Why You Should Take a Genealogical DNA Test – Even If You Don’t Think You Need One
Legacy Tree has handled hundreds of genealogical DNA-related cases, running a wide gamut in terms of objectives. While we do not sell DNA tests, we complete DNA analysis and genealogical research and can work with a client’s test results from any major DNA testing company. By analyzing DNA test results we are able to provide more in-depth answers beyond a geographic location, and interpret results in a genealogical context. Many of our clients wish to have us help them identify their biological parent(s) or grandparents. Some have a family mystery they haven’t had luck solving with the regular paper trail. Circumstances relating to adoption are very common.
Frequently, however, the question is asked, “What use is DNA testing for me? I’m not adopted, we don’t really have a family mystery, and I know where I came from.”
The first and most obvious answer to that question is that you can’t know what you don’t know. DNA can reveal all kinds of things, which is one major caveat we give to potential testers. People lie, records can be mistaken, but DNA can’t be argued with. It’s built into our makeup. You may learn to your great surprise that an ancestor who fits within the historical documents isn’t actually related to you after all as a result of an adoption, infidelity, or other circumstance. You may find a significant percentage of an ethnicity you didn’t know was there – or conversely, the DNA test may disprove long-propagated family stories about your racial or national origins.
I was one of those people who didn’t think I had much to learn from testing. I did so only out of personal curiosity and a thirst for a learning experience as a genealogist. It’s now been a few years since I did so, and I’m so glad I took the chance, as it has paid rich dividends. I was recently contacted by a distant (4th) cousin named Rebecca who had information I lacked on my German immigrant second-great-grandmother. Rebecca was able to share documentation leading to the identification of our mutual ancestors’ tiny hometown in what is today the Rhineland-Palatinate.
Second, DNA testing can be fun and informative! In addition to the useful feature of cousin match networks, DNA sites build in tools and resources that can be fascinating just for you. For example, most provide ethnicity estimates, and while these should be viewed as broad approximations rather than exact numbers, the breakdown of your genes into world regions is still interesting to have. Furthermore, they can confirm the work you’ve done through more traditional genealogical methods. My husband, for example, has deep roots in Cajun French Louisiana. We knew from both family stories and historical records that he possesses some Native American ancestry. So it was gratifying to see the Native American estimate listed on his Ancestry DNA results at approximately 10%. His French (West European) and British Isles ancestry accounted for most of the rest, as seen in the image below.
(On the other hand, my family legend of a recent native ancestor was proven false by the same autosomal test.)
DNA site 23andMe goes a step further and provides medical-related data as well, reporting on phenotypical traits you carry like eye color and hair curliness. It can suggest diseases you might be a carrier for and even whether you’re genetically disposed to be able to be sensitive to the unique odor of asparagus.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, even if DNA testing turns up nothing terribly surprising for you, consider that contributing your genes to the database may end up being a gift to someone else. In cases where we have assisted a client in identifying a biological parent, it has almost always been because we discovered a close relative – a half-sibling or second cousin, for example – within the client’s matches. If they have a public tree on their profile which we can reference, this can be invaluable. Or, with the client’s permission, we can reach out and contact the match personally and through conversation attempt to parse out where the connection may be. You could be that cousin that helps someone answer personal and important questions about their origins and identity.**
For more information on how DNA testing works and which tests to take, see our previous blog post here: https://www.legacytree.com/blog/the-who-what-where-and-why-of-genetic-genealogy-testing.
Discovering unexpected information can be an emotional experience. If you find yourself struggling to cope with new details brought to light in the course of DNA testing, check out the resources on Legacy Tree’s page about testing trauma: https://www.legacytree.com/blog/resources.
Consider adding genetic analysis to your genealogical toolbox. You never know when or how it will be useful! Legacy Tree would love to help. Contact us today for a free consultation!
**Disclaimer: be aware of how testing works if you’re concerned about privacy. Your results will show up under a username of your choosing in the network of your genetic relatives, and you can be contacted by a relative at any time through the DNA site’s internal messaging system. This is not typically optional. You are not, however, required to share your tree or even upload one, respond to messages, or share your full name or other personal data.