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DNA is a vast and complicated structure

Common Questions on DNA Genealogy Testing (FAQs for Beginners)

What is the best DNA test? What will a genealogy DNA test tell me? Can I find my relatives using a DNA test? Here are quick answers to common questions on DNA genealogy tests for those who want to trace their ancestry and find family matches.

Click on the + sign to expand an answer.

Can a DNA test help me discover my ethnicity?

Yes it can.

DNA testing companies have huge databases (usually with more than a million individual DNA results) with DNA data from different populations around the world.

When you take a DNA test, they will match your DNA sequences against those of the different populations they have in their database. Depending on how closely you match each population they will give you an ethnicity estimate.

Note that it’s just an estimate. That’s why you might get a slightly different ethnicity breakdown when you test with another service.

As companies collect more DNA data from diverse populations, they can give you a more accurate estimate.

For instance, AncestryDNA used to group the whole of West Africa into one population group. But in 2013, after years of scientific research and testing DNA samples, they were able to split the population into 6 ethnicity populations.

West-African-ethnicity AncestryDNA

West African population split into 6 distinct ethnicity groups

So if you are part West African the ethnicity report will specific whether it’s Nigerian, Senegalese, Malian and so on.

Can I find unknown family members using DNA testing?

Yes, you can. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why people get a DNA genealogy test.

When you take a DNA test, your results are compared to those of other people who have also taken the test. The similarity between your results determines your level of relationship. You can discover a parent, a sibling or a distant cousin.

Major DNA testing services like AncestryDNA have databases with millions of results from other test takers. A bigger database increases the chances of finding someone you are related to.

To find even more relatives going back hundreds of years, you can build a family tree and collaborate with your DNA matches to find common ancestors. Historical records such as past census reports and marriage records can also help you track down some of your ancestors.

Which type of DNA test should I take?

There are three types of DNA tests: Y-DNA, mtDNA and Autosomal DNA.

If you want to trace your father’s side of the family, get a Y-DNA test. It’s also the best for paternity tests. Note that only males can take a Y-DNA test because they are the only ones that carry the Y-chromosome.

If you want to trace your mother’s side of the family, get an mtDNA test. Both men and women can take this test.

Autosomal DNA is the best one for finding new family members, tracing your ancestry (up to 2 generations back) and discovering your ethnicity.

The autosomal DNA test is the best one for beginners who are making their first attempts to learn more about their past or find unknown relatives.

I have written a blog post with a more detailed comparison of the three types of tests.

What is the best DNA test service?

There are four main services that provide comprehensive DNA genealogy testing. I like to call them the big four. They are:

>> AncestryDNA
>> FamilyTreeDNA
>> 23AndMe
>> Genographic Project

If you want to find unknown relatives, FamilyTreeDNA is the best. If you want to build a family tree and use other types of historical records to research your family history and find new relatives, use AncestryDNA.

To trace your ancestry as far back as you can and find your roots, Nat Geo’s Genographic Project is your best bet.

How do I provide a DNA sample?

When you order a DNA test online, you’ll be sent a sample collection kit. You’ll be required to provide either a mouth swab or a saliva sample.

The kit will come with detailed instructions for collecting and securing the sample. You then have to mail the sample back to the lab for testing.

Are my DNA results private?

Yes, only you can see your DNA results. In fact, DNA testing services won’t send you the results via email. It’s not very secure. Instead, you’ll need to log into your secure account to access your results and find matches.

Most DNA testing services let you decide how much information you want to divulge to other people looking for matches.

Is a DNA test really worth it?

It’s ultimately up to you to decide how important a DNA test is depending on what kind of information you are looking for.

But if you are looking for unknown relatives or you want to discover your heritage, a genealogical DNA test is one of the best tools.

People have discovered amazing stuff from a simple test. They’ve uncovered links to people they didn’t know and found out a whole new side to their ethnicity they never knew about.

Need help getting started? See our head to head comparison of the most popular DNA testing services.

About the Author Charles McKnight

I'm just another amateur genealogist investigating my American-Scots-Irish lineage. I built MyFamilyDNATest.com after buying all of the leading DNA tests to discover everything I could about my family history. Hopefully, this site will save you time and demystify the emerging science of DNA-based genealogy, for your family project.

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