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Developing a DNA Testing Plan


You have taken your DNA test and you have your ethnicity estimate, but how does genetic testing actually help you with your genealogy? Where do you begin?

Even though ethnicity estimates get a great deal of attention, the most genealogically valuable part of your DNA test results is the match list which connects you to others based on your shared DNA results. As you begin working with your results within the context of your genealogy, we recommend sharing and collaborating with your genetic cousins. The main goal of your correspondence with cousins might be to determine the nature of your relationship, and could also include sharing information regarding your shared heritage and ancestors, or requesting their help in recruiting additional relatives to test.

However, your match list may sometimes present problems of its own. If it includes several thousand individuals, it might seem overwhelming, whereas if you only have a handful of matches, it might be discouraging. In either case, there is no need to worry. DNA tests are constantly changing as more people get tested. If you have too many matches, just focus on the closest ones. If you don’t have enough matches, the genetic cousins you need to make genealogical breakthroughs may not have tested yet. Consider target testing your known relatives (or the known relatives of your matches) to better achieve your research goals.

Creating a DNA Testing Plan

To create a robust testing plan, you first need to have a specific research subject and a clear objective. Focus on a single ancestor. Make a goal of what you hope to discover through DNA testing. DNA testing is ideal for addressing questions regarding kinship, but is not as good for exploring motivations, biographical information or uncovering ancestral stories. Once you have a research subject and objective, then you can evaluate which relatives will be the best candidates to test to thoroughly address your research problem.

In this post, we will create an example DNA testing plan for John Martin, who was adopted by a shopkeeper and his wife in the mid-1800s. We have a few clues as to who his biological parents may have been. Our research subject is John Martin, and our stated objective is to determine the identities of his biological parents.