Getting Started


  • What is Genetic Genealogy?
  • Beginning the Journey
  • Online Introductions
  • Genetic Genealogy Books
  • Genetic Genealogy Interest Groups in Toronto
  • DNA Discussion Forums & Online Groups
  • Get Your DNA Tested
  • Continuing the Journey

What is Genetic Genealogy?

Genetic genealogy is "the use of DNA testing in combination with traditional genealogical methods to infer relationships between individuals and find ancestors" (Wikipedia). Individuals' DNA test results can also be pooled to infer broader knowledge about modern and ancient humans, including surname studies, pre-modern population migration, the evolutionary history of the human genome, and many other purposes.

Beginning the Journey

Most people become interested in genealogical DNA testing either because they wish to learn more about their ancestral ethnicity, are looking for distant relatives as part of a genealogy hobby, or both. Other reasons include adoptees looking for birth parents, people interested in the deep ancestry of anthropology, those exploring the contribution of DNA to health and disease predisposition, and many more interests. Our focus on this page is on family history research, within a genealogical time frame of the last 300 years.

Although the advertising from some DNA test providers seems to imply that genetic genealogy is as easy as taking a DNA test and letting the answers to all your questions roll in, few people are that lucky. Some are! But most of us needed to learn at least a little bit about genetic genealogy before we felt we were beginning to understand the results of our tests.

Also, the tools of traditional genealogy are often critical for screening through the many predicted cousins that Ashkenazi DNA testing in particular will generate. Creating an online family tree will help your distant cousins find you—they're also screening through extensive lists of predicted relatives.

Your journey into genetic genealogy may ultimately go very deep if you wish. But it is not hard to attain an understanding that's sufficient to answer basic questions about your DNA test results. Below are several excellent paths for learning that you might find helpful. Or you might just want to jump in and Get Your DNA Tested, and start your education while waiting the several weeks for results to come back.

Online Introductions

The articles listed below can provide you with a good introduction to genetic genealogy. Note that although some of these resources discuss Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA testing, the only test you'll need to consider at the beginning is for autosomal DNA.

Genetic Genealogy Books

Three good introductory books are listed below and reviewed here. If you are going to read only one, then the Bettinger book is recommended, because it is a comprehensive introduction and the most up to date. These books are available from the Toronto Public Library (TPL).

  • The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, by ‎Blaine T. Bettinger. 2016. (TPL)
  • Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond, by Emily D. Aulicino. 2013. (TPL)
  • NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection, by David R. Dowell. 2014. (TPL)
  • Many more books....

Genetic Genealogy Interest Groups in Toronto

If you'd like to meet face-to-face and talk with people who have lots of experience, you have excellent options in Toronto.

Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto (JGST). This website you're reading is sponsored by the DNA special interest group of the JGST. Our regular meetings are only open to JGST members at this time, but the cost of membership is modest. The JGST's monthly presentations for the general membership are sometimes devoted to or include talks on genetic genealogy. Occasional genetic genealogy workshops may be offered, and announcements will appear on our News & Events page.

Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society. The Toronto Branch supports two genetic genealogy special interest groups: The Genetic Genealogy SIG and the Advanced Genetic Genealogy SIG. Linda Reid, who leads the Advanced GG-SIG, offers an Introduction to Genetic Genealogy course, usually in three sessions, several times each year.

DNA Discussion Forums & Online Groups

If you are a member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto, then you can ask questions using the DNA Discussion Forum hosted at the JGST website. The forum is only available to JGST members who are logged in at that website, otherwise you'll receive a "page not found" message.

Other online discussion forums include:

Get Your DNA Tested

There are two ways to get your DNA data to a company that does genetic genealogy analysis: send them a DNA sample or upload a DNA data file previously generated by another company who you've sent a DNA sample. The fastest and least expensive route is to submit one DNA sample to a company who does analysis and also allows you download the DNA data file. Then you can transfer that file online to other sites to be checked for DNA matches against their databases and for further analysis. Data transfers are always significantly less expensive than direct DNA tests.

However, for technical reasons of different companies' data not being 100% compatible, the results from a data transfer will not be quite as sensitive for finding matches or for accurately evaluating them. So in the long term, at an additional cost, sending DNA samples to multiple companies is ideal. However, the improvement in sensitivity and analysis is probably not large, and is not well characterised at this time. Therefore, unless cost is not an issue, we recommend you begin with submitting just one DNA sample for analysis and then using data file transfers.

The process we recommend is detailed on the page Get Your DNA Tested.

Continuing the Journey

Do you have questions about the topics on this page or our Foundations of Genetic Genealogy page? Members of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Toronto can use our website's discussion forums to ask questions and get answers. Others can use any of the various online communities listed above in the section "DNA Discussion Forums & Online Groups" or contact their local genealogical society.

Have your DNA test results come back and you want advice on how to proceed? We're working on an Understand Your Test Results page to help you. Until then, the educational resources whose links are offered earlier on this page can help too.

Have you already done a basic analysis of your DNA test results? Ready to learn more and perhaps use your DNA test results in new ways? Visit our Going Deeper page.

DNA Special Interest Group