Pre-order now available - Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet and Smartphone for Family History Research by Lisa Louise Cooke
Read 'Em or Weep: Promise and Pitfalls in Newspaper OCR - new webinar by Mary Kircher Roddy

My DNA Dilemma - what would YOU do with these DNA kits?

Picture 2

I've finally ordered a DNA kit. Two of them in fact. Now I'm wondering, "what now?"

I guess I'm late to the DNA-genealogy game. It's been the talk of the community for years now, yet I've not felt compelled to jump in. I've learned a lot about DNA from our DNA webinar series and I've heard your stories of how DNA testing helped has helped you.

I've finally given in to your peer-pressure:

  • "What, YOU haven't had your DNA tested Geoff?"
  • "Just do it Geoff - everyone's doing it!"

and so when Ancestry's DNA kits went on sale recently I did it. I placed the order. I'm almost a genea-DNA-peep like the rest of you.

Now I face my first DNA dilemma. Who should I test? The best answer is probably, "well, what are you hoping to find? What are your goals?" My current response is, "I'm not really sure." But I still have three grandparents with me (age 92, 81, and 81) and something tells me I should work with them before much longer. I'd also be interested in having myself tested. Why? Because I'm interested in the results. 

I also have an old genealogy case where I think Y-DNA testing would help. Asa had four children in his first marriage.


I THINK that child #1 is Griffin:


and child #3 is John:


but I don't know yet. While I know there's more research that can/should be done on these two children, it's been difficult. And so I'm wondering if DNA would tell me if I'm on the right track. Here's what I'm thinking:

  1. IF I can locate a living male BROWN-surnamed descendant of one of the two known children (Nathan or Lorenzo)
  2. AND I can locate a living male BROWN-surnamed descendant of Griffin or John
  3. AND I can convince BOTH of them to take a DNA test
  4. AND their DNA matches

Would this suggest that Griffin and John do belong in the family and that I should use my efforts to continue the quest?

Legacy's DNA Chart, the "Male Y-DNA, Carriers Only" chart


should make it easier to know which of these descendants would carry the right Y-DNA, right?

Y-DNA Descendant Carriers Only of Asa Clark Brown

On the other hand, my mother's mother, age 81, is a descendant of one of my brick wall ancestors. Below, Grandma's mother's mother's mother's mother's parents are unknown. Would testing Grandma with a mtDNA test be of value here?


What should Geoff do?

My dear genea-DNA-peeps - I've got two AncestryDNA (autosomal) kits sitting on my desk. Should I:

  1. Test Grandpa Rasmussen (Dad's father)
  2. Test Grandpa Larsen (Mom's father)
  3. Test Grandma Larsen (Mom's mother)
  4. Test Dad
  5. Test Mom
  6. Test myself

And which other tests should I obtain?

  1. y-DNA test for the Browns
  2. mtDNA test for Grandma Larsen

If my budget were not an issue I know I should do 'em all. Or should I just keep these tests on my desk for now?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Well, I vote for you to test Grandpa Rasmussen, of course!

I'm looking forward to learning from your experience, Geoff.
Thank you!

Geoff, test the line with the brick wall, (oldest living relative), and do one on father's side and one on mothers side.. so #1 and #3 should take the tests...being we get roughly 50% from each parent the breakdown goes as follows
You 100%
Parents 50%
Grands 25%
Great grands 12.5%
2× gg 6.25%
3× gg 3.125%
4×gg 1.625%

And then it becomes muddled for by testing a grandparent you can get back further (2-3 generations)

When they go on sale again, get one for you.

Best of luck, and welcome to the DNA train....

Get a third test and test all the grandparents! :)

Have only gotten into DNA recently myself, although I've been doing genealogy for 25 years. The autosomal DNA was essential in confirming for me that 2 men I was studying were in fact the same man. My research had made it probable but the DNA confirmed.

One thing I learned was the since autosomal DNA gets diluted each generation, you will want to test the oldest living people (generation wise) - closer to the brick wall person. So if you have a 1st cousin once removed that is closer to the ancestor than you, you would want to test them. And your
grandparents for sure.

You are fortunate to have older generations still available to you and I think you should take advantage of getting their DNA now, just like you want to get their stories now.

So my answer is, yes to all of the above. You might also consider your sibling, cousins and distant cousins - the more DNA connections you can make, the more likely you are to find those Brick Wall ancestors.

Good luck, I'll look forward to hearing about your adventure.

Test your grandfathers. Yesterday.
Buy two more autosomal tests for your grandmother and father (capturing his father's auDNA). Today.
Test any other senior relatives you can - great-aunts and uncles, paternal aunts and uncles. Tomorrow.
Have at the Brown yDNA test.
The mtDNA test would be my last priority. You can get the information from your mother or sisters.

For cryin' out loud, Geoff! Get every last one of those grandparents tested immediately!!! You have so much more to gain from testing them than from testing yourself that it's a hands-down flat-out no-brainer. You can always test yourself later. But you only have a fraction of the family DNA that each of those grandparents has so you need to regard them as priceless and irreplaceable resources for DNA history. Get them tested this minute!

If you don't want to spring for any other DNA tests, I would test the oldest living female on your mother's side and the oldest living male on your father's side. Once you get your results, you can then separate which of your matches come through which parent's DNA. Working with those results may very well get you through the brick wall you mentioned. And these results will keep you busy for quite a while. However, it's also important to have what Jim Bartlett calls a "robust family tree" so you will have a well of cousins and potential cousins to work with.

Get those Grandparents DONE! then yourself for a Link and work on the Parents. I'm big on getting the Elders done 1st and yourself for reference and linking.

Of course test those highly valued elders as soon as possible. I have no grandparents left and it is a great loss in many ways. As I understand the process, the least likely test to give you answers that are useful genealogically is the mtDNA on the grandmother. Maternal DNA changes so slowly her results will be identical to her daughters and granddaughters. A friend (male) had his mtDNA done and found he was descended from a Norwegian woman who lived centuries ago, but found no more recent clues.

The Ancestry test gives matches to both the paternal AND maternal lines, but only for a limited number of generations. For the best possibility of connecting with living, but unknown cousins, test yourself. Any cousins you connect with will have information on collateral relatives and their descendants you may not know. I have located 10 previously unknown branches of my family and hundreds of relatives through this test, but I also have well over a hundred matches who are unknown and unknowable because they have not posted a public family tree on Ancestry. Why anyone chooses to to this is beyond my comprehension.

Once you have your own results, download them and post to Family Tree DNA's site to connect with those relatives who use a different company. The charge for this is well under the cost of a second test.

Depending on your budget, save as fast as you can for YDNA tests on those grandfathers. There is your real possibility of genealogical gold. If you can match a known line, you may locate an immigrant ancestor or locate the home village of a patriarch centuries dead.

That said, I don't know what YOUR goals are. My families have been in this country mostly before there was a country, so I'm hunting for immigrant lines before many records existed. You may have entirely different needs. Also, I have neglected your wife's family. I know a bit about yours from the sample database, but I know nothing about hers.

Whatever you do, get about doing it. Older relatives will not be around forever. The costs of tests have dropped like a stone compared to what they were even a few years ago. Good Luck and keep us posted!

I find the autosomal, very confusing... Since it seems to show male and female, even for a woman! This just messes up, what I had found out about DNA testing, males carry both and women only their maternal side. That being said, I have done testing, many moons ago, to prove that my cousin 's g-g-grandfather, was indeed the brother of my g-g-grandfather, and his information was correct, in my family bible. Also, my dad's maternal side is more Jewish, and not African. I won't go into explaining this...I had a very "plain spoken" aunt.......
But as for "finding" any cousins, very few have been tested and so the ones in my tree, through my research, are about all I have, for now!
So, to shorten this rambling...Test the elderly relatives, unless they are blood related, then don't bother, since you will get a repeat. If they are separate lines, go for it! I find my results very interesting, since they go back to that post Ice Age migration!

Well, I used 23 and Me tests to test myself and my dad (I had misconceptions of autosomal testing) and one thing it proved was that I am my father's daughter! Seriously though, I wish I had tested my mom instead of me so I knew whether people were linked to my maternal of paternal line. It did link me to many others, but that would have shown up even if I hadn't tested my dad.. I still don't understand the whole thing. Then, I also took the Ancestry test and it showed pretty much the same ethnic backgrounds, although 23 and Me was more detailed. I also bought an Ancestry test kit for my daughter and she has had some hits that I didn't have so they appear to be on my husband's line. If I had to do it again, I would have tested my mom and dad on 23 and Me and my husband and me for Ancestry. If I ever have some extra money for additional testings, I would test my mom with 23 and Me and would test my husband with Ancestry. As there are benefits to both, I would use both.

Geoff, I think you should test your mother's mother, Grandma Larsen, and yourself.

I did the Ancestry testing on myself and found that I have been following my family ancestry correctly for the many years that I have been doing research. I was also surprised, as I am certain others have been, to find fourth or fifth cousins that were not actually known to be in my family. It has been a great help in finding and working with these cousins. And, it has added people that I would never have known.

I have tried for several years to have others in my family tested. My grandparents are gone and also my parents. Neither of my sisters is at all interested in DNA testing; and, I haven't been able to get them to agree to it. Brothers and sisters do not necessarily inherit the same DNA from their parents and I can only hope they will agree to testing in the future.

One of the strangest findings in the testing is that I am related to a person who came from my mother AND father's side of the family. These people are descended from ancestors back five generations. This is the only time this has happened.

Goeff, If only my parents had been alive when DNA testing started!

I have tested with all 3 companies, beginning in 2006. I also have paid for at least 18 tests for family members, after convincing them that :it wouldn't hurt" and they would only have to wait for the results. The most recent was at a family gathering last Sunday.
My decision was based on DNA being an important part of my research budget. It has resulted in new cousins as well as proving paper trails.
Megan's book "Trace Your Roots with DNA", her lectures in Baltimore and on the Legacy Cruise were inspiring- as were seminars with Jim Bartlett and others who help us understand the results of the various tests.
What an adventure!

Dear Geoff

The two test you have in your hands are only good for autosomal - so give them to grandmothers - points 2 and 3 in your post.

Then order today and not tomorrow a Y-DNA Plus FF test from FTDNA for grandfather 1 and have it delivered directly to his address - do not pass go - do not waste any time. ;-)

Then when results come back for the two initial Ancestry DNA test kits, export the raw data and import it into FTDNA and GEDMatch.

Similarly export grandfather's FF results and import them to GEDMatch.

That will give you PLENTY to work on (as well as information overload moments) and you may not need to bother with Grandma Larsen's mtDNA test at all.

Later I would arrange FF or atDNA test for as many of the children from the Grandfather who has passed away as you can afford - this will help you build a picture of his DNA (called the Lazarus technique)

Do hope this helps you prioritise this process :-)

I am with Judy Russell. Go with her advice.

I would get 2 kits from FTDNA and have the two males done for Y-DNA. That's assuming you can finda living male from Griffin Brown and John Brown. I would use FTDNA for those Y-DNA tests, though, as FTDNA has surname groups all set up, just specifically for this. I just bought some when they were on sale for $30 off.

Yes, test all 3 grandparents now, with autosomal testing!

Get all three grandparents tested. I had both my mother and me tested, and she turns up twice as many matches on that side as I do. She is genetically half as far from any relative as I am (of course she is unrelated to the other half of my relatives).

Don't worry about mtDNA or the Y chromosome. The number of markers on each is tiny and they don't recombine each generation. If two individuals have different haplotypes you can rule out that they have the same mtDNA or Y, but if they are the same that doesn't mean that they are closely related. So they can be useful in showing a hypothesis is false, but they usually can't show it is true.

Once you get someone tested, put the results up on Gedmatch. There are kits from all three companies so you don't get locked into one set of potential cousins. I find that the Gedmatch tools are more useful than 23andMe or Ancestry, although you have to subscribe to access all of them (I have no connection with Gedmatch).

Test your grandparents! #1 and either #2 or #3 right away. Then test the other grandparent and your dad. You don't need to test your mom if you have both of her parents DNA done. And you don't need to have your DNA done if you test your dad (for his mother's DNA) and you have both your mom's parnets done. Save your money by not ordering one for yourself or your mom.

I have heard not to waste money on the mtDNA as the results are not that helpful. The YDNA and autosomal tests are the way to go. I've only heard this from classes I have taken so you still know more than I do. I took the autosomal test and have linked up with about 10 people where we have figured out "how" we are related, for the other 78 the connection is not found "yet". The interesting part of the autosomal was the origins - Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands I expected as I have my family traced to the 1400-1600's in these places. The weak connection to North Africa, Turkey, Southern Europe was the surprise since I have NO ancestors from any of these countries, I figure it was the path of ancestors, seeking land as they moved farther north into Europe 1000's of years ago. I did create a new email address just for DNA correspondence.

I finally purchased two ancestry tests and used them on my husband and myself as we have no older living relatives. This was done mostly so I can learn more about DNA testing for working with clients. I also purchased one FTDNA test to use hopefully with my brother to connect to my father's line. There will be others I will want to do later, but the learning experience is most important to me. It will be interesting what surprises I might find after all these years of research.

Hi Geoff,
I have had testing done with autosomal, Y-DNA (male cousin, and mt DNA done; and am envious that you have living grandparents to test.
1) autosomal dna (family finder at FamilyTreeDNA) is only reliable back to 5 generations, which is a help, but be prepared for the hundreds of people you will connect with - usually the matches are broken down by 1st through 5th cousin.
2) yDNA - your yDNA will match your father and your paternal grandfather. You should all match perfectly, however, there may be a single mutation which might throw you off, but don't let it. There are some STR's that are known to change in one generation, then change back in another down the road. A 37 marker test is the best one to start with for your paternal gf (and yourself). At FamilyTreeDNA, they will save your specimens, so if you choose to upgrade to more markers down the road, you won't need another kit for yDNA.
3) mtDNA - following your sister to your mother to maternal gm - this is the least useful test but still a baseline, in case the geneticists come up with some other useful analysis in the future.

So, I would find out if your testing company keeps your sample, and if so, for how long. Test autosomal with your grandparents, and yDNA 37 marker test for your grandfathers, then test yourself for yDNA. View the tutorials at FamilyTreeDNA on genetic genealogy (free). Check Ancestry - they may have some tutorials also. You do have to start to learn about genealogical genetics yourself. It's a fascinating tool, used in conjunction with the paper trail. Good luck, and yes, test those grandparents NOW.

Get the 37 marker Y-DNA test at family tree DNA, they are the only company offering the Y-DNA test. Test every living male to figure out what the suprises are. The ancestry "everything test" is fun if you know the testees geneaolgy so it can find their relatives.
watch my recorded Rootstech presentation
my lecture from Rootstech2014 is at
or they may move it try

Yes, yes, yes! That means get another kit and get tests from all 3 of your grandparents! They are absolutely the highest priority. Then you can figure out where to go from there.


Surely you must have a pretty good idea of what to do, but this field is such a mess, I'll give you my 2 cents.

Do Autosomal DNA tests for you and all your living ancestors--many people have none, you have 5. Older and the eldest ancestors are almost certainly the most valuable for genealogy, both now and in the future, and probably the shortest availability opportunity, so start there if you can't do all 6 at once. I would get all 6 of you tested first at, but you decide. AncestryDNA tests go on sale from time to time, so you might wait a bit to test you and your parents.

There is temptation (and many recommendations) to download your data files from and then upload them to FamilyTreeDNA to save money on their FamilyFinder autosomal test, but this is not ideal as the testing points are not all identical at both companies (though many would argue close enough), and more significantly, you have no test sample in FamilyTreeDNA's storage vault available for future testing, especially for when Full Genome testing becomes affordable. I would hope you could submit your 6 samples to them, as well (if nothing else, I believe you can request sample collection kits from FamilyTreeDNA and submit samples to be put in storage before ordering any specific test or tests--make sure to do a thorough inner-cheek-rubbing sample collection). (side note: FamilyTreeDNA requires each sample kit to have its own unique website login.) FamilyTreeDNA also has various sales several times per year.

(At this point, I would not bother with for genealogy purposes, but that might change--yes, they have a big database, but a majority of matches are anonymous or invisible, and they have recently doubled their testing price to $199.)

I have tested at all three testing companies, and is the only place I have found a few Autosomal matches close enough, and who offered sufficient family tree information, to be of any reasonable initial value. As a male, I also got value from FamilyTreeDNA's Y-25 test (many people need to test 37 or higher) to give an indication of how, and very roughly where, my family name was changed, but not close enough to be of any definite genealogical value. After nearly two years, I still have no clue how any of my FamilyTreeDNA autosomal matches connect. Also, I have gotten no value from mitochondrial DNA testing, so far. But, in these things you never know anything until after you do the tests, or what the future might hold in this field.

Autosomal DNA test your oldest living ancestors first, while you can. Best of luck.

Geoff, Geoff, Geoff

If money isn't the problem you know the answer is that you need to test your oldest family members (all three grandparents left AND any other elders) first at BOTH AncestryDNA and most especially Family Tree DNA.

You want your tests to be in both "fish ponds" of DNA customers for maximum results. While there is some cross over (same customers/fishes) in both DNA ponds many people can not test at both places. (See the Hoosier Daddy blog where Michael finally got the match he needed at the last company (the third) he tested with.)

Ancestry uses the spit tube and Family Tree DNA uses swabs to test. Swabs are easier for the elderly to do but with patience usually you can get them to fill the spit tube enough.

You want to directly test the grandparents at Family Tree DNA so you can do whichever tests (Y-DNA, mtDNA, autosomal) you need to do. FTDNA is the only company that tests all three DNA types used for genealogy. You can start with one test and then later upgrade and add another test(s). Usually FTDNA can use the swab already submitted. But if you really want to make sure a specific test gets done, do it now so you don't run into an upgrade not working when there is no way to collect more DNA.

Once you test a family branch for Y-DNA or mtDNA (like your grandpas and grandma) you don't need to test any other descendants like their kids/grandkids because it is directly inherited. (Unless there is non-event or adoption question.) When there is a relationship question to a common ancestor (like your Asa Brown) then once you have your direct Brown male Y-DNA tested that is documented genealogy paper wise then you find that direct male descendant of the possible son(s) and test that guy(s).

Autosomal wise you need to test everyone because it is randomly inherited. You never know what bit someone inherited that others did not.

So test them all like last year. In the case of your grandparents do not wait for a sale. In the future you will be thankful you did.

Based on previous years sales you will likely see some around March Madness and DNA Day. If we're lucky we will get a Valentine's Day sale -- maybe.

Always go with the oldest members first! You don't know how long you'll have them! With Ancestry having periodical sales, you can always get more tests to include yourself. I've had my hubby, my eldest son & myself done. No surprises for me (or my son) with matches along my maternal lines. My poor hubby has matches but we haven't yet seen how they connect. One match was a first cousin WITHOUT A TREE! No matter how many times, I've messaged this person, I've gotten no response (I'm afraid they are no longer on Ancestry). I hope your luck will be better!

I, too, am at a loss as what to do next. I would like to find my grandfather's line, on my father's side, as he was born out of wedlock. I know his mother, but not his father. My son sent in his genome test several years ago and I was tested with the ancestry DNA kit. My grandfather died before I was born and my father has been dead over 15 years. I have only 3 aunts left on that side. The uncles have all passed away. I do have one brother still living.
So far I have found no matches for that side on ancestry. Who should I test or is it worth the expense? Should my son be retested with an ancestry dna kit or my brother? Where do I go from here?

I found 23&me much more informative than ftmdna. The only closely related person is in fact a cousin.

I would definitely start with the grandparents as suggested above.
I had my uncle tested. He had about twice as many "matches" as I did.
My kids had about half as many as I did.
By matches, I mean people who may be (probably are) related to you.
It is also amazing how different I am from my sisters and how different my kids are from each other. I also now know that I brought the right babies home from the hospital, and I am not related to my husband.
My point is, when you test a lot of people, you get a much broader range of answers. I just bought two more kits (for my in-laws).
Once you have your results, you can upload the raw data to someplace like GEDmatch and get even more information out of it. People who have taken the time to upload to GEDmatch seem to be more knowledgeable and more willing to share information.
Best of luck!

I agree that you should have testing from your oldest living family members first . I would skip the mitochondrial testing and go for autosomal for more hits. You may know more women in your mother's, mother's, mother's...mother's line than many. Unlike the YDNA which gives you the possibility of many related men with the same surname as the tested male, the autosomal test isn't dependent on a limited surname group or to males only. You get results from many of your ancestral names. By comparing two others with whom you have the same chromosome matches, you can, hopefully, narrow in on the common ancestors who contributed the chromosome segments to each of your tested individuals. Each person tested may bring his or her own traditional genealogy research which may expand your base of knowledge. Brick walls may come down!

Do it now! Don't wait. I had to have my brother's done at the mortuary.

This is a complex topic which, I suspect, contributes to many people not using these terrific tools. You can obtain opinions from others but nothing can replace you becoming educated about what these tests do and do not do.

One source is...

...and he links to this very informative chart:

There are three initial tests we can use: autosomal auDNA or atDNA (men and women and which is what the ancestrydna test is), yDNA (men only) and mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA (men & women). The latter is useful in very limited circumstances (identifying siblings, etc) and showing matrilinial deep ancestry. yDNA and auDNA are the genealogical gems.

To really use these tools effectively it really helps to learn about them.

Don't wait. Test as many of the grandparents as you can. Read Judy Russell's priority list - she certainly has sound reasoning on all fronts. Do a test at a place where you can upgrade later (ie they have all the info but won't provide it til you cough up the total, but the DNA is sequenced.) Do your maternal grandfather's Y DNA right away unless there's another younger candidate. Do the mTDNA of the female who has fewest other alternatives - your mother, unless you have several sisters. I thought the autosomal really was there lingering in the background at the places that do all three tests, but you have to cough up the extra. Perhaps I have that wrong. The Y is pretty much irreplaceable. I suppose you have your mother's mtDNA.

The comments to this entry are closed.