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How To Find Family Members With DNA Testing
Updated on January 4, 2023
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How To Find Family Members With DNA Testing

A DNA test can help you find missing family members and other potential relatives. It can locate people on their database who share some of your genes.

DNA testing companies can also give you the means to connect with them. They allow you to track down people you may be related to on some level.

For this guide, we asked our resident medical reviewer Dr. Rizza Mira to help us explain how DNA tests help you find relatives.

How To Find Family Members With DNA Testing 4

How Does A DNA Test Find Relatives?

It depends on the kind of DNA test you’re taking. In general, you want to take an ancestry test. There are three types: autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, and mtDNA tests.

Autosomal DNA Testing

Most human chromosomes are autosomes. Autosomes hold genetic information you inherit from both parents and share with everyone you’re related to.

An autosomal DNA test can help you find people directly or indirectly related to you. This includes possible relatives from maternal and paternal lines.

“Autosomal DNA tests also provide insight on medical conditions you may have inherited from either side of the family,” says Dr. Mira.

Y-DNA Testing

A son inherits Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) through his biological father. A Y-DNA test can trace your patrilineal ancestry if you're biologically male.

It can also help you find male relatives from your father’s side of the family. This includes your brother, father, paternal uncle, and paternal grandfather.

“Only males can undergo this test because they carry the Y-chromosome. Out of the 46 chromosomes, 2 of which are sex chromosomes. Women have an XX chromosome while males have an XY chromosome,” explains Dr. Mira.

mtDNA Testing

A child inherits mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) through their biological mother. An mtDNA test can trace your matrilineal ancestry, whether you’re male or female.

You can only use mtDNA tests to find female relatives from your mother’s side of the family — like a sister, mother, maternal aunt, and maternal grandmother.

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The Best DNA Tests for Finding Relatives

1. 23andMe - Our Top Pick

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23andMe DNA Test Pros

  • Comprehensive ancestry test: Track your DNA ancestry from over 1,500 different regions.
  • DNA matches: Helps you find lost and distant family members.
  • Understand your genetic traits: 23andMe tests your DNA swab for genetic markers associated with various traits, including freckles, hair, taste, and more.
  • No hidden fees: Once you pay for the test, you get full access to their services.

23andMe DNA Test Cons

  • No cross-platform support: You can't upload raw genetic data from competitors.

23andMe does all three tests: mtDNA, Y-DNA, and autosomal. Combined with a massive DNA database, it's one of the most accurate tests for ancestry. 

“23andMe DNA test compares your DNA data with profiles from possible distant relatives based on their genetic identification,” says Dr. Mira.

Here’s our 23andMe review if you want to learn more.

2. AncestryDNA

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Ancestry DNA Test Pros

  • Easy to take: Requires a small saliva swab for a DNA sample.
  • Precise ethnicity estimates: Get a detailed geographic breakdown of your ethnicity.
  • Migration patterns: Discover the migratory routes your ancestors may have taken.
  • Find lost relatives: Matches your DNA with distant relatives you may not know.
  • Raw DNA data: Downloadable results that you can use on other DNA testing companies.

Ancestry DNA Test Cons

  • Limited access: To build a family tree, you must pay monthly fees to access public records and other users' family trees.
  • Doesn't estimate your racial group: AncestryDNA only performs genetic matches based on geography, not racial profile (e.g., Asian, American, and European).

“Because of Ancestry DNA’s ability to test multiple points across a person’s genetic makeup, it has a high accuracy,” says Dr. Mira

Additional services can get expensive. But its massive database makes them one of the most trusted DNA tests. You can learn more about AncestryDNA here

4 Benefits of Finding DNA Relatives

Genetic ancestry testing can give you information about your family history and current living relatives. Here are some ways it can help you:1

1. Fill the Gaps in Your Family Tree

Family trees stretch far and wide. You can have relatives from different places around the world and not even know it.

Even if you know your parents and grandparents, there are other relatives you likely haven’t met. In some cases, family members may not even know about them.

An ancestry test can determine your closest potential DNA matches and help you connect with them. Having this knowledge can give you the confidence to reach out.

2. Find Relatives You’ve Never Met

DNA testing kits can match you with potential parents and full siblings. However, more tests are needed to confirm your biological relationship.

Testing for distant relatives can be challenging. But it’s still possible to find a genetic link. Finding long-lost relatives is one of the best benefits of DNA testing.

3. Learn About Your Biological Family

The current trend with adoptions includes an open system. This means that an adopted child may access information about his biological parents. 

In the past, many adoptions were closed and discreet. Interactions between birth mothers or parents and their adoptive families were not allowed.

If you were placed in a closed adoption, a DNA test could help you track biological relatives, including your mother and father.

Further tests are needed to confirm maternity or paternity.

You can talk to a genetic counselor first before you start your search. They can better explain how DNA tests help you find relatives.

4. Understand Your Health Risks

Learning about your biological family can be emotionally rewarding. But it has practical benefits as well.

It can uncover your family’s health history and help you predict health risks. This allows you to adjust your diet and lifestyle before it’s too late.

“Most diseases and health conditions are influenced by many factors. But knowing that you have a genetic predisposition prepares you. For instance, you can use this information to prevent diseases from developing or getting worse,” says Dr. Mira.

Knowing your family’s medical history can also help you find out which genetic risks you might pass on to your children. You can use this information to consult a genetic counselor before having children.

Accuracy of DNA Testing for Ancestry

DNA tests aren’t created equally. Some are more reliable than others. You must do extensive research before choosing a brand.

If you want the most accurate ancestry tests, you should consider:

  • The type of DNA test (e.g., autosomal, Y-DNA, and mtDNA)
  • The size of the testing company’s DNA database
  • The degree of the relationship being tested

23andMe and AncestryDNA are two of the most accurate DNA tests for finding relatives. Both direct-to-consumer (DTC) testing kits perform autosomal DNA testing. They also have a large database of users.

According to 23andMe, the reliability of their DNA results depends on the relations. Their tests are 100% accurate in detecting close family relations, like parents, siblings, or first cousins. But they are less accurate for distant relatives like second cousins.2

It can help you find third cousins with up to 90% accuracy. But a fifth cousin has a 15% chance of being detected.2

The same goes with Ancestry DNA. Your chances of finding closer relations are much higher than finding distant relatives.

How to Use DNA Tests to Find Relatives

If you’re ready to find relatives with a DNA test, here are four tips to get started:

  1. Work with DNA services that have large databases. They can compare your results with more people and more genetic data. This increases your odds of finding genetic matches.
  2. Upload your raw DNA data for DNA matching. It’s one of the things you can do with your DNA so you can find genetic relatives on other platforms. It also lets people with similar DNA find you.
  3. Connect with DNA matches. Most services let you get in touch with people you may be closely related to. You can connect with them online and find other ways to communicate if they agree.
  4. Respect the privacy of your DNA match lists. Not everyone wants to be found. A genetic match may also not know of your birth or adoption. If they opt out of the program or stop communicating midway, you must respect that.

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Updated on January 4, 2023
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2 sources cited
Updated on January 4, 2023
Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.
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