Research with DNA Testing

You can amp up your efforts to trace your family tree by having your DNA tested, added to DNA databases, and joining DNA groups whose members might be distant relatives. This scientific approach is available through most online genealogy sites, such as Before you begin, you need to understand some basics about DNA testing.

1. What do I test for?—There are three types of human DNA groups that hold clues to our ancestral past, the Y-DNA, mtDNA and atDNA. The Y-DNA is inherited solely along the paternal line, from father to son. Only men can be tested for Y-DNA, but a woman who is searching for paternal ancestors can trace through the DNA of a close male relative, like a brother or cousin. The mtDNA group from the matrilineal path, from mother to child. Men and women can be tested for maternal lineage by having an mtDNA test done. The atDNA is called the family finder. Both males and females carry atDNA, which is inherited from both parents.

2. How much does it cost?—The cost, of course, goes up with the number of DNA types you include in your test. However, with more information, the more thorough your search for family members. Tests for one type of DNA are usually less than $200. Testing for atDNA can cost almost twice that. Some sites offer discounts if you test for multiple types.

3. How do I get tested?—Although DNA testing was once limited to medical and research facilities, its use in public genealogy projects has made gene testing a mainstream service. Many genealogy websites offer the service. You request a testing kit, which requires that you take a sample from your cheek by using a swab. Just like the TV crime shows!

4. How do I choose a testing company?—Keep in mind that you are handing over valuable personal information when you submit a DNA test kit. Make sure your test is going directly to a lab, and is not being handled by a reseller. These “middlemen” DNA testing services simply pass your test onto other labs for a fee. Read the website carefully, and ask who does the testing.

5. What do I do with the results?—You can submit your DNA data to any number of DNA genealogical databases. As with the testing company, make sure that the database is secure. For the best results, choose more than one database. Most will accept your information for free.

6. What is a DNA group?—These are essentially social networking sites for people with the same last name. When you order a test through a genealogy site, you will be directed to DNA groups. However, your DNA results are not added to a group’s database without your permission. As with DNA databases, there could be multiple DNA groups for your family. You can search for groups by using your last name, plus “DNA group” as search terms. Use alternate spellings for your last name when conducting a search. For example, Smith could also be Smyth, Smythe and Smithe. Some family branches could have changed the spelling.