3 Tips to get started

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For cen­turies, any­one who wanted to know more about their ances­try had to rely on fam­ily bi­bles, public records, and oral sto­ries passed down through gen­er­a­tions. All that changed about 17 years ago when DNA test­ing be­came a tool for ge­nealog­i­cal re­search. Now, a sim­ple cheek swab opens the door to cen­turies of in­for­ma­tion— im­per­vi­ous to hu­man er­ror, in­com­plete pa­per records, or mis­in­for­ma­tion. Think­ing about get­ting started with your fam­ily his­tory? Here are 3 tips that can re­ally help.

1. Think your fam­ily his­tory is ac­cu­rate?

Think again. Even if your fam­ily kept records, the far­ther back you go in your fam­ily his­tory, the more im­pre­cise the ge­nealog­i­cal in­for­ma­tion be­comes. For ex­am­ple, cen­turies ago it was com­mon for peo­ple to in­vent noble lines of de­scent to make their fam­ily seem more pres­ti­gious or to pro­tect them­selves from po­lit­i­cal un­rest. DNA test­ing for ances­try is the only way to en­sure you’re get­ting ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about where you re­ally came from.

2. Lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion. Prior to the 17th cen­tury, the re­li­a­bil­ity of in­for­ma­tion in gen­eral be­comes un­re­li­able. Fam­i­lies may as­sume they have roots in Ire­land, for ex­am­ple, when they ac­tu­ally came from Den­mark. When you can specif­i­cally pin­point pre­cise lo­ca­tions where your DNA orig­i­nated and then mi­grated to, go­ing back 1,000 years or more, whole new worlds for re­search open up. So if you’re stuck on find­ing fam­ily from way back, use DNA test­ing to help you find lo­ca­tions— from there you can start work­ing on peo­ple.

3. Not all DNA tests are the same. When you in­vest in a DNA test for ances­try, do a lit­tle com­par­i­son shop­ping. Cheaper doesn’t al­ways mean you’re get­ting the best value. Con­sider these fea­tures: the num­ber of DNA mark­ers an­a­lyzed (the more, the bet­ter); the num­ber of gene pools and ge­netic ref­er­ence pop­u­la­tions uti­lized for the anal­y­sis (again— the more, the bet­ter-- greater num­bers yield more ac­cu­rate re­sults); the speci­ficity of the test (does the test pro­vide pin­point lo­ca­tions or only broader ge­o­graphic lo­cales).

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