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Maybe … just maybe …

With all the summer DNA sales there have been out there, and the fall and winter sales to come, maybe … just maybe … it’s time to think twice.

I know. I know.

For The Legal Genealogist not to be begging cousins to test, it almost sounds like heresy.1

But here’s the deal: so many of us have bought so many test kits and gone on to more and more advanced testing that the law of diminishing returns has started to kick in.

So here’s a radical suggestion: maybe we all need to think about what we want to learn before we give in to the lure of the sale.

Maybe sale

Consider this scenario: Mom has tested her autosomal DNA. Dad has tested his autosomal DNA. There’s a way cool sale on autosomal DNA tests. So they’re thinking of buying a kit for Junior.

What do they want to learn here? Since Junior gets 50% of his DNA from Mom and 50% of his DNA from Dad, what will Junior’s DNA show that Mom’s and Dad’s didn’t?

Now … don’t get me wrong. I fully understand that getting Junior hooked on genealogy through DNA results is A Very Good Thing. And if that’s the aim of the test purchase, go for it.

Or if Mom and Dad (and Junior!!) are curious about how the mix of genes from Mom and Dad worked, and maybe want to compare his results to Sis who’s already tested, that’d be a reason to go for it as well.

But in terms of finding cousins or breaking through genealogical brick walls, Junior’s test isn’t going to do a thing that Mom’s and Dad’s won’t do better. For autosomal DNA, we always want to test an older generation, not a younger one, when it comes to actually finding genealogically valuable matches. And if there isn’t a current test candidate from an older generation, then maybe … just maybe … we don’t want to buy that kit this time.

Or consider this scenario, all too real for me. I have three brothers who’ve taken YDNA tests for me. Thankfully, they all match each other. Regrettably, they don’t match anybody else. Oh, well, yeah, at the 12-marker-you’re-all-human level, there are a few. But at the genealogically-significant higher levels, zip. We’ve already done SNP testing to confirm their E-V13 haplogroup, which puts us just where we’d expect: in the European heartland. Our father was born in Germany, our grandfather and great grandfather in what was formerly East Germany.

And… sigh … our great grandfather’s father is recorded on his baptismal record as unbekannt. Unknown, in English.2

So… when there’s a sale on the Big-Y testing, out to 500 or 700 markers, shouldn’t we jump at it?

What would it tell us — genealogically speaking — that we don’t already know? Without any matches at lower levels, it isn’t going to get us any closer to a match that could lead to that unknown second great grandfather. Maybe when more Germans have tested, if we get enough matches that distinguishing between one potential line and another is an issue, it’ll be worth it, and it might even be worth it now from a purely scientific curiosity standpoint. But it isn’t going to help us answer our family history mystery right now. In other words, maybe … just maybe … we don’t want to buy that kit this time.

And of course the scenario I ran into a couple of times just this past week: readers who either bought or were thinking about buying mitochondrial test kits. And not one of them had a clue what mtDNA might tell them.

Now I’ll admit this is the one that has me the most conflicted. Until we get enough people into the mtDNA database, despite its enormous value and power in answering very specific genealogical questions (like whether I descend from wife #1 or wife #2), mtDNA simply isn’t going to be that useful for general genealogical questions. And it’s not an inexpensive test, so just testing for the sake of science is hard to recommend. (Even if I’d really really like to build that mtDNA database.3)

So… even there … maybe … just maybe … we don’t want to buy that kit this time.

Of course, if there’s some cash burning a hole in our pocket and we have a real scientific curiosity, getting to a million mtDNA tests in a database would go a long way towards making that test more useful to more people4… but…

Bottom line here: we do need to think about what we want to learn before we give in to the lure of the sale. Those who haven’t tested at all will find lots to learn — and have lots of fun — with an entry level autosomal DNA test. Those with specific genealogical questions that can be answered by YDNA or mtDNA tests should certainly keep an eye out for sales. For others, pure science may be a reason to go ahead and do even an expensive test without a specific genealogical question.

And for everyone else, maybe … just maybe … we don’t want to buy that kit this time.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The lure of the sale,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 22 Aug 2021).


  1. Trust me, I’m still begging cousins to test. I’d still happily pay for mitochondrial full sequence testing for any documented female line descendant of Charlsie Battles Davis of Alabama. Or any documented male line descendant of the Faures of Manakin Town, Virginia. Just sayin’…
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Friedrike, how COULD you?,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 Jan 2012 ( : accessed 22 Aug 2021).
  3. See “Building that mtDNA database,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 May 2021.
  4. Really… See “Building that mtDNA database,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 May 2021.
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