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’!

5 thoughts on “First steps with DNA

  1. I’ve been thinking about this for a while but it’s a relatively large expense, and as you say you need get the ‘right’ one that gives you the info you want and the matching to potential relatives. I’ve been more interested in doing it for Jim’s side of the family in connection with the one name study but because there’s a missing father further back in his line I probably won’t make connections as much as I would like to. I’ll be interested to see how you get on with Ancestry – that would be my choice of provider.


    1. Hello! Good to hear from you. Yes, Ancestry appears to have the biggest database (over 15 million) so is probably the most useful in terms of matches, but in terms of following the male line back, then a Y Chromosome test eg with FamilyTreeDNA might well be worth considering. I keep reading that it’s important to test the oldest members of the family while you can. As Viv has also mentioned in her comment below, there is a helpful facebook group called DNA help for Genealogy and Debbie Kennett’s blog is also very informative if you’re looking to research before taking the plunge!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh well done, Marian, I’m so pleased you’ve done the Ancestry test. I’ve always felt a little guilty that I was slightly less than enthusiastic about the Living DNA test you had just taken when we met at Family Tree Live last April. I felt awful because you had just taken the plunge and forked out a great deal of money. It’s not that I was against Living DNA but just that it is such the ‘new kid on the block’ and with a tiny database compared with Ancestry. You will love working out all your shared matches on Ancestry and there should be loads of 4th cousins or closer (I have 236!). It has really helped with several lines although you must be prepared for a few skeletons in the closet. Having thought there were no signs of any irregularities I’ve just had my first surprise although it doesn’t affect my direct line or my paper trail, thank goodness. I would also suggest you join Donna Rutherford’s private Facebook page (if you do Facebook) called DNA help for Genealogy (UK) which is very useful and interesting (Debbie Kennett is often a contributor) in addition to the two websites you have mentioned. If you are going to Family Tree Live again (I will be going on the Friday) try and get to one of Donna Rutherford’s talks. She is great. There are also several videos on Youtube of some of Donna’s talks – she is so easy to listen to and understand. Now comes the wait for the results! PS – I had uploaded to Gedmatch before all the recent controversy over security and not found it very useful at all for me.


    1. Thanks Viv! No, don’t feel guilty! Though the lack of matches was disappointing, the UK break down of results was very interesting and of course we wouldn’t have got the MtDNA or YDNA tests through Ancestry. I’m sure in time the database will grow and then it will be useful to compare. I’m looking forward to getting my Ancestry test results, though. Yes, thank you, I’d already found the DNA Help for Genealogy facebook page but I will definitely look on Youtube for Donna’s talks. I’ve found myself watching quite a few things on youtube recently in my lunchbreaks – mostly Roots Magic TV ones as I’ve finally upgraded to version 7 and have been finding out about the new features. Unfortunately we won’t be able to go to Family Tree Live this year as we’d already booked to be away then, but hopefully we can catch up with some of the talks and resources after the event. Thanks for all your help and hope 2020 is a good research year for you!


  3. Hi Marian, You asked how my research was going and the answer is very well. Retirement brings with it even more time to pursue this fascinating hobby/passion. DNA coming along has only added to it.
    I’d like to say a huge Thank You for setting me on the path of family history research 30 odd years ago!It’s been the ” Gift which keeps on giving!”


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