How We Can Build a Family Tree With DNA

DNA immigration map

DNA genealogy is a nascent field and we are surprised at how quickly it is developed. Before DNA genealogy all that people had to look for ancestors were paper records. Paper records are fantastic and give us a lot of information about our ancestors but they have server limitations. For one thing, you can only possibly track people until the time when humanity started keeping paper records. What if you want to know where your ancestors were a thousand years ago? What if you wanted to know the origin of your ethnicity? With technology, we can build a family tree with DNA and create connections to possible relatives.

These are all questions which normal genealogy does not have the answer to because it is limited by paper records. The most interesting part is that the technology available to consumers is only a few years old. Even more surprisingly the theory behind the technology is itself only a decade or two old. Thanks to the rapid advances in technology we have seen in the previous two decided we went from theorizing about DNA genealogy to people being able to get their DNA tested to create a family tree.


The Origins of DNA Genealogy

The most famous case of DNA genealogy has to be when Thomas Jefferson’s DNA and Sally Heming’s DNA was compared to find if a line can be established. Scientists were able to successfully identify markers through which they could track people descended from these two people. Another famous study was done on the surname Sykes, and it was found that most people with the surname had similar markers. These were cases which showed the world that DNA testing is a viable way to track ancestors.

The first time genealogy testing through DNA was made available to the general public was in the year 2000 by the company Family Tree DNA. The results of these tests were very limited and could only tell about basic ancestry. The revolution began with the publication of the book Seven Daughters of Eve in 2001, which identified 7 different haplogroups and became a bestseller, bringing DNA genealogy testing in the realm of public knowledge. Since then DNA genealogy has only been getting more and more popular, thus enabling people to build a family tree with DNA


What We Can Learn From DNA Testing

There is a lot of interesting information which can be learned through DNA testing. The most telling information is that it tells us where our ancestors came from, and it is a great feeling to be able to trace one’s family back to Africa. We can even trace the maternal line of people, something which was not possible before. We could trace paternal lines because names are passed down through men but there was no reliable way to trace one’s maternal line before DNA testing made it all possible.


Types of Genealogical DNA Tests

Before embarking on a path to build your family tree through DNA, testing should be considered. There are various tests on the market, with various prices. All are not the same. There are three basic types of DNA tests which will be seen quite commonly.

Ancestry DNA Test - Build a family tree with DNA


1 – Autosomal DNA

Autosomal parts of the DNA are gender neutral because they are passed down from both the mother and the father. They are also, however, very random because it is hard to tell the relationship between two matches.  An autosomal DNA focuses not just on your parents but also, your four grandparents, your eight great-grandparents, etc. The purpose of this test is to find living relatives on all of your ancestral lines. This is limited to about 5 generations. One interesting feature for users is also the provision of an ethnic percentage estimate. So if your ancestor hailed from a particular town in the North of France, tests such as OneFams Ancestry DNA test should be able to pinpoint its location and the % within your DNA. You can finally pinpoint whether you are truly 50% Irish or 22% French or 10% Scandinavian. Undertaking an autosomal DNA test is a great help should you wish to build a family tree with DNA.


2 – Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)

Mitochondrial DNA traces the maternal ancestry towards the haplogroups, which can help identify maternal ancestors.  mtDNA can trace up to 52 generations of family history, proving a migration route which can go back thousands of years.


3 – Y Chromosome Testing (yDNA)

Only men have the Y chromosome and it is one of the easiest markers to trace. If you want to do a paternal testing and are female, simply ask a male member of your family to provide the DNA.  This can be used to trace the father’s direct line of ancestors. Y Chromosome can provide linkage to up to 25 generations, which can be in turn used to identify your ancestor’s direct migration routes across time.


Build a Family Tree with DNA

Various work is currently underway to provide you with a DNA test that can help build your family tree with DNA. Essentially systems can now match your DNA with possible DNA matches. Therefore it’s possible to broaden your family tree where the application allows you to search for DNA matches.

OneFam has recently launched its DNA product and hopes to launch its beta version of DNA matching early next year while companies like Family Tree DNA and My Heritage have already launched DNA matching. Other websites don’t offer a family tree builder but do help locate distant relatives. GedMatch is a great example. It may not look like much from the outside but its usefulness is clear.

Further work is being done to increase the viability of DNA genealogy. National Geographic is running a fantastic genome project which encourages people to get kits and get their DNA tested. As we get more data about the DNA of people currently living we will be able to do better traces as our understanding of genealogy will increase. As technology advances, it will become easier and easier to build a family tree with DNA.


How to Choose A DNA Product

This can be a difficult question. There are many DNA tests available and some from very good companies which help to build a family tree with DNA. Some key factors in identifying the correct DNA test include genetic markers tested, gene pools analyzed and populations samples. The more references a company has the greater the accuracy of the testing. Before choosing a DNA product, we recommend reviewing the above categories with each company.

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