Would you like a free autosomal DNA kit?

I have three autosomal DNA kits to give away: two Ancestry kits and one MyHeritage kit. If you’re over 18 and a UK resident, then you can find details of how to apply for one of these below. Submissions will remain open until the end of April 2023, so get your application in as soon as you can.

Three boxed DNA testing kits are on a wooden table surface: two kits are in navy boxes from Ancestry, and the remaining kit in the middle is a colourful box from My Heritage

There are plenty of good pubs in Cambridge for nursing a pint in over the course of a quiet afternoon. Yet only one of them – The Eagle on Bene’t Street – has the distinction of being the pub where James Watson and Francis Crick announced their discovery of the structure of DNA, on 28th February 1953, the culmination of years of work by Watson, Crick and the scientists whose work they built upon, Rosalind Franklin amongst them.

70 years have now passed since that beautiful double helix was initially revealed to the world. We’ve come a long way since then: from the Sanger sequencing of the 1970s, to the conclusion of the major phase of the Human Genome Project in 2003, to the explosion in direct-to-consumer genetic testing during the past 15 years – of which we, as family historians, are key beneficiaries.

Blue plaque outside the Eagle Pub in Cambridge, UK. DNA Double Helix 1953: The secret of life. For decades the Eagle was the local pub for scientists from the nearby Cavendish Laboratory. It was here February 28th 1953 that Francis Crick and James Watson first announced their discovery of how DNA carries genetic information.
Blue plaque outside the Eagle pub in Cambridge, U.K., marking the pub’s history as the place where the structure of DNA was publicly announced. Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain image.

The incredible utility of DNA testing for studying lineages and family relationships, as well as for helping adoptees connect with their biological relatives, means that substantial numbers of us in the family history community have had our own DNA tested. Often we also encourage our relatives to test too, in the hope of acquiring all-important matches to help push our research forwards. Yet although the cost of testing has come down in price, financial viability is still a key factor when considering whether to proceed with testing ourselves, a family member or a particular target for our research.

With this in mind, I have three autosomal DNA kits to give away, one each to three UK-based researchers. I want these kits to remove the financial barriers to genetic testing for the recipients and perhaps even push forward the search for someone’s biological family, or help to develop a long-standing research project.

Why the giveaway, and why now?

Some years ago, I received a science grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation, with the aim of delivering socially-minded science projects benefitting people and communities. Most of the funding covered a science training initiative which I developed and delivered in various global locations, but there’s a small sum of money left in the funding pot and I’d love to see it used to support family historians harnessing the power of genetics in their research.

So I would like to stress that this isn’t a promotional giveaway or a competition. Applying for one of the kits doesn’t come with any requirement to share this article, register for any newsletter, or follow me on social media. This is simply about getting these DNA kits out there and helping three people or projects as soon as possible.

And a final confession: I actually had this all ready to go back at the end of 2019…and then the pandemic hit. Life, homeschooling, and a range of work-related obstacles intervened, and so I find myself yet to set these kits to work several years on. Ancestry and MyHeritage have kindly provided fresh kits to ensure all the contents are tip-top, so I just need willing kit recipients now. That’s where you come in.

Who can apply for the DNA kits?

First of all, you need to be a UK resident and aged 18 years or over. Your project should be personal and/or not-for-profit: I am unable to accept applications to support commercial investigations by professional researchers (with the exception of adoptees who might then seek assistance from a pro researcher once they receive their test results).

If you can make a good case for how one of these kits would help your research, then I’d love to hear from you, although I’m particularly keen to see them support…

  • adoptees, donor-conceived individuals and foundlings seeking to trace their birth families;
  • people tackling a complex research question which has a bearing on their identity;
  • researchers running a genealogical or one-name study of some kind which is being held back by a lack of funding for DNA testing.

As part of the International strand of this initiative, I previously awarded an AncestryDNA kit for autosomal DNA testing to the Reparational Genealogy Project, run by Carolynn Ni Lochlainn.

DNA helix shown in right handed alpha form

What will recipients have to do?

Use the DNA kit – it’s as simple as that!

Recipients will need to check in informally with me by the end of 2023 to let me know how DNA testing helped them in their research: there’s no need for formal reporting.

I’m hoping to blog about the outcomes of this initiative later in the year to help raise awareness of the role DNA testing can play in our research, but I can anonymise cases or restrict the details released if any recipient wishes to keep their identity, or elements of their investigation, private. Some of the subjects we explore in our family history are deeply personal and need to stay that way, and that’s OK.

Apply now for one of the kits!

Thanks for your interest – the application window has now closed, so I’ve removed the email submission details from this article. For transparency’s sake I’ve kept the other details below in case some of you would like these to refer to. Applications required the following details and agreement to the T&Cs linked below:

  • Write Autosomal DNA Kit as the subject line;
  • State your forename, surname and town of residence in the UK in the body of the email;
  • Confirm that you are aged 18 years or over;
  • State whether you would like to receive an Ancestry or MyHeritage kit, or would be happy with either;
  • In 100 words or fewer, explain how you would use your DNA kit if you were awarded one, and what you would like to achieve using autosomal DNA testing.

By emailing me to apply for a kit, you are agreeing to abide by the Terms and Conditions of this event. Make sure you’ve read through those and are happy with them before you proceed!

Which kit should I choose?

AncestryDNA or MyHeritage – which kit should you request in this giveaway?

Of the five main companies selling direct-to-consumer DNA kits, Ancestry has the biggest database of testers, currently standing at 23 million users. Since Ancestry doesn’t accept external uploads, you have to use an AncestryDNA kit to get onto their database. Once Ancestry has sequenced your DNA and given you your results, you can also download your kit and port it to several other companies’ databases, which do accept external uploads. So if you’re just dipping your toe into genetic genealogy waters, an Ancestry kit offers a wide pool of potential matches and versatility for onward research.

MyHeritage has a decent-sized database of around 6 million users, and unlike Ancestry, it does accept external uploads. Nonetheless, there are some advantages to using a MyHeritage kit to access their service. If you would like to assign rights for other researchers to manage your DNA kit over time, then MyHeritage only allows this for people who joined the service using one of their kits (external uploads, by contrast, have to be re-uploaded via the new researcher’s account for them to gain access). If you are likely to be involving other researchers in your work, then having a MyHeritage kit might be a good option. The company also has a good customer base in continental Europe, so if your ancestry lies there then it’s a good idea to get yourself onto their database, whether using a MyHeritage kit, or an external upload.

Three DNA kits in pretty coloured boxes are stacked up on a table. Two of the kits are in navy AncestryDNA boxes, whilst the third is in a white and purple MyHeritage box.

Some final thoughts…

DNA is an amazing tool and a powerful source of evidence in family history research. However, it can sometimes bring unexpected revelations our way, so let’s confront that elephant in the room before I start doling out these three DNA kits!

Genetic surprises can often feel like something which happens to other people, until you find yourself affected by one. Such surprises can take the form of an NPE (“Not the Parent Expected”) event, in which someone’s biological father turns out to be different from the man who raised them; the identification of unexpected half-siblings; or the discovery that an individual was donor-conceived. The NPE Friends Fellowship estimates that around 5-10% of individuals who take a direct-to-consumer DNA test receive a challenging surprise in their results; a 2009 paper by Turi King and Mark Jobling suggested an NPE rate of <5% across the population more generally.

So yes, DNA testing can bring amazing benefits to our family history research, but informed consent is really important. Ensure you’ve weighed up the possibilities and made a careful decision before jumping into genetic testing. And if you do find yourself confronting an unwanted surprise such as misattributed paternity, then organisations such as the NPE Friends Fellowship can be a great source of support.

Good Luck

Here’s wishing you the very best of luck with your application if you’d like to make a case for being awarded one of the kits. Even if you don’t have an immediate need for an autosomal DNA kit but someone you know might, then please forward them this article so they can consider applying.

I shall look forward to reading your entries in the coming days!

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