Genetic Testing Family Tree

Genealogy, the study of a persons origins and family history, has become an increasingly popular pastime for individuals who are curious about their roots and want to learn more about their ancestors. Until recently, most of our family history was passed along via word of mouth, stories, and written records, such as journals. Those particularly interested in uncovering their roots sometimes found answers in archived newspapers and books, old census records, or immigration records at their local library or other government organizations. But for many, unearthing such information can provide them with more questions than answers.

In recent years, it has become easy and affordable to take a DNA test to learn more about your family tree though your genetic makeup. Genetic testing is simple and painless. Many companies that offer this service simply need a sample of hair or saliva to get started. This simple test can provide you with invaluable information about your family’s history.

The DNA Testing Process

DNA testing for genealogy is usually done either in a lab or via a take-home kit, and can cost anywhere between $100 and $1,000 USD. You will likely need to provide a saliva sample to the lab; they’ll extract your DNA information, digitize it, and enter it in a database to compare it to other samples.

There are two types of genetic genealogy tests:

  • Testing of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which uncovers information about your maternal ancestors.
  • Y chromosome testing, which provides information exclusively about your paternal lineage. Only males can take the Y-chromosome test. If a female is curious about her paternal lineage, she must have DNA from a brother or her father.

Believe it or not, these telling tests only look at about 1 percent of your DNA. This tiny sample can unlock countless clues about your ancestry, which can then help inform your research efforts.

What Can DNA Testing Tell Me About My Family?

The amount of information researchers have uncovered about DNA and human migration is astounding. By testing your DNA, you will have the ability to trace your ancestry back more than 10,000 years, to the location from which your ancestors originated. Some DNA testing companies will even give you a map of your ancestors migration throughout history.

Depending on the test you choose, your results can tell you about your maternal or paternal haplogroup. A haplogroup is a group of people that have all descended from a common ancestor, which is determined by chromosomal mutations shared by members of that group. A haplogroup is not the same as a cultural population (i.e. American Indians, Germans, or Aboriginals), though they are often closely related (that is to say, many people of the same cultural background share a haplogroup). Researchers have discovered more than 1,200 maternal and paternal haplogroups.

By uncovering your haplogroup with a reputable DNA testing company, you can learn many things, such as:

  • Other members of your haplogroup that have taken the test and where they live today
  • When your ancestors migrated across continents, what other groups they encountered, and why they relocated
  • Where your ancestors lived thousands of years ago, and what life was like then.

What Genetic Testing Can’t Tell You

When you receive your DNA test results back, its important to view them as one of many tools in your ancestry research. Your results won’t tell you the names or personal information of your ancestors, what their lives were like, or where to contact them today. While DNA testing can be an invaluable tool in your search for family history, it can’t provide all the clues. Together with good, old-fashioned research, however, DNA testing can give you more information about your family than ever before.


Harmon, A. (2006). Seeking ancestry in DNA ties uncovered by tests. Retrieved July 8, 2009, from the New York Times Web site: