DNA-Recommended Testing Strategy
More and more people are taking DNA tests, either for fun – to see their predicted ancestral origins or ethnicity – or to learn more about their family history. DNA is a highly useful part and important part of genealogical research.
The Board for the Certification of Genealogists has added new standards regarding DNA to help genealogists in their research and analysis of family relationships.
“Meeting the Genealogical Proof Standard requires using all available and relevant types of evidence. DNA evidence both differs from and shares commonalities with documentary evidence. Like other types of evidence, DNA evidence is not always available, relevant, or usable for a specific problem, is not used alone, and involves planning, analyzing, drawing conclusions, and reporting. Unlike other types of evidence, DNA evidence usually comes from people now living.” 
As you decide which DNA test to take, I have some recommendations that may help you to choose which test, or multiple tests, to help you get the most information for you as you research your family history.
Recommended Testing Strategy
1. Test at AncestryDNA – largest database. they have the most family trees, and easy to use tree-building tools.
2. Test at 23andMe – you cannot transfer DNA results to 23and Me, but you can transfer the raw data from 23andMe to other companies. This company has fantastic tools to visualize your DNA, including a chromosome browser. It has a reputation for having the most accurate ethnicity estimates.
3. Transfer raw DNA results to MyHeritage – unlock their tools for $29. This company is especially helpful if you are pursuing European ancestry. This company also has Theories of Family Relativity and “Smart Matches.”
4. Transfer raw DNA results to Family Tree DNA – unlock their tools for $19. This is the only company that tests different numbers of Y-DNA Markers (this must be purchased and tested separately.) FTDNA stores original DNA samples for 20 years.
5. Transfer raw data results to gedmatch.genesis.com for free. This is a 3rd party website, so it has less privacy, but it can translate the information between testing companies and has a large database of people contributing their raw DNA from all the testing companies.
6. Transfer raw data results to Living DNA at no cost. “Uploaded files will gain free access to our Family networks matching service but will not receive any autosomal, mtDNA or Y-DNA results. If you would like the full Living DNA experience, you can purchase [a] 3-in-one kit from [their] website.”
7. Consider transferring your raw DNA to DNA.Land.
Their purpose, as written in their FAQ: “DNA.Land is a place where you can learn more about your genome while enabling scientists to make new genetic discoveries for the benefit of humanity. Our goal is to help members to interpret their data and to enable their contribution to research.”
While this looks like a lot to do, there are good reasons to consider this strategy. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed – or like me – have a budget to stick to – or both, start off with one of the tests and work your way through the other steps over time (and/or drop a hint to your favorite uncle, aunt, relative, spouse that you’d really enjoy a particular test as a gift).
Why do I recommend this approach?
Your known or unknown relative that you hope to connect with may have only tested at 1 company, and if you have DNA results at that company too, then you can make a connection. They may be the one family member who knows more about your common ancestors than you do and a key to unlocking more of your family history mysteries!
The point is that some descendants of common ancestors have information today about your shared ancestor that you don’t have. Some cousins may have stories and records about your ancestors who immigrated from the “old country.” They may know the ancestral village where your 2nd great grandparents lived, whereas you barely know the names of your grandparents or great-grandparents.
Furthermore, different grandchildren remember different stories. In my case, I went to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum and looked up written histories about my ancestors. It was surprising and amazing to see the varied stories written by great-grandchildren—they weren’t all the same. Some were very detailed, with poignant stories, others were a brief biography. The authors wrote the stories that they remembered about the lives of their ancestors. Various descendants remembered different stories – and I had never heard most of them.
The inspiring stories and a lot of important genealogical information contained in them would have been lost to me and my descendants if they hadn’t been written down. The only way to obtain the stories is to either connect with cousins who have the stories, find them in the archives, or discover your familial ties through DNA. DNA can help you learn more information and discover distant family members who may assist in your research, and, in the process, you may possibly even become close friends.
By connecting with aunts and uncles, close and distant living cousins via your DNA, you may find long lost genealogical information and photos. Since I have personally benefited from the stories and accounts of my ancestors from my distant cousins found only through DNA research, I know what a wonderful and unexpected blessing these sources of information have been to me. I believe healing and closure can come from learning about the circumstances, trials, and triumphs of your ancestors. I am a better person because of the things I have learned from the lives of my progenitors and my passion is to help others be lifted and inspired by their own families.
- Board for Certification of Genealogists, “Standards for Researching,” Genealogy Standards, Second Edition (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2019), 11-32, particularly 29-32.
Other articles in the Research Like a Pro with DNA series:
Step 1 Take a DNA Test: Which DNA Test Should I Take? and DNA-Recommended Testing Strategy – You Are Here
Step 2 Assess: Understanding and Using Your DNA Results – 4 Simple Steps
Step 3 Organize: Seeing the Big Picture: 3 Ways to Chart Your DNA Matches
Step 4 Research Objective: What Do You Want to Know? 3 Steps to Focus Your DNA Research
Step 5 Analyze your Sources: DNA Sources, Information, and Evidence: Sorting it All Out
Step 6 Locality Research: Where in the World Has My DNA Traveled? DNA and Locality Research
Step 7 Research Planning: Genealogy Research Planning with DNA
Methodology and Tools to use as you plan your research:
– Charts for Understanding DNA Inheritance
– Clustering or Creating Genetic Networks
– Pedigree Triangulation
– Chromosome Browsers
– Segment Triangulation
– Chromosome Mapping
– DNA Gedcom
Step 8 Source Citations: DNA Source Citations
Step 9 Research Logs: DNA Research Logs: how to keep Track of Genetic Genealogy Searches
Step 10 Report Writing: DNA Research Reports – the Ultimate Finish
Step 11 What’s Next? Continue Your Research & Writing, Productivity, and Education