Finding the right DNA testing company for your requirements

This post is a follow on from yesterday’s post Can you really pinpoint DNA Ancestry in Africa to one tribe? and an earlier post Using the right DNA testing tool to answer the right ancestry question.

I took my first DNA test to answer one basic question: who in the world am I genetically connected to? I knew the question I wanted to have answered. This, in turn, helped me research a mind-bewildering option of DNA testing facilities to find one that I felt could best deliver the right answer.

Researching DNA testing facilities and companies took me around 6 months. When it comes to spending money, I am exceedingly cautious. I can’t tell you how many online reviews I read through. That’s all kind of a blur now. I wanted a service that was respected in the DNA/genetics community, scientifically robust and would stand up to close scrutiny. This was partly for personal reasons – I wanted to know that the information I was paying for would be accurate. It was also for professional reasons. After all, I planned to turn this adventure into a television series. That second point was (and remains) an important consideration.

When I had a shortlist of 5 companies, I asked DNA specialists for their thoughts and opinions. In the end, the list was narrowed down to two companies. To be honest, there wasn’t that much difference between them in terms of price, service, reputation and perceived quality. And I’ll admit it, in the end, the final choice came down to me flipping a 50 pence coin. It came up heads…so that’s the company I chose.

I am in no way plugging here, but the winner was a company called Genebase. This isn’t an advertorial. I don’t get a commission. I’m citing it and providing examples to illustrate my understanding of my own DNA results specifically. As well as how I gained an understanding of human genetics, admixtures and the human journey out of Africa and around the globe in general.

Genebase, as I’ve said previously, was an excellent choice for me. It’s not suitable for everyone. It doesn’t offer handy little pie charts or percentage breakdown overviews. You have to work those out for yourself. But what it did give me was the science behind the results it provided, which was (and remains) invaluable to me.

So let’s have a gander at how this particular service works using my YDNA test results.

So here we have my YDNA test result broken down into segments.


click for larger image

Users can analyse each segment in turn. So let’s look at my Option 12. In this option, my results are going to be compared to data sets for 19 specific populations. Here are the 19 populations this segment is being compared to and the number of YDNA samples each population contains:

  1. US African American 253 samples
  2. US Hispanic 139 samples
  3. US Caucasian 242 samples
  4. Jordan, Middle East 221 samples
  5. Iran, Middle East 80 samples
  6. Egypt, Middle East 84 samples
  7. Smyrna, Greece 45 samples
  8. Abkhaz, Caucasus 51 samples
  9. Avar, Caucasus 114 samples
  10. Chechen – Chechnya, Caucasus 108 samples
  11. Chechen – Dagestan, Caucasus 98 samples
  12. Chechen – Ingushetia, Caucasus 108 samples
  13. Dargins, Caucasus 100 samples
  14. Kaitak, Caucasus 33 samples
  15. Kubachi, Caucasus 65 samples
  16. Lezghins, Caucasus 80 samples
  17. Ossets-Digor, Caucasus 125 samples
  18. Ossets-Iron, Caucasus 226 samples
  19. Shapsug, Caucasus 97 samples

Running my analysis, these are the results. With a possibility of 19 matches, I match 14 of the populations in the list. The degrees of the matches vary wildly:


click for larger image

click for larger image

The report also generates various appendices, which provide additional information. I still marvel that there is an appendix which shows the number of genetic matches for this segment within the data sets used. You can see these appendices below (this is a series of images, click on each on to see the larger image).


Last, but not least, are the peer-reviewed journal articles that analyze the various populations. These articles are scientific/academic…which is a polite way of saying very, very, very dry. Nonetheless, they have helped shape my understanding of DNA transference among various populations, the migration patters out of Africa and, in some cases, illustrate how seemingly unconnected tribes are actually offshoots of an “umbrella” tribe which reached a migration crossroads – with different groups within that tribe going off in different directions.

These were the accompanying papers for the results within this analysis. They’re freely available online, if you’d like to have a look:

US African American , US Hispanic & US Caucasian (the same paper covers all 3 populations):

Egypt, Jordan & Iran (the same paper covers all 3 populations):

Smyrna (Greece) results:

Ossets-Iron , Ossets-Digor, Lezghins, Abkhaz, Chechen – Ingushetia, Avar & Shapsug populations in the Caucasus region:

With all of the different segments with their own analysis reports and reading, for my YDNA and mtDNA tests…you can imagine the level of reading that I’ve done. Which, in turn, led me to other journals and papers.

What I have is a better understanding of some of the more ‘out of the blue’ results I’ve had in my YDNA and mtDNA tests. As I’ve mentioned previously, this kind of test, the test that I was quite clear about wanting, stretches back millennia. I have a good grounding on how certain populations came to be present in these two forms of DNA. And, in some cases, some fairly sound hypothesis on when certain admixtures became part of my DNA (this will more than a little help from geneticists).

I will be the first to raise my hand and state that gaining this level of insight and understanding into my YDA and mtDNA wasn’t cheap. I didn’t want a quick fix answer and blimey, I didn’t get one. Yet, I’m thankful for the experience. It’s given me a glimpse and an understanding into the most intrinsic part of who I am. I’ve loved sharing what I’ve uncovered and discovered with my family. And, at the end of the day, it sent me down a remarkable road of discovery.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll sign off saying it again with some pointers about DNA testing.

  1. Before taking a DNA test (either autosomal or YDNA/mtDNA) – be ruthlessly clear in your own mind about what question you want to have answered. This will determine the best type of DNA test for you .
  2. Do your research on DNA testing companies and facilities. Read every comment and review. Ask family and friends or Facebook family history/genealogy groups for their opinions.
  3. Read the fine print. Find out all of the limitations for each and every DNA testing company you research. What information, exactly, can they provide. Don’t be afraid to email a company and ask for confirmation of this in writing.
  4. Understand that DNA testing is still in its relative infancy. This is a nice way of saying manage your expectations. DNA is still a relatively unknown country. If you approach your results as being indicative/relative – and not absolute truths – you won’t go too far wrong. Always be skeptical about ‘big’ claims.
  5. Keep an open mind about what you will discover. If you’ve ever been whisked away on a surprise magical mystery jaunt – think of DNA testing like that. Just sit back, buckle up and enjoy the journey without thinking too much about what the final destination is. Just know it’s going to be good/interesting.


Can you really pinpoint DNA Ancestry in Africa to one tribe?

If you’re African American, can you really know what tribe you come from? It’s a question I’ve been fielding via email and through comments on my blog. My posts about Gedmatch’s admix tools seem to have prompted this question, which I’ve been happy to field. So I decided to blog about it.

I look at the question this way. Each of us has sixteen 2x great grandparents. We also have thirty-two 3x great-grandparents. Even if all of these people were 100% of African descent , the chances of all of them being from the same tribe is, well, exceedingly, incredibly, rare. To the point of being impossible.

We are the children of many tribes.

I get the psychological need for the children of former slaves throughout the Americas to identify with a tribe. It’s a pretty basic psychological need for any people without an ancestral identity to reclaim a lost and stolen past.

However, as I recently pointed out to a Mrs C from Chicago, even those from a European background aren’t off the hook either in this regard. I’ll explain using the analogy I used for her.

Say Joe Blogs, whose immediate ancestors were born and raised in Inverness, Scotland, had an Etruscan ancestor (the modern Tuscan region of Italy). That ancestor had descendants who, in turn, became Romans – still in the Tuscan region. Think about all the myriads of peoples and cultures that were a part of the Roman empire and who either moved to Italy or were brought back to Italy as slaves. The chances are, Joe Blogs’s Roman ancestors would have intermingled with any number of people and cultures without ever having to leave the region of their birth. Say, for instance, one of these Roman Tuscan descendants entered the Roman army and was sent off to Gaul (modern France) and stayed and took a wife from the local population there. Over the centuries their descendants would come to be part of the kingdoms of the Franks (proto France) and the Germanic tribes. And let’s not forget the Celts lived there too.

In a few generations, some of these Franco-Germanic-Celtic ancestors moved to Normandy, where they intermingled with the Viking populations who had settled there. And one or two descendants of these Normans hopped across the English Channel with William the Conqueror when he invaded England. They’re still Norman however, chances are, they inter-married with the conquered Anglo-Saxons to keep the local and regional peace. One or two generations down the line and some of their descendants make the move to Scotland and Ireland.

And, that’s not throwing in the added mixtures of Pict and Scandinavian that were floating around Scotland.

So what does that make Joe Bloggs, who self-identifies as Scottish? Technically, it makes him an Etruscan-Roman-Frankish-Germanic-Celtic-Norman-Anglo-Saxon-Irish-Pict-Scandinavian Scotsman. Along the road to become Scots, his ancestors would have had vastly different senses of identity.

Or to use a very simple example, even if you identify as French or German – what kind of French or German are you? Looking at the map below, it’s worth bearing in mind that most countries are relatively modern inventions. Each one of these Franco-Germanic kingdoms in the map below would have been distinctly different from one another. Each would have had its own identity, customs and tribal affiliations.

It all serves the point that Europeans can’t claim a single identity either. In all likelihood, only the most ancient and remote tribes dotted around the globe can make such a claim.

My point? There isn’t a DNA test available that can answer that one question so many African descended people in the Americas so desperately seek an answer to: what tribe do I belong to? With so many of our ancestors contributing to our DNA from all over Africa, it’s a fundamentally impossible question to answer.

America is indeed a melting pot. For those with an African heritage, it is most definitely an African melting pot.

I think the most honest answer that any such test can offer is a percentage breakdown: x% of your DNA comes from ancestors who lived in what’s now ‘Country A’, Y% of your DNA comes from ancestors who lived in what’s now ‘Country B’ – and so on and so forth. It may, in all likelihood, connect you to many tribes who share a common language (e.g Bantu speakers).

Which is why I have problems with articles like this one: Pinpointing DNA Ancestry in Africa

My African DNA has travelled from East Africa through Northern Africa (YDNA) and through Central Africa (mtDNA). If I limited myself to the era when Africans were first transported to the Americas, I’m still genetically connected to an area spanning from Angola, up the western coastline, and all the way around to Tunisia. That’s the result of generations of marriages among my African-American ancestors whose ancestors came from so many different parts of Africa. I honestly believe that as more African descended people from the Americas test their DNA, a more reflective picture of the African diaspora will emerge.  Western Africa may have been the main egress point for Africans to the New World. That, however, doesn’t  mean the vast majority of slaves had to come solely from this region.

The various images below show long-established ancient land and sea trade routes within Africa. People, spices, precious metals, minerals, food, etc were all transported throughout the continent.

African trade routes in the early Islamic Era

I’m going to use a simple analogy.  It’s a crass analogy and a bit brutal. Followers of this blog are pretty savvy readers, so I trust that you’ll get why I’ve used it. In it’s heyday, the Mississippi River transported all manner of goods from the northern states to ports in the south. Just because the goods left from a major port like New Orleans, doesn’t mean that all of the goods were produced in Louisiana, Alabama or Arkansas.

I would be highly skeptical of any company making claims it can provide a sole tribal result. Again, DNA just doesn’t work that way.

All I do know is where I would have been born In Africa, had my ancestors not been enslaved, is anybody’s guess. There are some cool places that are contenders. I’m resolved to never knowing a specific country or tribe. I’m just enjoying finding out more about the African countries my DNA is tied to. Understanding this, my sense of identity doesn’t come from a tribe, but through uncovering my family’s American history. It comes from re-connecting lost branches of my parents’ families to the overall family tree. And meeting relations from these lost branches. This, in and of itself, has been a powerful and transformative experience.

Being able to slowly and steadily undo what centuries of American slavery accomplished – the breakdown and destruction of enslaved families – has been largely cathartic. It’s like giving slavery the finger: My enslaved ancestors do have a history. I am connected to something far greater than myself. Try as hard as the American slavery system did to erase their identities, my African descended ancestors did leave footprints. Those footprints may have been hard (sometimes nigh on impossible!) to find…but I found them. And I’ve shared them so they’ll never be forgotten. For me, this is as valuable, more valuable, than having the name of a tribe. It’s what I mean by giving slavery the finger.

The video below has the worst title imaginable. Bear with me and just ignore the poorly thought-through title. The video itself makes a good point. You can visibly see how important reclaiming identity is for African Americans. DNA testing companies need to provide far more transparency about the information they provide in terms of African results.

DNA testing is an invaluable tool. I’ve written often enough about my own experience. The value of the outcome depends on what your objectives are. You could be stitching your family tree together and re-connecting with lost family. Or you might want to have an understanding of the peoples and cultures you’re connected to through your DNA . Testing is a powerful experience for either of these goals.

If, however, you are seeking a tribal identity, it’s best not to spend your money.

The online etiquette of meeting newly discovered relations from different ethnic groups

So you take a DNA test. And you discover that you have fairly close relations of a different race/culture. What on earth do you do? Ok, what I actually mean is what do you do if you’re American. Emily Post and The Lady didn’t see this one coming. They offer no pearls of wisdom.

You can always start with a friendly ‘Hello’.

There are no etiquette guides to steer one through making contact with newly found family members when they’re of a different ethic group or culture from your own. Especially for Americans. So I let that stalwart of British virtues guide my hand – good old fashioned common sense.

Meeting Sheffey and Roane relations from the white side of the family tree has been a most excellent adventure. And affirming. All those quirks and foibles I thought were inherently my family’s is, actually, fairly common among the Sheffey clan: free thinking & outspokenness (sometimes to our detriment), the fighters of good fights, an entrepreneurial drive and a bent towards being socially minded…and a seemingly mystical  reverence for the Sheffey name. All of these qualities are shared on the European descended and African descended sides of the family. Both sides of the family have embraced one another. It’s been a brilliant thing to see so many branches of the family meeting each other online and sharing laughs as well as family stories.

I haven’t met many Roanes from the European descended side of the family. Those that I have met online have freely shared what they know about their Roane ancestors. By that, I mean wills and tax lists which cite the names of the slaves that their ancestors owned. This has made my family research a thousand times easier. With each new document, I continue to  narrow down the potential candidates that could be my 4x Roane great-grandfather. The Roane family’s tastes for refinement, a certain élan, observance of proper conduct and again, a pride in the family name, also resonates strongly with me. If this is indeed part of my Roane family inheritance, it probably explains my ability to get on rather well in Britain.

I haven’t met many European descended Joseys online. The few I’ve met live in Scotland, the Josey’s homeland. Oh yes, and a Josey descendant in Australia. Meeting Josey family descendants and chatting to them online leads me to believe it is from them that I inherited a fascination for science. In their day, the Joseys held some of the highest medical and scientific offices in the British Empire, generation after generation. In the tine of the Scottish and English Stuart Kings and Queens, they were also savvy courtiers and politicians.

I think the key to establishing these successful cross-ethnic contacts successful was down to my initial approach. There’s no getting around it, when it comes to my American European-descended relations, the slavery issue is an awkward one. This is largely due to how America has chosen to address it, or rather how it has chosen not to address it (oh how I can hear Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter et al gnashing their teeth!). It’s tricky enough making contact with the descendants of people who owned peoples’ African descended ancestors. But when the owners of those enslaved ancestors were also their blood kinsmen and kinswomen, well, that just adds an extra special twist. Just let that idea rattle around inside your head.

It’s like that awkward moment on a date when both parties are thinking ‘are we going to kiss or not’.  I like to get the awkwardness out of the way early on rather than have it hang like some proverbial Sword of Damocles. The longer you leave it, the longer you ignore the elephant in the room, it just becomes this thing that it shouldn’t be. It kind of takes on a life force of its own, that thing that’s ignored. So what I say usually runs along the lines of:  ‘Look, the world was what it was in those times. That was then and this is now. I’m just saying hello and I hope to find out more about our family.” And that ‘our family’ is important. For me, it sets the context of everything. It frames the conversation. And it puts the recipient at his or her ease. They understand where I’m coming from.

One thing about online etiquette, I suggest always re-reading what you want to send someone (email, in-box messages on ancestry or whatever family tree service you use, DNA testing sites, etc) before you send it. Even read it out loud. I receive so many messages – too many, actually – that have an aggressive tone. The majority of the time this tone isn’t intended. Just remember that the person on the other end of the message doesn’t know you, hasn’t ever met you and can’t see or read your facial expression when they open that message or email. Politeness, respectfulness and friendliness go a long way. See – pure Roane right there!

One last bit of genealogy etiquette advice. So you’ve done a DNA test and you’ve emailed people you’re genetically matched to. And someone doesn’t respond to your email or message. Let it go. Their silence doesn’t mean they aren’t excited or intrigued to hear from you. There’s a reason that holds them back from responding. It’s that simple. Frustrating for you, no doubt, but we have to be respectful of other people’s privacy and reasons. Focus on the people who do respond.

In closing, what’s been truly amazing is corresponding with people I’m genetically linked to who live in a completely different part of the world. My Genebase mtDNA and Y-DNA results have linked me people literally all over the globe. I’m in touch with a Jewish cousin who lives in a small town in Hungary, an Egyptian cousin who lives just outside of El-Mahalla El-Kubra, a cousin who lives in the Dominican Republic and one more who lives in Belo Horizonte in Brazil. The last two are also descendants of enslaved Africans. Given the DNA data, it would appear that I share a common Tuareg male ancestor with the chap in Brazil and a common Berber female ancestor with the lady who lives in the Dominican Republic.

We’ll never know the names of the common ancestors we share. The common ancestors I share with each of these cousins were alive anywhere from 25 generations ago (the case with the cousins in Brazil and the Dominican Republic) to 50+ generations ago (the others I mentioned). If you take a generation as being 25 years, that’s a common ancestor who lived around 625 years ago. In the case of 30 generations of separation, that’s an ancestor who lived 1,250 years ago. I have one match on my father’s side who lives in Iran and we’re separated by around approximately 99 generations – 2,475 years ago. I’d love to hear from my Iranian cousin but respect that he hasn’t replied to my email. Given that he lives in Iran, there are probably all manner of reasons why he hasn’t.

So, when making an initial approach to a newly discovered relation…how you say something is as important as what you say.

Using the right DNA testing tool to answer the right ancestry question

UPDATE: 25 June 2014. My DNA results are in. You can read about the results here:

I’ve received a couple of emails over the past 18 months or so asking how I approached my decision to do a DNA test. I thought it would make an interesting – and hopefully helpful – blog post.

DNA tests can answer quite a few fundamental questions:

  • Who am I related to?
  • Where did my ‘immediate’ ancestors come from (e.g. ancestors within the past two to a dozen or so generations)?
  • Where did my ancient ancestors come from?
  • What countries are my ancient ancestral ‘homes’?

No one DNA test can answer all of these questions. Like any tool, we get the best performance from a specific DNA test only if we’re absolutely clear about what problem we’re seeking to solve. You wouldn’t use a screwdriver instead of a hammer to nail two planks of wood together. lol well, you might… just expect results that might be a bit different from what you intended 😉

And believe me when I say DNA tests are tools – tools from a very interesting genealogical toolbox.

When it comes to DNA testing, there are basically 3 kinds of tests to choose from. Each is a distinctly different tool which solves / answers a specific question.

So what kind of DNA tests are out there?

Autosomal DNA Tests

An Autosomal DNA test looks at both your paternal and maternal lineages together. This kind of DNA test will include results that will determine any of your direct family relations from both of your parents’ ancestral lines on your family tree. In a nutshell, this means this kind of test includes DNA results that includes you, your siblings and descendants, your parents and their siblings and descendants, your grandparents and their siblings and descendants, and even your cousins and distant cousins.

The example below from displays the possible matches / results which stem from an autosomal test:

Autosomal DNA testing tree

Autosomal DNA Tree (from

Many Autosomal DNA test will provide a result for your ethnicity. Not all of them do. So it’s important to read the fine print.

None, as far as I’m aware, provide results for your ancient DNA results (e.g. ancestors who lived 3,000+ years ago, for instance). This kind of test isn’t engineered to look at your ancient admixtures. Nor will it provide clues about your ancient ancestors’ migration pathways as humans began to leave Africa and the Middle East to populate the rest of the planet.

Think of an autosomal test as a lost ‘modern’ kinsman finder. It’s a great tool to use if you have gaps in your family tree that fall within the last couple of hundred years or so.

Y-DNA Tests

A Y-DNA test looks exclusively at our direct Paternal male lineage. Basically, this means it goes from a male DNA tester to his father, to his father, to his father, and so on. This is illustrated in the tree below:


Y-DNA Tree (from

Y-DNA Tree (from

A Y-DNA test can only be taken by males. It’s not a sexist thing – the Y chromosome only exists in male DNA. This test provides information about your family’s ancient male ancestry by reviewing the testing male’s predicted haplogroup, which will provide information about your male lineage’s ancient origins.

Y-DNA matches are determined by the number of marker values (alleles) a man (let’s call him Male A) taking the test shares in common with another male (Male B). This kind of DNA test will tell both Male A and Male B if there is a Y-DNA match in their paternal line. As a tool, it not only provides information about ethnicity and admixtures – it can lead two men to directly trace a common ancestor.

Because this specialized tests gives you information about your direct paternal line, it limits the number of ancestors you can learn about. On the one hand it provides a wealth of information about our male ancestors’ and their descendants. On the other hand, it cuts out all of the women in our family tree.

Worry ye not, for there is the third test which addresses this…

mtDNA Tests

An mtDNA test looks specifically at our direct Maternal female lineage. Basically, this means it goes from you to your mother, to her mother, to her mother, and so on. This is illustrated in the tree below:


mtDNA tree (from

mtDNA Tree (from

The mtDNA test can be taken by a male OR a female. Both genders inherit mitochondrial DNA from their mother. While a mother passes her mtDNA on to all her children, only her female children, in turn, pass it on to their children.  Just to be clear, only the daughters within a family carry the mtDNA forward in perpetuity – solely through their daughters, generationafter generation. If a woman gives birth only to sons, like my paternal Roane grandmother did, her mtDNA legacy stops with her sons, who do not pass this on to their children regardless of the gender of their children. Men can do a lot of things – passing on the mtDNA they inherited from their mothers isn’t one of them.

An mtDNA test provides information about our ancient maternal ancestry. It essentially tells us where the females in the maternal line migrated to when they came out of Africa. Our maternal DNA matches provide haplogroup comparison and may not be as generation-specific as our Y-DNA test, since the mtDNA has been passed down relatively unchanged for 20,000 years. This does provide fascinating information about our maternal ancestors’ migration path, and can give you clues to commonalities between your family tree and others with which you are sharing research.

Now back to me…

I had a long think about what genealogical problem, what genealogical question, I needed answering when I decided to do my first DNA test. At the time, I was far more interested in discovering my ancient roots. I wanted to learn more about the global cultures I was linked to at the genetic level.

The question, quite literally, was: who on earth was I related to?

So I did an mtDNA and Y-DNA test at the same time. The answer these two tests provided to that question gave me a peek into my most ancient roots. It was the right tool for the right job. These specific tools provided answers which, without exaggeration, changed me forever. I see the world, my place in it, and the rich tapestry of human cultures around the globe in a fundamentally different way than I did before I took these two tests. The mind-expansion bit was a bonus. The question I had answered was only achieved because I was very clear in my mind about what it was I wanted to achieve.

An autosomal DNA test just wouldn’t have achieved this. They aren’t meant to. It’s not what they were designed for.

Autosomal time!

The time has come for me to delve into the waters of autosomal DNA tests. Why? I have spent years building an enormous family tree courtesy of By enormous, I mean there are around 13,000 so individuals are included within it. There are gaps in and amongst the various branches of this extensive tree. There are also what I refer to as ‘orphan’ branches. My orphan branches are lineages that I have researched but have been unable to connect to the main family tree. In short, I haven’t found the common ancestor within the past 150 years or so to assign an orphan branch to its rightful place on my family tree.

These orphan branches frustrate me no end. It’s like they sit there taunting me every time I log into So I’m tackling them from a different angle. If i can’t locate the records I need with the necessary information to solve these genealogy puzzles…I’ll hopefully find descendants from these branches who can provide the answers. That’s where the autosomal DNA test comes into play.

Through, I’m also in regular contact with a number of people that I know I share a common ancestor with…we just don’t know who that common ancestor was.

In this scenario, an autosomal DNA test is the appropriate tool to use.

My DNA test kit

My DNA test kit

Now I ummed and ahhed about which one of the (staggering) number of autosomal tests to use. In the end, it made sense to use’s DNA test. The results will be integrated with my family tree on and covers my maternal and paternal lines. It also puts me in touch the descendants of long lost kin who share a common ancestor with my kinsmen and kinswomen.

For any number of reasons, I haven’t found all of the present day descendants from all of the branches in my family tree. This kind of test can also help provide some answers to this family research problem.

If it provides even a handful of lost pieces to my family tree puzzle, it will be well worth the price.

I’ve just mailed my test sample back to It will be a few weeks’ time to see what results it yields.

Last but not least…

National Geographic Society's Geneographic Project website

The National Geographic Society’s Geneographic Project website

At some point in the near future, I will be taking yet another DNA test. This DNA test is part of the National Geographic Society’s The Genographic Project This test is basically a Y-DNA and mtDNA test. So I don’t really expect to make any new discoveries through it. The information this last test provides have already been accomplished by my Y-DNA and mtDNA tests. I’m doing this last test as a kind of genetic science philanthropy – adding my own DNA sample to the database the National Geographic’s project has built and continues to build. It’s my wee bit for science.

I’ll also feel like I’ll be doing my bit to help support the Genographic Legacy Fund, which works to conserve and revitalize indigenous cultures around the world. And as you’ll know from my posts about the cultures I’m genetically linked to, I share DNA with some pretty rare and protected cultures in India, Central Asia and Africa.

So my parting words about DNA tests?

  1. Be very clear about what genealogy question you want answered or what genealogy problem you need solved. This will determine which of the 3 kinds of DNA tests covered in this post will be the right one for the job.
  2. I wouldn’t advise doing all 3 DNA tests at once. Believe me, this can be mind-bending and life altering stuff. You’ll need time to reflect and really think about what you’ve learned (it’s been almost two years between me doing my Y-DNA and mtDNA tests and then doing the autosomal DNA test that I’ve literally just done). I would suggest doing the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests at the same time.  The order you take your DNA tests should be determined by Point #1 above.
  3. Do your research on the DNA test services you’re thinking about using. Google the companies for customer satisfaction reports, customer complaints, reviews and any news articles. Seriously. I did nearly four months of research before committing to the two companies that I ultimately chose. And I am so glad I did. Like anything on the internet, there are DNA testing sharks, scams and shoddy services. Will the test do everything you want and/or need it to do? Again, always read the fine print.
  4. Think about the level of disclosure you’re prepared to give online…to absolute strangers. Yes, you may share your DNA with people your DNA testing will point you towards. However, they will be strangers. Everyone has his or her own comfort levels. What’s yours?
  5. I’d advise you to never, ever give your home address. If and when you eventually meet these new relations, you will hopefully be able to gauge whether you should give this information or not – and when. I’d also suggest never giving your landline number either, not until you meet. As for mobile numbers, I have hard and fast rules which work for me and my comfort levels. As for sensitive family information (names of your children, grandchildren, family secrets, etc), each person will have his or her line in the sand / threshold.
  6. Notwithstanding Point #5 above, DO engage if you decide to use a DNA test service that puts you in touch with distant relations. If you select a privacy option that enables other members to contact you via the service, and a member you share DNA with sends you a private message through the service, acknowledge the message. If you’re not prepared to engage with people who share your DNA, you will need to ensure that you select the privacy option which prevents this from happening.
  7. Many DNA testing services provide members with a Profile Page. If you have any limits, this is a great place to (politely) put them. You can put things like: “Let’s exchange emails first before we exchange numbers” or “I prefer to use Skype rather than phoning” Use your Profile Page to politely draw your line in the sand to avoid any unintentional transgressions.
  8. Always remember your tone of voice when you’re online. Writing in caps equals shouting. Re-read everything you’ve written to ensure it is clear – and not likely to offend, isn’t open to misinterpretation, and doesn’t convey aggression, rudeness, etc.

I haven’t really found any online DNA testing service site etiquette guides…so I hope some of the points given above are helpful :O)