DNA Q&A: Do I Need DNA Painter?

By Diahan Southard

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Q: What is DNA Painter and why do I need it (or do I?)?

A: DNA Painter falls into the category of third party tools. These are websites created to help you further use or interpret the DNA test results you received from your DNA testing company. DNA Painter has a lot to offer in this department and has become one of our leading resources for genetic genealogy. Currently DNA Painter has three main categories of services:


A really nice way to look at and view your tree with a little DNA thrown in. My favorite feature is the “mark a genetic ancestor” feature. Essentially this helps to keep track of the ancestors in your tree for whom you have found descendants in your DNA matches. For example, if I have DNA matches to my second cousins who share my great grandparents James and Hilda, I can mark James and Hilda as my genetic ancestors in my DNA Painter tree.

Chromosome Mapping

An example of chromosome mapping on DNA Painter

Perhaps you have heard of this phenomenon that has been sweeping across the genetic genealogy community. It is a really fun and interesting way to visualize the way you have received DNA from your ancestors. But it is not for the faint of heart! And rest assured, though some are using it as a tool for investigation, you don’t NEED to know how to do this in order to answer your family history mysteries.


This is by far the most impactful section of the website. Several toolsare provided, but the two tools that every genealogist will need are the Shared cM Tool, and the What Are the Odds? Tool.

Shared cM

The Shared cM Tool is based on data gathered by genetic genealogy king Blaine Bettinger. Add to that the number crunching prowess of Leah Larkin and the programming genius of Jonny Perl (the master-mind behind DNA Painter) and you have a tool that you will quickly wonder how you lived without. The tool lets you indicate the amount of DNA you share with a match and then presents you with a handful of possible relationships that are most likely based on your amount of shared DNA.

What Are The Odds?

The What Are The Odds? Tool, more affectionately known as WATO (Wh-ah-toe) has a bit of a learning curve, so be patient as you start using it. Essentially, it lets you ask where you fit into someone else’s tree. So you would draw out the pedigree chart for several of your matches who all share a common ancestor with each other. Then you add yourself into their tree as the “hypothesis” and the tool lets you know how likely it is that you fit into that spot.

No matter how you are using it, DNA Painter is a tool every genetic genealogist needs in their toolbox. Most people will be happy with the free version, though if you are feeling ambitious (or just supportive!) you may want to opt for the paid plan.

Related Reads

You have DNA test results for yourselves, siblings, cousins and even your in-laws. But what are you supposed to do with all that data? And what does it all mean, exactly? Learn how to understand your DNA matches, apply your results to your genealogy research, utilize third-party tools, and more!
Swipe away with the most useful genealogy and family tree apps that are right in the palm of your hand, and take your research on the go.

Last updated, February 2021