Understanding Your DNA Genealogy Test Results
How can a genealogy DNA test help you find your roots and explore your family tree? DNAAdoption present a guide on choosing the best DNA test and understanding the results, perhaps allowing you to break through a brick wall on your family tree.
DNAAdoption is a team of volunteer genealogists, citizen scientists, geneticists and IT professionals who provide education, guidance and support to anyone worldwide who wants to use DNA testing to find their roots.
Their vision is a world where anyone can use DNA, in conjunction with traditional genealogical methods and, when applicable, specialized adoption search methods, to discover their heritage.
Their founders recognized that DNA points to the answer, but it also doesn’t usually lay out the path to the answer in an easy-to-understand format.
- For those who have tested, they help answer the question: "Now what?"
- For those with unknown roots or 'brick walls,' they developed a methodology to help you on your journey of discovery.
They continuously build on and improve that methodology as new developments in DNA research and tools are discovered.
Many of the team also have long-standing ties with the traditional adoption search communities. They are proud to serve as a bridge between anyone affected by adoption, members of the donor community, as well as DNA testers with unexpected or surprising DNA results and the adoption community which has extensive experience on how to effectively handle these sensitive matters.
They grew out of—and still work very closely with DNAGEDCOM. DNAAdoption’s vision is to help everyone be as successful as possible when trying to find their biological roots through DNA testing.
What ancestry DNA tests are available?
There are three basic types of DNA testing:
Y-DNA testing which examines the Y chromosome and gives males information on their strict paternal line - their father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s…father. In many ethnic groups, the surname has also been passed down the paternal line. This makes Y-DNA testing very useful in determining birthfather surnames for male adoptees.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing for males and females which gives information on the strict maternal line – your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s…mother. This is not the X chromosome.
Autosomal DNA (atDNA) testing for males and females which examines some 700,000+ markers on your 22 pairs of chromosomes plus your X chromosome(s).
For males usually anything less than Y-DNA37 (37 markers) is essentially useless in identifying a paternal surname. Males should have done at least Y-DNA37, preferably Y-DNA67, unless they only have a few matches at a lower level. If you already have done Y-DNA12 or Y-DNA25 and you have a number of matches, you should upgrade to at least Y-DNA37.
Males should also do their autosomal DNA ("atDNA"). Females should do their autosomal DNA ("atDNA").
Which DNA genealogy test should I do?
A recent addition to the direct-to-consumer DNA testing is MyHeritage. Many people find the AncestryDNA test helpful in identifying matches’ families. It currently does not have many of the tools that DNA “veterans” have become used to, such as a chromosome browser function which is helpful in determining shared chromosome segments among your matches, a good indicator of common ancestors.
It does provide the raw data which you can upload to GEDmatch to see those DNA segments. The best scenario is to test at all 3 companies, if it is affordable, and upload all raw data to GEDmatch assigning one upload for public comparison and the others as "Research".
Using GEDmatch for Ancestry DNA results
GEDmatch is a FREE, non-profit, “do-it-yourself” genomics website that allows DNA testers to upload raw data from FTDNA and other companies to compare with a large database of data that has been voluntarily uploaded by other testers. Most of your matches from 23andMe, FTDNA, Ancestry and MyHeritage will not be there but the tools there are extremely useful.
For both males and females, all four of these autosomal tests provide the raw data which you can upload to GEDmatch to see those DNA segments. The best scenario is to test at all 4 companies, if it is affordable, and upload all raw data to GEDmatch (assigning one upload for public comparison and the others as "Research"). FTDNA and MyHeritage allow raw data transfers.
GEDmatch is a FREE, non-profit, “do-it-yourself” genomics website that allows DNA testers to upload raw data from FTDNA and other companies to compare with a large database of data that has been voluntarily uploaded by other testers. Most of your matches from 23andMe, FTDNA and Ancestry will not be there but the tools there are extremely useful.
It has been found that Mitochondrial DNA (“mtDNA”) is not really helpful because it's usually much too far back (1,000s of years). For adoptees, it will be rare to find a match to your biological family in recent generations using only mtDNA. If you wish to have your mtDNA done, you should have the Full mitochondrial sequence ("FMS") done. It may help in determining your ethnicity.
Once your test results are posted, you should download your raw data and upload to Gedmatch. Fishing in multiple ponds is better than one.
The theory is simple - Find your DNA matches; Find others who match people on your list of matches by comparing chromosomal segments and overlaps; Find the ancestors of those matches; how they connect and work ancestral trees both linearly and laterally with the ultimate goal of finding your place in that family. The execution is hard work, complex and tedious - but it can be done. It has been done! There are success stories every week.
The mission is to teach and guide people searching for their biological roots to use DNA in combination with traditional genealogy search techniques and when applicable specialized adoption search techniques, by providing robust education, methods, guidance, and support.
Their goals as a 501c(3) non-profit/charitable organization:
- Provide everyone—not just adoptees, foundlings, donor conceived and those with unexpected DNA results—information they can use to learn more about their biological roots.
- Serve as a resource to the genetic genealogy community by providing education and increased awareness of information, resources, and lessons learned from the adoption community.
- Offer courses -open to everyone - which provide up-to-date instruction on how to gather, analyze and interpret DNA results in conjunction with traditional genealogy search techniques and our search methodology. Ensure our students and those using our methodology are able to use basic tools to evaluate their DNA results and to provide an environment where students can develop advanced skills. Continue to create and refine our curriculum and maintain a repository of information about tools, techniques and sources via the efforts of our all-volunteer team.
- Provide support and guidance to anyone on a journey of discovery for biological connections - utilizing lessons learned from the adoption community to help with contact, reunion, and other considerations.
- Promote open sharing of information between individuals as well as government agencies.
(forest image copyright karduelis)