Are you considering DNA testing for ancestry? In this post, I lay out an organized to-do list that will take you through the process from choosing your test to understanding your DNA results.
Taking a genetic DNA test is one of the most exciting, informative, and powerful things you can do to learn about your ancestry. I want to help make the process more transparent and less overwhelming for anyone interested in DNA testing.
This list is organized into three distinct sections.
- First, you’ll see items related to choosing the best DNA test for your unique needs and interests.
- Second, I’ve included to-do’s related to making the best of your time while waiting for your DNA results to come back.
- The final section details getting the most information from your DNA results.
If you move through this list and check things off as you do them, you will be a DNA test expert by the time you’ve received your results.
Tip! At the end of this post, I have included a downloadable, printable DNA testing to-do list that you can use to take notes and keep track of your progress.
To-do list for choosing a DNA test
Choosing your DNA test is one of the most important things that you will do in your DNA testing journey. By spending some time investigating your options, you’ll be sure to choose the right test for your needs.
While all of the top DNA testing companies offer similar products, each company does have their own unique strength.
Below are the to-do agenda items for choosing a DNA test.
1. Decide what your DNA and family history goals are
While I know that you are eager to learn about the different DNA testing options available to you, there is one important step you should take before you choose a test.
What’s the step?
The first thing you should do in your DNA testing journey is set a clear goal.
- Which aspect of DNA testing is most important to you? Health information? Finding living relatives? Learning about where your ancestors were from?
- How much time are you interested in spending on this endeavor?
- Does building a family tree appeal to you?
2. Explore all DNA testing options
It’s time to choose the best DNA test to help you meet your DNA testing goals. I recommend that you visit the website of each of the top DNA testing companies and learn as much as possible before you choose your test.
There are five companies currently offering DNA testing for genealogical or ancestry purposes. These are the only companies that I recommend, as I have used them personally and have extensive experience with the quality of their product.
Below, you can find links to posts detailing example results for each company so you know what to expect:
I wrote an entire post about how to choose a DNA test, including the advantages of testing with each major testing company. I do not recommend testing with any company that is not mentioned in my post.
I compiled the list in the image below based on the most popular reasons to do a DNA test, and which test I recommend for each purpose.
3. Choose your genealogical DNA test
Now that you have taken some time to explore your options, it’s time to order your DNA testing kit.
There is still lots to while you wait for your results, so don’t forget to keep reading this post to learn even more.
If you use a link below to make a purchase, I may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps support the education that I do on this site, so thanks!
- Start your Ancestry DNA journey today!
- Start your 23andMe DNA adventure today!
- Begin your DNA journey with Family Tree DNA!
- What will you learn with your My Heritage DNA test?
- Order your Living DNA USA today!
To-Do list while waiting for DNA results
Now that you have sent off your DNA test, you have a few weeks to get ready for your results. If you use this time to learn, you’ll have the best possible experience with your DNA results once they are ready.
The following are to-do list items to help you make the best use of your time while you wait for results.
4. Talk to your relatives about your family history
The time period between sending off your DNA kit and getting your results back is a great opportunity to learn a little bit about your family history. The more you know about your ancestors, the easier it will be to understand your DNA results.
I recommend speaking with your older family members to see what they know about where your family came from, as well as whether they have photographs and documents that may be of interest to you.
Helpful for this step is the following worksheet detailing important questions to ask when speaking with your older relatives. It’s important to document your conversations about family history.
If you click on the link below, the PDF download should begin automatically, depending on your browser settings:
5. Build a small family tree
Now that you have learned a little about your family’s ancestry, why not put it all together in a small family tree? Doing a basic family tree in tandem with DNA testing is the most effective way to make sure you get the most from your DNA results.
Why build a family tree if you do a DNA test?
- If you decided to test with Ancestry DNA, you get access to extra (powerful!) features, such as ThruLines, but only if you attach your DNA results to your family tree
- You will know for sure where your ancestors were born. Most people have a general idea, but aren’t 100% sure on the details.
- By learning the names of your recent ancestors, you will be able to more easily identify your DNA matches.
If you are new to family tree building, you might be interested in this post:
6. Learn the basics of DNA before you get your test results
DNA testing is an amazing experience, in my opinion. I’ve learned so much, and I want you to have the same experience.
This is why the last thing that I recommend that you do before you get your results is to learn a little bit about how ethnicity estimates (also called ancestry composition reports on other sites) and DNA matching:
To-do list for understanding your DNA results
The time has arrived. Your DNA results are back. If you chose your test wisely and worked through some of the ideas I presented above, you should be in an excellent position to understand the basics of your results.
It’s hard to describe exactly the depth of information that you can learn about your ancestral roots and family tree, so I highly encourage you to continue your journey through this to-do list.
The items below will help you understand your DNA from (from your ethnicity estimate to your DNA matches) at a higher level, to help you achieve your DNA testing goal.
7. Explore your ethnicity or ancestry results
Ethnicity estimates are the most popular reason to do a DNA test, so make sure you don’t skip over your results. Take some time to explore each aspect of your ethnicity estimate or ancestry composition estimate to see where your family most likely lived within the past 300-500 (or more) years.
This post can help you understand a great deal about your ethnicity estimate, including how to research a particular region if it has taken you by surprise:
8. See who is on your DNA match list
Some people (not you, of course!) were unaware that they received DNA relatives along with their DNA results. These are also called “DNA matches”, and they are my favorite part of DNA testing.
DNA matches are living relatives who share genetic material with you. In other words, they are close and distant family members who have also done DNA tests with the same company that you chose.
I recommend taking a close look at your DNA match list to see if there is anything important to learn:
9. Figure out how your top DNA matches are related to you
The strategy that I use for my own DNA match list is that I must research every person who is related to me at a third cousin distance or closer. Most of us will only have a handful of matches who are closely related to us on our match list, so it shouldn’t be too much of a time investment.
This is the best way to determine whether our DNA matches line up with what we know to be true about our ancestry via our family tree research (or family stories, if you skipped that part).
To help you out during this step:
10. Expand your family tree using your DNA results
If you are still with me at this post in this post, congratulations! I can tell that you are very serious about making the best use of your DNA test and results.
As you explore your DNA results, and especially your DNA match list, you will find out information about people in your family tree that are new to you. These people will be the siblings and the descendants of siblings of your ancestors.
As you learn about new people, be sure to add them to your tree!
This is called “Building Your Tree Wide” and it is the best way to more quickly identify other DNA matches in the future. I didn’t do this when I first started going through my DNA matches, and it would have saved me a lot of time and frustration if I had it done it from the beginning.
11. Find out what else you can do with your DNA results
At this post, you probably have a good sense of the magnitude of information that can be learned from your DNA results. Believe it or it or not, there’s more!
You can download your DNA data and upload it to other websites to get more DNA matches and access to analysis tools:
Do you want a printable DNA testing To-Do list?
For your convenience, I made the list items in this post into a printable list with space for you to write notes as you go through your DNA testing journey.
You can download the printable PDF file of the DNA testing to-do list by clicking on the grey “download” button below.
I hope that this post gave you some great ideas about what to do while exploring the idea of DNA testing, waiting for your results, and while trying to get the most from your DNA information.
If you have any questions about something that you read in this post, I would love to hear from you in the discussion below.
Thanks for stopping by today!