When I took my first DNA test, the technology wasn’t new, but it was (and still is) being honed for accuracy. My family has shallow roots in the United States, so there was no real mystery to be solved: Dad was Italian, and Mom was French. But, I still wondered how accurate it might be as I counted the days waiting for an email with my results. Spoiler alert—I am literally fifty percent Italian and fifty percent French. Right on the money. Although not as exciting a find, my result confirmed many years of family tree research which was amazing and well worth the $99. So many people buy DNA kits to give at the holidays, and you may be considering it this year. There are a number of kits on the market to choose from that can help your friend or family member move their genealogy research forward, but which do you choose?
This tests mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down almost unchanged from a mother to her children, allowing the tester (men and women) to trace female ancestry. mtDNA is maternally inherited, meaning that it is the same as your mother, your siblings, your maternal grandmother, her mother, and so on.
Because Y-chromosomes are passed from father to son virtually unchanged, men can trace their male-line ancestry with this test. Y-DNA testing also uncovers a male’s haplogroup, the ancient group of people from whom one’s male line descends. Since women don’t have Y-chromosomes, we would gift this test to men only to learn about a family’s paternal line.
Autosomal DNA Test
This is the most common test taken and very useful because we inherit autosomal DNA from both biological parents; half from our mother and half from our father. This percentage is cut in half with each branch we climb on our family tree. A common question I’m asked is, “Why are my siblings’ DNA results so different from my own? Imagine putting 100 random snips of DNA from our parents in a container, fifty from each, and shaking them up. Fifty snips are randomly pulled for my sister, then the same 100 are put back in and another fifty snips are pulled for me. The DNA will be similar, but not exactly the same, right?
When deciding on giving this gift, keep in mind that DNA testing can offer clues to a family history puzzle, but it won’t magically build a family tree. Also, the results can be completely unexpected. My own DNA results connected me to new first cousins who have been happily welcomed into the family, but that’s not always the case. The first genealogy class I taught was DNA Basics. After class, I heard so many happy stories of families reconnecting thru DNA testing, but I also heard about families shaken by test results. One woman shared that she had gifted DNA tests to each of her three sisters only to find out she had no blood connection to any of them and was having a hard time reconciling this. Just something to consider.
There are so many people on your holiday list who would surely love the opportunity to dig deep into their background and learn more about their genetic makeup. DNA testing could be the key to solving their family research brick wall and add another generation to their family tree. Stay safe and happy hunting!
Carol DiPirro-Stipkovits is a National Genealogical Society member, Association of Professional Genealogists member as well as a guest lecturer and freelance writer. She is a Board Member and President of the Niagara County Genealogical Society. Send questions or comments to her at email@example.com