How & Why To Talk to Family Members about DNA Testing

Aug 5
DNA Testing

The introduction of DNA services has opened up a whole new line of research and inquiry for genealogists. It’s also opened a can of worms for many researchers that are struggling to answer questions from family members when they’re discussing results or requesting a DNA sample. Frequent questions include: What do you mean you found a new cousin online? Why do I have to give a sample if we’re already related? (Hint: it’s because of gender and DNA). What do you do if you get surprise information from a test? Here’s a closer look at how to handle delicate questions about DNA testing and family research.

What is family DNA testing?

Many people in your family may be unfamiliar with how much information is looked at during the family history DNA process. While it varies by company, few on the market actually provide health information. In some cases, people object to their DNA being captured simply because they don’t want to know sensitive health information such as whether they’re at risk for dementia or cancer. Assure your relative that genealogical DNA doesn’t map individual DNA at that level. Instead, they’re looking for the markers that give clues to ethnicity and relationships. But no personal health information needs to be revealed.

Why does gender matter?

Another point of confusion for many people on genealogical DNA testing is why more than one person in a family might need to be tested. Consider the case of a brother and sister who share the same mother and father. On the surface, you’d expect the information revealed to be largely similar. This includes any data about existing relatives already in those database or ethnicities, for example. However, many people don’t realize that we carry DNA from both our mothers and our fathers; depending on our gender, this information is revealed differently in DNA tests. Testing women or men will reveal information about the mother’s DNA. But only through testing the male line will you be able to get specific information about your paternal DNA. That’s why families often invest in having a member of both genders tested.

How closely are we related to specific people online?

Many services provide the opportunity to let people being tested opt in their global database. If you do, you’ll be able to see if there’s anyone else related to you in the database. Other users could also theoretically find you. It’s often possible to opt in anonymously or to create a detailed profile with information such as your name, location, age, and details of your family’s heritage. Individual researchers and their families can make decisions about how much information to reveal, whether to contact relatives in the database, and how to respond to inquiries initiated by other users.

What approach will we take to sensitive information?

In some cases, families uncover unexpected information as a result of DNA tests. For example, a cherished family story about a Native American ancestor is challenged by a lack of DNA evidence. Or perhaps your tests revealed an ethnicity not known to be in the family mix. It’s important to remember that the technology is evolving, and each set of results is open to questions. Surprises in the family history can often be a delight, and with a bit of research you can learn the story behind these mystery connections.

Are you considering options for including DNA research into your genealogical process, and want to discuss your choice with a professional? Contact Price & Associates today to discuss your research plans and what services might be the right solution for your needs.