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How to Use DNA Testing to Trace Your Family Tree

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Most people are aware of what DNA means in a broad sense. They know that it is unique to each individual and that by testing DNA, we can learn a lot about a person and their ancestry. However, there are many misunderstandings about exactly what DNA is and what DNA testing can tell us about a person. For anyone interested in genealogy who wants to find out more about their own past, DNA testing is one of the most effective tools available today.

Below is everything you need to know about using DNA testing and analysis to learn more about your family tree.

Combine Your DNA With Other Methods

The role of DNA in genealogy and constructing family trees is multi-faceted. DNA can accomplish a lot today. For example, using DNA analysis, you can establish whether two people are related or whether they are descended from a common ancestor. Businesses that analyze your DNA for you will use the results to provide a range of data about your ancestry and family tree. You can then combine what you learn with a family tree builder, in order to learn more about your ancestors and build a visual representation of your family history.

While DNA tests have been around for a long time now, it is only relatively recently that the average person has been able to take their own DNA test and pay to have the results analyzed. Not only this but even the cheaper kits on the market today can be used to learn a lot about your ancestry. However, in order to gain as much as possible from these kits, you will need to combine what you learn with them with other sources of information. No one source is going to be able to tell you everything you want to know.

Understanding the Different Types Of DNA Test

There are a number of different DNA tests available, but there are three that are of interest for genealogical testing. Each type of DNA testing is suited to a different purpose and will provide you with different information. Understanding what these different tests are and what they are used for is important for anyone who is about to start using DNA testing to investigate their genealogy.

First, we have autosomal DNA. Autosomal DNA tests look at more than 700,000 individual markers that are found across all 23 chromosomes. These markets will reveal information about your ethnic mix, enabling you to work out what percentage of your DNA comes from a particular geographic area. After 5 – 7 generations, autosomal DNA can no longer survive recombination. In other words, you can only use autosomal DNA to connect with recent generations of your family.

Mitochondrial DNA tests are also a common component of home genealogy kits. Mitochondrial DNA is passed on maternally; both males and females have the same mitochondrial DNA as their mothers. Males won’t pass their mitochondrial DNA onto their offspring; only mothers pass it on. As a result, mitochondrial DNA changes very slowly over time. If you have the same mitochondrial DNA as someone else, then it suggests that you share a common maternal ancestor. However, there’s no way of telling whether this is a recent ancestor or an ancient one.

The final common type of DNA test is the Y-DNA test, which is only available to males. The information encoded on the Y-chromosome can reveal a great deal about a male’s family ties and their ancestral history. These different patterns, which are known as haplotypes, can be used to distinguish different male lineages from one another. Shared markers are indicative of some degree of relatedness between different male lineages.

Understanding What DNA Can And Can’t Do

There are many misunderstandings about the role that DNA analysis has to play in genealogy and ancestry research. Before you embark on any research, it is important to know what questions you want to answer and what you want to get out of the process. If you go into this with unrealistic expectations, then you are only setting yourself up for disappointment further down the road. On the other hand, if you do your research beforehand, so you know exactly what to expect, you will be able to make better decisions and achieve your goals faster.

For example, DNA testing can be used to establish whether there is a familial link between two specific individuals. Comparing their DNA directly will reveal what, if any, connections exist between them. However, by simply analyzing the DNA of one individual, you will not be able to connect them to another person without having a sample for both. If two or more people share the same surname, then DNA testing will enable them to establish whether they are related genetically or not.

DNA analysis can also be used to identify common genetic traits in large population groups. This in turn enables us to use DNA analysis to discern someone’s ethnic ancestry. For example, DNA testing is often used to determine what region the majority of an individual’s ancestors come from.

Beginning your search by working out exactly what you want to find out in the form of a question makes it easy to focus your mind on searching for the right people to help you answer your question. Whether you want to know whether a connection exists between you and a specific individual, or you want to gain a more general understanding of your genetics and ancestry, you will want to consider different DNA tests.

Families love to keep records of special memories, but many of these end up lost to time. Finding out about your family history has never been easier. There are now a plethora of resources available for anyone who is curious about their genetic ancestry and where they came from. There is no single source that is going to tell you everything that you want to know. But combining DNA analysis with some of the other techniques that exist will enable you to rapidly build your family tree and discover more about your past.


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