RootsTech 2019 Playbook for the Hail Mary of Genealogy—DNA

RootsTech is coming to the Salt Lake Convention Center February 27 through March 2, 2019 and preparation is a key to success. Now is the time to take advantage of early registration discounts!

When it comes to RootsTech, the largest genealogy conference in the world, consider the specific goals you want to achieve at the conference. If one of your goals is to learn more about DNA testing and genetic genealogy, this playbook is for you!

RootsTech offers sessions targeted to those who are rookies and those with a little more experience. DNA testing and genetic genealogy can be the “Hail Mary” that wins your Family History and Genealogy Bowl!

Why DNA?

There are three reasons individuals test their DNA for genetic genealogy: 1) to learn ethnicity estimates, 2) to connect with genetic cousins for reunions or for information about their common heritage paper trail, and 3) to discover personal health information. In the past at RootsTech, there have been opportunities to learn all you need to make informed decisions for each of these scenarios.

This year RootsTech is scheduled to offer about 35 sessions covering genetic genealogy, with a few pre-registration lab classes, to inform and educate participants on this timely topic. Although it has not yet been announced, the Expo Hall has hosted five genetic genealogy companies in the past. If they return, representatives will be available to answer your questions: 23andMe, AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, LivingDNA, and MyHeritage DNA.


1. Create a list of your questions. First, write down any DNA questions you have at this point. When you have finished reading this post and its associated links, review your questions to see if you have discovered your answers. If not, organize them and bring them to RootsTech. You will then be prepared to ask these questions in any session where the presenter offers a time for Q&A, or you can bring your questions to the Expo Hall to have your questions answered by representatives of the different DNA companies. Clear, concise, and thoughtful questions are always easier for the experts to answer.

2. Define your goals. Ideally, your first question is “why.” Why do you want to take a DNA test? What do you hope to learn? What genealogical problem do you want to solve? Who might hold the genetic key(s) to solving your proverbial brick wall? Remember that DNA is only one type of evidence. It does not stand alone to prove your lineage. Knowing why you are testing and who you want to test will help you determine what type of tests (see below) to purchase and the quantity of kits, too! Vendors at RootsTech have the reputation of offering the lowest prices on DNA kits at the conference, although the actual prices have varied from year to year.

Be aware that pre-registration for DNA lab sessions is required.

3. Become familiar with the 5 DNA companies typically represented in the Expo Hall. This is the most time-consuming part in preparing for RootsTech. If you are planning to test your DNA as a result of what you learn at this conference, become familiar with the 5 DNA companies and what DNA tests are offered by each. Also understand the legal notices for each company, such as their terms of service and privacy policies. Each company’s legal notices are different. Presenters have their own vested interests as employees, affiliates, and business owners and may only cover a portion of relevant material in any given session. Time is limited. Not all companies may be represented in each session you attend. Understanding the legal notices before coming to RootsTech frees you to make informed decisions at the conference. Most, if not all, companies will offer special pricing on their kits at the conference. Many individuals test with more than one company.

A Note About Terms and Conditions

As individuals learn more about genetic genealogy, questions arise. Some of them are legal and are best answered by an attorney without a vested interest in the business of genetic genealogy or even within the genealogy community. Opinions vary throughout the genealogy community and beyond. Each company has its own terms of service and opportunities to opt in or opt out of research studies and to allow degrees for sharing your genetic information. One common question is, Who obtains the rights to my genetic information? It is a good question to ask each company you consider testing with because you must be comfortable with their answer.

4. Create a DNA testing game plan. Creating a DNA testing plan will provide focus, save you money, and give you the best chance of answering your research questions. Be familiar with each of the 3 DNA tests used for genealogical purposes, and be confident that the kit you order will answer the family history question you want answered.

There are 3 tests offered for genealogical purposes:

  • Autosomal DNA, atDNA, is the collaborative DNA from all of your ancestors, male and female, that recombined to define you. It is the DNA from which your ethnic origin estimates are derived as far as scientists and others in related fields can currently determine. These estimates are subject to modification as the reference panels on which the results are based are modified. All 5 companies offer this test. Some companies identify matches to the X chromosome. One good question to ask each company is, How many SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) are tested by your company? [1] The more SNPs, the more comprehensive the results. This is the DNA test that assists you in finding living cousin matches with others who have tested.
  • Y-chromosome DNA, Y-DNA, is the DNA that defines paternal lineage and is inherited only by males; it is passed down from father to son. It provides positive identification of the biological paternal family and outlines the migration pattern of direct paternal ancestors (from son to father, to father, etc.) as far as science can currently identify. Testing for yourself, it is defined by the top line of your traditional pedigree chart. It is a male-only test, so females must find a male descendant of that particular lineage, such as a brother, father, paternal uncle, or paternal nephew, to test for this information. Family Tree DNA is the only major company to offer this as an independent test for genealogical purposes. There are also many surname projects administered through Family Tree DNA.
  • Mitochondrial DNA, mtDNA, is the DNA inherited by all of a mother’s children, but passed on only to the next generation by females. It identifies the maternal migration pattern (from son or daughter to mother, etc.) as far as science can currently determine. Testing for yourself, it is defined by the bottom line of your traditional pedigree chart. Family Tree DNA is the only major company to offer full sequencing of the mitochondrial genome for genealogical purposes.

DNA results are just another source like vital records, censuses, probate or land records. They can assist in extracting one’s biological heritage. It is important to note that a DNA test may or may not provide the answer to your question, or it may provide an answer that leaves you or others in your family uncomfortable. Expectations of extending your lineage must be managed. Not all individuals who take a DNA test find generations of ancestors. Many online trees contain misinformation, and DNA testing is not a short cut to obtain a verified pedigree. In addition, an individual must be prepared to accept that an identified living cousin through DNA may not want to have contact or establish a relationship with the one tested.

Not all individuals need DNA testing to answer their family history questions. But, DNA testing offers those who have unanswered questions, such as adoptees, amazing results in extending their biological pedigree. It is a source that relies on the permission of family members to obtain. All people who test must agree to the legal notices, such as terms of service and privacy policy, of the company they select for testing. These policies are different for each company and are best read in an environment conducive to understanding the terms so read these documents in the coming months.

Genetic genealogy is an exciting and developing field. It can provide answers to family mysteries. It has brought joy to many and sorrow to a few. It is a topic worth learning about so you can make an educated decision about how DNA testing can potentially help you strengthen your family relationships among the living and add to your family tree. One book that I recommend to you for foundational information is The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine T. Bettinger. It is available on Amazon. Although you pay no additional fee, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Not registered for RootsTech? There are ongoing 4-day pass giveaways through November. If you register now and win, RootsTech will reimburse you at your rate of purchase. Find a list of current giveaways at Conference Keepers. For information about The Single Leaf RootsTech 2019 Giveaway, subscribe to this blog. :-)

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is for information only. The final decision to act upon this information is your own and you take sole responsibility for all outcomes.

Note: People ask me why I do not use the term “Super Bowl” in genealogy football. For the record, “Super Bowl” is a registered trademark of the NFL and, for the love of the game, I wouldn’t want to infringe upon it. :-)

[1]“A single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP, pronounced snip) is a DNA sequence variation occurring when a single nucleotide adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), or guanine (G]) in the genome (or other shared sequence) differs between members of a species or paired chromosomes in an individual.” International Society of Genetic Genealogy. “Single-nucleotide polymorphism”. ( accessed September 30, 2018).

About RootsTech

RootsTech, hosted by FamilySearch, is a global conference celebrating families across generations, where people of all ages are inspired to discover and share their memories and connections. This annual event has become the largest of its kind in the world, attracting tens of thousands of participants worldwide.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I am designated as an official ambassador to the RootsTech Conference and, as such, I am provided complimentary admission and other services to accomplish my duties. Nevertheless, I have been with RootsTech since its inception and with its predecessor for many years as a paid participant. As always, my coverage and opinions are my own and are not affected by my current status. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Copyright © 2018. Lynn Broderick, a.k.a., the Single Leaf. All Rights Reserved.

One thought on “RootsTech 2019 Playbook for the Hail Mary of Genealogy—DNA

  1. Pingback: It’s National DNA Day! – The Single Leaf

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