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Exploring DNA Testing in Genealogy: Insights and Considerations

This week, at the Local Family Researchers Club, we discussed the use of DNA tests in genealogy, and I will also share some insights in this blog post.


DNA

1.DNA testing itself is not a miracle solution and won't provide all the answers. It's an additional tool in genealogical research, and its value becomes apparent when you have already researched your family tree and know your ancestors over several generations.


2. The most useful DNA tests are likely to be in cases where there's an otherwise unsolvable mystery, such as an unknown biological parent. Ideally, you should have a research strategy in mind – what you want to discover and how to achieve it. Often, testing other family members (parents, siblings, cousins, etc.) is necessary to prove or disprove a particular relationship. Collaboration and sharing information with others who share your DNA matches are also essential.

 

3. Keep in mind that DNA tests contain sensitive information, and by taking one, you not only reveal information about yourself but also about your closest relatives. It happens that DNA tests uncover facts you might not have wanted to know. Consider this aspect carefully before testing.

 

4. In Latvia and Europe in general, the most popular DNA tests are from MyHeritage because they are relatively affordable. However, there are other popular testing companies like Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, and 23andMe. Each of them has its own database of tested individuals, so there may be different DNA matches on each platform. Ancestry has the largest user database (currently around 25 million) and is more popular in English-speaking countries. Some websites allow you to upload data from tests conducted by other companies, and it's worth taking advantage of this option.

 

5. Ethnicity estimates are calculated by comparing your DNA with that of other tested individuals. However, the databases are continually changing as new people are tested, so your ethnicity estimate may also change over time. Additionally, ethnicity estimates can vary between different testing companies due to their reference groups.

 

6. You will likely have many DNA matches, indicating a shared DNA segment with other individuals. The larger the shared segment, the closer the potential relationship, meaning a more recent common ancestor. However, to determine this common ancestor, both sides need to have well-researched family trees. If your shared DNA is less than 1%, it's probably not worth investing a lot of attention into, as the relationship is likely too distant to determine.

 

7. The most commonly used DNA tests are Autosomal DNA tests (atDNA), but there are also Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) tests and Y-Chromosomal DNA (Y-DNA) tests. Autosomal DNA tests help identify shared ancestors within the last 5-7 generations, while DNA inherited from earlier generations is typically too small to be reliably identified. Mitochondrial DNA tests analyze genetic material inherited from the maternal line, while Y-Chromosomal DNA tests trace your paternal line.

 

DNA tests are an integral part of genealogy, known as genetic genealogy, which can be as fascinating as traditional document-based research. However, genetic genealogy requires some work in acquiring new knowledge. And this is exactly what I wish you in the New Year - have fun learning new things and celebrate your achievements!


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