We often want to purchase DNA kits for relatives, especially during the holidays when there are so many sales. (There are links for free shipping on tests in addition to sale prices at the end of this article. If you already know who to test, pop on down to the Sales section, now.)
Everyone is on a budget, so who should we test to obtain results that are relevant to our genealogy?
We tell people to test as many family members as possible – but what does that really mean?
Testing everyone may not be financially viable, nor necessary for genealogy, so let’s take a look at how to decide where to spend YOUR testing dollars to derive the most benefit.
It’s All Relative😊
When your ancestors had children, those children inherited different pieces of your ancestors’ DNA.
Therefore, it’s in your best interest to test all of the direct descendants generationally closest to the ancestor that you can find.
It’s especially useful to test descendants of your own close ancestors – great-great-grandparents or closer – where there is a significant possibility that you will match your cousins.
All second cousins match, and roughly 90% (or more) of third cousins match.
This nifty chart compiled by ISOGG shows the probability statistics produced by the major testing companies regarding cousin matching relationships.
My policy is to test 4th cousins or closer. The more, the merrier.
- First cousins share grandparents.
- Second cousins share great-grandparents.
- Third cousins share great-great-grandparents.
The easiest way for me to see who these cousins might be is to open my genealogy software on my computer, select my great-great-grandparent, and click on descendants. Pretty much all software has a similar function.
The resulting list shows all of the descendants of that ancestor that I’ve entered in my software. Most genealogists already have or could construct this information with relative ease. These are the cousins you need to be talking to anyway, because they will have photos and stories that you don’t. If you don’t know them, there’s never been a better time to reach out and introduce yourself.
People You Already Know
Sometimes it’s easier to start with the family you already know and may see from time to time. Those are the people who will likely be the most beneficial to your genealogy.
Checking my tree at FamilyTreeDNA, Hiram Ferverda and Evaline MIller are my great-grandparents. All of their children are deceased, but I have a relationship with the children born to their son, Roscoe. Both Cheryl and her brother carry parts of Hiram and Eva’s DNA their son John Ferverda (my grandfather) didn’t inherit, and therefore that I can’t carry.
Therefore, it’s in my best interest to gift my cousin, Cheryl and her brother, both, with DNA kits. Turns out that I already have and my common matches with both Cheryl and her brother are invaluable because I know that people who match me plus either one of them descend from the Ferverda or Miller lines. This relationship and linking them on my tree, shown above, allows Family Tree DNA to perform phased Family Matching which is their form of triangulation.
It’s important to test both siblings, because some people will match me plus one but not the other sibling.
Trying to convey the concept of who to test and not to test, and why, is sometimes confusing.
Many family members may want to test, but you may only be willing to pay for those tests that can help your own genealogy. We need to know who can best benefit our genealogy in order to make informed decisions.
Let’s look at example scenarios – two focused on grandparents and two on parents.
In our example family, a now-deceased grandmother and grandfather have 3 children and multiple grandchildren. Let’s look at when we test which people, and why.
Example 1: Grandparents – 2 children deceased, 1 living
In our first example, Jane and Barbara, my mother, are deceased, but their sibling Harold is living. Jane has a living daughter and my mother had 3 children, 2 of which are living. Who should we test to discover the most about my maternal grandparents?
Please note that before making this type of a decision, it’s important to state the goal, because the answer will be different depending on your goal at hand. If I wanted to learn about my father’s family, for example, instead of my maternal grandparents, this would be an entirely different question, answer, and tree.
The people who are “married in” but irrelevant to the analysis are greyed out. In this case, all of the spouses of Jane, Barbara and Harold are irrelevant to the grandmother and grandfather shown. We are not seeking information about those spouses or their families.
The people I’ve designated with the red stars should be tested. This is the “oldest” generation available. Harold can be tested, so his son, my first cousin, does not need to test because the only part of the grandparent’s DNA that Harold’s son can inherit is a portion of what his father, Harold, carries and gave to him.
Unfortunately, Jane is deceased but her daughter, Liz, is available to test, so Liz’s son does not need to.
I need to test, as does my living brother and the children of my deceased brother in order to recover as much as possible of my mother’s DNA. They will all carry pieces of her DNA that I don’t.
The children of anyone who has a red star do NOT need to test for our stated genealogical purpose because they only carry a portion of thier parent’s DNA, and that parent is already testing.
Those children may want to test for their own genealogy given that they also have a parent who is not relevant to the grandfather and grandmother shown. In my case, I’m perfectly happy to facilitate those tests, but not willing to pay for the children’s tests if the relevant parent is living. I’m only willing to pay for tests that are relevant to my genealogical goals – in this case, my grandparents’ heritage.
In this scenario, I’m providing 5 tests.
Of course, you may have other family factors in play that influence your decision about how many tests to purchase for whom. Family dynamics might include things like hurt feelings and living people who are unwilling or unable to test. I’ve been known to purchase kits for non-biologically related family members so that people could learn how DNA works.
Example 2: Grandparents – 2 children living, one deceased
For our second example, let’s change this scenario slightly.
From the perspective of only my grandparents’ genealogy, if my mother is alive, there’s no reason to test her children.
Barbara and Harold can test. Since Jane is deceased, and she had only one child, Liz is the closest generationally and can test to represent Jane’s line. Liz’s son does not need to test since his mother, the closest relative generationally to the grandparents is available to test.
In this scenario, I’m providing 3 tests.
Example 3: My Immediate Family – both parents living
In this third example, I’m looking from strictly MY perspective viewing my maternal grandparents (as shown above) AND my immediate family meaning the genealogical lines of both of my parents. In other words, I’ve combined two goals. This makes sense, especially if I’m going to be seeing a group of people at a family gathering. We can have a swab party!
In the situation where my parents are both living, I’m going to test them in addition to Harold and Liz.
I’m testing myself because I want to work using my own DNA, but that’s not really necessary. My parents will both have twice as many matches to other people as I do – because I only inherited half of each parent’s DNA.
In this scenario, I’m providing 5 tests.
Example 4: My Immediate Family – one parent living, one deceased
In our last example, my mother is living but my father is deceased. In addition to Harold and Liz who reflect the DNA of my maternal grandparents, I will test myself, my mother my living brother and my deceased brother’s child.
Because my father is deceased, testing as many of my father’s descendants as possible, in addition to myself, is the only way for me to obtain some portion of his DNA. My siblings will have pieces of my parent’s DNA that I don’t.
I’m not showing my father’s tree in this view, but looking at his tree and who is available to test to provide information about his side of the family would be the next logical step. He may have siblings and cousins that are every bit as valuable as the people on my mother’s side.
Applying this methodology to your own family, who is available to test?
Now that you know WHO to test, the next step is to make sure your close family members test at each of the major providers where your DNA is as well.
I test everyone at Family Tree DNA because I have been testing family members there for 19 years and many of the original testers are deceased now. The only way new people can compare to those people is to be in the FamilyTreeDNA data base.
Then, with permission of course, I transfer all kits, for free, to MyHeritage. Matching is free, but if you don’t have a subscription, there’s an unlock fee of $29 to access advanced tools. I have a full subscription, so all tools are entirely free for the kits I transfer and manage in my account.
Transferring to Family Tree DNA and matching there is free too. There’s an unlock fee of $19 for advanced tools, but that’s a good deal because it’s substantially less than a new test.
Before purchasing tests, check first by asking your relatives or testing there yourself to be sure they aren’t already in those databases. If they took a “spit in a vial” test, they are either at 23andMe or Ancestry. If they took a swab test, it’s MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA.
I wrote about creating a testing and transfer strategy in the article, DNA Testing and Transfers – What’s Your Strategy? That article includes a handy dandy chart about who accepts which versions of whose files.
Of course, everything is on sale since it’s the holidays.
- At FamilyTreeDNA, Family Finder autosomal tests are on sale for $49 + free shipping free right now by clicking here.
- MyHeritage tests are $49 + free shipping when you purchase 2 tests or more by clicking here.
- The MyHeritage DNA Health+Ancestry test is on sale for an amazing $99. That’s the least expensive I’ve ever seen this test and it’s a wonderful value for those interested in preventative health care. I purchased it in 2019 and am very grateful to MyHeritage for making the Health test available and affordable for genealogists. You can read more here.
- The 23andMe ancestry only (no health) test is on sale for $79 + free shipping (free shipping not available directly on their website) by clicking here.
- The 23andMe ancestry plus health test is on sale for $129 + free shipping (free shipping is not available directly on their website) at Amazon by clicking here. (Hint – if you are interested in a health test, the MyHeritage test is less expensive and covers more.)
- Ancestry DNA tests are on sale for $59+ free shipping (free shipping not available directly on their website) at Amazon, by clicking here.
Who are you planning to test?
I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.
Thank you so much.
DNA Purchases and Free Transfers
- FamilyTreeDNA – Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA testing
- MyHeritage DNA – ancestry autosomal DNA only, not health
- MyHeritage DNA plus Health
- MyHeritage FREE DNA file upload – transfer your results from other vendors free
- AncestryDNA – autosomal DNA only
- 23andMe Ancestry – autosomal DNA only, no Health
- 23andMe Ancestry Plus Health
Genealogy Products and Services
- MyHeritage FREE Tree Builder – genealogy software for your computer
- MyHeritage Subscription with Free Trial
- Legacy Family Tree Webinars – genealogy and DNA classes, subscription based, some free
- Legacy Family Tree Software – genealogy software for your computer
- Legacy Tree Genealogists – professional genealogy research
Fun DNA Stuff
- Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items