French DNA Tester: Too Few Matches, Too Many Questions

Sunny Morton

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Exploring French DNA connections can be challenging. Testing remains illegal in France. You may not have many matches–but like Francois, you may have many questions. Here are some tips we gave Francois.

During RootsTech 2022, we met Francois Caron from France. He asked the following questions:

I didn’t get many significant matches from my DNA test (it remains illegal in France so fewer people [have tested] compared to the US). It allowed me to find out a few unknown branches and distant connections. However, there are 2 pain points I’d like to solve. 1) a few significant matches we can’t explain so far by comparing our family trees (unless adulterous conception) AND 2) I don’t know who my great grandfather was (my paternal grandfather was a natural child). Are there any ways to go further on those 2 issues?”

Francois gave us permission to share his question (thanks!) here. He’s not the only one we hear from who needs help maximizing what they can learn from very few DNA matches. Here’s a summary of suggestions that came out of his chat with Lori Napolitano, one of our coaches at Your DNA Guide–the Academy.

By the way, you don’t have to do all these suggestions at once! Start with the first two. Then choose whichever seems the best for your situation.

Asking DNA questions without many matches

1. Test, test, transfer, transfer.

If you’ve taken a DNA test already, that’s great. BUT if you have anyone in your family who is of a higher generation than you, testing THEM is even better. Because they’re a generation more closely connected with your DNA matches, they will share more DNA with more matches than you will. Once they’ve tested, encourage other relatives–siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews–to test with the same companies and share their results with you. They may have inherited different DNA from your ancestors than you did, and may have some matches that don’t show up on your list. After all, by the time you get to 4th cousins, you’re only genetically related to about half of them.

Whether it’s your results or a relative’s, spread them around to as many testing companies as possible. That improves the likelihood of finding any genetic cousins who have tested. (Francois states that testing isn’t legal in his country, and yet he and many people with French roots from around the world are finding ways to test.) The two largest testing pools are at AncestryDNA and 23andMe, with more than 20 million and 12 million testers, respectively. Unfortunately, 23andMe has the most limited international shipping options (AncestryDNA used to be fairly limited, but expanded its shipping locations in mid-2022, so international participation will likely be increasing over time). Find the best DNA test for you.

Once you’ve tested at ANY of the major companies, you can download your test results and transfer them to Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and Living DNA (you can’t transfer to Ancestry or 23andMe; you can only purchase tests there). Transferring is free, with an optional fee to get access to additional tools. Here’s why we recommend upgrading your MyHeritage DNA transfer to include the DNA tools.

How to transfer your DNA

2. Learn how to spot a good match.

Francois Caron initially visited our RootsTech booth to ask about international shipping for Your DNA Guide—the Book. He’s on the right track: Your DNA Guide–the Book will serve as a step-by-step guide to working with the matches he does have (or will have in the future).

When you don’t have many DNA matches, it’s essential that you recognize a useful match when you see it–and that you know how to learn from it. The Book teaches you how to identify a match who might be helpful for exploring a specific branch of your tree. The Book has paths you can follow to explore your relationships with unknown matches AND to identify unknown ancestors. (There’s an entire section specifically on searching for great grandparents, which is one of Francois’ questions.)

3. Pursue YDNA testing.

Francois happens to be looking for a paternal ancestor (him > father > paternal grandfather > paternal great grandfather). Y DNA testing with Family Tree DNA would be a good step for him to take, since YDNA follows only the father-son line. (YDNA works to explore ANY paternal lineage, if you can just find the right paternal-line descendants to test. For Francois, it’s easy: it’s him.) A shortcut to discovering the right person to test, for most western cultures, is to find a biologically male, genetic descendant who has the same surname as the ancestor you are trying to find.

Again, it may be challenging to find significant numbers of YDNA matches, if DNA testing in your descendancy pool isn’t high yet. But it’s encouraging to see, for example, that Family Tree DNA’s French Heritage DNA group project reports more than 10,000 members and does have significant YDNA participation.

Learn more about YDNA testing in our free YDNA mini-course (enrollment offers a nice discount on our full-fledged YDNA Course, where you’ll learn all about YDNA haplogroups, matching, group projects and MORE).

4. Watch for endogamy and multiple relationships.

Francois reported some higher-than-expected shared DNA amounts with some cousins whose nearest tree connection reached back to 1770. We explained that higher amounts of shared DNA with matches may be due to multiple relationships (sharing more than one ancestor, or having the same ancestor in more than one place on your shared trees) or endogamy (repeated intermarriage within a small group over many generations).

Francois responded with surprise and gratitude. “Common ancestors occur twice in my tree and we indeed see marriages among the same families in above generations (first half of 18th century and before) that multiply connections and shared ancestors,” he said. “This is the very first time I hear about endogamy’s impact on DNA matches. I didn’t expect that at all. A big thank you!”

We shared with him some introductory reading on endogamy and information about our popular Endogamy and DNA Course, which teaches strategies for working with multiple relationships and endogamy with matches at AncestryDNA, 23andMe and MyHeritage.  (The Endogamy and DNA Course tends to sell out quickly, so if you catch it when it’s open, you might want to enroll).

Next Steps

Well, we’ve given Francois lots of possible next steps. What about YOUR next steps? Here are the links again for what everyone should do:

Find Best DNA Tests to Take

Transfer my DNA to another company

Get Your DNA Guide–the Book

Get More DNA Inspiration

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2 Comments

  1. Christopher Schuetz

    This old chestnut again. It is illegal to present DNA results in court to prove paternity (usually for inheritance) unless the court itself has asked for a test. It is certainly not illegal to take an mtDNA test. It is paternity that is the problem. And in practice (I am told by a bucket load of French DNA genealogists on various forums), there have been no prosecutions for people just taking a test for their own family research.
    According to https://isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_testing_comparison_chart the only DNA testing company NOT selling into France is AncestryDNA.
    But yes, many if not most people in France believe getting themselves DNA tested is illegal, so testing rates are low. Nevertheless I have had DNA matches from France for the last decade.

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