Missing Pieces: Choices for Solving your Ancestry Puzzle


Fitting the Ancestry Puzzle Together: How DNA Helps

Using DNA to discover family roots has become a popular thing to do from coast to coast and around the world. And why not? Wanting to know where you come from is a natural part of the human experience, and today’s DNA science technology means you can be your own ancestry sleuth, without having to depend on unreliable family folklore and other sources that may be prone to human error or simply flat-out wrong. DNA science has no family politics to deal with, faulty memory, or ancestral reputations to manage—it just presents straight-forward data, gleaned from your genes. So as you try to put together your ancestry puzzle, which pieces are you missing and what are the best options in testing for what you’re searching for? Here’s an overview of some of the many choices out there.

When You Want to Know Y: Paternal Lineage for Ancestry

A Y-DNA test determines your direct paternal lineage only, and can trace it going back thousands upon thousands of years. The DNA Origins® Paternal Lineage test determines your paternal haplogroup designation and provides a map showing your male ancestors’ journey and where they settled in the old world.

Why choose this type of DNA test for ancestry?

If you are interested in the roots on your paternal side specifically or are doing research along the male line and have hit a roadblock, this test is ideal for finding answers going way, way back.

What you should know

  • Keep in mind this test does not trace your maternal line at all, since only men have the Y chromosome
  • If you’re a woman who wants to trace your paternal line, then your brother, father, or paternal grandfather would need to be the one tested, since their DNA contains the Y chromosome and yours does not. Yes, it’s a bummer—but biology is what it is!
  • This test gives fascinating migratory-route information for your ancient ancestors; if you want to see more recent migratory information for your DNA, then choose a test like GPS Origins®.

Q: What’s a Haplogroup?
A: In a nutshell, it’s the “clan” your DNA came from in ancient history. When humans left Africa in small groups tens of thousands of years ago, they traveled to different parts of the world. Over generations, these groups developed mutations that made them distinguishable from one another, and so scientists are able to tell them apart and determine the migratory routes they traveled. These separate mutated groups are called haplogroups.

Mama Mia: Maternal Lineage for Ancestry

A maternal DNA test for ancestry basically provides the same information as the paternal lineage test, except that it traces lineage on the mother’s side only. With this test, the Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is analyzed, and this type of DNA is passed down to both daughters and sons from their mothers. Although the science and analysis process are different for this test, the results are the same: You learn your maternal haplogroup designation, and get a map showing the ancient migration routes of your maternal ancestors.

Why choose this type of DNA test for ancestry?

If you are interested in the roots on your maternal side specifically or are doing research along the female line, this test is ideal for finding basic answers at the very beginning of your origins.

What you should know

  • Keep in mind this test does not trace your paternal line at all, since only women mtDNA
  • Both women and men can take this test, since mtDNA from the mother’s side is passed down to sons and daughters
  • This test gives fascinating migratory-route information for your ancient ancestors; as mentioned earlier, if you want to see more recent migration information for your DNA signature, then choose a test likeGPS Origins®.

More Recent History: Autosomal Tests

Autosomal DNA comes from chromosomes that are not connected with the sex chromosomes. Since humans have 23 pairs, autosomal DNA comes from 22 of those pairs. Most ancestry tests on the market today are autosomal, with different brands offering different features in their reports.

The accuracy of these tests depends largely on the following factors:
  • Whether the participants’ ancestors came from a mixture of a lot of gene pools or just a few (the fewer gene pools in someone’s ancestry, the more accurate results are likely to be)
  • The combination of genes a test participant inherited from their ancestors. Sometimes siblings taking the same test won’t get the same results. Why? Because their genetic recombinations are different, their results end up being different
  • The number of autosomal DNA markers used by the company for analysis (the more, the better)
  • The number of gene pools used by the DNA company for analysis (the more, the better)
  • The number of population groups used by the DNA company for analysis (once again: the more, the better)

Why choose this type of DNA test for ancestry?

These tests are the most comprehensive, and show ancestral DNA information using information from both the maternal and paternal lines. Autosomal DNA testing is perfect for those just starting to get into their family history as well as for seasoned family historians.

What you should know

  • The reports for these tests vary widely in look, functionality, and information provided.
  • All of them provide gene pool percentages that make up your DNA. The more markers tested, the more specific the result percentages. So if you take an economical Starter Test, you can expect the percentages to be much broader
  • Some provide migration routes for your more recent DNA and some do not. In the GPS Origins test, for example, you are given individual migration routes for DNA on both sides, however the report cannot identify which route belongs to maternal and which belongs to paternal, since the test is autosomal and doesn't include the sex chromosomes. Most people can deduce which route is which based on their own knowledge of their family's history
  • Not all companies use the same genes for ancestry in their analysis, and their algorithms are all different. So your results from one company could be very different than the results from another company

Learn More About GPS Origins

Wrapping It All Up...

There really is no “right and wrong” when it comes to selecting a DNA test for ancestry. If you want to form a complete picture of your heritage, it’s a good idea to get as many pieces of the puzzle as you can. This means taking different types of tests—and even doing tests from different companies. There will no doubt be some surprises as you fill in the missing pieces, and that’s just part of the fun.

Were you surprised by the results of your ancestry test? Feel free to share your comments.


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