Concepts – Why Genetic Genealogy and Triangulation?

One of the questions often asked is why triangulation in genetic genealogy is so important.

Before I answer that, let’s take a look at why genealogists use autosomal DNA for genetic genealogy in the first place.

Why Genetic Genealogy?

Aside from ethnicity testing, genetic genealogists utilize autosomal DNA testing to further their genealogical research or confirm the research they have already performed. Genetic genealogy cannot stand alone on DNA evidence, but must include traditional genealogical research. DNA is simply another tool in the genealogist’s tool box – albeit a critical one.

There are three established primary vendors in this field, Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe, plus a few newcomers. All three vendors offer autosomal DNA tests utilized by genetic genealogists in various ways. If you want to learn more about the differences between these vendors’ offerings, please read the article, “Which DNA Test is Best?”

In order to achieve genealogical goals, there are four criteria that need to be met. All are required to achieve triangulation which is the only way to confirm a genealogical ancestral match to a specific ancestor.

  • DNA Matching – The tester’s DNA matches that of other testers at the company where they tested, or at GedMatch. All three vendors provide matching information, along with GedMatch, a third-party tool utilized by genetic genealogists.

Family Tree DNA assigns matches to either maternal, paternal or both sides of the tester’s tree based on connecting the DNA of relatives, up through third cousins, who have tested to their appropriate location in the tester’s tree.

In the example above, you can see the individuals linked to my tree include my mother with her Family Finder test, plus her two first cousins, Donald and Cheryl Ferverda who have also tested.

  • Ancestor Matching – The testers identify a common ancestor or ancestral line based on their previous work, aka, genealogy and family trees.  In the example above, the common ancestors are the parents of the brothers, John and Roscoe Ferverda.  Identifying a common ancestor is an easy task with known close relatives, but becomes more challenging the more distant the common ancestor.

Of the vendors, 23andMe does not have a Gedcom upload or ability for testers to display trees and for the vendor to utilize to match surnames, although they can link to external trees. Ancestry provides “tree matching,” shown above, and Ancestry and Family Tree DNA, shown below, both provide surname matching.

  • Segment Matching – Utilizing chromosome browsers or downloaded match lists including segment information to identify actual DNA segments that match other testers.

Family Tree DNA’s chromosome browser is shown above.

Each individual tester will have two groups of matches on the same segment, one group from their mother’s side of the tree and one from their father’s side of the tree. Each tester carries DNA inherited from both parents on two different “sides” of each chromosome. You can read more about that in the article, One Chromosome, Two Sides, No Zipper – ICW and the Matrix.

Of the three vendors, Ancestry does not provide segment matching, a chromosome browser, nor any segment information, so testers cannot perform this step at Ancestry.

23andMe does provide this information, but each tester must individually “opt in” to data sharing, and many do not. If testers do not globally “opt in” they must authorize sharing individually for every match, so testers will not be able to see the chromosome segment information for many 23andMe matches. In my case, only about 60% are sharing.

Family Tree DNA provides a chromosome browser, the file download capability with segment information, and everyone authorizes sharing of information when they initially test – so there is no opt-in confusion.

Ancestry and 23andMe raw DNA data files can be transferred to both Family Tree DNA and GedMatch where chromosome browsers and other tools are available. For more information about transferring files, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

Triangulation – The process used to combine all three of the above steps in order to assign specific segments of the tester’s DNA to specific ancestors, by virtue of:

  • The tester’s DNA matching the DNA of other testers on a specific segment.
  • Identifying that the individuals who match the tester on that segment also match each other. This is part of the methodology employed to group the testers matches into two groups, the maternal and paternal groupings.
  • Identifying which ancestor contributed that segment to all of the people who match the tester and each other on that same segment.

In order for a group of matches to triangulate, they must match each other on the same segment of DNA and they must all share a common ancestor.

Triangulation is part DNA, meaning the inheritance, part technology, meaning the ability to show that all testers in a match group all match each other and on the same segment, and part genealogy, meaning the ability to identify the common ancestor of the group of individuals.

The following chart shows a portion of my match download file on chromosome 5 from Family Tree DNA.

As you can see, these matches all cover significant portions of the same segment on chromosome 5.

Without further investigation, we know that I match all of these people, but we don’t know what that information is telling us about my genealogy. We don’t know who matches each other, and we can’t tell which people are from my mother’s and father’s sides. We also don’t know who the common ancestor is or common ancestors are.

However, looking at the trees of the individuals involved, or contacting them for further information, and/or recognizing known cousins from a specific line all combine to contribute to the identification of our common ancestors.

Below is the same spreadsheet, now greatly enriched after my genealogy work is applied to the DNA matches in two additional columns.

I’ve colored my triangulated groups pink for my mother’s side and blue for my father’s side.

In this case, I also have access to my cousins’ DNA match results, so I can view their matches as well, looking for common matches on my match list.

One of the reasons genealogists always suggest testing older family members and as many cousins as possible is because triangulation becomes much easier with known cousins from particular lines to point the way to the common ancestor. In this case, one cousin, Joe, is from my mother’s side and one, Lou, is from my father’s side.

By looking at my matches’ genealogy, I’ve now been able to assign this particular segment on chromosome 5, on my mother’s side to ancestors Johann Michael Miller and his wife Susanna Berchtol. The same segment, on my father’s side is inherited from Charles Dodson and his wife, Ann, last name unknown.

In order to achieve triangulation, the common ancestor must be determined for the match group. Once triangulation is achieved, descent from the common ancestor is confirmed.

Unless you are dealing with very close known relatives, like the Ferverda first cousins, there is no other way to prove a genetic connection to a specific ancestor.

At Family Tree DNA, I can utilize the chromosome browser and the ICW and matrix tools to determine which of this group matches each other. At 23andMe, I can utilize their shared DNA matching tool. This information can then be recorded in my DNA spreadsheet, as illustrated above.

Triangulation cannot be achieved at Ancestry or utilizing their tools. Ancestry’s DNA Circles provide extended match groups, indicating who matches whom for a particular ancestor shown in a tester’s tree, but do not indicate that the matches are on the same segment. Circles do not guarantee that Circle members are matching on DNA from that ancestor, only that they do match and show a common ancestor in their tree.  The third triangulation step of segment matching is missing.  Ancestry does not provide segment information in any format, so Ancestry customers who want to triangulate can either retest elsewhere or download their data files to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch for free.

Summary

Before the advent of genetic genealogy, genealogists had to take it on faith that the paper trail was accurate, and that there was no misattributed parentage – either through formal or informal adoption or hanky-panky.  That’s not the case anymore.

Today, DNA through triangulation can prove ancestry for groups of people to a common ancestor by identifying segments that have descended from that ancestor and are found in multiple descendants today.

Of course, the next step is to break down those remaining brick walls. For example, what is the birth name of Ann, wife of Charles Dodson, whose surname is unknown? Logically, the DNA descended from a couple, meaning Charles and Ann, contains DNA from both individuals. We don’t know if that segment on chromosome 5 is from Ann, Charles, or parts from both, BUT, if we begin to see a further breakdown to another, unknown family line among the Charles and Ann segments, that might be a clue.

One day, in the future, we’ll be able to identify our unknown family lines through DNA matches and other people’s triangulation. That indeed, is the Holy Grail.

Additional Resources

If you’d like to read more specific information about autosomal DNA matching and triangulation, be sure to read the links in the article, above. The following articles may be of interest as well:

DeMystifying Autosomal DNA Matching

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – What Now?

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum

Concepts – Segment Size, Legitimate and False Matches

How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical by Descent, State, Population and Chance

Nine Autosomal Tools at Family Tree DNA

If you think you might come up short, because you have only one known cousin who has tested, well, think again.

Just One Cousin

Here’s wishing you lots of triangulated matches!!!

Anne (probably not) Elmore (c1650/2-c1721), Wife of Charles Dodson, 52 Ancestors #159

Charles Dodson (1649-1706) of Richmond County, Virginia was married to a woman named Ann. That much we know, positively.

The first actual record we have of Ann is found with the birth of her son, Thomas.

The North Farnham Parish register tells us that Thomas Dodson was born to Charles and Ann Dodson on May 15, 1681.

Thomas is the only child attributed to Charles and Ann in the North Farnham Parish church records, which are known to be incomplete. In this case, they are quite incomplete.

Ann is still married to Charles at his death and is named as his executrix in early 1705/1706. Charles’ will lists all of their children, including a son named Charles Jr.

Charles Jr. first appears in the records in 1693 as a witness. This suggests strongly that he is age 21 at that time, which would put his birth in approximately 1672. Charles Jr. is also named after Charles Sr., typical for a first son, and he is also listed first in the deeds when his father conveys land on the same day to both Charles Jr. and Thomas in 1702/03.

Even if Charles Jr. is only 16 instead of 21 when he witnessed the two transactions in 1693, his first appearance in county records, that would put his birth no later than 1677.

Presuming that Ann is also the mother of Charles Jr., that means that Ann and Charles Sr. were probably married by 1671 if Charles Jr. was born in 1672, or perhaps they married slightly earlier. They couldn’t have married much earlier, given their ages.

We know from a deposition in 1699 that Charles Sr. was about 50 years of age at that time, putting his birth about 1649.

It stands to reason that Ann would have been born about the same time, or subtracting 20 years from her first child’s birth, about 1652. This meshes nicely with Charles Sr.’s age as well, so I think we can presume that 1671 marriage date is approximately accurate.

Obviously, given all this effort to figure Ann’s birth year, we have no other information about when she was born.

Ann’s Parents

When I first started Dodson research, Ann’s parents were always recorded as unknown. Then, in the past few years, I saw in several locations, including several Ancestry Trees and now WikiTree as well as FamilySearch where Ann was recorded as Ann Elmore, daughter of Peter Elmore.

At first, I was quite excited, especially when I found something that appeared to be relatively well-researched at Family Search – but appearances can be quitey deceiving.

Here’s the entry for Peter Elmore from FamilySearch.

Known Issues

I’m not an Elmore researcher, but I am a Dodson researcher and I don’t want to leave the above information in print without mentioning the known issues with the information, highlighted in red, as follows:

  • There is no indication that I can find where Charles Dodson Sr’s wife, who was remarried to John Hill, died on August 1, 1715. However, Charles Dodson Jr. wrote his will on July 8, 1715 and it was probated on May 1, 1716.
  • Ann Dodson, wife of Charles Dodson Jr., whose surname is unknown, had her will probated in court on March 4, 1718/1719. Of course to make the situation more confusing both Charles Dodson Sr. and Jr. had wifes with unknown surnames named Ann. Of course, Ann Dodson Hill would have been named Ann Hill in 1718/1719 since she was married to John Hill and had been for more than a decade.
  • There is no record that Ann Elmore married Charles Dodson in 1678 in Rappahannock County, or anyplace.
  • There is no shred of evidence that Charles Dodson’s parents were Jesse Dodson and Judith Hagar.
  • There is no evidence that Charles Dodson was born in Rappahannock County, although a deposition in 1799 does state that that he is about 50 years old.
  • There is no evidence that Charles Dodson was christened in 1650 or that his christening, whenever it was, was in Rappahannock County.
  • Charles Dodson Sr. did not sign his will on July 8, 1680, but on January 11, 1702/1703.
  • However, a deed was registered between Peter Elmore and Charles Dodson on July 7, 1680.
  • Charles Dodson Sr. died between October 4, 1705 and February 6, 1705/1706 when his will was probated, not in 1704/1705.
  • Charles Dodson Jr. was not born in or about 1679, because he is witnessing deeds in 1693. He was probably born about 1672.
  • Other than Charles and Thomas Dodson, there is no indication in the Dodson research when the other children of Charles and Ann Dodson were born. Researchers simply have to fit them into the child-bearing years of Ann, around Charles and Thomas.
  • According to Charles Dodson’s will in combination with church and other records, there is no daughter Mary. Charles Dodson Jr. had a daughter Mary born in 1715, several years after Charles Dodson Sr. has died.

Even with the above incorrect information, this is the best information I could find on the Elmore family and how Ann Elmore was thought to be Charles Dodson’s wife. Hopefully the Elmore information is more accurate than the Dodson information.

Is Ann Dodson the daughter of Peter Elmore?

I couldn’t keep the Elmore information straight, so I created this abbreviated tree to track the various Peter Elmores, according to the FamilySearch information.

Peter Elmore proves a bit confusing, because in 1686, the following deed was filed.

Old Rappahannock Co Deed Book 7 – 1686 -1688; pg 306-307

I Wm. Thacker of the County of Lancaster do give William Mathews of the County of Rappa: one Cow Calfe black marked on the right eare with a crop and a slit and the left eare slitt down the midle with the one halfe of her encrease to him his heires and assignes from me my heires forever or from any persons that shall lay claim by me the abovesd Mathews being Son to Mr Wm. Mathews deceased of the Parish of Farnham of the County aforesaid. Peter Elmore being Father in Law to the abovesd Mathews is obliged to see it recorded and to have the other halfe of the encrease of the sd Cow for to looke after them as Witness my hand this 9th day of January 1683/6

Teste Charles Dodson, Wm. Thacker

John Mills marke of

Recordr. in Cur Com Rappa 23d die Martii 1686/7

A Yearling Heifer pide with black and white to be recorded with all her female encrease for Frans: Elmore marked as followeth: Crop in the right eare and a hole and under keeled on the same on the left

Record Cur Com Rappa 23 Marchy 1686/7

Father-in-law in this context probably means step-father, especially given the reference to Frances Elmore, above, and a birth recorded in 1674. Other records from this same time period in this county use the words “father in law” to mean father by law or the person we term as a step-father today.

The only Peter Elmores old enough to be the Peter in the 1686 deed are either Peter Elmore born in 1627 or his son Peter born in 1643.

The Registers of North Farnham Parish 1663-1814 and Lunenburg Parish 1783-1800 Richmond County, Virginia Compiled and Published by George Harrison Sanford King 1966 show:

Elmore, Anne daughter of Peter and Frances Elmore, Aug 29, 1674

Peter, born in 1643, is the only Peter of the age to be having a child, Ann, in 1674, given that his father, Peter born in 1627 is married to Jane and (supposedly) already has a daughter, Ann.

If in fact there was an Ann Elmore born to Peter Elmore Sr., we now have a second, younger Ann Elmore who was born in 1674, shown on the chart below. This younger Ann Elmore is clearly not the wife of Charles Dodson who is having children with his wife Ann at the time the younger Ann Elmore is born in 1674.

Deed Book Page 348 Sept 1, 1675 – I Thomas Dusin give grant and make over Anne Elmore the daughter of Peter Elmore and Frances his wife one yearling heifer…to her the said Ann Ellmore her heirs and assigns forever. Signed with mark, witness Peter Calvin and John Ingo

A year after Anne’s birth, Thomas Dusin, for some reason, gives her a one yearling heifer.

Deed Book Page 278 – July 10, 1679 between Peter Elmore of Rappae County, planter and Charles Dodson, same, planter, and his heirs and assignes, as much plantable land as 3 tithables can tend in corn and tabb, with privilege of leaving out for partuidge and further that said Dodson shall have the privilege of coopers and carpenters timber for the use of ye plantation for the term of 19 years from date hereof. (Further the said Elmore doth engage to furnish ye said Dodson with apple trees and peach trees suffichant to make an orchard both of apples and peaches) and further at the expiration of ye said terms the said Dodson is to leave a 30 foot dwelling house and a 50 foot tobacco house tennentable with all fencing in repairs that is at the expiration of the time. An further ye said Dodson to pay ye said Peter Elmore 50 pounds tobacco yearly during he said terme but if said Dodson chance to leave ye said plantation before the expiration of the said time that then ye said Peter Elmore shall have ye refusal before any other.

Signed Peter Elmore with mark and Charles Dodson. Witness William Smoote and Charles Wilson. Looks like it was registered July 7, 1680.

I’m almost positive that this transaction is why Ann Dodson, wife of Charles, is believed to be Ann Elmore, daughter of Peter. I must admit, this transaction, because of its rather strange nature, makes me wonder the same thing. However, if this were a deed to a daughter, one would think that it would not revert to Peter Elmore after 19 years. This is not a gift, but a business arrangement.

Unfortunately, because land isn’t conveyed, we really can’t say for sure whether this is Peter Elmore Sr. or Peter Elmore Jr., because Peter’s wife is not required to sign a release of her dower.

Deed Book Page 282 April 24, 1680 – Henry Dawson to Peter Elmore right in a bill of sale. Witnessed by William Dawson and Charles Dodson

Charles Dodson clearly does have a close relationship with Peter Elmore. Unfortunately, we really don’t know why. Are they just close neighbors, or is there something more? If they are related, keep in mind that we don’t know who Charles Dodson’s parents are, who Peter Elmore’s parents are, who Jane Elmore’s parents are nor who Ann Dodson’s parents are.  So if they are actually related, it could be through any of those individuals in any capacity.

Deed Book Page 310 – May 30, 1681 John Harding to Jane Elmore, daughter of Peter Elmore one black cow yearling. Signed with mark. Witness Charles Dodson and Jane Ellmore (signed with mark)

Given that this 1681 deed is witnessed by Jane Ellmore, she surely must be the daughter of the elder Peter Elmore, not the Peter Jr. born in 1643.

Deed Book Page 151 November 1684 – Mr Colston, I should desire you to record for Ann Elmore my eldest daughter two cowes with calves by their sides with all their increase and in soe doeing shall obleig. Signed Peter Elmore by mark

And likewise one cowe and calfe to be between my two youngest sons with their increase. Signed Peter Elmore by mark

And likewise a black heifer of 2 years to William Mathews my son-in-law with all her increase Signed Peter Elmore by mark

This deed executed in November 1684 provides us with even more information about Peter Elmore Jr. This has to be Peter Elmore Jr. because he refers to William Matthews, so this Ann Elmore is the Ann born in 1674.

The close relationship between Charles Dodson and Peter Elmore continues, as we see by the following transactions.

Will Book Jan. 29, 1686/87 Edward Johnson will, Charles Dodson executor, Peter Elmore witness.

Court Order Book March 2, 1686/7 page 15 Ordered Richard White, William Smoote, Peter Elmore or any 2 of them do sometime between this and the next court meet to inventory and appraise the estate of Edward Johnson.

Deed Book Page 165 Charles Dodson convey to beloved son Thomas Dodson brown cow called by the name of Nancy marked with a crop and swallow forke on the left eare and a crop on the right eare together with all her female increase being in exchange with him my said son Thomas for one cow given him by his Godfather Peter Elmore. July 31, 1693 signed, wit William Ward and William Colston

Does Ann Elmore, Daughter of Peter Elmore Sr., Exist?

This 1793 document explains something about the relationship between Charles Dodson and Peter Elmore. Peter is the godfather, not the grandfather, of Charles and Ann’s son Thomas Dodson, born in 1681. If Peter was the child’s grandfather, this deed would have said grandfather, not godfather – because blood would trump any other kind of relationship, since a relationship was identified. If Peter Elmore was Peter Elmore Jr., it would have said uncle, not godfather.

Furthermore, there is no child named Peter among Ann Dodson’s children, nor a child named Jane, Peter Elmore’s wife’s name.

I’m beginning to wonder if Anne Elmore, daughter of Peter Sr., born in 1627, ever actually existed at all. There is nothing anyplace to suggest that she did. Jane, yes – Ann, no.

I’m beginning to think that perhaps Ann Elmore was added to the list of Peter Elmore’s children by a genealogist because someone deduced that Ann Dodson was Ann Elmore because of the 1689 transaction between Charles Dodson, whose wife’s name was Ann, and Peter Elmore.

Charles and Ann Dodson obviously were very close to Peter Elmore, but why?

We’ve now produced evidence that suggests Ann Dodson is not Ann Elmore. However, we still have no idea who Ann Dodson is.

We also don’t know who Charles Dodson’s parents were, or where he came from either. We do know that there is no record of any Dodson family in the region before Charles first appears in the 1679 transaction between Charles Dodson and Peter Elmore.

For all we know, Charles and Ann may have married in England, or wherever they were before they are found in Rappahannock County in 1679.

By that time, Ann and Charles have at least one son, Charles Jr., have probably been married about 9 years and most likely have had about 4 children. We know that Charles Jr. lived to adulthood, and it’s safe to say that Thomas born in 1781 is the second son that lived, but we don’t know if any of the children born between Charles and Thomas survived.

Can Ann Dodson Write?

Ann witnesses four documents in 1693, 1694 and 1705. It appears that she signed her name, although that may simply be because the clerk did not mention that she could not write and signed with a mark. Given that her son, Charles Jr., also married an Ann, it’s difficult to discern which Ann was signing, although the ones where Charles Jr. is absent are much more likely to have been signed by Ann, wife of Charles Sr.

If Ann is literate, it makes the probability that she was raised in England much more likely than being raised in early Virginia.

Court Order Book May 1, 1693 Power of Attorney Easter Mills of Richmond Co. constitute my trusty and loving friend Edward Reid of same to be my attorney to ask a deed above made by my husband John Mills and myself unto Charles Richardson of the same of 125 acres. Wit Ann Dodson, Charles Dodson, Jr, Charles Dodson Sr. Book 1, page 71

Deed Book May 28, 1694 William Richardson and Elizabeth his wife of Richmond Co planter to John Henley of same, planter, 50 ac parcel in Farnham parish adj said Richardson’s land and Thomas Dusin part of a devident of land purch of John Mills of Richmond Co on main branch of Totuskey. Wit Ann Dodson, Charles Dodson Jr, Charles Dodson Sr. Ack June 6, 1694 Book 2 page 29

Notice that in the above deed, no one is noted as signing with an X, but below, having to do with the same deed, both Ann and Charles Jr. are noted as signing by their marks.

Court Order Book May 28, 1694 Elizabeth Richardson POA to Thomas Dusin to acknowledge deed. Signed with mark, wit Ann Dodson by mark, Charles Dodson Jr. by mark and Charles Dodson Sr.

Will Book 24 Apr 1704-04 Oct 1705. Richmond Co, Virginia Wills, Will of Eve Smith. Grandson William and John Goad; daughter Catherine to have her father, John Williams’ chest; granddaughter Hannah Goad; exec. son Abraham Goad; Wits: William Dodson, Charles Dodson, Sr., Anne Dodson.

Life on the Northern Neck

Life on the Northern Neck of Virginia at that time revolved around the planting, nurturing and harvesting of tobacco, a very labor intensive crop.

Charles Dodson was very clearly a man with a great deal of initiative and drive, given that he started out in 1679 by working the land of Peter Elmore that he would never own, and by the time he died, 27 years later, he owned 900 acres.

Ann’s life too would have revolved around crops, seasons and church. While church attendance was mandatory at the time, most people, especially women, didn’t need much encouragement to attend. Where the court sessions were an important social occasion for men, women didn’t usually attend court, and church provided that same type of camaraderie for women.

Charles and Ann lived in, along or on Briery Swamp, a part of the Totuskey watershed. They paid for their land with tobacco, the traditionally accepted money in colonial Virginia.

Ann’s husband did the normal male things of the day. He witnessed wills, witnessed deeds and attended court, occasionally serving as a juror. Charles apparently settled differences with people amicably, because for a very long time, he wasn’t sued and he didn’t sue anyone.

He was highly thought of in the community, because in 1686/1687, when neighbor John Lincoln died, it was reported that John would “have none other than Charles Dodson” for his executor.

In 1688, Charles and Ann would have been about 38 years old.

Something began to change. The first suit was filed against Charles Dodson, with a second one following at the same court tern.

In 1693, a rather unusual transaction occurred where Charles Dodson trades cows with his son, Thomas, who was age 12.

Charles continues to sign deeds as a witness and appear in court, until in 1695, when the “Ozgrippin event” occurred. According to depositions, Charles, along with two other men went to the house of Matthew Ozgrippen (or Ozgriffen), apparently Charles Dodson’s tenant, and forcibly entered the house, beat Matthew and destroyed his tobacco and corn crop.

For two years, and with Murphy of Murphy’s law in attendance, Charles Dodson and Matthew Ozgrippen battled in the courts, with Matthew ultimately winning, but not nearly as much money (tobacco) as he had requested.

Charles then begins to file suits and not appear afterwards.

The behavior of Charles has changed perceptibly and I have to wonder if he changed at home too. He would have been between 40 and 50 at this time. His behavior is similar to what I’ve witnessed up close and personal when strokes or closed head injuries are incurred.

About 1698, the 19 year “arrangement” for Charles to farm and improve Peter Elmore’s land expires, and apparently Charles and Ann built a new house on a new plantation on land they owned, because Charles’ will in 1702/1703 references it as such.

In 1699, when he is age 50, Charles does serve on a jury once more, gives a deposition and is also involved with Ozgrippen again in a suit. Ann must have been holding her breath, waiting on one of those two men to kill the other.

In January 1702/03, Charles Dodson wrote his will. He would have been about 53 at the time. He didn’t pass away right away, in fact, not for 3 more years – and he resumes filing suit and not showing up for court too.

In March of 1705/1706, Charles Dodson’s estate is probated, with Ann as executrix.

Charles Dodson’s Estate Inventory

Charles Dodson’s estate inventory was filed with the court on Oct. 17, 1706, as follows:

  • Feather bed and bedstead and parcel of sheets and one blanket and one rugg – 0600
  • One flock bed and paire of blankets one sheet and rug and bolster and bedstead – 0500
  • One saw and six reep hooks and one paire of old pestells holsters and one old chest and one old bill book – 0200
  • Eight chairs – 0800
  • Two wooden chairs – 0100
  • One chest of drawers and table – 1000
  • Two chest – 0250
  • One small table couch – 0150
  • One warming pan two paire of tongs and one box iron – 0200
  • One pair hilliards – 0250
  • One super table cloth and 12 napkins – 0200
  • Four old napkins and one old table cloth – 0050
  • One feather bed curtains and valens one blankett one pair of sheets and two pillows – 1100
  • A parcel of old books – 0150
  • Ole looking glass and lantron? – 0050
  • One old flock bed 2 blankets rug bolster and pillows – 0400
  • 2 spinning wheels – 0150
  • 3 pots 3 pothooks and 3 pot hangers one spit and one iron pestell – 0450
  • 99 weight of pewter – 0950
  • One bellmettle pestle and mortar 0 0700
  • 7.5 pounds of brass – 0130
  • One servant man 3 years and 8 months to serve – 2200
  • One pare of small hilliards and two smoothing iron and two cutting knives and skewers – 0150
  • One mare and two horses – 2400
  • Parcel of old iron – 0100
  • Pair of cart wheels – 0060
  • Old crosscut saw – 0150
  • One saddle and pillow or pillion – 0120
  • 3 cows and 3 years old – 1800
  • One cow and calfe – 0500
  • 6 two yeare olde – 1200
  • One steere of 5 years old – 0500
  • 2 barren cows and heifer and one calfe – 1400
  • 3 old sheep – 0300
  • 3 lambs – 0200

Total 18780

Signed John Rankin, William Smoot and Richard R. White (his mark)

I absolutely love estate inventories, because they tell us exactly what was in the household and on the farm when the man died. Inventories included everything owned by the couple, because the man was presumed to own all property of any kind except for the wife’s clothes and any real estate deeded to her individually after they were married. The wife was entitled to one third of the value of the husband’s estate unless the husband provided for more. However, the estate’s real value was established by the sale of the inventory items, not by the inventory itself, so everything was inventoried prior to sale.  In some cases, the widow was made an initial allocation so she and the children could simply survive.

The feather bed clearly was the bed that Charles and Ann slept in, but it’s worth noting that there were no bedcurtains or valances which would have suggested a more upper-class household.

There were three beds in the inventory, two of flock which meant a mattress of scraps of fabric and wool instead of feathers. However, Ann and Charles had 8 children and a servant. Obviously there was a lot of bed-sharing going on and not everyone had a bed. The servant may have slept in the barn or on straw in the kitchen.

The spinning wheels certainly weren’t tools used by Charles and were obviously Ann’s.

This photo of a woman with a spinning wheel was taken about 1920, but not a lot had changed in spinning wheel design in the past couple hundred years.

The looking glass may have been a shared resource. Looking glasses were scarce and status symbols.

I do wonder why there were no pots and pans, silverware, candle holders, etc. The absence of these items if very unusual for this time period – and let’s face it, you can’t live without candles and silverware and Charles Dodson, while he wasn’t rich, he certainly was not a poor man.

Ann Remarries

Four months after Charles’ will is probated, Ann has remarried to John Hill, probably between March 6th and July 3rd, 1706.

John Hill is no stranger. In fact, he has been a lifelong friend of Charles Dodson. John Hill had previously married the widow of John Lincoln and she had probably recently died as well, assuming Ann married the same John Hill. They probably knew each other well, possibly for their entire lives. A decision to marry would have benefitted both parties. Life alone was difficult if not impossible in colonial Virginia, and Ann would probably have had some children yet at home given that she was probably between 50 and 55 when Charles died. Women had children until they biologically could not, generally between the ages of 41-45, which meant Ann probably had at least 5 or 6 children remaining at home.

Court Order Book Page 137 March 6, 1705/06 Will of Charles Dodson proved by oath of Christopher Petty with oath of John Beckwith.

Will Book Page 171 July 3, 1706 Upon petition of John Hill and Anne his wife, exec of the will of Charles Dodson decd ordered that John Rankin, William Smoote, John Mills and Richard White or any 3 of them meet at the house of John Hill and inventory and appraise the estate of Charles Dodson. All sworn plus John Hill and Anne, his wife.

Court Order Book Page 262 April 3, 1707 Action brought by Thomas Dodson against John Hill marrying the executrix of Charles Dodson is dismissed, plt not prosecuting.

Thomas Dodson was Ann’s second oldest son, of course, who would have about 26 years old at the time and had been married since 1701. Something upset him enough to file suit, although the issue was apparently resolved within the family as the suit was obviously dropped. I wonder if his suit had anything to do with what appears to be missing estate inventory items.

Court Order Book Page 275 May 7, 1707 John Hill and Anne his wife exec of Charles Dodson confest judgement to Katherine Gwyn exec of will of Majr David Gwyn for 8 pounds 19 shillings and 8 pence 3 farthings and 731 pounds of sweet scented tobacco due upon balance of accounts ordered to be paid with costs.

Court Order Book Page 281 May 8, 1707 Imparlance granted in suite between John Harper plt and John Hill and Anne his wife exec of Charles Dodson decd, till next court.

Court Order Book Page 292 July 3, 1707 John Harper against John Hill and Anne his wife exec of Charles Dodson decde, deft for 500 pounds of tobacco upon balance of accounts, def pleaded they owed nothing and plt asked time to next court.

Court Order Book Page 303 Sept. 4, 1707 Judgement granted to John Harper against John Hill and Anne his wife exec of Charles Dodson, decd, for 405 pounds tobacco due by account proved by oath of plt ordered paid with costs.

Court Order Book Page 323 Dec. 4, 1707 John Hill and Anne his wife exe of will of Charles Dodson decd against John Harper dismissed, plt not prosecuting.

Court Order Book Page 40 June 2 1709 Judgment granted to John Davis Sr. against John Hill and Anne, wife, exec of Charles Dodson decd for 136 pounds tobacco due by account ordered paid with costs.

John Hill

As with Charles Dodson previously, we now have to track Ann’s life through husband, John Hill. As we might expect, it appears there is more than one John Hill, at least eventually. We can’t tell the difference between the two, if there are two this early, and we don’t know when Ann died.

Court Order Book Page 27 June 1, 1709 Ordered Luke Hanks officiate as constable for the ensuing year in room and stead of John Hill in the precincts between Totuskey and Farnham Creeks.

Court Order Book Page 337 Sept. 8, 1715 Petition of Thomas Mountjoy and John Hill for their keep an ordinary at the place where they now live is granted provided they give bond and security as the law directs.

Court Order Book Page 475 May 2, 1716 Ordered the Sheriff to summon William Hill and John Hill to appear to answer the presentment of the grand jury against them for stopping the creek and mill road from the Folly Neck in Farnham Parish within this 3 months.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any image.

Folly Neck is the point of land on the south side of Tosuskey Creek where it intersects with the Rappahannock River. Folly Neck Road (614) intersects with the main road (3). Did Ann live here with John Hill, or did they live on one of Charles Dodson’s plantations?  Was this one of Charles Dodson’s plantations? Folly Neck is just south of Totuskey Creek and not far from Rich Neck, shown a the top of the map below, where  Charles Dodson’s land deeded to both Charles Jr. and Thomas in 1703 was located.

The old Farnham Parish church is just south of Emmerton in the bend of the road and the new church, built in 1737, is currently located at Farnham.  The river near Sharps is Farnham Creek and the one heading northwest underneath the word Simonson is Morattico Creek.

Court Order Book Page 43 August 2, 1716 John Hill his action of case against Ann Dodson executrix of the will of Charles Dodson decd for 313 pounds tobacco due by account is dismissed, plt not prosecuting.

This Charles Dodson is Charles Dodson Jr., the son of Charles Sr. and Ann Dodson Hill, and the Ann Dodson mentioned here is the wife of Charles Jr.

Deed Book September 1716 Deed between Thomas Mountjoy and John Hill.

Deed Book Page 66 October 4, 1716 John Doyle from Edward Barrow gent, one of his majesties justices of the peace for this county, against the estate of John Hill for 261 pounds of tobacco is dismissed, the plt not prosecuting.

Given that this 1716 record doesn’t say John Hill, deceased, it’s unclear whether or not this John Hill in question is deceased.  It seems unlikely since there has been no other mention of a will or probate estate in any existing court or will book for Richmond County. The same day, John Hill is in court, noted below.

Deed Book Page 67 October 4, 1716 John Hill came into court and confessed until Augustine Higgins 4167 pounds of tobacco which is ordered to be paid with costs.

Court Order Book Page 72 October 4, 1716 Action of debt between Joseph Hutchinson Plt and Thomas Mountjoy and John Hill, deft, for 750 pounds tobacco due by bill being called and not appearing on motion judgement is granted him against William Carter, returned security for the deft for the aforesaid sum and costs unless defts appear at next court and answer action.

Court Order Book Page 73 October 4, 1716 Mary Stevens action of debt against John Hill for 600 pounds tobacco due by bill, dismissed, plt not prosecuting.

Court Order Page 91 Feb. 7, 1716/17 Joseph Hutchison action of debt against Thomas Mountjoy and John Hill dismissed the plt not prosecuting.

John Hill was appointed constable, but I failed to copy the date which was in either the  1716 -1717 Court Order book or the 1717-1718 book.

Assuming this John Hill is the same John Hill that was married to Ann Dodson, she has died sometime between June 2, 1709 when she is last mentioned in the court records pertaining to the estate of Charles Dodson, and March 7, 1721/1722, when John Hill’s new wife released her down in land John Hill sells.

Court Order Book Page 36 March 7, 1721/22 Frances Hill wife of John Hill relinquished right of dower in piece of land sold by her husband unto Thomas Creele and ack last Jan court.

The Creele family does live in the neighborhood, because in later generations, the Dodson family intermarries with Creeles. Based on the next entry, John Hill has obviously married a recently widowed woman, for the third time. Given that he seems to have a propensity for that, I wonder if Ann Dodson Hill had just recently died in late 1721 or early 1722.

Court Order Book Page 36 March 7, 1721/22 John Hill and Frances Hill, relict of Robert Reynolds, decd came into court and made oath that Robert Reynolds departed this life without making any will so farr as they know or believe and on their petition and giving security for their just and faithful administration of the decds estate, certificate granted them for obtaining probate.

Court Order Book Page 36 March 7, 1721/22 John Hill, Frances Hill, Caron Brannon and James Neale came into court and ack bond for John Hill and Frances Hill admin of estate of Robert Reynolds, decd.

Court Order Book Page 36 March 7, 1721/22 Thomas Dodson, Christopher Petty, Bartholomew Richard Dodson and Thomas Scurlock or any 3 of them to appraise estate of Robert Reynolds decd. All sworn plus John and Frances Hill, the admins.

It’s impossible to tell whether the above John Hill is the same one that was married to Ann Dodson, but the continued interaction with the Dodson family suggests possibly so. It’s also possible that we are dealing with a second generation John Hill, although Jr. and Sr. is never used in these records.

Court Order Book Page 83 January 2, 1722/23 Ordered John Hill in the Forrest of Moratico of Northumberland Parish to answer to the presentment of the grand jury for unlawfully absenting themselves from their Parish Church for one month last past.

This entry is somewhat confusing, because there is not now nor was there ever, that I an find, a Northumberland Parish in Richmond County, Virginia.  There was a Northumberland County formed in 1648, a neighbor to Richmond County, but the parishes in Northumberland were called St. Stephens and Wycomico (Wicomico) when the county was founded.  Northumberland Parish, is therefore, a bit of a mystery.

If John Hill lived in the Forest of Moratico, so did Ann. This reminds me of Sherwood Forest, although I’m sure I’m being overly romantic. I could not find the Forest of Moratico on current maps, or any map between now and then. Clearly, it’s someplace near the Moratico River which is in the general vicinity of the Dodson lands in Richmond County.

I’m guessing that the Forest of Morattico would be someplace near Morattico Creek shown at the red balloon, above. There are several wooded areas, including three state-owned areas shown in green above.  Below, you can see the extent of the tree cover.

The involvement between the Dodson clan and John Hill continues.

Deed Book Dec. 10, 1723 Thomas Durham to Thomas Dodson Sr. 5 shillings 100 acres formerly belonging to Abraham Marshall bounded by Spanish Oak corner tree of Charles Dodson part of patent formerly granted to William Thatcher by the main branch of Totoskey and then (metes and bounds.) Signed Thomas and Mary Durham, wit John Hill, William Walker and Jeremiah Greenham

Deed Book Dec. 10, 1723 between Thomas Durham to Thomas Dodson Sr. of Richmond Co. 5000 pounds tobacco received by Thomas Dodson Sr certain parcel of land formerly belonging to Abraham Marshall bearing date 25th of 9ber, 1692, containing 100 acres bounded (same as lease above). Signed Thomas Durham, Mary Durham, wit John Hill, William Walker, Jeremiah Greenham

Thomas Dodson Sr. is Ann’s son.

Court Order Book Page 307 Sept. 7, 1726 William Garland plt and Edward Jones deft, the deft being called and not appearing, judgement granted him against deft and John Hill his security for the sum sued for in the declaration shall appear next court with cost providing deft does not then appear and answer thereto.

Court Order Book Page 307 Sept. 7, 1726 John Nancy vs John Hill deft damage 100 pounds sterling the plt being called and not appearing, at deft’s motion ordered that he be nonsuited and that he pay the deft damage according to law and attorney’s fees with costs.

Court Order Book Page 308 Sept. 7, 1726 John Hill his case damage 20 pounds sterling against Richard Woollard dismissed, the plt not prosecuting.

I made a note that there is a John Hill listed in the book, Richmond Co Will Book 4 1717-1725 by TLC, but unfortunately, I did not copy the page. The date could be wrong as well, as the books at the Allen County Public Library in this series appears to have the covers mixed up. This site shows that John’s will was probated April 3, 1728 where he leaves the plantation and land to his wife, who is unnamed.

I expect the 1728 entry is “our” John Hill, as he is clearly dead by April 1728 when Frances is shown in the court records as his executrix. Furthermore, three sons of Charles and Ann Dodson are still connected with this man.

Court Order Book Page 399 April 3, 1728 Last will of John Hill decd presented by Frances Hill, executrix and oath of James Wilson and John Hightower, two witnesses.

Court Order Book Page 399 April 3, 1728 Frances Hill, John Hightower and Lambert Dodson came into court and ack bond for Frances Hill’s administration of will of John Hill decd.

Court Order Book Page 399 April 3, 1728 Thomas Scurlock, Thomas Dodson, John Hightower and Bartholomew Richard Dodson or any 3 of them to appraise estate of John Hill. Oaths admin to all 3 plus Frances Hill.

Court Order Book Page 435 October 2, 1728 Action of debt between Frances Hill executrix of will of John Hill, decd, plt and Thomas Livack and Mary, wife executrix of will of John Mills, decd, for 16,000 pounds tobacco due by bond, the def being called and not appearing the motion of the plt judgement is granted her against the defts.

These next two orders show that there was unquestionably (at least) two John Hills, because one is still living.

Court Order Book Page 644 May 3, 1732 Thomas Dodson, Sr, Jeremiah Greenham and John Hill on grand jury.

Court Order Book Page 172 April 1, 1734 Jeremiah Greenham and John Hill on jury.

At this point in time, it’s very unlikely for this John Hill, active in court, to be the husband of Ann Dodson Hill. Ann would have been about 85 years old by now, and John probably as well. They are very likely both deceased by this time and if John isn’t deceased, he’s probably not riding his horse to court. I stopped extracting John Hill information at this point.

I believe that Ann died before 1721/1722 when John had remarried to Frances.

Where is Ann Buried?

In the book, “The Registers of North Farnham Parish 1663-1814,” the following map of the current and old Farnham Parish churches is shown. The current church was built in 1737, and the previous church was located some distance away, on the main road.

This map gives the only locations I have ever seen of the original church, other than a general description.

What I don’t know is whether this is an approximation, or if the old-timers actually knew the location of the old church.

Regardless, given this map, I was able to find the location on Google maps today based on the bends in the road.

Map above, satellite view below.

The X on the map from the Farnham Parish book would be found approximately where the Calvary United Methodist Church is found today.

A closer view allows us to see the lay of the land.

The church does have a cemetery, although we have no idea of course whether this cemetery predates this church or whether the original Farnham Parish church was even in this location.

The original church was certainly someplace nearby, so let’s take a drive down this road.

What a beautiful white country church. Whether the original Farnham Parish Church church was in this location or not, Ann would have seen this beautiful countryside on her way to church.

The earliest burials in this cemetery with markers are a Ficklin in 1873 and a Lyell 1884. The area of the cemetery is quite large, so there may well be many unmarked burials in the churchyard. I was unable to find any history of this particular church online.

The fields beside the church would have been prime farmland – flat and dry. At that time, they would have been planted in tobacco (for 3 years) or corn (for 3 years), or lieing fallow (for 20 years), waiting for the nutrients to replenish so that the fields could be planted once again.

Ann’s Children

Ann and Charles had several children who survived at least until Charles made his will in January 1702/1703. There were likely several more children born to Ann as well. In the following generations, there were at least three grandchildren named for Charles but only one that we know of named for Ann. Of course, we don’t know the identities of the children of William, Anne or Elizabeth and only two names of children of Richard Bartholomew who are remembered in Charles’ will, but we know nothing further.

If Ann was born about 1652 and had her first child in 1672, she would have been having children until about 1695 or so when she would have been about 43 years of age.

  • Charles Junior was born between 1672 and 1677 and likely closer to 1672 given that he witnessed a document in 1693. Based on the deeds by Charles and the fact that he was named for his father, he was most likely the eldest son, if not the eldest child. Charles married an Anne whose surname is unknown.  Charles Jr. died between July of 1715 and May of 1716 when his will was probated.
  • Child born about 1674
  • Child born about 1676
  • Child born about 1678
  • Thomas Dodson was born on May 15, 1681, married Mary Durham on August 1, 1701 and died on November 21, 1740 in Richmond County.

We don’t have birth dates for the remainder of the children, so I’ve listed them as best we know.

  • Child born about 1683
  • Elizabeth possibly born about 1685, nothing further known except that she was alive when her father wrote his will in 1703
  • Anne possibly born about 1687, nothing more is known except that she was alive when her father wrote his will in 1703
  • Bartholomew Richard Dodson married Elizabeth Clark and their first child, James was born on December 23, 1716 according to the North Farnham Parish Records. This would suggest his birth date probably around 1689 if James was the first child. They are last found in the Richmond County records in 1734 selling their land to brother Thomas Dodson, listing themselves as “of Northumberland County.” Unfortunately, Northumberland County records are mostly missing and Bartholomew Richard disappears after this date.

I suspect that Bartholomew Richard’s name may be a hint as to the parents of either Ann or Charles, given that middle names were not utilized at that time unless they were family names and Bartholomew was a very unusual name.

  • William Dodson born about 1691, about whom nothing more is known. He may have died before a 1717 land conveyance by James Tune and Bartholomew Richard Dodson that could have been his land, or he may simply have moved away, abandoning his land with no record.
  • John Dodson born about 1693 was married to Elizabeth Goad about 1724 and died in Shenandoah Co., VA in 1784. In 1726, John sold or leased to Robert Mathews his 100 acres for the use of Mathews for 3 natural lifetimes, with the actual ownership remaining with John, per Charles Sr.’s wishes in his will. In 1737, two of John’s sons, Charles age 1 and Moses age 8 were taken into the care of the church, although nothing more is said as to why. John left soon thereafter and is found in Augusta County by 1741 when his daughter Elizabeth was baptized. John bequeaths his land, leased for 3 lifetimes, to his son, Charles, in his will.
  • Lambeth Dodson was born about 1695 and married a Sarah whose surname is unknown. Lambeth sold the land he inherited from his father being “the new dwelling plantation with 100 acres of land belonging to it” to his brother, Thomas, who bequeathed the land in his will in 1739 to his son Greenham Dodson. By 1753, Lambeth is found in Halifax County, VA and in Guilford Co., NC by 1779.

Lambeth’s son, Greenham Dodson married Eleanor Hightower and sold the 100 acres of Charles’ land to Jeremiah Greenham in 1746, Richmond County deeds 10-373. This land needs to be tracked forward from Jeremiah, with the hope that it can be located today.

Ann’s DNA

The only DNA that we could specifically identify today of Ann’s would be her mitochondrial DNA which is passed from mothers to all of their children, but only passed on to subsequent generations by females. Unfortunately, we know absolutely nothing about what happened to Ann’s two daughters, Anne and Elizabeth. We only know they existed because Charles’ will mentions them. They could have died or married, but regardless, we have no further records of these women, so we can’t obtain Ann’s mitochondrial DNA.

Many people carry autosomal DNA tracking back to Charles and Ann. Some of that DNA is undoubtedly Ann’s DNA, but when we have DNA attributed to a couple, the only way to tell whose DNA is whose is to be able to track specific segments upstream to either the Dodson side or Ann’s side.

The way to do that is to track those segments by finding them in Dodson’s, for example, who do not descend through Ann or Charles – meaning through Charles Dodson’s siblings. Since we don’t know who Charles’ parents nor Ann’s parents were, we don’t know who their siblings are either, so our figurative hands are tied relative to identifying whether segments descending from this couple are his or hers. We can only tell that they are “theirs.”

At Family Tree DNA, where I can both search for current and ancestral surnames, AND compare people to look for matching segments in a chromosome browser, I did just that.

I found a total of 22 people who either have the current surname of Dodson or have Dodson listed in their Ancestral Surnames. Some have trees, and some don’t.

I checked each tree to see how my matches descend from a Dodson ancestor. I discovered that we descend through at least two sons of Charles and Ann Dodson. Several people are brick walled and don’t have their genealogy back far enough to connect.

However, the Dodson DNA connects us when compared to known Dodson descendants.

I pushed all of these people through to the chromosome browser, 5 at a time, and downloaded the matching results, combining them into one working spreadsheet. In total, I had 22 matches that matched me on a total of 452 separate segments. Many of these people matched me on some of the same segments

There are two sizeable segments of chromosome 5 that have, amazingly, arrived intact from the Dodson line.

This first segment is staggered across the first half of the chromosome, and of this group, only two, the yellow and orange have their Dodson lines proven back to Charles. Both the yellow and orange descend through son Thomas, the same as me.

The cM values and ranges for the people shown above as compared to me are:

While the chromosome browser tells me that all of these people match me on the same chromosome – all chromosomes have two sides – Mom’s and Dad’s. Furthermore, these matches are staggered, so not entirely overlapping. Therefore, some of the people may not match each other either because their overlapping portion of the segment on chromosome 5 isn’t large enough to be considered a match to each other, or because some people could be matching me from a line on my mother’s side.

To see if these people all match each other, I used the Matrix tool.

Three of these individuals match each other, plus me, although a matrix match does not guarantee a match on the same segment(s). It does, however, create a genetic network of people known to match and share ancestors, or in this care, a mixture of people proven to Charles and Ann and people whose genealogy isn’t proven quite that far back but who are Dodson descendants.

Two individuals do not match each other. If the overlap occurs without enough DNA matching to be over the threshold, non-matching can be the result. As you can see in the table and also on the chromosome graphic above, the orange and magenta are very offset from the other 3. Sure enough, these two don’t match the other 3 more closely aligned matches over the matching threshold, so either they don’t belong in this group or their overlap isn’t large enough for a match to each other. Looking for other clues, neither of those two are assigned to my father’s side through phased matching.

But wait, there’s more.

A second matching segment on chromosome 5 is even more remarkable.

These segments are even longer and more robust. Five people are shown above on the chromosome browser, above, and in the first 5 rows below.

Three additional people match on these segments, but the chromosome browser only displays 5 at a time. The row below green would be the exact same segment as the green segment. The segment with only 1.37 cM is very small and the last segment, at 13.34 is a known cousin, so I omitted that individual from the browser.

To be as sure as I can be that these segments are legitimate and that these people also match each other, I used the matrix tool again.

This matrix shows that all of the individuals in the matrix match. I’ve included two of the three individuals whose DNA did not fit in the chromosome browser, excluding the one small segment match. All match each other, except for the last row who is the known cousin whose matching segment is much smaller and does not extend the full length of the segments of the other individuals who are matching to me. Therefore, that cousin matches some, but not others, as might be expected.

While Family Tree DNA does not have explicit triangulation, the combination of the chromosome browser showing matches on the same segment, the same family line and the matrix tool indicating that these people also match each other is a very powerful indication that triangulation would or will occur if you can verify that these people also match each other. These individuals form a match group.

So, at this point, we can assume that of these people, all of the group in the second matrix and at least 3 of the 5 in the first matrix all descend from Charles and Ann Dodson, for a minimum total of 10 people plus me.

This is actually quite remarkable, because these large segments have survived through 10 generations on my side alone – plus about as many generations for each of them as well.

If one can assume that the other people matching that chromosome 5 segment are also 10 generations removed from Charles and Ann, they would be my 9th cousins.

The shared cM chart doesn’t even go as far out as 9th cousins. The highest is 8th, with the maximum amount of shared DNA by cM for 8th cousins being 16 cM with an average of 9. These centiMorgans ranging from 15 to 39 for this entire group is really quite amazing. The Dodson DNA seems to “stick together” quite well.

Now if we could just tell if we are looking at Ann’s DNA or Charles’ DNA, or some combination of both. Maybe someday there will be an avenue to associate this segment with the Dodson line or Ann’s family line – and if that day comes, maybe we’ll finally be able to solve the mystery of who Ann Dodson, wife of Charles Dodson, really was.

Which DNA Test is Best?

If you’re reading this article, congratulations. You’re a savvy shopper and you’re doing some research before purchasing a DNA test. You’ve come to the right place.

The most common question I receive is asking which test is best to purchase. There is no one single best answer for everyone – it depends on your testing goals and your pocketbook.

Testing Goals

People who want to have their DNA tested have a goal in mind and seek results to utilize for their particular purpose. Today, in the Direct to Consumer (DTC) DNA market space, people have varied interests that fall into the general categories of genealogy and medical/health.

I’ve approached the question of “which test is best” by providing information grouped into testing goal categories.  I’ve compared the different vendors and tests from the perspective of someone who is looking to test for those purposes – and I’ve created separate sections of this article for each interest..

We will be discussing testing for:

  • Ethnicity – Who Am I? – Breakdown by Various World Regions
  • Adoption – Finding Missing Parents or Close Family
  • Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification
  • Medical/Health

We will be reviewing the following test types:

  • Autosomal
  • Y DNA (males only)
  • Mitochondrial DNA

I have included summary charts for each section, plus an additional chart for:

  • Additional Vendor Considerations

If you are looking to select one test, or have limited funds, or are looking to prioritize certain types of tests, you’ll want to read about each vendor, each type of test, and each testing goal category.

Each category reports information about the vendors and their products from a different perspective – and only you can decide which of these perspectives and features are most important to you.

You might want to read this short article for a quick overview of the 4 kinds of DNA used for genetic genealogy and DTC testing and how they differ.

The Big 3

Today, there are three major players in the DNA testing market, not in any particular order:

Each of these companies offers autosomal tests, but each vendor offers features that are unique. Family Tree DNA and 23andMe offer additional tests as well.

In addition to the Big 3, there are a couple of new kids on the block that I will mention where appropriate. There are also niche players for the more advanced genetic genealogist or serious researcher, and this article does not address advanced research.

In a nutshell, if you are serious genealogist, you will want to take all of the following tests to maximize your tools for solving genealogical puzzles. There is no one single test that does everything.

  • Full mitochondrial sequence that informs you about your matrilineal line (only) at Family Tree DNA. This test currently costs $199.
  • Y DNA test (for males only) that informs you about your direct paternal (surname) line (only) at Family Tree DNA. This test begins at $169 for 37 markers.
  • Family Finder, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching at Family Tree DNA. This test currently costs $89.
  • AncestryDNA, an autosomal test at Ancestry.com that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. (Do not confuse this test with Ancestry by DNA, which is not the same test and does not provide the same features.) This test currently costs $99, plus a subscription for full access.
  • 23andMe Ancestry Service test, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. The genealogy version of this test costs $99, the medical+genealogy version costs $199.

A Word About Third Party Tools

A number of third party tools exist, such as GedMatch and DNAGedcom.com, and while these tools are quite useful after testing, these vendors don’t provide tests. In order to use these sites, you must first take an autosomal DNA test from a testing vendor. This article focuses on selecting your DNA testing vendor based on your testing goals.

Let’s get started!

Ethnicity

Many people are drawn to DNA testing through commercials that promise to ‘tell you who you are.” While the allure is exciting, the reality is somewhat different.

Each of the major three vendors provide an ethnicity estimate based on your autosomal DNA test, and each of the three vendors will provide you with a different result.

Yep, same person, different ethnicity breakdowns.

Hopefully, the outcomes will be very similar, but that’s certainly not always the case. However, many people take one test and believe those results wholeheartedly. Please don’t. You may want to read Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages to see how varied my own ethnicity reports are at various vendors as compared to my known genealogy.

The technology for understanding “ethnicity” from a genetic perspective is still very new. Your ethnicity estimate is based on reference populations from around the world – today. People and populations move, and have moved, for hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of years. Written history only reaches back a fraction of that time, so the estimates provided to people today are not exact.

That isn’t to criticize any individual vendor. View each vendor’s results not as gospel, but as their opinion based on their reference populations and their internal proprietary algorithm of utilizing those reference populations to produce your ethnicity results.

To read more about how ethnicity testing works, and why your results may vary between vendors or not be what you expected, click here.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from testing, only to be sure consumers understand the context of what they will be receiving. Generally speaking, these results are accurate at the continental level, and less accurate within continents, such as European regional breakdowns.

All three testing companies provide additional features or tools, in addition to your ethnicity estimates, that are relevant to ethnicity or population groups.

Let’s look at each company separately.

Ethnicity – Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity tool is called myOrigins and provides three features or tools in addition to the actual ethnicity estimate and associated ethnicity map.

Please note that throughout this article you can click on any image to enlarge.

On the myOrigins ethnicity map page, above, your ethnicity percentages and map are shown, along with two additional features.

The Shared Origins box to the left shows the matching ethnic components of people on your DNA match list. This is particularly useful if you are trying to discover, for example, where a particular minority admixture comes from in your lineage. You can select different match types, for example, immediate relatives or X chromosome matches, which have special inheritance qualities.

Clicking on the apricot (mitochondrial DNA) and green (Y DNA) pins in the lower right corner drops the pins in the locations on your map of the most distant ancestral Y and mitochondrial DNA locations of the individuals in the group you have selected in the Shared Origins match box. You may or may not match these individuals on the Y or mtDNA lines, but families tend to migrate in groups, so match hints of any kind are important.

A third unique feature provided by Family Tree DNA is Ancient Origins, a tool released with little fanfare in November 2016.

Ancient Origins shows the ancient source of your European DNA, based on genome sequencing of ancient DNA from the locations shown on the map.

Additionally, Family Tree DNA hosts an Ancient DNA project where they have facilitated the upload of the ancient genomes so that customers today can determine if they match these ancient individuals.

Kits included in the Ancient DNA project are shown in the chart below, along with their age and burial location. Some have matches today, and some of these samples are included on the Ancient Origins map.

Individual Approx. Age Burial Location Matches Ancient Origins Map
Clovis Anzick 12,500 Montana (US) Yes No
Linearbandkeramik 7,500 Stuttgart, Germany Yes Yes
Loschbour 8,000 Luxembourg Yes Yes
Palaeo-Eskimo 4,000 Greenland No No
Altai Neanderthal 50,000 Altai No No
Denisova 30,000 Siberia No No
Hinxton-4 2,000 Cambridgeshire, UK No No
BR2 3,200 Hungary Yes Yes
Ust’-Ishim 45,000 Siberia Yes No
NE1 7,500 Hungary Yes Yes

Ethnicity – Ancestry

In addition to your ethnicity estimate, Ancestry also provides a feature called Genetic Communities.

Your ethnicity estimate provides percentages of DNA found in regions shown on the map by fully colored shapes – green in Europe in the example above. Genetic Communities show how your DNA clusters with other people in specific regions of the world – shown with dotted clusters in the US in this example.

In my case, my ethnicity at Ancestry shows my European roots, illustrated by the green highlighted areas, and my two Genetic Communities are shown by yellow and red dotted regions in the United States.

My assigned Genetic Communities indicate that my DNA clusters with other people whose ancestors lived in two regions; The Lower Midwest and Virginia as well as the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana.

Testers can then view their DNA matches within that community, as well as a group of surnames common within that community.

The Genetic Communities provided for me are accurate, but don’t expect all of your genealogical regions to be represented in Genetic Communities. For example, my DNA is 25% German, and I don’t have any German communities today, although ancestry will be adding new Genetic Communities as new clusters are formed.

You can read more about Genetic Communities here and here.

Ethnicity – 23andMe

In addition to ethnicity percentage estimates, called Ancestry Composition, 23andMe offers the ability to compare your Ancestry Composition against that of your parent to see which portions of your ethnicity you inherited from each parent, although there are problems with this tool incorrectly assigning parental segments.

Additionally, 23andMe paints your chromosome segments with your ethnic heritage, as shown below.

You can see that my yellow Native American segments appear on chromosomes 1 and 2.

In January 2017, 23andMe introduced their Ancestry Timeline, which I find to be extremely misleading and inaccurate. On my timeline, shown below, they estimate that my most recent British and Irish ancestor was found in my tree between 1900 and 1930 while in reality my most recent British/Irish individual found in my tree was born in England in 1759.

I do not view 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline as a benefit to the genealogist, having found that it causes people to draw very misleading conclusions, even to the point of questioning their parentage based on the results. I wrote about their Ancestry Timeline here.

Ethnicity Summary

All three vendors provide both ethnicity percentage estimates and maps. All three vendors provide additional tools and features relevant to ethnicity. Vendors also provide matching to other people which may or may not be of interest to people who test only for ethnicity. “Who you are” only begins with ethnicity estimates.

DNA test costs are similar, although the Family Tree DNA test is less at $89. All three vendors have sales from time to time.

Ethnicity Vendor Summary Chart

Ethnicity testing is an autosomal DNA test and is available for both males and females.

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Ethnicity Test Included with $89 Family Finder test Included with $99 Ancestry DNA test Included with $99 Ancestry Service
Percentages and Maps Yes Yes Yes
Shared Ethnicity with Matches Yes No Yes
Additional Feature Y and mtDNA mapping of ethnicity matches Genetic Communities Ethnicity phasing against parent (has issues)
Additional Feature Ancient Origins Ethnicity mapping by chromosome
Additional Feature Ancient DNA Project Ancestry Timeline

 

Adoption and Parental Identity

DNA testing is extremely popular among adoptees and others in search of missing parents and grandparents.

The techniques used for adoption and parental search are somewhat different than those used for more traditional genealogy, although non-adoptees may wish to continue to read this section because many of the features that are important to adoptees are important to other testers as well.

Adoptees often utilize autosomal DNA somewhat differently than traditional genealogists by using a technique called mirror trees. In essence, the adoptee utilizes the trees posted online of their closest DNA matches to search for common family lines within those trees. The common family lines will eventually lead to the individuals within those common trees that are candidates to be the parents of the searcher.

Here’s a simplified hypothetical example of my tree and a first cousin adoptee match.

The adoptee matches me at a first cousin level, meaning that we share at least one common grandparent – but which one? Looking at other people the adoptee matches, or the adoptee and I both match, we find Edith Lore (or her ancestors) in the tree of multiple matches. Since Edith Lore is my grandmother, the adoptee is predicted to be my first cousin, and Edith Lore’s ancestors appear in the trees of our common matches – that tells us that Edith Lore is also the (probable) grandmother of the adoptee.

Looking at the possibilities for how Edith Lore can fit into the tree of me and the adoptee, as first cousins, we fine the following scenario.

Testing the known child of daughter Ferverda will then provide confirmation of this relationship if the known child proves to be a half sibling to the adoptee.

Therefore, close matches, the ability to contact matches and trees are very important to adoptees. I recommend that adoptees make contact with www.dnaadoption.com. The volunteers there specialize in adoptions and adoptees, provide search angels to help people and classes to teach adoptees how to utilize the techniques unique to adoption search such as building mirror trees.

For adoptees, the first rule is to test with all 3 major vendors plus MyHeritage. Family Tree DNA allows you to test with both 23andMe and Ancestry and subsequently transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, but I would strongly suggest adoptees test on the Family Tree DNA platform instead. Your match results from transferring to Family Tree DNA from other companies, except for MyHeritage, will be fewer and less reliable because both 23andMe and Ancestry utilize different chip technology.

For most genealogists, MyHeritage is not a player, as they have only recently entered the testing arena, have a very small data base, no tools and are having matching issues. I recently wrote about MyHeritage here. However, adoptees may want to test with MyHeritage, or upload your results to MyHeritage if you tested with Family Tree DNA, because your important puzzle-solving match just might have tested there and no place else. You can read about transfer kit compatibility and who accepts which vendors’ tests here.

Adoptees can benefit from ethnicity estimates at the continental level, meaning that regional (within continent) or minority ethnicity should be taken with a very large grain of salt. However, knowing that you have 25% Jewish heritage, for example, can be a very big clue to an adoptee’s search.

Another aspect of the adoptees search that can be relevant is the number of foreign testers. For many years, neither 23andMe, nor Ancestry tested substantially (or at all) outside the US. Family Tree DNA has always tested internationally and has a very strong Jewish data base component.

Not all vendors report X chromosome matches. The X chromosome is important to genetic genealogy, because it has a unique inheritance path. Men don’t inherit an X chromosome from their fathers. Therefore, if you match someone on the X chromosome, you know the relationship, for a male, must be from their mother’s side. For a female, the relationship must be from the mother or the father’s mother’s side. You can read more about X chromosome matching here.

Neither Ancestry nor MyHeritage have chromosome browsers which allow you to view the segments of DNA on which you match other individuals, which includes the X chromosome.

Adoptee Y and Mitochondrial Testing

In addition to autosomal DNA testing, adoptees will want to test their Y DNA (males only) and mitochondrial DNA.

These tests are different from autosomal DNA which tests the DNA you receive from all of your ancestors. Y and mitochondrial DNA focus on only one specific line, respectively. Y DNA is inherited by men from their fathers and the Y chromosome is passed from father to son from time immemorial. Therefore, testing the Y chromosome provides us with the ability to match to current people as well as to use the Y chromosome as a tool to look far back in time. Adoptees tend to be most interested in matching current people, at least initially.

Working with male adoptees, I have a found that about 30% of the time a male will match strongly to a particular surname, especially at higher marker levels. That isn’t always true, but adoptees will never know if they don’t test. An adoptee’s match list is shown at 111 markers, below.

Furthermore, utilizing the Y and mitochondrial DNA test in conjunction with autosomal DNA matching at Family Tree DNA helps narrows possible relatives. The Advanced Matching feature allows you to see who you match on both the Y (or mitochondrial) DNA lines AND the autosomal test, in combination.

Mitochondrial DNA tests the matrilineal line only, as women pass their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on. Family Tree DNA provides matching and advanced combination matching/searching for mitochondrial DNA as well as Y DNA. Both genders of children carry their mother’s mitochondrial DNA. Unfortunately, mitochondrial DNA is more difficult to work with because of the surname changes in each generation, but you cannot be descended from a woman, or her direct matrilineal ancestors if you don’t substantially match her mitochondrial DNA.

Some vendors state that you receive mitochondrial DNA with your autosomal results, which is only partly accurate. At 23andMe, you receive a haplogroup but no detailed results and no matching. 23andMe does not test the entire mitochondria and therefore cannot provide either advanced haplogroup placement nor Y or mitochondrial DNA matching between testers.

For additional details on the Y and Mitochondrial DNA tests themselves and what you receive, please see the Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA section.

Adoption Summary

Adoptees should test with all 4 vendors plus Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

  • Ancestry – due to their extensive data base size and trees
  • Family Tree DNA – due to their advanced tools, chromosome browser, Y and mitochondrial DNA tests (Ancestry and 23andMe participants can transfer autosomal raw data files and see matches for free, but advanced tools require either an unlock fee or a test on the Family Tree DNA platform)
  • 23andMe – no trees and many people don’t participate in sharing genetic information
  • MyHeritage – new kid on the block, working through what is hoped are startup issues
  • All adoptees should take the full mitochondrial sequence test.
  • Male adoptees should take the 111 marker Y DNA test, although you can start with 37 or 67 markers and upgrade later.
  • Y and mitochondrial tests are only available at Family Tree DNA.

Adoptee Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage
Autosomal DNA – Males and Females
Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes – problems
Relationship Estimates* Yes – May be too close Yes – May be too distant Yes – Matches may not be sharing Yes –  problematic
International Reach Very strong Not strong but growing Not strong Small but subscriber base is European focused
Trees Yes Yes No Yes
Tree Quantity 54% have trees, 46% no tree (of my first 100 matches) 56% have trees, 44% no tree or private (of my first 100 matches) No trees ~50% don’t have trees or are private (cannot discern private tree without clicking on every tree)
Data Base Size Large Largest Large – but not all opt in to matching Very small
My # of Matches on 4-23-2017 2,421 23,750 1,809 but only 1,114 are sharing 75
Subscription Required No No for partial, Yes for full functionality including access to matches’ trees, minimal subscription for $49 by calling Ancestry No No for partial, Yes for full functionality
Other Relevant Tools New Ancestor Discoveries
Autosomal DNA Issues Many testers don’t have trees Many testers don’t have trees Matching opt-in is problematic, no trees at all Matching issues, small data base size is problematic, many testers don’t have trees
Contact Methodology E-mail address provided to matches Internal message system – known delivery issues Internal message system Internal message system
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes No
Y-DNA – Males Only
Y DNA STR Test Yes- 37, 67, and 111 markers No No No
Y Haplogroup Yes as part of STR test plus additional testing available No Yes, basic level but no additional testing available, outdated haplogroups No
Y Matching Yes No No No
Advanced Matching Between Y and Autosomal Yes No No No
Mitochondrial DNA- Males and Females
Test Yes, partial and full sequence No No No
Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Yes, included in test No Yes, basic but full haplogroup not available, haplogroup several versions behind No
Advanced Matching Between Mitochondrial and Autosomal Yes No No No

Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification

People who want to take a DNA test to find cousins, to learn more about their genealogy, to verify their genealogy research or to search for unknown ancestors and break down brick walls will be interested in various types of testing

Test Type Who Can Test
Y DNA – direct paternal line Males only
Mitochondrial DNA – direct matrilineal line Males and Females
Autosomal – all lines Males and Females

Let’s begin with autosomal DNA testing for genealogy which tests your DNA inherited from all ancestral lines.

Aside from ethnicity, autosomal DNA testing provides matches to other people who have tested. A combination of trees, meaning their genealogy, and their chromosome segments are used to identify (through trees) and verify (through DNA segments) common ancestor(s) and then to assign a particular DNA segment(s) to that ancestor or ancestral couple. This process, called triangulation, then allows you to assign specific segments to particular ancestors, through segment matching among multiple people. You then know that when another individual matches you and those other people on the same segment, that the DNA comes from that same lineage. Triangulation is the only autosomal methodology to confirm ancestors who are not close relatives, beyond the past 2-3 generations or so.

All three vendors provide matching, but the tools they include and their user interfaces are quite different. 

Genealogy – Autosomal –  Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA entered DNA testing years before any of the others, initially with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Because of the diversity of their products, their website is somewhat busier, but they do a good job of providing areas on the tester’s personal landing page for each of the products and within each product, a link for each feature or function.

For example, the Family Finder test is Family Tree DNA’s autosomal test. Within that product, tools provided are:

  • Matching
  • Chromosome Browser
  • Linked Relationships
  • myOrigins
  • Ancient Origins
  • Matrix
  • Advanced Matching

Unique autosomal tools provided by Family Tree DNA are:

  • Linked Relationships that allows you to connect individuals that you match to their location in your tree, indicating the proper relationship. Phased Family Matching uses these relationships within your tree to indicate which side of your tree other matches originate from.
  • Phased Family Matching shows which side of your tree, maternal, paternal or both, someone descends from, based on phased DNA matching between you and linked relationship matches as distant as third cousins. This allows Family Tree DNA to tell you whether matches are paternal (blue icon), maternal (red icon) or both (purple icon) without a parent’s DNA. This is one of the best autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, shown below.

  • In Common With and Not In Common With features allow you to sort your matches in common with another individual a number of ways, or matches not in common with that individual.
  • Filtered downloads provide the downloading of chromosome data for your filtered match list.
  • Stackable filters and searches – for example, you can select paternal matches and then search for a particular surname or ancestral surname within the paternal matches.
  • Common ethnicity matching through myOrigins allows you to see selected groups of individuals who match you and share common ethnicities.
  • Y and mtDNA locations of autosomal matches are provided on your ethnicity map through myOrigins.
  • Advanced matching tool includes Y, mtDNA and autosomal in various combinations. Also includes matches within projects where the tester is a member as well as by partial surname.
  • The matrix tool allows the tester to enter multiple people that they match in order to see if those individuals also match each other. The matrix tool is, in combination with the in-common-with tool and the chromosome browser is a form of pseudo triangulation, but does not indicate that the individuals match on the same segment.

  • Chromosome browser with the ability to select different segment match thresholds to display when comparing 5 or fewer individuals to your results.
  • Projects to join which provide group interaction and allow individuals to match only within the project, if desired.

To read more about how to utilize the various autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, with examples, click here.

Genealogy – Autosomal – Ancestry

Ancestry only offers autosomal DNA testing to their customers, so their page is simple and straightforward.

Ancestry is the only testing vendor (other than MyHeritage who is not included in this section) to require a subscription for full functionality, although if you call the Ancestry support line, a minimal subscription is available for $49. You can see your matches without a subscription, but you cannot see your matches trees or utilize other functions, so you will not be able to tell how you connect to your matches. Many genealogists have Ancestry subscriptions, so this is minimally problematic for most people.

However, if you don’t realize you need a subscription initially, the required annual subscription raises the effective cost of the test quite substantially. If you let your subscription lapse, you no longer have access to all DNA features. The cost of testing with Ancestry is the cost of the test plus the cost of a subscription if you aren’t already a subscriber.

This chart, from the Ancestry support center, provides details on which features are included for free and which are only available with a subscription.

Unique tools provided by Ancestry include:

  • Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) which indicate a match with whom you share a common ancestor in your tree connected to your DNA, allowing you to display the path of you and your match to the common ancestor. In order to take advantage of this feature, testers must link their tree to their DNA test. Otherwise, Ancestry can’t do tree matching.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the single most useful DNA tool at Ancestry. Subscription required.

  • DNA Circles, example below, are created when several people whose DNA matches also share a common ancestor. Subscription required.

  • New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs), which are similar to Circles, but are formed when you match people descended from a common ancestor, but don’t have that ancestor in your tree. The majority of the time, these NADs are incorrect and are, when dissected and the source can be determined, found to be something like the spouse of a sibling of your ancestor. I do not view NADs as a benefit, more like a wild goose chase, but for some people these could be useful so long as the individual understands that these are NOT definitely ancestors and only hints for research. Subscription required.
  • Ancestry uses a proprietary algorithm called Timber to strip DNA from you and your matches that they consider to be “too matchy,” with the idea that those segments are identical by population, meaning likely to be found in large numbers within a population group – making them meaningless for genealogy. The problem is that Timber results in the removal of valid segments, especially in endogamous groups like Acadian families. This function is unique to Ancestry, but many genealogists (me included) don’t consider Timber a benefit.
  • Genetic Communities shows you groups of individuals with whom your DNA clusters. The trees of cluster members are then examined by Ancestry to determine connections from which Genetic Communities are formed. You can filter your DNA match results by Genetic Community.

Genealogy – Autosomal – 23and Me

Unfortunately, the 23andMe website is not straightforward or intuitive. They have spent the majority of the past two years transitioning to a “New Experience” which has resulted in additional confusion and complications when matching between people on multiple different platforms. You can take a spin through the New Experience by clicking here.

23andMe requires people to opt-in to sharing, even after they have selected to participate in Ancestry Services (genealogy) testing, have opted-in previously and chosen to view their DNA Relatives. Users on the “New Experience” can then either share chromosome data and results with each other individually, meaning on a one by one basis, or globally by a one-time opt-in to “open sharing” with matches. If a user does not opt-in to both DNA Relatives and open sharing, sharing requests must be made individually to each match, and they must opt-in to share with each individual user. This complexity and confusion results in an approximate sharing rate of between 50 and 60%. One individual who religiously works their matches by requesting sharing now has a share rate of about 80% of their matches in the data base who HAVE initially selected to participate in DNA Relatives. You can read more about the 23andMe experience at this link.

Various genetic genealogy reports and tools are scattered between the Reports and Tools tabs, and within those, buried in non-intuitive locations. If you are going to utilize 23andMe for matching and genealogy, in addition to the above link, I recommend Kitty Cooper’s blogs about the new DNA Relatives here and on triangulation here. Print the articles, and use them as a guide while navigating the 23andMe site.

Note that some screens (the Tools, DNA Relatives, then DNA tab) on the site do not display/work correctly utilizing Internet Explorer, but do with Edge or other browsers.

The one genealogy feature unique to 23andMe is:

  • Triangulation at 23andMe allows you to select a specific match to compare your DNA against. Several pieces of information will be displayed, the last of which, scrolling to the bottom, is a list of your common relatives with the person you selected.

In the example below, I’ve selected to see the matches I match in common with known family member, Stacy Den (surnames have been obscured for privacy reasons.)  Please note that the Roberta V4 Estes kit is a second test that I took for comparison purposes when the new V4 version of 23andMe was released.  Just ignore that match, because, of course I match myself as a twin.

If an individual does not match both you and your selected match, they will not appear on this list.

In the “relatives in common” section, each person is listed with a “shared DNA” column. For a person to be shown on this “in common” list, you obviously do share DNA with these individuals and they also share with your match, but the “shared DNA” column goes one step further. This column indicates whether or not you and your match both share a common DNA segment with the “in common” person.

I know this is confusing, so I’ve created this chart to illustrate what will appear in the “Shared DNA” column of the individuals showing on the list of matches, above, shared between me and Stacy Den.

Clicking on “Share to see” sends Sarah a sharing request for her to allow you to see her segment matches.

Let’s look at an example with “yes” in the Shared DNA column.

Clicking on the “Yes” in the Shared DNA column of Debbie takes us to the chromosome browser which shows both your selected match, Stacy in my case, and Debbie, the person whose “yes” you clicked.

All three people, meaning me, Stacy and Debbie share a common DNA segment, shown below on chromosome 17.

What 23andMe does NOT say is that these people. Stacy and Debbie, also match each other, in addition to matching me, which means all three of us triangulate.

Because I manage Stacy’s kit at 23andMe, I can check to see if Debbie is on Stacy’s match list, and indeed, Debbie is on Stacy’s match list and Stacy does match both Debbie and me on chromosome 17 in exactly the same location shown above, proving unquestionably that the three of us all match each other and therefore triangulate on this segment. In our case, it’s easy to identify our common relative whose DNA all 3 of us share.

Genealogy – Autosomal Summary

While all 3 vendors offer matching, their interfaces and tools vary widely.

I would suggest that Ancestry is the least sophisticated and has worked hard to make their tools easy for the novice working with genetic genealogy. Their green leaf DNA+Tree Matching is their best feature, easy to use and important for the novice and experienced genealogist alike.  Now, if they just had that chromosome browser so we could see how we match those people.

Ancestry’s Circles, while a nice feature, encourage testers to believe that their DNA or relationship is confirmed by finding themselves in a Circle, which is not the case.

Circles can be formed as the result of misinformation in numerous trees. For example, if I were to inaccurately list Smith as the surname for one of my ancestor’s wives, I would find myself in a Circle for Barbara Smith, when in fact, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that her surname is Smith. Yet, people think that Barbara Smith is confirmed due to a Circle having been formed and finding themselves in Barbara Smith’s Circle. Copying incorrect trees equals the formation of incorrect Circles.

It’s also possible that I’m matching people on multiple lines and my DNA match to the people in any given Circle is through another common ancestor entirely.

A serious genealogist will test minimally at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, who provides a chromosome browser and other tools necessary to confirm relationships and shared DNA segments.

Family Tree DNA is more sophisticated, so consequently more complex to use.  They provide matching plus numerous other tools. The website and matching is certainly friendly for the novice, but to benefit fully, some experience or additional education is beneficial, not unlike traditional genealogy research itself. This is true not just for Family Tree DNA, but GedMatch and 23andMe who all three utilize chromosome browsers.

The user will want to understand what a chromosome browser is indicating about matching DNA segments, so some level of education makes life a lot easier. Fortunately, understanding chromosome browser matching is not complex. You can read an article about Match Groups and Triangulation here. I also have an entire series of Concepts articles, Family Tree DNA offers a webinar library, their Learning Center and other educational resources are available as well.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor to provide Phased Family Matches, meaning that by connecting known relatives who have DNA tested to your tree, Family Tree DNA can then identify additional matches as maternal, paternal or both. This, in combination with pseudo-phasing are very powerful matching tools.

23andMe is the least friendly of the three companies, with several genetic genealogy unfriendly restrictions relative to matching, opt-ins, match limits and such. They have experienced problem after problem for years relative to genetic genealogy, which has always been a second-class citizen compared to their medical research, and not a priority.

23andMe has chosen to implement a business model where their customers must opt-in to share segment information with other individuals, either one by one or by opting into open sharing. Based on my match list, roughly 60% of my actual DNA matches have opted in to sharing.

Their customer base includes fewer serious genealogists and their customers often are not interested in genealogy at all.

Having said that, 23andMe is the only one of the three that provides actual triangulated matches for users on the New Experience and who have opted into sharing.

If I were entering the genetic genealogy testing space today, I would test my autosomal DNA at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, but I would probably not test at 23andMe. I would test both my Y DNA (if a male) and mitochondrial at Family Tree DNA.

Thank you to Kitty Cooper for assistance with parent/child matching and triangulation at 23andMe.

Genealogy Autosomal Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Matching Yes Yes Yes – each person has to opt in for open sharing or authorize sharing individually, many don’t
Estimated Relationships Yes Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser Yes No – Large Issue Yes
Chromosome Browser Threshold Adjustment Yes No Chromosome Browser No
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes
Trees Yes Yes – subscription required so see matches’ trees No
Ability to upload Gedcom file Yes Yes No
Ability to search trees Yes Yes No
Subscription in addition to DNA test price No No for partial, Yes for full functionality, minimal subscription for $49 by calling Ancestry No
DNA + Ancestor in Tree Matches No Yes – Leaf Hints – subscription required – Best Feature No
Phased Parental Side Matching Yes – Best Feature No No
Parent Match Indicator Yes No Yes
Sort or Group by Parent Match Yes Yes Yes
In Common With Tool Yes Yes Yes
Not In Common With Tool Yes No No
Triangulated Matches No – pseudo with ICW, browser and matrix No Yes – Best Feature
Common Surnames Yes Yes – subscription required No
Ability to Link DNA Matches on Tree Yes No No
Matrix to show match grid between multiple matches Yes No No
Match Filter Tools Yes Minimal Some
Advanced Matching Tool Yes No No
Multiple Test Matching Tool Yes No multiple tests No multiple tests
Ethnicity Matching Yes No Yes
Projects Yes No No
Maximum # of Matches Restricted No No Yes – 2000 unless you are communicating with the individuals, then they are not removed from your match list
All Customers Participate Yes Yes, unless they don’t have a subscription No – between 50-60% opt-in
Accepts Transfers from Other Testing Companies Yes No No
Free Features with Transfer Matching, ICW, Matrix, Advanced Matching No transfers No transfers
Transfer Features Requiring Unlock $ Chromosome Browser, Ethnicity, Ancient Origins, Linked Relationships, Parentally Phased Matches No Transfers No transfers
Archives DNA for Later Testing Yes, 25 years No, no additional tests available No, no additional tests available
Additional Tool DNA Circles – subscription required
Additional Tool New Ancestor Discoveries – subscription required
Y DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Mitochondrial DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Advanced Testing Available Yes No No
Website Intuitive Yes, given their many tools Yes, very simple No
Data Base Size Large Largest Large but many do not test for genealogy, only test for health
Strengths Many tools, multiple types of tests, phased matching without parent DNA + Tree matching, size of data base Triangulation
Challenges Website episodically times out No chromosome browser or advanced tools Sharing is difficult to understand and many don’t, website is far from intuitive

 

Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA

Two indispensable tools for genetic genealogy that are often overlooked are Y and mitochondrial DNA.

The inheritance path for Y DNA is shown by the blue squares and the inheritance path for mitochondrial DNA is shown by the red circles for the male and female siblings shown at the bottom of the chart.

Y-DNA Testing for Males

Y DNA is inherited by males only, from their father. The Y chromosome makes males male. Women instead inherit an X chromosome from their father, which makes them female. Because the Y chromosome is not admixed with the DNA of the mother, the same Y chromosome has been passed down through time immemorial.

Given that the Y chromosome follows the typical surname path, Y DNA testing is very useful for confirming surname lineage to an expected direct paternal ancestor. In other words, an Estes male today should match, with perhaps a few mutations, to other descendants of Abraham Estes who was born in 1647 in Kent, England and immigrated to the colony of Virginia.

Furthermore, that same Y chromosome can look far back in time, thousands of years, to tell us where that English group of Estes men originated, before the advent of surnames and before the migration to England from continental Europe. I wrote about the Estes Y DNA here, so you can see an example of how Y DNA testing can be used.

Y DNA testing for matching and haplogroup identification, which indicates where in the world your ancestors were living within the past few hundred to few thousand years, is only available from Family Tree DNA. Testing can be purchased for either 37, 67 or 111 markers, with the higher marker numbers providing more granularity and specificity in matching.

Family Tree DNA provides three types of Y DNA tests.

  • STR (short tandem repeat) testing is the traditional Y DNA testing for males to match to each other in a genealogically relevant timeframe. These tests can be ordered in panels of 37, 67 or 111 markers and lower levels can be upgraded to higher levels at a later date. An accurate base haplogroup prediction is made from STR markers.
  • SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) testing is a different type of testing that tests single locations for mutations in order to confirm and further refine haplogroups. Think of a haplogroup as a type of genetic clan, meaning that haplogroups are used to track migration of humans through time and geography, and are what is utilized to determine African, European, Asian or Native heritage in the direct paternal line. SNP tests are optional and can be ordered one at a time, in groups called panels for a particular haplogroup or a comprehensive research level Y DNA test called the Big Y can be ordered after STR testing.
  • The Big Y test is a research level test that scans the entire Y chromosome to determine the most refined haplogroup possible and to report any previously unknown mutations (SNPs) that may define further branches of the Y DNA tree. This is the technique used to expand the Y haplotree.

You can read more about haplogroups here and about the difference between STR markers and SNPs here, here and here.

Customers receive the following features and tools when they purchase a Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test at 23andMe. The 23andMe Y DNA information is included in their Ancestry Services test. The Family Tree DNA Y DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. You can click here to read about the difference in the technology between Y DNA testing at Family Tree DNA and at 23andMe. Ancestry is not included in this comparison because they provide no Y DNA related information.

Y DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of STR panel marker testing Yes, in panels of 37, 67 and 111 markers No
Test panel (STR) marker results Yes Not tested
Haplogroup assignment Yes – accurate estimate with STR panels, deeper testing available Yes –base haplogroup by scan – haplogroup designations are significantly out of date, no further testing available
SNP testing to further define haplogroup Yes – can purchase individual SNPs, by SNP panels or Big Y test No
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees available for your matches Yes No
E-mail of matches provided Yes No
Calculator tool to estimate probability of generational distance between you and a match Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic projects No
Ability to search Y matches Yes No Y matching
Ability to search matches within projects Yes No projects
Ability to search matches by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer result location on tree Yes, detailed with every branch Yes, less detailed, subset
Terminal SNP used to determine haplogroup Yes Yes, small subset available
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins – match ancestral location summary by haplogroup, by test level Yes No
SNP map showing worldwide locations of any selected SNP Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the paternal line, by test panel Yes No
Big Y – full scan of Y chromosome for known and previously unknown mutations (SNPs) Yes No
Big Y matching Yes No
Big Y matching known SNPs Yes No
Big Y matching novel variants (unknown or yet unnamed SNPs) Yes No
Filter Big Y matches Yes No
Big Y results Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

Mitochondrial DNA Testing for Everyone

Mitochondrial DNA is contributed to both genders of children by mothers, but only the females pass it on. Like the Y chromosome, mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the DNA of the other parent. Therefore, anyone can test for the mitochondrial DNA of their matrilineal line, meaning their mother’s mother’s mother’s lineage.

Matching can identify family lines as well as ancient lineage.

You receive the following features and tools when you purchase a mitochondrial DNA test from Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test from 23andMe. The Family Tree DNA mitochondrial DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. The 23andMe mitochondrial information is provided with the Ancestry Services test. Ancestry is omitted from this comparison because they do not provide any mitochondrial information.

Mitochondrial DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of testing Yes, mtPlus and Full Sequence No
Test panel marker results Yes, in two formats, CRS and RSRS No
Rare mutations, missing and extra mutations, insertions and deletions reported Yes No
Haplogroup assignment Yes, most current version, Build 17 Yes, partial and out of date version
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees of matches available to view Yes No
E-mail address provided to matches Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic available No
Ability to search matches Yes No
Ability to search matches within project Yes No projects
Ability to search match by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer location on tree No Yes
Mutations used to determine haplogroup provided Yes No
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins –match ancestral location summary by haplogroup Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the maternal line, by test level Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

 

Overall Genealogy Summary

Serious genealogists should test with at least two of the three major vendors, being Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, with 23andMe coming in as a distant third.

No genetic genealogy testing regimen is complete without Y and mitochondrial DNA for as many ancestral lines as you can find to test. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you’ll never know if you don’t test.

Unfortunately, many people, especially new testers, don’t know Y and mitochondrial DNA testing for genetic genealogy exists, or how it can help their genealogy research, which is extremely ironic since these were the first tests available, back in 2000.

You can read about finding Y and mitochondrial information for various family lines and ancestors and how to assemble a DNA Pedigree Chart here.

You can also take a look at my 52 Ancestors series, where I write about an ancestor every week. Each article includes some aspect of DNA testing and knowledge gained by a test or tests, DNA tool, or comparison. The DNA aspect of these articles focuses on how to use DNA as a tool to discover more about your ancestors.

 

Testing for Medical/Health or Traits

The DTC market also includes health and medical testing, although it’s not nearly as popular as genetic genealogy.

Health/medical testing is offered by 23andMe, who also offers autosomal DNA testing for genealogy.

Some people do want to know if they have genetic predispositions to medical conditions, and some do not. Some want to know if they have certain traits that aren’t genealogically relevant, but might be interesting – such as whether they carry the Warrior gene or if they have an alcohol flush reaction.

23andMe was the first company to dip their toes into the water of Direct to Consumer medical information, although they called it “health,” not medicine, at that time. Regardless of the terminology, information regarding Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for example, were provided for customers. 23andMe attempted to take the raw data and provide the consumer with something approaching a middle of the road analysis, because sometimes the actual studies provide conflicting information that might not be readily understood by consumers.

The FDA took issue with 23andMe back in November of 2013 when they ordered 23andMe to discontinue the “health” aspect of their testing after 23andMe ignored several deadlines. In October 2015, 23andMe obtained permission to provide customers with some information, such as carrier status, for 36 genetic disorders.

Since that time, 23andMe has divided their product into two separate tests, with two separate prices. The genealogy only test called Ancestry Service can be purchased separately for $99, or the combined Health + Ancestry Service for $199.

If you are interested in seeing what the Health + Ancestry test provides, you can click here to view additional information.

However, there is a much easier and less expensive solution.

If you have taken the autosomal test from 23andMe, Ancestry or Family Tree DNA, you can download your raw data file from the vendor and upload to Promethease to obtain a much more in-depth report than is provided by 23andMe, and much less expensively – just $5.

I reviewed the Promethease service here. I found the Promethease reports to be very informative and I like the fact that they provide information, both positive and negative for each SNP (DNA location) reported. Promethease avoids FDA problems by not providing any interpretation or analysis, simply the data and references extracted from SNPedia for you to review.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should be sure you really want to know before you delve into medical testing. Some mutations are simply indications that you could develop a condition that you will never develop or that is not serious. Other mutations are not so benign. Promethease provides this candid page before you upload your data.

Different files from different vendors provide different results at Promethease, because those vendors test different SNP locations in your DNA. At the Promethease webpage, you can view examples.

Traits

Traits fall someplace between genealogy and health. When you take the Health + Ancestry test at 23andMe, you do receive information about various traits, as follows:

Of course, you’ll probably already know if you have several of these traits by just taking a look in the mirror, or in the case of male back hair, by asking your wife.

At Family Tree DNA, existing customers can order tests for Factoids (by clicking on the upgrade button), noted as curiosity tests for gene variants.

Family Tree DNA provides what I feel is a great summary and explanation of what the Factoids are testing on their order page:

“Factoids” are based on studies – some of which may be controversial – and results are not intended to diagnose disease or medical conditions, and do not serve the purpose of medical advice. They are offered exclusively for curiosity purposes, i.e. to see how your result compared with what the scientific papers say. Other genetic and environmental variables may also impact these same physiological characteristics. They are merely a conversational piece, or a “cocktail party” test, as we like to call it.”

Test Price Description
Alcohol Flush Reaction $19 A condition in which the body cannot break down ingested alcohol completely. Flushing, after consuming one or two alcoholic beverages, includes a range of symptoms: nausea, headaches, light-headedness, an increased pulse, occasional extreme drowsiness, and occasional skin swelling and itchiness. These unpleasant side effects often prevent further drinking that may lead to further inebriation, but the symptoms can lead to mistaken assumption that the people affected are more easily inebriated than others.
Avoidance of Errors $29 We are often angry at ourselves because we are unable to learn from certain experiences. Numerous times we have made the wrong decision and its consequences were unfavorable. But the cause does not lie only in our thinking. A mutation in a specific gene can also be responsible, because it can cause a smaller number of dopamine receptors. They are responsible for remembering our wrong choices, which in turn enables us to make better decisions when we encounter a similar situation.
Back Pain $39 Lumbar disc disease is the drying out of the spongy interior matrix of an intervertebral disc in the spine. Many physicians and patients use the term lumbar disc disease to encompass several different causes of back pain or sciatica. A study of Asian patients with lumbar disc disease showed that a mutation in the CILP gene increases the risk of back pain.
Bitter Taste Perception $29 There are several genes that are responsible for bitter taste perception – we test 3 of them. Different variations of this gene affect ability to detect bitter compounds. About 25% of people lack ability to detect these compounds due to gene mutations. Are you like them? Maybe you don’t like broccoli, because it tastes too bitter?
Caffeine Metabolism $19 According to the results of a case-control study reported in the March 8, 2006 issue of JAMA, coffee is the most widely consumed stimulant in the world, and caffeine consumption has been associated with increased risk for non-fatal myocardial infarction. Caffeine is primarily metabolized by the cytochrome P450 1A2 in the liver, accounting for 95% of metabolism. Carriers of the gene variant *1F allele are slow caffeine metabolizers, whereas individuals homozygous for the *1A/*1A genotype are rapid caffeine metabolizers.
Earwax Type $19 Whether your earwax is wet or dry is determined by a mutation in a single gene, which scientists have discovered. Wet earwax is believed to have uses in insect trapping, self-cleaning and prevention of dryness in the external auditory canal of the ear. It also produces an odor and causes sweating, which may play a role as a pheromone.
Freckling $19 Freckles can be found on anyone no matter what the background. However, having freckles is genetic and is related to the presence of the dominant melanocortin-1 receptor MC1R gene variant.
Longevity $49 Researchers at Harvard Medical School and UC Davis have discovered a few genes that extend lifespan, suggesting that the whole family of SIR2 genes is involved in controlling lifespan. The findings were reported July 28, 2005 in the advance online edition of Science.
Male Pattern Baldness $19 Researchers at McGill University, King’s College London and GlaxoSmithKline Inc. have identified two genetic variants in Caucasians that together produce an astounding sevenfold increase of the risk of male pattern baldness. Their results were published in the October 12, 2008 issue of the Journal of Nature Genetics.
Monoamine Oxidase A (Warrior Gene) $49.50 The Warrior Gene is a variant of the gene MAO-A on the X chromosome. Recent studies have linked the Warrior Gene to increased risk-taking and aggressive behavior. Whether in sports, business, or other activities, scientists found that individuals with the Warrior Gene variant were more likely to be combative than those with the normal MAO-A gene. However, human behavior is complex and influenced by many factors, including genetics and our environment. Individuals with the Warrior Gene are not necessarily more aggressive, but according to scientific studies, are more likely to be aggressive than those without the Warrior Gene variant. This test is available for both men and women, however, there is limited research about the Warrior Gene variant amongst females. Additional details about the Warrior Gene genetic variant of MAO-A can be found in Sabol et al, 1998.
Muscle Performance $29 A team of researchers, led by scientists at Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth College, have identified and tested a gene that dramatically alters both muscle metabolism and performance. The researchers say that this finding could someday lead to treatment of muscle diseases, including helping the elderly who suffer from muscle deterioration and improving muscle performance in endurance athletes.
Nicotine Dependence $19 In 2008, University of Virginia Health System researchers have identified a gene associated with nicotine dependence in both Europeans and African Americans.

Many people are interested in the Warrior Gene, which I wrote about here.

At Promethease, traits are simply included with the rest of the conditions known to be associated with certain SNPs, such as baldness, for example, but I haven’t done a comparison to see which traits are included.

 

Additional Vendor Information to Consider

Before making your final decision about which test or tests to purchase, there are a few additional factors you may want to consider.

As mentioned before, Ancestry requires a subscription in addition tot he cost of the DNA test for the DNA test to be fully functional.

One of the biggest issues, in my opinion, is that both 23andMe and Ancestry sell customer’s anonymized DNA information to unknown others. Every customer authorizes the sale of their information when they purchase or activate a kit – even though very few people actually take the time to read the Terms and Conditions, Privacy statements and Security documents, including any and all links. This means most people don’t realize they are authorizing the sale of their DNA.

At both 23andMe and Ancestry, you can ALSO opt in for additional non-anonymized research or sale of your DNA, which you can later opt out of. However, you cannot opt out of the lower level sale of your anonymized DNA without removing your results from the data base and asking for your sample to be destroyed. They do tell you this, but it’s very buried in the fine print at both companies. You can read more here.

Family Tree DNA does not sell your DNA or information.

All vendors can change their terms and conditions at any time. Consumers should always thoroughly read the terms and conditions including anything having to do with privacy for any product they purchase, but especially as it relates to DNA testing.

Family Tree DNA archives your DNA for later testing, which has proven extremely beneficial when a family member has passed away and a new test is subsequently introduced or the family wants to upgrade a current test.  Had my mother’s DNA not been archived at Family Tree DNA, I would not have Family Finder results for her today – something I thank Mother and Family Tree DNA for every single day.

Family Tree DNA also accepts transfer files from 23andMe, Ancestry and very shortly, MyHeritage – although some versions work better than others. For details on which companies accept which file versions, from which vendors, and why, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

If you tested on a compatible version of the 23andMe Test (V3 between December 2010 and November 2013) or the Ancestry V1 (before May 2016) you may want to transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA for free and pay only $19 for full functionality, as opposed to taking the Family Finder test. Family Tree DNA does accept later versions of files from 23andMe and Ancestry, but you will receive more matches if you test on the same chip platform that Family Tree DNA utilizes instead of doing a transfer.

Additional Vendor Considerations Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Subscription required in addition to cost of DNA test No Yes for full functionality, partial functionality is included without subscription, minimum subscription is $49 by calling Ancestry No
Customer Support Good and available Available, nice but often not knowledgeable about DNA Poor
Sells customer DNA information No Yes Yes
DNA raw data file available to download Yes Yes Yes
DNA matches file available to download including match info and chromosome match locations Yes No Yes
Customers genealogically focused Yes Yes Many No
Accepts DNA raw data transfer files from other companies Yes, most, see article for specifics No No
DNA archived for later testing Yes, 25 years No No
Beneficiary provision available Yes No No

 

Which Test is Best For You?

I hope you now know the answer as to which DNA test is best for you – or maybe it’s multiple tests for you and other family members too!

DNA testing holds so much promise for genealogy. I hesitate to call DNA testing a miracle tool, but it often is when there are no records. DNA testing works best in conjunction with traditional genealogical research.

There are a lot of tests and options.  The more tests you take, the more people you match. Some people test at multiple vendors or upload their DNA to third party sites like GedMatch, but most don’t. In order to make sure you reach those matches, which may be the match you desperately need, you’ll have to test at the vendor where they tested. Otherwise, they are lost to you. That means, of course, that eventually, if you’re a serious genealogist, you’ll be testing at all 3 vendors.  Don’t forget about Y and mitochondrial tests at Family Tree DNA.

Recruit family members to test and reach out to your matches.  The more you share and learn – the more is revealed about your ancestors. You are, after all, the unique individual that resulted from the combination of all of them!

Update: Vendor prices updated June 22, 2017.

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