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 3 tips for talking your relatives into testing.
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?
3 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.
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.
2. 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.
Which testing company should you choose? For the autosomal DNA you have several choices: Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage and Living DNA. While there are several factors to consider when choosing a database, size is probably the number one. Currently AncestryDNA has the largest database. Read our article comparing the best DNA tests for family history.
3. Take care of everything—or not.
Depending on the needs and interest of your relative, 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 many 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 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.)
If they do want to be involved, all the better! Encourage them to explore their personal DNA results and discuss them with you.
Not sure who to test or what to make of the test results once you have them? Subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter for the latest tips on do-it-yourself genetic genealogy. Or contact us about our expert Mentoring services to help you use DNA to answer questions about your origins.
An older version of this article was originally shared in 2016 on genealogygems.com.