Damn the skeletons! Open the closet.

One might be tempted to think that only readers find surprises in a memoir. But if the writer incorporates some genealogical research, he or she is just as likely to stumble onto little-known, if not completely forgotten, family lore. I’d be fascinated to discover that my great-great-uncle Waldo was a horse thief, or that his step-sister danced the can-can to entertain gold miners from Cripple Creek, Colorado, to the Klondike. Finding such gems isn’t easy, but they’re oh-so-worth it.

But one doesn’t even have to hunt down specifics to add an element of intrigue to a memoir. One of the easiest ways to do this is via a DNA test.

Currently, there are four major outfits offering DNA testing, and they don’t all offer the same thing. Much depends on what you hope to learn, and different organizations offer different kinds of results. Also, you need to know up front that such testing isn’t cheap. Prices range from $99 to $199, and in order to get the full range of information available, you’ll need to pony up for three of the four. There’s a way to reduce that cost however, and I’ll get to it later in this post.

Most folks will be interested in autosomal DNA testing, which looks across genders and seeks out potential cousins anywhere within an individual’s lineage. YDNA testing is available to men only and concerns itself solely with paternal ancestry. Mitochondrial DNA testing involves only the maternal line.

As of this writing, your best bet if you only want to take one test, is through Family Tree DNA. From my admittedly limited research, it has samples from more genealogists than the others, and it’s easy to use.

Ancestry DNA, however, is the only one which links–or attempts to link–your DNA results with your family tree. This is only helpful when your family tree is registered with them, otherwise there’s nothing with which to link it. I’m told that’s not uncommon, but as more folks do the testing and delve into their ancestors, this will continually improve.

If you’re looking for general information on the source of your genetics, your best bets are the Ancestry Composition report from 23andMe and Ancestry DNA’s Ethnicity Estimate.

There’s also National Geographic’s Geno 2.0. You won’t get nearly as much useful genealogical feedback, but you’ll be doing your fellow humans a service for the future as this data will be used more comprehensively going forward.

Here’s how to save a few bucks and get the results from the three commercial services: Do the AncestryDNA first. It’s data is the most compatible, and it’ll set you back $99. When you get your results from AncestryDNA, transfer the raw data to Family Tree DNA. That’s only $69, and it doesn’t limit your options with the first company. It does, however, link you with the Family Tree DNA system, for which there are significant benefits.

Later, when you’ve got another $99 to spend, test with 23andMe. (And if you feel a pang of humanity, think of National Geographic. They’re in it for all of us, and their research is far more serious than the rest.)

Why do all this? To find out where you’re from! There may not be any skeletons in your closet, but wouldn’t it be nice to know where it all began? Most of our ancestors came here from somewhere else, and there’s no telling how long ago that happened, unless someone in your family has already done some extensive research. For the great majority of us, we rely on what we’ve heard and very little else. Maybe it’s time to see what’s behind your genetic curtain.

–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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8 Responses to Damn the skeletons! Open the closet.

  1. polinto says:

    I can’t wait to see where you come from. >

  2. Very interesting! Have you learned anything interesting about your family line?

  3. joshlangston says:

    You mean, aside from the suspicion many of my ancestors were pirates? Actually, we’re still waiting for all the results to come in, but I’m fairly certain there’ll be Vikings or pirates in there somewhere.

  4. I have tried to post a response to skeletons with out success Josh.

  5. Robert Gifford was a resident of Plymoth Colony who suddenly disappeared from my family tree, until a Marine Corps Comrade wrote me from Newport, Rhode Island.

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