Thursday, 7 August 2008

DNA tests - Which? magazine misses the point

The consumer magazine Which? has issued a press release, We reveal online DNA tests are waste of money, in which it explains how it did tests through four different companies, namely DNA Solutions, Oxford Ancestors, 23andMe and (wait for it) "". The article appears to have misunderstood how such tests work, criticising the results from two companies in particular without understanding the basic fact that not all companies examine the same DNA markers, or indeed even name the ones that are in common the same way.

But in common with many nay-sayers on the DNA front, they also again appear to have been seduced by the "deep ancestry" aspect of the tests, in which one can find out if one's ancient caveman ancestor from thousands of years ago was originally from Outer Mongolia or inner Croydon. From a genealogy point of view, I would suggest that this aspect is really irrelevant, and if that is what you are after, then you probably are wasting your money. Dr Andrew Gritt's article 'How Many Ancestors Do I Have?' in the Family and Local History Handbook (11) reveals the simple fact that 20 generations ago we had 1048576 ancestors. On the deep ancestry front, a DNA test will tell you very little about just one of them, though you will get a nice pretty chart that probably looks very techie...!

The true value of such DNA tests in genealogy is in comparing your results with others with similar profiles, in order to try and identify a recent common ancestor. If you have found a brick wall on your line, and the new relative can go further back on his own line, his or her research can provide a possible way to bypass your own brick wall. An example of this happening is described within an article that I wrote some time ago which is now hosted on the Talking Scot website, at A Beginner's Guide to Genetic Genealogy. But DNA tests are nothing more than just a tool, and on their own can tell you little without additional documentary research to further investigate possible relationships flagged up by the test results.

My advice is to consider a DNA test only if you have a particular need to do so, whether that be because you wish to do a one name study or because you have a brick wall to overcome. However, before you take a test, make sure you understand exactly how it works. Ancestry (or Ancestory!) has a good online set up, which I have also written a beginners guide to - see DNA & Genealogy.

Scotland's Greatest Story
Professional family history research & genealogical problem solving

No comments: