First steps with DNA

Did you see Ant and Dec’s DNA Journey back in November?  Personally I only watched the first episode and got rather fed up with the lack of family history content, but it demonstrates how mainstream the use of DNA for genealogy has become.

I had resisted doing a test up till now, partly put off by the seemingly bewildering array of terminology associated with it and partly, it has to be said, put off by the cost.  Would it really be worth it?

The Family Tree Live event last April, though, was an opportunity to investigate further and we decided to take the plunge and buy testing kits from Living DNA who offer Autosomal and Mitochondrial/YChromosome testing in one go.  The process was very straightforward and we got our results back very quickly.   It was fun to check out our results, and we were impressed with the clear graphics and UK geographical break-down.  I was not surprised to see it place the majority of my ancestry within southern England, though more perplexing was the apparent lack any ancestry in East Anglia which is actually the focus of much of my research.  But then what?

In all the articles you read or tweets you see, people are talking about their matches.  But nowhere on the Living DNA site could we see any reference to matches.  Well the months passed and the time came for the West Surrey Family History Fair at Woking.  I saw that there was a DNA help desk, so I waited my turn.  I was not disappointed.  It turned out that the expert was Brian Swann from the International Society of Genetic Genealogy and he knew his stuff.  By this time I was thinking I had made a big mistake in testing with Living DNA, but I was actually reassured to learn that the company is alone in using data from the People of the British Isles DNA project, enabling it to offer the detailed UK geographical breakdown, and so the quality of the results I have is good.  He recommended that I download my raw data and upload to other testing companies where possible, whilst agreeing that it would probably also be worthwhile to test with Ancestry due to the scale of its dataset and the fact that you can’t upload test results from anywhere else to their site.  He also pointed me in the direction of a couple of useful blogs –  and , the particularly helpful website of Debbie Kennett.

With renewed confidence and enthusiasm I succeeded in downloading my raw data and then looked for places to upload it.  I discovered that I couldn’t upload it to Family Tree DNA, and although it appeared to be possible to upload to MyHeritage, I then got a message to say that the data was in a format not currently supported.  So that was a bit disappointing.  It was possible to upload to Gedmatch, but I have been a bit wary since of security issues with this organisation.

I had not appreciated at the time of testing that LivingDNA did not currently provide a matching service.  However, it would seem that this is a work in progress as there is now the option on the site to opt into ‘Family Networks’.  I did this a couple of months ago, but although it says to check back every couple of weeks there are apparently still no matches for me.

Just before Christmas Ancestry was doing a special offer on its DNA tests so I decided to go for it.  I’m now eagerly awaiting my results and hoping that this time I will be able to see some matches.

Why do it at all?  Well I guess people’s reasons vary hugely, but for me it’s firstly the interest factor of seeing where geographically my ancestors might have come from several generations back, which may or may not confirm the ‘paper’ research I have undertaken myself.  Secondly it’s the possibility of finding ‘matches’ with whom to make contact, who may share a common ancestor and with whom I may be able to collaborate in my research.  The former aspect is ably covered by the LivingDNA results and I’m hoping that Ancestry will come up with matches to satisfy the latter aspect.  Since the greater the DNA samples the more accurate the results will be, the whole thing will always be a work in progress.  Which just about sums up Family History!

By the way, the February issue of Family Tree magazine has just come in the post and it’s a DNA ‘special’!