Holiday DNA Sales

It’s that time of year again when DNA testing companies offer major cuts in the cost of their genetic tests. If you have never purchased a DNA test for yourself or a family member, you should consider your goals and needs before spending your money. Those of you who have already purchased one or more tests should think about the benefits of potential add-ons and upgrades.

Here’s a quick review of the basic types of DNA tests offered by the major companies:

Y-DNA Testing (Direct Paternal Line – Men Only)

This is a very important test for anyone who wants to establish the specific lineage or group origins of their father’s family surname. If you’re looking to prove the origins of your Guthrie family, for example, the person being tested has to be male and the expectation should be that his father’s direct genetic line is all Guthrie men.

Men only.
If your goal is to provide YDNA to the Guthrie DNA Project, the YDNA must come from a male Guthrie.
If your goal is to test a non-Guthrie paternal line, the tester must be a male whose direct lineage represents that surname.

A YDNA match to other men in the Guthrie DNA Project conclusively proves shared paternal line ancestry. This test provides an instant answer as to the identity of any matched group. All it takes is a YDNA test from one male Guthrie to represent every descendant belonging to his ancestral line to reveal a group match. It might take 100 autosomal tests to triangulate enough data to do the same.

Only a male Guthrie can take the test. If you are or descend from a female Guthrie, you’ll have to ask your closest male Guthrie relative to take this test for you.

As a female Guthrie, I asked my father to donate his DNA to the family cause. We started long ago, so there was only a basic YDNA test available. Over the years, I have upgraded that test to Y67 and Y111 markers, and eventually purchased a Big-Y test. Details at the Y111 level have allowed me to identify other lineages within the group that are more closely related, my ancestor’s probable brothers.

There are various levels of testing, but the purchase of one kit allows you to upgrade the same specimen later on. The biggest savings are most likely to be found when buying higher quality tests or bundles. If you’re just looking for a Y-DNA test for yourself or a family member, I suggest starting out with either a Y37 or Y67 marker test. The Y37 marker is generally enough for a genetic match to one of the Guthrie Family Groups. The Y67 marker test is a refinement that provides more details if there is any doubt between two genetic groups. The Y111 test should only be purchased as an upgrade once a group match has been achieved. It will only be helpful if others in your group have also tested at that level, or you hope they eventually will. A test at that level shows the kind of details that can reveal inherited genetic change down the various family branches of the group.

Big-Y Testing (Direct Paternal Line – Men Only)

This is one of the most expensive tests around. That does not automatically mean that more is better. The data it provides is a look into the very distant past going back thousands of years to prehistoric times. This test is most helpful in cases where there is some doubt as to whether all of the YDNA matches within a group belong. They may be related, but it may be very distant shared ancestry.

Men who have already established their Guthrie Family Group with a Y37, Y67, or Y111 test.

If you have purchased every other type of genetic test for yourself, there is still something to learn or to contribute if you want to join the kind of project that uses this data. The Guthrie DNA Project does refer to it if there is any question about general group origins, but it is not directly utilized by us because there is not enough overall participation in Big-Y testing.

The biggest issue is the cost of the test. The holiday sales are probably one of the better times to purchase this test. If you’re considering it at any other time of the year, I suggest that you contact FTDNA first to ask when their next sale will occur.

I upgraded my father’s Y-DNA test kit to include this test. I had previously done some extended Deep Clade/SNP testing because I was curious about the ancient origins of my Guthrie Family Group. It was enough to show a YDNA match to an Irish Bronze Age Skeleton unearthed in a burial cist on Rathlin Island. The official Big-Y test doesn’t tell me much. There is only 1 other man listed as a match, and he is an adoptee of another surname, who was already listed on the Y111 results. So, I can’t say that I have learned much as a result. However, I did add his results to several other projects and ‘Guthrie’ is now on the official Big-Y Tree for human genetics.

Mitochondrial DNA Testing (Direct Maternal Line – Men and Women)

People of both sexes inherit mitochondrial DNA from their mother, which they inherited from their mother, and inherited the previous generations before that. If you’re generally curious about the prehistoric origins of your maternal line, and want to know which other families might share that same ancestry, this is a good test to buy if you have already purchased all of the others.

If you need to find information on your mother’s genetic origins, this test can potentially get you some data. It is certainly better than having none.

Because our modern society is basically patronymically inclined, families use the surname of the father and the mother’s maiden name is often lost. If you already know a lot about your mother’s direct maternal ancestors (you probably don’t need this test in the first place), but it will help you sort through the genetic matches that are all of different names.

This test was a big waste of money for me. My mother’s direct maternal line from Newfoundland is not well-documented. After a couple of generations, there is a big hole of nothingness. Having few references to rely on, my results show matches to many people with surnames I don’t recognize and in places across the globe that have no obvious connection to my mother’s family. The only real factoid of interest was the identification of my maternal Halplogroup – H – which gave me a reference to what life might have been like for my prehistoric great-grandmother when migrating across western Europe. Anyone who is contemplating Mitochondrial DNA testing should read ‘Seven Daughters of Eve‘ by Bryan Sykes, which is a fascinating descriptive look into the lives of our ancient maternal ancestors.

Autosomal DNA Testing (Maternal/Paternal Ancestry – Men and Women)

Autosomal DNA tests are offered by all of the testing companies. Each of them provides different tools, and gives you a (slightly different) estimation of your Ethnic and/or Ancient genetic origins. This test looks at a mix of your inherited DNA from both your maternal and paternal sides. You have inherited 50% of your DNA from each parent, 25% from each grandparent, 12.25% from each great-grandparent, with diminishing percentages from each previous generation. Siblings inherit different mixes of ancestral DNA from their parents, so they may have matches that you don’t.

This is a great place to start (unless you’re a male Guthrie who should start with a YDNA test). If you’re looking for gifts for multiple family members, this is the way to go.
It is also an easy add-on for a bundled kit or an upgrade at FTDNA.

This is the cheapest test out there and available at all of the testing companies, so you have options about where to buy your test. You get more than just a list of matches with this type of test. You’ll also get your ethnicity estimates. Depending on the company you use you may also receive ideas about how your matches are related to you. Results from other eligible companies may be transferred for free to Family Tree DNA in order to add them to the Guthrie DNA Project.

Unlike a YDNA test that gives you instant matching results, you’ll need to analyze your data. A match to someone of Guthrie ancestry, for example, does not automatically ensure that you share the same Guthrie ancestry because you might be related in some other way. Cousins with a rock-solid paper trail connecting them to you may or may not share any autosomal DNA (atDNA). True autosomal matching takes triangulation where multiple people who share exact genetic segments are traced to an ancestor.

My family has test kits at AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe. I recommend starting with an AncestryDNA test and then using FTDNA’s free transfer protocol to add your raw results to their database. This gives you access to their data, plus gives you access to their official surname project, including the Guthrie DNA Project.

You do not have to maintain a subscription or a tree at Ancestry to take one of their DNA tests. One of the cooler features called Thru Lines attempts to predict your shared ancestry. This feature does require the use of a tree, which can be private or public. Ancestry’s main advantage is the enormous size of the database. You’ll have 10x the matches there than you will at any other company. This service does not include a Chromosome Browser tool to identify the exact segment of DNA shared with your matches.

Family Tree DNA
FTDNA houses all of the major surname and regional projects including the Guthrie DNA Project. If you want to officially be a part of the project, you can either directly purchase a YDNA or “Family Finder” (atDNA) test, or transfer your test from one of the other companies. The transfer is free, but if you want to be able to use the Chromosome Browser, or gain access to FTDNA’s version of your Ethnicity estimate, there is a nominal fee of $19 to unlock those tools.

If you’re interested not only in your genetic ancestry, but in using genetics to determine your health and disease risks, 23andMe is a good place to add on a second Autosomal DNA test. Their process for contacting your matches is complex, and I have not learned much about my ancestry by using their service. They do have a cool new feature currently in beta testing referred to as their Automatic Family Tree. Potentially a fun tool, but one that still needs some development. The true strength of this test is the Heath data and the ability to actively participate via optional surveys in ongoing research. You’ll receive reports on your health risks based on research findings, and there are a number of other interesting reports. I would not recommend purchasing this test as your first option for genealogy. Still, it can be transferred to FTDNA to be included in the Guthrie DNA Project if you already have one.

Tests purchased directly from this company can also be transferred to FTDNA. You can also transfer your raw DNA results to Heritage DNA to be included in their database. They also have a process called ‘Theory of Relativity’ which provides possible paths to a common ancestor for you and some matches. This process sometimes identified me as me, and sometimes it identifies me as someone born in the 1800s, so I recommend caution and verification before adding data to your trees.


Should I test myself or my parent?
It is best to test the oldest person in your family. They are one or more generations closer to your ancestors and will have inherited a higher percentage of their DNA than you.

If you want to capture matches from both your maternal and paternal tree, you’ll need to test yourself.

Should I bother asking my siblings to participate if I have already tested?
Yes. Siblings inherit a different mix of autosomal DNA, and so may have matches (and therefore clues) that don’t show up in your results. If you have tested multiple siblings, all of them should join the Guthrie DNA Project because some of their results may be unique.

What about my children?
Younger children may be prohibited from testing. Check with the company you’re using for the ruled regarding DNA testing of minors. Otherwise, a DNA test for your children will capture data from both their maternal and paternal sides. If you’re looking to join a surname project, only the parent’s kit is necessary as the children’s results would be a subset.

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