Category Archives: DNA

Genetic Genealogy: it’s all in the Hill (DNA) – Part 2, “Operation Spit and Swab”

Last month I wrote about my decision to embark on a genetic genealogy journey.  This included a FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) Y-DNA 37 and mitochondrial “Full Sequence” test for dad; a FTDNA Family Finder autosomal test for me; and an autosomal test for both mum and dad with

The test kits from both companies arrived speedily. The Ancestry kits ordered on 19 June arrived on 23 June; the FTDNA kits ordered on 17 June arrived on 26 June.

It was now time to commence what I described as “Operation Spit and Swab.”

I decided it would be too much to inflict both tests on the same day for my dad. So the Ancestry tests were undertaken on the evening of 26 June, as dad was home from the nursing home for the weekend.  Timing was key. You are advised not to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum for 30 minutes before taking this test. So I had to work round dad’s tablet regime.

Ancestry DNA Test Instructions

Ancestry DNA Test Instructions

The test itself involved spitting into a small tube. Although the kit explains it amounts to less than ¼ teaspoon, I was a little concerned it may prove problematic as my parents are elderly and dad is not in the best of health.  I also think they were both a little daunted initially because the tube looks to be deeper than it actually is. In reality dad had no difficulty. And, although mum took longer, I suspect this owed something to the fact she had just emerged from a hot bath.

Tests completed and activated online, they were posted (return postage included) on 27 June and I now await the results. The processing time according to the website is 6-8 weeks. I’m now at the obsessive site stalking stage, tracking the progress of the little vials of spit. Mum’s arrived on 3 July 2015, although I was temporarily thrown  by the American date format of 07/03/2015! Dad’s is still somewhere in the post.

I have also linked the tests to my Ancestry Family Tree. This is proving to be the most time-consuming activity, because I realised that my Ancestry (private) tree is so old; and I have a backlog of data to input into my Family Historian package so it is not simply a case of uploading a GEDCOM file. I also wonder if it is worth linking the tests to my full family tree or whether I should just create a specific direct (public) ancestor tree for the purposes of the DNA tests.

28 June was the date set for the swab element of “Operation Spit and Swab”. The advice it it is best to conduct this test first thing in the morning before brushing teeth, eating, drinking or putting in dentures, (fortunately the latter was not a consideration for either of us).  It meant getting to my parent’s house as soon as dad woke up on Sunday morning, an early start on a non-work day for me.

FTDNA instructions

FTDNA instructions

The test involves two 30-60 second swab scrapings, one for swab for each cheek. These swabs are then inserted into separate vials.

Dad, who has undergone the Ancestry and FTDNA tests, said they were equally simple to do. The most difficult element  for me was planning the optimum time.

Both dad and my swab kits were posted on 29 June. Postage is not included from England[1] with FTDNA, so this cost £3.50 per kit.

Projected timescales for the autosomal test is similar to However a FTNDA website update indicates that, as of 24 June, turnaround times for mtDNA tests are subject to delay (now anticipated to be 7 to 9 weeks); the Y-DNA tests have a slightly longer delay (11 to 13 weeks). So it pays to keep checking the website for any changes.

Once again I found setting up surnames and most distant ancestor details on the FTDNA website to be more labour-intensive than the tests.

Now it’s a case of an anxious waiting game. I will provide a further update once the results start arriving. But this could be quite some time away.


[1] Postage is prepaid for US customers

Genetic Genealogy: it’s all in the (Hill) DNA – Part 1

I have finally succumbed to the lure of genetic genealogy.  DNA testing was heavily pushed at Birmingham’s “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” earlier this year. Up until that point it was not an issue I had really given a second thought to and I did resist the hard sell on the day.

To be perfectly honest I viewed it as an “Emperor’s new clothes” type of subject and to a certain extent I still remain very sceptical about what it can offer for my tree.

Also I am more of a humanities than pure science bent so, although there is some cross-over, I found the science behind the whole DNA package a bit overwhelming.  Therefore if you are interested in that side of it you will be disappointed in my genetic genealogy adventure. This will be more about my personal genealogical DNA journey of discovery and what, if anything, it will add to my traditional family history research.

The Birmingham experience did sow the seed of interest in the field so I guess the hard sell worked to a slower, less impulsive time-frame.  Since my return I have tried to broaden my education around the subject.  I wanted to find out as much as possible before deciding whether or not to take the big leap, not to mention part with my hard-earned cash.  That is just my personality – cautious, wanting to weigh up all the options before I commit, undertaking a risk/benefit analysis type of approach.

As a first step I looked at the “International  Society of Genetic Genealogy” Website and Wiki page[1].  I read a number of informative blogs.[2]  Kerry Farmer’s book “DNA for Genealogists” gives a brief but information-packed overview of the subject, including details about the major providers. Finally I looked at the websites of the various suppliers.

My uncle died last summer, the man who got me into family history in the first place.  I realised as I read the various books and blogs on the subject that with him went my last obvious chance to undertake a Y-chromosome test for my maternal grandfather’s line.  This is one of my Irish lines, ironically the one I have had the most trouble with.

There was also the dawning recognition over the past few months that my parents will not be around for ever.  I may not have many more months and years to mull over a decision. A few years down the line I do not want the regret of not doing it when I had the chance. So for me the decision about going for testing is not around what I want to get out of it in the short-term, its more about seizing the opportunity whilst I still have it.  Wrapped up in this is an element of lodging DNA for future reference, so it is there as tests develop.Family Tree DNA

Once the decision to go for it crystallised in my mind, I had to choose which testing company to go with.  Size of database was a major factor, and within that the interest of those undertaking tests for the genealogy angle.  I am not particularly bothered about any health screening element so that swayed me against going with a company offering those services – maybe I am wrong but I had the perception that those undertaking such tests may be less interested in the genealogy element.

Linked to database size I also considered potential future growth and geographical areas covered.  Type of test offered played a part.  Finally I also have an inherent curiosity and wanted to see what each of the tests offered in terms of results.

Decision made and time to approach by parents. Dad’s initial response was to ask why I wanted to waste my money.  However he agreed to it.  Initially I intended ordering only a Y-DNA 37 test for him.  But after consideration I also decided to go for a mitochondrial “Full Sequence” test.   Not wanting to be left out I have gone for the Family Finder autosomal test for me.  I placed my order with Family Tree DNA[3] on 17 June and am now eagerly awaiting the arrival of said kits.

Mum was interested too.  So on 19 June I ordered an autosomal DNA test for her.  However I decided to go with a different company, to see how the experience compared.  I’ve placed this order with AncestryDNA[4].  At the same time I decided to order an autosomal test for dad too, though I have yet to tell him.  I only hope all the spitting and swabbing does not cause him to regret his decision to say “yes”!

Amazingly, as I’ve been writing this post the Ancestry testing kits have arrived. Astonishingly quick delivery time as it is only 23 June. Now to pass these on to my parents – and let the fun begin!

Ancestry test kits


[1] and[2] For example