Add DNA Stories to Your Family History

Diahan Southard

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Do the family history books or stories you’re compiling include DNA discoveries? These ideas will help you think about the best ways for your tell your DNA stories, whatever they are.

Many of us make meaningful discoveries about who we are through our DNA. Our ethnicity results reveal regions from which our families came. We connect (or reconnect) with genetic relatives through DNA matching and learn what happened to different branches of our family. Sometimes, we discover new relatives entirely (though this is not always a pleasant experience, it often becomes an important part of our identity story). Our DNA discoveries are part of our story. 

Add DNA Stories to Your Family History IO.pngBut how do we integrate DNA findings into the family history narratives we pass on to future generations? I love sharing ideas on this topic, so I hope if you have any success stories, you’ll email me. For now, I have one to share with you.

Adding DNA test results to family history books

John Catron is co-founder of Legacy Books, a high-end service that provides start-to-finish storytelling for company histories, family histories, athletes, and others. I asked him how DNA has figured into his clients’ books.

John says they’ve added DNA reports to at least 10 of their productions over the past couple of years. He sent me the following page images, showing ethnicity results (with comments), a basic mtDNA report, and a fuller analysis of Y DNA results. “They seem to be a natural fit with family stories and photos, right?” he asked—and I have to agree.




Yep. Makes me want to add gorgeous glossy images like these to MY family history book. Even more, I want to add explanatory text that goes with some of the tests, like haplogroup results and evolving ethnicity results, which I see in some of the images above.

How to share your own DNA story

So let’s take it to the next level with a little bit of brainstorming. What DNA story do YOU have to tell? (That has to be your starting point when you think about how to tell the story–part of it depends on what the story IS.)

Not every DNA story is big or dramatic. Maybe your DNA ethnicity results have pushed you to see past your beloved Italian heritage to realize you’ve been ignoring some Hungarian and Irish roots. Maybe you’ve discovered a DNA cousin who’s a kindred spirit (excuse the pun) or who shares your passion for family history. Maybe your DNA has helped a previously-unknown living relative find their place on your biological tree: a life-changing experience for them in which you got to play a meaningful part. An increasing number of genealogists are also breaking down brick walls by discovering new ancestors through DNA matches, and OF COURSE you want to talk about that!

My DNA story includes an adoption reunion on my mom’s side of the family. We found her birth family and have attended their family reunion. I’ve told some of that story here on my blog and my mother and I told it together as guests on a special podcast. But most importantly, I’ve talked to my kids about it and answered their questions in age-appropriate ways. I’ve added my biological relatives to my online family trees.

What—and how—can you share?

How to tell a good dna story storytelling family history 11.pngSome DNA stories you can tell at family dinners and larger gatherings with extended families. Perhaps some you can share on social media (tag the people you really hope will see them). Others are best shared by attaching a few thoughtful lines and a related image or two on your family tree. Many stories can be told in multiple ways, to make sure it reaches the right people and has staying power.

Be sure to read these additional tips on how to craft a good story!

If anyone’s privacy is at stake, or you’ll be revealing information that may not go over well, think carefully about what to say, whom to identify and how to share it. Get explicit permission from anyone whose story this is, and from anyone you want to mention by name. Don’t just assume everyone’s ok with you sharing publicly, even if they have talked about it openly themselves. Some stories may not be entirely ready or appropriate to share publicly. In some cases, you may decide to write up a story, seal it in an envelope labeled “to be opened in XX” or “to be opened after the deaths of XX” and put it with your important papers.

But some stories–especially stories that are just about you and any long-deceased ancestors you may discover through DNA–are all yours to tell now. So how are you integrating those stories into your family history?

To TELL your DNA stories effectively, you need to KNOW them. But discovering them takes some skill. Learn these skills with our Quick Guide, Finding An Ancestor Using Your DNA.

Take me to that Quick Guide!

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<a href="" target="_self">Diahan Southard</a>

Diahan Southard

As founder and CEO of Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard has been teaching people how to find family history answers in their DNA for several years, and she's been in the genetic genealogy field since its infancy. Diahan teaches internationally, writes for popular magazines, consults with leading testing companies, is author of Your DNA Guide–The Book, and producer of Your DNA Guide–the Academy, an online learning experience.


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