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Genealogy

Top 5 Genealogy Websites

There are several genealogy websites that users with an interest in their heritage can take utilize. Each of these resources has different features that provide family historians with distinct benefits for their research. Some are cost-effective, some offer comprehensive DNA testing, and some have extensive historical records. The choice of which to use entirely depends on what information you want to gather. Here are some of the top websites available for genealogy research.

Best overall
Ancestry.com

Ancestry logo 1

Ancestry.com is the largest commercial genealogy company in the world. As a result, they have the biggest platform and the largest collection of resources. This includes an extensive array of historical records and a vast number of members with which users be matched via their DNA. For those interested in traditional genealogy research, connecting with DNA matches, finding out about their ancestral roots, and building a family tree, Ancestry.com is unrivaled.

Ancestry.com gives users access to 20 billion historical records and 100 million family trees generated by their users. Last year, they surpassed 15 million AncestryDNA users, giving them a rich resource of information from which to create their ethnicity reports. Their large size also means users have the best chance of finding a living DNA match on the database. Ancestry.com also has a robust online genealogy community with which users can exchange resources. Recently, Ancestry.com expanded into the health market with AncestryHealth, so customers can also opt to uncover how their DNA might affect their wellness.  

The services offered by Ancestry.com and AncestryDNA are a little more costly than some of the competition such as MyHeritage. However, their extensive customer base and historical resources make them the best overall option for both traditional and genetic genealogy. 

Best value for money
MyHeritage

my heritage logo 1

MyHeritage provides a service highly similar to the one offered by Ancestry.com and is a relatively new player in the genealogy market. They combine traditional genealogy with direct-to-consumer DNA testing to paint a picture of your ancestry. MyHeritage has more of a European consumer base and is therefore particularly relevant to those of European descent. 

MyHeritage is a cost-effective option for genealogy research, and also offer a few subscription options to tailor your experience. They even provide a free basic service if you want to try the service out or use minimal features of the website. MyHeritage also possesses an extensive resource of historical data, providing its consumers with access to over 11 billion records. This is just over half of the number of records offered by Ancestry.com. MyHeritage also has a smaller (although growing) database of DNA samples than Ancestry.com; their DNA database is approximately a tenth of the size of AncestryDNA’s. However, individuals looking for a more cost-efficient genealogy service could get the resources they need from MyHeritage. An additional benefit of MyHeritage is that they provide a swift turnaround for their DNA analysis, quicker than their competitors.

Best free site
Family Search

family search logo 1

Beginner genealogy enthusiasts might want to delve into their new hobby using a free resource. The best free website available is Family Search. This is a huge source of historical records from around the world. Entirely funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, users are only required to make a free account to access the records. Family Search provides access to documents from across the world, but their sources are primarily from North American and Europe.

Even for an experienced historian (who might have paid memberships on other websites), this free tool can provide valuable supplementary information to aid genealogy research. Family Search also benefits from a diverse online community and educational tools that can help you on your journey. 

However, Family Search does not offer any DNA testing services. If genetic genealogy is an integral part of the research process for you, you may which to use alternative or additional resources.

Best for African ancestry
African Ancestry

african ancestry logo 1

Without abundant and diverse DNA samples that are representative of different ethnic groups, it is impossible to determine what variants are associated with different ancestral origins. DNA analysis is particularly crucial for determining the ancestral roots of people with African ancestry. This is because of the devastating impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade; many individuals do not know from which African country or ethnic group their ancestors originate. 

Unfortunately, DNA from people of African descent is vastly underrepresented in DNA databases, which tend to be very Eurocentric. African Ancestry is a company specializing in providing detailed information about the heritage of people with roots in Africa. They have the largest DNA database of indigenous Africans of any company on the market. This gives them the power to inform people of their ancestral ethnic group rather than a broad region in Africa, like many of their competitors do. Therefore, if you want to know more detailed information about your African heritage, this test could be highly valuable.

African Ancestry is involved in genetic genealogy, and do not provide any documents or records for traditional genealogy. If delving into historical records is your main aim, you will need to consult an alternative source.

Best for additional health features
23andme

23 and me logo 1

23andme is another one of the leading players in the direct-to-consumer DNA testing market. They offer both health and ancestry testing and are one of the best companies to explore if you want to obtain both heritage and health/wellness information from your DNA test. 

23andme tests autosomal, paternal- and maternal- inherited DNA. This means they can build up a comprehensive analysis of someone’s likely geographical and ethnic origins. They also study a variety of disease risks and health variants. 

However, they are also not a genealogical resource, and can only be used to obtain genetic information. Therefore, while 23andme’s ancestry tests are highly detailed and provide valuable data, they may not be the first option for a keen historian. However, if your interest in genetics extends beyond genealogy, 23andme should be one of your first choices. 

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Genealogy

23andme Review

What is 23andme?

23 and me logo black

23andme is a California-based direct-to-consumer genetic testing company. The name of 23andme stems from the 23 pairs of chromosomes found in a human cell. The company was founded in 2006 and has offered direct-to-consumer DNA health tests since 2014. 

23andme also works with a variety of research collaborators. If you choose to participate when you submit your sample, your DNA will be used in a variety of research to aid scientific advances. The sheer scale of their DNA database allows them to contribute to, and participate in, a significant amount of scientific and clinical research. Their findings can be found in peer-reviewed academic journals. Some of their collaborators include National Parkinson Foundation, Stanford University, and Pfizer. 

They have a complicated relationship with the Food and Drug Administration, owing to the complex legal landscape surrounding direct-to-consumer genetic testing for health or clinical purposes. 

What does 23andme offer?

23andme website 1

23andme offers three different options for purchasing their DNA tests. The least expensive is the Ancestry + Traits Service, which gives you an ancestry breakdown as well as information on how your DNA influences more than 30 traits. Their ancestry breakdown is split into an impressive 1500 regions. You can also find relatives with their optional DNA matcher, and contact your marches to build a more accurate picture of your shared ancestry. Users can also discover the origins of their maternal and paternal (if you are male) ancestors from thousands of years ago. This is possible through the study of Y chromosomal or mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). 

In your ancestry report, they provide you with an ancestry breakdown, indicating to which ethnic populations you are connected. They also present your chromosomes “painted” with your ancestry results, so you can visualize the segments of DNA that are associated with each ethnicity. Their traits report includes fun and quirky traits such as cilantro taste aversion, ear wax type, ability to match musical pitch, and earlobe type. 

23andme also provide a Health + Ancestry test, which offers everything in the Ancestry + Traits service, but also tests for variation that has been linked to disease. Therefore, this test also allows you to understand how your DNA can influence your likelihood of developing complex conditions such as diabetes and Parkinson’s. They also assess your status for a variety of wellness traits. For example, muscle composition, sleep movement, and caffeine consumption. 

23andme test autosomal, Y chromosomal, and mtDNA. Women do not inherit a Y chromosome, so only men receive information about their paternal inheritance. Women can obtain this information from the data of a male relative, such as their father or brother. However, both men and women possess mitochondrial DNA and can determine their maternal lineage. The genetic variation that exists on the Y chromosome and mtDNA arose tens of thousands of years ago and can be used to indicate how humans spread from their origins in Africa.

To determine your ancestral origins, 23andme compares your DNA to 45 populations worldwide. DNA variants occur at different frequencies in different geographical locations, so each represents a distinct pattern. The 23andMe Ancestry Composition algorithm combines information about these patterns with the unique set of DNA markers to estimate your genetic ancestry. They are open about their methodology and how they can narrow down your heritage using your DNA. 

How does the testing process work?

Once you have selected the test you want to take and placed your order, 23andme will send you a kit with which to collect your DNA sample. You simply register your kit and spit in the tube provided. You then send your sample to 23andme, who will analyze it within 3-5 weeks of receipt. 23andme analyzes your results relatively quickly compared to many of their competitors. 

What technology do 23andme use?

Dna Analysis

After receiving your sample, 23andme extracts the DNA from cells present in your saliva. They then amplify your DNA to make enough copies to analyze. The amplified DNA is then cut into smaller fragments. These fragments are then analyzed on a microarray, which is a chip that contains thousands of DNA segments corresponding to the genetic variants they want to study. With the chip, they can tell whether or not you have the presence of specific single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). SNPs are small and frequently occurring sequence changes in the DNA that are associated with various traits and ethnicities. You can visualize these steps in a video on the 23andme website. 23andme have extensive sections in their FAQs devoted to explaining their technology from the testing procedure to the analysis. 

Value for money

The most basic test that 23andme offers is the Ancestry + Traits Service, which is $99 USD. The Ancestry + Health service costs $199.

ou can also upgrade your Ancestry + Traits service to the more complete Ancestry + Health service. Once you have paid, the data becomes immediately available in your account. This option is slightly more costly ($25 without discounts). Still, it could be a good option if you are initially unsure whether you want to find out about health traits.

Their premium service is their VIP Health + Ancestry Service, which costs $499. With this test, you get two Health + Ancestry Service kits, priority lab processing, premium customer support, and one-to-one ancestry results walkthrough with a trained expert.

Verdict

23andme is primarily a genetic health testing company. While they provide information about your ancestry, this is not the focus of their business. They also do not act as an online genealogy resource like Ancestry.com or MyHeritage. Instead, they are entirely devoted to genetic testing. Therefore, if you wish to really dive into your genealogy research, 23andme may not be the best place for you to start. However, their vast database of DNA samples means you have a good chance of discovering living relatives across the world. 

If you want to combine ancestry with health testing, 23andme is the test for you. Many of their health reports are FDA-accredited. However, be aware that 23andme has been the topic of controversy over the years.

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Genealogy

MyHeritage Review

What is MyHeritage?

My Heritage Logo

MyHeritage is an Israel-based genealogy company that provides both historical records and a DNA testing service for genealogy research. MyHeritage was launched in 2003, and it began offering its genetic testing service started in 2016. Currently, MyHeritage has over 108 million users, 11.9 billion historical records, and 3.8 billion people in family trees. 

Their DNA testing service reveals information about your ancestry that is contained in your genes. They also have the facilities that allow you to build your family tree and have a vast resource of genealogical records that you can explore. Thus, MyHeritage enables you to discover your past and explore your future simultaneously. 

What does MyHeritage offer?

My Heritage Website Family Tree

It is free to create a MyHeritage account and begin the process of building your family tree. You first enter the information you know about your relatives. Then MyHeritage will provide excerpts from historical records and other users’ family trees to aid your research. However, a paid subscription is required to access the full documents and confirm relationships.

Whereas Ancestry.com is mostly made up of American users, MyHeritage has mostly European users and has the most extensive record base in Europe. The website is available in over forty languages, which also means that they have a diverse database of international users. This might increase the likelihood of you finding matches in other countries. 

They have an extensive collection of historical family records that are sorted into categories. These records include birth, marriage, and death records, newspapers, military records, government directories, immigration records, and many more. Therefore, MyHeritage provides an excellent resource for traditional genealogy research. This resource is accompanied by their genetic genealogy and health testing services.

MyHeritageDNA

Man DNA Spiral

MyHeritageDNA uses the variation present in your DNA to give you an ethnicity estimate, reflecting your ancestral background. They are also able to match you with existing relatives on the platform. This could lead you to discover distant relatives you didn’t know about, enabling you to uncover shared ancestry and join forces in your genealogy search.

When you test your DNA with MyHeritage, you will receive a comprehensive ethnicity analysis. MyHeritage draws from the largest pool of potential ethnicities in the industry, by narrowing your ancestry down to 42 regions. Your ethnicity estimate shows the percentage breakdown of your ancestral origins from these possible ethnic groups. You can visualize this data as a map, allowing you to track how your ancestors might have migrated over time. 

MyHeritage Health

As well as their genetic genealogy service, MyHeritage also offers a DNA-based health testing panel. This test allows you to discover how your DNA could impact you and your family’s health. This includes genetic risks and carrier status for a variety of complex diseases. This is a relatively new service for MyHeritage, and they are working on expanding the panel and adding new reports.

How does the DNA testing process work?

DNA testing

With MyHeritage, you collect your DNA using a cheek swab using a kit they send you after you have placed your order. Around 3-4 weeks after your completed test kit arrives at the laboratory, you can expect your results to be delivered to your MyHeritage account. This is quicker than many of other services; the standard turnaround time in the industry is around 6-8 weeks. 

What technology does MyHeritage use?

MyHeritage uses microarray-based autosomal DNA testing. Once they receive your sample, they extract the DNA and amplify it using a method called polymerase chain reaction. They then use a microarray, which is a DNA chip, to analyze the samples. The chip contains hundreds of thousands of probes that match DNA sequences corresponding to variation present in the human population. The presence of selected variants is linked to different ethnicities. Therefore, MyHeritage can use the information concealed in your DNA to determine your ancestral origins

MyHeritage test autosomal DNA, not mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosome DNA. This means they will not be able to uncover which side (maternal or paternal) that these ethnicities come originated. However, both men and women can obtain the same information from the test. 

Value for Money

My Heritage Website

Firstly, MyHeritage offers a 14-day free trial of their service, so you can try the service before committing to a subscription. They provide a range of subscriptions that give users access to different resources. 

The basic plan allows you to build a limited family tree without access to their historical records. Their Premium service gives you enhanced family tree services and costs $99 per year (with the first year costing $69). The Premium Plus plan costs $169 or $129 for your first year, and the subscription gives you access to the full range of family tree features.

To access all the historical records (without the enhanced family tree features offered by the Premium and Premium Plus subscriptions), users pay $129 per year or $99 for the first year. The subscription to the full capabilities of MyHeritage costs $229/year ($159 in the first year). The full subscription gives you access to all the site’s features. All the subscriptions are cheaper than their main competitor, Ancestry.com.

The DNA testing services incur additional costs. Their MyHeritage DNA test is a one-off price of $79 (at the time of writing is on offer for $39), excluding shipping. The MyHeritage Health test, which gives you the ethnicity information in the DNA test plus the health information, is $199 (currently on offer for $99).

Verdict

The database for MyHeritage is smaller than its main competitor, Ancestry.com. However, it is still extensive and diverse, containing 11.9 billion records (Ancestry.com has 20 billion records). AncestryDNA has also sold far more DNA kits (14 million compared to 4.5 million). However, MyHeritage has a more extensive health-testing platform. If you also wanted to uncover what your DNA might indicate about your disease risks, MyHeritage could be a good option for you. 

MyHeritageDNA also generates a more detailed ethnicity breakdown than many competitors. They also have more records and users from European countries. Therefore, MyHeritage could be ideal if you want to explore your European ancestry and connect with potential relatives internationally. 

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Genealogy

Ancestry.com Review

What is Ancestry.com?

Ancestry Website

Ancestry.com is a global leader in the genealogy market. It is also the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world, possessing a huge network of historical records. 

Ancestry.com are not just a genealogy website, they also offer services AncestryDNA and AncestryHealth. AncestryDNA is able to provide information about your heritage through the information held in your DNA. AncestryHealth is a relatively new addition to the Ancestry.com team. AncestryHealth expands its current DNA testing products by allowing you to uncover both your heritage and health-related DNA information.

Ancestry.com and AncestryDNA allow you to reveal your heritage and connect with unknown family members. The combination of DNA testing with the established online familial history resource is an excellent way for you to find your history and build new family connections. 

What does Ancestry.com offer?

Ancestry.com was initially founded in 1997 as a service providing online subscription-based access to its growing genealogy database. Ancestry.com has continued growing since then, offering extensive family history records. They boast an impressive 20 billion records, with 100 million family trees generated by their users. This means they have the largest resource of any other company. Some of their record collections include:

  • Census records dating as far back as 1790
  • Birth, death and marriage records
  • Adoption records
  • Military records
  • Immigration records
  • Voter Records
  • Divorce records
  • Religious collections 
  • Tax records

You can add the information you know about your relatives, and Ancestry will indicate to you when they have found potential information associated with that individual. This allows you to trace your family lineage and uncover previously unknown details about their life. The more information you discover and record, the more hints Ancestry.com can provide. As a result, your family tree is continually developing and expanding. 

AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA is a subsidiary of Ancestry.com. It is a DNA testing service, the results of which can be seamlessly integrated with the information into your Ancestry.com account. Alternatively, AncestryDNA can be used as a stand-alone service if you are not interested in classical genealogy. AncestryDNA has a vast number of active users, which is beneficial to both traditional genealogy with Ancestry.com, and the information you can gain from AncestryDNA. 

How does the testing process work for AncestryDNA?

When you purchase a kit, AncestryDNA will deliver your test, which contains a saliva tube and a return envelope. You first activate your kit, fill the tube with saliva, and send it back. In 6-8 weeks, your results will be available to view in your online account.

What does AncestryDNA tell you?

The results from the AncestryDNA test will display your ‘ethnic breakdown’ as well as showing you any DNA matches that are present in their database. If you also choose to become a member of Ancestry.com, you can access their extensive historical records as well as the information present in the family trees of other users. 

Your ethnic breakdown is an estimate of your ethnicity. AncestryDNA analyze your DNA at 700,000 markers and compare it to huge amounts of population data (taken from a reference panel of people from all over the world). This allows them to determine which geographical location your DNA reflects.

Your DNA matches highlight people present in the AncestryDNA database with whom you share a degree of genetic relatedness. You can contact these individuals, and look at what common ancestors, and how much ethnicity breakdown, you share. These determinations are based on complex algorithms and statistics. 

AncestryDNA also has a feature called ThruLines™, which shows you the common ancestors that likely link you to the individuals with which you showed a DNA match. This can help you to visualize how you are related to your distant relatives.

What technology does AncestryDNA use?

DNA Mouth Swab

The DNA is first extracted from your saliva. The DNA present in your saliva comes from cheek cells and immune system cells. Then, your DNA is amplified to generate thousands of copies that can be analyzed.

AncestryDNA’s testing platform is microarray-based (SNP-chip). To put it simply, a microarray is a chip (like a computer chip) containing thousands of probes that represent different genetic variations. In this case, the microarray is set up to detect single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are markers of genetic variation that can be associated with specific ethnicities. Your DNA is tested at 700,000 of these markers. 

The regions that AncestryDNA test are all autosomal. This means their analysis does not look at DNA sequences present on the mitochondrial DNA (maternal lineage-specific) or the Y chromosome (paternal lineage-specific). Therefore, AncestryDNA determines matches on both sides of your family; both men and women get the same information out of the test. 

AncestryDNA’s technology is outlined in their white paper, where they describe the algorithms they use to match your sample to related individuals. 

AncestryHealth

Ancestry health logo

AncestryHealth is also a DNA testing product linked to Ancestry.com. However, instead of determining what your DNA says about your ethnic origins, AncestryHealth focuses on how variation in your DNA can affect your physical traits. The test looks for markers that have been linked to diseases such as certain cancers and heart disease. 

The AncestryHealth kit also gives you the same information you can learn from an AncestryDNA test. If you were interested in both ancestry and health traits, this would be the test for you.

What is the value for money? 

The different types of Ancestry.com membership range from $9.99 per month (or $49 for six months) to $29.99 per month (or $149 per six months). Each of these price plans gives you access to different resources. For example, at the lower end of the scale, you can only access US records. If you pay for the 

An AncestryDNA DNA test kit costs $99, excluding shipping costs.  AncestryHealth, which includes all the capabilities of AncestryDNA, costs $149. To access the full capabilities of your AncestryHealth and Ancestry DNA tests, you may also want to purchase an Ancestry.com subscription. 

The verdict 

If you are looking to do some serious research on your ancestors, AncestryDNA and Ancestry.com could be an excellent tool. Ancestry.com has a vast online resource of historical records that you can use in your genealogy research. AncestryDNA represents the world’s largest consumer genetic database, maximizing your chances of obtaining useful information about your heritage and finding DNA matches. 

If you were looking for paternal- and maternal-specific information, you might wish to select another test, because the assessments offered by Ancestry.com do not distinguish between each lineage. However, if you want to search for living relatives, Ancestry.com would be one of the best options on the market.  

If you wish to obtain access to the full range of resources that Ancestry.com has to offer, you might find that you run into high costs over time. Their full subscription service plus the price of your DNA testing is quite substantial. However, the subscription can be renewed monthly (and there is a free trial), so you can try the service out and cancel if it is not for you. Genealogy enthusiasts might find access to such a vast resource of information is worth the price.

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DNA

What is DNA Testing?

DNA testing, at least to some degree, has been around for decades. However, direct-to-consumer DNA testing, or “consumer genetics,” has exploded in popularity in the last few years. In fact, the market is expected to reach a whopping $1990 million USD by the end of 2024 1. Numerous companies offer commercial DNA testing, each operating in a slightly different market niche. What is DNA testing, and what can it tell us about our ancestry?

What is DNA?

Dna String Biology

To understand how DNA testing works, we first have to understand what DNA is. DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid and is the molecule that provides all the instructions to build and function an individual. DNA is inherited from both parents (50% from your mother, 50% from your father) and is essential for the continuation of life. 

DNA is a long molecule that forms a double-stranded helix structure. Each strand of DNA is a long chain that is made up of four repeating units. These repeating units are called bases or nucleotides. They are represented as a four-letter code: adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G). Each base pairs with its complementary partner to connect the two strands in the center of the double helix. A pairs with T, and C pairs with G. 

The order or “sequence” of these bases determines all the activities in the cell. The cell first copies the sequence in the DNA to an intermediate molecule called RNA. The RNA sequence is then translated into a protein sequence. As a result, the DNA sequence determines the structure and function of proteins, which carry out virtually every job in the cell. Therefore, the DNA sequence and any variation found within it is a rich source of information about an individual.

DNA tells us a lot about how the cell functions. But, more importantly for genealogy research, it also holds vital insights into our ancestry, acting as a record of our heritage over generations.

DNA testing

Laboratory testing

DNA testing involves “sequencing” the DNA, that is, determining the order of each of the bases at particular sites of interest. Sometimes, during DNA testing, the entire genome (i.e., all the that makes an individual DNA) is sequenced, but more commonly, DNA testing involves analyzing particular portions of the DNA that contain valuable information.

What can DNA testing reveal?

Dna Microscopic Cell

DNA is passed from parents to offspring. It provides all the information for the function of every cell, tissue, organ, and system. Thus, DNA testing can reflect a lot of information about an individual. 

Variation in DNA can reflect familial relationships, ethnic background, migration patterns, and ancestry. DNA sequences can also be used to infer disease-associations and likely responses to treatments. Additionally DNA is often used to provide insights into traits such as potential athletic ability, personality features, physical characteristics, and to guide health and wellness regimes. The links between DNA and these features are usually based on studies that have determined that specific DNA variants are more common in the population that possesses certain traits. For example, a particular change in the DNA sequence is more common in those with British ancestry. 

Some connections between DNA and specific characteristics made by commercial genetic testing companies have more scientific backing than others. For example, certain diseases are strongly linked with certain changes in the sequence of specific genes. However, some testing is considered unreliable for health-purposes by clinicians. This is due to the potential for false positives and false negatives, and discrepancies over whether a genetic variant is truly linked with a disease 2,3. The vast majority of these health tests are not FDA approved 4

What are the types of DNA testing?

Various types of DNA testing can be carried out. The choice of which is employed is largely dependent on what the DNA testing is aiming to uncover. Another consideration is the cost, which can vary widely between different methods.

SNP analysis

The most common type of analysis in the direct-to-consumer DNA testing market is targeted SNP analysis. SNP stands for single nucleotide polymorphism and describes sites at which DNA sequences change by a single base. SNPs are a type of normal variation in the human population. Therefore, SNPs are regions in the DNA that are commonly different between individuals and can be used for identification purposes

Certain SNPs can be used to predict certain features of an individual. For example, whether they have genetic variants associated with an increased risk for heart disease. SNPs can also determine an individual’s ethnic background.

Typically, DNA testing companies will have a pre-defined set of SNPs that they sequence in the DNA.  Specific variation in these SNPs is linked with an increased or decreased likelihood of possessing a particular trait2. Some variants are also associated with certain ancestries or ethnicities 5.

Y-DNA

The Y chromosome is only present in males. Therefore, analyses of sequences on the Y chromosome can be useful for determining male lineage. The Y chromosome is particularly well suited for tracing ancestry. This is because the DNA on the Y chromosome accumulates changes much more slowly than other chromosomes over time as they are passed down through generations. This means that sequences present on the Y chromosome can act as markers for the origins of your ancestors. The Y chromosomes of males and their direct relatives are virtually identical. 

Y-DNA testing usually involves assessing short tandem repeats (STRs) or SNPs, as described above. STR analysis determines differences in the numbers of short repeats, which vary between individuals but are similar between closely-related individuals. This means they can be used to link male relatives 2,6. These tests can identify the specific “haplogroup” that a male belongs to, which represents a particular set of shared DNA variants, reflecting the geographical movement of your male ancestors.

mtDNA analysis

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis assesses mitochondrial DNA, which is maternally inherited. Mitochondria are small organelles present inside every cell. They have their own genome, which is very small. It is maternally inherited mostly due to size: the egg is much much larger than a sperm. This means it contains many more mitochondria – about 100,000 times more. When the egg and sperm combine, the sperm mitochondria make up so little of the total combined mitochondria (and are then degraded), so only maternal mitochondria remain. Maternal DNA variation can, therefore, be used to trace your ancestry specifically on your mother’s side.

Overall

Dna Genetic Code

DNA testing is an excellent addition to the genealogy toolkit. As more people submit samples for testing, scientists can build a greater understanding of how DNA relates to ethnic groups and ancestry. DNA brings a degree of precision and certainty to genealogy research. Together, traditional genealogy and genetics can help to find missing pieces of your ancestry puzzle.  

Categories
DNA

Archives Review

What is Archives?

Archives Website

Archives is, as suggested by the name, a website containing a collection of historical family records. The resource was launched in 2009 and acquired by Ancestry.com in 2012 for $100 million. The primary ethos of Archives is main making genealogy research quick and easy. To this end, they have designed an intuitive platform with simple search tools that give you access to their extensive genealogical records. 

What does Archives offer?

Archives is partnered with Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and the National Archives in the U.K., and the U.S. Users can access and comb through all of these resources and others, such as Find A Grave, and Newspapers.com (also owned by ancestry). This allows users to browse a vast number of different collections, all containing a wealth of information. A few examples of their record collections are:

  • Ancestry.com public member trees
  • 1940 U.S. census
  • Find A Grave database
  • U.K. birth and marriage records
  • World War I Draft registration cards
  • Obituaries
  • Military records
  • Yearbooks
  • Citizenship records

Archives users can browse over 11 billion U.S. and international records. The data contained in these records is all seamlessly integrated into one platform, meaning users can search for their relatives and ancestors with ease. The extensive information present in these collections can provide you with additional clues that can improve your family history research. 

The records that your Archives membership gives you access to are reliable original documents from official sources. As a result, the process can sometimes take longer because you are redirected to third party websites. You can also order copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates for your own physical records.

Archives also allows you to build your family tree, either by starting a new one on their website or by uploading a pre-existing tree to their platform. This feature enables you to incorporate your Archives research into research from other platforms.

The more you use the resources present on Archive, the more “Discoveries” will be identified. These are new records that Archives has linked to people in your family tree, and can help you uncover new clues about your family members and your heritage.

The vast majority of the records contained within Archives are of U.S. or U.K. origins. Therefore, it is particularly suitable for those interested in tracing their heritage in these countries. Archives also possess a digital library of rare local history books, many of which are unavailable elsewhere. These provide an excellent supplement to your research, bringing context to the time and place that your ancestors lived.

Archives also offer many resources to assist budding genealogists and family historians with their research. They provide a collection of guides to conducting research, building family trees, and DNA testing.

Value for money

Archives operate on a monthly subscription basis. A subscription costs $9.99, which is cheaper than some of its competitors offer. However, some similar services, such as Family Search, are free. Archives also provide a 14-day free trial where you can try out the service before signing up.

Verdict

Archives is a cost-effective method of carrying out genealogy research. It is a vast resource of many European and North American records. Archives also has a simple interface for users that find more complex platforms challenging to use.

Many of the negative reviews of Archives surround not being able to find the information they desired. Archives also do not offer any DNA testing options and are purely an online records resource. As a result, this genealogy website is not ideal for those who want to incorporate genetics into their family history discoveries. They also do not have a mobile app for the more tech-savvy genealogist. The lack of these features makes Archives better suited to being a supplementary tool for avid family historians. 

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Genealogy

Family Search Review

Genealogy is a popular hobby worldwide, but it holds particular importance to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon church). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has contributed significant resources to collecting and distributing historical records. The church has created the largest collection of family records in the world, initially as the Genealogical Society of Utah, and now as Family Search.

What is Family Search?

Family Search Website

Family Search is a non-profit family history organization. Established in 1894, members have spent over 100 years curating a vast network of resources and facilities dedicated to family history. The Family Search is a service provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It aligns with the Mormon belief system of the importance of family and ancestry to identity, and that there is an enduring bond between living individuals and the story of their ancestors. 

Their main activities involve the collection and preservation of family history records across the world. They are a pioneer in this field, using the best technology and expertise to capture and record information with accuracy. The company started in the U.S., so it is especially useful for those with U.S. ancestry.

Once images of the historical data have been captured, they must be transcribed and digitized. This allows them to be indexed, making them searchable for family history enthusiasts. The physical records collected by the church are stored in the Granite Mountain Records Vault in Utah. The vault is an environmentally controlled facility owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is here that volunteer indexers document the information on the records, making them searchable and accessible online.

What does Family Search offer?

Family Search has an extensive collection of billions of family records. Their record collections include:

  • Birth, marriage, and death records
  • Census records
  • Immigration records
  • Court records
  • Military records
  • Church records

They also harbor the world’s largest family tree, containing over 1 billion unique profiles, to which you can add your family tree. As well as their database, Family Search also provides a resource to store photos, memories, documents, stories, and recordings, and link these to your family members. Importantly, you don’t have to be a member of the church to use the services. 

Family Search has centers that you can visit in person, allowing you to access further genealogy resources. There are over 5,000 of these centers worldwide. The company also has an app with excellent functionality that enables you to add details to your family tree on the go.

To get started, all you have to do is create an account and begin constructing your family tree. You can then fill in the blanks and connect your family tree to the site’s huge family tree.

As well as being a searchable database, they also help individuals in the preservation and digitization of their own familial records. Therefore, Family Search is very much a collaborative service.

Family Search is also an excellent way for individuals to contribute to the global genealogy community. You can sign up as a volunteer in your country to index records and help connect families through shared ancestry.

Value for money 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Family Search is an entirely free service. It is wholly funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Verdict

Family Search is an excellent option for beginners just delving into the world of genealogy because it is free and non-commital. Even for experienced users, it is definitely worth making an account since you have nothing to lose, and you never know what you might uncover.

However, Family Search does not offer any DNA testing or analysis services. Therefore, Family Search is not a good option for users interested in exploring what their DNA can reveal about their ancestry. However, Family Search does provide some information on their site about DNA testing, and point you in the direction of these resources. 

Categories
Genealogy

African Ancestry Review

Unfortunately, the vast majority of genealogy and DNA testing databases are primarily Eurocentric, containing large amounts of information on Western European ancestries. This means lots of people in Europe and North America can easily delve into some genealogy research, filling in the blanks and building a family tree. 

Genealogy is enhanced by genetics, which can give a new dimension of information about a person’s heritage. People from non-European backgrounds, and particularly African or indigenous origins, are often grossly underrepresented in such databases. This problem is not limited to genealogy research and is a universal problem in human genetics. 

What is African Ancestry?

African Ancestry Logo

African Ancestry LLC is a direct-to-consumer DNA testing company founded in 2003. African Ancestry is the leading advocate for tracing the lineages of people of African descent. People of African descent do not have the same access to genetic resources as people from European backgrounds due to the lack of information in DNA databases. To combat this, African Ancestry has compiled a comprehensive database of African DNA samples. In a powerful TEDTalk, the co-founder of African Ancestry said:

“What if your forefathers and foremothers didn’t come through Ellis Island or Plymouth Rock? What if they weren’t recorded as human beings until the late 19th century? What if it was illegal for them to get married or to read or write? Where do you begin without those pieces?” 

As a result of the slave trade, many African Americans do not know their family’s original surname, what village they came from, their ethnic group, or their native language. DNA testing becomes a crucial resource for these individuals when they seek insights into their heritage. The information contained in DNA cannot be erased; it can be used to fill in the gaps that history created. To uncover the secrets contained in DNA, you must first have a reference database with which to compare samples.

This is where African Ancestry comes in. The company specializes in tracing African lineages. To establish their database, they collected 30,000 African samples from 40 countries and 400 ethnic groups. A large and varied database is crucial for distinguishing between ethnic groups. Africa is the second-largest continent in the world. It is highly diverse, with 54 countries an estimated 2,000 languages, and 3,000 ethnic groups, with distinct cultures. The more African DNA samples you have and the more diverse they are, the better chance you have of being able to trace ancestry to more specific regions. 

If you use one of the other companies, you might get “African” or “West African” but no new information about specific ethnic groups or geographical locations. With their comprehensive database of African samples. African Ancestry can uncover your ethnic group of origin. Their database includes over 30,000 maternal and paternal lineages from more than 30 countries and several hundred ethnic groups. For reference, the largest competitor has less than 2,000. 

This test is not suitable for people not of African descent, who have a choice of many other tests on the market.

What does African Ancestry offer?

African Ancestry Website

African Ancestry offers two DNA tests: the MatriClan™ Test and the PatriClan™ test. They also extend their reach by promoting Family Reunions, a cultural trip aimed at reconnecting you with your ancestors.

The MatriClan™ Test reveals your African country of origin and ethnic group on your mother’s side. It does this by analyzing the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that both males and females inherit maternally. The test is capable of revealing your mother’s maternal roots from 500 – 2,000 years ago. It does not distinguish close relatives; mtDNA will be the same between siblings and relatives on your maternal line. If you are a female, you will pass your mtDNA down to your children. 

The PatriClan™ Test uncovers your African country of origin and ethnic group on your father’s side. The test traces paternal ancestry by analyzing the Y chromosome, which men inherit from their fathers. Only males carry a Y chromosome, so this test is only suitable for males. However, if they want to trace their ancestry on their paternal side, women can get a male relative (such as their father, grandfather, brother, or uncle on their father’s side) to take the test for them. The PatriClan™ test reveals your father’s paternal roots from 500 – 2,000 years ago, and the results will be the same for all male relatives.

African Ancestry tells you where in Africa that branch (maternal or paternal) of your family tree goes back to, not how much African ancestry you have. So your results will not have a percentage that indicates how much African DNA you possess (unlike in some other tests which use ethnicity estimates).

African Ancestry Family Reunions are ‘specially curated all-inclusive birthright journeys.’ African Ancestry has teamed up with the tourism industry and designed trips that allow you to travel to your country of origin, and immerse yourself into the culture. These tests are exclusive to people who have taken the MatriClan™ or PatriClan™ tests

How does the testing process work?

African Ancestry will send you a testing kit, which involved swabbing the inside of your cheek to collect DNA from the skin cells. You then send the test back to them. Within 8-10 weeks of them receiving your completed kit, you will receive your results online.

What technology do they use?

African Ancestry does not publicly declare their DNA testing technology.

Value for money

Both the MatriClan™ and PatriClan™ Test kits are $299 USD. If you purchase both products in one order, you can save $25 per kit. They also offer a Family Celebration Kit, which costs $699 and contains both kits, additional personalized certificates, and t-shirts. To help spread costs, African Ancestry offers payment plans starting at $25 per month. 

Verdict

African Ancestry is absolutely the tool to use if you likely have roots in Africa and want to uncover your ethnic origins. African Ancestry is the only company on the market that can trace your ancestry back to a specific African country and ethnic group as far back as 500 years ago. African Ancestry has much more power than the competition to determine specific African ethnic backgrounds. Another interesting thing about African Ancestry is that they do not biobank your samples, which most DNA testing companies do. They destroy your DNA after use, and do not sell data to third parties.

However, African Ancestry doesn’t use autosomal DNA in their tests, so if you were interested in your non-maternal or paternal-specific DNA, you might select another option. The tests are also more expensive than other options on the market, but for tracing African lineages, they are unrivaled.

Categories
Genealogy

Find A Grave Review

Gravesite information or cemetery records represent an excellent source of data for those interested in genealogy. Gravestones usually contain the birth date, death date, name, and some other details about an individual. These are valuable pieces of information that can help build a detailed picture of a person’s life and legacy. 

What is Find A Grave?

Find a grave website

Find A Grave is a website founded by Jim Tipton in 1995. It is now owned by Ancestry.com, which acquired the site in 2013. Jim Tipton had the eclectic hobby of visiting and photographing the graves of celebrities, and he started Find A Grave as a register for the graves of famous people. This is a feature of the website that is retained today. Users could search for a person of interest and find information about their gravesite as well as accompanying photographs. Find A Grave was initially exclusive to the United States but has since expanded worldwide. 

Now, Find A Grave is a service that allows people to search and contribute to a vast online database of cemetery records across the world. Volunteers take pictures of headstones at cemeteries and upload them to the website, creating a ‘virtual cemetery.” Even if an individual was not laid to rest in a traditional grave, their information can be uploaded on the website. The site is very much a collaborative effort and is entirely free to use; it is funded by advertising revenue.

What information can you get from Find A Grave?

To search the register, you must have the surname of your person of interest. You can also enter the first name, middle name, and the date (or estimated date) of birth and death. Finally, you can include the cemetery location, names of relatives, and more. The more information you have, the more likely you are to be able to locate the grave of your relative. 

The information present on any given grave can vary, depending on the family traditions, culture, and the circumstances of the individual’s life and death. Usually, you will be able to get their full name, date of birth and death, and familial relationships such as spouse and children’s names. There may also be other clues present that could fill in gaps in your family tree. 

The website also allows users to create memorials, leave virtual flowers, and join discussion forums. If they know the cemetery in which a burial site is located, members can also request for a volunteer to capture a picture of a grave. However, as volunteers (not employees) provide the photographs for the database, there is no guarantee that the request will be granted and how quickly the information will appear online. 

Find A Grave could provide valuable missing links and confirm previously unknown details about your relatives and ancestors. They have over 170 million records, a precious resource for budding genealogy enthusiasts. The website can be a valuable way for communities to connect and share interests such as local history, military history, and genealogy.  

Value for money

The service is entirely free for all users, so the value for money is excellent. 

Verdict

While the kind of information you can gain from Find A Grave alone is relatively limited, it represents an excellent supplementary tool to enhance your genealogy research. Because it is free, it could also be an excellent place to start to spark your interest in your ancestors. It can help you fill in gaps or generate new leads for you to explore in your genealogy research. Find A Grave can also be a great way to contribute to the community; you could become a volunteer and answer requests for grave photographs in your local area. 

Categories
Genealogy

What is Genealogy?

Getting started with genealogy

Have you ever been interested in what your great-great-grandparents did for a living? Perhaps you have wondered when your family settled in your home country? Maybe you’ve been curious about whether the family rumor that you are descended from royalty is true? If this sounds like you, you might be interested in delving into the world of genealogy.

Genealogy is the study of family trees. More specifically, genealogy traces lines of descent through generations. Historically, genealogy was relatively restricted to those with the knowledge, experience, and motivation to search, access, and interpret a range of documents, uncovering their history piece by piece. However, the advances in digital technology, anyone can browse a wealth of information online and start to reveal the secrets of their ancestors. Notably, DNA analysis has changed the game for genealogy, adding a new dimension to ancestry research 1.  

Genealogy is an area of academic research that can combine many disciplines: history, philosophy, geography, sociology, anthropology, evolution, and genetics all contribute to the field of study. Genealogy has become a widely explored hobby and interest, said to be the second most popular American hobby after gardening 2. The popularity of the television show “Who Do You Think You Are?” has both illustrated and fueled this popularity. Genealogy has strong links with a sense of identity, community, and connection, and many of these motivations fuel people’s interests. But it is not the only application of genealogical research.

Why might someone be interested in genealogy?

There are many reasons why an individual might want to study genealogy, either as a hobby or a career. A few are listed below.

A personal interest

An individual’s interest in genealogy could simply be because they have a personal curiosity for the discovery of their family history or heritage. This could be a particularly important motivation for those in which their history is largely unknown due to immigration, loss of records, or familial separation3. An individual interest could come from a desire to connect to older generations, trace personal stories, and uncover ethnic identity. Curiosity is a significant driver for the popularity of genealogy as a past time, and individuals can find the pursuit highly rewarding if they are willing to put in the time and resources 4.

Sociocultural reasons 

In some customs and religions, ancestry and personal identity are intimately linked and associated with respect. For example, in traditional Chinese cultures, families will keep records in a genealogy book called a zupu. This book chronicles the history of that family, allowing living members to feel a sense of kinship with their ancestors, contributing to a culture of respect and strong familial identity 5.

Societal motivations can also be associated with identity verification, for example, in establishing descendants from royalty or nobility, or connecting people’s ancestry to certain countries such as the British Isles. Genealogy can also be used in a legal context, such as to locate individuals who are heirs of estates. 

Medical purposes 

Genealogy research can be used for medical purposes. Family trees (also called pedigrees in the field of clinical genetics) are frequently used to map the inheritance of genetic disease through a family 6. Pedigrees can be used in conjunction with other medical tests to determine an individual’s risk of developing a disorder or passing a disease on to their children. Family trees have been particularly valuable for DNA research as it allows scientists to identify which regions of DNA are disease-causing.

Forensics

Genealogy, especially modern genealogy, can be used by professional genealogists and investigators to identify criminals or victims of crime. This field is called forensic genetic genealogy, and it has been instrumental in the last few years for catching criminals and solving cold cases 7. This relatively new method was popularized by the identification of the Golden State Killer by law enforcement, who were able to match the suspect’s DNA to a family member’s DNA in an online genealogy database, eventually leading them to arrest Joseph James DeAngelo for the decades-old crimes 8.

Academic pursuits

Finally, genealogy is a useful method for use in several academic pursuits, as well as a field of study in its own right 9. For example, genealogy can provide novel insights in historical research to build more accurate pictures of families, communities, or events of interest. 

What tools do genealogists use?

Genealogists have various tools at their disposal to trace lineages. Some of these resources include historical records such as birth, death, and marriage certificates, court records, medical records, military records, and censuses. The data in these resources can also be enriched with findings from interviews, newspaper articles, photographs, and oral histories. Relevant information includes family names, locations, dates, and occupations. 

With the growing popularity of genealogy and the capabilities of internet research, there are now numerous databases and software tools that individuals can brose and employ. The internet has also been essential in linking up individuals across the globe, allowing them to share information and data, and stories. 

The most reliable resources are primary sources and official documents. Usually, researchers will start in the present day and work backward as they find more data, and more names, dates, and locations to research. 

Genealogy research is complex, slow, and often painstaking. It requires collecting mountains of types of information to make reliable conclusions about family history and lineages; modern genealogy involves a combination of historical and genetic analysis 10. A skilled genealogist will be able to identify reliable sources that are accurate and unbiased and collate them in an engaging and precise way.

How can genetics help genealogy?

Genetics is a relatively new addition to the genealogy toolbox. Our genetic material contains a wealth of information that can be uncovered through DNA testing. DNA data can be used to trace family links, migration patterns, and ethnic ancestry. 

How to get started

Getting started with genealogy can be as simple as writing down what you know about your family, and working from the known to the unknown. Identifying the aims of your research can help you to focus your attention and study, and connecting with like-minded individuals can enrich your experiences. Who knows, you might find an engaging and rewarding lifelong hobby that could lead you down new walks of life. 

References

(1) Zussman, R. Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community. Contemp. Sociol. A J. Rev. 2013, 42 (3), 443–444. https://doi.org/10.1177/0094306113484702mm.

(2) How Genealogy Became Almost as Popular as Porn | Time https://time.com/133811/how-genealogy-became-almost-as-popular-as-porn/ 

(3) Hatton, S. B. History, Kinship, Identity, and Technology: Toward Answering the Question “What Is (Family) Genealogy?” Genealogy 2019, 3 (1), 2. https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy3010002.

(4) Genealogy 101: Discover Your Roots https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/intelligent-travel/2015/02/20/genealogy-101-discover-your-roots/ 

(5) Shiue, C. H. A Culture of Kinship: Chinese Genealogies as a Source for Research in Demographic Economics. Journal of Demographic Economics. Cambridge University Press December 1, 2016, pp 459–482. https://doi.org/10.1017/dem.2016.24.

(6) Stefansdottir, V.; Johannsson, O. T.; Skirton, H.; Tryggvadottir, L.; Tulinius, H.; Jonsson, J. J. The Use of Genealogy Databases for Risk Assessment in Genetic Health Service: A Systematic Review. Journal of Community Genetics. Springer January 2013, pp 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12687-012-0103-3.

(7) Greytak, E. M.; Moore, C. C.; Armentrout, S. L. Genetic Genealogy for Cold Case and Active Investigations. Forensic Sci. Int. 2019, 299, 103–113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2019.03.039.

(8) Golden State Killer: The end of a 40-year hunt? – BBC News https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-43915187 

(9) Hershkovitz, A. A Suggested Taxonomy of Genealogy as a Multidisciplinary Academic Research Field Credibility Assessment of Scientific Information on Social Networking Sites View Project Acquisition of Computational Thinking View Project; 2012.

(10) Mathieson, I.; Scally, A. What Is Ancestry? PLOS Genet. 2020, 16 (3), e1008624. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1008624.