Using DNA in Your Genealogy: Tips from Blaine Bettinger

DNA is a powerful tool to use in our genealogy research. It can also feel incredibly overwhelming. I sat down with Blaine Bettinger, the Genetic Genealogist, for his tips on how to get started, what to keep in mind, and how to work through all of those matches that we have.

Using DNA in Your Genealogy


(Click the "play" arrow to watch this short video with Blaine.)

Key Takeaways for Using DNA in Your Genealogy

  • Focus on the continents in your ethnicity estimate, not the countries.
  • Ancestry's new Genetic Communities are Blaine's "favorite new things" in genetic genealogy.
  • Be systematic with contacting your matches. Blaine suggests looking at the relationships first, rather than looking for surnames or locations. (I have some insight as to why your DNA matches aren't responding and what you can do to help.)
  • ​Blaine tells us what a centimorgan is -- at least as far as genealogists need to think about it.
  • AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe each have their pros and cons; Blaine explains what they are and what they mean for our research.
  • Download your data from Ancestry or wherever you tested and use third-party tools like GEDMatch to get more results.
  • Blaine's one piece of advice for anyone getting started: The more tree information you have when you get started, the better off you'll be. (He also gives his opinion as to whether or not DNA testing will replace "traditional" research.)

Links Mentioned

(Note: the link to Blaine's book on Amazon is an affiliate link.)

​What about you? Are you overwhelmed when you think about using DNA? What discoveries have you made with DNA in your genealogy research?

Posted: July 6, 2017.

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  • I love that people who test with Ancestry, for example, can also upload their results to Family Tree DNA and unlock their tools for a nominal fee ($19). I also took advantage of the ability to upload DNA to MyHeritage for free. So lately, I’ve been telling people who ask to start with Ancestry DNA first, if their goal is genealogical, and then upload their raw data to Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, and GEDMATCH. 🙂

  • Alas, checking for common surnames is not a great hint for Scandinavian and other patronymic cultures. Ancestry is not set up to deal well with them, resulting in many “hints” that share a name of the ptincipal but may not even be of the same nationality.

  • Great information on the Genealogy DNA connection. The 4th cousin or closer information is very helpful!