Considerations about buying a DNA test kit for Christmas?

Are you contemplating buying a DNA test kit for yourself or a family member as a Christmas gift? I believe many people may be weighing this option after seeing the holiday ads thinking it would be a unique gift. In addition, I think people may be asking if they should take advantage of the Christmas sales and buy a kit for themselves. However, before purchasing a test, it would help if they answered a few questions about how the results can be helpful and whether you are ready for the type and limitations of information it shows.

The test results give two types of information. The first set is a list and diagrams showing the possible areas their ancestors left, implying these are your Roots! The second data set is a list that matches your DNA to other submitted samples. This set gives a range of relationships, such as 2nd to 4th cousins, 3rd to 5th, and more.

Another thing to consider before purchasing is how you will use the results. Your answer may influence which company you should consider purchasing your kit. Some ads suggest that the test results magically produce a complete family tree and point to a location on a map. Unfortunately, this magic does not happen. The DNA test results will only give clues, not the solution to your questions. Detailed research and analysis are required to finish the job. 

So, should you buy a test kit, and if you do, what company? My recommendation depends on how you plan to use the results. If all you want is to see your ethnic origins take the test from any of the four major companies (Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and FamilyTree DNA) and review your results. However, this set of data may cause you confusion because your results may show origins in places, not in your family stories. Also, your results may not match samples submitted by a sibling or cousin. These two confusing situations happen because companies use different base data and label geographic areas differently. I have not found data that points to one company’s results being more accurate than the others.

On the positive side, companies regularly update their base data to improve their accuracy. Recent updates to my test results gave me clues that helped resolve some brick walls in my family research. With that said, the results I received did not point to any specific village where my ancestors were born, but they did help provide a general idea of where to look.

The last point to consider is how long you have researched your family history. If you are beginning your research on your family history, DNA testing should not be your first step. You must first collect family stories and documents and compile a family tree showing at least four generations before submitting a sample for DNA testing. This early research will help you better understand your test results. In addition, the DNA results will give clues to your roots and suggest how you relate to other people. It is a potent tool, but it is best to use it with other genealogical tools.

DNA testing is not magic. It is a science and a tool that may give you clues to your family history. Genealogy research also is not magic. It is detective work where you need to apply sound and detailed research to be successful. You will have to commit to many days and nights of work uncovering your family history.

Please don’t jump into DNA testing without knowing why you are doing it. It can lead to fantastic information, or it may be a waste of your money.

If you are ready to begin your journey, find the details, do the research, and have fun.


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