What ancestry DNA test should I take?

It’s a question I often get. My answer is that everyone should start out with a test from the ancestry.com site. The best time to get one is during one of their very frequent sales when tests are usually 40% off. Each time there is a sale on the ancestry site the tests are also available at the reduced price on amazon.com and walmart.com. It is the exact same seller (ancestry.com), the same reduced sale price, but you Amazon and Walmart offer free shipping.

I’ll give you all the reasons (below) on why you should choose their test. But before I get to that, I want to touch on something else first.

Ordering and taking a test is the first step. Consumer ancestry DNA tests connect you with thousands of DNA matches; your matches are your family members, close and distant. Many of them are avid researchers in their own right, looking to collaborate with their matches to break down persistent brick walls.

Therefore, once your results are in, I implore you, please continue with the remaining steps because your DNA (or the DNA for your parents, grands, or aunts/uncles) is too powerful a tool to just sit there and languish.

Consider this powerful example, I manage a project of over 200 (DNA tested) descendants of enslaved ancestors who have ties to 5 counties in North Eastern Mississippi and 6 nearby counties in Northern Alabama . I recently went through and counted the number of test takers who are grandchildren and great grandchildren of those formerly enslaved ancestors, and what I found was amazing. The project includes tests for 16 people who are grandchildren of formerly enslaved people. And a whopping total of 117 test takers are great grandchildren of formerly enslaved ancestors. This means we may have thousands of cMs of DNA of enslaved ancestors represented in our project. It would be a true shame if the DNA of these ancestors were simply left to languish on the ancestry.com site. With no collaborators working together to break down the brick walls that continue to plague descendants with enslaved ancestors.

Ancestry.com is my first suggestion when people ask me where they should test. For a number of reasons:

  • They have the largest database of test takers (over 20 million and growing).

  • Your match list will likely be higher on their site (view my DNA #s screenshot below).

  • There have frequent sales (for holidays and other occasions such as DNA Day, St. Patrick's Day).

  • You can save money testing with them, downloading your test from them and uploading for free to another site.

  • More of your matches may have a visible family tree.

  • More of your matches will likely be actively researching their family trees.

Please start with a DNA test from ancestry.com. But please also take the steps I suggest below.

If the steps below seem like too much work. Consider collaborating with a cousin who has the time to perform the steps below for you. Or seek out the project admin of a group, you can find someone in a family Facebook group, or on Gedmatch or Familytreedna.com (ftdna). Share your matches and tree with them at the collaborator and editor level.

Suggested steps once your results are in:

1st Step: Make a succession plan. I know of people who are now deceased who have ancestry trees or DNA tests sitting in the database. Their descendants don’t have access to their ancestry account.

2nd Step: Link your test on ancestry.com to a public tree so others can see if and how they match you. (If you don’t want to share pictures or documents, then link it to a ‘skeleton’ tree that contains no attachments. Just remember that it is important to list birth/death dates/locations for the deceased ancestors in your tree). Please be sure to list your deceased ancestors as deceased so your matches are able to view their details.

Linking your test to your tree generates shared ancestor hints & Thrulines

Instructions on linking your test to a tree

3rd Step (ongoing): Communicate with your matches. You do not need a paid subscription to do this. Please plan on logging in on a regular basis to check for new messages as well as new matches.

4th Step: Learn potential kinships based on shared cMs of DNA: http://bit.ly/2pLadUt

5th Step: Upload your test for free to the other ancestry DNA sites. Ancestry is a top choice to test with primarily because you can download your raw DNA data (for free) and upload to other sites (also for free). I highly suggest uploading to gedmatch and joining one of the ancestors projects on that site. But if you don’t want to upload there, you should at least upload to familytreedna.com (ftdna) and myheritage.com.

6th Step: Once you upload your test to ftdna, find a surname or geographical project on that site. A volunteer who admins the project can access your DNA matches to see if the results from your test can further the project goals.

7th Step: If you are male (or manage an ancestry.com test for a male family member), find the yDNA haplogroup for free. If the patrilineal ancestor (their father’s father’s father’s line) descends from an enslaved male or a free person of color, consider doing the suggested next steps for yDNA testing. (steps and information forthcoming. Or you can use my contact form to inquire about the steps). If you're not male, encourage your male cousin matches to do this step.

8th Step: Learn about basic triangulation and use it to break down brick walls and identify family networks. A brief article on triangulation: http://bit.ly/2QCjt8H

9th Step: Learn about DNA segment triangulation and how you can generate segment triangulation reports (on gedmatch) or identify groups and do dnapainting with it. Check out dnapainter.com

Below is a snapshot of the number of matches I have on each site. Numbers for test takers will vary but most people will find far more matches on ancestry than the other sites. If you’re looking for immediate family members or to break down brick walls (as I am), I also strongly suggest testing on 23andMe.com. The only way to see your matches on the ancestry.com or 23andme.com site is to buy a test specifically for their site (their tests are also sold on amazon or walmart).

Once you’ve tested on 23andme.com or ancestry.com, you can then download your raw dna file from their site and upload it for free to ftdna, myheritage, or gedmatch. I’ve found a sizable number of cousins on 23andme.com who only purchased their test on that site. Therefore, by having my test on all the sites, I’ll be sure to find all of my matches and immediate family members.

I've included links and instructions below on how to upload to the other sites:

Step 1: Download raw DNA data from ancestry.com instructions

Step 2. Upload free to 3 sites to find all matches: (see 3 sites below).

Upload to 3 sites & instructions:

  1. Gedmatch.com (Upload instructions: Video / Written) About the site / Gedmatch for beginners
  2. Familytreedna.com (self explanatory, make sure to e-sign the release so you can view and be viewed by matches. Also search for projects to join (surname, geographic, etc). My project on ftdna is: Legacy Reclaimed (includes Tishomingo, MS; Northern Alabama; African Test Takers).

  3. Myheritage.com (you do not need to do the annual/monthly subscription to upload and view your matches. It is worthwhile if you have one or two tests to pay the $29 unlock fee so you can ‘unlock’ your test and use the chromosome browser and AutoClusters tools).