Testing family roots

By Nancy Battick

With the holiday season looming, you may want to ask Santa for a DNA test kit or perhaps gift one to a special person. Most people are interested in their family ethnicity even if they aren’t genealogists.  Ethnicity tests (autosomal DNA) are offered by a variety of companies. 

Most of these companies don’t offer medical testing.  If a particular disease runs in your family — such as breast cancer, for example — you may want to find out if you carry the gene. In cases like that it’s best to discuss this with your physician to get advice on the best option for you. 

If you’re just looking to learn where your ancestors came from, you need to know that these tests are estimates based on how your DNA stacks up against the DNA of others in the test company’s database.  And this database consists of the DNA of people living in a given area today.  So, while your result might show you’re 20 percent German, it means you match with 20 percent of the Germans who’ve taken that company’s test and are living in Germany now. It may not tell you where your ancestor came from prior to Germany. 

History teaches us that populations moved around frequently in the past as a wave of invaders would displace native populations and then perhaps were displaced themselves in time. We are seeing large migrations of people today. Some testing companies offer an ancestral timeline, which will show you the paths your ancestors likely took. This is something to be aware of if a timeline is important to you.

As the holidays approach, many DNA companies will be offering sales as an incentive to buy. I recommend you check out websites and do some comparison shopping before spending money. Also, take a look at Genetics Digest (geneticsdigest.com), which offers tips to consider before you buy a DNA test and offers information on the top three players in the field.  They offer star ratings on these tests based on the ratings given by people who have used them.

So, here is a listing of several of the companies doing testing today. Some offer only one kind of DNA test; others do some health testing. Some are privately owned; others belong to investment companies. There’s a lot to consider in purchasing a test. Prices will vary, but most are in the same ballpark. 

You also might be interested to learn that two of the top players, Ancestry.com and 23 and Me, spend hundreds of millions advertising their kits. 

Here’s are some of the leading companies. I recommend you check out their websites and see what each has to offer:  Ancestry (Ancestry.com); 23 and Me, (23andme.com); FamilyTree (FamilyTreedna.com), not to be confused with the software Family Tree Maker; MyHeritageDNA (myheritage.com); CriGenetics (crigenetics.html).  Also known as Living DNA, it was voted best testing site for 2023. 

Don’t hesitate to contact them with questions, including privacy issues.  If you haven’t tested yet, now might be a good time to consider it.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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