So you’re of Dutch descent and want to take a DNA test to find cousins in the Netherlands or learn more about your ancestors. How do you go about doing that?
In general, Dutch people are guarded about their privacy. Many people in the Netherlands have very complete trees because of the excellent records and don’t feel the need for DNA testing. As a result, DNA testing for genealogical purposes is not that common in the Netherlands, though recent marketing campaigns have started to make it more popular.
To maximize your chances of finding matches, you want to be in the databases of all the different testing companies. Check their Terms & Conditions to make sure you agree with the way they can use your data before taking the test. I recommend starting with autosomal tests. If your brick wall is further back in time, you may consider Y-DNA testing or Mitochondrial testing.
Autosomal DNA testing is used for tracing ancestors in both the male and female lines in the past six or so generations, although you can share autosomal DNA with more distant ancestors. Autosomal DNA tests are the most popular DNA tests.
Autosomes are the 22 pairs of non-sex chromosomes. A parent passes on one chromosome of each pair to a child. The chromosome can be the full paternal chromosome or the full maternal chromosome of the parent, but usually is a mix of the two thanks to cross-over and recombination. For the child, half their autosomal DNA will come from your the and half will come from the father, but before that, it’s pretty random which grandparent contributed which segment.
By comparing your autosomal DNA with that of other people in the database, the testing company finds matches. These people share segments of DNA with you. The more autosomal DNA you share, the closer the connection.
Since autosomal DNA isn’t limited to one specific line, it’s the most popular DNA test. It can help you find matches who share an ancestor about six generations ago, or even further. Beyond second cousins, there are no guarantees that you will share autosomal DNA, but you can share autosomal DNA with much more distant cousins.
Autosomal DNA tests will give you two types of results:
- Lists of matches; people who have taken the same test and who share autosomal DNA with you. This is the most useful part of the result for genealogical purposes.
- Ethnicity predictions, which can be pretty bad below the continent level and should be taken with a grain of salt. Many people are fascinated by these results though, so they can be the reason for people to test.
Autosomal testing strategy for maximizing matches on Dutch lines:
- Take a test at Ancestry. They only offer autosomal testing and have the largest database in the wold. The majority of their users are from the United States. This test has only been available in the Netherlands for a few years, and is not advertized in the Netherlands. Few people from the Netherlands use this, but you may find Americans of Dutch descent. Ancestry’s genetic communities may allow you to filter for people who appear genetically Dutch. Ancestry does not accept uploads from other companies, so if you want to be in their database, you have to buy a test with them.
- Upload your Ancestry data to MyHeritage. Many Dutch people use MyHeritage for their online trees. MyHeritage is marketing their DNA test on Dutch TV and to Dutch people on social media, so it’s become the most popular place for Dutch people to test. You save money by uploading your Ancestry results rather than taking a test directly at MyHeritage, which is another option.
- Take an autosomal DNA test or upload your Ancestry results to FamilyTreeDNA. The FamilyTreeDNA autosomal test is called the “FamilyFinder” test. For a long time, FamilyTreeDNA was the most popular DNA test in the Netherlands, since they were the only company to ship to the Netherlands for a reasonable price. An added advantage of testing with FamilyTreeDNA directly is that they bank your DNA for future testing. Instead of taking the FamilyFinder test, you can also upload the raw data from your Ancestry or 23andMe test to FamilyTreeDNA but these tests aren’t fully compatible and won’t give you all the matches. Since uploading results doesn’t store the sample, I recommend testing at FamilyTreeDNA directly if you can afford it.
- Take a test at 23andMe. Either the “Ancestry Service” or the “Health and Ancestry Service” is fine. Some Dutch people take this test to find out about about genetic traits and health risks. 23andMe does not accept transfers from other companies, so if you want to be in their database, you have to buy a test with them.
These tests are aimed at giving you the optimal results for finding Dutch matches. If you can only afford one test, I recommend testing at Ancestry and uploading those results to MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA. In the Netherlands, MyHeritage is the most popular testing company for these types of tests. But Ancestry does not allow uploads while MyHeritage does, hence my advice to test at Ancestry and then upload to MyHeritage.
You want to test as many family members as you can, especially from the oldest generation since they will share the most DNA with any particular ancestor. Siblings inherit different segments of DNA from their parents, so if parents aren’t available, test as many siblings (or aunts and uncles) as you can. Testing first and second cousins is also helpful, since they can help you figure out what side of your tree a match is on. The more people in your family you test, the easier it will be to sort out your matches and see what line the shared ancestor must be on.
Y-DNA testing is used to trace the strict male line. The Y-chromosome is one of chromosomes that determine the sex of the child. It is passed on intact (with a chance of some mutations) from father to son. A Y-DNA test compares markers with other people who took the test. The more markers you share, the more likely it is that you are closely related. Since only men have a Y-chromosome, only men can take a Y-DNA test.
Taking a Y-DNA test is most useful if you have a more distant brick wall. You can test a brother, father, uncle, cousin or any other male in the strict male line (usually: family name) you’re interested in. For example, if you’re a woman interested in your father’s male line, you can test your father or brother. If you’re interested in your mother’s male line, you can test your mother’s brother or maternal grandfather.
If you find a close Y-match, the number of differences in markers will give you a rough estimate of how many generations ago the shared ancestor was. If you and your Y-match both take an autosomal test, you may be able to refine that estimate.
You can order Y-DNA tests from FamilyTreeDNA. I recommend starting at 37 markers. If you don’t have any matches at that level, chances are slim that you will have good matches at a higher level. If you do have many matches, you can always upgrade later.
You can join the Netherlands DNA Project or a project dedicated to your haplogroup to compare your DNA with others. There may even be a surname project that sorts out the different families by that name.
Mitochondrial DNA testing is used to trace the strict female line. Mitochondrial DNA is passed on by the mother to all her children. Both men and women can test, but only women pass it on so the test will only reflect their maternal line. Mitochondrial DNA mutates very slowly, much slower than Y-DNA, so even a perfect mtDNA match could mean that the shared ancestor was hundreds or thousands of years ago.
Mitochondrial DNA tests are expensive, so few people take them. Combined with the slow mutation rate, this makes a mitochondrial DNA test not good for “fishing” for cousins to help you break down brick walls. They can help you prove a line though, for example if you want to know which of two wives was your ancestor. You could test known strict female-line descendants of the candidates and compare them to a strict female-line descendant of your brick wall ancestor. Taking a mtDNA test will also help to build the databases, so in the future more people will find matches.
If you want to do a mitochondrial DNA test, I recommend the Full Sequence Test from FamilyTreeDNA. This is the highest resolution test. There are cheaper tests that only test part of the mitochondrial DNA, but any matches you find there could share ancestors many thousands or even tens of thousands of year ago.