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How DNA Tests Helped Me with Genealogy!

By Jason Gavin, Special Collections Librarian

DNA_OverviewI’ve discussed some of the various kinds of DNA tests available before. Recently I was discussing with family my experience with the Ancestry.com DNA test compared with the National Genographic test -both of which I’ve taken- and thought I’d share my experience. Of course, ultimately which test you find most useful or interesting will depend on what you, personally, are hoping to get out of the test.

For myself, I find Y-DNA/ Mt-DNA tests to be far more interesting than Autosomal tests.   I found the autosomal tests (like the one Ancestry offers) kind of vague. Basically, it will show you matches between your DNA and other Ancestry users with a % confidence rate (90% likelihood this is a 3rd cousin, for example). You could then go to that person’s family tree (if it’s not private) and figure out how you match up. That’s assuming of course that their family tree has correct information, which unless you’ve verified their research is a big assumption. It’s kind of neat, but I’ve yet to see it lead to a breakthrough in anyone’s “brick wall” ancestor.

The other thing the autosomal DNA tests offer is an “ethnicity estimate”. That takes your DNA and compares it to samples from all around the world, and tells you what population you most closely match. So for example, it might say “Your DNA looks like your 54% British Isles, 20% German, 10% Native American…” and so on. But remember, the autosomal tests are only good for up to 6 generations, so it doesn’t really tell you anything about the ancient origins or ancestral “homeland” of your direct paternal or maternal lines. For that, you’d want a Y-DNA and/or Mt-DNA test.

I myself was most interested in the ancient DNA information. Especially because on both my father’s and mother’s side, I haven’t been able to trace the families “across the pond” for the direct maternal line or direct paternal line. The Y-DNA and Mt-DNA helped shed some light on this. So, even though these tests didn’t connect me with any specific people, I learned that on Dad’s side, we have a DNA marker that is found in Northwestern Irish families traditionally connected with the Ui Neal dynasty of Irish kings – and on Mom’s side, my haplogroup is a quite rare one that is a remnant from the first humans to venture into Europe as hunters/ gatherers– long before the invention of agriculture and prior even to the last ice age! Cool stuff, huh?

So for me, my money is on the National Genographic test. It gives you Y-DNA and Mt-DNA, as well as autosomal, and you can transfer your results to FamilyTree DNA for free!

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