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Kimberly Powell

Autosomal DNA Testing - Can it Really Predict Our Ancestors?

By May 15, 2012

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One of the coolest genetic tools in the genealogist's toolbox (especially for those of us of the female persuasion without Y-DNA) is the relatively new autosomal DNA test. This month Ancestry.com entered the market, joining 23andme.com and FamilyTreeDNA, with their own autosomal DNA test known as AncestryDNA. In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the ones lucky enough to receive my results during the beta period as Ancestry.com offered me a free test for review, but I was more excited about the quicker results than the free test. I would have happily paid for the test, and already have my name on the waiting list to order a few more for some relatives in the hopes of possibly solving a few genealogical mysteries. Other autosomal tests which I have had done include 23andme.com's Relative Finder ($299, with no subscription required) and FamilyTreeDNA's Family Finder ($289, no subscription required).

Ancestry.com's new AncestryDNA test is currently being offered for an introductory rate of $99, but is available only for Ancestry.com subscribers. This is a great rate, so if you are interested in pursuing autosomal DNA testing I would highly recommend taking advantage of it. Their genetic database isn't yet nearly the size of FamilyTree DNA, but they have a huge potential list of participants in their own current customer database of 1.87 million subscribers -- and I think will be especially good at attracting those with a more casual interest in genetic testing who might not otherwise seek out such a service. They also link results directly to Ancestry Member Trees (when available), which can really help to narrow the focus for potential ancestral matches.

On the downside, Ancestry.com is currently not offering access to an individual's raw genetic data which means that you can't add your AncestryDNA data to another database/service such as FamilyTreeDNA. Another current downside of this test is that they don't identify which portions of their genome two individuals share in common, which can make it harder to identify the common ancestor. Judy Russell also points out the potential problems posed by integrating DNA results with undocumented user-supplied family trees on her Legal Genealogist blog.

Now I love DNA testing as a potential genealogical tool and now have autosomal results for myself and/or my husband from all three of the major companies offering this test -- AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA and 23andme.com. Interestingly, I have different matches through all three services, which just goes to show that many people can't afford or don't consider testing through multiple services, so if you really want to reach as many potential matches as possible you really need to spread your DNA around, so to speak.

  • My husband's POWELL line through FamilyTreeDNA (and yes, this is his direct paternal line for which he also has the Y-DNA test) matched through autosomal DNA to a fourth cousin, once removed through a female line that Y-DNA testing wouldn't have uncovered.
  • My CRISP line is matched to an identified 3rd cousin through 23andme.com.
  • My KOTH line matches a known 3rd cousin through AncestryDNA.

Another interesting item of note is that the best (confirmed through standard genealogical research) matches from all three companies are to lines in which there is double descent from a common ancestor (I or my husband descend through married second cousins in all three cases). I suspect the extra DNA that came from this double descent is what helped it survive the DNA recombination through so many generations, especially in the case of the fourth cousin match that goes back to a common ancestor born prior to 1800 in Bristol, England.

I also have a very intriguing match to a family tree on Ancestry.com that includes none of my own ancestral surnames, but does include two families who were neighbors and close associates of several of my North Carolina ancestors in Edgecombe, Martin and Bertie counties. I can't help but think this may be a clue to one of my yet undiscovered ancestral maiden names... Thinking right now about who else I can have tested to learn more!

Learn more about autosomal DNA:

May 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm
(1) CeCe Moore says:

This is a great article. That is a very intriguing match that you mention in your last paragraph! I look forward to reading future updates on that one.
Thanks for the mention.

May 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm
(2) ~Kimberly says:

Thanks CeCe! You can bet I was intrigued with that match. The only names/locations in that entire family tree that closely relate to mine are two families who are very closely related to my own ancestors (selling land to one another, witnessing each other’s deeds, neighbors, etc.), and whose records I was already researching for a possible connection. That DNA match made me smile and do a silent happy dance :)

May 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm
(3) Judy Jouglet says:

Some years ago our family had the Y-DNA done by a mail thru
familytreedna. It came back with no results. Then familytree contacted another Harrison who had only done 12 markers while
we had done 67. That person then did 67 marker test and was
a match. We determined he either is a cousin or a brother to my
ancestor Harrison. So far we have not been able to connect the dots.
Hurray, a test that may help! Thanks Judy Jouglet

May 24, 2012 at 11:32 pm
(4) Jan Tripp says:

I recently received my FamilyFinder (FamilyTreeDNA) results and a shortly thereafter I received my first match to a predicted 3rd to 5th cousin. We matched several common surnames but we could not place any of our common surnames in the same place at the same time. I had not given much thought to the number of 5th cousins I have but the number must be in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. To date, I have only identified a small fraction of my extended family. As a practical matter, it may not be time well spent trying to connect with these distantly related cousins.

Your article gives me hope that !

May 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm
(5) Carolyn says:

I took your challenge and attempted to learn ‘how’ I might benefit or ‘what’ I might discover by participating in the Ancestry DNA project. I’m lost, but I’m ‘one the list’ and will participate when contacted.
I am a female and I long to learn about my mother’s family from Ireland. However, my mother’s family was a victim of the 1918 flu epidemic…she was THE survivor. WHAT can I hope to learn by participating in the project?

August 22, 2012 at 10:28 pm
(6) Donna says:

What do you think of DnaTribes?


February 8, 2013 at 12:12 am
(7) psoriasis says:

Hi there i am kavin, its my first time to commenting
anyplace, when i read this paragraph i thought i could also make comment due to this good article.

March 29, 2013 at 8:10 am
(8) John says:

Stay away from FAMILY TREE DNA
I ordered an online special offer for a 67ydna test from Family Tree DNA and got ripped off. I paid $205.00 including postage for the test which was actually, what they call, Family Finder test. I did not receive the results for the test I ordered but received a cheaper test instead.
I called their office but they did not want to even follow through with my complaint. I wasn’t after a refund, just the results for what I paid for.
My advice: stay away from this company – they have no integrity!!

April 9, 2013 at 1:10 am
(9) self esteem says:

I will be looking for advice on how you can raise the quantity of comments without any help weblog, how have you reach your goals in doing this?

June 13, 2013 at 10:39 pm
(10) m says:

I think this is a scary concept. It opens up all sorts of possibilities for misuse. Can you imagine if this information was ever made completely public…a lawyer could check that you were not related to someone (perhaps from a fling hundreds of years ago) and contest your claim to money in a will? What if a government got hold of it and did not like the racial basis of your ancestry?

And who on earth are they comparing the dna to? Are they sampling each grave? I find it hard to believe that it could be that accurate.

While it is tempting to see what they come up with for my ancestors, I think I’ll stick to old fashioned genealogical research.

June 27, 2013 at 8:52 am
(11) Dan Dotson says:

Ancestry now allows downloading Raw Autosomal results and FTDNA provides analysis of same and inclusion in their Family Finder program (for a fee, of course)

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