Adventures in Genealogy DNA Testing, Part 1

Everett Combs family in 1923

Shannon’s great-grandfather Combs and family in 1923 (from left): James, Everett, Zelma (standing on chair), Albert, Everett Jr. (the baby), Sylvia and Paul.

The last eight months have been an absolute roller coaster ride for me in the world of genetic genealogy. In one of my earlier posts, I talked about why my dad is participating in a name study, and the disappointments with the company going under and losing the sample. I’m happy to report that the company that took over has done the testing and we have the first round of results.

It’s far from over, but I thought I’d share with you the process in case anyone out there is thinking about delving into the genetic testing arena. Over the next several posts, I hope to give you a blow-by-blow account of how my family testing goes.

Before you go jumping into the gene pool with both feet, you need to have a basic understanding of the field. I took many genetics courses in college, so I may be ahead of many people with the lingo. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t completely lost at some points when I was looking at the raw data from my dad’s test: Great, I have all these numbers and letters—now what do I do with it?

Having a grasp of the basic terminology will help you to understand your results better, and also allow you to explain them to other members of you family. I’m sure there are many people out there whose eyes glaze over when you start spouting genealogy at them; imagine the comatose looks when you throw in genetic acronyms and science-speak.

Get started by reading and researching everything you can on genetic genealogy. A section of Family Tree Magazine‘s website is devoted to DNA genealogy testing articles. Books, wikis and blogs have all the definitions and beginning information you need to understand what you are getting into. If you haven’t already, pick up Trace Your Roots with DNA by Megan Smolenyak and Ann Turner. It gives a good basis of terms and also goes through the testing that was available at publication in 2004.

If you enjoy reading blogs, I suggest you check out the Genetic Genealogist by Blaine Bettinger. He has resource lists and articles, posts updates on the industry, and teaches the reader what they need to know about this industry. Finally, go check out the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG). Its wiki is phenomenal, and if you find the genetic bug has bitten you, consider joining this non-commercial non-profit organization.

As previously stated, my dad is participating in a Y-DNA name study though the Combs-Coombs etc. Research Group. Y-DNA tests the paternal, or father’s, line in a family. The Y chromosome is passed father to son and can help verify paternal lineage of an already researched genealogy. It can also lead to non-paternal events—that is, when the Y-DNA doesn’t match the known line, a result of adoption, child from a prior marriage or even an affair. Face it, our ancestors weren’t all saints—if it happens now, it happened back when, too.

This study was started in 2005 and has helped to prove and connect various Combs family lineages. The study looks at 43 alleles on the Y chromosome. The 43 alleles were decided upon by the company the test began under, Relative Genetics. Even though Relative Genetics is no longer in business, the study continues to use the markers originally selected for consistency. My dad’s results will be compared to the database on file to see how close his alleles match those already tested and how many mutations there may be between his and those on file. I will also provide the study my genealogy research so we can try to determine our Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA).

Got all that? In the next segment, I will go into the testing process and the initial results we received.

5 thoughts on “Adventures in Genealogy DNA Testing, Part 1

  1. I have also been down the testing road. I had my brother test with Ancestry then again with FTDNA. They came up with the same results even though we did not tell either of them we did comparison testing. The numbers are confusing, however other Ford’s we know connect had their test done and confirmed DNA matches. Of interest was a march that did not know he was a Ford so he had both DNA tests done and still found he was our closest match. We are searching to find if he is a result of adoption or as you mention an affair.

  2. Wow! You will never know what you find. I just had more results sent to me this week and I am going through them… fingers crossed for family matches and cousins!

  3. I did the Family Finder test with FTDNA and have some close (3rd cousins) matches. But none of us knows what to do with the information, nor do we know how we’re related. So I am questioning if I should have paid a lot for that test; perhaps I should have spent the money on the full sequence test.

  4. My issue is how to select the best place for DNA testing and to sort out relatives is it better to do separate male and female tests or the all in one test that either males or females can take (from Does that sort out each line or is just t he mixture? I am promarily interested in the male line of my family.

  5. That is a really good questions, and I by no means am an expert. With that said, here is my opinion. Each site has its pros and cons, and price differences. You need to weigh your options on each testing service based on what they provide and is what you want to learn. If you are interested primarily in the male line of your family get one of your male relatives to participate in a Y-DNA study. If you are interested in your female line you, or any of your siblings, can participate in a M-DNA study. The new autosomal tests tests are good (but I have not really looked into them) however they are really not reliable past a few generations because of the way genes are “mixed” at each generation.

    I know that was a bit vague, but the crux of the issue is to do your research on each company and go with one you feel comfortable and confident in.

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