Review: Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy

What’s your learning style? How do you like to learn more about using DNA in your genealogy?


Everyone learns best according to his/her own learning style. Some learn best in live lectures with the chance to ask questions. Some look for video presentations they can watch as often as needed. Some thrive in hands-on opportunities. And some would most prefer a book they can study and/or refer to whenever a new question pops up. (That’s me!)

Those in the last category who want to learn how to use DNA in genealogy may have struggled to find up-to-date and helpful books—until now.

Two new books on genetic genealogy were published in September 2016, and I highly recommend each of them! This post reviews the first, and I’ll talk about the second in my next blog post.

Blaine T. Bettinger is the author of The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy (Cincinnati:  Family Tree Books, 2016). Blaine is a frequent presenter on DNA topics, blogs at and brings a unique combination of assets to the table. He has a Ph.D. in biochemistry (he knows the science). He has a J.D. and is a practicing lawyer by day (he understands issues like privacy concerns and ethics that DNA testing raises). He’s a trustee of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and has completed the ProGen course of study (he knows genealogy.)  And he’s an experienced and talented communicator in conveying complex material in a way that everyday genealogists can understand.

I know when I consider buying a non-fiction book, I want to see the Table of Contents, to get an idea on the scope of the material. Here it is [with a few comments in brackets added by me]:

Part One. Getting Started.

  1. Genetic Genealogy Basics
  2. Common Misconceptions
  3. Ethics and Genetic Genealogy

Part Two. Selecting a Test.

  1. Mitochondrial-DNA (mtDNA) Testing
  2. Y-Chromosomal (Y-DNA) Testing
  3. Autosomal-DNA (atDNA) Testing [e.g. FamilyFinder test at FamilyTreeDNA, or tests at 23andMe and AncestryDNA, etc.]
  4. X-Chromosomal (X-DNA) Testing

Part Three. Analyzing and Applying Test Results.

  1. Third-Party Autosomal-DNA Tools [e.g. Gedmatch, DNAGedcom, etc.]
  2. Ethnicity Estimates
  3. Analyzing Complex Questions with DNA
  4. Genetic Testing for Adoptees
  5. The Future of Genetic Genealogy


Appendix A. Comparison Guides [a flowchart of which test to use; chart comparing companies]

Appendix B. Research Forms [some standard genealogical forms, some DNA specific]

Appendix C. More Resources [ISOGG wiki, books, blogs, forums, and mailing lists]


Some of the key points I’d like to highlight are these:

I give a number of genetic genealogy presentations, as part of the Indiana DNA Central Interest Group, and I can tell you that nearly all of the questions we get at these sessions are answered in this book. It is comprehensive. It is also full of screen captures so you can see in the book what you’ll be looking at online.  And the pages are in color!!! I can’t stress enough how valuable that is in trying to understand this material.

Blaine’s experience in explaining DNA really shines in this book: it is coherently organized, meaty, and yet clear.

Is it for everyone using DNA in their genealogy? If you’ve already taken all the kinds of DNA tests (or recruited others whose kits you manage), and you use 3rd party tools to help your analysis; if you understand triangulation and are familiar with all the online resources (like the ISOGG wiki and blogs and forums where citizen scientists are exploring the latest theories and observations—then you probably know or are comfortable finding most of the what Blaine provides in this basic manual.

For myself, I still like to have a copy at my fingertips for when I want to see or share charts and I’m not online. The chart to show which of your ancestors might have passed down an X-chromosome to you? It’s here. The chart that shows you what relationships are supported based on the amount of shared DNA, based on Blaine’s crowd-sourced study of 10,000 DNA testers? It’s here. The chart that illustrates how you may have genealogical ancestors but have no DNA from some of them? It’s here too.

It’s also great to have a resource in-hand to lend to family whom I’m trying to interest in DNA testing.

You can find this valuable new reference here from Family Tree Books (associated with Family Tree Magazine):  Shop FamilyTree.  List price is $29.99 (color pages, remember!) but sale prices are frequent and shipping is usually free. Or check on Amazon or other booksellers for price and availability.

Stay tuned later this week for my review of the second book: Genetic Genealogy in Practice by Blaine Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne.


Ann Raymont (c) 2016



2 thoughts on “Review: Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy

  1. Pingback: Announcing “The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy” – The Genetic Genealogist

  2. Pingback: The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy – Adoptee Reading Resource

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