National Genealogical Society

About NGS

Committee on Genetic Genealogy

Who We Are

The mission of the NGS Committee on Genetic Genealogy is to foster best practices for integrating DNA analysis with traditional genealogical research in the determination of ancestry and kinship. The committee reviews NGS publications that include DNA analysis, contributes to the development of DNA course material, and assists in the promulgation of genetic genealogy standards for the ethical use and correct interpretation of DNA results.

Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in genealogy. The increasing availability of records online makes it easier than ever to begin researching your family, and popular television shows demonstrate what is possible to learn about your ancestry. One quickly evolving tool for family historians is DNA testing, which is used to help verify relationships discovered through traditional genealogical research, as well as to shed light on previously unknown relationships. The Committee on Genetic Genealogy will help family historians understand and navigate this new tool.

Why Should I Take a DNA Test?

DNA testing provides the family historian with a powerful new tool to support – and sometimes reject – conclusions based on traditional genealogical research. The results of a DNA test can validate decades of research, or DNA testing can reveal hidden errors in your research. The most common error is "misattributed parentage," which occurs for a variety of reasons, including when your ancestor is incorrectly identified as the child of the first wife, rather than the second. It can also occur due to a non-paternity event (NPE) in which the biological father of an ancestor is someone other than who the records suggest due to adoption, name change, or infidelity.

DNA testing can also help you break through a genealogical brick wall by connecting you with genetic cousins to identify previously unknown ancestors. In the process, you may trace your lineage further back in time.

In addition, DNA testing can also assist adoptees and others with unknown parentage with the search for their biological heritage. These adoptions can be formal adoptions of the twentieth century, or informal adoptions that took place in earlier generations.

What Types of Tests are Available?

  • Autosomal DNA testing is the most common type of test. Autosomal DNA is inherited from both your mother and your father, and gives you information about your ancestors for at least 5 generations, and in some cases more.
  • Y-DNA testing is only done by males, as they are the only ones who possess a Y chromosome. This testing is used to solve research problems related to the direct male line only.
  • mtDNA or mitochondrial DNA testing can be done by males or females. It is used to resolve research problems related to the direct female line only.

There are other types of tests that look at different marker types and that can be useful for questions that may be medical or forensic in nature, but these tests are not recommended for genealogical research.

Where Should I Test?

Three major companies perform most of the genetic genealogy testing in the United States. The list is not to be taken as an endorsement by NGS, who is providing the links below for informational purposes only.

  • 23andMe: Provides autosomal DNA testing and limited testing of Y-DNA and mtDNA markers.
  • AncestryDNA: Provides autosomal DNA testing.
  • FamilyTreeDNA: Provides autosomal DNA testing, along with Y-DNA testing and mtDNA testing

Genetic Genealogy Standards

On January 10, 2015, Genetic Genealogy Standards were released at the first Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy Colloquium. Developed by leading traditional genealogists, genetic genealogists, and scientists, the Genetic Genealogy Standards are "intended to provide ethical and usage standards for the genealogical community."

You may view the Genetic Genealogy Standards in their entirety at the Genetic Genealogy Standards webpage: www.geneticgenealogystandards.com.

Where do I Learn More?

Genetic genealogy is a popular lecture topic at local, state, and national conferences, such as the National Genealogical Society's annual Family History Conference. In addition, there are often weeklong courses available at various institutes for those who want in-depth training.

Questions? Contact NGS at ngs@ngsgenealogy.org.   

Revised: 5 March 2015

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