The Role of Ancestry DNA Testing and Genealogical Research

dna testing for ancestry

One of the more exciting new products that are proving to be useful to genealogy research is DNA testing for ancestry. I’m constantly amazed at not only how far DNA testing has come over the past 5-10 years, but also at how more and more genealogists are incorporating such tests into their research.

Why DNA Testing?

My first exposure to DNA testing, like most people, was over 10 years ago and it was in relation to news about court cases and crime scene investigations. Over the years the technology involved has improved to the point of not only offering better and more exact results, but also lowering the price of DNA testing.

Here are some reasons why you might want to conduct your own DNA test or have someone in your family participate in a test:

  • To increase your knowledge about the origins of your ancestors and their history dating back thousands of years, for you and your children.
  • Need to know: for persons that have very limited or no information at all about their relatives, such as in the case of adoption.
  • As a scientific tool: to confirm or clarify information obtained through genealogy research.
  • As a gift : tracing their ancestry can be an unusual and fascinating gift to friends, relatives and loved ones.

Types of DNA Tests

If you are new to the world of using DNA testing to assist in your family history research, here are some of the types of tests available:

  • Ancestral-focused Test: DNA tests focused on your ancestry allows you to track your genetic links to others around the globe and provides the easiest to understand results. Many tests come with a detailed report along with an ancestry map and other visual tools. A DNA test focused on tracing the origins of a person’s ancestry also makes a great gift and is a fun way to get family members involved and interested in family history.
  • Paternal Lineage Test: You can trace the history of your father’s side of the family going back thousands of years with a paternal lineage test. While you won’t see the names of all those ancestors, you will find out more about the origins of your ancestors, where they lived and their migration patterns.
  • Maternal Lineage Test: Looking at mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through the generations by a mother to both her female and male children, you can also determine the origins of your ancestors and again, their migration patterns.

How Can a DNA Test Help Your Genealogy Research?

To be honest, a DNA test is not going to automatically solve all those family history mysteries that you’ve been working on for years. However, just like any other resource, the results can direct you to other areas where you may need to focus.

An example: if test results indicated that you had a certain percentage of Asian or African-American heritage and your genealogy research doesn’t (yet) reflect that heritage. A surprise? Yes, but it also means you may need to go back and look at your prior research in certain areas.

One of the more exciting features of DNA testing is the ability to locate others with similar results, something I call “cousin connecting.” Wouldn’t it be neat if you could find distant cousins with whom you share a common heritage and then work on researching family history together?

Also keep in mind that due to various factors, some record sets have simply disappeared over time or, as in some cultures, family records were not written but part of oral history. Thankfully with DNA testing we can now work to prove or disprove some of our research theories in the absence of records and other resources typically relied upon by genealogists.

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