DNA Testing | Finding Matches Outside the US

Diahan Southard

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DNA testing outside the US is not as popular as inside the US. If your goal is finding DNA matches (or ancestors) outside the United States, what should your DNA testing strategy be?

Updated in June 2022.

In a webinar I gave recently, I was asked a super important question:

How can I use DNA to find DNA matches and/or ancestors outside the United States, when most of the people who test are in the United States?

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It’s true. To date, a large proportion of DNA testers are in the United States.** That means those with deep roots in the US may have hundreds or thousands of DNA matches. But those with roots in other countries—or those whose relatives have only been in the United States for a generation or two—may have far, far fewer DNA matches (including those all-important close matches).

The thing is, you need DNA matches to make discoveries of birth relatives and/or to identify your ancestors! So what should your testing strategy be if you fit this scenario?

Finding DNA matches outside the United States

1. Test at companies where your relatives are most likely to test.

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MyHeritage advertises its DNA test as “most popular internationally-taken DNA test, particularly in Europe.”(1) At the date of this writing, the test is available “in all countries except for residents of the following locations: Israel, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, North Korea, Lebanon, Russia, and Syria.” (2) Its total testing pool is still much smaller than AncestryDNA or 23andMe, but you do have the option to transfer DNA test results from other companies to MyHeritage and pay a modest unlock fee to get access to all the DNA tools (TOTALLY worth it!). As an added bonus, MyHertiage offers a 14-day free trial subscription.

Transfer to MyHeritage23andMe DNA test kit.jpg

23andMe has a large testing pool and the ancestry-only version of the test ships to more than 50 countries. Many people report finding unique matches at 23andMe, because lots of people have tested there who are interested in genetic health data. (However, if they’re not interested in genealogy, they may not be as responsive.) You can’t upload your DNA test from another company here; you have to buy their test.

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AncestryDNA used to be sold in fewer than 40 countries, but in mid-2022, it expanded to 89 countries. Is your country of interest among them? The testing pool is enormous, but anecdotal evidence suggests it’s strongly skewed to the U.S. It will take time for the international testing pool to grow, now that AncestryDNA is available in more places, so be patient–but go ahead and test, since new DNA matches will be added to your list as they test. At AncestryDNA, you can’t upload your DNA test from another company; you have to buy their test.

Family Tree DNA test kit cropped.jpg

Family Tree DNA ships to every country except Sudan and Iran. (3) Their database of testers is relatively small. But among them are those who have invested in YDNA and mtDNA testing, as well, which may lead to additional DNA connections. You can transfer results from other testing companies to Family Tree DNA.

                                   Transfer to FTDNA

Living DNA test kit.jpg

Living DNA is best known for serving the U.K. market, as it provides a detailed ancestry breakdown for 21 regions in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Testers also include those who live elsewhere but have ancestors from these countries. And yes, you can also transfer other DNA test results to Living DNA.

Transfer to LivingDNA

Remember, you don’t have to choose just one! Test as many places as you can reasonably afford (or do the free/less-expensive upload where possible). If you decide to purchase a test, thanks for using our affiliate links.*

2. Do targeted testing to help sort your matches.

You don’t always need a lot of matches to make progress on your research goal. But you do need a Best Known Match (someone you already know your relationship to) for each branch of your family you want to explore. You may need to do the legwork to create your own Best Known Match by targeted testing.

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Targeted testing is when you invite your known cousins to test (the ones who come from the branch of the family you’re most interested in right now). How does that help, since you already know you’re related to them? {Grin} You use their DNA to lead you to others who share your ancestry. If you and your known second cousin both match someone you don’t recognize, you’ll know to look closer at that specific match for information about that family line. Your DNA Guide—the Book talks more about targeted testing and your Best Known Matches and how to work with them.

3. Be proactive.

Now we get to the crux of the big frustration: what if you do all this, and you still don’t have the matches you need? Maybe people who share your ancestral heritage just aren’t participating in DNA testing in large numbers yet. Lots of people share this frustration, including Etienne, whose story we share below.

Instead of waiting a few years for others to take the lead, why not BE that person who tests with as many websites as possible? If that’s already you, then good for you! Thumbs up! But if you’re holding back—don’t! Let yourself be the groundbreaker, the early adopter, the one representing your family line. Then you’ll know you’ve done what you can, and you’ll be there to see new matches as they may gradually begin to pop up. In addition to testing as many places as you can, consider adding your DNA testing profile to WikiTree so others can become aware of it.

4. Reframe your definition of success.

Sometimes we just need to reframe what success means to us in genetic genealogy research. You may not be able to answer your burning DNA questions quickly. Don’t stop asking them! But neither should you judge your success by metrics that require other people to test and give you answers. To me, success means that you followed a step-by-step plan to methodically evaluate your DNA match list for “THE ONE” DNA match you need. Success means you’ve laid the groundwork so that when this new match does show up (and they will), you will recognize them for what they are: the sledgehammer that will break down your brick wall.

Why don’t you have any DNA matches on your father’s side? Or maybe it’s your mother’s side without matches. The geography of your missing matches is just one explanation. Find more reasons when you read Etienne’s story.

What’s Next After You Find a Match?

Knowing what to say when you reach out to new matches can be hard. That’s why we’ve put together our free guide on Contacting DNA Matches.

Get Free Guide to Contacting DNA Matches

**The testing companies don’t publish statistics about where their customers live. This statement is based on observation of where most DNA matches are from across the various testing companies.

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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.

5 Comments

  1. Labstogo

    Great blog! Thanks for sharing about <a href=https://labstogo.com/dna-testing/>DNA Testing</a>.

    Reply
  2. Chris Schuetz

    Good points.
    Colonial settlement of Australia was often accompanied by documentation of where people came from in more specific terms than just country – you can often discover the village, town or at least county your shared ancestor came from by looking up details from an Australian match. New Zealand too. So the extra effort of chasing up such a match can be rewarded.

    Reply
  3. Chris Schuetz

    Although most of my useful matches are elsewhere, GEDmatch has helped make two critical connections. One for my mystery guy who just appeared out of nowhere when he got married, later telling his children he came from London. A GEDmatch DNA match from turned out to be via his grandparents from Nottingham (England), before they went to London.
    But yes, GEDmatch is heavily dominated by US users, so it’s last on the list for this post’s discussion.

    Reply
  4. Fay Wouk

    About myheritage you say: “At the date of this writing, the test is available “in all countries except for residents of the following locations: Israel, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, North Korea, Lebanon, Russia, and Syria.”

    This should really be updated, because they do sell tests in Israel, have for quite a few years, and I have tons of Israelis among my DNA matches, far more than I have at 23andme.

    Reply
    • Danielle Francis

      Thanks for catching that Fay, we’ll take a look at the changes with MyHeritage and update our article!

      Reply

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