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The value of all the databases

It’s standard advice no matter what field we’re in.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Whether we’re dealing with investing for retirement, or making other kinds of plans for the future, having all our hopes rise or fall with a single choice is rarely a good idea.

And nowhere is that more true, for us as genealogists, than when it comes to DNA testing.

That’s where we really really really don’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket.

Meaning we don’t want to be in just one testing database.

“But,” our cousins (and test candidates) say, “I’ve already tested with Company A. Why should I test with Company B and C and D and…?”

Because of that standard advice that’s so important: don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Here’s the way to think about this that may help explain to that cousin why you want yet another DNA sample:

• 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 information we need: for those of us with intact families, 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. For adoptees, it’s the cousin who can lead us to our biological families.

• 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.

I can’t stress that last point enough, and I’ve said it often enough in the past.1

It’s not enough to say that Company A has the biggest database of people who have tested, or that Company B has the most dedicated genealogists as users or that Company C has the best analytical tools for genetic genealogy.

If the person you need to connect with has tested with Company A and you’ve only tested with Companies B and C, the simple fact is that you lose.

With autosomal DNA testing prices having dropped like a rock since these tests were first introduced in 2009-2010,2 there’s no real excuse for not getting into multiple testing databases. And in the case of one major testing database — that of Family Tree DNA — it’s even easier and less expensive.

That’s because Family Tree DNA allows for transfers of data from other testing companies for only a $19 fee — and there’s a coupon floating around out there (Code: ATUL1017) that drops it to $10 that’s good through Tuesday night, October 31, at midnight central time — that gets you all or most of the benefits of its database, its ranks of genealogical users and its superb analytical tools.

There are some limits: some DNA tests from other companies are only partly compatible with the Family Tree DNA system and you’ll only get some of the matches you’d get if you went ahead and paid the full freight (now $69, on sale) for the Family Finder autosomal test at Family Tree DNA. That limit affects the 23andMe V4 test (from November 2013 to August 2017), and the Ancestry V2 test (after May 2016). The newest 23andMe test (V5, after August 2017) isn’t transferable at all, as of yet.3

And if you just want to check out Family Tree DNA, you can do the autosomal transfer there for free — but get only limited information that way.

Whether you test at or transfer to more than one DNA company or database, the bottom line remains the same: fish in all the ponds… don’t put all your eggs in one basket.


  1. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “DNA testing for adoptees: 2017,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 Jan 2017 ( : accessed 29 Oct 2017).
  2. Anybody else remember paying $399 for a test plus $10 a month? Sigh…
  3. For a chart of possible transfers to Family Tree DNA and other companies, see Leah Larkin, “What’s New in Autosomal DNA Transfers,” The DNA Geek, posted 12 Sep 2017 ( : accessed 29 Oct 2017).
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