If you’ve taken a DNA test you know how exciting it can be to get your results back for the first time. But after you’ve spent some time scanning your matching ethnic regions and digging through the list of distant cousins, many people just let the results sit, unsure what to do next.
Whether you are an avid family history researcher who is hoping to use DNA to improve your research and build on your family tree, or you just took a test out of passing curiosity, here are some things you should and shouldn’t do with your results.
Please know that we have partnered with some of the companies linked to on this page and may receive a fee if you choose to take advantage of their services after following a link on our site. However, we only recommend services we trust ourselves.
4 Things You Should Do With Your DNA Results (and 3 You Shouldn’t)
YOU SHOULD – Protect Your Privacy
The period after you get your DNA test results may not seem like the right time to start thinking about privacy settings, but many people don’t consider what information will be available to others, and how to protect it, until this time.
When you take a test you are given certain options about how to share your data – with each testing company providing different options. Generally, you can opt in or out of cousin matching (allowing others to find you based on shared DNA) and adjust the amount of data those cousins can see, as well as choose if and how they can contact you. You may have the option to change your contact email, visible name (how matches will see you), profile photo and more.
The company you tested with may also provide some options about how your DNA data can be used for research.
To find these settings log into your DNA account and look for your account settings area – this is almost always in the upper right hand corner of your screen. Click on any drop downs provided and select Settings or DNA Settings. You will need to do this on MyHeritage, FTDNA and 23andMe. Ancestry links directly to these options when viewing results with a large Settings button.
This is also generally the area where you can delete (or make a request to delete) your results if you choose to no longer have them stored, add or change linked family trees (on MyHeritage and Ancestry) and download your raw DNA file.
It is important to at least review these settings, even if you decide not to make any changes.
YOU SHOULDN’T – Assume Your Results are Unchanging
Many people are unaware that DNA ethnicity reports, and the algorithms that determine matches, are updated on a regular basis. It can be confusing to log in one day and find that your ethnicity percentages have shifted or that you are no longer listed as a match with certain individuals. In cases like this you will want to have a record of past reports.
For this reason it is a great idea to download your results on a regular basis so that you have these results for comparison when changes are made.
YOU SHOULD – Download Everything
The easiest way to download your ethnicity results is to look for the Print button available from all major providers and then choose to Print to PDF, and option available on many computers.
If this is not an option on your computer you can install a free PDF printer (search for PDF printer in google and choose an option to install) or take screenshots of your results with a tool like Evernote’s Web Clipper – used by many genealogists. Even highlighting ethnicity amounts with your cursor and copying them into a notepad is better than nothing.
You’ll also want to download your match list. This will not only allow you to have a back up but will also make it easier for you to use these results in your research. MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA make it easy to download results – on MyHeritage you will find the option under the menu on your match list (look for 3 vertical dots) and on FTDNA you will find the option at the bottom of the matches pages.
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Finally, download a copy of your RAW DNA file. This will be needed if you plan to take advantage of free and low-cost ethnicity reports and tools from other providers. This option is often found in the account settings area discussed earlier.
As with all of your genealogy files, do make sure to back everything up in a trusted online space. See a list here of free and low-cost options.
YOU SHOULDN’T – Upload Your Results to Every Site That Accepts Them
What else can I do with my DNA results or data?
This is a common question. As genetic testing for genealogy becomes more and more popular, numerous companies are offering free and paid reports that allow you to expand on the tests you have already taken by uploading your data to their sites. Reports range from ethnicity breakdowns to medical insights and even entire health plans. Some claim to be motivated by research while others are clearly motivated only by profit.
We encourage you to be very discerning when choosing who to upload your data to. Read privacy policies carefully, find out how long a company as been in business and what their future plans are, and look for recommendations from reputable blogs and websites (like those we have listed later on) BEFORE trusting a company with your genetic data.
We have listed several well-known and trusted options that offer free and low-cost reports in the next section.
YOU SHOULD – Get More Reports from Safe Providers
A big part of making the best use of your DNA test results is to secure more than one report and matches list. Each company analyzes and displays your results in a unique way (to better understand why this matters and how to make sense of it all read this article) and provides a unique list of possible genetic cousins (for those companies that provide matches).
Luckily, there are a number of places to get these additional reports and tools from. Below we have listed 4 trusted place to upload your DNA to that we have used ourselves and that have a proven track record of secure data management and responsible use.
Do remember, however, that some sites allow anyone to access these results so you are always taking a privacy risk when choosing to upload. Only you can make the decision to do this for yourself and you should ALWAYS receive permission before uploading other people’s results.
Family Tree DNA offers free cousin matching when you upload your results and an ethnicity report and additional tools for $19. Find out how to take advantage of that here or head directly to the upload page.
GEDmatch allows uploads of raw DNA from just about any testing company and provides numerous reports and tools. This site requires more effort to use than the others on this list – but if you are ready to geek out then GEDmatch is for you. Read our article on using the service here.
YOU SHOULDN’T – Take Your Results at Face Value
Here at Family History Daily we love that family historians have the opportunity to explore their heritage through DNA testing, but what we don’t love is how easy it is to get confused. Many people test, receive their reports and then simply take the information at face value…mystified as to how the regions on their computer screen correspond with what they know of their family’s past.
We wrote a whole article about this problem that explains, with examples, how easy it is to misinterpret your genetic reports and how to better understand them: Why You Might Be Reading Your DNA Results All Wrong.
YOU SHOULD – Take the Time to Really Understand Your Results
Now that we’ve addressed the issue of how easy it is to misunderstand your results, we want to remind you that education is very important if you want to use your results to understand more about your family’s past and grow your family tree.
To start educating yourself, read some of the information in the articles in our Genetic Genealogy section here. Then consider signing up to take a course that will guide you through the process of using your results in your research. Family History Daily’s courses open again this fall with an expanded DNA section.
And, of course, there are numerous high quality educational materials elsewhere online – some free and some at a cost. Each testing provider offers their own tutorials, and places like GEDmatch offer education materials as well. The FTDNA forums are a wonderful place to ask questions if you need some help from the testing community.
You’ll also want to check out these established sites, which are some of our favorites.
- The Genetic Genealogist
- The Legal Genealogist
- The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG)
By Melanie Mayo, Family History Daily Editor
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