When we are stuck at home – for whatever reason – it helps to have a fulfilling hobby to get involved with. Fortunately, DNA for genealogy, or genetic genealogy, as it is sometimes called, fits the bill.
Genetic genealogy is perfect for those who love family, history, traveling, languages, mysteries, science, technology, culture, or learning. Almost all of us can say that we like at least one of those things that I listed, which means that genetic genealogy is just about perfect for everyone.
If you have already done a DNA test, you are in a perfect position to open your results back up and see how you can apply the information you learn in this post.
Not everyone has tested their DNA, so don’t worry – you’ll still learn a lot from this article. At the end of this article, you’ll find a link to another post that explains all you need to know about choosing a DNA test.
I know that many of you are looking for things to do while stuck at home right now and I hope that DNA for genealogy helps you pass the time.
Most importantly, I hope that you end up enjoying it as much as I do.
DNA genealogy for beginners
How can DNA help us become experts on our family tree? It’s all in the DNA matches, baby!
When we take a DNA test with a particular company, our DNA is compared with the millions of other customers who have also tested with that same company.
The testing company’s software is able to spot locations in our chromosomes where we match other customers along identical DNA segments.
The size and total amount of these identical DNA segments provide enough information for the company to give us an estimated relationship to the other customer with whom we share identical DNA.
While this estimated relationship gives us an idea of how we might be related, we usually need more information to determine our exact relationship.
Once we figure out how we are connected to a match, we can add them and their ancestors to our family tree. Plus, we can use the “shared matches” matches in common tool in order to find other people who are also descended from the same common ancestor.
When we find that the common ancestor is someone who is unknown to us, we can often determine who the unknown ancestor is and build our tree back an additional generation or two (or more!).
We measure the size of identical DNA segments using a unit of measurement called “centimorgans”. You can read more about centimorgans and how to use them to figure out how you are related to a DNA match here:
The generally accepted term for two people who share DNA are “DNA matches”. We receive a list of all of our DNA matches when we get our DNA results, and our list grows as additional people take tests.
Once you are familiar with your DNA match list, you might be interested to know that you can download your raw DNA data from your testing company and upload it to a few other places to find even more DNA matches.
It’s really rather cool!
One of my favorite places to upload DNA results is Gedmatch. This website has amazing (and amazingly free) DNA analysis tools that can help you really understand the details of your shared DNA with your match.
If you find yourself as fascinated by the whole thing as I am, then you might even want to learn about about chromosome mapping. Chromosome mapping allows you to assign all of your DNA segments to the ancestors who passed them down to you.
Chromosome mapping is best done using the “chromosome painting” technique on the site “DNA Painter“. Once you have “painted” a good number of your chromosomes, you will be able to more quickly identify how you must be connected to any given match.
How reliable is DNA testing for genealogy?
Ethnicity or ancestry estimates are the element of DNA results that get the most attention. Unfortunately, they are frequently misunderstood and discounted as inaccurate.
DNA matches, which is the aspect of DNA results that we most frequently use for genealogy are very accurate. DNA matches are a very useful and reliable genealogical tool.
We should view DNA as a tool in the genealogist’s toolbox. Using traditional genealogical evidence combined with DNA information, we can learn more about our family tree than ever before.
Do you have to have a family tree to use DNA for genealogy?
You can learn a lot from your DNA results even if you don’t have a family tree. With that said, if you don’t have a family tree, you are missing out on a wealth of information.
Even just a small family tree that includes your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. That’s just 15 people, if you include yourself.
Most people can build a 15-person family tree in a matter of 20-30 minutes on Ancestry, especially if you already know the basic details about your parents and grandparents.
Some people start building their family tree and realize that they absolutely love discovering every little detail about their ancestors’ lives. If this happens, your tree might end up a little bigger.
How can a family tree help you use DNA for genealogy?
Most of our DNA matches will not be very closely related to us. Those who are very lucky might have a handful of relatively close matches.
These relatively close DNA matches – people who show up as estimated 1st-2nd cousins – will share an ancestor no further back than great-grandparent with us. Since most people have a general idea about their great-grandparents, it’s easy to identify how these DNA matches are related.
The difficulty comes when we try to figure out how we are connected to our third, fourth, and fifth cousin DNA matches. These individuals are related to us, but the ancestor might be several generations back in our family tree.
Our DNA matches will likely have surnames that we don’t recognize and will sometimes be related to us through ancestors that we don’t even know about – yet.
This is the reason that building a family tree, and expanding it as we learn more through our DNA matches, helps us. The more ancestors and descendants of those ancestors that we include in our family tree, the easier it will be to figure out how our DNA matches are related to us.
How to get a DNA test for genealogy
If you love the content that you read in this post and you want to get in on the genetic genealogy action (and I do hope that you do!), you can read the following post in order to learn about the different available DNA tests to make sure that you choose the right one for your needs and interests:
I hope that you have enjoyed this post and that it has inspired you to start a new hobby! If you have any questions about something that you have read in this post, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Thanks for stopping by today!