Do You Have Your Great-Great-Great-Grandfather’s Nose?

November 9, 2016  - by 
Do You Have Your Great-Great-Great-Grandfather’s Nose?

by Diahan Southard

DNA gave you the gift of your mother’s eyes or your father’s hair, your grandmother’s freckles or your grandfather’s nose. It’s fun and sometimes easy to see strong family traits connect the generations.

While these family attributes help you identify with the relatives you know personally or through photographs, the results of a DNA test for family history dig much further into the past. Read on to learn the basics about using DNA testing in your family history research.

Who Should Have a DNA Test Completed?

DNA testing provides a tangible connection to the past, which helps family history appeal to people that otherwise might not consider their heritage. So, in a best-case scenario, everyone would be tested. But, let’s be realistic; it is just not cost-effective to test every family member, so who should be at the top of your list?

Understanding just a little bit about DNA and how is inherited provides some clues about how to move forward.

As you may recall from your high school biology course, each of us receives half of our DNA from our mother and half from our father. So, what happens to the other half? The part you didn’t get? It is lost. Yes, lost! Some of that information might be recorded in your siblings’ DNA if you have brothers and sisters, but the truth is that much of our DNA record is lost with each new generation. Knowing that brings us to the conclusion that you need to test the oldest generation first. In short, anyone who is alive today, whose parents are not still alive needs to be tested (if their parents are alive, test them instead). Don’t forget about aunts and uncles. Great Aunt Hilda may be spry but it would be best to test her soon, especially if she is the last of her generation.

What Test Should I Take?

There are three different kinds of tests available for genetic genealogists.

  • The Y chromosome test. This test provides a DNA profile useful for tracing a direct male line. Only men can use this test. It can help you trace your direct paternal line ancestry back 10 or more generations and help sort out related lines among a common surname. It can also help a male adoptee (whether in this generation or any past generation) identify a possible surname for his biological father.
  • The mtDNA test. This test provides a DNA profile useful for tracing a direct female line. This moderately helpful test is most effective when you have a specific genealogical scenario in mind that you are trying to prove or disprove. (See scenario #2 at the end of this article for an example.) Anyone can take this test.
  • The Autosomal DNA test. This test traces all of your ancestral lines, but it is generally helpful back only 5 or 6 generations. Anyone can take this test.

In general, each individual needs his or her own autosomal DNA test. You can then represent each surname in your pedigree chart by testing a direct male descendant of each ancestor with a Y chromosome test. This would be yourself, if you are male, or your dad or brother if you are female. This represents your own surname line. But then you can test your mom’s brother to capture her surname line, and your dad’s mom’s brother to represent her line, and so on. The possibilities are nearly endless!

Where Can I Order a DNA Test?

For YDNA and mtDNA testing, the choice is easy. Family Tree DNA is the only company offering YDNA and mtDNA testing for genetic genealogy. For the mtDNA test, you want to take the full sequence test. For the YDNA test, the 67 marker test is ideal, but the 37 marker test will suffice. You can always upgrade later if needed.

In the autosomal DNA testing category, you have three options for ordering tests: Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, and 23andMe. Each testing company has its own pros and cons. To help you make a decision, there is a comparison chart with information for each company. It should be noted that 23andMe focuses more on health purposes of genetic testing than on genetic testing for genealogy purposes. Because of this, 23andMe offers two levels of testing: one that includes health reports and one that provides ancestry reports only.

What it really comes down to is deciding which company is going to best serve your needs: a DNA match that will lead to a genealogical discovery. Of course, there is no way to predict whether you will find a DNA match, but using the largest database is probably gives you a better chance of that happening. Right now AncestryDNA has the largest database.

When Should I Order the DNA Test?

I love finding a good deal, and deals in DNA test kits can be found at both Family Tree DNA and AncestryDNA. Look for sales around the holidays, mid-April near DNA day, and Father’s and Mother’s Day, to name a few. You can always find deals if you attend a genealogy conference and purchase your test there.

Why Should I Include DNA Testing As Part of My Genealogical Research?

In case you haven’t been convinced yet, here are a few scenarios that demonstrate how useful DNA testing can be in your family history research.

Scenario 1
Ancestor dead end: Adam Shaw, born in 1854 in Virginia.
Traditional Research Summary: You have found several other Shaws in nearby counties, but you haven’t been able to determine if they are connected to Adam or who Adam’s parents are.
Suggested DNA testing route: Find a direct male descendant of Adam to take the 37 marker YDNA test. This will be a living man with the Shaw surname.
Possible outcome of testing: You see that your YDNA test matches other Shaws who have tested, including a descendant of a man named Robert Shaw of Virginia.
Next Steps: Work with these YDNA matches to see how your lines may connect. Actively recruit direct male descendants of the other Shaw lines that you think you might be connected to and have them take the YDNA test.

Scenario 2
Ancestor dead end: Sarah, born in 1874 in Macon County, Georgia.
Traditional Research Summary: Sarah married Marvin Belle. Marvin is mentioned in the will of Harold Reynolds, who was his neighbor. You suspect from other research that Sarah was actually the daughter of Harold Reynolds, but you can’t find any documentary evidence. Harold and his wife Margaret had four daughters that you can document.
Suggested DNA testing route: Find a direct maternal descendant of both Sarah and at least one of Harold Reynolds’s daughters, and ask them to take the mtDNA full sequence test.
Possible outcome of testing: Sarah’s mtDNA does not match the descendant of Harold Reynolds. This might mean that Sarah is not a daughter of Harold, or that if she is, she was not the daughter of his wife, Margaret.
Next Steps: You can try testing a descendant of a different daughter of Harold and Margaret, or you can try testing two descendants of Sarah and two descendants of Harold and Margaret (on any line) on the autosomal DNA test to see if you can identify a relationship.

Scenario 3
Ancestor dead end: Josephine Randolf, born 1886? in Canada
Traditional Research Summary: Josephine is your maternal grandfather’s mother. You and your cousin Mark, also a descendant of Josephine, have been searching in vain for years to find out anything about Josephine’s parentage.
Suggested DNA testing route: Have both you and Mark take the autosomal DNA test. Any DNA shared between you and Mark will have come from Josephine and her husband, thus allowing you to target matches who may be related to this line.
Possible outcome of testing: You and Mark find four DNA matches who are predicted to be your fourth cousins and who have ancestors in the area of Canada where Josephine lived.
Next Steps: You can work with these fourth-cousin matches to try to identify a common ancestor between them that might lead to clues as to who Josephine’s parents were.

While there will always be more to learn and discover in the world of DNA testing, you should have what you need now to get started putting your DNA to work for you.


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  1. I want to know the Head of our Family,His name is Bill,Hedstrom.long time ago,He travel to the Island of kiribati(Beru)He got his Wife ,but idont know family and his wife.i want to be find them.can you help me.

    1. His spouse name was Abunaba, from Nikunau. Looks like he had another wife over at Beru. I understand that Beru is a neighbouring Island to Nikunau so it is not surprising for Bill to have another there. I am also from Kiribati and that same Bill Hedstrom was my head family as well in regard to the blood from outside Kiribati. Nice to know you.

    1. /You don’t say what happens to the unused DNA? Is it stored destroyed or kept/


      The DNA you give them is called a “sample.” At first (back in 2001) it was blood. Nowadays, it’s saliva (spit) if you purchase you test with or Or it’s cell tissue from the inside of your mouth scrapped off with a toothbrush-like device if you purchase from

      Nothing goes to the government but DNA records are always subject to subpoena just like your hospital records and any other records. There’s no massive government DNA database for everyone because DNA testing just hasn’t been around that long.

      DNA records are kept as long as the company that retrieved them. SMGF (Sorenson) began collecting DNA samples about 16 years ago. When bought the database in 2012, they had the samples and most of the records destroyed.

      That’s actually bad news for people who are interested in DNA research because the families of the contributors may want the samples retested when further technology improves. Unfortunately, they can never do that with They can however, with because they promise to keep the sample on file for 25 years and allow owners of the results to pass their ownership on to other family members.

    1. /To get A DNA test does blood are drawn from you? Does it hurt? Who does the procedure?/

      No, no blood is drawn. When I tested with SMGF in 2001 a nurse drew our blood. They haven’t done that in over 10 years. Today, has you scrub the inside of your cheek with a little thing that looks like a toothbrush. has you spit in a tube. Giving a sample for the test is easy and painless. You do it yourself at home and send them the “test tube” by return mail.

    1. /How much a DNA test should cost?/

      Please read previous comments. Cost depends on which test you take and which company you purchase from. The big 3 testing companies are which offers all DNA tests, and which both only offer autosomal DNA (atDNA) tests. Here are some examples of atDNA prices, the least expensive test:
      – $79
      – $99
      – $99 (has limited services)

  2. I remember our ward doing this for our members many yrs ago, but I never heard any results. Don’t remember but think it was a pilot program at the time.

    1. Janice, That would probably have been the beginnings of SMFG which became Genetree. Both are no longer in the business. They sold your results to who destroyed them. They are now forever lost but you can still retest.

  3. Family Search has done my mitochondrial DNA also a nephew for my father’s Y DNA. My question is has the autosomal been done for me. If not what is involved and what is the cost?

    1. Carol, FamilySearch does not offer DNA testing services. Do you mean Family Tree DNA or another company?

    2. Carol, you just missed a sale for autosomal DNA testing at Family Tree DNA ( Regular price is $79 but the sale price often drops to $59. The regular price for AncestryDNA is also $79. For beginners who don’t plan to get deeply involved in deciphering their autosomal test results, I recommend AncestryDNA because of the excellent genealogy database matching.

  4. According to the Bible I think we all came from Israel? So why does the DNA randomly stop. Plus the American Indians are from East Asia according to a professor from Washington that discovered this some twenty years ago.

    1. Frank, I think at least some of your answer is to be found near the top in the original article (“What test should I take?”). DNA testing is only going to provide fairly accurate data back 5-10 generations in most cases. Whether accurate or not, I recently had my line in FamilySearch connect back into multiple lines that claim to go all the way back to Adam and Eve. And through various lines (at least as shown in FamilySearch), I have traced back to Levi, Judah, and Benjamin (my patriarchal blessing lineage says Ephraim, though that could be by adoption as we all know). Those are so far back it’s almost mind-blowing to contemplate. Ten generations, the approximate limit with the Y chromosome testing, only takes me back to the 1600s. And looking through my alleged new-found lineages in FamilySearch has given me a sudden insight into just how diverse we all are, something I had not really contemplated before.

      It’s easy for any Latter-day Saint or other Christian, Jewish person, or Muslim to quickly say, off the top of their heads, that we all descend back to Noah, who was still another 10 generations prior to Abraham. So basically, DNA testing results could only be a small fraction of 1% diluted back to Israel, that it would be worthless to have such results even if it could be reported. I’ve gone through nearly 70 years of life thinking in terms of being 1/4 each English, Irish, Swedish and German. Then I had my DNA done. Ooops! That opened it up quite a bit more broadly (but ruled out some rumored Native American ancestry involving my great grandfather). And then my research suddenly connected W-A-Y back in FamilySearch to at least four different lines stemming from Abraham (the three above plus Haran – which of course is not a descent from Israel). And even fairly near term (well after the BC/AD date change), I now count virtually all of the Scandinavian countries, Portugal, and others in my lineage, in addition to my original four. Going back further, I’ve got pharaohs listed in my lineage as well. Again – I have significant skepticism about the accuracy that far back in any research (including FamilySearch which also showed I was descended from Roman mythological figures that some “clown” entered in FamilySearch). But at least the ability to trace lineages that far back has really opened my eyes as to just how diverse we all are, given the multiple wives and concubines in the 10 generations between Abraham and Noah, at which time that entire gene pool was suddenly concentrated into just four men and four women (with no evidence Noah had any more children beyond the flood).

      By the way – if you graph out the length of life of the patriarchs from Adam to Abraham, ages at death stay relatively constant from Adam to Noah (except Enoch, obviously). But starting with the recombined gene pool with Shem, Japheth, and Ham, length of life quickly decreases from Noah to Abraham to just over 100 years from almost 1000 years of age, in only a 10 generation span. That in itself creates even more generations per 100 years than ever before Noah.

      As for the genetic lineage of Native Americans, that’s an area in which I’ve had significant interest. And even disregarding what at least Latter-day Saints believe about at least some of the Native American tribes’ origin, I don’t find anything that has definitively shown where they “all” came from. It’s highly likely that all Native Americans did NOT descend from a common ancestor after Noah/Naamah(?) and Adam/Eve, of course. From everything I’ve been able to gather so far from a fair amount of study, the genetic differences ~between~ tribes (for example the northeastern tribes vs. the southwestern tribes) are significant all by themselves.

      Again, we are all such genetically diverse individuals that in some respects it’s almost as if we’re all the same – because we’ve got genetic pieces of almost all of the ancients in us. It’s been almost mind-blowingly fascinating as I’ve traced back from my one special grandmother who connects into all these lineages in the past couple of months! (And that doesn’t even factor in undocumented adoption lineages!)

        1. Just because I’ve been given a lineage through Ephraim has nothing to do with what imperfectly researched genealogical information may also be telling me. I’m under no illusions (or delusions? LOL) that what I see way, way back on FamilySearch is accurate! It may or may not be. Certainly when I see links to Roman mythological characters showing up, I can reasonably suspect inaccuracy – hahhah! (Yes, that’s in there, sadly, due to someone maliciously messing with the FamilySearch database – and it’s been reported with at least some of it now gone.)

          It’s well known that some of the much more ancient lineages showing up on major genealogical databases (not just FamilySearch) are not accurate, so I was only reporting what someone previously researched and put on FamilySearch that my own research happened to finally link into. And those are only through one grandmother’s line. I have no idea what other links go back further than the 1700s in the other three grandparents’ lineages. So I’m not the least bit concerned about seeing only lines going back to three tribes of Israel, none of which is Ephraim. That’s an entirely separate issue, and not best suited for further discussion in this forum.

    2. Frank, the reply Chris left is very thorough. At the risk of repeating some things, let’s take your questions point-by-point then add a few explanations to clarify a few things. You said, “According to the Bible I think we all came from Israel.” Chris pointed out that only a small fraction of 1% of our DNA could be “diluted back to Israel.” This is because all 4 types of DNA (X,Y, mitochondrial, autosomal) mix or mutate, some faster than others. It’s the mixing that dilutes autosomal DNA. It’s the gradual mutation of y and mitochondrial DNA that allows us to positively identify ancient male or female ancestors and their origins.

      So if we “all came from Israel”, you ask “So why does the DNA randomly stop?” Good question. Answer: it doesn’t but over centuries it becomes so diluted, as Chris pointed out, that the ability to identify who, when, where, stops except for yDNA and mtDNA. These amount to a very tiny part of your total DNA, or which more than 90% is autosomal.

      Chris pointed out that DNA testing is “accurate [only] back 5-10 generations in most cases.” To clarify, we’re talking about autosomal DNA testing which is provided by most testing companies since it’s the least expensive test. In his book “The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy”, DNA expert Blaine Bettinger explains why. Because half our DNA comes from each parent, we never know which half of their DNA each child gets. Furthermore, it isn’t an even half, it’s a random mix. Each generation is further diluted so that we never know which of our grandparents DNA we’ll inherit. First cousins’ DNA will certainly match. So will 2nd cousins. But there’s a chance 3rd cousins DNA might not match. It’s even more likely 4th cousins DNA won’t match. Experts agree that by the 5th generation the possibility of your DNA matching your known cousins begins to diminish. By the 6th generation, odds are against you matching a known cousin. Although there’s still a remote chance you’ll match a known cousin after 7 generations, I’ve never see it in my 50 years of traditional research and 17 years DNA test experience with 3 companies.

      You also mentioned that “American Indians are from East Asia according to a professor from Washington that discovered this some twenty years ago.” It must be understood that DNA testing for genealogy began only 18 years ago. Twenty years ago, DNA testing was quite crude. While the discovery you mentioned is true, one needs to understand what was discovered. Back then, only a rudimentary form of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was used for the test of Native Americans. As mentioned above this is a very tiny portion of all DNA. Also, much has been discovered since then.

      At (viewed 3/22/2018) you’ll find a comment by Brian Sykes about Native American DNA. This is significant because Dr. Sykes is one of the main researchers to whom you referred who made those genetic discoveries 20 years ago. He authored “The Seven Daughters of Eve” which helped create the current interest in DNA for genealogy. Of Native American DNA he said, “One of the surprising things that I found … that Native Americans as well as having a clear genetic history from northeast Asia, Siberia, but also further south in Taiwan and the coast of China, that some of them had ancestors that came to this country a very long time ago from Europe directly.”

      In a Journal of Book of Mormon Studies published by BYU’s Maxwell Institute ( Michael F. Whiting says “… it is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to use DNA sequence information to track the lineage of any group of organisms that has a historical population dynamic similar to that of the Nephites and Lamanites” (see p. 26).

      The point is, although mtDNA and yDNA test results can identify a single individual who lived thousands of years ago, no records exist that will positively identify such a person, not for Children of Israel (including Jews) or anyone else. This is partly due to the fact that almost all genealogical records which “go back to Adam” are based on lines falsified by Vikings or others who claimed to have descended from the Jews through their pagan gods such as Thor. While working with church employees as an assistant zone leader over the Data Quality Zone of the Family History Department, I was told by experienced professionals that there are no genealogies that can verify with certainty anyone’s ancestry earlier than about the 4th or 5th Century A.D.

      Combine these facts with DNA facts that Christ pointed out and you’ll see how, for genealogy purposes, DNA is only good for making connections within about the past 300 years. Connection prior to that become increasingly rare.