Select Page

A winner of a guide to DNA testing.

Informative. Understandable. Solid.

Any time The Legal Genealogist can say those three things about a book — and particularly about a book on a topic that can be as hard to comprehend as DNA testing — you know we have a winner.

dna-btbAnd that’s clearly what we have with Blaine T. Bettinger’s new book, The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, recently released by Family Tree Books of Cincinnati, Ohio, the publishing arm of Family Tree Magazine.1

Now… before I go further, the disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review.2 I assure you, getting something priced as of this morning at $19.99 for free isn’t going to influence me one bit. If there is a price at which I can be bought off, it’s going to be a whole lot higher than that!

Back to the review.

I use the term “informative” here to denote the depth and breadth of the coverage of this new work. It begins in Part I with an overview of Getting Started. The first chapter, Genetic Genealogy Basics, reviews the very basic elements of DNA: what it is, how it works, what the tests are that can be used for genetic genealogy.

It goes on to what may be one of the most important chapters in the book: Common Misconceptions. Things like “I’m a woman, so I can’t take a genetic genealogy test myself.” (Wrong: we can do both autosomal testing and mitochondrial (mtDNA) testing). Or “DNA testing will provide me with a family tree.” (Wrong: not by itself, it won’t. The hard work of building a paper trail is still critical.)

And that very first part adds the emphasis that’s so important on one other aspect of DNA testing: Ethics and Genetic Genealogy, an overview of the ethical considerations that are part and parcel of conscientious and responsible testing.

Part Two of the book is Selecting a Test. There, the chapters are:

• “Mitochondrial-DNA (mtDNA) Testing: Discover your female maternal ancestors and answer research questions about them with this guide to the oldest DNA test.”

• “Y-Chromosomal (Y-DNA) Testing: Find your paternal male ancestors. This chapter discusses how to use Y-DNA to track your male-line descendants and solve genealogical problems.”

• “Autosomal-DNA (atDNA) Testing: Explore your whole genetic family tree with this chapter’s guide to the atDNA test, the most popular and (arguably) most useful DNA analysis.”

• “X-Chromosomal (X-DNA) Testing: Pinpoint your genetic ancestors. This chapter discusses how to use X-DNA and its inheritance patterns to grow your family tree.”

Part Three of the book is Analyzing and Applying Test Results. These chapters, with enough basic info for beginners but also good information for the intermediate and advanced genealogist, are:

• “Third-Party Autosomal-DNA Tools: Broaden your DNA analysis with this chapter’s tips for using software, online tools, and other third-party programs to analyze atDNA test results.”

• “Ethnicity Estimates: Unpack the estimates provided by DNA testing companies. This chapter shows what you can–and can’t–learn about your ancestry from ethnicity estimates.”

• “Analyzing Complex Questions with DNA: Dig deeper into your DNA research with these tips and strategies for using your DNA results to break through brick walls and answer challenging research questions.”

• “Genetic Testing for Adoptees: Uncover your hidden past. This chapter provides strategies for adoptees and other individuals who face an extra hurdle when researching ancestors.”

• “The Future of Genetic Genealogy: Gaze into DNA’s future with these predictions about the field’s trajectory and what you can hope to achieve as genetic genealogy advances.”

See what I mean? Informative.

I use the term “understandable” here to denote the fact that… sigh… this book is written in plain English. The word choices, the explanations, the examples all appear to have been selected to make things as understandable as possible for the person struggling to add this new technology effectively to the genealogy toolbox.

Yes, there are scientific terms used in the book — unavoidably. But where a term like heteroplasmic is used, as it is in chapter 4, or meiosis in chapter 6, there’s a glossary entry to explain it as well.

I’m not promising you won’t have to work occasionally to grasp what’s being said. But wherever possible, it’s obvious that the author went above and beyond to make things as simple and clear as possible.

Hence, understandable.

Finally, I use the term “solid” here to denote the depth and breadth of the supporting data, particularly the graphics and charts and appendices which add so much to our understanding of this topic.

From visual depictions of our genealogical and genetic family trees in Chapter 1 all the way through comparison guides and research forms in the appendices, there’s a wide variety of information presented in depth and with clarity to aid our understanding of the tests and our ability to apply them in our own research.

Particularly useful are the comparison guides in Appendix A. The appendix begins by debunking an all-too-often-misunderstood notion: ““There is no one-size-fits-all DNA testing plan,” it notes, and “for most of us the expense of DNA testing is a constant consideration.” So, it continues, “you’ll need to be deliberate in selecting how you’re going to allocate your resources.”

It follows with a chart guide to choosing the right DNA test, a chart comparing the tests, and a testing company comparison chart which — as the author undoubtedly knew would happen — is already outdated: 23andMe has just announced a new ancestry-only test (leaving out the now-not-all-that-useful health testing) for $99, down from the $199 shown.

These and other bits and pieces of supporting data make this book solid.

Any time I can say a book is informative, understandable and solid, we have a winner.

Highly recommended.


  1. Blaine T. Bettinger, The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy(Cincinnati, Ohio: Family Tree Books, 2016).
  2. The Federal Trade Commission requires a “clear and conspicuous” disclosure by any blogger who receives a product for free with the expectation that the blogger will write about it. I would disclose this anyway, but add this note as a reminder to all bloggers: we have legal and ethical responsibilities here, and a disclosure page to which we link on our websites doesn’t cut the mustard.
Print Friendly