DNA: Beyond the Basics

Take a unique DNA journey with us — beyond the basics.

We’ve teamed up with DNA expert Diahan Southard to explore genetic connections in fun and exciting ways. The DNA activities in this 21-day experiment go beyond traditional genealogical tasks. In fact, they are short, simple, and engaging. These family-friendly activities include: exploring DNA ethnicity percentages, taking a virtual trip – DNA style, managing DNA surprises, and more! Whether you are a DNA beginner or looking for that next step, this plan will help you with your DNA connections. 

Preparation for the DNA Plan (Day Zero) 

If you haven’t taken a DNA test yet, start by participating in our 7 Day DNA Plan or follow these steps before you start your 21 day challenge: 

  1. Consider these questions before you test (including reasons not to test). If you choose to continue…. 
  2. Read this comparison of DNA testing companies. 
  3. Order a DNA test. 
  4. If you are adopted or have unknown parentage, read this article.

Now that you have your DNA results you can follow this 21 day plan to help guide you through discovering and exploring all that your DNA has to offer. As you follow the plan, use your chosen DNA site. 

Start your experiment when you have DNA test results in hand! 

Jump ahead to the day you’d like to see.

Be sure to take the pre experiment survey before you start and come back and complete the post experiment survey when you are done.

Day 1

DNA Friendly Tree

Be sure you have a DNA-friendly family tree attached to your DNA test results. (What’s a DNA-friendly family tree like?) Don’t have a family tree? Here are 3 ways to get a family tree quickly. Here’s how to add a family tree to your DNA test results.


Day 2

Where are you from?

Explore your DNA ethnicity percentages. Watch this 5-minute video about how DNA ethnicity works (and how well it works).  

Tip: Use our “Where I come From” Meme (MMM) to share your DNA results  in a fun shareable way.


Enjoy a 20% discount on your copy of Your DNA Guide -- The Book using coupon code: 21DAYCONNECT

Day 3

Compare Your Ethnicity

Compare your family tree to your DNA ethnicity to see how closely they align (here’s how to do this if you’re a FamilySearch user). If they don’t match up exactly, that’s okay!

Tip:  If there’s a wide discrepancy, make note of it  in case you later have unexpected results that might explain it. 


Day 4

Plan for the Unexpected

Before exploring your DNA matches, think about the possibility of unexpected results–for you or someone related to you. Read this story about a woman who realized her family tree held answers for a DNA cousin who was seeking her birth family. Consider how you might cultivate that kind of genealogical generosity.

Tip: Today share with us on our social channels the reasons why getting your DNA is important to you (insert social channels)

Day 5

Explore Your DNA

Explore your DNA match list. This short video describes What is a DNA Match? DNA Matches are your genetic relatives who have also tested at the same company. What matches do you recognize? At the top of your match page is a search box. Spend a few minutes searching your matches by surname to see what results you get. Take a moment to appreciate the fact that iit was your DNA that connected you!

Tip: Share with us your favorite or most interesting find on our social channels

Day 6

DNA Sharing is Caring

Focus on your shared DNA. Your testing company reports your relationship to your matches in terms of how much DNA you share. Usually, the more DNA you share, the more closely you’re related. Learn how the amount of DNA you share hints at how you might be related. 


Tip: If you have any half siblings, cousins or other relatives, check out this chart to help you analyze your results.

Day 7

Send a Note

Continue exploring your DNA match list. Depending on where you’ve tested and what information has been shared, you may be able to see where your matches live; compare your ethnicity results; and even compare your family trees. Find someone interesting and send them a short note to introduce yourself. 


Tip: Here are some tips for contacting your matches.

Day 8

Take a Virtual Trip - DNA Style

Go on a virtual journey with your DNA. Is your DNA–either your ethnicity or your match list–revealing an important ancestral location? Learn something about it. Watch a travel documentary or read a travel guide about that place, or visit it via Google Earth. Read an inspiring story about connecting to an ancestral homeland using your DNA.

Tip: Learn why it is important to connect with your homeland. Watch a video from  this video series and use FamilySearch.org’s Where I Am I From – My Heritage Tool to learn more about your homelands.

Day 9

Cousins Explained

Learn about removed cousins. Even if you already know what a removed cousin is, refresh your memory. Read this explanation. (It includes an important bit about whether you’re HIS first cousin once removed or whether he’s YOUR first cousin once removed.) You’ll likely come across a lot of removed cousins in your DNA match list!

Day 10

Managing DNA Surprises


If you think you might be discovering a surprise in your DNA matches, read these tips. Be aware of support available to those who discover unexpected parents through DNA testing. If you meet someone who could use this support, tell them about it. 

Connections Shop

Help make some family connections with these grab and print gifts.

Day 11

Tree Exploration

Explore some of your matches’ family trees. Find a match who has posted a family tree (preferably with more than a few names in it) and review it for any familiar ancestral names or places. Not every match posts a public family tree or links their tree to their DNA. Here’s how to explore unlinked trees for your AncestryDNA matches. 

Day 12

Take Advantage of the Notes

Add notes to your DNA matches. By now, you may have started to figure out who some of your matches are, based on your family trees, their usernames, and the like. As you identify someone, add a note to their profile so you’ll remember who they are.

Day 13

Group Your Matches

Find a match toward the top of your list (preferably one you know). Use your testing company’s shared matches tool to identify other matches who are related to both of you. Label these matches (if you don’t know what branch of the family they belong to, label them with the match you used to create the network). 

Congratulations! You just created your first genetic network!


Day 14

Mastering Mystery Ancestors

 Learn how DNA can help you identify mystery ancestors by watching this quick video. Then continue creating more genetic networks. Find a match toward the top of your list who is not in the genetic network you created already. Run the shared matches tool with that person to identify other matches who are related to both of you. Label these matches, just like yesterday. 

Day 15

The More Family the Better

 Encourage another relative to take a DNA test. Is there a family member you think would enjoy exploring their DNA, too? Or an older-generation relative still living? A sibling who might want to compare ethnicity results? Or a relative whose shared matches with you might help you create a genetic network? 

Tip: Consider these tips for encouraging a relative to take a DNA test

Day 16

Expand Your Tree

By now, you may be realizing that if you expand your family tree to include more siblings of your ancestors (and their descendants), you’ll have a better shot at placing your matches on your family tree. Choose a family line and generation of interest and start looking for siblings and their families. 

Tip: Here’s a strategy for how to identify more children born to an ancestral couple.

Day 17

Look For New Matches

Have any new matches appeared that you haven’t looked at yet? Your testing company likely allows you to sort your matches by those you haven’t reviewed, yet. Test this feature today!

Enjoying this 21 Day Plan?

Explore our our library of themed plans and other ideas for connecting with family past and present.

Day 18

Solve a DNA Mystery

Get inspired! Read this short story about how a genealogist used DNA to verify the identity of an ancestor he wasn’t sure about. Do you have any mystery ancestors within the range of a 3x great grandparent whose identity you would like to explore using DNA? Research your DNA connections and see if you can make any new discoveries related to this mystery ancestor. 

Day 19

Reality Check

DNA alone can’t completely build you a solid, accurate family tree any more than genealogy alone can do the job. Consider the limits of DNA testing and how these apply to your possibly-growing ambitions for extending your family tree using DNA. What questions do you still have after working your dna these past 18 days? Share them with us and lets help each other find the answers.

Day 20

Connecting Workarounds

Reach out to unresponsive matches. Have you reached out to matches but haven’t heard back? Maybe they’re not checking their testing company emails. Consider Googling your DNA matches to learn more about how you might be related, or to find alternate ways to contact them. 

Day 21

Find Your Story

Everyone’s DNA journey is unique. How has exploring your DNA these past 21 days changed you? You may or may not have made any startling discoveries, but it’s likely you’ve felt some new kind of curiosity, appreciation or awareness. DNA stories are especially intriguing, even to relatives who may not be interested in traditional genealogy. Share your DNA Story with your friends and family on social media and invite them to join in on your search. Use our Relative Finder Make My Meme to create a visual you can easily share with your story.

Tip:  Here are tips on how to tell a good DNA story.

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That's A Wrap!

We've concluded our experiment!

Thank you for participating! We've loved connecting with you!

We want to keep our resources available as long as possible, and will continue to do so while the funds last. Our products and digital downloads will also remain available through the end of the year, these funds will be used to support the website, so be sure to grab them soon. 


Complement your 21day experiment with Your DNA Guide—the Book. It takes you step-by-step through the various ways of using DNA to answer questions about your origins.


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We’re gearing up for our next experiment starting October 1, 2020 for Family History month!

We would love to have you join us! Simply sign up below and we’ll send you a reminder when the initial survey and plans are up! 

We can’t wait to participate in another experiment with you!