Hit a Genetic Genealogy Home Run Using Your Double-Sided Two-Faced Chromosomes While Avoiding Imposters

Do you want to hit a home run with your DNA test, but find yourself a mite bewildered?

Yep, those matches can be somewhat confusing – especially if you don’t understand what’s going on. Do you have a nagging feeling that you might be missing something?

I’m going to explain chromosome matching, and its big sister, triangulation, step by step to remove any confusion, to help you sort through your matches and avoid imposters.

This article is one of the most challenging I’ve ever written – in part because it’s a concept that I’m so familiar with but can be, and is, misinterpreted so easily. I see mistakes and confusion daily, which means that resulting conclusions stand a good chance of being wrong.

I’ve tried to simplify these concepts by giving you easy-to-use memory tools.

There are three key phrases to remember, as memory-joggers when you work through your matches using a chromosome browser: double-sided, two faces and imposter. While these are “cute,” they are also quite useful.

When you’re having a confusing moment, think back to these memory-jogging key words and walk yourself through your matches using these steps.

These three concepts are the foundation of understanding your matches, accurately, as they pertain to your genealogy. Please feel free to share, link or forward this article to your friends and especially your family members (including distant cousins) who work with genetic genealogy. 

Now, it’s time to enjoy your double-sided, two-faced chromosomes and avoid those imposters:)

Are you ready? Grab a nice cup of coffee or tea and learn how to hit home runs!

Double-Sided – Yes, Really

Your chromosomes really are double sided, and two-faced too – and that’s a good thing!

However, it’s initially confusing because when we view our matches in a chromosome browser, it looks like we only have one “bar” or chromosome and our matches from both our maternal and paternal sides are both shown on our one single bar.

How can this be? We all have two copies of chromosome 1, one from each parent.

Chromosome 1 match.png

This is my chromosome 1, with my match showing in blue when compared to my chromosome, in gray, as the background.

However, I don’t know if this blue person matches me on my mother’s or father’s chromosome 1, both of which I inherited. It could be either. Or neither – meaning the dreaded imposter – especially that small blue piece at left.

What you’re seeing above is in essence both “sides” of my chromosome number 1, blended together, in one bar. That’s what I mean by double-sided.

There’s no way to tell which side or match is maternal and which is paternal without additional information – and misunderstanding leads to misinterpreting results.

Let’s straighten this out and talk about what matches do and don’t mean – and why they can be perplexing. Oh, and how to discover those imposters!

Your Three Matches

Let’s say you have three matches.

At Family Tree DNA, the example chromosome browser I’m using, or at any vendor with a chromosome browser, you select your matches which are viewed against your chromosomes. Your chromosomes are always the background, meaning in this case, the grey background.

Chromosome 1-4.png

  • This is NOT three copies each of your chromosomes 1, 2, 3 and 4.
  • This is NOT displaying your maternal and paternal copies of each chromosome pictured.
  • We CANNOT tell anything from this image alone relative to maternal and paternal side matches.
  • This IS showing three individual people matching you on your chromosome 1 and the same three people matching you in the same order on every chromosome in the picture.

Let’s look at what this means and why we want to utilize a chromosome browser.

I selected three matches that I know are not all related through the same parent so I can demonstrate how confusing matches can be sorted out. Throughout this article, I’ve tried to explain each concept in at least two ways.

Please note that I’m using only chromsomes 1-4 as examples, not because they are any more, or less, important than the other chromosomes, but because showing all 22 would not add any benefit to the discussion. The X chromosome has a separate inheritance path and I wrote about that here.

Let’s start with a basic question.

Why Would I Want to Use a Chromosome Browser?

Genealogists view matches on chromosome browsers because:

  • We want to see where our matches match us on our chromosomes
  • We’d like to identify our common ancestor with our match
  • We want to assign a matching segment to a specific ancestor or ancestral line, which confirmed those ancestors as ours
  • When multiple people match us on the same location on the chromosome browser, that’s a hint telling us that we need to scrutinize those matches more closely to determine if those people match us on our maternal or paternal side which is the first step in assigning that segment to an ancestor

Once we accurately assign a segment to an ancestor, when anyone else matches us (and those other people) on that same segment, we know which ancestral line they match through – which is a great head start in terms of identifying our common ancestor with our new match.

That’s a genetic genealogy home run!

Home Runs 

There are four bases in a genetic genealogy home run.

  1. Determine whether you actually match someone on the same segment
  2. Which is the first step in determining that you match a group of people on the same segment
  3. And that you descend from a common ancestor
  4. The fourth step, or the home run, is to determine which ancestor you have in common, assigning that segment to that ancestor

If you can’t see segment information, you can’t use a chromosome browser and you can’t confirm the match on that segment, nor can you assign that segment to a particular ancestor, or ancestral couple.

The entire purpose of genealogy is to identify and confirm ancestors. Genetic genealogy confirms the paper trail and breaks down even more brick walls.

But before you can do that, you have to understand what matches mean and how to use them.

The first step is to understand that our chromosomes are double-sided and you can’ t see both of your chromosomes at once!

Double Sided – You Can’t See Both of Your Chromosomes at Once

The confusing part of the chromosome browser is that it can only “see” your two chromosomes blended as one. They are both there, but you just can’t see them separately.

Here’s the important concept:

You have 2 copies of chromosomes 1 through 22 – one copy that you received from your mother and one from your father, but you can’t “see” them separately.

When your DNA is sequenced, your DNA from your parents’ chromosomes emerges as if it has been through a blender. Your mother’s chromosome 1 and your father’s chromosome 1 are blended together. That means that without additional information, the vendor can’t tell which matches are from your father’s side and which are from your mother’s side – and neither can you.

All the vendor can tell is that someone matches you on the blended version of your parents. This isn’t a negative reflection on the vendors, it’s just how the science works.

Chromosome 1.png

Applying this to chromosome 1, above, means that each segment from each person, the blue person, the red person and the teal person might match you on either one of your chromosomes – the paternal chromosome or the maternal chromosome – but because the DNA of your mother and father are blended – there’s no way without additional information to sort your chromosome 1 into a maternal and paternal “side.”

Hence, you’re viewing “one” copy of your combined chromosomes above, but it’s actually “two-sided” with both maternal and paternal matches displayed in the chromosome browser.

Parent-Child Matches

Let’s explain this another way.

Chromosome parent.png

The example above shows one of my parents matching me. Don’t be deceived by the color blue which is selected randomly. It could be either parent. We don’t know.

You can see that I match my parent on the entire length of chromosome 1, but there is no way for me to tell if I’m looking at my mother’s match or my father’s match, because both of my parents (and my children) will match me on exactly the same locations (all of them) on my chromosome 1.

Chromosome parent child.png

In fact, here is a combination of my children and my parents matching me on my chromosome 1.

To sort out who is matching on paternal and maternal chromosomes, or the double sides, I need more information. Let’s look at how inheritance works.

Stay with me!

Inheritance Example

Let’s take a look at how inheritance works visually, using an example segment on chromosome 1.

Chromosome inheritance.png

In the example above:

  • The first column shows addresses 1-10 on chromosome 1. In this illustration, we are only looking at positions, chromosome locations or addresses 1-10, but real chromosomes have tens of thousands of addresses. Think of your chromosome as a street with the same house numbers on both sides. One side is Mom’s and one side is Dad’s, but you can’t tell which is which by looking at the house numbers because the house numbers are identical on both sides of the street.
  • The DNA pieces, or nucleotides (T, A, C or G,) that you received from your Mom are shown in the column labeled Mom #1, meaning we’re looking at your mother’s pink chromosome #1 at addresses 1-10. In our example she has all As that live on her side of the street at addresses 1-10.
  • The DNA pieces that you received from your Dad are shown in the blue column and are all Cs living on his side of the street in locations 1-10.

In other words, the values that live in the Mom and Dad locations on your chromosome streets are different. Two different faces.

However, all that the laboratory equipment can see is that there are two values at address 1, A and C, in no particular order. The lab can’t tell which nucleotide came from which parent or which side of the street they live on.

The DNA sequencer knows that it found two values at each address, meaning that there are two DNA strands, but the output is jumbled, as shown in the First and Second read columns. The machine knows that you have an A and C at the first address, and a C and A at the second address, but it can’t put the sequence of all As together and the sequence of all Cs together. What the sequencer sees is entirely unordered.

This happens because your maternal and paternal DNA is mixed together during the extraction process.

Chromosome actual

Click to enlarge image.

Looking at the portion of chromosome 1 where the blue and teal people both match you – your actual blended values are shown overlayed on that segment, above. We don’t know why the blue and the teal people are matching you. They could be matching because they have all As (maternal), all Cs (paternal) or some combination of As and Cs (a false positive match that is identical by chance.)

There are only two ways to reassemble your nucleotides (T, A, C, and G) in order and then to identify the sides as maternal and paternal – phasing and matching.

As you read this next section, it does NOT mean that you must have a parent for a chromosome browser to be useful – but it does mean you need to understand these concepts.

There are two types of phasing.

Parental Phasing

  • Parental Phasing is when your DNA is compared against that of one or both parents and sorted based on that comparison.

Chromosome inheritance actual.png

Parental phasing requires that at least one parent’s DNA is available, has been sequenced and is available for matching.

In our example, Dad’s first 10 locations (that you inherited) on chromosome 1 are shown, at left, with your two values shown as the first and second reads. One of your read values came from your father and the other one came from your mother. In this case, the Cs came from your father. (I’m using A and C as examples, but the values could just as easily be T or G or any combination.)

When parental phasing occurs, the DNA of one of your parents is compared to yours. In this case, your Dad gave you a C in locations 1-10.

Now, the vendor can look at your DNA and assign your DNA to one parent or the other. There can be some complicating factors, like if both your parents have the same nucleotides, but let’s keep our example simple.

In our example above, you can see that I’ve colored portions of the first and second strands blue to represent that the C value at that address can be assigned through parental phasing to your father.

Conversely, because your mother’s DNA is NOT available in our example, we can’t compare your DNA to hers, but all is not lost. Because we know which nucleotides came from your father, the remaining nucleotides had to come from your mother. Hence, the As remain after the Cs are assigned to your father and belong to your mother. These remaining nucleotides can logically be recombined into your mother’s DNA – because we’ve subtracted Dad’s DNA.

I’ve reassembled Mom, in pink, at right.

Statistical/Academic Phasing

  • A second type of phasing uses something referred to as statistical or academic phasing.

Statistical phasing is less successful because it uses statistical calculations based on reference populations. In other words, it uses a “most likely” scenario.

By studying reference populations, we know scientifically that, generally, for our example addresses 1-10, we either see all As or all Cs grouped together.

Based on this knowledge, the Cs can then logically be grouped together on one “side” and As grouped together on the other “side,” but we still have no way to know which side is maternal or paternal for you. We only know that normally, in a specific population, we see all As or all Cs. After assigning strings or groups of nucleotides together, the algorithm then attempts to see which groups are found together, thereby assigning genetic “sides.” Assigning the wrong groups to the wrong side sometimes happens using statistical phasing and is called strand swap.

Once the DNA is assigned to physical “sides” without a parent or matching, we still can’t identify which side is paternal and which is maternal for you.

Statistical or academic phasing isn’t always accurate, in part because of the differences found in various reference populations and resulting admixture. Sometimes segments don’t match well with any population. As more people test and more reference populations become available, statistical/academic phasing improves. 23andMe uses academic phasing for ethnicity, resulting in a strand swap error for me. Ancestry uses academic phasing before matching.

By comparison to statistical or academic phasing, parental phasing with either or both parents is highly accurate which is why we test our parents and grandparents whenever possible. Even if the vendor doesn’t use our parents’ results, we certainly can!

If someone matches you and your parent too, you know that match is from that parent’s side of your tree.

Matching

The second methodology to sort your DNA into maternal and paternal sides is matching, either with or without your parents.

Matching to multiple known relatives on specific segments assigns those segments of your DNA to the common ancestor of those individuals.

In other words, when I match my first cousin, and our genealogy indicates that we share grandparents – assuming we match on the appropriate amount of DNA for the expected relationship – that match goes a long way to confirming our common ancestor(s).

The closer the relationship, the more comfortable we can be with the confirmation. For example, if you match someone at a parental level, they must be either your biological mother, father or child.

While parent, sibling and close relationships are relatively obvious, more distant relationships are not and can occur though unknown or multiple ancestors. In those cases, we need multiple matches through different children of that ancestor to reasonably confirm ancestral descent.

Ok, but how do we do that? Let’s start with some basics that can be confusing.

What are we really seeing when we look at a chromosome browser?

The Grey/Opaque Background is Your Chromosome

It’s important to realize that you will see as many images of your chromosome(s) as people you have selected to match against.

This means that if you’ve selected 3 people to match against your chromosomes, then you’ll see three images of your chromosome 1, three images of your chromosome 2, three images of your chromosome 3, three images of your chromosome 4, and so forth.

Remember, chromosomes are double-sided, so you don’t know whether these are maternal or paternal matches (or imposters.)

In the illustration below, I’ve selected three people to match against my chromosomes in the chromosome browser. One person is shown as a blue match, one as a red match, and one as a teal match. Where these three people match me on each chromosome is shown by the colored segments on the three separate images.

Chromosome 1.png

My chromosome 1 is shown above. These images are simply three people matching to my chromosome 1, stacked on top of each other, like cordwood.

The first image is for the blue person. The second image is for the red person. The third image is for the teal person.

If I selected another person, they would be assigned a different color (by the system) and a fourth stacked image would occur.

These stacked images of your chromosomes are NOT inherently maternal or paternal.

In other words, the blue person could match me maternally and the red person paternally, or any combination of maternal and paternal. Colors are not relevant – in other words colors are system assigned randomly.

Notice that portions of the blue and teal matches overlap at some of the same locations/addresses, which is immediately visible when using a chromosome browser. These areas of common matching are of particular interest.

Let’s look closer at how chromosome browser matching works.

What about those colorful bars?

Chromosome Browser Matching

When you look at your chromosome browser matches, you may see colored bars on several chromosomes. In the display for each chromosome, the same color will always be shown in the same order. Most people, unless very close relatives, won’t match you on every chromosome.

Below, we’re looking at three individuals matching on my chromosomes 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Chromosome browser.png

The blue person will be shown in location A on every chromosome at the top. You can see that the blue person does not match me on chromosome 2 but does match me on chromosomes 1, 3 and 4.

The red person will always be shown in the second position, B, on each chromosome. The red person does not match me on chromosomes 2 or 4.

The aqua person will always be shown in position C on each chromosome. The aqua person matches me on at least a small segment of chromosomes 1-4.

When you close the browser and select different people to match, the colors will change and the stacking order perhaps, but each person selected will always be consistently displayed in the same position on all of your chromosomes each time you view.

The Same Address – Stacked Matches

In the example above, we can see that several locations show stacked segments in the same location on the browser.

Chromosome browser locations.png

This means that on chromosome 1, the blue and green person both match me on at least part of the same addresses – the areas that overlap fully. Remember, we don’t know if that means the maternal side or the paternal side of the street. Each match could match on the same or different sides.

Said another way, blue could be maternal and teal could be paternal (or vice versa,) or both could be maternal or paternal. One or the other or both could be imposters, although with large segments that’s very unlikely.

On chromosome 4, blue and teal both match me on two common locations, but the teal person extends beyond the length of the matching blue segments.

Chromosome 3 is different because all three people match me at the same address. Even though the red and teal matching segments are longer, the shared portion of the segment between all three people, the length of the blue segment, is significant.

The fact that the stacked matches are in the same places on the chromosomes, directly above/below each other, DOES NOT mean the matches also match each other.

The only way to know whether these matches are both on one side of my tree is whether or not they match each other. Do they look the same or different? One face or two? We can’t tell from this view alone.

We need to evaluate!

Two Faces – Matching Can be Deceptive!

What do these matches mean? Let’s ask and answer a few questions.

  • Does a stacked match mean that one of these people match on my mother’s side and one on my father’s side?

They might, but stacked matches don’t MEAN that.

If one match is maternal, and one is paternal, they still appear at the same location on your chromosome browser because Mom and Dad each have a side of the street, meaning a chromosome that you inherited.

Remember in our example that even though they have the same street address, Dad has blue Cs and Mom has pink As living at that location. In other words, their faces look different. So unless Mom and Dad have the same DNA on that entire segment of addresses, 1-10, Mom and Dad won’t match each other.

Therefore, my maternal and paternal matches won’t match each other either on that segment either, unless:

  1. They are related to me through both of my parents and on that specific location.
  2. My mother and father are related to each other and their DNA is the same on that segment.
  3. There is significant endogamy that causes my parents to share DNA segments from their more distant ancestors, even though they are not related in the past few generations.
  4. The segments are small (segments less than 7cM are false matches roughly 50% of the time) and therefore the match is simply identical by chance. I wrote about that here. The chart showing valid cM match percentages is shown here, but to summarize, 7-8 cMs are valid roughly 46% of the time, 8-9 cM roughly 66%, 9-10 cM roughly 91%, 10-11 cM roughly 95, but 100 is not reached until about 20 cM and I have seen a few exceptions above that, especially when imputation is involved.

Chromosome inheritance match.png

In this inheritance example, we see that pink Match #1 is from Mom’s side and matches the DNA I inherited from pink Mom. Blue Match #2 is from Dad’s side and matches the DNA I inherited from blue Dad. But as you can see, Match #1 and Match #2 do not match each other.

Therefore, the address is only half the story (double-sided.)

What lives at the address is the other half. Mom and Dad have two separate faces!

Chromosome actual overlay

Click to enlarge image

Looking at our example of what our DNA in parental order really looks like on chromosome 1, we see that the blue person actually matches on my maternal side with all As, and the teal person on the paternal side with all Cs.

  • Does a stacked match on the chromosome browser mean that two people match each other?

Sometimes it happens, but not necessarily, as shown in our example above. The blue and teal person would not match each other. Remember, addresses (the street is double-sided) but the nucleotides that live at that address tell the real story. Think two different looking faces, Mom’s and Dad’s, peering out those windows.

If stacked matches match each other too – then they match me on the same parental side. If they don’t match each other, don’t be deceived just because they live at the same address. Remember – Mom’s and Dad’s two faces look different.

For example, if both the blue and teal person match me maternally, with all As, they would also match each other. The addresses match and the values that live at the address match too. They look exactly the same – so they both match me on either my maternal or paternal side – but it’s up to me to figure out which is which using genealogy.

Chromosome actual maternal.png

Click to enlarge image

When my matches do match each other on this segment, plus match me of course, it’s called triangulation.

Triangulation – Think of 3

If my two matches match each other on this segment, in addition to me, it’s called triangulation which is genealogically significant, assuming:

  1. That the triangulated people are not closely related. Triangulation with two siblings, for example, isn’t terribly significant because the common ancestor is only their parents. Same situation with a child and a parent.
  2. The triangulated segments are not small. Triangulation, like matching, on small segments can happen by chance.
  3. Enough people triangulate on the same segment that descends from a common ancestor to confirm the validity of the common ancestor’s identity, also confirming that the match is identical by descent, not identical by chance.

Chromosome inheritance triangulation.png

The key to determining whether my two matches both match me on my maternal side (above) or paternal side is whether they also match each other.

If so, assuming all three of the conditions above are true, we triangulate.

Next, let’s look at a three-person match on the same segment and how to determine if they triangulate.

Three Way Matching and Identifying Imposters

Chromosome 3 in our example is slightly different, because all three people match me on at least a portion of that segment, meaning at the same address. The red and teal segments line up directly under the blue segment – so the portion that I can potentially match identically to all 3 people is the length of the blue segment. It’s easy to get excited, but don’t get excited quite yet.

Chromosome 3 way match.png

Given that three people match me on the same street address/location, one of the following three situations must be true:

  • Situation 1- All three people match each other in addition to me, on that same segment, which means that all three of them match me on either the maternal or paternal side. This confirms that we are related on the same side, but not how or which side.

Chromosome paternal.png

In order to determine which side, maternal or paternal, I need to look at their and my genealogy. The blue arrows in these examples mean that I’ve determined these matches to all be on my father’s side utilizing a combination of genealogy plus DNA matching. If your parent is alive, this part is easy. If not, you’ll need to utilize common matching and/or triangulation with known relatives.

  • Situation 2 – Of these three people, Cheryl, the blue bar on top, matches me but does not match the other two. Charlene and David, the red and teal, match each other, plus me, but not Cheryl.

Chromosome maternal paternal.png

This means that at least either my maternal or paternal side is represented, given that Charlene and David also match each other. Until I can look at the identity of who matches, or their genealogy, I can’t tell which person or people descend from which side.

In this case, I’ve determined that Cheryl, my first cousin, with the pink arrow matches me on Mom’s side and Charlene and David, with the blue arrows, match me on Dad’s side. So both my maternal and paternal sides are represented – my maternal side with the pink arrow as well as my father’s side with the blue arrows.

If Cheryl was a more distant match, I would need additional triangulated matches to family members to confirm her match as legitimate and not a false positive or identical by chance.

  • Situation 3 – Of the three people, all three match me at the same addresses, but none of the three people match each other. How is this even possible?

Chromosome identical by chance.png

This situation seems very counter-intuitive since I have only 2 chromosomes, one from Mom and one from Dad – 2 sidesof the street. It is confusing until you realize that one match (Cheryl and me, pink arrow) would be maternal, one would be paternal (Charlene and me, blue arrow) and the third (David and me, red arrows) would have DNA that bounces back and forth between my maternal and paternal sides, meaning the match with David is identical by chance (IBC.)

This means the third person, David, would match me, but not the people that are actually maternal and paternal matches. Let’s take a look at how this works

Chromosome maternal paternal IBC.png

The addresses are the same, but the values that live at the addresses are not in this third scenario.

Maternal pink Match #1 is Cheryl, paternal blue Match #2 is Charlene.

In this example, Match #3, David, matches me because he has pink and blue at the same addresses that Mom and Dad have pink and blue, but he doesn’t have all pink (Mom) nor all blue (Dad), so he does NOT match either Cheryl or Charlene. This means that he is not a valid genealogical match – but is instead what is known as a false positive – identical by chance, not by descent. In essence, a wily genetic imposter waiting to fool unwary genealogists!

In his case, David is literally “two-faced” with parts of both values that live in the maternal house and the paternal house at those addresses. He is a “two-faced imposter” because he has elements of both but isn’t either maternal or paternal.

This is the perfect example of why matching and triangulating to known and confirmed family members is critical.

All three people, Cheryl, Charlene and David match me (double sided chromosomes), but none of them match each other (two legitimate faces – one from each parent’s side plus one imposter that doesn’t match either the legitimate maternal or paternal relatives on that segment.)

Remember Three Things

  1. Double-Sided – Mom and Dad both have the same addresses on both sides of each chromosome street.
  2. Two Legitimate Faces – The DNA values, nucleotides, will have a unique pattern for both your Mom and Dad (unless they are endogamous or related) and therefore, there are two legitimate matching patterns on each chromsome – one for Mom and one for Dad. Two legitimate and different faces peering out of the houses on Mom’s side and Dad’s side of the street.
  3. Two-Faced Imposters – those identical by chance matches which zig-zag back and forth between Mom and Dad’s DNA at any given address (segment), don’t match confirmed maternal and paternal relatives on the same segment, and are confusing imposters.

Are you ready to hit your home run?

What’s Next?

Now that we understand how matching and triangulation works and why, let’s put this to work at the vendors. Join me for my article in a few days, Triangulation in Action at Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch.

We will step through how triangulation works at each vendor. You’ll have matches at each vendor that you don’ t have elsewhere. If you haven’t transferred your DNA file yet, you still have time with the step by step instructions below:

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

DNAPainter Instructions and Resources

DNAPainter garden

DNAPainter is one of my favorite tools because DNAPainter, just as its name implies, facilitates users painting their matches’ segments on their various chromosomes. It’s genetic art and your ancestors provide the paint!

People use DNAPainter in different ways for various purposes. I utilize DNAPainter to paint matches with whom I’ve identified a common ancestor and therefore know the historical “identity” of the ancestors who contributed that segment.

Those colors in the graphic above are segments identified to different ancestors through DNA matching.

DNAPainter includes:

  • The ability to paint or map your chromosomes with your matching segments as well as your ethnicity segments
  • The ability to upload or create trees and mark individuals you’ve confirmed as your genetic ancestors
  • A number of tools including the Shared cM Tool to show ranges of relationships based on your match level and WATO (what are the odds) tool to statistically predict or estimate various positions in a family based on relationships to other known family members

A Repository

I’ve created this article as a quick-reference instructional repository for the articles I’ve written about DNAPainter. As I write more articles, I’ll add them here as well.

  • The Chromosome Sudoku article introduced DNAPainter and how to use the tool. This is a step-by-step guide for beginners.

DNA Painter – Chromosome Sudoku for Genetic Genealogy Addicts

  • Where do you find those matches to paint? At the vendors such as Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch, of course. The Mining Vendor Matches article explains how.

DNAPainter – Mining Vendor Matches to Paint Your Chromosomes

  • Touring the Chromosome Garden explains how to interpret the results of DNAPainter, and how automatic triangulation just “happens” as you paint. I also discuss ethnicity painting and how to handle questionable ancestors.

DNA Painter – Touring the Chromosome Garden

  • You can prove or disprove a half-sibling relationship using DNAPainter – for you and also for other people in your tree.

Proving or Disproving a Half Sibling Relationship Using DNAPainter

  • Not long after Dana Leeds introduced The Leeds Method of clustering matches into 4 groups representing your 4 grandparents, I adapted her method to DNAPainter.

DNAPainter: Painting the Leeds Method Matches

  • Ethnicity painting is a wonderful tool to help identify Native American or minority ancestry segments by utilizing your estimated ethnicity segments. Minority in this context means minority to you.

Native American and Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments

  • Creating a tree or uploading a GEDCOM file provides you with Ancestral Trees where you can indicate which people in your tree are genetically confirmed as your ancestors.

DNAPainter: Ancestral Trees

Of course, the key to DNA painting is to have as many matches and segments as possible identified to specific ancestors. In order to do that, you need to have your DNA working for you at as many vendors as possible that provide you with matching and a chromosome browser. Ancestry does not have a browser or provide specific paintable segment information, but the other major vendors do, and you can transfer Ancestry results elsewhere.

DNA Transfers

Some vendors don’t require you to test at their company and allow transfers into their systems from other vendors. Those vendors do charge a small fee to unlock their advanced features, but not as much as testing there.

Ancestry and 23andMe DO NOT allow transfers of DNA from other vendors INTO their systems, but they do allow you to download your raw DNA file to transfer TO other vendors.

Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch all 3 accept files uploaded FROM other vendors. Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage also allow you to download your raw data file to transfer TO other vendors.

These articles provide step-by-step instructions how to download your results from the various vendors and how to upload to that vendor, when possible.

Here are some suggestions about DNA testing and a transfer strategy:

Paint and have fun!!!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

23andMe Automatically Creates Tree Using New Technology – Relationship Triangulation

23andMe has introduced a new tree feature that automatically creates a “tree” for you based on your predicted relationships to others and their predicted relationships to each other. 23andMe hasn’t coined a term for this, but I’m calling it Relationship Triangulation.

Let’s look at traditional forms of triangulation and how Relationship Triangulation is different.

Triangulation

Segment Triangulation – In traditional triangulation for genetic genealogists, we match the same (reasonably sized) segments between a minimum of 3 not-closely-related people to assign that segment to a common ancestor. Of course, in this scenario, you need to know who your ancestors are – at least some of them.

Once enough people test and match on that segment, hopefully at least a few will be able to identify a common ancestor or minimally, an ancestral line. You can read about this type of triangulation here and a more detailed article here.

Tree Triangulation – Genealogists use what I refer to as “tree triangulation” when segment data isn’t available, like at Ancestry, or when they are seeking to determine parentage.

Adoptees use this method of triangulation where they look at the trees of their closest matches, hoping to discover a common ancestor in their close matches’ trees – because that points the way to a descendant of those ancestors who is their biological parent.

I’ve described this technique in the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching.

Relationship Triangulation

What 23andMe is doing with relationship triangulation is different yet.

They are using the same techniques used by genetic genealogists manually to try to place their matches in their trees. In essence, we perform the following steps:

  1. Look at the predicted relationship provided by the testing company in order to get an estimation of where that person might fit in our tree – in other words, how far back in the tree the common ancestor will be found. First cousins share grandparents, second cousins share great-grandparents, etc. Additionally, I utilize the relationship table at DNAPainter to view alternative relationships based on total shared DNA.
  2. Look at who we and our match matches in common. For example, if the match also matches my first cousin on my father’s side, there’s a high probability that’s where the person fits on my tree. If they also match with my second and third cousin on my father’s side, especially if they match on the same segment (traditional segment triangulation) then I not only know which “side” they match on, I can push the match back several generations to the common ancestor or ancestral couple I share with the third cousin.
  3. If I also have detailed haplogroup information about the ancestors in my family tree, and my match also has haplogroup information, I can use that to rule out or include lines as potential placements. 23andMe provides haplogroup estimates at a high level, not at a detailed level, but they can still serve to rule out various lineage placements on the tree when compared with other people. For example, if a person’s mitochondrial haplogroup is J1c, they can’t be the child of a female ancestor whose haplogroup is H1a. This is exactly why I have constructed a DNA Pedigree Chart.

What is 23andMe Doing?

I don’t have any inside information about exactly how 23andMe is constructing this tree, but they published the following. The difference, of course, is that they have automated the process and they don’t have customers’ trees to work with.

This information is found on your account at 23andMe under the 3 dots at the upper right-hand side of the tree itself, which I’ll show you how to access in a moment.

23andMe tree options.png

23andMe tree about.png

23andMe tree predicting.png

23andMe will probably provide additional information and make adjustments as this feature comes out of beta – including the ability to modify relationships which are inaccurate – and several are.

Beta is Required

In order to utilize the new tree feature, you must enable Beta for your account, which you can find under your name in the Setting area.

23andMe FamilySearch settings

If you need help, I wrote detailed instructions for enabling Beta in this article.

Accessing Your Tree

You can access the new tree feature in 2 ways.

23andMe DNA Relatives 2.png

At the top, under Ancestry, select DNA Relatives

23andme DNA Relatives selection.png

Scroll to the very bottom.

23andMe Family Tree beta.png

To see your tree, click on the Family Tree link.

The second way to access your tree is under DNA Relatives. When you click on any specific person, if they are in your tree, you’ll see the following:

23andMe tree cousin.png

The “View your Family Tree” button takes you to your family tree.

Your Squiggly Relationship Triangulation Tree

Please click to enlarge this tree in the image below. The font for names is small, but at 23andMe, you can zoom in on various sections.

23andMe tree

Click to enlarge

When you first see your tree, it looks a bit odd and takes a some getting used to because it looks different than the trees genealogists are used to working with.

Here’s what the blue box contents say:

23andMe tree blue.png

23andMe tree blue 2.png

23andMe tree blue 3.png

I tried to see if there was a way to add people in my tree. When you click, the node enlarges, but there isn’t anything to be done yet.

23andMe tree closeup.png

How Is 23andMe Creating Relationship Trees?

23andMe is constructing my family tree based on how I’m related to people, and how they are related to each other as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are also using their basic haplogroup information.

Let’s look at how this works.

My two children have tested. I did not tell 23andMe that they are my children, but because both of their mitochondrial haplogroups are the same, and I’m related to both of them in a parent/child relationship, and they are related to each other as siblings, I have to be their mother. That’s the only combination of relationships that works for the three of us.

If one of them was my parent, they would not be related to each other as siblings.

One could be my parent, and one my child, but then, again, they would not be related to each other as siblings.

Furthermore, my son would carry my mitochondrial haplogroup, but I would not carry my father’s mitochondrial haplogroup, so my relationship to him cannot be that he is my father. It would be very unlikely for a father’s mitochondrial haplogroup to match a child by happenstance although that’s not impossible, especially with only partial haplogroups with no full sequence testing. If you’re interested in the difference, you can read more about that here.

Lastly, my children would be related to a subset of the people I’m related to, but (in general) sharing less DNA, so a generation removed. If one of them was my parent, I would be related to a subset of the people they are related to.

23andMe is also looking at who shares DNA with other relatives.

23andMe tree relatives.png

In this DNA Relatives chart comparing me with cousin Laura, you can see that she and I share a common segment of DNA with my twin and with “J”, meaning we have segment triangulation, although my V4 kit doesn’t count for triangulation because it’s a duplicate. Additionally, Laura and I both match Trista, but Laura, Trista and I don’t share a common DNA segment between the three of us.

Laura, “J,” Trista and my V4 test are all shown in my tree. We’ll analyze those matches momentarily.

My Two Results

You’ll notice that I have two tests at 23andMe. I took a V3 test and another V4 test when it was introduced to see if my results were the same. 23andMe accurately calculated this as a “twin” relationship.

In general, the results are close, but not exactly the same. Interestingly, my V3 tree has 2 more cousins than my V4 tree. Of course, the need to “fit people in” on the tree means the layout looks different between the two trees, so I’m only going to work with one set of results in order to reduce confusion.

It’s confusing to look at both trees side by side, because these trees are auto-generated to “best fit” the branches with the available screen space – so the branches are not in the same place on both trees. As more cousins are added to your tree, the layout will change.

Paths

For each person in your created tree, you can click on the person you match and the path from them to you highlights.

I have to laugh, because there is a quilt pattern named “Drunkard’s Path,” and it’s much straighter than this path from my second cousin, Patricia, to me.

23andMe tree path.png

Of course, today there are no names on these “?” ancestor nodes but I know who they are.

Let’s take a look to see if these placements are accurate.

Identifying Nodes on the Tree

Based on where my matches are placed, I determined the identity of the “connecting couple” nodes on my tree and utilized Snagit to mark up the 23andMe tree, below.

You can see that I’ve labeled my mother and father, based on what I know about the various people that I match. For example, I know where my Ferverda cousins reside on my tree, so those cousins must be on my mother’s side.

Conversely, my Vannoy cousins must be on my father’s side.

In my case, my mother is on the left and my father on the right, which is backwards to the normal genealogist pedigree way of thinking. However, without any tree information at all, 23andMe is flying completely blind.

23andMe tree markup

Click to enlarge

I analyzed each of my 18 matches that 23andMe placed on my tree, of my 1553 total matches at 23andMe.

Accurate Placements

The gold stars indicate accurate placements. There are a total of 7 gold stars, BUT, of those 7, one is my own second kit which clearly is my “identical twin.” Two are my children whose accounts I manage. Of the balance, there are:

  • one 1C1R
  • one second cousin
  • two third cousins

There are a total of 4 accurate placements that are not immediate family members whose kits I manage.

Why might a placement not be accurate? 23andMe says the following:

23andMe unexpected.png

This is exactly why I utilize the DNAPainter segment tool to evaluate different possibilities for the matching total centiMorgans.

Unknown Placements

Green boxes on my tree are people who are unknown, but based on their common matches with known cousins, they are in the right general area of my tree. I wish I could tell more.

With 23andMe’s historic lack of tree support, and few people having added surnames or recently, ancestors through Family Search, it’s impossible to determine how these matches descend from common ancestors. The best I can do based on common matches and shared DNA is to determine and assign “sides” and sometimes roughly how many generations back to the common ancestor.

Hopefully, once people can actually identify ancestors on their trees, this may well improve. I’m concerned that so many years have passed with no tree support that many people aren’t signing in anymore, will never notice the tree feature and won’t add anything. I hope I’m wrong.

There are only 4 people in my tree whose relationship to me is unknown. Perhaps I should send them a message. I do know approximately where they belong on the tree, so I could at least ask some leading questions with surnames I think they might recognize.

Uncertain Placement

The gold box is an uncertain placement. Based on common matches, this person descends from Ollie Bolton’s parents’ line, not from Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley. However, Diane also matches Patricia M who descends from my mother’s line, so she could be doubly related to me. Those lines are not even from the same state, so this person is a bit of an anomaly.

This causes me to wonder how 23andMe will handle situations where a match does descend from both sides of a person’s tree.

I should send her a message too.

Inaccurate Placements

The red boxes indicate placements that are known to be incorrect, and why they are incorrect. When the placement needs to be moved to another connecting node couple, I’ve drawn a red arrow.

I’ve numbered the red boxes so we can discuss each one.

In box #1, Cheryl is identified correctly as to her relationship with me, as is “J,” but their relationship to each other is inaccurate. They are half siblings, not first cousins.

In boxes #2 and #3, these people are shown descending from my grandparents, when in reality, they descend from my great-grandparents. Of course, this makes their relationship to me inaccurate too.

In box #4, my half-grand-niece, meaning my half-sister’s granddaughter is shown as descending through another child of my grandparents, when in fact, she descends from my father and his first wife. My father needs another spouse in the chart and the relationship needs to be calculated accordingly.

In box #5, both individuals are actually one more generation further down the tree than they are shown, so the relationship needs to be recalculated.

Summary

How did 23andMe do with their automated Relationship Triangulation tree construction?

23andMe summary.png

  • One third, 33%, are inaccurate..
  • The close family matches, 17%, are accurate, but really don’t count – those were freebies.
  • There are exactly as many unknown as accurate, 22%.
  • 6% are uncertain, meaning I can’t tell if this person is accurately placed or not, because the matches are confusing.
  • Of my total 1553 matches, 1.16% were placed in a tree. I wonder if 23andMe has drawn an arbitrary line at 3rd cousins, at least for now.

Given that this tree was entirely constructed by 23andMe without any genealogical foreknowledge, based only upon genetic relationships to me along with genetic relationships of my matches to each other – this isn’t bad at all. It’s certainly a start.

Adoptees must think they’ve died and gone to the happy hereafter, because all other vendors’ tree support requires you to actually HAVE a tree of some description. Of course, adoptees and people seeking an unknown parent don’t have trees for their unknown parents.

23andMe creates a tree from scratch for you based only on genetic relationships – Relationship Triangulation.

While only one third of these matches are accurately placed today, all were at least on the correct side of the tree, with one confusing possible exception. Genealogists already know that things like pedigree collapse and endogamy will complicate efforts like this.

My mother’s side was accurately identified to appropriate great-grandparents, but my father’s side wasn’t as clean, especially where “half” relationships are involved.

It would be interesting to combine the Leeds Method or Genetic Affairs clustering with the 23andMe technology and see what those results look like.

23andMe would be in a much better position had they never obsoleted tree support years ago. They have never been a “genealogy” company, with their focus always having been on medical genetics. Genealogists, with their incessant need to know were the perfect people to attract to test. 23andMe has always given us “just enough,” but never trees or the heavy duty tools we need.

Perhaps the tide has turned and this is their way of reintroducing a hybrid genetic+genealogy tree.

The Future

In the short-term future, 23andMe is going to add the ability to define and modify relationships on this tree, which will help them refine and improve their machine learning tools. This will also help with their medical research initiatives because clearly, the companies they partner with want to know specifically, not generally, about the heritability of medical traits.

Trees encourage genealogists to provide 23andMe with family information for their medical research, while trees clearly benefit genealogists too.

In the longer term, for genealogists, let’s hope that the marriage of genetics, machine learning, trees and technology produces helpful tools.

This Relationship Triangulation tree is interesting and fascinating, if not yet terribly useful. This technology holds a lot of promise and every innovation begins with a imperfect tenuous first step.

Who knows what the future will bring, either at 23andMe or perhaps as other vendors integrate this same type of technology.

You can’t play if you don’t test and 23andMe does not accept uploads.

If you would like to take the 23andMe genealogy only test, click here or if you want the 23andMe genealogy + health test, click here.

If you have already tested, check your account for your new tree and tell me what you think!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Native American & Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments

Ethnicity is always a ticklish subject. On one hand we say to be leery of ethnicity estimates, but on the other hand, we all want to know who our ancestors were and where they came from. Many people hope to prove or disprove specific theories or stories about distant ancestors.

Reasons to be cautious about ethnicity estimates include:

  • Within continents, like Europe, it’s very difficult to discern ethnicity at the “country” level because of thousands of years of migration across regions where borders exist today. Ethnicity estimates within Europe can be significantly different than known and proven genealogy.
  • “Countries,” in Europe, political constructs, are the same size as many states in the US – and differentiation between those populations is almost impossible to accurately discern. Think of trying to figure out the difference between the populations of Indiana and Illinois, for example. Yet we want to be able to tell the difference between ancestors that came from France and Germany, for example.

Ethnicity states over Europe

  • All small amounts of ethnicity, even at the continental level, under 2-5%, can be noise and might be incorrect. That’s particularly true of trace amounts, 1% or less. However, that’s not always the case – which is why companies provide those small percentages. When hunting ancestors in the distant past, that small amount of ethnicity may be the only clue we have as to where they reside at detectable levels in our genome.

Noise in this case is defined as:

  • A statistical anomaly
  • A chance combination of your DNA from both parents that matches a reference population
  • Issues with the reference population itself, specifically admixture
  • Perhaps combinations of the above

You can read about the challenges with ethnicity here and here.

On the Other Hand

Having restated the appropriate caveats, on the other hand, we can utilize legitimate segments of our DNA to identify where our ancestors came from – at the continental level.

I’m actually specifically referring to Native American admixture which is the example I’ll be using, but this process applies equally as well to other minority or continental level admixture as well. Minority, in this sense means minority ethnicity to you.

Native American ethnicity shows distinctly differently from African and European. Sometimes some segments of DNA that we inherit from Native American ancestors are reported as Asian, specifically Siberian, Northern or Eastern Asian.

Remember that the Native American people arrived as a small group via Beringia, a now flooded land bridge that once connected Siberia with Alaska.

beringia map

By Erika Tamm et al – Tamm E, Kivisild T, Reidla M, Metspalu M, Smith DG, et al. (2007) Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders. PLoS ONE 2(9): e829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000829. Also available from PubMed Central., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16975303

After that time, the Native American/First Nations peoples were isolated from Asia, for the most part, and entirely from Europe until European exploration resulted in the beginning of sustained European settlement, and admixture beginning in the late 1400s and 1500s in the Americas.

Family Inheritance

Testing multiple family members is extremely useful when working with your own personal minority heritage. This approach assumes that you’d like to identify your matches that share that genetic heritage because they share the same minority DNA that you do. Of course, that means you two share the same ancestor at some time in the past. Their genealogy, or your combined information, may hold the clue to identifying your ancestor.

In my family, my daughter has Native American segments that she inherited from me that I inherited from my mother.

Finding the same segment identified as Native American in several successive generations eliminates the possibility that the chance combination of DNA from your father and mother is “appearing” as Native, when it isn’t.

We can use segment information to our benefit, especially if we don’t know exactly who contributed that DNA – meaning which ancestor.

We need to find a way to utilize those Native or other minority segments genealogically.

23andMe

Today, the only DNA testing vendor that provides consumers with a segment identification of our ethnicity predictions is 23andMe.

If you have tested at 23andMe, sign in and click on Ancestry on the top tab, then select Ancestry Composition.

Minority ethnicity ancestry composition.png

Scroll down until you see your painted chromosomes.

Minority ethnicity chromosome painting.png

By clicking on the region at left that you want to see, the rest of the regions are greyed out and only that region is displayed on your chromosomes, at right.

Minority ethnicity Native.png

According to 23andMe, I have two Native segments, one each on chromosomes 1 and 2. They show these segments on opposite chromosomes, meaning one (the top for example) would be maternal or paternal, and the bottom one would be the opposite. But 23andMe apparently could not tell for sure because neither my mother nor father have tested there. This placement also turned out to be incorrect. The above image was my initial V3 test at 23andMe. My later V4 results were different.

Versions May Differ

Please note that your ethnicity predictions may be different based on which test you took which is dictated by when you took the test. The image above is my V3 test that was in use at 23andMe between 2010 and November 2013, and the image below is my V4 test in use between November 2013 and August 2017.

23andMe apparently does not correct original errors involving what is known as “strand swap” where the maternal and paternal segments are inverted during analysis. My V4 test results are shown below, where the strands are correctly portrayed.

Minority ethnicity Native V4.png

Note that both Native segments are now on the lower chromosome “side” of the pair and the position on the chromosome 1 segment has shifted visually.

Minority ethnicity sides.png

I have not tested at 23andMe on the current V5 GSA chip, in use since August 9, 2017, but perhaps I should. The results might be different yet, with the concept being that each version offers an improvement over earlier versions as science advances.

If your parents have tested, 23andMe makes adjustments to your ethnicity estimates accordingly.

Although my mother can’t test at 23andMe, I happen to already know that these Native segments descend from my mother based on genealogical and genetic analysis, combined. I’m going to walk you through the process.

I can utilize my genealogy to confirm or refute information shown by 23andMe. For example, if one of those segments comes from known ancestors who were living in Germany, it’s clearly not Native, and it’s noise of some type.

We’re going to utilize DNAPainter to determine which ancestors contributed your minority segments, but first you’ll need to download your ethnicity segments from 23andMe.

Downloading Ethnicity Segment Data

Downloading your ethnicity segments is NOT THE SAME as downloading your raw DNA results to transfer to another vendor. Those are two entirely different files and different procedures.

To download the locations of your ethnicity segments at 23andMe, scroll down below your painted ethnicity segments in your Ancestry Composition section to “View Scientific Details.”

MInority ethnicity scientific details.png

Click on View Scientific Details and scroll down to near the bottom and then click on “Download Raw Data.” I leave mine at the 50% confidence level.

Minority ethnicity download raw data.png

Save this spreadsheet to your computer in a known location.

In the spreadsheet, you’ll see columns that provide the name of the segment, the chromosome copy number (1 or 2) and the chromosome number with start and end locations.

Minority ethnicity download.png

You really don’t care about this information directly, but DNAPainter does and you’ll care a lot about what DNAPainter does for you.

DNAPainter

I wrote introductory articles about DNAPainter:

If you’re not familiar with DNAPainter, you might want to read these articles first and then come back to this point in this article.

Go ahead – I’ll wait!

Getting Started

If you don’t have a DNAPainter account, you’ll need to create one for free. Some features, such as having multiple profiles are subscription based, but the functionality you’ll need for one profile is free.

I’ve named this example profile “Ethnicity Demo.” You’ll see your name where mine says “Ethnicity Demo.”

Minority ethnicity DNAPainter.png

Click on “Import 23andme ancestry composition.”

You will copy and paste all the spreadsheet rows in the entire downloaded 23andMe ethnicity spreadsheet into the DNAPainter text box and make your selection, below. The great news is that if you discover that your assumption about copy 1 being maternal or paternal is incorrect, it’s easy to delete the ethnicity segments entirely and simply repaint later. Ditto if 23andMe changes your estimate over time, like they have mine.

Minority ethnicity DNAPainter sides.png

I happen to know that “copy 2” is maternal, so I’ve made that selection.

You can then see your ethnicity chromosome segments painted, and you can expand each one to see the detail. Click on “Save Segments.”

MInority ethnicity DNAPainter Native painting

Click to enlarge

In this example, you can see my Native segments, called by various names at different confidence levels at 23andMe, on chromosome 1.

Depending on the confidence level, these segments are called some mixture of:

  • East Asian & Native American
  • North Asian & Native American
  • Native American
  • Broadly East Asian & Native American

It’s exactly the same segment, so you don’t really care what it’s called. DNAPainter paints all of the different descriptions provided by 23andMe, at all confidence levels as you can see above.

The DNAPainter colors are different from 23andMe colors and are system-selected. You can’t assign the colors for ethnicity segments.

Now, I’m moving to my own profile that I paint with my ancestral segments. To date, I have 78% of my segments painted by identifying cousins with known common ancestors.

On chromosomes 1 and 2, copy 2, which I’ve determined to be my mother’s “side,” these segments track back to specific ancestors.

Minority ethnicity maternal side

Click to enlarge

Chromosome 1 segments, above, track back to the Lore family, descended from Antoine (Anthony) Lore (Lord) who married Rachel Hill. Antoine Lore was Acadian.

Minority ethnicity chromosome 1.png

Clicking on the green segment bar shows me the ancestors I assigned when I painted the match with my Lore family member whose name is blurred, but whose birth surname was Lore.

The Chromosome 2 segment, below, tracks back to the same family through a match to Fred.

Minority ethnicity chromosome 2.png

My common ancestors with Fred are Honore Lore and Marie Lafaille who are the parents of Antoine Lore.

Minority ethnicity common ancestor.png

There are additional matches on both chromosomes who also match on portions of the Native segments.

Now that I have a pointer in the ancestral direction that these Native American segments arrived from, what can traditional genealogy and other DNA information tell me?

Traditional Genealogy Research

The Acadian people were a mixture of English, French and Native American. The Acadians settled on the island of Nova Scotia in 1609 and lived there until being driven out by the English in 1755, roughly 6 or 7 generations later.

Minority ethnicity Acadian map.png

The Acadians intermarried with the Mi’kmaq people.

It had been reported by two very qualified genealogists that Philippe Mius, born in 1660, married two Native American women from the Mi’kmaq tribe given the name Marie.

The French were fond of giving the first name of Marie to Native women when they were baptized in the Catholic faith which was required before the French men were allowed to marry the Native women. There were many Native women named Marie who married European men.

Minority ethnicity Native mitochondrial tree

Click to enlarge

This Mius lineage is ancestral to Antoine Lore (Lord) as shown on my pedigree, above.

Mitochondrial DNA has revealed that descendants from one of Philippe Mius’s wives, Marie, carry haplogroup A2f1a.

However, mitochondrial tests of other descendants of “Marie,” his first wife, carry haplogroup X2a2, also Native American.

Confusion has historically existed over which Marie is the mother of my ancestor, Francoise.

Karen Theroit Reader, another professional genealogist, shows Francoise Mius as the last child born to the first Native wife before her death sometime after 1684 and before about 1687 when Philippe remarried.

However, relative to the source of Native American segments, whether Francoise descends from the first or second wife doesn’t matter in this instance because both are Native and are proven so by their mitochondrial DNA haplogroups.

Additionally, on Antoine’s mother’s side, we find a Doucet male, although there are two genetic male Doucet lines, one of European origin, haplogroup R-L21, and one, surprisingly, of Native origin, haplogroup C-P39. Both are proven by their respective haplogroups but confusion exists genealogically over who descends from which lineage.

On Antoine’s mother’s side, there are several unidentified lineages, any one or multiples of which could also be Native. As you can see, there are large gaps in my tree.

We do know that these Native segments arrived through Antoine Lore and his parents, Honore Lore and Marie LaFaille. We don’t know exactly who upstream contributed these segments – at least not yet. Painting additional matches attributable to specific ancestral couples will eventually narrow the candidates and allow me to walk these segments back in time to their rightful contributor.

Segments, Traditional Research and DNAPainter

These three tools together, when using continent-level segments in combination with painting the DNA segments of known cousins that match specific lineages create a triangulated ethnicity segment.

When that segment just happens to be genealogically important, this combination can point the researchers in the right direction knowing which lines to search for that minority ancestor.

If your cousins who match you on this segment have also tested with 23andMe, they should also be identified as Native on this same segment. This process does not apply to intracontinental segments, meaning within Europe, because the admixture is too great and the ethnicity predictions are much less reliable.

When identifying minority admixture at the continental level, adding Y and mitochondrial DNA testing to the mix in order to positively identify each individual ancestor’s Y and mitochondrial DNA is very important in both eliminating and confirming what autosomal DNA and genealogy records alone can’t do. The base haplogroup as assigned at 23andMe is a good start, but it’s not enough alone. Plus, we only carry one line of mitochondrial DNA and only males carry Y DNA, and only their direct paternal line.

We need Y and mitochondrial DNA matching at FamilyTreeDNA to verify the specific lineage. Additionally, we very well may need the Y and mitochondrial DNA information that we don’t directly carry – but other cousins do. You can read about Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, here.

I wrote about creating a personal DNA pedigree chart including your ancestors’ Y and mitochondrial DNA here. In order to find people descended from a specific ancestor who have DNA tested, I utilize:

  • WikiTree resources and trees
  • Geni trees
  • FamilySearch trees
  • FamilyTreeDNA autosomal matches with trees
  • AncestryDNA autosomal matches and their associated trees
  • Ancestry trees in general, meaning without knowing if they are related to a DNA match
  • MyHeritage autosomal matches and their trees
  • MyHeritage trees in general

At both MyHeritage and Ancestry, you can view the trees of your matches, but you can also search for ancestors in other people’s trees to see who might descend appropriately to provide a Y or mitochondrial DNA sample. You will probably need a subscription to maximize these efforts. My Heritage offers a free trial subscription here.

If you find people appropriately descended through WikiTree, Geni or FamilySearch, you’ll need to discuss DNA testing with them. They may have already tested someplace.

If you find people who have DNA tested through your DNA matches with trees at Ancestry and MyHeritage, you’ll need to offer a Y or mitochondrial DNA test to them if they haven’t already tested at FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor who provides the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests at the higher resolution level, beyond base haplogroups, required for matching and for a complete haplogroup designation.

If the person has taken the Family Finder autosomal test at FamilyTreeDNA, they may have already tested their Y DNA and mtDNA, or you can offer to upgrade their test.

Projects

Checking projects at FamilyTreeDNA can be particularly useful when trying to discover if anyone from a specific lineage has already tested. There are many, special interest projects such as the Acadian AmerIndian Ancestry project, the American Indian project, haplogroup projects, surname projects and more.

You can view projects alphabetically here or you can click here to scroll down to enter the surname or topic you are seeking.

Minority ethnicity project search.png

If the topic isn’t listed, check the alphabetic index under Geographical Projects.

23andMe Maternal and Paternal Sides

If possible, you’ll want to determine which “side” of your family your minority segments originate come from, unless they come from both. you’ll want to determine whether chromosome side one 1 or 2 is maternal, because the other one will be paternal.

23andMe doesn’t offer tree functionality in the same way as other vendors, so you won’t be able to identify people there descended from your ancestors without contacting each person or doing other sleuthing.

Recently, 23andMe added a link to FamilySearch that creates a list of your ancestors from their mega-shared tree for 7 generations, but there is no tree matching or search functionality. You can read about the FamilySearch connection functionality here.

So, how do you figure out which “side” is which?

Minority ethnicity minority segment.png

The chart above represents the portion of your chromosomes that contains your minority ancestry. Initially, you don’t know if the minority segment is your mother’s pink chromosome or your father’s blue chromosome. You have one chromosome from each parent with the exact same addresses or locations, so it’s impossible to tell which side is which without additional information. Either the pink or the blue segment is minority, but how can you tell?

In my case, the family oral history regarding Native American ancestry was from my father’s line, but the actual Native segments wound up being from my mother, not my father. Had I made an assumption, it would have been incorrect.

Fortunately, in our example, you have both a maternal and paternal aunt who have tested at 23andMe. You match both aunts on that exact same segment location – one from your father’s side, blue, and one from your mother’s side, pink.

You compare your match with your maternal aunt and verify that indeed, you do match her on that segment.

You’ll want to determine if 23andMe has flagged that segment as Native American for your maternal aunt too.

You can view your aunt’s Ancestry Composition by selecting your aunt from the “Your Connections” dropdown list above your own ethnicity chromosome painting.

Minority ethnicity relative connections.png

You can see on your aunt’s chromosomes that indeed, those locations on her chromosomes are Native as well.

Minority ethnicity relative minority segments.png

Now you’ve identified your minority segment as originating on your maternal side.

Minority ethnicity Native side.png

Let’s say you have another match, Match 1, on that same segment. You can easily tell which “side” Match 1 is from. Since you know that you match your maternal aunt on that minority segment, if Match 1 matches both you and your maternal aunt, then you know that’s the side the match is from – AND that person also shares that minority segment.

You can also view that person’s Ancestry Composition as well, but shared matching is more reliable,especially when dealing with small amounts of minority admixture.

Another person, Match 2, matches you on that same segment, but this time, the person matches you and your paternal aunt, so they don’t share your minority segment.

Minority ethnicity match side.png

Even if your paternal aunt had not tested, because Match 2 does not match you AND your maternal aunt, you know Match 2 doesn’t share your minority segment which you can confirm by checking their Ancestry Composition.

Download All of Your Matches

Rather than go through your matches one by one, it’s easiest to download your entire match list so you can see which people match you on those chromosome locations.

Minority ethnicity download aggregate data.png

You can click on “Download Aggregate Data” at 23andMe, at the bottom of your DNA Relatives match list to obtain all of your matches who are sharing with you. 23andMe limits your matches to 2000 or less, the actual number being your highest 2000 matches minus the people who aren’t sharing. I have 1465 matches showing and that number decreases regularly as new testers at 23andMe are focused on health and not genealogy, meaning lower matches get pushed off the list of 2000 match candidates.

You can quickly sort the spreadsheet to see who matches you on specific segments. Then, you can check each match in the system to see if that person matches you and another known relative on the minority segments or you can check their Ancestry Composition, or both.

If they share your minority segment, then you can check their tree link if they have one, included in the download, their Family Search information if included on their account, or reach out to them to see if you might share a known ancestor.

The key to making your ethnicity segment work for you is to identify ancestors and paint known matches.

Paint Those Matches

When searching for matches whose DNA you can attribute to specific ancestors, be sure to check at all 4 places that provide segment information that you can paint:

At GedMatch, you’ll find some people who have tested at the other various vendors, including Ancestry, but unfortunately not everyone uploads. Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information, so you won’t be able to paint those matches directly from Ancestry.

If your Ancestry matches transfer to GedMatch, FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage you can view your match and paint your common segments. At GedMatch, Ancestry kit numbers begin with an A. I use my Ancestry kit matches at GedMatch to attempt to figure out who that match is at Ancestry in order to attempt to figure out the common ancestor.

To Paint, You Must Test

Of course, in order to paint your matches that you find in various databases, you need to be in those data bases, meaning you either need to test there or transfer your DNA file.

Transfers

If you’d like to test your DNA at one vendor and download the file to transfer to another vendor, or GedMatch, that’s possible with both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage who both accept uploads.

You can transfer kits from Ancestry and 23andMe to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage for free, although the chromosome browsers, advanced tools and ethnicity require an unlock fee (or alternatively a subscription at MyHeritage). Still, the free transfer and unlock for $19 at FamilyTreeDNA or $29 at MyHeritage is less than the cost of testing.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet.

DNA vendor transfer cheat sheet 2019

From time to time, as vendor file formats change, the ability to transfer is temporarily interrupted, but it costs nothing to try a transfer to either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, or better yet, both.

In each of these articles, I wrote about how to download your data from a specific vendor and how to upload from other vendors if they accept uploads.

Summary Steps

In order to use your minority ethnicity segments in your genealogy, you need to:

  1. Test at 23andMe
  2. Identify which parental side your minority ethnicity segments are from, if possible
  3. Download your ethnicity segments
  4. Establish a DNAPainter account
  5. Upload your ethnicity segments to DNAPainter
  6. Paint matches of people with whom you share known common ancestors utilizing segment information from 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and AncestryDNA matches who have uploaded to GedMatch
  7. If you have not tested at either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, upload your 23andMe file to either vendor for matching, along with GedMatch
  8. Focus on those minority segments to determine which ancestral line they descend through in order to identify the ancestor(s) who provided your minority admixture.

Have fun!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

23andMe Connects Up with FamilySearch

23andMe has always been primarily a DNA health company. You can purchase either a DNA for ancestry only kit or a DNA kit that includes both ancestry and health information. Their focus has always been on health, with genealogists providing both revenue and the possibility of genealogists opting-in to 23andMe’s health information data gathering initiative.

23andMe was the first company to offer commercial autosomal tests that included cousin matching, so genealogists flocked to test there in the early days.

Unfortunately, 23andMe didn’t mature to include or support trees which are the hallmark of genealogy.

Beginning in 2016 with Family Tree DNA’s Phased Family Matching and followed in 2019 by Ancestry’s ThruLines and MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity, all major vendors except 23andMe have both tree functionality in terms of support as well as additional tree-based advanced features to assist genealogists.

Recently, 23andMe announced a liaison with FamilySearch, although it’s not a tree but a list of ancestors reaching back 7 generations.

The Family Search Connection

The e-mail I received from 23andMe said the following:

Dear 23andMe Beta Tester,

You’re invited to test our new beta feature! If you have a FamilySearch® Family Tree, you can now upload information about your ancestors to 23andMe and display it to your DNA Relatives and connections.

With this beta feature, it’s now easier for your DNA Relatives to view your family tree information and find shared ancestors. You can also use a new filter to find DNA Relatives who have uploaded their own family tree information.

Learn more about FamilySearch and start exploring.

Sincerely,

The 23andMe Team

23andMe does not share any of your personal information, including your genetic results, with FamilySearch.

FamilySearch International is a wholly owned nonprofit subsidiary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. FamilySearch is a registered 2019 trademark of Intellectual Reserve, Inc, and is used under license.

Yes, I am a beta tester, and you can be too.

About FamilySearch

I have used FamilySearch for years, but mostly for records.

Relative to trees, I find it quite confusing in terms of who can and cannot modify ancestor information and what happens to trees that non-church members upload as GEDCOM files.

FamilySearch is really one big shared world tree – meaning that everyone’s information is combined into one large “family.”

I’m not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I’m by no means an expert on how to use their software. Therefore, I don’t understand the inner workings of how (if) accuracy is determined,” who moderates disputes and their qualifications, and how changes are made. Furthermore, multiple questions about this topic have produced inconsistent answers.

It was my original understanding that one could never modify the main shared tree, but through this exercise, I’ve discovered that FamilySearch has made some significant changes and that is (apparently) no longer true.

This is great news, at least I think it is, unless several people wind up in a tug-of-war over a particular ancestor.

For this discussion, we are interested in the FamilySearch shared “big tree” and not in what happens with individual trees.

Ok, now that we’ve defined how FamilySearch works, at least in concept, let’s take a look at how to utilize the FamilySearch tree through 23andMe.

Enable Beta Testing

Sign into your account at 23andMe.

23andMe FamilySearch settings.png

Beside your name at the upper right hand side of your page, you’ll see a down arrow. Click on that arrow or on your name and a list of options, above, will appear.

Click on “Settings.”

Scroll down to preferences where you’ll see Beta Program.

23andMe beta.png

To join the Beta program, which is required for the FamilySearch functionality at this time, click on the magenta “Become a tester” button.

Next, you’ll need to connect your 23andMe profile to your tree, either at FamilySearch or another public tree.

Scroll back up to the “Personal Information” section, and look for the Enhanced Profile section, below.

23andMe enhanced profile.png

Click on “Edit enhanced profile.”

23andMe share a link.png

Then select “Share a link to your online family tree” and click there. You’ll see the information, below.

23andMe FamilySearch online tree.png

At this point you have two options. You can click to add the FamilySearch information which they refer to as a tree, or you can enter a link to another supported tree in the area below. As you can see, that’s what I chose to do. You can also do both.

Supported trees are:

23andme supported trees.png

I believe they’ve forgotten to mention Family Tree DNA who also provides a link to share a tree that you might have created or uploaded there.

However, for this exercise, we’re going to click on the “Add FamilySearch” link.

If you already have a FamilySearch account and have constructed a tree at FamilySearch, you’ll click on the blue box to be directed to sign in.

23andMe FamilySearch signin.png

Creating an Account and Building a Tree

If you haven’t built or uploaded a GEDCOM file to FamilySearch, you’ll be directed to build a tree which consists of adding enough people, beginning with you, until FamilySearch can discover someone already in their shared big tree. Your grandparents might be there, for example.

Once FamilySearch recognizes someone that you enter as being already in their tree, and you confirm that it’s the same person, FamilySearch simply adds your line to the existing big shared tree – whether those ancestors further back are right or wrong. That’s the ying and yang of shared trees.

I’m not a huge fan of shared trees, but FamilySearch has implemented a very nice hints system and allows you to make modifications, so even if you’re not thrilled either, don’t write this option off without an evaluation. They are working to make their tools more accommodating and less cast in stone.

Here’s what you see at FamilySearch.

23andMe FamilySearch getting started.png

Beneath this page, you’ll be stepped through creating an account.

If You Have an Account

In my case, I have an account and a tree, so I click on the large blue box that says “Add your FamilySearch tree” which takes me to the FamilySearch sign-in page.

After signing in, you’ll see something similar to the following:

23andMe FamilySearch ancestor list.png

Note that if you’ve made corrections or changes at FamilySearch, you can upload a new version of this information by clicking on the blue “upload your new tree” link above the ancestors.

Based on my tree, I’m showing 4 grandparents, 8, great-grandparents, and so forth based on the shared FamilySearch tree, which is not necessarily the same as the GEDCOM file I uploaded. Don’t assume that it is.

Clicking the down arrow displays the various people in that category.

I strongly suggest checking these lineages well before you leave the FamilySearch tree connected to your 23andMe account.

These ancestors are connected in your 23andMe account at this point. Remember, your tree is not your own – but a combination of your twig connected to and interwoven with the larger shared tree which has been built using other users’ trees and input.

Click on the down arrows to display the ancestors gathered from the FamilySearch tree on your behalf.

23andme FamilySearch ancestors.png

In my case, the first, second and third generations are pretty much fine, needing only minor tweeking, like birth locations added. The people themselves are accurate.

In the fourth generation, we have some issues that can be easily fixed, like a misspelled name and missing birth and death information.

23andMe FamilySearch checking for issues.png

By clicking on the specific ancestor, you can view that ancestor’s information, but to actually modify that information, you’ll need to sign into your account through the regular FamilySearch page, not the 23andMe interface. We’ll cover how to make FamilySearch modifications after we finish the instructions for how to connect the FamilySearch tree to your 23andMe account.

By scrolling down to the bottom, beneath your ancestors, you’ll notice two options.

23andMe FamilySearch options.png

You can either remove this list of ancestors from your tree, or go to DNA Relatives at 23andMe. If you don’t remove the list of ancestors, exactly what you saw, above, is what your matches will see too.

After you fix issues with the FamilySearch tree, you will need to reupload by reinitiating this process in your Enhanced Profile, because the link to 23andMe is not live. Changes are not automatically reflected.

If you leave the FamilySearch list at 23andMe, be aware that you can also link to another tree as well. You don’t have to pick one or the other.

My 23andMe Choice

After taking a look at the FamilySearch shared tree, I quickly decided that until I am able to devote some significant time working on the tree at FamilySearch, I’m entering the link to my Ancestry, MyHeritage or Family Tree DNA tree – all 3 of which I control entirely meaning that they are not mixed with or predicated upon anyone else’s trees.

In the FamilySearch tree, I can find and replace incorrect ancestors through the 3th great-grandparents level pretty easily, assuming they stay that way and no one “recorrects” them. There are fewer descendants, so fewer cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. The information is newer in time, and therefore more likely to be accurate.

What I can’t do very well though, is to resolve several issues at the 4th and 5th great-grandparent level in the FamilySearch tree. By resolve, I mean that I’m not going to make changes unless I’m sure of the information I’m entering.

My issues that I really don’t know how to resolve are:

  • One speculative couple with no documentation. It could be right, or wrong but I can’t readily tell without more research. I have never seen anything to suggest that the information is accurate and was surprised to see these people connected as parents – but I also can’t prove it wrong because I haven’t worked on the problem.
  • A very convoluted mess wherein one ancestral couple, Gideon Farris (Faires) and Sarah McSpadden, is shown with daughter Anne Farris marrying Charles Beckworth Speak. That’s incorrect because although we don’t know Charles’ wife’s name, he was married in Maryland and the Faires family was in Virginia at that time. However, their daughter Sarah Faires did marry Charles Speak’s son, Nicholas Speak. This tree “fix” would not be quick or easy, I’m afraid, as there’s a lot of unraveling to be done.
  • An incorrect set of parents. This I could resolve by removing the parents, but I’m hesitant to do so without additional research. At this point, it doesn’t matter, because unless I can fix the issues above, I don’t want this list showing to matches as my ancestors. That’s exactly how misinformation spreads.
  • Several speculative wives for multiple ancestors which have been circulating without documentation online for years, including some that have been disproven. Sigh.
  • My Dutch lines are a mess. I’m not sure if it’s incorrect information, or someone entirely unfamiliar with the Dutch language and records. In any case, one error leads to wrong parents in the next generation in several places – and yes – I’m sure because I’m working with Yvette Hoitink, a top-notch Dutch genealogist in the Netherlands and I have the original records.

Fixing Issues at FamilySearch

However, I would like to take advantage of the FamilySearch option as soon as I get my ancestors straightened out there, so let’s step through the process of fixing issues. You may become inspired to work on your ancestors at FamilySearch too. You’ll be helping others as well.

You might be asking why you might want to fix FamilySearch if you’re going to link to your own tree.

My personal goal is to, hopefully, leave this earth with my ancestors correctly recorded and connected – be it in my own tree or large public trees.

At FamilySearch, sign in and click on Family Tree.

FamilySearch tree.png

You’ll see your ancestors, with you as the home person after you’ve set up your account and connected yourself.

I have no idea where the photo of me came from, but I assure you that I’m replacing it! You may find photos of family members at FamilySearch that you didn’t know about.

By clicking on any person’s name, you open their profile and you can then see information items available for you to edit.

FamilySearch edit.png

For example, here’s my father, with Detail View enabled which shows sources of changes. Hmm, I wonder who Robert Lewis is. Who would be entering my father’s information?

I can click to send Robert a message, or I can click on the Edit box to make changes, or both.

I can scroll on down to view my father’s family information including spouses, children, parents and siblings. I have some work to do here, but at least I can now that FamilySearch has enabled editing.

You can do the same for each ancestor, including replacing one or both parents, or simply removing your ancestor as the child of the couple.

Be sure to read carefully while you’re getting to know the software. It’s easy to make editing mistakes and remove a mother from all the children, for example, instead of just from your ancestor.

Of course, you can always add her back, but slow and careful is always best.

Filter Results by FamilySearch Information

Back at 23andMe, you can filter your DNA Relatives matches by people who have uploaded FamilySearch results.

23andMe DNA Relatives.png

Look at the bottom of the list of filters on the left side of your matches.

23andMe FamilySearch filter.png

Checking the box shows only people with the FamilySearch connection, but you can see that none of my matches have done this, so my number is a big fat zero.

What you cannot see here is if your matches have linked to other trees or have entered their family surnames which can be quite useful too. I wish we could filter on those features.

Two More Quick Tips!

Whether or not you utilize the FamilySearch connection to 23andMe, please, PLEASE connect some tree to your 23andMe account.

Adding surnames and linking a tree benefits everyone, because 23andMe displays this information when you click on your matches.

Please add your family surnames under the Family Background section of your settings, shown below. No, this does NOT integrate with FamilySearch or any other tree – so you need to do it manually.

23andMe Family surnames.png

23andMe displays both you and your matches locations and surnames side-by-side along with tree links when you click on any match, shown below.

23andMe Family background.png

I didn’t recognize my cousin, Patricia’s surnames, nor her name because she only used an initial for a surname, but when I clicked on her Ancestry tree, I immediately recognized our common ancestors, my great-grandparents.

Identifying our common ancestors with matches makes tools like shared matches much more useful.

Shared matches with Patricia show other people who we both match, AND, at 23andMe, if we share a DNA segment in common, indicated by the “yes” below. Assuming those matches are not identical by chance, knowing that someone matches both me and Patricia suggests that we share a common ancestor. In fact, I share 98 relatives in common with Patricia.

23andMe Relatives in common shared DNA.png

The “Yes” under shared DNA means that Patricia and that person and I share some common segment of DNA, inherited from our common ancestor.

Furthermore, by utilizing the chromosome browser, we can confirm that we share the same triangulated segments of DNA with other descendants of that same couple, which further strengthens the connections, adding to the genealogical DNA evidence needed to confirm ancestors.

23andMe X matches.png

Wow, look, 4 of these people share a substantial piece of the X chromosome with me and Patricia (burgundy, on top). The X chromosome, has a unique inheritance path. This X match immediately narrows the potential ancestors.

23andMe X pedigree.png

I know that Curtis Lore didn’t receive an X chromosome from his father, because he received a Y chromosome which made him a male, so these people have to be related through Rachel Levina Hill or her ancestors. Rachel’s X chromosome descended from the pink or blue ancestors. Viewing matches’ trees (if they have them) might well indicate which of these ancestors provided Rachel’s, which is that segment of my X chromosome.

What a lucky break and how exciting to know I carry something tangible from these people!

You can’t do this without trees or family information and you can’t do it without a chromosome browser. In this case, 1+1=goldmine. So connect up one way or another and have fun!

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

First Steps When Your DNA Results are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water

First steps helix

Recently someone asked me what the first steps would be for a person who wasn’t terribly familiar with genealogy and had just received their DNA test results.

I wrote an article called DNA Results – First Glances at Ethnicity and Matching which was meant to show new folks what the various vendor interfaces look like. I was hoping this might whet their appetites for more, meaning that the tester might, just might, stick their toe into the genealogy waters😊

I’m hoping this article will help them get hooked! Maybe that’s you!

A Guide

This article can be read in one of two ways – as an overview, or, if you click the links, as a pretty thorough lesson. If you’re new, I strongly suggest reading it as an overview first, then a second time as a deeper dive. Use it as a guide to navigate your results as you get your feet wet.

I’ll be hotlinking to various articles I’ve written on lots of topics, so please take a look at details (eventually) by clicking on those links!

This article is meant as a guideline for what to do, and how to get started with your DNA matching results!

If you’re looking for ethnicity information, check out the First Glances article, plus here and here and here.

Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages provides you with guidelines for how to estimate your own ethnicity percentages based on your known genealogy and Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum explains how ethnicity testing is done.

OK, let’s get started. Fun awaits!

The Goal

The goal for using DNA matching in genealogy depends on your interests.

  1. To discover cousins and family members that you don’t know. Some people are interested in finding and meeting relatives who might have known their grandparents or great-grandparents in the hope of discovering new family information or photos they didn’t know existed previously. I’ve been gifted with my great-grandparent’s pictures, so this strategy definitely works!
  2. To confirm ancestors. This approach presumes that you’ve done at least a little genealogy, enough to construct at least a rudimentary tree. Ancestors are “confirmed” when you DNA match multiple other people who descend from the same ancestor through multiple children. I wrote an article, Ancestors: What Constitutes Proof?, discussing how much evidence is enough to actually confirm an ancestor. Confirmation is based on a combination of both genealogical records and DNA matching and it varies depending on the circumstances.
  3. Adoptees and people with unknown parents seeking to discover the identities of those people aren’t initially looking at their own family tree – because they don’t have one yet. The genealogy of others can help them figure out the identity of those mystery people. I wrote about that technique in the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching.

DNAAdoption for Everyone

Educational resources for adoptees and non-adoptees alike can be found at www.dnaadoption.org. DNAAdoption is not just for adoptees and provides first rate education for everyone. They also provide trained and mentored search angels for adoptees who understand the search process along with the intricacies of navigating the emotional minefield of adoption and unknown parent searches.

First Look” classes for each vendor are free for everyone at DNAAdoption and are self-paced, downloadable onto your computer as a pdf file. Intro to DNA, Applied Autosomal DNA and Y DNA Basics classes are nominally priced at between $29 and $49 and I strongly recommend these. DNAAdoption is entirely non-profit, so your class fee or contribution supports their work. Additional resources can be found here and their 12 adoptee search steps here.

Ok, now let’s look at your results.

Matches are the Key

Regardless of your goal, your DNA matches are the key to finding answers, whether you want to make contact with close relatives, prove your more distant ancestors or you’re involved in an adoptee or unknown parent search.

Your DNA matches that of other people because each of you inherited a piece of DNA, called a segment, where many locations are identical. The length of that DNA segment is measured in centiMorgans and those locations are called SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms. You can read about the definition of a centimorgan and how they are used in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’Crab.

While the scientific details are great, they aren’t important initially. What is important is to understand that the more closely you match someone, the more closely you are related to them. You share more DNA with close relatives than more distant relatives.

For example, I share exactly half of my mother’s DNA, but only about 25% of each of my grandparents’ DNA. As the relationships move further back in time, I share less and less DNA with other people who descend from those same ancestors.

Informational Tools

Every vendor’s match page looks different, as was illustrated in the First Glances article, but regardless, you are looking for four basic pieces of information:

  • Who you match
  • How much DNA you share with your match
  • Who else you and your match share that DNA with, which suggests that you all share a common ancestor
  • Family trees to reveal the common ancestor between people who match each other

Every vendor has different ways of displaying this information, and not all vendors provide everything. For example, 23andMe does not support trees, although they allow you to link to one elsewhere. Ancestry does not provide a tool called a chromosome browser which allows you to see if you and others match on the same segment of DNA. Ancestry only tells you THAT you match, not HOW you match.

Each vendor has their strengths and shortcomings. As genealogists, we simply need to understand how to utilize the information available.

I’ll be using examples from all 4 major vendors:

Your matches are the most important information and everything else is based on those matches.

Family Tree DNA

I have tested many family members from both sides of my family at Family Tree DNA using the Family Finder autosomal test which makes my matches there incredibly useful because I can see which family members, in addition to me, my matches match.

Family Tree DNA assigns matches to maternal and paternal sides in a unique way, even if your parents haven’t tested, so long as some close relatives have tested. Let’s take a look.

First Steps Family Tree DNA matches.png

Sign on to your account and click to see your matches.

At the top of your Family Finder matches page, you’ll see three groups of things, shown below.

First Steps Family Tree DNA bucketing

Click to enlarge

A row of tools at the top titled Chromosome Browser, In Common With and Not in Common With.

A second row of tabs that include All, Paternal, Maternal and Both. These are the maternal and paternal tabs I mentioned, meaning that I have a total of 4645 matches, 988 of which are from my paternal side and 847 of which are from my maternal side.

Family Tree DNA assigns people to these “buckets” based on matches with third cousins or closer if you have them attached in your tree. This is why it’s critical to have a tree and test close relatives, especially people from earlier generations like aunts, uncles, great-aunts/uncles and their children if they are no longer living.

If you have one or both parents that can test, that’s a wonderful boon because anyone who matches you and one of your parents is automatically bucketed, or phased (scientific term) to that parent’s side of the tree. However, at Family Tree DNA, it’s not required to have a parent test to have some matches assigned to maternal or paternal sides. You just need to test third cousins or closer and attach them to the proper place in your tree.

How does bucketing work?

Maternal or Paternal “Side” Assignment, aka Bucketing

If I match a maternal first cousin, Cheryl, for example, and we both match John Doe on the same segment, John Doe is automatically assigned to my maternal bucket with a little maternal icon placed beside the match.

First Steps Family Tree DNA match info

Click to enlarge

Every vendor provides an estimated or predicted relationship based on a combination of total centiMorgans and the longest contiguous matching segment. The actual “linked relationship” is calculated based on where this person resides in your tree.

The common surnames at far right are a very nice features, but not every tester provides that information. When the testers do include surnames at Family Tree DNA, common surnames are bolded. Other vendors have similar features.

People with trees are shown near their profile picture with a blue pedigree icon. Clicking on the pedigree icon will show you their ancestors. Your matches estimated relationship to you indicates how far back you should expect to share an ancestor.

For example, first cousins share grandparents. Second cousins share great-grandparents. In general, the further back in time your common ancestor, the less DNA you can be expected to share.

You can view relationship information in chart form in my article here or utilize DNAPainter tools, here, to see the various possibilities for the different match levels.

Clicking on the pedigree chart of your match will show you their tree. In my tree, I’ve connected my parents in their proper places, along with Cheryl and Don, mother’s first cousins. (Yes, they’ve given permission for me to utilize their results, so they aren’t always blurred in images.)

Cheryl and Don are my first cousins once removed, meaning my mother is their first cousin and I’m one generation further down the tree. I’m showing the amount of DNA that I share with each of them in red in the format of total DNA shared and longest unbroken segment, taken from the match list. So 382-53 means I share a total of 382 cM and 53 cM is the longest matching block.

First Steps Family Tree DNA tree.png

The Chromosome Browser

Utilizing the chromosome browser, I can see exactly where I match both Don and Cheryl. It’s obvious that I match them on at least some different pieces of my DNA, because the total and longest segment amounts are different.

The reason it’s important to test lots of close relatives is because even siblings inherit different pieces of DNA from their parents, and they don’t pass the same DNA to their offspring either – so in each generation the amount of shared DNA is probably reduced. I say probably because sometimes segments are passed entirely and sometimes not at all, which is how we “lose” our ancestors’ DNA over the generations.

Here’s a matching example utilizing a chromosome browser.

First Steps Family Tree DNA chromosome browser.png

I clicked the checkboxes to the left of both Cheryl and Don on the match page, then the Chromosome Browser button, and now you can see, above, on chromosomes 1-16 where I match Cheryl (blue) and Don (red.)

In this view, both Don and Cheryl are being compared to me, since I’m the one signed in to my account and viewing my DNA matches. Therefore, one of the bars at each chromosome represents Don’s DNA match to me and one represents Cheryl’s. Cheryl is the first person and Don is the second. Person match colors (red and blue) are assigned arbitrarily by the system.

My grandfather and Cheryl/Don’s father, Roscoe, were siblings.

You can see that on some segments, my grandfather and Roscoe inherited the same segment of DNA from their parents, because today, my mother gave me that exact same segment that I share with both Don and Cheryl. Those segments are exactly identical and shown in the black boxes.

The only way for us to share this DNA today is for us to have shared a common ancestor who gave it to two of their children who passed it on to their descendants who DNA tested today.

On other segments, in red boxes, I share part of the same segments of DNA with Cheryl and Don, but someone along the line didn’t inherit all of that segment. For example on chromosome 3, in the red box, you can see that I share more with Cheryl (blue) than Don (red.)

In other cases, I share with either Don or Cheryl, but Don and Cheryl didn’t inherit that same segment of DNA from their father, so I don’t share with both of them. Those are the areas where you see only blue or only red.

On chromosome 12, you can see where it looks like Don’s and Cheryl’s segments butt up against each other. The DNA was clearly divided there. Don received one piece and Cheryl got the other. That’s known as a crossover and you can read about crossovers here, if you’d like.

It’s important to be able to view segment information to be able to see how others match in order to identify which common ancestor that DNA came from.

In Common With

You can use the “In Common With” tool to see who you match in common with any match. My first 6 matches in common with Cheryl are shown below. Note that they are already all bucketed to my maternal side.

First Steps Family Tree DNA in common with

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You can click on up to 7 individuals in the check box at left to show them on the chromosome browser at once to see if they match you on common segments.

Each matching segment has its own history and may descend from a different ancestor in your common tree.

First Steps 7 match chromosome browser

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If combinations of people do match me on a common segment, because these matches are all on my maternal side, they are triangulated and we know they have to descend from a common ancestor, assuming the segment is large enough. You can read about the concept of triangulation here. Triangulation occurs when 3 or more people (who aren’t extremely closely related like parents or siblings) all match each other on the same reasonably sized segment of DNA.

If you want to download your matches and work through this process in a spreadsheet, that’s an option too.

Size Matters

Small segments can be identical by chance instead of identical by descent.

  • “Identical by chance” means that you accidentally match someone because your DNA on that segment has been combined from both parents and causes it to match another person, making the segment “looks like” it comes from a common ancestor, when it really doesn’t. When DNA is sequenced, both your mother and father’s strands are sequenced, meaning that there’s no way to determine which came from whom. Think of a street with Mom’s side and Dad’s side with identical addresses on the houses on both sides. I wrote about that here.
  • “Identical by descent” means that the DNA is identical because it actually descends from a common ancestor. I discussed that concept in the article, We Match, But Are We Related.

Generally, we only utilize 7cM (centiMorgan) segments and above because at that level, about half of the segments are identical by descent and about half are identical by chance, known as false positives. By the time we move above 15 cM, most, but not all, matches are legitimate. You can read about segment size and accuracy here.

Using “In Common With” and the Matrix

“In Common With” is about who shares DNA. You can select someone you match to see who else you BOTH match. Just because you match two other people doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s on the same segment of DNA. In fact, you could match one person from your mother’s side and the other person from your father’s side.

First Steps match matrix.png

In this example, you match Person B due to ancestor John Doe and Person C due to ancestor Susie Smith. However, Person B also matches person C, but due to ancestor William West that they share and you don’t.

This example shows you THAT they match, but not HOW they match.

The only way to assure that the matches between the three people above are due to the same ancestor is to look at the segments with a chromosome browser and compare all 3 people to each other. Finding 3 people who match on the same segment, from the same side of your tree means that (assuming a reasonably large segment) you share a common ancestor.

Family Tree DNA has a nice matrix function that allows you to see which of your matches also match each other.

First steps matrix link

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The important distinction between the matrix and the chromosome browser is that the chromosome browser shows you where your matches match you, but those matches could be from both sides of your tree, unless they are bucketed. The matrix shows you if your matches also match each other, which is a huge clue that they are probably from the same side of your tree.

First Steps Family Tree DNA matrix.png

A matrix match is a significant clue in terms of who descends from which ancestors. For example, I know, based on who Amy matches, and who she doesn’t match, that she descends from the Ferverda side and that Charles, Rex and Maxine descend from ancestors on the Miller side.

Looking in the chromosome browser, I can tell that Cheryl, Don, Amy and I match on some common segments.

Matching multiple people on the same segment that descends from a common ancestor is called triangulation.

Let’s take a look at the MyHeritage triangulation tool.

MyHeritage

Moving now to MyHeritage who provides us with an easy to use triangulation tool, we see the following when clicking on DNA matches on the DNA tab on the toolbar.

First Steps MyHeritage matches

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Cousin Cheryl is at MyHeritage too. By clicking on Review DNA Match, the purple button on the right, I can see who else I match in common with Cheryl, plus triangulation.

The list of people Cheryl and I both match is shown below, along with our relationships to each person.

First Steps MyHeritage triangulation

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I’ve selected 2 matches to illustrate.

The first match has a little purple icon to the right which means that Amy triangulates with me and Cheryl.

The second match, Rex, means that while we both match Rex, it’s not on the same segment. I know that without looking further because there is no triangulation button. We both match Rex, but Cheryl matches Rex on a different segment than I do.

Without additional genealogy work, using DNA alone, I can’t say whether or not Cheryl, Rex and I all share a common ancestor. As it turns out, we do. Rex is a known cousin who I tested. However, in an unknown situation, I would have to view the trees of those matches to make that determination.

Triangulation

Clicking on the purple triangulation icon for Amy shows me the segments that all 3 of us, me, Amy and Cheryl share in common as compared to me.

First Steps MyHeritage triangulation chromosome browser.png

Cheryl is red and Amy is yellow. The one segment bracketed with the rounded rectangle is the segment shared by all 3 of us.

Do we have a common ancestor? I know Cheryl and I do, but maybe I don’t know who Amy is. Let’s look at Amy’s tree which is also shown if I scroll down.

First Steps MyHeritage common ancestor.png

Amy didn’t have her tree built out far enough to show our common ancestor, but I immediately recognized the surname Ferveda found in her tree a couple of generations back. Darlene was the daughter of Donald Ferverda who was the son of Hiram Ferverda, my great-grandfather.

Hiram was the father of Cheryl’s father, Roscoe and my grandfather, John Ferverda.

First Steps Hiram Ferverda pedigree.png

Amy is my first cousin twice removed and that segment of DNA that I share with her is from either Hiram Ferverda or his wife Eva Miller.

Now, based on who else Amy matches, I can probably tell whether that segment descends from Hiram or Eva.

Viva triangulation!

Theory of Family Relativity

MyHeritage’s Theory of Family Relativity provides theories to people whose DNA matches regarding their common ancestor if MyHeritage can calculate how the 2 people are potentially related.

MyHeritage uses a combination of tools to make that connection, including:

  • DNA matches
  • Your tree
  • Your match’s tree
  • Other people’s trees at MyHeritage, FamilySearch and Geni if the common ancestor cannot be found in your tree compared against your DNA match’s MyHeritage
  • Documents in the MyHeritage data collection, such as census records, for example.

MyHeritage theory update

To view the Theories, click on the purple “View Theories” banner or “View theory” under the DNA match.

First Steps MyHeritage theory of relativity

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The theory is displayed in summary format first.

MyHeritage view full theory

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You can click on the “View Full Theory” to see the detail and sources about how MyHeritage calculated various paths. I have up to 5 different theories that utilize separate resources.

MyHeritage review match

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A wonderful aspect of this feature is that MyHeritage shows you exactly the information they utilized and calculates a confidence factor as well.

All theories should be viewed as exactly that and should be evaluated critically for accuracy, taking into consideration sources and documentation.

I wrote about using Theories of Relativity, with instructions, here and here.

I love this tool and find the Theories mostly accurate.

AncestryDNA

Ancestry doesn’t offer a chromosome browser or triangulation but does offer a tree view for people that you match, so long as you have a subscription. In the past, a special “Light” subscription for DNA only was available for approximately $49 per year that provided access to the trees of your DNA matches and other DNA-related features. You could not order online and had to call support, sometimes asking for a supervisor in order to purchase that reduced-cost subscription. The “Light” subscription did not provide access to anything outside of DNA results, meaning documents, etc. I don’t know if this is still available.

After signing on, click on DNA matches on the DNA tab on the toolbar.

You’ll see the following match list.

First Steps Ancestry matches

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I’ve tested twice at Ancestry, the second time when they moved to their new chip, so I’m my own highest match. Click on any match name to view more.

First Steps Ancestry shared matches

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You’ll see information about common ancestors if you have some in your trees, plus the amount of shared DNA along with a link to Shared Matches.

I found one of the same cousins at Ancestry whose match we were viewing at MyHeritage, so let’s see what her match to me at Ancestry looks like.

Below are my shared matches with that cousin. The notes to the right are mine, not provided by Ancestry. I make extensive use of the notes fields provided by the vendors.

First Steps Ancestry shared matches with cousin

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On your match list, you can click on any match, then on Shared Matches to see who you both match in common. While Ancestry provides no chromosome browser, you can see the amount of DNA that you share and trees, if any exist.

Let’s look at a tree comparison when a common ancestor can be detected in a tree within the past 7 generations.

First Steps Ancestry view ThruLines.png

What’s missing of course is that I can’t see how we match because there’s no chromosome browser, nor can I see if my matches match each other.

Stitched Trees

What I can see, if I click on “View ThruLines” above or ThruLines on the DNA Summary page on the main DNA tab is all of the people I match who Ancestry THINKS we descend from a common ancestor. This ancestor information isn’t always taken from either person’s tree.

For example, if my match hadn’t included Hiram Ferverda in her tree, Ancestry would use other people’s trees to “stitch them together” such that the tester is shown to be descended from a common ancestor with me. Sometimes these stitched trees are accurate and sometimes they are not, although they have improved since they were first released. I wrote about ThruLines here.

First Steps Ancestry ThruLines tree

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In closer generations, especially if you are looking to connect with cousins, tree matching is a very valuable tool. In the graphic above, you can see all of the cousins who descend from Hiram Ferverda who have tested and DNA match to me. These DNA matches to me either descend from Hiram according to their trees, or Ancestry believes they descend from Hiram based on other people’s trees.

With more distant ancestors, other people’s trees are increasingly likely to be copied with no sources, so take them with a very large grain of salt (perchance the entire salt lick.) I use ThruLines as hints, not gospel, especially the further back in time the common ancestor. I wish they reached back another couple of generations. They are great hints and they end with the 7th generation where my brick walls tend to begin!

23andMe

I haven’t mentioned 23andMe yet in this article. Genealogists do test there, especially adoptees who need to fish in every pond.

23andMe is often the 4th choice of the major 4 vendors for genealogy due to the following challenges:

  • No tree support, other than allowing you to link to a tree at FamilySearch or elsewhere. This means no tree matching.
  • Less than 2000 matches, meaning that every person is limited to a maximum of 2000 matches, minus however many of those 2000 don’t opt-in for genealogical matching. Given that 23andMe’s focus is increasingly health, my number of matches continues to decrease and is currently just over 1500. The good news is that those 1500 are my highest, meaning closest matches. The bad news is the genealogy is not 23andMe’s focus.

If you are an adoptee, a die-hard genealogist or specifically interested in ethnicity, then test at 23andMe. Otherwise all three of the other vendors would be better choices.

However, like the other vendors, 23andMe does have some features that are unique.

Their ethnicity predictions are acknowledged to be excellent. Ethnicity at 23andMe is called Ancestry Composition, and you’ll see that immediately when you sign in to your account.

First Steps 23andMe DNA Relatives.png

Your matches at 23andMe are found under DNA Relatives.

First Steps 23andMe tools

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At left, you’ll find filters and the search box.

Mom’s and Dad’s side filter matches if you’ve tested your parents, but it’s not like the Family Tree DNA bucketing that provides maternal and paternal side bucketing by utilizing through third cousins if your parents aren’t available for testing.

Family names aren’t your family names, but the top family names that match to you. Guess what my highest name is? Smith.

However, Ancestor Birthplaces are quite useful because you can sort by country. For example, my mother’s grandfather Ferverda was born in the Netherlands.

First Steps 23andMe country.png

If I click on Netherlands, I can see my 5 matches with ancestors born in the Netherlands. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I match because of my match’s Dutch ancestors, but it does provide me with a place to look for a common ancestor and I can proceed by seeing who I match in common with those matches. Unfortunately, without trees we’re left to rely on ancestor birthplaces and family surnames, if my matches have entered that information.

One of my Dutch matches also matches my Ferverda cousin. Given that connection, and that the Ferverda family immigrated from Holland in 1868, that’s a starting point.

MyHeritage has a similar features and they are much more prevalent in Europe.

By clicking on my Ferverda cousin, I can view the DNA we share, who we match in common, our common ethnicity and more. I have the option of comparing multiple people in the chromosome browser by clicking on “View DNA Comparison” and then selecting who I wish to compare.

First Steps 23andMe view DNA Comparison.png

By scrolling down instead of clicking on View DNA Comparison, I can view where my Ferverda cousin matches me on my chromosomes, shown below.

First STeps 23andMe chromosome browser.png

23andMe identifies completely identical segments which would be painted in dark purple, the legend at bottom left.

Adoptees love this feature because it would immediately differentiate between half and full siblings. Full siblings share approximately 25% of the exact DNA on both their maternal and paternal strands of DNA, while half siblings only share the DNA from one parent – assuming their parents aren’t closely related. I share no completely identical DNA with my Ferverda cousin, so no segments are painted dark purple.

23andMe and Ancestry Maps Show Where Your Matches Live

Another reason that adoptees and people searching for birth parents or unknown relatives like 23andMe is because of the map function.

After clicking on DNA Relatives, click on the Map function at the top of the page which displays the following map.

First Steps 23andMe map

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This isn’t a map of where your matches ancestors lived, but is where your matches THEMSELVES live. Furthermore, you can zoom in, click on the button and it displays the name of the individual and the city where they live or whatever they entered in the location field.

First Steps 23andMe your location on map.png

I entered a location in my profile and confirmed that the location indeed displays on my match’s maps by signing on to another family member’s account. What I saw is the display above. I’d wager that most testers don’t realize that their home location and photo, if entered, is being displayed to their matches.

I think sharing my ancestors’ locations is a wonderful, helpful, idea, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to know where I live and I feel it’s stalker-creepy and a safety risk.

First Steps 23andMe questions.png

If you enter a location in this field in your profile, it displays on the map.

If you test with 23andMe and you don’t want your location to display on this map to your matches, don’t answer any question that asks you where you call home or anything similar. I never answer any questions at 23andMe. They are known for asking you the same question repeatedly, in multiple locations and ways, until you relent and answer.

Ancestry has a similar map feature and they’ve also begun to ask you questions that are unrelated to genealogy.

Ancestry Map Shows Where Your Matches Live

At Ancestry, when you click to see your DNA matches, look to the right at the map link.

First Steps Ancestry map link.png

By clicking on this link, you can see the locations that people have entered into their profile.

First Steps Ancestry match map.png

As you can see, above, I don’t have a location entered and I am prompted for one. Note that Ancestry does specifically say that this location will be shown to your matches.

You can click on the Ancestry Profile link here, or go to your Personal Profile by click the dropdown under your user name in the upper right hand corner of any page.

This is important because if you DON’T want your location to show, you need to be sure there is nothing entered in the location field.

First Steps Ancestry profile.png

Under your profile, click “Edit.”

First Steps Ancestry edit profile.png

After clicking edit, complete the information you wish to have public or remove the information you do not.

First Steps Ancestry location in profile.png

Sometimes Your Answer is a Little More Complicated

This is a First Steps article. Sometimes the answer you seek might be a little more complicated. That’s why there are specialists who deal with this all day, everyday.

What issues might be more complex?

If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about these things for now. Just know when you run into something more complex or that doesn’t make sense, I’m here and so are others. Here’s a link to my Help page.

Getting Started

What do you need to get started?

  • You need to take a DNA test, or more specifically, multiple DNA tests. You can test at Ancestry or 23andMe and transfer your results to both Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, or you can test directly at all vendors.

Neither Ancestry nor 23andMe accept uploads, meaning other vendors tests, but both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA accept most file versions. Instructions for how to download and upload your DNA results are found below, by vendor:

Both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA charge a minimal fee to unlock their advanced features such as chromosome browsers and ethnicity if you upload transfer files, but it’s less costly in both cases than testing directly. However, if you want the MyHeritage DNA plus Health or the Family Tree DNA Y DNA or Mitochondrial DNA tests, you must test directly at those companies for those tests.

  • It’s not required, but it would be in your best interest to build as much of a tree at all three vendors as you can. Every little bit helps.

Your first tree-building step should be to record what your family knows about your grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles. Here’s what my first step attempt looked like. It’s cringe-worthy now, but everyone has to start someplace. Just do it!

You can build a tree at either Ancestry or MyHeritage and download your tree for uploading at the other vendors. Or, you can build the tree using genealogy software on your computer and upload to all 3 places. I maintain my primary tree on my computer using RootsMagic. There are many options. MyHeritage even provides free tree builder software.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage offer research/data subscriptions that provide you with hints to historical documents that increase what you know about your ancestors. The MyHeritage subscription can be tried for free. I have full subscriptions to both Ancestry and MyHeritage because they both include documents in their collections that the other does not.

Please be aware that document suggestions are hints and each one needs to be evaluated in the context of what you know and what’s reasonable. For example, if your ancestor was born in 1750, they are not included in the 1900 census, nor do women have children at age 70. People do have exactly the same names. FindAGrave information is entered by humans and is not always accurate. Just sayin’…

Evaluate critically and skeptically.

Ok, Let’s Go!

When your DNA results are ready, sign on to each vendor, look at your matches and use this article to begin to feel your way around. It’s exciting and the promise is immense. Feel free to share the link to this article on social media or with anyone else who might need help.

You are the cumulative product of your ancestors. What better way to get to know them than through their DNA that’s shared between you and your cousins!

What can you discover today?

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

23andMe – Fear of Speaking, Hair and Other Interesting Traits

People who have taken the 23and Me V4 or V5 test (Nov. 2013 or later) qualify to receive new traits as they are introduced. Recently, I received a notification that 23andMe had introduced a ‘fear of speaking” trait.

This made me chuckle, because while I do get somewhat nervous about some aspects, such as equipment failure, I have no fear of public speaking itself. Neither did my mother who was a ballet dancer, nor do my children nor grandchildren.

Given this known history, I was curious to see what 23andme had to say.

Since I was taking a look anyway, I decided to rank the first two pages of my traits based on whether they were accurately predicted or not. I’ve marked them as correct or wrong.

By the way, I view these traits as “just for fun” but keep in mind that health predictions can be just as subject to inaccuracy. Genetics generally predicts possibilities and predispositions, with a few notable exceptions. For the most part, genetics is but one of multiple factors. There are likely genetic factors we haven’t yet discovered and when dealing with disease, personal lifestyle, environment and perhaps simply luck play a part too.

Traits

Let’s take a look at what 23andMe has to say about my traits. My evaluation is in the center.

23andMe traits.png

23andMe traits 2.png

Hair

I was uncertain about my hair texture being wavy versus curly.

Roberta Estes hair trait

Here’s my hair a few days ago, not curled by me – in its natural state – as I was preparing for filming a documentary. Fear of speaking not in evidence, but fear of makeup running in the heat and hair frizz was real!

At 23andMe, you can click on the links to any of these traits on your own results page and view the criteria, so let’s look at hair traits and what they have to say. Then I’ll let you decide about mine.

23andMe hair prediction.png

My Hair certainly isn’t straight, so we can rule that option out.

Next, they show the results of other participants with similar genetics.

23andMe prediction results.png

I think we can eliminate everything except wavy and big curls which leave us split between the blue wavy which they claim I am more likely to have and the red “big curls” which they claim I am less likely to have.

23andme calculation.png

23andMe explains how they arrived at my results. I think it’s very interesting that 75 locations in the human genome are involved in determining hair curl. It’s likely that even more will be discovered in the future.

23andMe hair variants.png

According to this graphic, 30 of those 75 locations are irrelevant to my hair.

Given this scattering, it’s impossible to know which parent I inherited my hair curl from.

The Verdict

Now it’s your turn.

What do you think, based on my photo?

  1. Is this trait predicted accurately and I have “wavy hair?”
  2. Is this trait predicted inaccurately and I have “big curls” instead of “wavy hair?”

Let me know your opinion in the comments.

23andMe Products

If you want to purchase a 23andMe test for ancestry alone, meaning genealogy matching and ethnicity but no health, medical or traits, you can purchase that here.

If you want to purchase a 23andMe test for ancestry PLUS health, medical and traits, click here to order.

MyHeritage Test

MyHeritage recently introduced a product that also provides you with ancestry PLUS health information. I’ve ordered that test and will review the results as compared to 23andMe when the results are in. You can order the MyHeritage DNA Ancestry plus Health test here.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

DNA Results – First Glances at Ethnicity and Matching!

People who have worked with genetic genealogy for a long time often forget what it’s like to be a new person taking a DNA test.

Recently, someone asked me what a tester actually sees after they take a DNA test and their results are ready. Good question, especially for someone trying to decide what might work for them.

I’m going to make this answer very simple. For each of the 4 major vendors, I’m going to show what a customer sees when they first sign in and view their results. Not everything or every tool, just their main page along with the initial matching and ethnicity pages.

Please feel free to share this article with people who are new and might be interested. It’s easy to follow along.

I do want to stress that this is just the beginning, not the end game and that every vendor has much more to offer if you take advantage of their tools.

Best of all, it’s so much FUN to learn about your heritage and your ancestry, plus meeting cousins and family members you may not have known that you had.

I’ve been gifted with photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents that I had no idea existed before meeting new family members.

I hope that all the new testers will become excited and that their results are just a tiny first step!

The Vendors

I’m going to take a look at:

Each vendor offers DNA matching to others in their database, plus ethnicity estimates. Yes, ethnicity is only an estimate.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA was the first and still the only genetic genealogy testing company to offer a full range of DNA testing products, launching in the year 2000. Today they stand out as the “science company,” offering both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing in addition to their Family Finder test which is comparable with the tests offered by Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage.

Your personal page at Family Tree DNA shows the following tools for the Family Finder test.

Glances Family Tree DNA home

The two options we’ll look at today are your Matches and myOrigins, which is your ethnicity estimate.

Click on Matches to view whose DNA matches you. In my case, on the page below, you can see that I have a total of 4610 matches, of which 986 have been assigned to my paternal side, 842 to my maternal side, and 4 to both sides. In my case, the 4 assigned to both sides are my children and grandchildren, which makes perfect sense,

Glances Family Tree DNA matches

You can click to enlarge this graphic.

The green box above the matches indicates additional tools which provide information such as who I match in common with another person. I can see, for example, who I match in common with a first cousin which is very helpful in determining which ancestor those matches are related through.

The red box and circle show information provided to me about each match.

Family Tree DNA is able to divide my matches into “Maternal,” “Paternal” and “Both” buckets because they encourage me to link DNA matches on my tree. This means that I connect my mother to her location on my tree so that Family Tree DNA knows that people that match Mother and me both are related on my mother’s side of the tree.

Your matches don’t have to be your parents for linking to work. The more people you link, the more matches Family Tree DNA can put into buckets for you, especially if your parents aren’t available to test. Plus, your aunts and uncles inherited parts of your grandparent’s DNA that your parents didn’t, so they are super important!

Figuring out which side your matches come from, and which ancestor is first step in genetic genealogy!

You can see, above, that my mother is “assigned” on my maternal side and my son matches me on both.

“Bucketing” is a great, innovative feature. But there’s more.

The tan rounded rectangle includes ancestral surnames, with the ones that you and your match have in common shown in bold.

Based on the amount of DNA that I share with a match, and other scientific calculations, a relationship range is calculated, with the linked relationship reflecting where I’ve put that person on my tree.

If your match has uploaded or created a tree, you can view their tree (if they share) by clicking on the little blue pedigree icon, above, circled in tan between the two arrows.

Glances Family Tree DNA tree

Here’s my tree with my family members who have DNA tested attached in the proper places in my tree. Of course, there are a lot more connected people that I’m not showing in this view.

Advanced features include tools like a matching matrix and a chromosome browser where you can view the segments that actually match.

Family Tree DNA Ethnicity

To view your ethnicity estimate, click on myOrigins and you’ll see the following, along with people you match in the various regions if they have given permission for that information to be shared with their matches:

Glances Family Tree DNA myOrigins

MyHeritage

MyHeritage has penetrated the European market quite well, so if your ancestors are from the US or Europe, MyHeritage is a wonderful resource. They offer both DNA testing and records via subscription, combining genetic matches and genealogical records into a powerful tool.

Glances MyHeritage home

At MyHeritage, when you sign in, the DNA tab is at the top.

Clicking on DNA Matches shows you the following match list:

Glances MyHeritage matches

To review all of the information provided for each match, meaning who they match in common with you, their ancestral surnames, their tree and matching details, you’ll click on “Review DNA Match.”

MyHeritage provides a special tool called Theories of Family Relativity which connects you with others and your common ancestors. In essence, MyHeritage uses DNA, trees and records to weave together at least some of your family lines, quite accurately.

Here’s a simple example where MyHeritage has figured out that one of the testers is my niece and has drawn our connection for us.

Theory match 2

Theories of Family Relativity is a recently released world-class tool, easy to use but can solve very complex problems. I wrote about it here.

Advanced DNA tools include a chromosome browser and triangulation, a feature which shows you when three people match on a common segment, indicating genetically that you all 3 share a common ancestor from whom you inherited that common piece of DNA.

MyHeritage Ethnicity

To view your ethnicity estimate at MyHeritage, simply click on Ethnicity Estimate on the menu.

Glances MyHeritage ethnicity.png

23andMe

23andMe is better known for their health offering, although they were the first commercial company to offer autosomal commercial testing. However, they don’t support trees, which for genealogists are essential. Furthermore, they limit the number of your matches to your 2000 closest matches, but if some of those people don’t choose to be included in matching, they are subtracted from your 2000 total allowed. Due to this, I have only 1501 matches, far fewer matches at 23andMe than at any of the other vendors.

Glances 23andMe home

At 23andMe when you sign on, under the Ancestry tab you’ll see DNA Relatives which are your matches and Ancestry Composition which is your ethnicity estimate.

Glances 23andMe matches

While you don’t see all of the information on this primary DNA page that you do with the other vendors, with the unfortunate exception of trees, it’s there, just not on the initial display.

23andMe also provides some advanced tools such as a chromosome browser and triangulation.

23andMe Ethnicity

What 23andMe does exceptionally well is ethnicity estimates.

To view your ethnicity at 23andMe, click on Ancestry Composition.

Glances 23andMe ethnicity

23andMe refines your ethnicity estimates if your parents have tested and shows you a composite of your ethnicity with your matches. However, I consider their ethnicity painting of your chromosomes to be their best feature.

Glances 23andMe chromosome painting

You can see, in my case, the two Native American segments on chromosomes 1 and 2, subsequently proven to be accurate via documentation along with Y and mitochondrial DNA tests at Family Tree DNA. The two chromosomes shown don’t equate necessarily to maternal and paternal.

I can download this information into a spreadsheet, meaning that I can then compare matches at other companies to these ethnicity segments on my mother’s side. If my matches share these segments, they too descend from our common Native American ancestor. How cool is that!!!

Ancestry

Ancestry’s claim to fame is that they have the largest DNA database for autosomal results. Because of that, you’ll have more matches at Ancestry, but if you’re a genealogist or someone seeking an unknown family member, the match you NEED might just be found in one of the other databases, so don’t assume you can simply test at one company and find everything you need.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Glances Ancestry home

At Ancestry, when you sign on, you’ll see the DNA tab. Click on DNA Story.

Glances Ancestry DNA tab

Scrolling past some advertising, you’ll see DNA Story, which is your Ethnicity Estimate and DNA Matches.

ThruLines, at right, is a tool similar to MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity, but not nearly as accurate. However, Thrulines are better than they were when first released in February. I wrote about ThruLines here.

Glances Ancestry matches

Clicking on DNA Matches shows me information about my matches, in red, their trees or lack thereof in green, and information I can enter including ways to group my matches, in tan.

One of Ancestry’s best features is the green leaf, at the bottom in the green box, accompanied by the smiley face (that I added.) That means that this match’s tree indicates that we have a common ancestor. However, the smiley face is immediately followed by the sad face when I noticed the little lock, which means their tree is private and they aren’t sharing it with me.

If DNA testers forget and don’t connect their tree to their DNA results, you’ll see “unlinked tree.”

Like other vendors, Ancestry offers other tools as well, including the ability to define your own colored tags. You can see that I’ve tagged the matches at far right in the gold box with the little colored dots. I was able to define those dots and they have meanings such as common ancestor identified, messaged, etc.

Ancestry Ethnicity

To view your ethnicity estimate, click on “View Your DNA Story.”

Glances Ancestry ethnicity

You’ll see your ethnicity estimate and communities of matches that Ancestry has defined. By clicking on the community, you can see the ancestors in your tree that plot on the map into that community, along with a timeline. Seeing a community doesn’t necessarily mean your ancestor lived there, but that you match a group of people who are from that community.

Sharing Information

You might be thinking to yourself that it would be a lot easier if you could just test at one vendor and share the results in the other databases. Sometimes you can.

There is a central open repository at GedMatch, but clearly not everyone uploads there, so you still need to be in the various vendors’ data bases. GedMatch doesn’t offer testing, but offers additional tools, flexibility and open access not provided by the testing vendors.

Of these four vendors, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage accept transferred files from other vendors, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

Transferring

If you’re interested in transferring, meaning downloading your results from one vendor and uploading to another, I wrote a series of how-to transfer articles here:

Enjoy your new matches and have fun!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching

There have been a lot of questions recently about the methodology used by people searching for unknown parents and other unidentified individuals. I covered this technique in concept recently at a conference as part of an overview presentation. In this article, I’m addressing only this topic and in more detail.

What is the methodology that genealogists use to identify unknown parents? It’s exactly the same process used to identify unknown Does, meaning unidentified bodies as well as violent criminals who have left DNA, such as blood or semen, at a crime scene.

How is Identifying Unknown Individuals Different from Genealogy?

Genealogists are interested in discovering their ancestors. Generally, genealogists know who their parents are and most of the time, their grandparents as well. Not very many people can tell you the names of their great-grandparents off the top of their head – not unless they ARE genealogists😊

Genealogists interview family members and access family sources, such as photos, Bibles, boxes of memorabilia and often extend their family another generation or two using these resources. Then, to gather additional information, genealogists turn to publicly available sources such as:

Constructing a Tree

Genealogists utilize software to create trees of their ancestors, either on their own computers with software such as Family Tree Maker, Legacy, RootsMagic or the free tree building software from MyHeritage. They then either synchronize or duplicate their tree on the public sites mentioned above which provide functionality such as “hints” that point to documents relevant to the ancestors in their tree. Additionally, they can access the trees of other genealogists who are researching the same ancestors. This facilitates the continued growth of their tree by adding ancestors and extending the tree back generations.

While tree-building is the goal of genealogists, the trees they build are important tools for people seeking to identify unknown individuals.

The Tree

Generations tree

In my tree, shown in the format of a pedigree chart, above, you can see that I’ve identified all 16 of my great-great-grandparents. In reality, because I’ve been a genealogist for decades, I’ve identified many more of my ancestors which are reflected in my tree on my computer and in my trees at both Ancestry and MyHeritage where I benefit from hints and DNA matches.

Genealogical pedigree charts are typically represented with the “home person,” me, in this case at the base with my ancestors branching out behind them like a lovely peacock’s tail.

While I’m looking for distant ancestors, adoptees and others seeking the identities of contemporary people are not looking back generations, but seek to identify contemporary generations, meaning people who are alive or lived very recently, typically within a generation.

Enter the world of genetics and DNA matching.

Genetics, The Game Changing Tool

Before the days of DNA testing, adoptees could only hope that someone knew the identify of their biological parents, or that their biological parents registered with a reunion site, or that their court records could be opened.

DNA testing changed all of that, because people can now DNA test and find their close relatives. As more people test, the better the odds of actually having a parent or sibling match, or perhaps a close relative like an aunt, uncle or first cousin. My closest relative that has tested that I didn’t know was testing is my half-sister’s daughter.

You share grandparents with your first cousin, and since you only have 4 grandparents, it’s not terribly difficult to figure out which set of grandparents you connect to through that first cousin – especially given the size of the databases and the number of matches that people have today.

The chart below shows my matches as of June 2019.

Vendor

Total Matches

Second Cousin or Closer

Family Tree DNA

4,609

18

MyHeritage

9,644

14

23andMe

1,501

5

Ancestry

80,151

8

You can see that I have a total of 45 close matches, although some of those matches are duplicates of each other. However, each database has some people that are only in that database and have not tested at other companies or transferred to other databases.

Situations like this are exactly why people who are searching for unknown family members take DNA tests at all 4 of the vendors.

Stories were once surprising about people who tested and either discover a previously unknown close relative, or conversely discovered that they are not related to someone who they initially believed they were. Today these occurrences are commonplace.

Matches

If you’re searching for an unknown parent or close relative, you just might be lucky to receive a parental, sibling, half-sibling or uncle/aunt match immediately.

An estimated relationship range is provided by all vendors based on the amount of DNA that the tester shares with their match.

Generations Family Tree DNA matches

My mother’s match page at Family Tree DNA is shown above. You can see that I’m Mother’s closest match. My known half brother did not test before he passed away, and mother’s parents are long deceased, so my mother should NEVER have another match this close.

So, who is that person in row 2 that is also predicted to be a mother or daughter? I took a test at Ancestry and uploaded my results to Family Tree DNA for research purposes, so this is actually my own second kit, but for example purposes, I’ve renamed myself “Example Adoptee.” Judging from the photo here, apparently my “adopted” sibling was a twin😊

If the adoptee tested at Family Tree DNA, she would immediately see a sibling match (me) and a parent match (Mom.) A match at that cM (centiMorgan) level can only be a parent or a child, and the adoptee knows whether she has a child or not.

Let’s look at a more distant example, which is probably more “typical” than immediately finding a parent match.

Let’s say that the “male adoptee” at the bottom in the red box is also searching for his birth family. He matches my mother at the 2nd-3rd cousin level, so someplace in her tree are his ancestors too.

People who have trees are shown with gold boxes around the tiny pedigree icons, because they literally are trees of gold.

Because of Family Tree DNA’s “bucketing” tool, the software has already told my Mother that the male adoptee is a match on her father’s side of her tree. The adoptee can click on the little pedigree icon to view the trees of his matches to view their ancestors, then engage in what is known as “tree triangulation” with his other close matches.

From the Perspective of the Adoptee

An adoptee tests not knowing anything about their ancestors.

Generations adoptee

When their results come back, the adoptee, in the red box in the center, hoping to identify their biological parents, discovers that their closest matches are the testers in the pink and blue ovals.

The adoptee does NOT know that these people are related to each other at this point, only that these 7 people are their closest matches on their match list.

The adoptee has to put the rest of the story together like a puzzle.

Who Matches Each Other?

In our scenario, test takers 2, 3 and 8 don’t match the adoptee, so the adoptee will never know they tested and vice versa. Everyone at a second cousin level will match each other, but only some people will match at more distant relationships, according to statistics published by 23andMe:

Relationship Level

Percentage of People Who Match

Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, half siblings, half aunts/uncles and 1st cousins

100%

2nd cousins

>99%

3rd cousins

90%

4th cousins

45%

5th cousins

15%

6th cousins and more distant

<5%

You can view a detailed chart with additional relationships here.

Tree Triangulation

By looking at the individual trees of test taker 1, 4 and 5 whom they match, the adoptee notices that John and Jane Doe are common ancestors in the trees of all 3 test takers. The adoptee may also use “in common with” tools provided by each vendor to see who they match “in common with” another tester. In this case, let’s say that test taker 1, 4 and 5 also match each other, so the adoptee would also make note of that, inferring correctly that they are members of the same family.

The goal is to identify a common ancestor of a group of matches in order to construct the ancestor’s tree, not a pedigree chart backwards in time, as with genealogy, but to construct a descendants’ tree from the ancestral couple to the current day, as completely as possible. After all, the goal is to identify the parent of the adoptee who descends from the common ancestor.

Generations adoptee theory

In this case, the adoptee realized that the pink test takers descended from John and Jane Doe, and the blue test takers descended from Walter and Winnie Smith, and constructed descendant trees of both couples.

The adoptee created a theory, based on the descendants of these two ancestral couples, incorporating other known facts, such as the year when the adoptee was born, and where.

In our example, the adoptee discovered that John and Jane Doe had another daughter, Juanita, whose descendants don’t appear to have tested, and that Juanita had a daughter who was in the right place at the right time to potentially be the mother of the adoptee.

Conversely, Walter and Winnie Smith had a son whose descendants also appear to have not tested, and he had a son who lived in the same place as Juanita Doe. In other words, age, opportunity and process of elimination all play a role in addition to DNA matches. DNA is only the first hint that must be followed up by additional research.

At this point, if the adoptee has taken either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, those results can serve to either include or exclude some candidates at Family Tree DNA. For example, if the adoptee was a male and matched the Y DNA of the Smith line, that would be HUGE hint.

From this point on, an adoptee can either wait for more people to test or can contact their matches hoping that the matches will have information and be helpful. Keep in mind that all the adoptee has is a theory at this point and they are looking to refine their theory or create a new one and then to help narrow their list of parent candidates.

Fortunately, there are tools and processes to help.

What Are the Odds?

One helpful tool to do this is the WATO, What Are the Odds statistical probability tools at DNAPainter.

Using WATO, you create a hypothesis tree as to how the person whose connection you are seeking might be related, plugging them in to different tree locations, as shown below.

Generations WATO

This is not the same example as Smith and Doe, above, but a real family puzzle being worked on by my cousin. Names are blurred for privacy, of course.

Generations WATO2

WATO then provides a statistical analysis of the various options, with only one of the above hypothesis being potentially viable based on the level of DNA matching for the various hypothetical relationships.

DNAPainter Shared cM Tool

If your eyes are glazing over right about now with all of these numbers flying around, you’re not alone.

I’ll distill this process into individual steps to help you understand how this works, and why, starting with another tool provided by DNAPainter, the Shared cM tool that helps you calculate the most likely relationship with another person.

The more closely related you are to a person, the more DNA you will share with them.

DNAPainter has implemented this tool based on the results of Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project where you can enter the amount of DNA that you share with someone to determine the “best fit” relationship, on average, plus the range of expected shared DNA.

Generations DNAPainter Shared cM Project

You, or the test taker, are in the middle and the relationship ranges surround “you.”

For example, you can clearly see that the number of cMs for my Example Adoptee at 3384 is clearly in the Parent or Child range. But wait, it could also be at the very highest end of a half sibling relationship. Other lower cM matches are less specific, so another feature of the DNAPainter tool is a life-saver.

At the top of the page, you can enter the number of matching cMs and the tool will predict the most likely results, based on probability.

Generations 3384

The relationship for 3384 cMs is 100% a parent/child relationship, shown above, but the sibling box is highlighted below because 3384 is the very highest value in the range. This seems to be a slight glitch in the tool. We can summarize by saying that it would be extremely, extremely rare for a 3384 cM match to be a full sibling instead of a parent or child. Hen’s teeth rare.

Generations parent child

Next, let’s look at 226 cM, for our male adoptee which produces the following results:

Generations 226

The following chart graphically shows the possible relationships. The “male adoptee” is actually Mom’s second cousin. This tool is quite accurate.

Generations 226 chart

Now that you’ve seen the tools in action, let’s take a look at the rest of the process.

The Steps to Success

The single biggest predictor of success identifying an unknown person is the number of close matches. Without relatively close matches, the process gets very difficult quickly.

What constitutes a close match and how many close matches do adoptees generally have to work with?

If an adoptee matches someone at a 2nd or 3rd cousin level, what does that really mean to them?

I’ve created the following charts to answer these questions. By the way, this information is relevant to everyone, not just adoptees.

In the chart below, you can view different relationships in the blue legs of the chart descending from the common ancestral couple.

In this example, “You” and the “Other Tester” match at the 4th cousin level sharing 35 cM of DNA. If you look “up” the tree a generation, you can see that the parents of the testers match at the 3rd cousin level and share 74 cM of DNA, the grandparents of the testers match at the 2nd cousin level and share 223 cM of DNA and so forth.

Generations relationship table

In the left column, generations begin being counted with your parents as generation 1. The cumulative number of direct line relatives you have at each generation is shown in the “# Grandparents” column.

Generations relationship levels

Here’s how to read this chart, straight across.

Viewing the “Generation” column, at the 4th generation level, you have 16 great-great-grandparents. Your great-great-grandparent is a first cousin to the the great-great-grandparent of your 4th cousin. Their parents were siblings.

Looking at it this way, it might not seem too difficult to reassemble the descendancy tree of someone 5 generations in the past, but let’s look at it from the other perspective meaning from the perspective of the ancestral couple.

Generations descendants

Couples had roughly 25 years of being reproductively capable and for most of history, birth control was non-existent. If your great-great-great-grandparents, who were born sometime near the year 1800 (the births of mine range from 1785 to 1810) had 5 children who lived, and each of their descendants had 5 children who lived, today each ancestral couple would have 3,125 descendants.

If that same couple had 10 children and 10 lived in each subsequent generation, they would have 100,000 descendants. Accuracy probably lies someplace in-between. That’s still a huge number of descendants for one couple.

That’s JUST for one couple. You have 32 great-great-great-grandparents, or 16 pairs, so multiply 16 times 3,125 for 50,000 descendants or 100,000 times 16 for…are you ready for this…1,600,000 descendants.

Descendants per GGG-grandparent couple at 5 generations Total descendants for 16 GGG-grandparent couples combined
5 children per generation 3,125 50,000
10 children per generation 100,000 1,600,000

NOW you understand why adoptees need to focus on only close matches and why distant matches at the 3rd and 4th cousin level are just too difficult to work with.

By contrast, let’s look at the first cousin row.

Generations descendants 1C.png

At 5 descendants per generation, you’ll have 25 first cousins or 100 first cousins at 10 descendants per generation.

Generations descendants 2C

At second cousins, you’ll have 125 and 1,000 – so reconstructing these trees down to current descendants is still an onerous task but much more doable than from the third or fourth cousin level, especially in smaller families.

The Perfect Scenario

Barring a fortuitous parent or sibling match, the perfect scenario for adoptees and people seeking unknown individuals means that:

  • They have multiple 1st or 2nd cousin matches making tree triangulation to a maternal and paternal group of matches to identify the common ancestors feasible.
  • Their matches have trees that allow the adoptee to construct theories of how they might fit into a family.

Following the two steps above, when sufficient matching and trees have been assembled, the verification steps begin.

  • Adoptees hope that their matches are responsive to communications requesting additional information to either confirm or refute their relationship theory. For example, my mother could tell the male adoptee that he is related on her father’s side of the family based on Family Tree DNA‘s parental “side” assignment. Based on who else the adoptee matches in common with mother, she could probably tell him how he’s related. That information would be hugely beneficial.
  • In a Doe situation where the goal is to identify remains, with a relatively close match, the investigator could contact that match and ask if they know of a missing family member.
  • In a law enforcement situation where strong close-family matches that function as hints lead to potential violent crime suspects, investigators could obtain a piece of trash discarded by the potential suspect to process and compare to the DNA from the crime scene, such as was done in the Golden State Killer case.

If the discarded DNA doesn’t match the crime scene DNA, the person is exonerated as a potential suspect. If the discarded DNA does match the crime scene DNA, investigators would continue to gather non-DNA evidence and/or pick the suspect up for questioning and to obtain a court ordered DNA sample to compare to the DNA from the crime scene in a law enforcement database.

Sometimes DNA is a Waiting Game

I know that on the surface, DNA matching for adoptees and unknown persons sounds simple, and sometimes it is if there is a very close family match.

More often than not, trying to identify unknown persons, especially if the tester doesn’t have multiple close matches is much like assembling a thousand-piece puzzle with no picture on the front of the box.

Sometimes simply waiting for a better match at some point in the future is the only feasible answer. I waited years for my brother, Dave’s family match. You can read his story here and here.

DNA is a waiting game.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

DNA Day Prices and Vendors’ Best Features

DNA Day always produces great sales at the DNA testing companies. Here’s a breakdown of the prices available this week and the best autosomal feature of each vendor.

Company Regular Price Sale Price Ethnicity Matching to other testers Additional Tools Best Feature
FamilyTreeDNA – Family Finder *1 *2 79 49 Yes Yes Yes Maternal and paternal bucketing of matches without parents testing
MyHeritageDNA *5 79 59 Yes Yes Yes Theories of Family Relativity, triangulation
AncestryDNA *2 *6 99 69 Yes Yes Yes Data base size
23andMe Ancestry *3 99 99 Yes Yes Yes Ethnicity breakdown by chromosome segment
LivingDNA *4 99 59 Yes No *4 No Focus on British Isles

*1 – Family Tree DNA also sells both Y and mitochondrial DNA tests. For information on sale prices for those products, please see this article.

*2 – Sale ends April 25th.

*3 – The 23andme Ancestry plus Health test is on sale here for $169 versus the normal price of $199. Sale ends May 13th. Free shipping.

*4 – Sale expiration date not provided. LivingDNA’s matching has been in a very preliminary stage for months, and while I feel confident that eventually they will have viable matching, today matching should not be considered in a purchase decision.

*5 – Sale ends April 28th. Free shipping with purchase of 2 or more kits.

*6 – Free shipping through Amazon on Ancestry test at this link.

Test yourself and close family members (parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.), especially the older generations, to make full use of the tools and matching.

Fishing in all the ponds either directly or by transfer assures that you don’t miss that critical match.

Many of these prices only last 2 more days.

Enjoy!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research