How DNA Testing Can Help Your Family History

March 3, 2016  - by 
Using DNA for Family History Research

DNA testing and how it supports family history is one of the hottest topics in the field of Family History Research. Jim Brewster, Group Project Liaison at FamilyTree DNA recently spoke at  RootsTech 2016. He explained the top 10 reasons to take a DNA test. Among other things, they include contributing to breakthrough research, learning the ethnic makeup and migrations of your ancestors and discovering new cousins.

As a reminder of your biology class, you get your DNA from your parents. DNA tests analyze the chromosomes that are found in your cells. You have several types of DNA that can be used for genealogical testing, including mitochondrial, autosomal and X and Y chromosomes that determine your gender. Think of pictures of tightly wound thread-like structures (shown below).

There are three main types of DNA testing, including: autosomal DNA, YDNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

Autosomal DNA testing is the most common test and the results provide you with your ethnic background percentages by regions and subregions. In addition, autosomal DNA test results will provide you with family members (who have also been tested) who share common ancestry in the last five generations. The results also show how closely they are related to you, based on your DNA results. Autosomal DNA test results include both your maternal and paternal family lines.

YDNA testing traces the direct paternal line for men who get this test. If you think of your family tree in landscape mode, YDNA testing traces the direct male line across the top of your tree or pedigree chart. Similar to other DNA test results, YDNA test results provide a list of others who have been tested and that have a common male ancestor within the last 25 generations. YDNA testing also provides the haplogroup and sub-groups that you belong to and the migration patterns of the haplogroup. For YDNA testing, you can choose to test 37, 67 or all 111 DNA markers — as you might expect, the more markers you choose to test the more detailed your results and the more you can expect to pay for the testing. FamilyTree DNA allows you to upgrade at a later time, from one level to the next level by paying the difference in price.

Mitrochondrial DNA testing traces your maternal direct line for up to 52 generations. Similar to YDNA testing for a man’s direct paternal line, mtDNA test results can provide both the haplogroup and ancestral migration routes of your maternal line. And like other DNA testing, mtDNA testing provides you a list of others who have been tested and to whom you are related to and how closely related.

All three types of DNA test results can help your family history efforts by confirming things you already know as well as connecting you with others. Many people are able to break through the all too common brick walls with the help of a second- or third-cousin whom they have never met.

DNA testing is available from FamilyTree DNA and several other companies. If you’ve already had your DNA tested, consider uploading your results to additional DNA databases to learn even more and to find additional cousins. One such DNA database that is relatively new, yet growing rapidly is — is both the name of the project and its URL web address. accepts DNA file uploads from FamilyTree DNA, and 23andme. The consent agreement is both short and simple enough to understand in a few minutes. 90% of users have one or more cousin matches — and this will grow as more people upload their autosomal DNA test results.

Finally, consider joining a group project to learn even more. Group projects are organized by surnames, haplogroups, geographical locations or a combination of these. Try an internet search for your surname and DNA — in my case, I searched for “Davidson DNA” to find my surname group project. Each group project has a volunteer administrator that can help you get started.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. El tema es muy profundo. No comprendo del todo, cuales son los resultados. ¿Tendrá los nombres de mis antepasados? O ¿en la comparación pueden aparecer familiares? Agradezco si tienen mas información. Es muy interesante.

    1. English Translation:

      The theme is very profound. I don’t understand everything. What are the results? Will they have hte names of my ancestors? Or in the comparison can relatives appear? I’d appreciate any more information. It is very interesting.

      Enrique, aquí se puede buscar más información, pero cuesta para usar el servicio:–2BRDO6q2T84_a52YSJABWAbfrqa9DOgU7u74N_ofjQpFtfPmPcGf-fq5H5kEmsIuI8BoC4rjw_wcB&o_xid=55307&o_lid=55307&o_sch=Paid+Search+%E2%80%93+NonBrand

  2. Nice article. Can you please post the course information about Jim Brewster’s presentation? I went looking for his syllabus, but couldn’t find any syllabus with his name, nor did I find him in the RootsTech 2016 program. It would be helpful if you provided the date and time of his presentation, plus the course ID. Thanks!

    1. I found the session info under RootsTech 2016 # GS2154. Jim Brewster presented two times. The session was titled “Understanding DNA Testing for Genealogy.” The handout is also given two times in the RootsTech Class Syllabi. “GS2154-T_Greenspan-FTDNA_Understanding DNA Testing for Genealogy Syllabus.docx”

  3. How much dose it cost to do a dna test were do I go we don’t know our mother’s history she was given away at 7yr.old

    1. Tina, this is the best summary I found, in all the research before I sent in my autosomal DNA test ($99, but there are often holiday sales, down to even $69). The author wrote another book, about using DNA to determine his father. He has lots of info to help adoptees find biological parents. Guide to DNA Testing: How to Identify Ancestors, Confirm. Relationships, and Measure Ethnic Ancestry through DNA Testing. “Richard has made it his personal mission to share what he learns with other adoptees and genealogists. He does that through his web site,, social media, presentations, and now his books.

  4. I am looking for evidence besides family stories that my great grandfather was truly full-blood Cherokee. I knew his daughter, my aunt, who claims he was. His name was not Native American.

  5. I know that on my Father’s side of the family I am related to Pochahontas an Iroquois Indian. If I was to get the Autosomal DNA test will it also give me the % of Native American Indian in me? Also where would I go to find out what tribes that I’m related to and what my percentages are?

  6. I was told by our pinelands commission in nj that we did not qualify for the cultural housing provision because my husbands great uncle is not an immediate blood relative. My husbands great uncle is his maternal grandmother’s brother. Would his great uncle be equal to a first cousin or great grandparent? Thank you Debbie Ewan