You took the big step of sending off your DNA sample to a testing company to have analyzed, and you are super excited about what you might learn. Instead of checking to see if your results are done three times per day (it’s okay to admit it!), there are some things that you could be doing. I put together this list of things to do while waiting for your DNA results to come back just for you!
Of course, you don’t have to do any or all of these things – your DNA results will still be lots of fun and insightful no matter what. If only a few things on the list apply to you, appeal to you, or seem like something you can do, then it’s totally okay!
Tell your family members you are doing a DNA test
When we take a DNA test, we are getting our family involved regardless of whether they are the ones who sent off their sample. This is why I recommend casually mentioning that you are “doing your DNA” to your close family. If you regularly see and have contact with your extended family, it’s worth considering mentioning to them, too.
After I sent off my DNA sample for the very first time, I did casually let the fact slip to a few key family members that I knew would spread the info (pro tip!). To my surprise, I received a few phone calls and personal visits over the next month and a half that went something like this: “I heard you took a DNA test. You might find this out anyway, but…“
By talking to your family members about the fact that you have done a DNA test, you give them the opportunity to talk about things that you might discover (eventually) on your own, such as ancestry from a particular place that for whatever reason no one wanted to talk about before, or potential relatives or relationships that people think that you might be able to discover.
Talk to your older relatives about family history
Once I began talking to my older family members about family history, I began to regret not having done it sooner. Even though it’s common for young people to not be as interested in family history as older people, I do wish that my interest would have come along a little sooner.
I wish that I would have taken notes while listening to my grandfather’s stories, even the ones that he would repeat every time I visited him. They would change slightly each time, but I would still give anything to listen to those stories just once more.
So, my recommendation is that those of you who have access to your grandparents, their siblings, older cousins, or even great-grandparents, definitely take the time to talk to them. Ask them to tell you stories about things they remember about their parents and grand-parents – and don’t be like I was when I’d listen to stories when I was younger. Take notes!
Ask your relatives to take DNA tests, too
Each person inherits only 50% of each of their parent’s DNA. This means that your parents both have DNA that they didn’t pass down to you. Contained within the DNA that you didn’t inherit from your parents is information about ethnicity regions that might not show up in your results, or DNA segments that will match relatives that won’t show up as matches for you.
Do you have siblings? While they will share a great deal of their DNA with you, a lot of the DNA that they inherited from your parents is not the same as what you inherited. In fact, as much as 67% of their DNA will be different, even if you are full siblings. Having siblings do a DNA test is a great idea!
Now that you understand that siblings don’t inherit all of the same DNA from their parents and that children only inherit half of their parent’s DNA, you can imagine how helpful it might be to have additional relatives test. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, or even siblings of your grandparents, can help you get a more complete picture of your family’s recent and distant ancestry.
Read as much as your can about how to understand autosomal DNA results
The type of DNA test offered by Ancestry DNA, 23andMe, Living DNA, My Heritage DNA, and the Family Tree DNA Family Ancestry test analysis your autosomal DNA.
I’ve written hundreds of articles on this website about how to understand your autosomal DNA results, including how to understand your DNA match list, how DNA is inherited, how to figure out how your DNA matches are related to you, how to use your DNA matches to build your family tree and what an ethnicity estimate really is. I’m not the only person out there writing about genetic genealogy, DNA and genealogy, or DNA results, so if you can’t find an article on my site to answer your question, you’ll be able to find another expert blogger to help you out.
The more you read before your results come back, the more you’ll understand when you first open your e-mail and click through to your DNA results.
Pro tip: Use the search bar at the top of my sidebar to find articles about your specific questions on my site.
Find out if another relative has been doing genealogy for your family
Of course, I am going to recommend that you start building a family tree (see below). But before you do that, it’s a good idea to check with your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to see if someone has already started building one.
You might find a first or second cousin who has already done some research on family lines that you share in common. Or maybe your sister has had a secret genealogy hobby for years and she was too embarrassed to tell you (that’s me in my family!).
Most likely, you might find an older uncle, grandparent, or great-aunt who took an interest in their family history long ago. In my family, I was actually able to collect actual folders that relatives had written and printed with information about some of our family lines
Even if you don’t have a relative that has been doing genealogy formally, you might find that they have old documents, letters, and family photographs that can help you in your quest to learn about your roots.
Pick a place online to build your family tree
There are dozens of websites out there that will host your family tree for free. Some are easier to use than others, so I recommend spending some time investigating to see which one you like the best.
I like to build my family trees on Ancestry, especially because you can attach your family tree to your DNA results (if you test there), which I find adds a lot of extra functionality to the site. Even if you don’t test your DNA there, Ancestry has lots of records and other public family trees. It’s also easy to use – and free to build as many trees as you want.
Check out my post about why Ancestry is the best place to build family trees.
Start building your family tree
Now that you’ve spoken with your family members, collected existing family tree information about your family, and picked a place to build a tree, why not start building one?
Using the information that you already know and that you collected through discussions with your older relatives, start a small family tree.
Add your parents first, then your grandparents, and then your great-grandparents. Also, add in your siblings, your aunts and uncles, and your grandparent’s siblings, if you know who they are.
Make sure you build your family tree wide
One of the best thing that you can do while building your family tree is to make sure to focus not only on your ancestors but on all of their descendants. I call this strategy “building your tree wide”, and it will be the most helpful thing that you do in determining how your DNA matches are related to you.
How do you build a tree wide? Well, when you added in your siblings, you started wide. Did you add the descendants of your aunts and uncles? How about the descendants of your grandparents’ siblings? And the descendants of your great-grandparents’ siblings?
The idea is to try to figure out who all of the descendants of your grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and even great-great-great grandparents are.
When you get your DNA results back, you will probably have lots of second–fourth cousins on your match list. But who are they? If you figure out who all of the children of your great-great-great grandparents married,, and who all of their children married, you’ll have a head start on identifying your common ancestor.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this will save you a lot of time!
Decide what you are most interested in learning from your DNA results
If you have done all (or most) of the suggestions that I wrote here, you probably have a very good idea as to where the mystery is in your family. You should now have a good idea as to what you might want to learn from your DNA results.
What aspects of your budding family tree interest you the most?
Have a little bit of fun while you are waiting for your results
I hope that I’ve provided enough for you to do to distract you from the excitement of waiting weeks for your results to come back, but you know what? Life it short, so have a little bit of fun while you wait. Step away from the computer (or your phone, if that’s your thing) and enjoy some of your favorite activities.
I hope that this post has helped you get some ideas about how to prepare for getting your DNA results back. By spending some time working through the suggestions in this article, you will be in an excellent position to get the most from your DNA test results.
If you have any questions about something that you read in this post, or would like to add your own suggestions with what you are doing while waiting, I would love to hear from you in the discussion below.
Thanks for stopping by!