Thursday, January 17, 2013

Family History Through the Alphabet – Autosomal DNA


For 26 weeks I will take you on a family history journey through the alphabet, one letter at a time.  I have decided that each post will be educational in nature, focusing on topics related to resources, methodology, tools, etc.  Although the challenge is complete, there are still some people who are finishing up and Alona, the host, is encouraging others to participate anyway.  Additional information on the challenge, can be found at Take the ‘Family History Through the Alphabet’ Challenge

AI guess this is an appropriate topic for today seeing as my own spit is on its way to 23andMe for autosomal DNA testing.  Yep, I spent the better part of the day registering my kit, spitting in a tube, and exploring the 23andMe website. 

Until a few months ago, I had no interest in DNA for genealogy.  Much of my lack of interest was mainly due to my lack of knowledge on the subject.  And while I am certainly no expert, or even a novice really, I came across some helpful information that propelled a decision to give it a whirl in hopes of helping my stepfather discover his birth family.  We had been talking about the various types of DNA tests, not really sure which to do, but when 23andMe dropped their price for autosomal DNA testing to $99, we decided to start there.  I also made the decision to get a kit for myself and for my husband.  For me, while I am interested in the ancestry side of things, I am also very interested in the health aspects that 23andMe offers (I have an uncommon condition and I have seen many people in our online forum community have tested with 23andMe, thus the interest).

I’m excited to see what kind of doors this autosomal DNA testing can open in terms of discovering cousins across all lines.  While I’m curious to see how it might help with my own genealogy (and that of my husband’s), I am more interested to see how this particular test will help with finding my stepfather’s birth families.  (As a side note, we are planning to do both Y-DNA and mtDNA for my stepfather, hopefully giving us a bigger chance to discover his birth family.)

Again, I am no expert, but here are a few things I’ve learned in the last few months.

Types of Tests

  • Y-DNA – Available for males only.  This tests the Y chromosome, which is passed from father to son, thus your direct paternal line only.  Tests can be done on a variety of marker locations (i.e., 12, 37, 67 or 111).
  • mtDNA – Available for both males and females.  This tests the mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from the mother to her children (both sons and daughters), and therefore follows the direct maternal line.  FamilyTreeDNA offers a basic test, a “plus” test, and a “full sequence” test. 
  • Autosomal – Available for both males and females. This tests the 22 pairs of chromosomes known as autosomes (the 23rd pair is the sex chromosome). Unlike the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, autosomal DNA testing doesn’t follow strictly the paternal line or the maternal line and therefore you may be able to discover cousins on any of your lines.

Popular Providers

  • 23andMe – Provides testing for autosomal DNA only.  Once you’ve tested, their database provides you with matches for potential cousins and will continue to provide matches as new tests come in.  23andMe also provides health information, which is part of the scientific mission.  Your test results can be downloaded from 23andMe and uploaded to FamilyTreeDNA, giving you a bigger pool to swim in, so to speak.
  • FamilyTreeDNA – Provides autosomal, Y-DNA, and mtDNA testing.  Once you’ve tested (using any of their tests), their database provides you with matches for potential cousins and will continue to provide matches as new tests come in.  Includes various tools and projects/groups.  You can upload 23andMe autosomal DNA results to FTDNA (for a fee), which I believe gives you the same access to tools and projects, as though you had tested directly with FTDNA.
  • AncestryDNA – Provides autosomal DNA testing.  Once you’ve tested, their database provides you with matches for potential cousins and will continue to provide matches as new tests come in.  You can link your results to your Ancestry.com family tree.


There are many different resources out there.  Here are a few that I found helpful.



Julie Goucher said...

Yes, I am one of those still ploughing through the A-Z. (I completed them so they would enable me to catch up whilst in Australia last Autumn. When I got home, the posts had gone and the interface of my blog had been updated).

A really informative post. I have enjoyed reading it and look forward to hearing of the results and B!

Mary P. Nelson said...

Thank you for putting so much information together in one spot.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed taking on "the Challenge" when Alona first introduced it and was both delighted, and surprised to have actually made it all the way through... one post a week was not easy for me... puff puff puff:-) Congrats on taking it on. Enjoy! Cheerio, Catherine

Gould Genealogy said...

Welcome to the 'Alphabet Challenge', and what a wonderful first post you've given us. As Julie says, looking forward to 'B'!

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