Every genealogists worst nightmare. A DNA kit swap. You unknowingly receive the results from someone else, and that equally in-the-dark unknown person receives yours. And you’ll never know unless you recognize the signs and take action to see if it’s your bad luck or overactive imagination, or the answer really is a kit swap or lab error of some sort.
I’ve just spent three months unraveling this exact situation that occurred at Ancestry.com. The person to whom this happened would like to share her story with you. We are hoping that if something similar ever happens to you, that you’ll be able to recognize the signs and know what steps to take to figure out if this indeed has occurred.
Let me also say that a kit swap or similar lab error is really quite rare, and in most other instances when people believe their kits have been swapped, they haven’t been, although this certainly is not the first time this has happened. CeCe Moore reported on another Ancestry.com case in 2012.
We’ll call the lady Jane. Jane’s father agreed to have his Y DNA tested some years ago at Ancestry.com. Jane submitted his DNA for him and noticed that he had no matches to his rather common surname. She didn’t really think anything of it at the time, other than being disappointed. His haplogroup was estimated by Ancestry to be R1b.
As time went on, she ordered Ancestry.com’s autosomal test too for her father. Ancestry sent another sampling kit, and her father is receiving matches to people who, at least according to their trees, share common ancestors with her father.
Last year, Jane decided to transfer her father’s Y DNA to Family Tree DNA. The markers from Ancestry.com were transferred, and Jane still didn’t have any surname matches at Family Tree DNA.
Jane then ordered the Geno2.0 test for her father. The results were returned with haplogroup I, terminal SNP I-L22, which were at odds with Ancestry’s haplogroup R1b estimate.
About the same time, Jane upgraded her father’s STR markers as well, and the haplogroup project administrator noticed that while Jane’s father’s lower panels, meaning the ones tested at Ancestry matched haplogroup R1b, his upper panels didn’t match R1b subgroups at all.
Obviously something was wrong, very wrong, someplace. But what, and where? Jane contacted me and asked if I would help unravel this puzzle.
I checked Jane’s father’s page at Family Tree DNA, and when she transferred his Geno 2.0 results to his FTDNA page, apparently the transfer confused the software at FTDNA because his results reported both I-L22 and R-M269 as positive, which is impossible since I-L22 is in haplogroup I, only, and R-M269 is only found in haplogroup R.
Unfortunately, this only added to the confusion.
At this point, I downloaded the raw data file from the Geno 2.0 test and verified that indeed, M269 was absent and L22 was present.
Family Tree DNA, thankfully, stepped up to the plate and ran a SNP test on Jane’s father’s second vial. That SNP test also came back as positive for haplogroup I, matching the Geno 2.0 results.
Just to be absolutely positive, Family Tree DNA sent Jane’s father a third vial and tested the same markers that Jane had transferred from Ancestry. You can see for yourself – the results are very different. The results are unquestionable. Either there was a kit swap or a lab error of some sort at Ancestry where the wrong markers were posted for Jane’s father’s results. He has been tested three times, from separate vials, at Family Tree DNA with all of the results providing evidence that the Ancestry results were in error.
In an overabundance of caution, Family Tree DNA is going to rerun the entire test, all markers and the backbone SNP, from yet another (fourth) new vial being sent to Jane’s father. Thank heavens Jane’s father is still available for testing and not entirely discouraged.
Jane is ecstatic, because now, she is actually receiving surname matches and in her father’s words, “we just wanted to know who we are.” And just in time for Father’s Day!
Signs and Signals
How might you know if a kit swap has happened to you? As we know, Ancestry has discontinued their Y and mitochondrial DNA testing and will be destroying the data base, so this won’t be an issue at Ancestry with new Y DNA kits, but it could be an issue for results already delivered, like Jane’s, and for autosomal tests. This is one reason why retesting might not be a bad idea, even though the $19 or $58 Y DNA Ancestry to FTDNA transfer price is quite attractive. Here are some of the signs that might tip you that there is a problem:
- If Y DNA, you don’t receive any surname matches, even to those you believe that you are in related to. This is one of those sticky-wickets, because if you don’t match your first cousin, for example, the most likely situation is that you have an undocumented adoption in one of the lines. My suggestion in this situation is to submit an entirely new test under a new kit number. If your first and second kits match each other, then the answer is the undocumented adoption.
- If autosomal DNA, and you have no matches to anyone you believe you should match, especially close relatives, submit your DNA to one of the other three testing companies – Family Tree DNA, 23andMe or Ancestry.com. The approach gives you the benefit of fishing in multiple ponds along with verifying that your results match each other. When you receive the results from both companies, download the raw data files from both to www.gedmatch.com and then match them to each other. They should match almost exactly, although there will be some small differences in terms of areas tested and possibly no-calls – but they should match very closely.
Let’s hope this never happens to anyone else. The sad thing is that whoever, at Ancestry, received Jane’s father’s Y DNA results likely has no idea they are incorrect.
Thank you Family Tree DNA for going above and beyond to resolve this very distressing situation for Jane and her father.