Ethnicity Composition Isn’t the Whole Story with DNA Testing

It’s reasonable to understand why the marketing is designed this way.  Ethnicity can be considered the gateway or hook to the true DNA tools used in genealogy research.  It’s the one thing that everybody can relate to.  When someone doesn’t know their ethnic background or composition it can suggest where to focus your research.  In genealogy, the ethnicity is a nice to know component, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus.

The true DNA tool is the relationship matches.  This is where you can find possible relationships with other individuals who also did DNA testing with the same company.  It’s also where things can get confusing for someone who isn’t familiar with the biological aspects of DNA or how it impacts genealogy.  Are you knowledgeable or familiar with Autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, centimorgans, recombination or chromosome mapping?   If the answer is “no” to any of these then you are in the majority.  DNA testing companies realize this and focus on what you know – Ethnicity!  Because most of the time we have been told or realize through our traditions or customs that we are Irish, Eastern European, Scandinavian, etc, etc, etc.

The DNA companies have made efforts to predict relationships based on your DNA and the DNA matches in their databases.  However, this is never a full proof system and why at best they can only offer a range of the possible relationship such as 2nd to 4th cousin.  Is it a 2nd, 3rd or 4th cousin?  Is it a removed cousin too?  The answer to these questions has many different implications.  For example:  Did you know that a 2nd cousin shares the same amount of matching DNA as a 1st cousin 2 times removed?  This can sometimes be discouraging for someone studying their genealogy and isn’t familiar with DNA.

The DNA companies have made great progress with making testing affordable to just about everyone.  They also are attempting to make the raw DNA data more interpretable, but it’s not always clear-cut in genealogy and why they can only predict a relationship.  This is where working with a genealogist who is familiar with DNA can pay off.  The genealogist can use both the DNA and genealogy paper trail to either help answer a question or provide more reliable interpretation of all of the evidence.

DNA is a powerful tool and can help answer many biological questions in genealogy.  It’s important to remember that it is not the only or final answer to the question.  DNA and documentation discovered while conducting traditional genealogy research can be considered unrelated ways of researching.  However, they complement one another and when presented together offer the strongest and most reliable evidence.

GenealogyChris recommends consulting a genealogist whether you are considering taking a DNA test for the first time or if you already tested and have more questions about what your results can tell you.  You may want to know whether to buy a kilt or lederhosen, but the same DNA test can also help answer how am I related to and what is the story of these individuals who wore this clothing?

Posted in: DNA