Chromosome Browser War

There has been a lot of discussion lately, and I mean REALLY a lot, about chromosome browsers, the need or lack thereof, why, and what the information really means.

For the old timers in the field, we know the story, the reasons, and the backstory, but a lot of people don’t.  Not only are they only getting pieces of the puzzle, they’re confused about why there even is a puzzle.  I’ve been receiving very basic questions about this topic, so I thought I’d write an article about chromosome browsers, what they do for us, why we need them, how we use them and the three vendors, 23andMe, Ancestry and Family Tree DNA, who offer autosomal DNA products that provide a participant matching data base.

The Autosomal Goal

Autosomal DNA, which tests the part of your DNA that recombines between parents every generation, is utilized in genetic genealogy to do a couple of things.

  1. To confirm your connection to a specific ancestor through matches to other descendants.
  2. To break down genealogy brick walls.
  3. Determine ethnicity percentages which is not the topic of this article.

The same methodology is used for items 1 and 2.

In essence, to confirm that you share a common ancestor with someone, you need to either:

  1. Be a close relative – meaning you tested your mother and/or father and you match as expected. Or, you tested another known relative, like a first cousin, for example, and you also match as expected. These known relationships and matches become important in confirming or eliminating other matches and in mapping your own chromosomes to specific ancestors.
  2. A triangulated match to at least two others who share the same distant ancestor. This happens when you match other people whose tree indicates that you share a common ancestor, but they are not previously known to you as family.

Triangulation is the only way you can prove that you do indeed share a common ancestor with someone not previously identified as family.

In essence, triangulation is the process by which you match people who match you genetically with common ancestors through their pedigree charts.  I wrote about the process in this article “Triangulation for Autosomal DNA.”

To prove that you share a common ancestor with another individual, the DNA of  three proven descendants of that common ancestor must match at the same location.  I should add a little * to this and the small print would say, “ on relatively large segments.”  That little * is rather controversial, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit.  This leads us to the next step, which is if you’re a fourth person, and you match all three of those other people on that same segment, then you too share that common ancestor.  This is the process by which adoptees and those who are searching for the identity of a parent work through their matches to work forward in time from common ancestors to, hopefully, identify candidates for individuals who could be their parents.

Why do we need to do this?  Isn’t just matching our DNA and seeing a common ancestor in a pedigree chart with one person enough?  No, it isn’t.  I recently wrote about a situation where I had a match with someone and discovered that even though we didn’t know it, and still don’t know exactly how, we unquestionably share two different ancestral lines.

When you look at someone’s pedigree chart, you may see immediately that you share more than one ancestral line.  Your shared DNA could come from either line, both lines, or neither line – meaning from an unidentified common ancestor.  In genealogy parlance, those are known as brick walls!

Blaine Bettinger wrote about this scenario in his now classic article, “Everyone Has Two Family Trees – A Genealogical Tree and a Genetic Tree.”

Proving a Match

The only way to prove that you actually do share a genealogy relative with someone that is not a known family member is to triangulate.  This means searching other matches with the same ancestral surname, preferably finding someone with the same proven ancestral tree, and confirming that the three of you not only share matching DNA, but all three share the same matching DNA segments.  This means that you share the same ancestor.

Triangulation itself is a two-step process followed by a third step of mapping your own DNA so that you know where various segments came from.  The first two triangulation steps are discovering that you match other people on a common segment(s) and then determining if the matches also match each other on those same segments.

Both Family Tree DNA and 23andMe, as vendors have provided ways to do most of this.  www.gedmatch.com and www.dnagedcom.com both augment the vendor offerings.  Ancestry provides no tools of this type – which is, of course, what has precipitated the chromosome browser war.

Let’s look at how the vendors products work in actual practice.

Family Tree DNA

1. Chromosome browser – do they match you?

Family Tree DNA makes it easy to see who you match in common with someone else in their matching tool, by utilizing the ICW crossed X icon.

chromosome browser war13

In the above example, I am seeing who I match in common with my mother.  Sure enough, our three known cousins are the closest matches, shown below.

chromosome browser war14

You can then push up to 5 individuals through to the chromosome browser to see where they match the participant.

The following chromosome browser is an example of a 4 person match showing up on the Family Tree DNA chromosome browser.

This example shows known cousins matching.  But this is exactly the same scenario you’re looking for when you are matching previously unknown cousins – the exact same technique.

In this example, I am the participant, so these matches are matches to me and my chromosome is the background chromosome displayed.  I have switched from my mother’s side to known cousins on my father’s side.

chromosome browser war1

The chromosome browser shows that these three cousins all match the person whose chromosomes are being shown (me, in this case), but it doesn’t tell you if they also match each other.  With known cousins, it’s very unlikely (in my case) that someone would match me from my mother’s side, and someone from my father’s side, but when you’re working with unknown cousins, it’s certainly possible.  If your parents are from the same core population, like Germans or an endogamous population, you may well have people who match you on both sides of your family.  Simply put, you can’t assume they don’t.

It’s also possible that the match is a genuine genealogical match, but you don’t happen to match on the exact same segments, so the ancestor can’t yet be confirmed until more cousins sharing that same ancestral line are found who do match, and it’s possible that some segments could be IBS, identical by state, meaning matches by chance, especially small segments, below the match threshold.

2. Matrix – do they match each other?

Family Tree DNA also provides a tool called the Matrix where you can see if all of the people who match on the same segment, also match each other at some place on their DNA.

chromosome browser war2

The Matrix tool measures the same level of DNA as the default chromosome browser, so in the situation I’m using for an example, there is no issue.  However, if you drop the threshold of the match level, you may well, and in this case, you will, find matches well below the match threshold.  They are shown as matches because they have at least one segment above the match threshold.  If you don’t have at least one segment above the threshold, you’ll never see these smaller matches.  Just to show you what I mean, this is the same four people, above, with the threshold lowered to 1cM.  All those little confetti pieces of color are smaller matches.

chromosome browser war3

At Family Tree DNA, the match threshold is about 7cM.  Each of the vendors has a different threshold and a different way of calculating that threshold.

The only reason I mention this is because if you DON’T match with someone on the matrix, but you also show matches at smaller segments, understand that matrix is not reporting on those, so matrix matches are not negative proof, only positive indications – when you do match, both on the chromosome browser and utilizing the matrix tool.

What you do know at this point is that these individuals all match you on the same segments, and that they match each other someplace on their chromosomes, but what you don’t know is if they match each other on the same locations where they match you.

If you are lucky and your matches are cousins or experienced genetic genealogists and are willing to take a look at their accounts, they can tell you if they match the other people on the same segments where they match you – but that’s the only way to know unless they are willing to download their raw data file to GedMatch.  At GedMatch, you can adjust the match thresholds to any level you wish and you can compare one-to-one kits to see where any two kits who have provided you with their kit number match each other.

3. Downloading data – mapping your chromosome.

The “download to Excel” function at Family Tree DNA, located just above the chromosome browser graphic, on the left, provides you with the matching data of the individuals shown on the chromosome browser with their actual segment data shown. (The download button on the right downloads all of your matches, not just the ones shown in the browser comparison.)

The spreadsheet below shows the downloaded data for these four individuals.  You can see on chromosome 15 (yellow) there are three distinct segments that match (pink, yellow and blue,) which is exactly what is reflected on the graphic browser as well.

chromosome browser war4

On the spreadsheet below, I’ve highlighted, in red, the segments which appeared on the original chromosome browser – so these are only the matches at or over the match threshold.

chromosome browser war5

As you can see, there are 13 in total.

Smaller Segments

Up to this point, the process I’ve shared is widely accepted as the gold standard.

In the genetic genealogy community, there are very divergent opinions on how to treat segments below the match threshold, or below even 10cM.  Some people “throw them away,” in essence, disregard them entirely.  Before we look at a real life example, let’s talk about the challenges with small segments.

When smaller segments match, along with larger segments, I don’t delete them, throw them away, or disregard them.  I believe that they are tools and each one carries a message for us.  Those messages can be one of four things.

  1. This is a valid IBD, meaning identical by descent, match where the segment has been passed from one specific ancestor to all of the people who match and can be utilized as such.
  2. This is an IBS match, meaning identical by state, and is called that because we can’t yet identify the common ancestor, but there is one. So this is actually IBD but we can’t yet identify it as such. With more matches, we may well be able to identify it as IBD, but if we throw it away, we never get that chance. As larger data bases and more sophisticated software become available, these matches will fall into place.
  3. This is an IBS match that is a false match, meaning the DNA segments that we receive from our father and mother just happen to align in a way that matches another person. Generally these are relatively easy to determine because the people you match won’t match each other. You also won’t tend to match other people with the same ancestral line, so they will tend to look like lone outliers on your match spreadsheets, but not always.
  4. This is an IBS match that is population based. These are much more difficult to determine, because this is a segment that is found widely in a population. The key to determining these pileup areas, as discussed in the Ancestry article about their new phasing technique, if that you will find this same segment matching different proven lineages. This is the reason that Ancestry has implemented phasing – to identify and remove these match regions from your matches. Ancestry provided a graphic of my pileup areas, although they did not identify for me where on my chromosomes these pileup regions occurred. I do have some idea however, because I’ve found a couple of areas where I have matches from my mother’s side of the family from different ancestors – so these areas must be IBS on a population level. That does not, however, make them completely irrelevant.

genome pileups

The challenge, and problem, is where to make the cutoff when you’re eliminating match areas based on phased data.  For example, I lost all of my Acadian matches at Ancestry.  Of course, you would expect an endogamous population to share lots of the same DNA – and there are a huge number of Acadian descendants today – they are in fact a “population,” but those matches are (were) still useful to me.

I utilize Acadian matches from Family Tree DNA and 23andMe to label that part of my chromosome “Acadian” even if I can’t track it to a specific Acadian ancestor, yet.  I do know from which of my mother’s ancestors it originated, her great-grandfather, who is her Acadian ancestor.  Knowing that much is useful as well.

The same challenge exists for other endogamous groups – people with Jewish, Mennonite/Brethren/Amish, Native American and African American heritage searching for their mixed race roots arising from slavery.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this problem exists for anyone looking for ancestors beyond the 5th or 6th generation, because segments inherited from those ancestors, if there are any, will probably be small and fall below the generally accepted match thresholds.  The only way you will be able to find them, today, is the unlikely event that there is one larger segments, and it leads you on a search, like the case with Sarah Hickerson.

I want to be very clear – if you’re looking for only “sure thing” segments – then the larger the matching segment, the better the odds that it’s a sure thing, a positive, indisputable, noncontroversial match.  However, if you’re looking for ancestors in the distant past, in the 5th or 6th generation or further, you’re not likely to find sure thing matches and you’ll have to work with smaller segments. It’s certainly preferable and easier to work with large matches, but it’s not always possible.

In the Ralph and Coop paper, The Geography of Recent Genetic Ancestry Across Europe, they indicated that people who matched on segments of 10cM or larger were more likely to have a common ancestor with in the past 500 years.  Blocks of 4cM or larger were estimated to be from populations from 500-1500 years ago.  However, we also know that there are indeed sticky segments that get passed intact from generation to generation, and also that some segments don’t get divided in a generation, they simply disappear and aren’t passed on at all.  I wrote about this in my article titled, Generational Inheritance.

Another paper by Durand et al, Reducing pervasive false positive identical-by-descent segments detected by large-scale pedigree analysis, showed that 67% of the 2-4cM segments were false positives.  Conversely, that also means that 33% of the 2-4cM segments were legitimate IBD segments.

Part of the disagreement within the genetic genealogy community is based on a difference in goals.  People who are looking for the parents of adoptees are looking first and primarily as “sure thing” matches and the bigger the match segment, of course, the better because that means the people are related more closely in time.  For them, smaller segments really are useless.  However, for people who know their recent genealogy and are looking for those brick wall ancestors, several generations back in time, their only hope is utilizing those smaller segments.  This not black and white but shades of grey.  One size does not fit all.  Nor is what we know today the end of the line.  We learn every single day and many of our learning experiences are by working through our own unique genealogical situations – and sharing our discoveries.

On this next spreadsheet, you can see the smaller segments surrounding the larger segments – in other words, in the same match cluster – highlighted in green.  These are the segments that would be discarded as invalid if you were drawing the line at the match threshold.  Some people draw it even higher, at 10 cM.  I’m not being critical of their methodology or saying they are wrong.  It may well work best for them, but discarding small segments is not the only approach and other approaches do work, depending on the goals of the researcher.  I want my 33% IBD segments, thank you very much.

All of the segments highlighted in purple match between at least three cousins.  By checking the other cousins accounts, I can validate that they do all match each other as well, even though I can’t tell this through the Family Tree DNA matrix below the matching threshold.  So, I’ve proven these are valid.  We all received them from our common ancestor.

What about the white rows?  Are those valid matches, from a common ancestor?  We don’t have enough information to make that determination today.

chromosome browser war6

Downloading my data, and confirming segments to this common ancestor allows me to map my own chromosomes.  Now, I know that if someone matches me and any of these three cousins on chromosome 15, for example, between 33,335,760 and 58,455,135 – they are, whether they know it or not, descended from our common ancestral line.

In my opinion, I would think it a shame to discount or throw away all of these matches below 7cM, because you would be discounting 39 of your 52 total matches, or 75% of them.  I would be more conservative in assigning my segments with only one cousin match to any ancestor, but I would certainly note the match and hope that if I added other cousins, that segment would be eventually proven as IBD.

I used positively known cousins in this example because there is no disputing the validity of these matches.  They were known as cousins long before DNA testing.

Breaking Down Brick Walls

This is the same technique utilized to break down brick walls – and the more cousins you have tested, so that you can identify the maximum number of chromosome pieces of a particular ancestor – the better.

I used this same technique to identify Sarah Hickerson in my Thanksgiving Day article, utilizing these same cousins, plus several more.

Hey, just for fun, want to see what chromosome 15 looks like in this much larger sample???

In this case, we were trying to break down a brick wall.  We needed to determine if Sarah Hickerson was the mother of Elijah Vannoy.  All of the individuals in the left “Name” column are proven Vannoy cousins from Elijah, or in one case, William, from another child of Sarah Hickerson.  The individuals in the right “Match” column are everyone in the cousin match group plus the people in green who are Hickerson/Higginson descendants.  William, in green, is proven to descend from Sarah Hickerson and her husband, Daniel Vannoy.

chromosome browser war7

The first part of chromosome 15 doesn’t overlap with the rest.  Buster, David and I share another ancestral line as well, so the match in the non-red section of chromosome 15 may well be from that ancestral line.  It becomes an obvious possibility, because none of the people who share the Vannoy/Hickerson/Higginson DNA are in that small match group.

All of the red colored cells do overlap with at least one other individual in that group and together they form a cluster.  The yellow highlighted cells are the ones over the match threshold.  The 6 Hickerson/Higginson descendants are scattered throughout this match group.

And yes, for those who are going to ask, there are many more Vannoy/Hickerson triangulated groups.  This is just one of over 60 matching groups in total, some with matches well above the match threshold. But back to the chromosome browser wars!

23andMe

This example from 23andMe shows why it’s so very important to verify that your matches also match each other.

chromosome browser war8

Blue and purple match segments are to two of the same cousins that I used in the comparison at Family Tree DNA, who are from my father’s side.  Green is my first cousin from my mother’s side.   Note that on chromosome 11, they both match me on a common segment.  I know by working with them that they don’t match each other on that segment, so while they are both related to me, on chromosome 11, it’s not through the same ancestor.  One is from my father’s side and one is from my mother’s side.  If I hadn’t already known that, determining if they matched each other would be the acid test and would separate them into 2 groups.

23andMe provides you with a tool to see who your matches match that you match too.  That’s a tongue twister.

In essence, you can select any individual, meaning you or anyone that you match, on the left hand side of this tool, and compare them to any 5 other people that you match.  In my case above, I compared myself to my cousins, but if I want to know if my cousin on my mother’s side matches my two cousins on my father’s side, I simply select her name on the left and theirs on the right by using the drop down arrows.

chromosome browser war9

I would show you the results, but it’s in essence a blank chromosome browser screen, because she doesn’t match either of them, anyplace, which tells me, if I didn’t already know, that these two matches are from different sides of my family.

However, in other situations, where I match my cousin Daryl, for example, as well as several other people on the same segment, I want to know how many of these people Daryl matches as well.  I can enter Daryl’s name, with my name and their names in the group of 5, and compare.  23andMe facilitates the viewing or download of the results in a matrix as well, along with the segment data.  You can also download your entire list of matches by requesting aggregated data through the link at the bottom of the screen above or the bottom of the chromosome display.

I find it cumbersome to enter each matches name in the search tool and then enter all of the other matches names as well.  By utilizing the tools at www.dnagedcom.com, you can determine who your matches match as well, in common with you, in one spreadsheet.  Here’s an example.  Daryl in the chart below is my match, and this tool shows you who else she matches that I match as well, and the matching segments.  This allows me to correlate my match with Gwen for example, to Daryl’s match to Gwen to see if they are on the same segments.

chromosome browser war10

As you can see, Daryl and I both match Gwen on a common segment.  On my own chromosome mapping spreadsheet, I match several other people as well at that location, at other vendors, but so far, we haven’t been able to find any common genealogy.

Ancestry.com

At Ancestry.com, I have exactly the opposite problem.  I have lots of people I DNA match, and some with common genealogy, but no tools to prove the DNA match is to the common ancestor.

Hence, this is the crux of the chromosome browser wars.  I’ve just showed you how and why we use chromosome browsers and tools to show if our matches match each other in addition to us and on which segments.  I’ve also illustrated why.  Neither 23andMe nor Family Tree DNA provides perfect tools, which is why we utilize both GedMatch and DNAGedcom, but they do provide tools.  Ancestry provides no tools of this type.

At Ancestry, you have two kinds of genetic matches – ones without tree matches and ones with tree matches.  Pedigree matching is a service that Ancestry provides that the other vendors don’t.  Unfortunately, it also leads people to believe that because they match these people genetically and share a tree, that the tree shown is THE genetic match and it’s to the ancestor shown in the tree.  In fact, if the tree is wrong, either your tree or their tree, and you match them genetically, you will show up as a pedigree match as well.  Even if both pedigrees are right, that still doesn’t mean that your genetic match is through that ancestor.

How many bad trees are at Ancestry percentagewise?  I don’t know, but it’s a constant complaint and there is absolutely nothing Ancestry can do about it.  All they can do is utilize what they have, which is what their customers provide.  And I’m glad they do.  It does make the process of working through your matches much easier. It’s a starting point.  DNA matches with trees that also match your pedigree are shown with Ancestry’s infamous shakey leaf.

In fact, in my Sarah Hickerson article, it was a shakey leaf match that initially clued me that there was something afoot – maybe. I had to shift to another platform (Family Tree DNA) to prove the match however, where I had tools and lots of known cousins.

At Ancestry, I now have about 3000 matches in total, and of those, I have 33 shakey leaves – or people with whom I also share an ancestor in our pedigree charts.  A few of those are the same old known cousins, just as genealogy crazy as me, and they’ve tested at all 3 companies.

The fly in the ointment, right off the bat, is that I noticed in several of these matches that I ALSO share another ancestral line.

Now, the great news is that Ancestry shows you your surnames in common, and you can click on the surname and see the common individuals in both trees.

The bad news is that you have to notice and click to see that information, found in the lower left hand corner of this screen.

chromosome browser war11

In this case, Cook is an entirely different line, not connected to the McKee line shown.

However, in this next case, we have the same individual entered in our software, but differently.  It wasn’t close enough to connect as an ancestor, but close enough to note.  It turns out that Sarah Cook is the mother of Fairwick Claxton, but her middle name was not Helloms, nor was her maiden name, although that is a long-standing misconception that was proven incorrect with her husband’s War of 1812 documents many years ago. Unfortunately, this misinformation is very widespread in trees on the internet.

chromosome browser war12

Out of curiosity, and now I’m sorry I did this because it’s very disheartening – I looked to see what James Lee Claxton/Clarkson’s wife’s name was shown to be on the first page of Ancestry’s advanced search matches.

Despite extensive genealogical and DNA research, we don’t know who James Lee Claxton/Clarkson’s parents are, although we’ve disproven several possibilities, including the most popular candidate pre-DNA testing.  However, James’ wife was positively Sarah Cook, as given by her, along with her father’s name, and by witnesses to their marriage provided when she applied for a War of 1812 pension and bounty land.  I have the papers from the National Archives.

James Lee Claxton’s wife, Sara Cook is identified as follows in the first 50 Ancestry search entries.

Sarah Cook – 4

Incorrect entries:

  • Sarah Cook but with James’ parents listed – 3
  • Sarah Helloms Cook – 2, one with James’ parents
  • Sarah Hillhorns – 15
  • Sarah Cook Hitson – 13, some with various parents for James
  • No wife, but various parents listed for James – 12
  • No wife, no parents – 1

I’d much rather see no wife and no parents than incorrect information.

Judy Russell has expressed her concern about the effects of incorrect trees and DNA as well and we shared this concern with Ancestry during our meeting.

Ancestry themselves in their paper titled “Identifying groups of descendants using pedigrees and genetically inferred relationships in a large database” says, “”As with all analyses relating to DNA Circles™, tree quality is also an important caveat and limitation.”  So Ancestry is aware, but they are trying to leverage and utilize one of their biggest assets, their trees.

This brings us to DNA Circles.  I reviewed Ancestry’s new product release extensively in my Ancestry’s Better Mousetrap article.  To recap briefly, Ancestry gathers your DNA matches together, and then looks for common ancestors in trees that are public using an intelligent ranking algorithm that takes into account:

  1. The confidence that the match is due to recent genealogical history (versus a match due to older genealogical history or a false match entirely).
  2. The confidence that the identified common recent ancestor represents the same person in both online pedigrees.
  3. The confidence that the individuals have a match due to the shared ancestor in question as opposed to from another ancestor or from more distant genealogical history.

The key here is that Ancestry is looking for what they term “recent genealogical history.”  In their paper they define this as 10 generations, but the beta version of DNA Circles only looks back 7 generations today.  This was also reflected in their phasing paper, “Discovering IBD matches across a large, growing database.”

However, the unfortunate effect has been in many cases to eliminate matches, especially from endogamous groups.  By way of example, I lost my Acadian matches in the Ancestry new product release.  They would have been more than 7 generations back, and because they were endogamous, they may have “looked like” IBS segments, if IBS is defined at Ancestry as more than 7 or 10 generations back.  Hopefully Ancestry will tweek this algorithm in future releases.

Ancestry, according to their paper, “Identifying groups of descendants using pedigrees and genetically inferred relationships in a large database,” then clusters these remaining matching individuals together in Circles based on their pedigree charts.  You will match some of these people genetically, and some of them will not match you but will match each other.  Again, according to the paper, “these confidence levels are calculated by the direct-line pedigree size, the number of shared ancestral couples and the generational depth of the shared MRCA couple.”

Ancestry notes that, “using the concordance of two independent pieces of information, meaning pedigree relationships and patterns of match sharing among a set of individuals, DNA Circles can serve as supporting evidence for documented pedigree lines.”  Notice, Ancestry did NOT SAY proof.  Nothing that Ancestry provides in their DNA product constitutes proof.

Ancestry continues by saying that Circles “opens the possibility for people to identify distant relatives with whom they do not share DNA directly but with whom they still have genetic evidence supporting the relationship.”

In other words, Ancestry is being very clear in this paper, which is provided on the DNA Circles page for anyone with Circles, that they are giving you a tool, not “the answer,” but one more piece of information that you can consider as evidence.

joel vannoy circleJoel Vannoy circle2

You can see in my Joel Vannoy circle that I match both of these people both genetically and on their tree.

We, in the genetic genealogy community, need proof.  It certainly could be available, technically – because it is with other vendors and third party sites.

We need to be able to prove that our matches also match each other, and utilizing Ancestry’s tools, we can’t.  We also can’t do this at Ancestry by utilizing third party tools, so we’re in essence, stuck.

We can either choose to believe, without substantiation, that we indeed share a common ancestor because we share DNA segments with them plus a pedigree chart from that common ancestor, or we can initiate a conversation with our match that leads to either or both of the following questions:

  1. Have you or would you upload your raw data to GedMatch?
  2. Have you or would you upload your raw data file to Family Tree DNA?

Let the begging begin!!!

The Problem

In a nutshell, the problem is that even if your Ancestry matches do reply and do upload their file to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch or both, you are losing most of the potential information available, or that would be available, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser and matrix type tool.

In other words, you’d have to convince all of your matches and then they would have to convince all of the matches in the circle that they match and you don’t to upload their files.

Given that, of the 44 private tree shakey leaf matches that I sent messages to about 2 weeks ago, asking only for them to tell me the identity of our common pedigree ancestor, so far 2 only of them have replied, the odds of getting an entire group of people to upload files is infinitesimal.  You’d stand a better chance of winning the lottery.

One of the things Ancestry excels at is marketing.

ancestry ad1

If you’ve seen any of their ads, and they are everyplace, they focus on the “feel good” and they are certainly maximizing the warm fuzzy feelings at the holidays and missing those generations that have gone before us.

ancestry ad2

This is by no means a criticism, but it is why so many people do take the Ancestry DNA test. It’s advertised as easy and you’ll learn more about your family.  And you do, no question – you learn about your ethnicity and you get a list of DNA matches, pedigree matches when possible and DNA Circles.

The list of what you don’t get is every bit as important, a chromosome browser and tools to see whether your matches also match each other.  However, most of their customers will never know that.

Judging by the high percentage of inaccurate trees I found at Ancestry in my little experiment relative to the known and documented wife’s name of James Lee Claxton, which was 96%, based on just the first page of 50 search matches, it would appear that about 96% of Ancestry’s clientele are willing to believe something that someone else tells them without verification.  I doubt that it matters whether that information is a tree or a DNA test where they are shown  matches with common pedigree charts and circles.  I don’t mean this to be critical of those people.  We all began as novices and we need new people to become interested in both genealogy and DNA testing.

I suspect that most of Ancestry’s clients, especially new ones, simply don’t have a clue that there is a problem, let alone the magnitude and scope.  How would they?  They are just happy to find information about their ancestor.  And as someone said to me once – “but there are so many of those trees (with a wrong wife’s name), how can they all be wrong?”  Plus, the ads, at least some of them, certainly suggest that the DNA test grows your family tree for you.

ancestry ad3 signoff

The good news in all of this is that Ancestry’s widespread advertising has made DNA testing just part of the normal things that genealogists do.  Their marketing expertise along with recent television programs have served to bring DNA testing into the limelight. The bad news is that if people test at Ancestry instead of at a vendor who provides tools, we, and they, lose the opportunity to utilize those results to their fullest potential.  We, and they, lose any hope of proving an ancestor utilizing DNA.  And let’s face it, DNA testing and genealogy is about collaboration.  Having a DNA test that you don’t compare against others is pointless for genealogy purposes.

When a small group of bloggers and educators visited Ancestry in October, 2014, for what came to be called DNA Day, we discussed the chromosome browser and Ancestry’s plans for their new DNA Circles product, although it had not yet been named at that time.  I wrote about that meeting, including the fact that we discussed the need for a chromosome browser ad nauseum.  Needless to say, there was no agreement between the genetic genealogy community and the Ancestry folks.

When we discussed the situation with Ancestry they talked about privacy and those types of issues, which you can read about in detail in that article, but I suspect, strongly, that the real reason they aren’t keen on developing a chromosome browser lies in different areas.

  1. Ancestry truly believes that people cannot understand and utilize a chromosome browser and the information it provides. They believe that people who do have access to chromosome browsers are interpreting the results incorrectly today.
  2. They do not want to implement a complex feature for a small percentage of their users…the number bantered around informally was 5%…and I don’t know if that was an off-the-cuff number or based on market research. However, if you compare that number with the number of accurate versus inaccurate pedigree charts in my “James Claxton’s wife’s name” experiment, it’s very close…so I would say that the 5% number is probably close to accurate.
  3. They do not want to increase their support burden trying to explain the results of a chromosome browser to the other 95%. Keep in mind the number of users you’re discussing. They said in their paper they had 500,000 DNA participants. I think it’s well over 700,000 today, and they clearly expect to hit 1 million in 2015. So if you utilize a range – 5% of their users are 25,000-50,000 and 95% of their users are 475,000-950,000.
  4. Their clients have already paid their money for the test, as it is, and there is no financial incentive for Ancestry to invest in an add-on tool from which they generate no incremental revenue and do generate increased development and support costs. The only benefit to them is that we shut up!

So, the bottom line is that most of Ancestry’s clients don’t know or care about a chromosome browser.  There are, however, a very noisy group of us who do.

Many of Ancestry’s clients who purchase the DNA test do so as an impulse purchase with very little, if any, understanding of what they are purchasing, what it can or will do for them, at Ancestry or anyplace else, for that matter.

Any serious genealogist who researched the autosomal testing products would not make Ancestry their only purchase, especially if they could only purchase one test.  Many, if not most, serious genealogists have tested at all three companies in order to fish in different ponds and maximize their reach.  I suspect that most of Ancestry’s customers are looking for simple and immediate answers, not tools and additional work.

The flip side of that, however, if that we are very aware of what we, the genetic genealogy industry needs, and why, and how frustratingly lacking Ancestry’s product is.

Company Focus

It’s easy for us as extremely passionate and focused consumers to forget that all three companies are for-profit corporations.  Let’s take a brief look at their corporate focus, history and goals, because that tells a very big portion of the story.  Every company is responsible first and foremost to their shareholders and owners to be profitable, as profitable as possible which means striking the perfect balance of investment and expenditure with frugality.  In corporate America, everything has to be justified by ROI, or return on investment.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA was the first one of the companies to offer DNA testing and was formed in 1999 by Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, both still principles who run Family Tree DNA, now part of Gene by Gene, on a daily basis.  Family Tree DNA’s focus is only on genetic genealogy and they have a wide variety of products that produce a spectrum of information including various Y DNA tests, mitochondrial, autosomal, and genetic traits.  They are now the only commercial company to offer the Y STR and mitochondrial DNA tests, both very important tools for genetic genealogists, with a great deal of information to offer about our ancestors.

In April 2005, National Geographic’s Genographic project was announced in partnership with Family Tree DNA and IBM.  The Genographic project, was scheduled to last for 5 years, but is now in its 9th year.  Family Tree DNA and National Geographic announced Geno 2.0 in July of 2012 with a newly designed chip that would test more than 12,000 locations on the Y chromosome, in addition to providing other information to participants.

The Genographic project provided a huge boost to genetic genealogy because it provided assurance of legitimacy and brought DNA testing into the living room of every family who subscribed to National Geographic magazine.  Family Tree DNA’s partnership with National Geographic led to the tipping point where consumer DNA testing became mainstream.

In 2011 the founders expanded the company to include clinical genetics and a research arm by forming Gene by Gene.  This allowed them, among other things, to bring their testing in house by expanding their laboratory facilities.  They have continued to increase their product offerings to include sophisticated high end tests like the Big Y, introduced in 2013.

23andMe

23andMe is also privately held and began offering testing for medical and health information in November 2007, initially offering “estimates of predisposition for more than 90 traits ranging from baldness to blindness.”  Their corporate focus has always been in the medical field, with aggregated customer data being studied by 23andMe and other researchers for various purposes.

In 2009, 23andMe began to offer the autosomal test for genealogists, the first company to provide this service.  Even though, by today’s standards, it was very expensive, genetic genealogists flocked to take this test.

In 2013, after several years of back and forth with 23andMe ultimately failing to reply to the FDA, the FDA forced 23andMe to stop providing the medical results.  Clients purchasing the 23andMe autosomal product since November of 2013 receive only ethnicity results and the genealogical matching services.

In 2014, 23andMe has been plagued by public relations issues and has not upgraded significantly nor provided additional tools for the genetic genealogy community, although they recently formed a liaison with My Heritage.

23andMe is clearly focused on genetics, but not primarily genetic genealogy, and their corporate focus during this last year in particular has been, I suspect, on how to survive, given the FDA action.  If they steer clear of that landmine, I expect that we may see great things in the realm of personalized medicine from them in the future.

Genetic genealogy remains a way for them to attract people to increase their data base size for research purposes.  Right now, until they can again begin providing health information, genetic genealogists are the only people purchasing the test, although 23andMe may have other revenue sources from the research end of the business

Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com is a privately held company.  They were founded in the 1990s and have been through several ownership and organizational iterations, which you can read about in the wiki article about Ancestry.

During the last several years, Ancestry has purchased several other genealogy companies and is now the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world.  That’s either wonderful or terrible, depending on your experiences and perspective.

Ancestry has had an on-again-off-again relationship with DNA testing since 2002, with more than one foray into DNA testing and subsequent withdrawal from DNA testing.  If you are interested in the specifics, you can read about them in this article.

Ancestry’s goal, as it is with all companies, is profitability.  However, they have given themselves a very large black eye in the genetic genealogy community by doing things that we consider to be civically irresponsible, like destroying the Y and mitochondrial DNA data bases.  This still makes no sense, because while Ancestry spends money on one hand to acquire data bases and digitize existing records, on the other hand, they wiped out a data base containing tens of thousands of irreplaceable DNA records, which are genealogy records of a different type.  This was discussed at DNA Day and the genetic genealogy community retains hope that Ancestry is reconsidering their decision.

Ancestry has been plagued by a history of missteps and mediocrity in their DNA products, beginning with their Y and mitochondrial DNA products and continuing with their autosomal product.  Their first autosomal release included ethnicity results that gave many people very high percentages of Scandinavian heritage.  Ancestry never acknowledged a problem and defended their product to the end…until the day when they announced an update titled….a whole new you.  They are marketing geniuses.  While many people found their updated product much more realistic, not everyone was happy.  Judy Russell wrote a great summary of the situation.

It’s difficult, once a company has lost their credibility, for them to regain it.

I think Ancestry does a bang up job of what their primary corporate goal is….genealogy records and subscriptions for people to access those records. I’m a daily user.  Today, with their acquisitions, it would be very difficult to be a serious genealogist without an Ancestry subscription….which is of course what their corporate goal has been.

Ancestry does an outstanding job of making everything look and appear easy.  Their customer interface is intuitive and straightforward, for the most part. In fact, maybe they have made both genealogy and genetic genealogy look a little too easy.  I say this tongue in cheek, full well knowing that the ease of use is how they attract so many people, and those are the same people who ultimately purchase the DNA tests – but the expectation of swabbing and the answer appearing is becoming a problem.  I’m glad that Ancestry has brought DNA testing to so many people but this success makes tools like the chromosome browser/matrix that much more important – because there is so much genealogy information there just waiting to be revealed.  I also feel that their level of success and visibility also visits upon them the responsibility for transparency and accuracy in setting expectations properly – from the beginning – with the ads. DNA testing does not “grow your tree” while you’re away.

I’m guessing Ancestry entered the DNA market again because they saw a way to sell an additional product, autosomal DNA testing, that would tie people’s trees together and provide customers with an additional tool, at an additional price, and give them yet another reason to remain subscribed every year.  Nothing wrong with that either.  For the owners, a very reasonable tactic to harness a captive data base whose ear you already have.

But Ancestry’s focus or priority is not now, and never has been, quality, nor genetic genealogy.  Autosomal DNA testing is a tool for their clients, a revenue generation source for them, and that’s it.  Again, not a criticism.  Just the way it is.

In Summary

As I look at the corporate focus of the three players in this space, I see three companies who are indeed following their corporate focus and vision.  That’s not a bad thing, unless the genetic genealogy community focus finds itself in conflict with the results of their corporate focus.

It’s no wonder that Family Tree DNA sponsors events like the International DNA Conference and works hand in hand with genealogists and project administrators.  Their focus is and always has been genetic genealogy.

People do become very frustrated with Family Tree DNA from time to time, but just try to voice those frustrations to upper management at either 23andMe or Ancestry and see how far you get.  My last helpdesk query to 23andMe submitted on October 24th has yet to receive any reply.  At Family Tree DNA, I e-mailed the project administrator liaison today, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, hoping for a response on Monday – but I received one just a couple hours later – on a holiday weekend.

In terms of the chromosome browser war – and that war is between the genetic genealogy community and Ancestry.com, I completely understand both positions.

The genetic genealogy community has been persistent, noisy, and united.  Petitions have been created and signed and sent to Ancestry upper management.  To my knowledge, confirmation of any communications surrounding this topic with the exception of Ancestry reaching out to the blogging and education community, has never been received.

This lack of acknowledgement and/or action on the issues at hand frustrates the community terribly and causes reams of rather pointed and very direct replies to Anna Swayne and other Ancestry employees who are charged with interfacing with the public.  I actually feel sorry for Anna.  She is a very nice person.  If I were in her position, I’d certainly be looking for another job and letting someone else take the brunt of the dissatisfaction.  You can read her articles here.

I also understand why Ancestry is doing what they are doing – meaning their decision to not create a chromosome browser/match matrix tool.  It makes sense if you sit in their seat and now have to look at dealing with almost a million people who will wonder why they have to use a chromosome browser and or other tools when they expected their tree to grow while they were away.

I don’t like Ancestry’s position, even though I understand it, and I hope that we, as a community, can help justify the investment to Ancestry in some manner, because I fully believe that’s the only way we’ll ever get a chromosome browser/match matrix type tool.  There has to be a financial benefit to Ancestry to invest the dollars and time into that development, as opposed to something else.  It’s not like Ancestry has additional DNA products to sell to these people.  The consumers have already spent their money on the only DNA product Ancestry offers, so there is no incentive there.

As long as Ancestry’s typical customer doesn’t know or care, I doubt that development of a chromosome browser will happen unless we, as a community, can, respectfully, be loud enough, long enough, like an irritating burr in their underwear that just won’t go away.

burr

The Future

What we “know” and can do today with our genomes far surpasses what we could do or even dreamed we could do 10 years ago or even 5 or 2 years ago.  We learn everyday.

Yes, there are a few warts and issues to iron out.  I always hesitate to use words like “can’t,” “never” and “always” or to use other very strongly opinionated or inflexible words, because those words may well need to be eaten shortly.

There is so much more yet to be done, discovered and learned.  We need to keep open minds and be willing to “unlearn” what we think we knew when new and better information comes along.  That’s how scientific discovery works.  We are on the frontier, the leading edge and yes, sometimes the bleeding edge.  But what a wonderful place to be, to be able to contribute to discovery on a new frontier, our own genes and the keys to our ancestors held in our DNA.

Hide and Seek at 23andMe, DNA Relatives Consent, Opt-In, Opt-Out and Close Relatives

To say that the matching policies at 23andMe are confusing is an understatement. Of course, that would imply that we could figure out what those policies are, this week, exactly.  What I have been able to discern is that there is widespread confusion about the entire topic.  This is my attempt to figure out which end is up, and who can see whom, under what circumstances.  I feel like this is a high-tech game of Hide and Seek, a game customers should not have to be playing.

hide and seek

On October 17, 2014, I received this e-mail for one of the 23andMe accounts that I manage. I did not receive it for any of the other accounts that I manage at 23andMe.

When I clicked on the “can’t miss it” red block in the e-mail, it did absolutely nothing. However, by clicking on the “view as a web page” link, clicking on the “Confirm your DNA Relatives participation” took me to the 23andMe signon screen.

I signed in, but was not taken to the account in question. When I switched to that account, this is what I saw – in essence, a second warning.

hide and seek2

I was not allowed to proceed further until I clicked on yes or no.

Of course, this begs the question of why my other accounts weren’t asked the same question. With the exception of one, they are sharing in DNA Relatives too.

It also made me wonder about the sharing with Close Relatives option.

I decided to check the DNA Relatives Option information in the Privacy/Consent settings, but there was nothing further.  You can visit your consent options by clicking on the down arrow by your name, shown on the upper right hand corner of the screen shot below, and selecting “account settings.”

hide and seek3

So, what the heck happened to the close relatives option?

It seems that 23andMe discontinued the “close relatives” opt-in or opt-out, according to their June blog article, below.

hide and seek4hide and seek5

At this point, if you had not ‘opted out’ then it was assumed that you had in effect ‘opted in’ and all of your matches including your close relatives would be shown.

But then the VOX article was published in September and the proverbial stuff hit the fan.

The day of the expected default opt-in change, based on the June announcement (above), 23and Me posted a retraction of the June article, on their community forum, below.

Dear Community,

We made a change from what we promised and I want to apologize. We promised that the roughly 350,000 customers that had not consented to see Close Relatives in our DNA Relatives feature would be automatically opted in at the end of a 30 day notification period. I understand that that was extremely exciting for many of you to have so much data potentially come your way. It was unfortunately a mistake that we promised that.

I do not think it was ever the right call to promise that we would automatically opt-in those customers. Core to our philosophy is customer choice and empowerment through data. The Close Relatives features can potentially give a customer life changing information, like the existence of an unknown sibling or the knowledge that a relative is not biologically related to them. Customers need to make their own deliberate and informed decision if they want this information. It is 23andMe’s responsibility to make sure our customers have a choice and that they understand the potential implications.

The timing of the change is unfortunate and I apologize the announcement came late on a Friday night at the end of the 30 day period. The article in Vox made me and others look into the language in the consent form and that is when I learned about the proposed changes coming to the DNA Relatives community. As 23andMe has moved from being a start up to a bigger and more mature company, I am not involved in every decision. This is a decision that should have come to my attention but it did not. We will learn from that. 23andMe is hiring a Chief Privacy Officer and that too will help us avoid these types of mistakes in the future. We are also already planning to evolve the consent process to make it simpler and more clear for customers.

Going forward, we will continue to prompt the customers that have not made a choice about Close Relatives to make a choice. We understand how important that is to you. We will do a mix of emails to these customers and pop-up prompts at login to get customers to make a choice.

I apologize again for the disappointment and for not having clearly communicated the reason for reversing course. 23andMe continues to grow and pioneer the way we think about consumers exploring their DNA. While we continue to innovate we may also err along the way. We can only promise that we will always listen to and do right by you, our customer, and will never fear having to redirect our course when it is the right thing to do.

Sincerely, Anne Wojcicki

So, now it appears that unless someone has specifically ‘opted in’ to DNA Relatives as a whole, they are automatically ‘opted out,’ a 180 degree reversal.  Of course, if you were one of those 350,000 customers who received a notification about opting out, and did nothing, so that you could be opted in at the end of the 30 days referenced above, you would be thoroughly confused because you THINK you’re now opted in.

23andMe has a habit of posting information on their Forum which members must actively check, instead of sending e-mails to their customers or posting this kind of information on their blog that is sent by subscription. One of the forum followers was kind enough to point out this recent posting detailing changes that have occurred in October and the 23andMe policy moving forward.

hide and seek6hide and seek7It’s signed, Chistine on behalf of the 23andMe Product Team

I can find nothing on the current customer pages providing any information about these decisions or the match status of DNA Relatives/Close Relatives.

Furthermore, 23andMe is now asking some, but not everyone, who are opted in for DNA Relatives if they are sure. My account that was asked tested in 2010, so was not caught in the 2014 selection option confusion.

I feel that this methodology discourages many people from participation. It infers that there is something frightening that you ‘ought to be’ concerned about – especially if you are asked about the same topic several times.

In summary, here is, I think, what we know, as of October 16, 2014.

  • Everyone will have to make a specific choice to opt-in to DNA Relatives, one way or another, after testing.  If you don’t specifically opt-in, you are opted out.  Consent to test apparently doesn’t count as consent for DNA Relatives.
  • Clients prior to June 5, 2014 who were opted in to DNA Relatives but out of Close Relatives will be prompted to select an opt-in with close relatives included, or an opt-out entirely.
  • Clients prior to June 5, 2014, who did opt-in to participate in DNA Relatives, but did not have any selection to make about “Close Relatives” will be required to confirm that they want to continue in DNA Relatives before they can proceed to see their matches. This is apparently the e-mail that I received for one of my kits. It’s still a mystery why I never received it for the others who tested even earlier and clearly before the “Close Relatives” option existed.
  • Clients between June 5, 2014 and October 16, 2014 who were automatically opted in to DNA Relatives with close relatives included will also be prompted to confirm their participation in DNA Relatives and until they do confirm that option, they will not be visible nor able to view close relatives.
  • New customers will be prompted to opt-in or opt-out of DNA Relatives and opt-in will no longer be the default.
  • Participation in DNA Relatives will now include close relatives and that will not be a separate option.

I’m very glad to see that everyone who opts in to DNA Relatives includes close relatives. To do it any other way is not only confusing, it’s more than a little disingenuous, especially given that someone may not realize why their close matches aren’t showing.  I had more than one client have a panic attack when their family member wasn’t showing as a match, especially when they were expecting to see a parent or sibling.  In my opinion, having to enable the “close relatives” option caused huge problems and wholly unwarranted stress.  If it’s truly gone, never to return, I’m very glad and applaud 23andMe for that decision.

The bad news is that many of the 350,000 people referred to in the September community forum posting are still anonymous, and they many not even realize it. Many probably presumed, quite logically, that because they were taking a DNA test that included matches, that they would receive matches without having to do anything further.  Furthermore, they received the 30 day notification that they would be opted in if they did nothing, so they expected to be opted in.  But they aren’t.

Currently, at 23andMe, you have to jump through more hoops to obtain your genealogy results than you did (when they were providing health information) to obtain your health results.  I hope that the message provided to people who are making the “Opt In – Opt Out” decision can be worded a little more encouragingly and present both sides of the risk/reward coin.  I would hate for their entire response to be fear based due to the tone of the selection message and the fact that they have to answer this question repeatedly – like the dreaded Alzheimer’s health question – back when 23andMe was providing health results.

Here, let me give you an example vignette:

Hi, 23andMe, I’d like to test for genealogy matches.

Great, send me $99 and you’re on the way.

Spit…mail….waiting…waiting…

Good news, your results are back.  Do you want to opt into DNA Relatives?  You know you could find out information about your family that is upsetting to you?  It could change your family relations?

Really?  Hmmm…I think I want to see.  That’s why I tested.

Another e-mail:  Are you sure, really positive that you want to remain in DNA Relatives?  You know, you could find out really upsetting information.  You can see other close relatives and they can see you.

Geeze, I don’t know….maybe not…I’ll wait till I sign on next time to deal with this.

Signing on next time….

Do you want to opt-in to DNA Relatives?  You know, you could find out some really disturbing and upsetting things about your family?  It could change your relationship with your family members.

After repeating this warning several times, it begins to appear like 23andMe is discouraging your participation, not informing you of risks and rewards.  There is no upside mentioned, only repeated negatively framed warnings.  Given that genealogy/ancestry is the only reason for the consumer to purchase this product right now, this approach seems a bit counter-intuitive and overkill.  In the least, the warning should be given up front, during the purchase process, and then not constantly repeated.

However, given that 23andMe is still gathering your health information and utilizing it in their medical research, even if you opt-out or don’t opt-in to DNA Relatives, assuming you haven’t opted out of medical research as well, warning you up front would discourage a sale and would prevent them from collecting your genetic data.  In essence, 23andMe doesn’t care one bit whether you opt-in or opt-out of DNA Relatives, but they care a whole lot about your money and your participation in medical research.

The constant changes and hoopla are confusing people and frightening some. Others are becoming too discouraged by a lack of positive genealogical results to continue.

23andMe was first in the game with consumer autosomal testing, but their ever-changing policies have become and remain confusing. They have done nothing to clarify publicly, leaving everyone uncertain and a little reluctant.

23andMe entered the genealogy marketspace, but they seem to be focused on protecting people from genealogy matches. This seems almost like a conflict of interest, or may be better stated, a Kobayashi Maru, or no-win situation. It seems that the health testing aspect is causing 23andMe to adopt such restrictive procedures that it’s making the genealogy aspect of their product increasingly restrictive and difficult.  I’m sure this is reflective of their primary goal, which is medicine, and the fact that genealogists just happened to be interested in genetics as a tool was, for them, a happy accident that provided a source for test subjects.  Genealogy is not something 23andMe is primarily interested in.  I’m sure they aren’t making things difficult intentionally, but the net effect is far from encouraging.

I’m finding that their protections are barriers and the required steps are confusing for customers and self-defeating for genealogy, and they are, unfortunately, cumulative hurdles:

  • Having to specifically opt-in to DNA Relatives, even after consenting to test when purchasing the product which includes matching
  • Having to request to communicate with other participants
  • Having to request to “share DNA”
  • Having to confirm that yes, you really did want to ‘opt in’ to DNA Relatives
  • About a 10% communication request response rate
  • Most of the 10% of the people who do respond know little, if anything, about their genealogy, nor are they terribly interested
  • Having to utilize the 23andMe corporate message system instead of communicate with your matches via e-mail
  • Match limit at 1000 people unless you are communicating with more than that number. After 1000, matches fall off your list.
  • Their terrible trees. Yes, I realize they have recently partnered with My Heritage, but as Judy Russell says, we’ll see.
  • The misleading (health and ancestry) notation in a sharing request which frightens people as to why you want their health information, causing people to decline to share
  • Constant change about who you are/aren’t seeing as matches and why
  • Confusing and conflicting opt-in, opt-out information delivered on four different platforms; e-mail, on your personal page, their blog and their community forum.  In essence, this means that almost everyone except the most dedicated 23andMe follower misses at least part of the information.

23andMe is approaching the point where the pain level of participation is at the threshold of no longer being worthwhile except for extraordinary cases like adoptions where the participant is desperate for any possible crumb.

I thought more about this situation, and I believe that the underlying problem is a fundamental disconnect in the focus of the two groups.  23andMe’s corporate focus is and always has been health related research, compilation and manipulation of genomic “big data.”   Taking a look at their recent American Association of Human Genetics papers is a good yardstick of their corporate focus.  Not one paper mentions the genealogical aspect of their business, and even the paper that does indirectly help genealogists by reducing false positive identical-by-descent segments is presented from a medical perspective.  In essence, the genealogy community is a source for DNA for 23andMe.  They aren’t focused on genealogy or interested in serving this community.  That’s neither good nor bad…it’s just the way it is.

The genealogy community, on the other hand, is frustrated by the increasingly long list of confusing hurdles at 23andMe that people who test for genealogy must navigate before they can reap any of the potential benefits of matching for genealogical purposes.  Each successive hurdle reduces the number of people who complete the course and those who make it to the end are either the died in the wool genealogists who have tested elsewhere anyway or people with little or no knowledge of their genealogy.  Worst case, people who test at 23andMe for genealogy will leave with a bad taste in their mouth and never test again because, frankly, it’s neither easy nor fun.

We don’t know exactly how many people haven’t opted-in for DNA Relatives, but we can surmise some based on their publicly released information.  In the September retraction, 23andMe said that there were 350,000 who had not opted in, or out.  We don’t know how many have actively opted out.  In their ASHG abstract, they mention that 550,000 have consented for research.  That tells us that less than half of their clients are opted in for DNA Relatives, or about 200,000 (assuming no one opted out), or perhaps less now with the recent “are you sure” messages like I received.  Given that only 10% of the people who DO actively opt-in for DNA Relatives respond to inquiries, that’s a whole lot of people not clearing the hurdles for one reason or another.  Of their entire data base of 550,000, only about 20,000 people clear the hurdles and engage, or about 3.5%. That means that there are 530,000, or more if you include the unknown number of opt-outs, who don’t clear the hurdles.

I hope 23andMe gets their cumulative act together relative to genealogy customers. You’d think with genealogy customers being their only source of corporate revenue right now (except for government grants and venture capital), that they would be bending over backwards to make the genealogy related products and processes straightforward, accessible and easy to use.  Now would be a great time for some positive changes!

Family Tree DNA Announces *Free Autosomal Transfer from 23andMe and Ancestry

dna ballOne of the major announcements this past week at the Family Tree DNA administrator’s conference was that Family Tree DNA will now be accepting, and encouraging, free data transfers from both 23andMe (V3 chip only) and Ancestry.com.

*For free, you will be able to see your top 20 matches, but if you want to contact those matches or unlock the rest of the Family Finder functionality and tools at Family Tree DNA, you’ll need to pay $39 or recruit 4 additional people to upload their files, whether they pay to join or not.  Compared to retesting at $99 or the previous transfer price of $69, this is a great value.

Yesterday, I received this notification from Family Tree DNA that was sent to all project administrators.

As Senior Director of Product Michael Gugel shared at the recent conference, for the first time ever, people that have taken an AncestryDNA™ or 23andMe© (V3) test can transfer into the FTDNA databases for free by visiting https://www.familytreedna.com/AutosomalTransfer? and following the instructions to upload their raw data file.

Within an hour or two, we provide a preview of what’s waiting if they transfer by showing the top 20 matches along with an estimate of the total number of matches in the FTDNA database.

Full functionality can be unlocked by either paying $39 or recruiting four other people to upload, thus unlocking the rest of the matches.

Here are some important points to know:

  • We only accept the 23andMe V3 chip that was used on tests sold between November 2010 and approximately November 2013. There are a couple of ways to find out what chip was used for your test other than simply the timeframe. One is size; v3 chip files are about 7.83 MB where V2 and V4 chips are smaller. If you’re tech savvy, you can unzip the file and check chromosomes: Chromosome 1 for v3 starts at 82154 (rs4477212) where v4 starts at 734462 (rs12564807)and v2 starts with position 742429 (rs3094315).
  • We do not have any plans to accept V2 or V4 chips. if you try to upload the wrong chip version, the system will tell you that the file doesn’t have sufficient data. Since neither chip contains enough of the SNPs included in Family Finder, we would have to impute too much data. Basically we’d have to make assumptions about the missing SNPs that we’re just not willing to make at this point.

Blaine Bettinger at The Genetic Genealogist wrote detailed instructions about how to do the transfer and what to expect, so take a look.

At the $39 price, or recruit 4 and it’s entirely free, this transfer becomes the best autosomal vendor value available today. I know that people are already taking advantage of this offer, because I’m seeing new people join my projects and their item purchased indicates “free transfer.”

Spending the $39 (or recruiting 4 additional participants) allows you to unlock and access the following Family Finder features:

  • Full data base matching
  • Ability to contact matches directly via e-mail
  • Ability to join projects that accept autosomal participants
  • Ability to see matches by and within projects
  • Searching for matches by surname
  • Searching for matches by ancestral surname
  • Ability to view your matches family trees
  • Ability to upload your GEDCOM file or create your family tree to facilitate surname matching
  • Utilizing the “In Common With” tool to see who you and your matches both match
  • Utilizing the Matrix to see if your matches also match each other, suggesting a common ancestor
  • Seeing results on the Chromosome browser
  • myOrigins ethnicity information

The more kits in the data base, the more matches, so don’t wait.  You can’t lose by doing the free transfer and seeing what matches might be waiting for you.

DNA Buys the Truth

true-straight

Recently, George Doe, clearly a pseudonym, a man with a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology, a professional stem cell and reproductive biologist, related his story to Julia Belluz.  Vox published the resulting article titled, “With Genetic Testing I Gave My Parents the Gift of a Divorce.”  The original rather unflattering and somewhat derisory article by Julia is here, titled Genetic Testing Brings Families Together and Sometimes Tears Them Apart.

In these articles, Dr. Doe tells us that last year, in a class he was teaching, he used the 23andMe test to demonstrate how to collect a spit sample.

In fact, he was so excited that he bought kits for his parents as well:

“I had spent many years looking at the genes of other animals — particularly mice — but I never looked at my own. Because I was so excited about it, I got two 23andMe kits for my mom and dad as gifts. It’s a lot more fun when you can incorporate your family because you can trace not just the chromosomes but individual alleles on the chromosome so you don’t just see them, but where they came from. Also, I felt I had a good handle on my family’s medical history so I was very interested in confirming any susceptibility to cancers that I heard had run in my family, like colon cancer. I wanted to know if I had a genetic risk.”

But Dr. Doe found more than he anticipated.  He found a half brother, an adoptee, sired by his father.

“When I saw that I share about 22 percent of my genome with a person, I thought, “That’s huge.” It took a bit of time to realize Thomas and I actually share the same genome with my father. This is how it happened: when you share around 25 percent genetic similarity with someone, that means that either it’s your grandfather, uncle, or half-sibling. 23andMe listed Thomas as a grandfather, which was confusing to me. I called my dad. All I had was his name, Thomas, and the fact that he’s male. I just asked my dad, “Does this name sound familiar?” He said no. He logged into his account, and Thomas wasn’t showing up at all. I was so confused. We figured out that at the very bottom of your profile, there’s a little box that says “check this box if you want to see close family members in this search program.”

Dad checked it, and Thomas’ name appeared in his list. 23andMe said dad was 50 percent related with Thomas and that he was a predicted son.”

Given Dr. Doe’s next comments, one can surmise that this child was not conceived before Dr. Does’ parents married, nor was Dr. Doe’s father a sperm donor.

“Years of repressed memories and emotions uncorked and resulted in tumultuous times that have torn my nuclear family apart. My parents divorced. No one is talking to my dad. We’re not anywhere close to being healed yet and I don’t know how long it will take to put the pieces back together.”

Correction Note:  CeCe Moore provides information that Doe’s half-brother was conceived prior to the marriage, as reported by Belluz.  However, we don’t know that the conception was outside of the time span of the relationship of the parents.  CeCe also states that “both Neil Schwartzman and I were misquoted/misrepresented in the article. Neil says that he never told her it was a negative experience for him. (Some of my quotes have been changed – with no correction noted interestingly, but there is still some misrepresentation of our conversation.) So, this does make me wonder if Ms. Belluz got Doe’s story exactly right as well. Ms. Belluz clearly had an agenda and twisted the “truth” to support it.”

At this point, I felt really bad for the Doe family, and I still do.  But Dr. Doe’s next paragraph bothered me when I first read it and it bothers me now.

Instead of laying the blame for this problem where it clearly resides, at the feet of his father, he is unhappy instead with the testing company, in this case, 23andMe.

“After this discovery was made, I went back to 23andMe and talked to them. I said, “I’m not sure all your customers realize that when they participate in your family finder program, they’re participating in what are essentially really advanced paternity tests.” People find out that their parents aren’t who they think they are. They have nearly a million people in the database. If there happens to be anyone in there you’re related to, they’ll find your match. This is a solid science.”

Dr. Doe goes onto say;

“I don’t want to say if I knew that I wouldn’t have participated. But I’m really devastated at the outcome. I wrestle with these emotions. I love my family. This is nothing I ever would have wished. My dream would be to introduce Thomas to dad, to incorporate a new family tradition, to merge families. We all get to broaden our horizons and live happily ever after. At least right now, that’s not what happened. I still hold out hope that in time we can resolve things. But I also worry that as these transitions happen there may have been some permanent emotional damage that may not be able to be undone.”

Dr. Doe goes on to say that 23andMe isn’t doing enough to protect the public from themselves, in essence.  23andMe did and does have a special box to click to indicate that you DO want to see close relatives.  Most people have no idea that this box even exists, let alone that they need to click it.  In fact, the mere fact that you have to click the box, and it’s not front and center, makes your results unreliable because you believe that you’re seeing all of your results, when you aren’t.  He even describes how this option confused his father and his father could not see his children.  His father isn’t the only one.  This option has caused more panic among families that “should” match until someone explains this hidden “Opt In” option and where they have to click.

Now, I’ve been quiet all week, mulling this situation over.  While I was mulling, 23andMe, who had previously announced that they were going to make seeing close relatives an “opt out” instead of an “opt in,” announced they had changed their mind.  Coincidence?  Doubtful.  In fact, Vox, who published the original two articles also published 23andMe’s announcement and stated that the announcement was a result of their original articles.

I find this stance personally abhorrent.  I believe that the people who test have the right to the truth – all of it – and not just if they happen to discover that all of their results are not being displayed.  They are adults.  They choose to take, or not take the test.  If you take the test, you have every right to expect you’re seeing all of your results.

Dr. Doe, of all people, has absolutely no right to complain.  He, of all people, a PhD in this field, knew exactly what he could discover.  The problem is that the truth is sometimes inconvenient and ugly, especially if you don’t expect to discover that your father cheated on your mother, or vice versa.

Dr. Doe – the problem is not that 23andMe did not protect you from yourself.  You, admittedly, clicked right through the options, believing of course, that it “couldn’t be me.” The problem is your family’s choices, perhaps then, and certainly now.

23andMe’s reversal on their policy will do nothing, absolutely nothing, to protect people like Dr. Doe from himself.  The only policy that will do that is the French policy of making DNA testing illegal to “protect the family unit.”  God forbid that we ever become that paranoid.

What 23andMe’s policy does it to continue to obscure the truth from unsuspecting testers.  Unfortunately, even if they put a big red box dead center in the screen today that says “If you don’t click here, you won’t see close relatives including sons, daughters……,” many people will never see it, because many people never sign on again after receiving their initial results.  In other words, many of their clients’ data would remain dark.  The only way to solve that problem is to do what 23andMe announced they would do and were preparing to do, to shift the option from “Opt In” to “Opt Out,” until Dr. Doe created a publicity nightmare because he couldn’t handle the results of his own test, AFTER, he intentionally and with full knowledge, clicked the “Opt In” option.

Furthermore, Dr. Doe could have discovered the same thing if he had found his father’s old journals, for example.  He could have discovered an old letter from a sweetheart.  He could have found the letter telling his father that the child would be put up for adoption.  What would he have done then?  Who would he complain to that no one protected him from himself?  The company that created the paper and the ink???  The post office because they might deliver a letter with disturbing information inside?

I don’t mean to be insensitive here, but it’s vastly unfair to make hundreds of thousands of people pay the price for Dr. Doe’s family issues.  The timing of this article with the much anticipated 23andMe change has created the perfect media storm.  Dr. Doe whined, loudly, and publicly, and 23andMe doesn’t want to create even more negative publicity.

If you think that I’m speaking from an ivory tower, or a vacuum, so to speak, I’m not.  Let me explain about infidelity and betrayal.  After my former husband’s massive stroke, when I was in my late 30s and he was in his late 40s, I found pictures of him with another female, with the sailboat that I bought him.  Yep, he was on vacation, with another woman, while I was staying home and working.  I felt terribly, horribly betrayed…not to mention gullible, stupid and naïve…oh yes, and angry.

I found those pictures a month or two after his stroke, when he was so terribly incapacitated that he couldn’t even speak, sit up, or eat, let alone answer any questions.  Really, there was nothing he could have said anyway – the pictures, multiple pictures, over multiple summers….were all the evidence I needed.  But I wanted them, I so wanted them to not be true.  But they were.  Staring back at me in living color.

The truth was ugly and painful and devastating.  But it was also freeing.  It freed me from the pain of loss of something I never had – a loving and loyal husband.  I only thought I did.  At the time it was horrifically painful.  Today, I’m incredibly grateful that I didn’t spend my entire married life with a cheating, lying scoundrel.

I also know about infidelity within a family when we discovered that my half-brother through my father was not my father’s child.  I lived through the pain of that too, and I can tell you that my brother, Dave, who wasn’t my biological brother, and I were far closer than many biological family members.

DNA does not tear families apart, people do.  Infidelity does.  Poor choices do.

My grandfather, about 1910, recently married to my grandmother, was present in his mother-in-law’s kitchen the day that a young man knocked on the back door.  His mother-in-law, Nora Kirsch Lore had recently been widowed after being married to Curtis Benjamin “CB” Lore for more than 20 years.  The young man asked for CB, by name.  Nora asked him to come inside and figured he was one of the young men who had worked for CB in his construction and racehorse business.  That’s not at all why the young man was looking for CB Lore.  CB Lore, according to the young man’s mother, was his father.  Let’s just say that it was a very awkward day in that kitchen as Nora asked the young man what year he was born.

In 1910, there was no way to prove, or disprove, this allegation.  Today, there is – DNA.  Nora too was devastated by her husband’s indiscretion, to put is softly, or outright betrayal to call it what it was.  But she was not without a hint – he had always been somewhat of a playboy.  Had she known specifically about this woman?  No, but it didn’t entirely surprise her either.  It only confirmed, or at least potentially confirmed, what she suspected happened when he traveled.  It certainly was not this young man’s fault for showing up to find his father.  Just like it isn’t DNA’s fault today.

Dr. Doe is not responsible for “outing” his father.  His father obviously made his own choices.  So did his mother.

Dr. Doe did not buy his parents a divorce, his parents did.  Pure and simple.  Their choice.  Sounds like that divorce was, perhaps, years overdue.

What Dr. Doe gave his mother was possibly the gift of truth and freedom.  Mrs. Doe obviously had the option of discussing things with her husband.  She didn’t.  Dr. Doe himself said it brought up repressed memories, and they obviously were not pleasant.  This was only a festering scab and he, unfortunately, was the one who bumped up against it and knocked it off.

I’m glad Dr. Doe is getting help.  I hope the entire family is getting help.

As I tell people, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.  If you don’t want the truth, don’t DNA test.  Period.

The culprit in this story is not Dr. Doe, is not 23andMe, but is very clearly Dr. Doe’s father’s original behavior combined with current family dynamics.

Sadly, the people that are ultimately paying the price for Dr. Does’ family turmoil are the hundreds of thousands of people that now continue to have their results obscured because of 23andMe’s abrupt change of policy.

That’s not right either.

23andMe lives and dies not on genetic genealogy or on the revenue from the tests themselves, but on their customers allowing them to use their results to compile for medical studies and to sell.  If you want to make your feelings known, you can personally opt out of allowing 23andMe to utilize your results for those types of endeavors.  In other words, 23andMe will no longer be able to make money from your DNA.

Perhaps 23andMe will hear and understand that message.  Companies understand dollars.

To remove your consent for 23andMe to utilize your DNA, or to at least review the consent form, sign on and click on the down arrow beside your name.

23andme consent

Then click on “Privacy and Consent.”

23andme consent2

Scroll down to the bottom of the page to “Basic Research Consent.”  If you have given consent, this is what you will see.

23andme consent3

Click in the green box on “view/change consent.”  You will then see the consent document.

23andMe consent4

Scroll down again.  You will see that the “give consent” box, in green, has been clicked already.

23andme consent5

Underneath that box, click on the blue “click here to change your consent.”  You will then see a green and a red box with your consent options.

23andme consent6

You can see that I’ve selected “I am this person and I don’t give consent,” in the red box.  Then click on the green “Save” button.

The change takes place imediately for any future projects or initiatives, but does not affect any studies or data sales that have previously taken place.

Furthermore, e-mail 23andMe’s Human Projects Administrator at hpa@23andMe.com and tell them why.

You have a voice in this matter.  Use it.

10 Things to Do With Your DNAPrint, renamed AncestrybyDNA, Test

birdcage

Please note, AncestrybyDNA is NOT the same as the AncestryDNA test sold by Ancestry.com.  Both CeCe Moore and David Dowell have written about this in their respective blogs.

Back in 2002 (no, that is not a typo,) a new product called DNAPrint was introduced by a company then called DNAPrint Genomics.  It provided you, in percentages, your percentages of 4 ethnic groups: Indo-European, East-Asian, Native American and African.  Family Tree DNA remarketed this test for just over a year but ceased when they realized there were issues.

It was the first of its kind of test ever to be offered commercially, and version 2.0 utilized a whopping 71 ancestrally informative markers, according to the user’s guide delivered with the product.  The next version of the test, 2.5, titled AncestrybyDNA included 175 markers, and a third version, which I don’t believe was ever released, was to include just over 300 markers.

In 2002, this was a baby step in a brand new world.  We, as a community, were thrilled to be able to obtain this type of information.  And of course, we believed it was accurate, or relatively so.  However, the questions and ensuing debate started almost immediately and became very heated.

The company’s representatives indicated that East-Asian and Native American could be combined for those without a “Chinese grandpa” and that would have given me a whopping 25% Native American.  Even then, before pedigree analysis, I thought this was a little high.  My East Asian was shown as 15%, Native American at 10% and Indo-European at 75%.  For reference, my real Native results are probably in the 1-3% range.  Keep in mind that we were all babes in the woods, kind of stumbling around, learning, in 2002 and 2003.

Interestingly enough, I found the answer recently, quite by accident, to one of the burning questions about Native American ancestry that was asked repeatedly of Tony Frudakis during that timeframe, then a corporate officer of DNAPrint, and left unanswered.  In Carolyn Abraham’s book, The Juggler’s Children, which is a wonderful read, on page 55, the answer to the forever-hanging question was answered:

“When I finally reached Frudakis, that’s how he explained the confusion over our Native ancestry result – semantics.  The Florida company had pegged its markers as being Native American to appeal to the American market, he told me.  But it was accurate to consider them Central Asian markers, he said, that had been carried to different regions by those who migrated from that part of the globe long ago – into the Americas, into East Asia, South Asia and even southern Europe – finding their way into today’s Greeks, Italians and Turks.  ‘We may do ourselves a favour and change the name of this ancestry [component] in the test,’ he said, since apparently I wasn’t the only one baffled by it.”

So, now we know, straight from the horses mouth, via Carolyn.

Of course, since that time, many advances have occurred in this field.  Today, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, Ancestry.com and the Genographic Project utilize chip based technology and utilize over half a million markers to achieve ethnicity predictions.  If DNAPrint, renamed AncestybyDNA was the first baby step, today we are teenagers – trying to refine our identity.  Today’s tests, although not totally accurate, are, by far, more accurate than this first baby step.  Give us another dozen years in this industry, and they’ll be spot on!

For 2003, when I ordered mine, DNAPrint was an adventure – it was exciting – it was a first step – and we learned a lot.  Unfortunately, DNAPrint under the name AncestrybyDNA is still being sold today, currently owned by the DNA Diagnostics Center.  If you are even thinking about ordering this product, take a look first at the Yelp reviews and the Better Business Bureau complaints.

I don’t regret spending the money in 2003.  Spending money on this outdated test today would be another story entirely – a total waste.  The results are entirely irrelevant today in light of the newer and more refined technology.  Unfortunately, seldom a week goes by that I don’t receive an e-mail from someone who bought this test and are quite confused and unhappy.  The test has been marketed and remarketed by a number of companies over the years.

So, here are some suggestions about what might be appropriate to do with your DNAPrint or AncestybyDNA results if you don’t want to just throw them away:

  1. Line the bottom of the birdcage.
  2. Use to light the BBQ grill or camp fire.
  3. Use under boots in the hallway in the winter.
  4. Shred, then use as confetti.
  5. Cut into strips and use as bookmarks.
  6. Use as scratch paper.
  7. Use in the garden between rows to minimize weeds.
  8. Make into a paper airplane.
  9. Roll, along with other excess paper, into logs for the fireplace.
  10. Frame, and display along with your other antiques.

Yes, it’s really that old and outdated!

Transfer DNA Results or Retest at Family Tree DNA?

confusionThe recent announcement by Ancestry.com that they are discontinuing their Y and mtDNA products and associated data bases, combined with the opportunity to transfer your Y and autosomal Y DNA results to Family Tree DNA has raised the question of whether it’s best to transfer or retest.  Let’s look at the various options, pluses and minuses, for each product involved.  As it turns out, one size does not fit all.  In other words, it depends…

Autosomal

The cost of an autosomal test transfer to Family Tree DNA is $69 and you can transfer either Ancestry.com’s autosomal test results or 23andMe’s v3 results to Family Tree DNA for that price.

However, the cost of retesting at Family Tree DNA, utilizing the Father’s Day sale, and yes, it’s valid for females too, not just men, is just $79.

So, should you transfer existing results or retest?

  1. If you retest at Family Tree DNA, you’ll have the added benefit of having your DNA archived there, available to you for other tests in the future. Archiving is free and is part of the service.
  2. If you retest at Family Tree DNA, you don’t have to deal with downloading files from Ancestry or 23andMe and then uploading them to Family Tree DNA. If you’re not a techie, this is a benefit.
  3. Ancestry has never been known for quality, so in terms of Ancestry, for a $10 difference, I would certainly retest.
  4. At 23andMe, if you tested either early (the v2 chip) or since November/December of 2013 (the v4 chip) you have no choice but to retest, because the results aren’t compatible.

In a nutshell, for a $10 difference, my vote would be to retest, unless, of course, the person isn’t available to retest then by all means, transfer the results.

If you’re going to retest, do it now while the price is still $79.  The sale ends on 6-17-2014.

Don’t forget, the Big Y, which is a nearly full sequence of the Y chromosome, is also on sale for Father’s Day for only $595.  The newly announced SNP matching in addition to the regular marker matching promises to add a second tool to those who are trying to determine family lineages.  I suggest that someone from each of your primary family surname lines take this test.  Mutations are being found every 90-150 years so this test holds great promised in combination with regular STR (37, 67 and 111 marker) testing.

Y DNA

You can transfer your Ancestry Y DNA results to Family Tree DNA for $19, and then upgrade to the Family Tree DNA standard marker test for another $39, for a total of $58.

If you transfer Ancestry’s 33 marker results, the $58 upgrade price buys you an upgrade to the 25 marker test.  If you transfer Ancestry’s 46 marker test, the upgrade buys you a standard 37 marker test.  Both of these upgrades include DNA matching to other participants.  The $19 transfer alone, does not, just the ability to join projects.

The standard 37 marker test at Family Tree DNA today costs $169 without the transfer, so transferring is definitely the way to go on Y DNA.  You save $111.  Plus, with the upgrade, you will have the added benefit of having your DNA archived at Family Tree DNA.

For Y DNA, a transfer with the upgrade is definitely your best value.  Don’t forget to do this before Sept. 5th because the Ancestry data base disappears that day.  In fact, the sooner, the better, because some of Ancestry’s DNA data base features have already been discontinued.

Mitochondrial DNA

Ancestry’s mtDNA test results weren’t compatible with Family Tree DNA’s, so you don’t have a transfer option.  The mtDNA plus at Family Tree DNA which provides you with your haplogroup and matches in the HVR1+HVR2 regions is $59, but the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is only $199.  The full sequence test provides you with fully sequenced mitochondrial DNA results, about 10 times more locations than the HVR1+HVR2 regions, a full haplogroup designation and matching at the highest level.  It’s definitely the best value and then you’re done with mtDNA because there are no upgrades beyond the full sequence.

My recommendation would be to purchase the Full Sequence test for $199 as the best value.

The Net-Net

In short, here’s what we have:

  • Autosomal – you can retest at Family Tree DNA for $79, $10 more than the $69 transfer price, which has several benefits.
  • Y DNA – the transfer plus upgrade for $58 is your best value, saving you over $100.
  • Mitochondrial DNA – there is no transfer option, so retesting is necessary.

Click here to order.

Drunken Sailors and a Porcupine

I should have known when I heard the ship groaning in the night as it shifted from side to side.  But I knew unquestionably when I sat up in the morning and began to sway back and forth.  I remembered someone telling me once about falling out of the shower on a cruise ship.  I doubted it at the time, but as of this minute, I believe that entirely.

One crew member said that it’s always cold in these northern British Isles ports, even in summer, often wet and the water in the fall especially is “choppy.”  If this is just choppy, I’d hate to see worse.

So today, I’ve gained an appreciation for drunken sailors.  You see, they may not be drunk at all, simply seasick and staggering around trying to find and maintain their footing – or the closest bathroom.  Last night, John, the cruise director said he can always tell the drunks when it gets rough.  The people who are normally sober are all staggering around, but the drunks, they are all walking in a straight line, referred to, appropriately, as “the line of experience.”  Obviously, I simply don’t drink enough!

In any case, it’s been an exceedingly rough day at sea. I spent the morning staring out the window at the horizon trying to keep the Dramamine down.  I called the spa to cancel my “happy birthday to me” massage for today since I “wasn’t feeling well.”  When I called, they told me that acupuncture cures seasickness, right after they told me that the cancellation charge was the same amount as the original spa charge.  I had my doubts, believe me, but I was so sick and miserable I was willing to try just about anything, so off to the spa I staggered – plus I was paying for it whether I went or not – so why not try acupuncture.  I couldn’t feel much worse.

Actually, I had my husband deliver me.  The wind was blowing so hard they had the outside decks closed.  The wind is howling like an unhappy banshee in the deepest Michigan winter blizzard.  That’s on the inside, sheltered deck with the open roof that can’t be closed over the pool area.  The outside is worse and unsafe, which is why it’s closed. The spa is on the other side so you have to walk through the open roof area.  If I was going to blow away, I wanted him to be with me.  I figured two of us stood a much better chance of hanging on and well, we were much heavier together and more difficult to get aloft like giant inflatable kites.

These ships were not made for winter, in fact, they have no heaters for the rooms.  You can have A/C or “regular air” which is whatever the air temperature is, recycled.  It’s in the 50s today.  I’ve taken to sleeping in my sweatshirt and wool socks with the bathrobe thrown on top of the blankets for extra warmth and I was finally warm enough last night.  If they were selling parkas, they would make a fortune because it wouldn’t matter how much they cost.  I swear to you, I saw a crew member today wearing gloves.

Tell me why I’m doing this again???  Oh yes, it’s a DNA trip, to find my ancestor’s lands and share their experiences.  And yes, some of them were mariners.  Probably, knowing my family, the ones walking in a straight line.  Ugh.  I could have passed on this particular shared experience, but no, this had to be authentic.

So after arriving at the spa, off with most of the clothes (brrrr) and in with the acupuncture needles.  There were needles in my face, in my ears and in my hands and feet including between my eyebrows and between my toes.  As I lay there, looking like a distant relative of the porcupine family and afraid to move for fear of impaling myself, the thought crossed my mind that not only did I do this of my own choosing, but worse yet, I’m paying for the opportunity.  I tried to fall asleep, which is difficult with a bunch of needles sticking in your skin.  Basically, they poke you like a pin cushion, turn the lights off, come back in about an hour and collect money for doing so.

Now the good news is that I did and do feel better.  I’m still staggering around like a drunken sailor, or what I previously thought was a drunken sailor, but I’m not sick. By mid-afternoon, after my spa treatment, food even sounded good, so I went up to the lounge deck with floor to ceiling windows and had a snack.  Yes indeed, things are improving for the old porcupine.  But the sea is quite rough again as we have left the shelter of the Isle of Skye and other islands off Ireland and are in the open North Atlantic now.  It may be rough, but it’s still exceedingly beautiful.

rough seas

This reminded me of another time, years ago, when my kids were young and we had saved enough to take everyone salmon fishing in Lake Michigan.  We chartered a boat for the day, and we invited my Mom and (step)Dad to join us.  For my Dad, who loved to fish, this was a wonderful opportunity he had never enjoyed before – and maybe he’d catch something more interesting than catfish and bluegill in the farm pond at home.

We spent the night before in a local bed and breakfast and got up early to begin our much-anticipated adventure.  I gave everyone in the family Dramamine, everyone that was, except my mother.  She refused, saying that she didn’t get sea sick.  I encouraged her to take it anyway, but she would have none of that.

You know what happened don’t you?  She turned green as pea soup – and not only was she miserable – so were the rest of us.  It’s hard to have fun when someone is so ill.  So we went back to shore, Mom and Dad departed for home, despite our protests, and the rest of us went fishing.  We caught and froze some salmon for Dad, but it just wasn’t the same as catching those fish himself.

However, this made me wonder – is motion sickness hereditary?  I have suffered with it all of my life.  My first memories of it are riding in a car when I was quite young, pre-school.  I still suffer from this same problem.  Mine is much worse than Mom’s was.

According to 23andMe, indeed motion sickness is hereditary.

In a paper presented at the 2012 ASHG Meeting, they state that:

Roughly one in three individuals is highly susceptible to motion sickness; the remaining two-thirds of the population may experience motion sickness if the conditions are extreme.

It’s estimated that up to 70% of a person’s risk for motion sickness is due to genetics, but the genetics of motion sickness has been very poorly understood … until now.

23andMe scientist Bethann Hromatka presented results from a genetic study of nearly 37,000 customers who were surveyed about motion sickness. The analysis identified 14 genetic associations with motion sickness that fall into a few different biological categories. Three genetic variants are involved in development, including development of the eye and ear. Other variants are involved neurological processes and glucose/insulin regulation.

Aha, I knew it. I get to blame my mother, and maybe my father for this unfortunate inherited trait – but I’m guessing my Estes mariner ancestors didn’t carry it – or they wouldn’t have been mariners.  But, according to Mother, she wasn’t motion sick, she simply had “an inner ear problem.”  Uh, yea, Mom, you did.  A rose by any other name…

Now, I wonder why acupuncture helps relieve the symptoms?  The crew, who also take these treatments because they have to keep working, says that one acupuncture treatment works for days too.  Although truthfully, I don’t care why.  I’m just glad that it does.  Given that the condition is genetic, I’ll probably be blessed with it the rest of my life so it’s nice to have a tool, any tool.

During the rest of the day, we were treated to a rainbow several times.  The end of the rainbow always seemed to wind up in the restrooms on the lower decks.  Not sure what to make of that pot-o-gold.  I guess it was near the casino.  The rainbow didn’t photograph well through the glass, but you get the idea.  It was pleasant and hopeful to see after not feeling so well.

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Our towel guy tonight has, what else…no, not acupuncture needles, although that certainly would have been appropriate.  Ginger snaps to help with seasickness, Bonine (which also costs far more on this ship than an outfit at Kohl’s) and chocolate covered strawberries – the last 3 on the ship.  Well, after all, it was my belated birthday present.  Acupuncture, ginger snaps and chocolate-covered strawberries. Who could ask for more!

Tomorrow, solid ground again.  We’re going to Urquhart Castle.  Hope you’re coming along!

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