Which DNA testing company to use for genealogy?

It is not all in the size of a database of service providers. Good tools for genealogy matter. See how to make the DNA testing services work for your goals in genealogy.

Recently, I have commented the analysis of Family History Fanatics about “What is the Best DNA Testing Company for Genetic Genealogy Research?”, which they usually prepare at the beginning of the year. I though it would be nice also to put here some of my experiences gained so far in genetic genealogy. They scored different features and rated the best companies by the main criteria of the database size for matching.

Scoring of Andy Lee gives the first place to Ancestry, followed by MyHeritage, GEDmatch, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and LivingDNA. The main criteria was the size of users database, which has increased significantly in the last year in companies at the first and the second place (Source: Youtube, Family History Fanatics)

I was glade to read another comment with conclusion that “having all three – FTDNA, Ancestry and GEDmatch is probably ultimately better than only having one”, as I shared their view completely. It encouraged me to add to these three also the fourth one: MyHeritage. I use all four of them to benefit of their best features. I recommended doing so also to my colleagues from Slovenian Genealogy Society and other genealogists who joined my Club of Genetic Genealogy on Wednesday, 27 of January 2021.

Here is my experience, how to include a DNA testing as a tool to your genealogy research:

1. I tested the atDNA for several people at MyHeritage, where these results live their own life in matching, as all tools are built in and shown to the users in friendly way to explore linked matches and their family trees. I especially love their new ethnicity origin estimates.

2. Then I exported data of DNA testing from MyHeritage to FamilyTreeDNA, as they have the same good tools for comparissons as the Gedmatch. The tools are built into the system for simple use of the donors of samples, who are not experts in genetic genealogy.

3. The size of FTDNA database I incerase by exporting the raw data to GEDmatch and I do analysis there (at least One-to-Many and then One-to-one for the best matches). As I am from the EU, I appreciate data protection compliance (GDPR) of both, FTDNA and Gedmatch.

4. In FamilyTreeDNA I have organized a country-wide project and a surname project of all tested people of this origin or surname. This is a unique tool among all service providers, which enables citizens’ science and further genealogy research. As one of the Admins, I can help the other 200 members to improve their pedigree charts or do additional testing on Y-chromosome and mtDNA.

5. The FTDNA has improved their genealogy part with myTree recently, where they show Shared Origins of tested ethnicity, as well as the haplogroups of Y-chromosome and mtDNA, linked to the profile with ancestral surnames and places of origin. A wonderfull identity card of MRCA also for post mortal times… And there is no subscription for my account at FTDNA – all is paid by the tests ordered.

6. The size of the database is indeed important for matching, but also FTDNA has a size big enough for successful start, especially for those of European origin. I spent two years researching my matches there. If I find a surname, origin or other data match in other systems of 23andMe, Ancestry or MyHeritage with atDNA test, I invite them to import to FTDNA and join our country or surname project. They do not need to test again, only unlock the tools available inside for comparison. Later, when they become interested in, they usually buy a Y-chromosome test (for man only) and a mitochondrial DNA test (for anyone) to place themselves into deep history of paternal and maternal lines and onto phylogenetic trees.

7. In December 2020, I bought a subscription at Ancestry and then ordered also a DNA test to find my remote cousins whose ancestors went for better life over the Ocean before WWI. My results at Ancestry have not yet been ready, but I am really looking forward to fishing in their big DNA pool.

8. Last year I have discovered also the fifth company, which I use now for Y-haplotree matching and mtDNA-haplotree matching in the period of 3000 years before past to 1600 AD: MyTrueAncestry. Just try to export your atDNA results from any of your favorite testing companies and import to MyTrueAncestry – one sample you compare for free. Voila, incredible personal history is in front of you….

So, it is not all in the size of a database of service providers. Good tools for genealogy matter. We need to make those testing services work for our goals in genealogy ūüôā

Classic vs. genetic genealogy

Since 2000 genetic genealogy is available for commercial use, as the DNA testing became available. Since then, consumer genomics testing has been increasing exponentially, especially for genealogy purposes (can be ordered also for health, nutrition, etc.).  With the help of advanced techniques and information technology, for a consumer, a biological evidence is easier to compare than historical records.  Matching of potential relatives simply occurs on your screen. Of course, the investigation only starts with this and has to be done in combination with data from traditional genealogical and historical records. For the Anglo-Saxon world, great databases of genealogical and historical records have been available online, so your research can be done from anywhere anytime.  Also in our country, you can find great sources of historical information online, like in Digital Library of Slovenia, or the register of cultural heritage (a register of protected cultural monuments, including archaeological sites, secular and church buildings). But, what about the genealogy sources?

In Slovenia, the primary sources of genealogical information can be obtained from the civil and ecclesiastical archives (Ljubljana, Maribor, Koper), where these are largely still available in the form of original books or their duplicates, created more than 100 years ago. Younger books are still in use by official registrars at administrative units. Because of data privacy rules, an access to these registers at administrative units is very limited: you need to be an immediate relative or registered researcher with an authorization of a descendant to be able to obtain genealogy relevant information even for events 100 years ago.

The main registers, used for genealogical research are birth, death and marriage books, for which responsible registrars or priests enrolled the life events of the residents of a parish to which they belonged in a given period. Thus, it is necessary to know for each person a period in a history, the relevant administrative  or church territorial and hierarchical organization in the Habsburg Monarchy, to locate the register in the correct archive, parish and book. While the church records of settlements which remained in Austria until today are online, for settlements, which are today in Slovenia, this is not the case. Not even half of parish books have been scanned, but also the scanned ones are available via a very limited number of client screens, placed in the archives. A long waiting period, short working hours and long summer holidays make a lot of opportunities for dissatisfaction with the situation.

We would need the wisdom and openness of the enlightened ruler Maria Theresa, who introduced numerous reforms in 18th Century in these countries, still nowadays. Her military surveys have been revitalised by digitalisation and georeferencing in the MAPIRE portal, that serves today online to interested users. Old maps of cities and countries can be viewed in a synchronised and even 3-D view.

But, again in a case of cadastral maps, these are available for neighbouring countries of former Austria-Hungarian Empire. For Slovenia, only Krain/Carniola region is included. As the state archive has no interest to participate in a project. Maybe the Ministry has recognised the financial interest of a private company behind a user-friendly searching of historical places: first, they offer their services free of charge, to attract users and donors of material, then they start limiting the access and charging for their upgrades. However, Slovenia offers the Francis cadaster (SVN Franciscejski kataster, GER Franziszeische Kataser; Franz II, Holy Roman Emperor) of parcels of land and their owners and users for a period 1818-1828 online (zoom-in). 

Franciscejski kataster today

Good news is, that the Archive of the Republic of Slovenia offers also all cadastral maps and scanned registrars at their portal free of charge for low-resolution maps (high resolution can be ordered). These are in a bit rigid archivist form, which demands some knowledge of past territorial organisation. We share this knowledge below to enable their usage for Slovenian land (alphabetical lists of owners and other lists, which enable restoring the farms, are freely available). Nowadays statistical regions are indicated above the historical Habsburg regions for a given period:

  1. ¬†Lower Sava,¬†Southeast Slovenia, Littoral‚ÄďInner Carniola, Central Slovenia,¬†Upper Carniola:
  • Imenjska knjiga za¬†Kranjsko¬†(1539-1871)
  • Terezijanski kataster za¬†Kranjsko¬†(1747-1805)
  • Franciscejski kataster za¬†Kranjsko¬†(1823-1869)
  • Reambulanńćni kataster za¬†Kranjsko¬†¬†(1867-1882)

2. Drava, Savinja, Central Sava:

3. Carinthia:

4. Mura:

5. Gorizia, Coastal‚ÄďKarst:

Franciscejski kataster 1826

Picture above: Geographical centre of Slovenia Vańće (German: Waatsch) on Francis cadastral map restored at¬†mapire.eu show farms, fields, forest and other categories of land use together with names of settlements (Waatsch), field names and farm names (vulgo surnames), which are all of great importance for genealogy. Three examples on the picture give a basis for the surname explanation:

  • Hostar, the surname still exists today in a form of Hosta (etymology: by field name ‘na Hosty’ = in the forest)
  • Lebek, the surname is extinct (etymology: by field name ‘na Lebeki’)
  • Farbar, the surname is extinct, or it exists in a form of Brvar (etymology: the owner of the farm had also an occupation being a painter = ‘barvar’, from ger.¬†Faerber, F√§rbar)

Barvar-Faerber

How to start my family history research?

Genealogist reveals personal information about individuals and, according to kinship, brings them together in family relationships in a given time and location. With a fast technological development and Internet-driven information and tools, the first family tree can be created by anybody. If only he or she is interested in personal details of parents and grandparents, like:

  • When and where they were born?
  • Where did they go to school and studies? What exactly is their occupation?
  • What do they do for the living? What interests and hobbies they had?
  • What is their ethnic origin? If immigrated, what is their ancestors’ country of origin? Etc.

For great-grandparents and further ancestors, the genealogist intervenes with family and general history. The best stories are told when family history is linked with generalities in the past (find some milestones and characteristics for past generations), and some photos are added.

The first source of information are your parents, grandparents and other older relatives. Ask them about their youth and life, they usually love to talk about these. Collect family photos and be sure, that you recognise people on them by names and origin. Then find a reliable software to create your family tree. Install it on your local computer (for example MyHeritage Family Tree Builder) and be sure, that you have verified information before publishing your family tree online.

If your first thought is still: “How should I start?”, take some time and learn from masters at FamilySearch. This service is still free, you need to register and search for records.