DNA Q&A: Convincing a Relative to Take a DNA Test

By Diahan Southard

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Q: How can I convince my relative to take a DNA test?

A: As more and more genealogists are taking advantage of DNA testing in their family history, our databases are growing and more mysteries are marked as “solved.” But for many, that one illusive match that would act as the linchpin in our genetic genealogy theory just refuses to show up on our match list. Genealogists are turning to recent birth and marriage records, as well as social media outlets like Facebook, to track down the DNA that might mean the difference between a blank space, and a name, on their pedigree chart.

Regardless of whether the DNA you seek is in a known relative, or a relative stranger, the process of educating and persuading them to test can be summed up in one word: possibility.

Possibilities to Ask Your Relative to Consider

First of all, there is a possibility that the person you are talking to might be the only person in the whole world that carries just the right mix of genetics and genealogy to help you find out exactly what happened decades ago, and you need to help them understand that. Let them see that they represent a kind of historical record that actually can’t be found anywhere else on earth. Let them know that their DNA has been handed down generation after generation, and after all these years, we have a way to read that record to learn more about the lives of ancestors who left few other kinds of records.


However, in all of your excitement about digging up the past, don’t forget that there is a possibility that this information could affect their present. While you don’t have to bring doom and gloom, or bring out any worst case scenarios, you do need to let your relative know that when testing there is always a possibility that you will learn something about your family that you don’t already know. Make sure they understand that this test has the power to reveal information about their close relationships, not just their ancestral connections.

Lastly, encourage them with the possibility that the results of this test will uncover a family story that can be passed on to future generations. Remind that that even just by having their DNA tested they are creating a record that uniquely represents them, and one that can be passed on to future generations.

What to Say to a Relative About DNA Testing

Perhaps your conversation with your cousin will go something like this:


You: “Hey cuz! I am hot on the trail of our ancestor William Bradley – remember, he is the one that we think had the cattle farm in Wyoming?”

Cuz: “You mean the one who kept killing off his wives?”

You: “Um, well, I guess they did seem to die pretty quickly after he married them… any-who, there is a possibility that he had a brother that we didn’t know about, and I may have found him through DNA testing. But in order to be sure, we need someone else tested. As it turns out- you have exactly the DNA we are looking for!”

Cuz: “Is that right? Huh. Not really sure if I want to get into all that…”

You: “It is pretty easy, I can have the DNA test kit sent to your house and help you with taking the sample. I can do all the computer stuff too, if you want. In your results there is a possibility that you will find close relatives, like any first or second or even fourth cousins who have also taken the test, as well as a report about your ancestral origins.”

Cuz: “Sounds like you’ve got it all worked out! And you are paying for it too, right…?”

While it may seem daunting to approach someone about testing, you will find that the possibility of being a part of something greater than themselves is an opportunity that many will want to take.

A version of this article appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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