In some of my past articles, I have explained how different companies test differently for criminal profiling and for health. I have further explained how DNA testing can and cannot help genealogists and how autosomal testing is not helpful to genealogy for the most part.
So, how does the general public sort out this mess?
The following steps will help:
1. Educate yourself about DNA testing.
Before purchasing any test for any reason, the buyer must understand how DNA testing can help and how it cannot help. My previous blog articles can greatly help with this as well as the listing I offer for online tutorial information and through various Genetic Genealogy books.
2. Establish a goal or reason to test.
Ask yourself what it is you wish to determine by testing. What genealogical problem are you trying to solve. Read books and online tutorials to help you determine what tests can assist with your goal. (Email me, if you can't decide.)
3. Learn all you can about the testing companies.
You do not have to know everything about every company, but you should understand not only the difference between the three top companies, and which companies are not helpful to genealogy and your goals.
As you research the major testing companies for yourself, ask these questions:
1. What is the size of the database? Size is important. You will be compared to other testers in order to find matches. You and those testers who match have a common ancestor. You would want to contact them and share lineage information. Would you wish to test with a company who has over 100,000 testers or one who has 10,000 testers? Which has the likelihood of producing more matches for you?
2. Can you contact the testers you match? Matching others, but not being able to share data on your research makes testing and matching a waste of time and money.
3. Can I contact the company easily? You may have a problem or a question. Some companies list no email or phone number to contact them. Some prefer that the administrator of a project contact them. (What if you are not in a project?) Others will answer your question within one business day whether it be by phone or email.
4. How accurate is the testing? No doubt every company will tell you their labs are accurate, and this has been found to be true for giving you your haplotype (your DNA signature). However, some companies will do testing to determine your haplogroup (your twig on the world family tree) while some do not do this testing, called SNP testing. The companies who do not SNP test do take guesses for the haplogroup and have been found to be totally in error. I can cite several cases of this.
Unknowledgeable testers may not discover this error unless they test with another company or find that they do not match with a known relative for the haplogroup.
5. Will my DNA sample be stored so I can upgrade my testing? DNA testing for genealogy began in 2000 and is still evolving. We do not know what the future holds, but we know that more and more tests are available every year. Some companies do not keep your sample so you must pay for another kit to test further. This would be impossible for a tester’s family to do if the tester dies. Other companies keep the sample for many years and allow you to upgrade using the same sample.
6. What tests are available? Tests vary from company to company. Each company does not test the same markers; therefore, comparing someone who matches you from another company isn’t as easy as looking at the results and often doesn’t test enough of the same markers to get a clear picture of how close your match could be. Some companies only offer a few tests and appear to have no plans for changing that. Other companies offer a wide variety as well as combination tests (Ydna and mtDNA as one test for a person). Some companies are always adding new options to better serve their customers.
7. How is the company’s customer service? This may be difficult to answer unless you know others who have tested with a particular company. However, it is not impossible to determine a company’s reputation from their customers if you attempt the following:
a. Join the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) at www.isogg.org and ask the other members about their experiences. This society is non-profit and requests that you tell others about genetic genealogy. That is their only requirement … to help spread the word about DNA testing for genealogy. This email list is monitored by experts, but can be overwhelming in volume. Consider getting it in digest form or check it online.
b. In some companies you can go to the website and find the administrator of any project. Email this person to see how the company is treating them. Other companies do not provide this service, however.
c. Email me. I have friends who have dealt with all the major companies, and I have met testers who have used these companies. I can provide you with comments about each of the major companies from both testers and administrators.
8. What is the cost of the tests? Many of us are always looking for a bargain. However, the cost should be the last consideration as this is a product that can be very helpful to our genealogy research and is of great use over time. With it we can prove or disprove our lineages and find matches today or in ten years. A wise consumer will seek a reliable company which provides the best of the above points before placing cost as the top priority.
Cost varies from company to company and will change within a company as sales are often available and as over time the prices are falling due to new techniques and equipment that requires less time in the lab to process. The best approach to this concern is to set your goal for testing, select the test that best fits your needs, and then compare the cost per marker for each company that fits your testing needs. Sales are usually unpredictable since you never know when one will happen. Some companies will allow you to test a few markers and upgrade any time later which helps you afford a larger test sections at a time.
"There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person's lawful prey." John Ruskin (1819-1900)
(NOTE: This quote hangs on the wall in every Baskin Robbins ice cream store, but sources indicate the author of this statement is not necessarily John Ruskin.)
©Aulicino, 23 May 2009