Get Your DNA Tested
- Choosing a DNA Test Provider
- Recommended Steps
- Online Family Trees
- Transfer Difficulties
- More Information
Choosing a DNA Test Provider
You will begin with "autosomal DNA" testing at one of the commercial service providers. Other types of tests, such as Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA tests, are generally used only for special purposes these days (in 2018) and are not what you need most when starting out.
People who are very into genetic genealogy usually end up submitting DNA samples to more than one company, specifically because each commercial service provider has its own database of DNA results and casting a wide net maximizes your chance of discovering relatives. But when starting out, most people prefer to save money by testing with one service provider and then transferring the resulting data online to other service providers.
The only downsides of data transfers compared to submitting DNA samples are that not every service provider will accept data transfers, and DNA matching effectiveness will be somewhat reduced in power because the data isn't usually 100% compatible between providers. However, it is not clear at this time how reduced in power an analysis based on transferred data actually is, data transfers are the quickest and least expensive way to get started, and you can submit DNA samples later to companies that initially only received a DNA data file transfer if you want to spread out your costs.
If cost is not an issue, then the most effective approach is to submit DNA samples to both of the leading genetic genealogy companies, AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA, rather than using a data transfer to FamilyTreeDNA. Otherwise, we recommending submitting a DNA sample to AncestryDNA because AncestryDNA does not accept data transfers, and because their database is the largest so we definitely want to screen for matches there.
The following process is recommended for people whose primary interest is genetic genealogy for family history research (as of Feb. 2018). Putting your DNA test results and family tree in several places online is recommended to maximize the likelihood of cousins finding you now and in the future. It takes some work initially, but you can do it a little at a time, and once in place it allows others to do cousin searching for you.
- Get your DNA tested through AncestryDNA (Canada / U.S.). They currently have the largest database of DNA test results. While you're waiting for your test results, build an online tree starting with your direct ancestors going as far back as you currently know who they are. Include vital stats like birth & death years and locations if you know or can estimate them.
- Once your test results are available, download the the raw data file and then transfer it free online to FamilyTreeDNA. They have a large database of Jewish DNA test results, and some analysis tools that AncestryDNA lacks. No additional DNA sample is needed, you get access to some DNA matching features without cost, but the price for unlocking the full feature set of their autosomal DNA analysis is very reasonable.
- Upload your DNA data to other online matching and analysis sites that accept test result data for free or at low cost. GEDmatch.com (free) is especially recommended, and DNA.land (free) is also worthwhile. If you've created at least a simple online family tree at Geni.com (and you should, as described below), then you can connect your Geni.com profile to your FamilyTreeDNA account to transfer data to Geni. You can also transfer your raw DNA test data to MyHeritage and possibly soon LivingDNA also. For extra credit, create a family tree at Wikitree.com and point your profile there to your DNA test info at AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch.
- Analyse your test results! We will be developing a page, Understand Your Test Results, that will guide you through the process of analysis.
- AncestryDNA/Ancestry.com/Ancestry.ca. Order and receive a kit, register it, and send a DNA sample. [order form for Canada or the U.S.]
- Build your online tree at Ancestry while waiting for the test results. When you register your DNA kit you're given the chance to begin a tree with your parents' names. Now extend it back. [instructions]
- Download your AncestryDNA data file, once your results become available. [instructions]
- FamilyTreeDNA.com. Create a free account and upload your data file. Paying the modest cost to upgrade and unlock full analysis of your data is highly recommended. [autosomal DNA transfer order form; instructions]
- GEDmatch.com. Create a free account. Then upload your data file using the Generic Upload link on the page that's shown after you sign in. [instructions]
- DNA.land. Register a free account then upload your data file. [instructions]
- Geni.com. Create a free account for your initial profile (if you don't already have one), then link that profile to your FamilyTreeDNA account to transfer DNA data [instructions]. Add profiles for your direct ancestors to build up a basic tree [instructions]. Geni uses a One World Tree approach, so if your tree matches an existing one, you'll be invited to merge trees.
- MyHeritage.com. Create a free account and upload your DNA data file. [instructions]
Once you've had your initial DNA testing done, and your results are available, the "help" section of the website provided by the DNA testing companies is usually a good place to visit. The quality and ease-of-use for this material varies a lot, but it's generally worthwhile.
Also, some testing companies use their own terminology for test results, so learning their terms will help when looking at results that they provide. For example, FamilyTreeDNA refers to their "Family Finder test," which is more generally known as an autosomal DNA test.
There are generally two major DNA test sales each year, and Ancestry and FamilyTreeDNA both participate. The biggest sale starts Black Friday near the end of November and usually ends mid-December. The second biggest sale is usually on or around DNA Day, April 25. There are sometimes sales for Mother's Day in May and Father's Day in June. In 2017 the Your Genetic Genealogist website posted about the sales and provided links—and maybe will in 2018 too.
Online Family Trees
It is extremely important for people with Ashkenazi DNA to put at least a basic family tree online, showing your direct ancestors and their vital data going back as many generations as you know. This information is critical for allowing others to screen their own DNA match list of potential cousins for the most likely candidates. They'll do the work and find you if you let them! So if you want to maximize your chances of finding cousins through DNA, you'll need to put at least a basic tree on the websites where you've got DNA test results, and ideally also (for free) at Geni.com and WikiTree.com.
The period between when you submit your DNA sample for testing and receive the results is an ideal time to start building your online trees, starting with the site where you've submitted DNA samples. When your results come in, your DNA matches are going to immediately look to see if you are a known relative, and for that they're going to need to see your tree.
When DNA testing companies occasionally change their testing system, the ability of other companies to accept raw data transfers from them can be affected. When this happens, it may take a few weeks or sometimes months for DNA test data transfers to again be possible between those two companies. These issues do get worked out, although being patient can be frustrating!
Also, occasionally the GEDmatch.com website is very busy, and data uploads at those times might not succeed. Try again another time and you'll usually have no problem.
- Most Bang for DNA Test Bucks, by Judy Russell. The Legal Genealogist (blog), 2 Feb 2015.
- What’s New in Autosomal DNA Transfers, by Leah Larkin. The DNA Geek (blog), 12 Sep 2017.
- Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests, by Roberta Estes. DNAeXplained (blog), 11 Apr 2017.
- The best DNA ancestry test. The Wirecutter (blog), 30 Aug 2017.
- So you want to take a DNA test, by Jennifer Mendelsohn. Medium (online magazine), 13 Sep 2017.
- Which DNA Test is Best for Me?, by Maurice Gleeson. DNA and Family Tree Research (blog), 27 Apr 2016.
- Testing strategy – Should I test at Ancestry and transfer to Family Tree DNA?, by Roberta Estes. DNAeXplained (blog), 4 Dec 2017.