic terms, the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect chromosomes, like plastic tips at the end of shoelaces). Other tests, such as 23andMe, predict higher risks of developing serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, including the test for BRCA1/BRCA2 (breast and ovarian cancer) that Angelina Jolie famously underwent, going on to have a preventative double mastectomy and surgery to remove her ovaries.
Doing an DNA test without any research can be extremely disappointing - as there are many geographical regions not represented in some DNA kits. This can cause a disconnect or very inaccurate reporting. Beyond ancestry tests, there are companies that recommend wines or exercise regimens based on your DNA. With all the available options, it’s easy to default to a recognizable name, which isn’t necessarily bad. But certain tests do specific things better. Our goal is to match your expectations with the test that fits best.
Hi Mark, Thank you for such an informative and clearly stated article. I am American Jewish and have done several of the tests. I’m now submitting a question for a close friend. He is Burmese and would very much like to test. His biggest interest is ancestral origins. Would he be best off doing a Ydna test or could he find sufficient information in an autosomal test? I assume the Y test would be with Familytree. If so, should he also do an autosomal test with Familytree, or with Ancestry or MyHeritage? Thank you so much!
Living DNA and Findmypast are British companies joining forces to combine cutting-edge science with traditional family history research methods. We’ve made every effort to find a DNA company to partner with that provides the most benefit for those looking to explore their British and Irish roots. Living DNA's test results provide a regional breakdown that perfectly complements our unrivalled collection of British and Irish historical records. It’s this powerful combination that makes this partnership the perfect marriage of science and history.
Although the project states that most participants won’t receive any useful information, patients will be told if something is found in their genome that is relevant to the treatment, explanation or diagnosis of their condition. They can also choose to learn if they have a genetic risk factor for another disease, such as the BRCA1 gene mutation that can cause breast cancer. Genomics England will only look for risk factors that are linked to a disease that can be treated or prevented. Untreatable conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, are not looked for.
DNA profiling can also be useful for those who suspect there may be inheritance disputes over their estate once they have passed away. It provides a record that can be referred to long after someone’s death, even when all physical traces of DNA have gone. Therefore, if there is an unexpected claim for inheritance from an alleged relative, your DNA profile can be compared to that of the claimant to prove or disprove a biological relationship and the inheritance rights.
As a postscript, I eventually end up having an interesting chat with Titanovo about my “bioinformatics” (distilled from my 23andMe data). One of the first things I’m told is that my eyes are green (they’re brown). However, the bioinformatics got my skin type and frame/weight generally right and had interesting (albeit occasionally generic) things to say about exercise, diet, goals, steering clear of too much sugar and so on.
For better ancestry and medical insights, you should encourage family members, especially parents and grandparents, to take a DNA test as well. If your family is from a specific geographical location for generations, your samples could potentially improve the service's reference panel, in turn improving results for everyone. If you’re female and take a test from 23andMe or LivingDNA, you can view paternal haplogroup information, and you get more information when one of your male family members takes a test as well.
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.
Health and disease info: DNA testing can also indicate which conditions for which you may have a preponderance. It's a controversial feature, to be sure. Knowing that you have a genetic predisposition to a certain form of cancer may make you more vigilant for testing, but it may also lead to increased stress -- worrying about a potential condition that may never develop, even if you're "genetically susceptible" to it. The possibility of false positives and false negatives abound -- any such information should be discussed with your doctor before you act upon it.
Both men and women can take mitochondrial DNA tests (because we all possess mitochondria in our cells), but it’s worth noting that women are unable to take Y DNA tests as they do not possess a Y chromosome. If you’re female and you’d like to learn more about your paternal lineage, you can ask a close male relative to take a Y DNA test on your behalf – read our article about Y DNA testing for more information.
Although FamilyTreeDNA is the only DNA testing company openly working with law enforcement, other DNA companies don’t necessarily keep your DNA information private. Many direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies sell your data to third parties. For example, 23andMe shares customer data with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, which uses the information to develop medical treatments. In this case, you can opt out of having your DNA information used for research, and the data is shared only in aggregate.
On all platforms except for National Geographic, you can initiate a search for relatives, though some services let you upload your National Geographic results for further analysis. The software continually searches for DNA matches as more people share their results. This feature may be useful if you're building a family tree or looking for relatives you've never met; otherwise, it may more of a nuisance. You can opt in or out at any time, and the DNA service doesn't share your contact information. Relatives can message you through the software, though. If you already use genealogy software, you may be able to download your results and upload them into your preferred program. Otherwise, AncestryDNA and others featured here have family tree software that you can easily link.
Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) is currently priced at $79, MyHeritage DNA has had their price set at $79 since they launched their test in November 2016 (although the full cost was technically $99 for some time). AncestryDNA’s cost is $99 and 23andMe who, in the past, charged $199 for genealogy and health information, now offers a genealogy only test for $99.
DNA is found in most cells of the body, including white blood cells, semen, hair roots and body tissue. Traces of DNA can also be detected in body fluids, such as saliva and perspiration because they also contain epithelial cells. Forensic scientists and Police officers collect samples of DNA from crime scenes. DNA can also be collected directly from a person using a mouth swab (which collects inner cheek cells). Find out more in the article Crime scene evidence.
It could be that, in the main, genetic-testing kits such as these could, if promoted and used responsibly, end up zoned completely away from legitimate science and medicine and placed where perhaps they belong, firmly in the lifestyle-extra zone, if and when people think they’re “worth it”. Though, somewhat tellingly, when I ask Newman if he thinks that any of the genetic testing kits are worth buying, he instantly says: “No. I’d say, go to the cinema, watch some sport. Spend the money on something nice, something life-enhancing.”
Most of this trait data tells you things you already know, like your hair and eye color, but it is fun to see them compared to your genetic relatives and the world at large. We also found it fascinating to learn more about how these physical traits are genetically determined. For example, finger length ratio is determined by hormonal exposure in the womb, with higher testosterone exposure resulting in a better chance of having a longer ring finger. 23andMe’s Health report for finger length ratio looks at 15 gene markers to estimate your likelihood of having longer ring fingers or index fingers.
At-home paternity tests have been around much longer than other direct-to-consumer DNA tests. Most of them require you to collect cheek swab samples from a prospective father and child, which you then send off to a lab to determine paternity. For non-legal use, these tests can cost as little as $15, but tests that provide verified results that are admissible in court cost a few hundred dollars.
For the uninformed, this is the best discussion on the subject of DNA that I have ever seen. I have been trying to determine who my great great grandfather is for years. I’ve tested with Ancestry and Family Tree DNA, hired ProGenealogists with Ancestry (twice), and still can’t determine who he is. I truly don’t know where to go now. The genealogist that consults with Finding your Roots works for a company that doesn’t do individual research. Who else does the genetic genealogist research that they do?
I once heard someone explain DNA as being like a cake recipe book in a library. You can take the book out of the library and even unravel it by taking out the pages. You follow the cake recipes inside the book but when ever you make the cake it never turns out quite the same way twice. When you've finished you have to return the recipe book to the library because that is where its stored. Made sense to me at the time