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Should I test with somebody else…

Anyone who even dabbles in genetic genealogy — DNA testing — hears the questions all the time.

“Should I test with somebody else now that 23andMe has had problems with the FDA?”

“Should I test with somebody else since AncestryDNA doesn’t provide better tools to understand my DNA results?”

“Should I test with somebody else since Family Tree DNA has outdated admixture percentages and I’m tired of being told only that I’m 100% European?”

SEO metaphor - part 2. Link baiting, hunting for visitors, fishing.The answer to all of these questions, of course, is no.

And yes.

You see, there are two parts to each of those questions.

One part starts with the word “since,” and it expresses a frustration with some of the limitations of each of the DNA testing companies.

Some of us wish 23andMe and the FDA would play nice together so we could get health data again.1 Some of us wish AncestryDNA would provide detailed analysis tools.2 And some of us wish Family Tree DNA would provide better admixture data3 — those percentage estimates of our ancient ancestry that all the companies have trouble with but where Family Tree DNA lags behind the most.

The other part is the first part: “Should I test with somebody else…” — should I give my DNA testing dollars to another company?

The answer to the “since” question is no.

None of the limitations of any of the testing companies is a good reason for not testing with that company.

Why?

Because the answer to the “Should I test with somebody else…” question is yes.

Always and forever yes.

Because only by testing as broadly and as widely as we can do we get the maximum benefit from DNA testing.

Think of it this way:

• DNA testing is like fishing for cousins. Cousins who share our genetic heritage, who share some ancestors with us, and who may be sitting out there with the answers to some of our most vexing genealogical questions.

• Our own DNA tests are the bait that we use to try to catch the cousin who has the family Bible, the cousin who has the photograph of those second or third great grandparents, the cousin who has that fourth great grandmother’s maiden name.

• The databases of the DNA testing companies are the ponds we can fish in.

• And the cousins — well, the cousins may be in any one of the ponds.

Let me offer some very specific examples from my own research. Because I’ve put my money where my mouth is on this — I’ve tested with every company out there. I tested back when the cost of a single autosomal DNA test was more than the cost today of testing with all three major companies. And I’ve gained at least one cousin from every pond I’ve fished in.

At Family Tree DNA, where I have the vast majority of my family test results, I’ve picked up Buchanan cousins who help me nail down the maiden name of my third great grandmother Elizabeth Buchanan Baker. And using targeted testing (asking specific people to test), I’ve also nailed down other ancestral lines.

At AncestryDNA, I picked up a cousin in the line of my archnemesis second great grandfather George Washington Cottrell — a cousin who descends from G.W.’s youngest son George while I descend from the oldest son Martin Gilbert. Having this Cottrell cousin’s DNA as a double-check, we’ve made some progress in fleshing out where our elusive George may have come from (since his own answers to those kinds of questions are … um … less than truthful).

Even at 23andMe, which I personally find to be the most difficult and frustrating of the databases to work with, I picked up a cousin in my maternal grandmother’s Robertson line who’s been able to shed light on some of the questions about that side of the family where we had no answers.

None of the testing companies is perfect. None offers exactly what I might want at any given moment. But each of them offers something priceless: the chance at finding a cousin with just the information I need — a cousin who may only have tested at that one company and not at any of the others.

So from the standpoint of getting the most traction in our genealogical research, the only question that really matters is “Should I test with somebody else…” — and the answer is always yes.

Fish in all the ponds.


SOURCES

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “23andMe suspends health tests,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Dec 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 15 Feb 2013).
  2. See ibid., “What AncestryDNA doesn’t provide,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 19 May 2013.
  3. See ibid., “Those pesky percentages,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Oct 2013.
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