DNA Testing Your Relatives

Diahan Southard

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Getting your relatives to take DNA tests can boost your knowledge about your genetic connections—and can get family members more interested in their roots. Here are 5 important tips for DNA testing your relatives.

Did you SEE those holiday price wars at the DNA testing companies during the holidays? I’m guessing we haven’t seen the end of these, now that it’s becoming so trendy, AND genealogists are seeing the research payoffs of testing, AND now that another major genealogy website is offering testing services.

As DNA sale prices generally become more attractive, more of you will want to expand your personal genetic database to include aunts and uncles and cousins. But what is the best way to proceed? How exactly do you ask someone for his or her DNA? And if you do, you may just have one shot at this. If so, which test? Which company?

5 Tips for DNA Testing Your Relatives

1. Share your own testimonial

Nothing speaks louder than your own experience. Start with a short summary of your own DNA journey. Keep in mind what might interest them: do they like deep history? Share the ethnicity results. Did they have a special connection to Great Grandpa Joe? Show how your DNA has connected to your 2nd cousin, also a descendant of Joe. Bust out the photo album and remind them that while Joe is gone, there are these threads of DNA that can still speak for him, and we need as many of his descendants as possible to be tested in order to preserve his genetic legacy, and unravel the mystery of his past.

2. Address any concerns and share the risks

Be up-front about the risks of taking DNA tests, including the possibility of unexpected results. Address concerns about privacy and law enforcement. Don’t wave these concerns away: share your own feelings about them and what has caused you to choose to test anyway. Getting their informed consent means that when they say “yes,” they know what they’re saying yes to.

3. Test the oldest generation first

You likely have a limited amount of funds with which to populate your family genetic database, so use them wisely. Anyone who does not have both parents living should be tested first. Order an autosomal DNA for everyone, and one Y DNA test for a genetic male delegate of each surname you want represented. For example, your dad’s brother Bill to represent the Johnson line, your mom’s cousin Robert to capture her maiden name, and so on until you have several surnames of interest represented.

Read a case study: how testing her grandma gave her SO much more information than her own test

4. Choose carefully what test to take–and where

Which testing company should you choose? For the autosomal DNA you have several choices. While there are several factors to consider, the size of the testing pool at a company is often the number one priority–the more people who have tested, the more likely you are to find matches. Currently AncestryDNA has the largest database. After testing at Ancestry, you can transfer to two other companies for a lower cost without having to retest (and you can’t transfer in to Ancestry–you have to test there to begin with). And Ancestry has excellent DNA analysis tools and genealogy research tools, too. All that said, you may have other priorities. Read our article comparing the best DNA tests for family history.

Find which DNA test is best for YOU

3. Take care of everything—or not.

When DNA testing your relatives, you can handle everything from ordering to payment to correspondence so all they have to do is spit or swab. This is the preferred method for those who don’t want to be bothered with the details. Just be sure to follow the testing company’s instructions for maintaining your relative’s ownership over their personal DNA. If they do want to be involved, all the better! Encourage them to explore their personal DNA results and discuss them with you.

If you haven’t tested with a particular company yourself, familiarize yourself with the sample collection so you can be helpful when they have questions. (Click to read about sample collection methods for Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, 23andMe and MyHeritage.)

What comes after DNA testing your relatives?

Taking a DNA test (or having a relative take a DNA test) is just the beginning of your genetic genealogy discoveries. Grab our free guide about getting started with DNA and learn what you can do to start learning more about your family!

Yes please! I’d like that guide.

An older version of this article was originally shared in 2016 on genealogygems.com.

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<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/guideyourdnaguide-com" 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.


  1. Kathy

    For someone just getting into the genetic side of genealogy, your blog and resources are very helpful! If a relative sets up their own Ancestry account what happens to the DNA data and Ancestry account after they pass away?

  2. Diahan Southard

    Kathy, I am so very glad you are finding this information helpful.
    If your relative passes away without explicitly stating what should happen to their DNA test results, it is very hard to get access later. So the best thing to do is to have them outline in their will what they want to happen to their DNA test results. If it is too late (I hope it’s not!) you just have to call AncestryDNA customer service and see what they can help you accomplish.
    You can also have them share their results with you from their account, so that you will always have access from your account, and you don’t have to worry about getting into their account.
    Thanks again for reading!

  3. nancy .

    I’m just beginning with DNA. Watched a Legacy webinar with you today. Had a question. My husband has passed away. Would this be a good choice of tests? Have my brother-in-law take an Autosomal DNA test since he is an older generation, and have my son take the YDNA test. Thinking the YDNA test would show the same results as my brother-in-law doing a Y. My goal is determining for sure my husband’s 3rd/4th gr-grandparents and their sons. I have done a lot of Gen research but some there is some family discussion on a couple of relationships in 1820s-1850s. Would any of these tests help? Yes, they are the same last name. Thinking the Autosomal will help in several areas and it would be a generation closer than my son doing it…Assuming my brother-in-law is willing. Thanks.

    • Diahan

      Hi Nancy,
      It is always best to test the older generation, as you suggested. Theoretically, it would be better to test your bother-in-law for the YDNA as well, though you are right, your son should have the same YDNA. So yes, move forward with both the YDNA and the autosomal DNA. Good luck!

  4. Theodore Cheek

    Since my gGrandfather Wiley’s birth may have been the result of an out of wedlock relation, it has been hard to find male relatives willing to test to verify we are descended from Sparks and not Cheeks. 10 so far have been reluctant to respond.

    • Diahan Southard

      I always say that people need two things in order to test: Information and Inspiration. Perhaps in time they will come around.

  5. Kerryn Gray

    My Dad Bryan (91) youngest and last surviving of five close siblings, has two sons, my brother’s and both have refused being tested. His Grand Nephew, his brother’s grand son is a match at Ancestry. We’ve not met him, his dad died, my first cousin tragically killed at work site aged 45 and Grand Nephew’s mum has kept him away from his grand parents since his dad’s death. We’d hoped to see him as his Grand Mothers funeral last year, but he didn’t attend. I’ve been wanting to contact him and introduce ourselves since he popped up as a match. I need to build confidence to contact him at ancestry, and when I do that, will need to hope he see’s my message. Before even worrying about getting a response. Since dad youngest of siblings, I’m eldest of dad’s youngest grand kids. I do have other known male cousin’s. But haven’t communicated with them for a long time and in fact more fearful of contacting them. That this one is already DNA tested gives me some hope.


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