Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going and What’s Important?

Not only have we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, thankfully, we’re at the 20-year, two-decade milestone. The point at which genetics was first added to the toolbox of genealogists.

It seems both like yesterday and forever ago. And yes, I’ve been here the whole time,  as a spectator, researcher, and active participant.

Let’s put this in perspective. On New Year’s Eve, right at midnight, in 2005, I was able to score kit number 50,000 at Family Tree DNA. I remember this because it seemed like such a bizarre thing to be doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But hey, we genealogists are what we are.

I knew that momentous kit number which seemed just HUGE at the time was on the threshold of being sold, because I had inadvertently purchased kit 49,997 a few minutes earlier.

Somehow kit 50,000 seemed like such a huge milestone, a landmark – so I quickly bought kits, 49,998, 49,999, and then…would I get it…YES…kit 50,000. Score!

That meant that in the 5 years FamilyTreeDNA had been in business, they had sold on an average of 10,000 kits per year, or 27 kits a day. Today, that’s a rounding error. Then it was momentous!

In reality, the sales were ramping up quickly, because very few kits were sold in 2000, and roughly 20,000 kits had been sold in 2005 alone. I know this because I purchased kit 28,429 during the holiday sale a year earlier.

Of course, I had no idea who I’d test with that momentous New Year’s Eve Y DNA kit, but I assuredly would find someone. A few months later, I embarked on a road trip to visit an elderly family member with that kit in tow. Thank goodness I did, and they agreed and swabbed on the spot, because they are gone today and with them, the story of the Y line and autosomal DNA of their branch.

In the past two decades, almost an entire generation has slipped away, and with them, an entire genealogical library held in their DNA.

Today, more than 40 million people have tested with the four major DNA testing companies, although we don’t know exactly how many.

Lots of people have had more time to focus on genealogy in 2020, so let’s take a look at what’s important? What’s going on and what matters beyond this month or year?

How has this industry changed in the last two decades, and where it is going?

Reflection

This seems like a good point to reflect a bit.

Professor Dan Bradley reflecting on early genetic research techniques in his lab at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College in Dublin. Photo by Roberta Estes

In the beginning – twenty years ago, there were two companies who stuck their toes in the consumer DNA testing water – Oxford Ancestors and Family Tree DNA. About the same time, Sorenson Genomics and GeneTree were also entering that space, although Sorenson was a nonprofit. Today, of those, only FamilyTreeDNA remains, having adapted with the changing times – adding more products, testing, and sophistication.

Bryan Sykes who founded Oxford Ancestors announced in 2018 that he was retiring to live abroad and subsequently passed away in 2020. The website still exists, but the company has announced that they have ceased sales and the database will remain open until Sept 30, 2021.

James Sorenson died in 2008 and the assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, including the Sorenson database, were sold to Ancestry in 2012. Eventually, Ancestry removed the public database in 2015.

Ancestry dabbled in Y and mtDNA for a while, too, destroying that database in 2014.

Other companies, too many to remember or mention, have come and gone as well. Some of the various company names have been recycled or purchased, but aren’t the same companies today.

In the DNA space, it was keep up, change, die or be sold. Of course, there was the small matter of being able to sell enough DNA kits to make enough money to stay in business at all. DNA processing equipment and a lab are expensive. Not just the equipment, but also the expertise.

The Next Wave

As time moved forward, new players entered the landscape, comprising the “Big 4” testing companies that constitute the ponds where genealogists fish today.

23andMe was the first to introduce autosomal DNA testing and matching. Their goal and focus was always medical genetics, but they recognized the potential in genealogists before anyone else, and we flocked to purchase tests.

Ancestry settled on autosomal only and relies on the size of their database, a large body of genealogy subscribers, and a widespread “feel-good” marketing campaign to sell DNA kits as the gateway to “discover who you are.”

FamilyTreeDNA did and still does offer all 3 kinds of tests. Over the years, they have enhanced both the Y DNA and mitochondrial product offerings significantly and are still known as “the science company.” They are the only company to offer the full range of Y DNA tests, including their flagship Big Y-700, full sequence mitochondrial testing along with matching for both products. Their autosomal product is called Family Finder.

MyHeritage entered the DNA testing space a few years after the others as the dark horse that few expected to be successful – but they fooled everyone. They have acquired companies and partnered along the way which allowed them to add customers (Promethease) and tools (such as AutoCluster by Genetic Affairs), boosting their number of users. Of course, MyHeritage also offers users a records research subscription service that you can try for free.

In summary:

One of the wonderful things that happened was that some vendors began to accept compatible raw DNA autosomal data transfer files from other vendors. Today, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch DO accept transfer files, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

The transfers and matching are free, but there are either minimal unlock or subscription plans for advanced features.

There are other testing companies, some with niche markets and others not so reputable. For this article, I’m focusing on the primary DNA testing companies that are useful for genealogy and mainstream companion third-party tools that complement and enhance those services.

The Single Biggest Change

As I look back, the single biggest change is that genetic genealogy evolved from the pariah of genealogy where DNA discussion was banned from the (now defunct) Rootsweb lists and summarily deleted for the first few years after introduction. I know, that’s hard to believe today.

Why, you ask?

Reasons varied from “just because” to “DNA is cheating” and then morphed into “because DNA might do terrible things like, maybe, suggest that a person really wasn’t related to an ancestor in a lineage society.”

Bottom line – fear and misunderstanding. Change is exceedingly difficult for humans, and DNA definitely moved the genealogy cheese.

From that awkward beginning, genetic genealogy organically became a “thing,” a specific application of genealogy. There was paper-trail traditional genealogy and then the genetic aspect. Today, for almost everyone, genealogy is “just another tool” in the genealogist’s toolbox, although it does require focused learning, just like any other tool.

DNA isn’t separate anymore, but is now an integral part of the genealogical whole. Having said that, DNA can’t solve all problems or answer all questions, but neither can traditional paper-trail genealogy. Together, each makes the other stronger and solves mysteries that neither can resolve alone.

Synergy.

I fully believe that we have still only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Inheritance

As we talk about the various types of DNA testing and tools, here’s a quick graphic to remind you of how the different types of DNA are inherited.

  • Y DNA is inherited paternally for males only and informs us of the direct patrilineal (surname) line.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by everyone from their mothers and informs us of the mother’s matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line.
  • Autosomal DNA can be inherited from potentially any ancestor in random but somewhat predictable amounts through both parents. The further back in time, the less identifiable DNA you’ll inherit from any specific ancestor. I wrote about that, here.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

Where should we be focused today and where is this industry going? What tools and articles popped up in 2020 to help further our genealogy addiction? I already published the most popular articles of 2020, here.

This industry started two decades ago with testing a few Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA markers, and we were utterly thrilled at the time. Both tests have advanced significantly and the prices have dropped like a stone. My first mitochondrial DNA test that tested only 400 locations cost more than $800 – back then.

Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA are still critically important to genetic genealogy. Both play unique roles and provide information that cannot be obtained through autosomal DNA testing. Today, relative to Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, the biggest challenge, ironically, is educating newer genealogists about their potential who have never heard about anything other than autosomal, often ethnicity, testing.

We have to educate in order to overcome the cacophony of “don’t bother because you don’t get as many matches.”

That’s like saying “don’t use the right size wrench because the last one didn’t fit and it’s a bother to reach into the toolbox.” Not to mention that if everyone tested, there would be a lot more matches, but I digress.

If you don’t use the right tool, and all of the tools at your disposal, you’re not going to get the best result possible.

The genealogical proof standard, the gold standard for genealogy research, calls for “a reasonably exhaustive search,” and if you haven’t at least considered if or how Y
DNA
and mitochondrial DNA along with autosomal testing can or might help, then your search is not yet exhaustive.

I attempt to obtain the Y and mitochondrial DNA of every ancestral line. In the article, Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates, I described several methodologies to find appropriate testing candidates.

Y DNA – 20 Years and Still Critically Important

Y DNA tracks the Y chromosome for males via the patrilineal (surname) line, providing matching and historical migration information.

We started 20 years ago testing 10 STR markers. Today, we begin at 37 markers, can upgrade to 67 or 111, but the preferred test is the Big Y which provides results for 700+ STR markers plus results from the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome in order to provide the most refined results. This allows genealogists to use STR markers and SNP results together for various aspects of genealogy.

I created a Y DNA resource page, here, in order to provide a repository for Y DNA information and updates in one place. I would encourage anyone who can to order or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test which provides critical lineage information in addition to and beyond traditional STR testing. Additionally, the Big Y-700 test helps build the Y DNA haplotree which is growing by leaps and bounds.

More new SNPs are found and named EVERY SINGLE DAY today at FamilyTreeDNA than were named in the first several years combined. The 2006 SNP tree listed a grand total of 459 SNPs that defined the Y DNA tree at that time, according to the ISOGG Y DNA SNP tree. Goran Rundfeldt, head of R&D at FamilyTreeDNA posted this today:

2020 was an awful year in so many ways, but it was an unprecedented year for human paternal phylogenetic tree reconstruction. The FTDNA Haplotree or Great Tree of Mankind now includes:

37,534 branches with 12,696 added since 2019 – 51% growth!
defined by
349,097 SNPs with 131,820 added since 2019 – 61% growth!

In just one year, 207,536 SNPs were discovered and assigned FT SNP names. These SNPs will help define new branches and refine existing ones in the future.

The tree is constructed based on high coverage chromosome Y sequences from:
– More than 52,500 Big Y results
– Almost 4,000 NGS results from present-day anonymous men that participated in academic studies

Plus an additional 3,000 ancient DNA results from archaeological remains, of mixed quality and Y chromosome coverage at FamilyTreeDNA.

Wow, just wow.

These three new articles in 2020 will get you started on your Y DNA journey!

Mitochondrial DNA – Matrilineal Line of Humankind is Being Rewritten

The original Oxford Ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA test tested 400 locations. The original Family Tree DNA test tested around 1000 locations. Today, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is standard, testing the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria.

Mitochondrial DNA tracks your mother’s direct maternal, or matrilineal line. I’ve created a mitochondrial DNA resource page, here that includes easy step-by-step instructions for after you receive your results.

New articles in 2020 included the introduction of The Million Mito Project. 2021 should see the first results – including a paper currently in the works.

The Million Mito Project is rewriting the haplotree of womankind. The current haplotree has expanded substantially since the first handful of haplogroups thanks to thousands upon thousands of testers, but there is so much more information that can be extracted today.

Y and Mitochondrial Resources

If you don’t know of someone in your family to test for Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA for a specific ancestral line, you can always turn to the Y DNA projects at Family Tree DNA by searching here.

The search provides you with a list of projects available for a specific surname along with how many customers with that surname have tested. Looking at the individual Y DNA projects will show the earliest known ancestor of the surname line.

Another resource, WikiTree lists people who have tested for the Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA lines of specific ancestors.

Click on images to enlarge

On the left side, my maternal great-grandmother’s profile card, and on the right, my paternal great-great-grandfather. You can see that someone has tested for the mitochondrial DNA of Nora (OK, so it’s me) and the Y DNA of John Estes (definitely not me.)

MitoYDNA, a nonprofit volunteer organization created a comparison tool to replace Ysearch and Mitosearch when they bit the dust thanks to GDPR.

MitoYDNA accepts uploads from different sources and allows uploaders to not only match to each other, but to view the STR values for Y DNA and the mutation locations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions of mitochondrial DNA. Mags Gaulden, one of the founders, explains in her article, What sets mitoYDNA apart from other DNA Databases?.

If you’ve tested at nonstandard companies, not realizing that they didn’t provide matching, or if you’ve tested at a company like Sorenson, Ancestry, and now Oxford Ancestors that is going out of business, uploading your results to mitoYDNA is a way to preserve your investment. PS – I still recommend testing at FamilyTreeDNA in order to receive detailed results and compare in their large database.

CentiMorgans – The Word of Two Decades

The world of autosomal DNA turns on the centimorgan (cM) measure. What is a centimorgan, exactly? I wrote about that unit of measure in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab.

Fortunately, new tools and techniques make using cMs much easier. The Shared cM Project was updated this year, and the results incorporated into a wonderfully easy tool used to determine potential relationships at DNAPainter based on the number of shared centiMorgans.

Match quality and potential relationships are determined by the number of shared cMs, and the chromosome browser is the best tool to use for those comparisons.

Chromosome Browser – Genetics Tool to View Chromosome Matches

Chromosome browsers allow testers to view their matching cMs of DNA with other testers positioned on their own chromosomes.

My two cousins’ DNA where they match me on chromosomes 1-4, is shown above in blue and red at Family Tree DNA. It’s important to know where you match cousins, because if you match multiple cousins on the same segment, from the same side of your family (maternal or paternal), that’s suggestive of a common ancestor, with a few caveats.

Some people feel that a chromosome browser is an advanced tool, but I think it’s simply standard fare – kind of like driving a car. You need to learn how to drive initially, but after that, you don’t even think about it – you just get in and go. Here’s help learning how to drive that chromosome browser.

Triangulation – Science Plus Group DNA Matching Confirms Genealogy

The next logical step after learning to use a chromosome browser is triangulation. If fact, you’re seeing triangulation above, but don’t even realize it.

The purpose of genetic genealogy is to gather evidence to “prove” ancestral connections to either people or specific ancestors. In autosomal DNA, triangulation occurs when:

  • You match at least two other people (not close relatives)
  • On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA (generally 7 cM or greater)
  • And you can assign that segment to a common ancestor

The same two cousins are shown above, with triangulated segments bracketed at MyHeritage. I’ve identified the common ancestor with those cousins that those matching DNA segments descend from.

MyHeritage’s triangulation tool confirms by bracketing that these cousins also match each other on the same segment, which is the definition of triangulation.

I’ve written a lot about triangulation recently.

If you’d prefer a video, I recorded a “Top Tips” Facebook LIVE with MyHeritage.

Why is Ancestry missing from this list of triangulation articles? Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or segment information. Therefore, you can’t triangulate at Ancestry. You can, however, transfer your Ancestry DNA raw data file to either FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch, all three of which offer triangulation.

Step by step download/upload transfer instructions are found in this article:

Clustering Matches and Correlating Trees

Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, we can no longer depend on the major vendors to provide all of the tools that genealogists want and need.

Of course, I would encourage you to stay with mainstream products being used by a significant number of community power users. As with anything, there is always someone out there that’s less than honorable.

2020 saw a lot of innovation and new tools introduced. Maybe that’s one good thing resulting from people being cooped up at home.

Third-party tools are making a huge difference in the world of genetic genealogy. My favorites are Genetic Affairs, their AutoCluster tool shown above, DNAPainter and DNAGedcom.

These articles should get you started with clustering.

If you like video resources, here’s a MyHeritage Facebook LIVE that I recorded about how to use AutoClusters:

I created a compiled resource article for your convenience, here:

I have not tried a newer tool, YourDNAFamily, that focuses only on 23andMe results although the creator has been a member of the genetic genealogy community for a long time.

Painting DNA Makes Chromosome Browsers and Triangulation Easy

DNAPainter takes the next step, providing a repository for all of your painted segments. In other words, DNAPainter is both a solution and a methodology for mass triangulation across all of your chromosomes.

Here’s a small group of people who match me on the same maternal segment of chromosome 1, including those two cousins in the chromosome browser and triangulation sections, above. We know that this segment descends from Philip Jacob Miller and his wife because we’ve been able to identify that couple as the most distant ancestor intersection in all of our trees.

It’s very helpful that DNAPainter has added the functionality of painting all of the maternal and paternal bucketed matches from Family Tree DNA.

All you need to do is to link your known matches to your tree in the proper place at FamilyTreeDNA, then they do the rest by using those DNA matches to indicate which of the rest of your matches are maternal and paternal. Instructions, here. You can then export the file and use it at DNAPainter to paint all of those matches on the correct maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an article providing all of the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources.

DNA Matches Plus Trees Enhance Genealogy

Of course, utilizing DNA matching plus finding common ancestors in trees is one of the primary purposes of genetic genealogy – right?

Vendors have linked the steps of matching DNA with matching ancestors in trees.

Genetic Affairs take this a step further. If you don’t have an ancestor in your tree, but your matches have common ancestors with each other, Genetic Affairs assembles those trees to provide you with those hints. Of course, that common ancestor might not be relevant to your genealogy, but it just might be too!

click to enlarge

This tree does not include me, but two of my matches descend from a common ancestor and that common ancestor between them might be a clue as to why I match both of them.

Ethnicity Continues to be Popular – But Is No Shortcut to Genealogy

Ethnicity is always popular. People want to “do their DNA” and find out where they come from. I understand. I really do. Who doesn’t just want an answer?

Of course, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to people who test for that purpose with high expectations. Hopefully, ethnicity will pique their curiosity and encourage engagement.

All four major vendors rolled out updated ethnicity results or related tools in 2020.

The future for ethnicity, I believe, will be held in integrated tools that allow us to use ethnicity results for genealogy, including being able to paint our ethnicity on our chromosomes as well as perform segment matching by ethnicity.

For example, if I carry an African segment on chromosome 1 from my father, and I match one person from my mother’s side and one from my father’s side on that same segment – one or the other of those people should also have that segment identified as African. That information would inform me as to which match is paternal and which is maternal

Not only that, this feature would help immensely tracking ancestors back in time and identifying their origins.

Will we ever get there? I don’t know. I’m not sure ethnicity is or can be accurate enough. We’ll see.

Transition to Digital and Online

Sometimes the future drags us kicking and screaming from the present.

With the imposed isolation of 2020, conferences quickly moved to an online presence. The genealogy community has all pulled together to make this work. The joke is that 2020’s most used phrase is “can you hear me?” I can vouch for that.

Of course while the year 2020 is over, the problem isn’t and is extending at least through the first half of 2021 and possibly longer. Conferences are planned months, up to a year, in advance and they can’t turn on a dime, so don’t even begin to expect in-person conferences until either late in 2021 or more likely, 2022 if all goes well this year.

I expect the future will eventually return to in-person conferences, but not entirely.

Finding ways to be more inclusive allows people who don’t want to or can’t travel or join in-person to participate.

I’ve recorded several sessions this year, mostly for 2021. Trust me, these could be a comedy, mostly of errors😊

I participated in four MyHeritage Facebook LIVE sessions in 2020 along with some other amazing speakers. This is what “live” events look like today!

Screenshot courtesy MyHeritage

A few days ago, I asked MyHeritage for a list of their LIVE sessions in 2020 and was shocked to learn that there were more than 90 in English, all free, and you can watch them anytime. Here’s the MyHeritage list.

By the way, every single one of the speakers is a volunteer, so say a big thank you to the speakers who make this possible, and to MyHeritage for the resources to make this free for everyone. If you’ve ever tried to coordinate anything like this, it’s anything but easy.

Additonally, I’ve created two Webinars this year for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Geoff Rasmussen put together the list of their top webinars for 2020, and I was pleased to see that I made the top 10! I’m sure there are MANY MORE you’d be interested in watching. Personally, I’m going to watch #6 yet today! Also, #9 and #22. You can always watch new webinars for free for a few days, and you can subscribe to watch all webinars, here.

The 2021 list of webinar speakers has been announced here, and while I’m not allowed to talk about something really fun that’s upcoming, let’s just say you definitely have something to look forward to in the springtime!

Also, don’t forget to register for RootsTech Connect which is entirely online and completely free, February 25-27, here.

Thank you to Penny Walters for creating this lovely graphic.

There are literally hundreds of speakers providing sessions in many languages for viewers around the world. I’ve heard the stats, but we can’t share them yet. Let me just say that you will be SHOCKED at the magnitude and reach of this conference. I’m talking dumbstruck!

During one of our zoom calls, one of the organizers says it feels like we’re constructing the plane as we’re flying, and I can confirm his observation – but we are getting it done – together! All hands on deck.

I’ll be presenting an advanced session about triangulation as well as a mini-session in the FamilySearch DNA Resource Center about finding your mother’s ancestors. I’ll share more information as it’s released and I can.

Companies and Owners Come & Go

You probably didn’t even notice some of these 2020 changes. Aside from the death of Bryan Sykes (RIP Bryan,) the big news and the even bigger unknown is the acquisition of Ancestry by Blackstone. Recently the CEO, Margo Georgiadis announced that she was stepping down. The Ancestry Board of Directors has announced an external search for a new CEO. All I can say is that very high on the priority list should be someone who IS a genealogist and who understands how DNA applies to genealogy.

Other changes included:

In the future, as genealogy and DNA testing becomes ever more popular and even more of a commodity, company sales and acquisitions will become more commonplace.

Some Companies Reduced Services and Cut Staff

I understand this too, but it’s painful. The layoffs occurred before Covid, so they didn’t result from Covid-related sales reductions. Let’s hope we see renewed investment after the Covid mess is over.

In a move that may or may not be related to an attempt to cut costs, Ancestry removed 6 and 7 cM matches from their users, freeing up processing resources, hardware, and storage requirements and thereby reducing costs.

I’m not going to beat this dead horse, because Ancestry is clearly not going to move on this issue, nor on that of the much-requested chromosome browser.

Later in the year, 23andMe also removed matches and other features, although, to their credit, they have restored at least part of this functionality and have provided ethnicity updates to V3 and V4 kits which wasn’t initially planned.

It’s also worth noting that early in 2020, 23andMe laid off 100 people as sales declined. Since that time, 23andMe has increasingly pushed consumers to pay to retest on their V5 chip.

About the same time, Ancestry also cut their workforce by about 6%, or about 100 people, also citing a slowdown in the consumer testing market. Ancestry also added a health product.

I’m not sure if we’ve reached market saturation or are simply seeing a leveling off. I wrote about that in DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons.

Of course, the pandemic economy where many people are either unemployed or insecure about their future isn’t helping.

The various companies need some product diversity to survive downturns. 23andMe is focused on medical research with partners who pay 23andMe for the DNA data of customers who opt-in, as does Ancestry.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage provide subscription services for genealogy records.

FamilyTreeDNA is part of a larger company, GenebyGene whose genetics labs do processing for other companies and medical facilities.

A huge thank you to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA for NOT reducing services to customers in 2020.

Scientific Research Still Critical & Pushes Frontiers

Now that DNA testing has become a commodity, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that DNA testing is still a scientific endeavor that requires research to continue to move forward.

I’m still passionate about research after 20 years – maybe even more so now because there’s so much promise.

Research bleeds over into the consumer marketplace where products are improved and new features created allowing us to better track and understand our ancestors through their DNA that we and our family members inherit.

Here are a few of the research articles I published in 2020. You might notice a theme here – ancient DNA. What we can learn now due to new processing techniques is absolutely amazing. Labs can share files and information, providing the ability to “reprocess” the data, not the DNA itself, as more information and expertise becomes available.

Of course, in addition to this research, the Million Mito Project team is hard at work rewriting the tree of womankind.

If you’d like to participate, all you need to do is to either purchase a full sequence mitochondrial DNA kit at FamilyTreeDNA, or upgrade to the full sequence if you tested at a lower level previously.

Predictions

Predictions are risky business, but let me give it a shot.

Looking back a year, Covid wasn’t on the radar.

Looking back 5 years, neither Genetic Affairs nor DNAPainter were yet on the scene. DNAAdoption had just been formed in 2014 and DNAGedcom which was born out of DNAAdoption didn’t yet exist.

In other words, the most popular tools today didn’t exist yet.

GEDmatch, founded in 2010 by genealogists for genealogists was 5 years old, but was sold in December 2019 to Verogen.

We were begging Ancestry for a chromosome browser, and while we’ve pretty much given up beating them, because the horse is dead and they can sell DNA kits through ads focused elsewhere, that doesn’t mean genealogists still don’t need/want chromosome and segment based tools. Why, you’d think that Ancestry really doesn’t want us to break through those brick walls. That would be very bizarre, because every brick wall that falls reveals two more ancestors that need to be researched and spurs a frantic flurry of midnight searching. If you’re laughing right now, you know exactly what I mean!

Of course, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser, it would cost development money for no additional revenue and their customer service reps would have to be able to support it. So from Ancestry’s perspective, there’s no good reason to provide us with that tool when they can sell kits without it. (Sigh.)

I’m not surprised by the management shift at Ancestry, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see several big players go public in the next decade, if not the next five years.

As companies increase in value, the number of private individuals who could afford to purchase the company decreases quickly, leaving private corporations as the only potential buyers, or becoming publicly held. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because investment dollars are infused into new product development.

What we desperately need, and I predict will happen one way or another is a marriage of individual tools and functions that exist separately today, with a dash of innovation. We need tools that will move beyond confirming existing ancestors – and will be able to identify ancestors through our DNA – out beyond each and every brick wall.

If a tester’s DNA matches to multiple people in a group descended from a particular previously unknown couple, and the timing and geography fits as well, that provides genealogical researchers with the hint they need to begin excavating the traditional records, looking for a connection.

In fact, this is exactly what happened with mitochondrial DNA – twice now. A match and a great deal of digging by one extremely persistent cousin resulting in identifying potential parents for a brick-wall ancestor. Autosomal DNA then confirmed that my DNA matched with 59 other individuals who descend from that couple through multiple children.

BUT, we couldn’t confirm those ancestors using autosomal DNA UNTIL WE HAD THE NAMES of the couple. DNA has the potential to reveal those names!

I wrote about that in Mitochondrial DNA Bulldozes Brick Wall and will be discussing it further in my RootsTech presentation.

The Challenge

We have most of the individual technology pieces today to get this done. Of course, the combined technological solution would require significant computing resources and processing power – just at the same time that vendors are desperately trying to pare costs to a minimum.

Some vendors simply aren’t interested, as I’ve already noted.

However, the winner, other than us genealogists, of course, will be the vendor who can either devise solutions or partner with others to create the right mix of tools that will combine matching, triangulation, and trees of your matches to each other, even if you don’t’ share a common ancestor.

We need to follow the DNA past the current end of the branch of our tree.

Each triangulated segment has an individual history that will lead not just to known ancestors, but to their unknown ancestors as well. We have reached critical mass in terms of how many people have tested – and more success would encourage more and more people to test.

There is a genetic path over every single brick wall in our genealogy.

Yes, I know that’s a bold statement. It’s not future Jetson’s flying-cars stuff. It’s doable – but it’s a matter of commitment, investment money, and finding a way to recoup that investment.

I don’t think it’s possible for the one-time purchase of a $39-$99 DNA test, especially when it’s not a loss-leader for something else like a records or data subscription (MyHeritage and Ancestry) or a medical research partnership (Ancestry and 23andMe.)

We’re performing these analysis processes manually and piecemeal today. It’s extremely inefficient and labor-intensive – which is why it often fails. People give up. And the process is painful, even when it does succeed.

This process has also been made increasingly difficult when some vendors block tools that help genealogists by downloading match and ancestral tree information. Before Ancestry closed access, I was creating theories based on common ancestors in my matches trees that weren’t in mine – then testing those theories both genetically (clusters, AutoTrees and ThruLines) and also by digging into traditional records to search for the genetic connection.

For example, I’m desperate to identify the parents of my James Lee Clarkson/Claxton, so I sorted my spreadsheet by surname and began evaluating everyone who had a Clarkson/Claxton in their tree in the 1700s in Virginia or North Carolina. But I can’t do that anymore now, either with a third-party tool or directly at Ancestry. Twenty million DNA kits sold for a minimum of $79 equals more than 1.5 billion dollars. Obviously, the issue here is not a lack of funds.

Including Y and mitochondrial DNA resources in our genetic toolbox not only confirms accuracy but also provides additional hints and clues.

Sometimes we start with Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA, and wind up using autosomal and sometimes the reverse. These are not competing products. It’s not either/or – it’s *and*.

Personally, I don’t expect the vendors to provide this game-changing complex functionality for free. I would be glad to pay for a subscription for top-of-the-line innovation and tools. In what other industry do consumers expect to pay for an item once and receive constant life-long innovations and upgrades? That doesn’t happen with software, phones nor with automobiles. I want vendors to be profitable so that they can invest in new tools that leverage the power of computing for genealogists to solve currently unsolvable problems.

Every single end-of-line ancestor in your tree represents a brick wall you need to overcome.

If you compare the cost of books, library visits, courthouse trips, and other research endeavors that often produce exactly nothing, these types of genetic tools would be both a godsend and an incredible value.

That’s it.

That’s the challenge, a gauntlet of sorts.

Who’s going to pick it up?

I can’t answer that question, but I can say that 23andMe can’t do this without supporting extensive trees, and Ancestry has shown absolutely no inclination to support segment data. You can’t achieve this goal without segment information or without trees.

Among the current players, that leaves two DNA testing companies and a few top-notch third parties as candidates – although – as the past has proven, the future is uncertain, fluid, and everchanging.

It will be interesting to see what I’m writing at the end of 2025, or maybe even at the end of 2021.

Stay tuned.

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Most Popular Articles of 2020

We all know that 2020 was a year like no other, right? So, what were we reading this year as we spent more time at home?

According to my blog stats, these are the ten most popular articles of 2020.

2020 Rank Blog Article Name Publication Date/Comment
1 Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages Jan 11, 2017
2 Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA December 18, 2012
3 Ancestry to Remove DNA Matches Soon – Preservation Strategies with Detailed Instructions Now obsolete article – July 16, 2020
4 Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? June 27, 2017
5 Full or Half Siblings? April 3, 2019
6 442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match? September 18, 2020
7 Migration Pedigree Chart March 25, 2016
8 DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents January 14, 2020
9 Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines February 22, 2020
10 Phylogenetic Tree of Novel Coronavirus (hCoV-19) Covid-19 March 12, 2020

Half of these articles were published this year, and half are older.

One article is now obsolete. The Ancestry purge has already happened, so there’s nothing to be done now.

Let’s take a look at the rest and what messages might be held in these popular selections.

Ethnicity

I’m not the least bit surprised by ethnicity being the most popular topic, nor that Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages is the most popular article. Not only is ethnicity a perennially favorite, but all four major vendors introduced something new this year.

By the way, my perennial caveat still applies – ethnicity is only an estimate😊

While Genetic Groups isn’t actually ethnicity, per se, it’s a layer on top of ethnicity that provides you with locations where your ancestors might have been from and migrated to, based on genetic clusters. Clusters are defined by the locations of ancestors of other people within that genetic cluster.

There’s actually good news at 23andMe. Since this article was published in October, 23andMe has indeed updated the V3 and V4 kits with new ethnicity updates. 23andMe had originally stated they weren’t going to do that, clearly in the hope that people would pay to retest by purchasing the V5 Health + Ancestry test. I’m so glad to see their reversal.

Viewing the older V2 kits, the “updated” date at the bottom of their Ancestry Composition page says they were updated on December 9th or 10th, but I don’t see a difference and they don’t have the “updated” icon like the V3 and V4 kits do.

23andMe made another reversal too and also restored the original matches. They had reduced the number of matches to 1500 for non-Health+Ancestry testers who don’t also subscribe. If you wanted between 1500 and 5000 matches, you had to retest and subscribe for $29 per year. (It’s worth noting that I have over 5000 matches at all of the other vendors.)

To date, 23andMe has restored previous matches and also restored some but not all of the search functionality that they had removed.

What isn’t clear is whether 23andMe will continue to add to this number of matches until the tester reaches the earlier limit of 2000, or whether they have simply restored the previous matches, but the match total will not increase unless you have a subscription.

Consumer feedback works – so thanks to everyone who provided feedback to 23andMe.

Native American Ancestry

The article, Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA, written 8 years ago, only 5 months after launching this blog, has been in the top 10 every year since I’ve been counting.

I created a Native American reference and resource page too, which you can find here.

I’ll also be publishing some new articles after the first of the year which I promise you’ll find VERY INTERESTING. Something to look forward to.

Understanding Autosomal DNA

2020 has seen more people delving into genealogy + DNA testing which means they need to understand both the results and the concepts underlying their results.

Whooohooo – more people in the pool. Jump on in – the water’s fine!

The articles Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? and DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents both explain how DNA is passed from your ancestors to you.

These are great basic articles if you’re looking to help someone new, and so is First Steps When Your DNA Results are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water.

I always look forward to the end of January because there will be lots of matches from holiday gifts being posted. Feel free to forward any of these articles to your new matches. It’s always fun helping new people because you just never know when they might be able to help you.

Surprises

With more and more people testing, more and more people are receiving “surprises” in their results. Need to figure out the difference between full and half-siblings? Then Full or Half Siblings? is the article for you.

Trying to discern other relationships? My favorite tool is the Shared cM Project tool at DNAPainter, here.

Vikings

Who doesn’t want to know if they are related to the ancient Vikings??? You can make that discovery in the article, 442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match?. Not only is this just plain fun, but I snuck in a little education too.

Of course, you’ll need to have your Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA results, which you can easily order, here. If you’re unsure and would like to read a short article about the different kinds of DNA and how they can help you, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is perfect.

Do you think your DNA isn’t Viking because your ancestors aren’t from Scandinavia? Guess again!

Those Vikings didn’t stay home, and they didn’t restrict their escapades to the British Isles either.

This drawing depicts Viking ships besieging Paris in the year 845. Vikings voyaged into Russia and as far as the Mediterranean.

Have a child studying at home? This might be an interesting topic!

Migration Pedigree Chart

Another just plain fun idea is the Migration Pedigree Chart.

I created this migration pedigree chart in a spreadsheet, but you can also create a pedigree chart in genealogy software with whatever “names” you want. This will also help you figure out the estimated percentages of ethnicity you might reasonably expect.

Another idea for helping kids learn at home and they might accidentally learn about figuring percentages in the process.

ThruLines

ThruLines is the Ancestry tool that assists DNA testers with trees connect the dots to common ancestors with their matches. There are ways to optimize your tree to improve your connections, both in terms of accuracy and the number of Thrulines that form.

Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines provides step by step instructions, which reminds me – I need to write a similar article for MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity. I keep meaning to…

Covid

You know, it wouldn’t be 2020 if I didn’t HAVE to mention that word.

I’m glad to know that people were and hopefully still are educating themselves about Covid. Phylogenetic Tree of Novel Coronavirus (hCoV-19) Covid-19 reflected early information about the novel virus and our first efforts to sequence the DNA. Of course, as expected, just like any other organism, mutations have occurred since then.

Goodness knows, we are all tired of Covid and the resulting safety protocols. Keep on keeping on. We need you on the other side.

Stay home, mask up when you must leave, stay away from other people outside your family that you live with, wash your hands, and get vaccinated as soon as you can.

And until we can all see each other in person again, hopefully, sooner than later, keep on doing genealogy.

Locked in the Library

Be careful what you ask for.

Remember that dream where you’re locked in a library? Remember saying you don’t have enough time for genealogy?

Well, now you are and now you do.

The library is your desk with your computer or maybe your laptop on a picnic table in the yard.

DNA results, matches, and research tools are the books and you’re officially locked in for at least a few more weeks. Free articles like these are your guide.

Hmmm, pandemic isolation doesn’t sound so bad now, does it??

We’ll just rename it “genealogy library lock-in.”

Happy New Year!

What can you discover?

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Triangulation Resources In One Place

I’ve written a number of articles about autosomal DNA triangulation.

I’ve created this repository to provide gather various resources all in one place to make it easier for you to find what you need.

Triangulation Concepts and Tools

What is triangulation, why it is important for genealogy, and how does one go about triangulating? More importantly, why do genealogists care?

In a nutshell, triangulation allows you to discover or confirm your ancestors or ancestral lines when:

  • You match at least two other people (who are not close relatives) on the same reasonably sized segment of DNA.
  • Those matches also match each other on a reasonably sized portion of the same DNA segment where you match both of them.
  • You identify a common ancestor or ancestral couple who passed that segment to all of the people who match on that segment of DNA.

I’ve written two articles that explain chromosome matching, triangulation, and how to use a chromosome browser.

This article explains chromosome matching and triangulation step-by-step to help you sort through your matches.

A chromosome browser is essential to genetic genealogy and specifically, to triangulation, allowing you to visualize your DNA matches on your chromosomes. This article starts at the beginning with what a chromosome browser looks like and explains each step along the way.

It’s important to understand that some people will match you, but won’t match either of your parents, or wouldn’t if your parents were both available to test. The technique of triangulation removes the issue of “false matches” which aren’t identical by descent, because you inherited that DNA segment from an ancestor through one of your parents, but are instead “identical by chance.”

If you’d like to utilize X matching, you’ll want to read this article. The X chromosome has a unique inheritance path, is treated differently by various vendors and you’ll need to evaluate X matches differently.

Genetic Affairs has numerous tools that facilitate and assist with different aspects of triangulation including their AutoClusters, AutoTree, AutoPedigree and AutoSegment features.

How to Triangulate?

Each of the major vendors, except Ancestry, provides a chromosome browser along with some type of triangulation tool. Additionally, third parties who do not perform DNA testing offer great supplemental tools. GEDmatch and DNAPainter both provide triangulation tools, allowing you to take advantage of matches from multiple vendors.

I’ve written step-by-step articles detailing how to utilize triangulation at each vendor:

FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor that provides built-in parental phasing, even if your own parents haven’t tested. You’ll want to either test at or transfer your DNA file (free) to Family Tree DNA, then pay the $19 unlock for advanced tools. As an added benefit, you can also test and obtain matches to your Y DNA (paternal or surname line) if you’re a male and mitochondrial DNA (mother’s matrilineal line) for either sex in order to further your genealogical research.

MyHeritage is the only vendor to incorporate a triangulation tool with shared matches and AutoClusters into their solution. Of course, MyHeritage also provides traditional genealogical research records that they combine with DNA matches and trees in their Theories of Family Relativity feature, showing potential tree connections between you and your matches to common ancestors. You’ll want to either test at or transfer your DNA file to MyHeritage (free), then pay the $29 unlock for advanced tools.

23andMe doesn’t call triangulation by that name, but they provide the functionality, nonetheless. While 23andMe doesn’t support trees in the normal genealogical manner, they are the only vendor who has created a sort of genetic tree, giving you an idea of how your closest matches may fit into a family tree positionally. You can’t transfer files to 23andMe, so if you want to be in their database, you’ll need to test there.

GEDmatch does not provide DNA testing, but they do provide additional tools. You will find a number of people who have tested at Ancestry and other vendors, then transferred to GEDmatch to use their chromosome browser and other tools to obtain additional matches. GEDmatch is the only vendor who triangulates all of your matches at one time – providing a comprehensive report. You’ll want to transfer your DNA kit to GEDmatch (free) and subscribe to their Tier1 Level to utilize their advanced tools.

DNAPainter doesn’t provide DNA testing but does provide a critical service by facilitating the painting of your DNA matches on your chromosomes, identified by ancestor. This allows you to “walk the segment back in time,” meaning to identify the oldest ancestor to whom you can identify a specific segment. I utilize DNAPainter as a central location to house all of my identified segments from all vendors. You can get started by checking out the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources, here.

Testing and Transferring

It’s important to identify as many triangulated segments as possible, which means it‘s crucial to be in all the databases that support triangulation and provide tools.

All major vendors allow you to download your DNA raw data file once you’ve tested, but not all vendors support uploading other vendors’ files instead of purchasing their test.

You can upload (at least) recent versions of other vendors DNA data files to:

The following vendors do NOT support uploads, but you can download your DNA file from these vendors and upload to the vendors above:

I wrote step-by-step instructions about how to download your files from each vendor and uploading them to vendors who accept uploads in the article, DNA File Upload-Download and Transfer Instructions to and from DNA Testing Companies.

Up your genealogy game by transferring and triangulating.

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

DNA Tidbit #5: What’s Your Goal?

You probably see this all the time on social media:

“I just got my DNA results. Now what?”

No further information is given.

The answer is, “What is your goal?”

Why did they test and what are they hoping to learn?

DNA Tidbit Challenge: Define goals for answering genealogy questions, allowing you to focus your efforts.

Your DNA testing goal depends on a number of factors including:

  • What test you took, meaning Y DNA, mitochondrial or autosomal.
  • Where you tested and the tools they offer.
  • What you’re hoping to achieve. In other words, why did you test in the first place?

For a short article about the difference between Y, mitochondrial, and autosomal DNA, please click here.

For more seasoned genealogists, we may have taken all the tests and answered many questions already, but still, our research needs to be guided by goals.

I regularly check my matches. I still think I may have had a half-sibling that is yet to be located. After I confirm that no, I don’t have any new close matches, I then look at the rest, making notes where appropriate.

Recently, late one night, I thought to myself, “why am I doing this?” Endlessly scrolling through new matches and randomly seeing if I can figure out where they fit or which ancestor we share.

But why?

Originally, I had two broad goals.

  • I wanted to find Y line males in each line and other males from the same supposed line to confirm that indeed the ancestral line is what the paper trail had identified.
  • To confirm that I am indeed descended from the ancestral lines I think I am, meaning no NPEs. As a genealogist, the only thing I’d hate worse than discovering that I’ve been researching the wrong line for all these years is to keep doing so.

Given that I’ve confirmed my connection to ancestors on most lines back several generations now, what are my goals?

Broad and Deep

I’ve realized over the years that goals are both broad and deep.

Broad goals are as I described above, in essence, spanning the entire tree.

My broad goals have changed a bit over time. I’ve located and tested descendants of many Y lines, but I’m still working on a few. I’ve confirmed most of my lineage back several generations by matching the DNA from other children of the same ancestor and using tools like triangulation and DNAPainter to confirm the segment is actually from the ancestral couple I think it is.

I’ve added the goal of breaking down brick walls.

This means that I need to look deep instead of broad.

Deep means that I need to focus on and formulate a plan for each line.

Looking Deep

I’ve identified three specific deep goals and put together a plan with action steps to achieve those goals.

  • Deep Goal #1 – Collecting and Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA

I like to “collect” the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA results/haplogroups of my ancestors for different reasons. First, I’ve discovered surprises in where their DNA originated. For both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, you can identify their continent of origin as well as confirm ancestors or break down brick walls for that one specific line through matches and other tools at Family Tree DNA.

Looking at my tree, my closest ancestor whose Y DNA or mtDNA I don’t have is my great-grandmother, Evaline Miller (1857-1939) who had 4 daughters who all had daughters. You wouldn’t think it would be this difficult to find someone who descends to current through all daughters.

How do I go about achieving this goal? What are some alternatives?

  • Track and ask family members, if possible.
  • Find descendants using MyHeritage, Ancestry and Geneanet (especially in Europe) trees. Bonus – they may also have photos or information that I don’t, especially since this isn’t a distant ancestor.

click to enlarge

Ancestry’s ThruLines shows your matches by ancestor, so long as the connection can be made through trees. Unfortunately, in this case, no one descends correctly for mitochondrial DNA, meaning through all females to the current generation which can be male. BUT, they might have an aunt or uncle who does, so it’s certainly worth making a contact attempt.

  • I can also use WikiTree to see if someone has already tested in her line. Unfortunately, no.

However, I don’t know the profile manager so maybe I should click and see how we might be related. You never know and the answer is no if you don’t ask😊

Deep Goal #2 – Confirming a Specific Ancestor

I want to confirm that a specific ancestor is my ancestor, or as close as I can get.

What do I mean by that?

In the first couple of close generations, using autosomal DNA, we can confirm ancestral lines and parentage. We can confirm our parents and our grandparents, but further back in that, we have to use a combination of our tree and other tools to confirm our paper genealogy.

For example, as we move further back in time, we can’t confirm that one particular son was the father as opposed to his brother. In closer generations, autosomal DNA might help, but not beyond the first couple of generations. Second cousins always match autosomally, but beyond that, not so much.

Using Y DNA, if we can find a suitable candidate, I can confirm that my Estes ancestor actually does descend through the Estes line indicated by my paper trail.

I need to find someone in my line either to test or who has already tested, of course.

click to enlarge

If they do test and share their match information with me, and others from that same line have tested, I can see their earliest known ancestors on their Y DNA match page.

If someone from that line has already tested and has joined a surname project, you can see their results on the public project page if they have authorized public project display.

click to enlarge

This is also one way of determining whether or not your line has already tested, especially if you have no Y DNA matches to the expected surname and ancestor. If others have tested from that ancestor, and you don’t match them, there’s a mystery to be unraveled.

To see if projects exist for your surnames, you can click here and scroll down to the search box, below.

Please note that if someone else in your family takes the Y DNA test, that doesn’t guarantee that you descend from that ancestor too unless that person is a reasonably close relative and you match them autosomally in the expected way.

Confirmation of a specific ancestor requires two things without Y DNA testing:

  • Sharing autosomal matches, and preferably triangulated segments, with others who descend from that ancestor (or ancestral couple) through another child.
  • Eliminating other common ancestors.

Of course, Ancestry’s ThruLines are useful for this purpose as are MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity, but that only works if people have linked their DNA results to a tree.

My favorite tool for ancestor confirmation is DNAPainter where you can paint your segments from FamilyTreeDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage and GEDmatch, either individually or in bulk. You can’t use Ancestry DNA information for this purpose, but you can transfer your Ancestry DNA file to those other vendors (except 23andMe) for free, and search for matches without retesting. (Step-by-step transfer instructions are found here.)

Here’s an example of a group of my matches from various companies painted on one of my chromosomes at DNAPainter. You can read all about how to use DNAPainter, here.

I identify every match that I can and paint those segments to that ancestor. Ancestors are identified by color that I’ve assigned.

In this case, I have identified several people who descend from ancestors through my paternal grandmother’s side going back four generations. We have a total of 12 descendants of the couple Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann (burgundy), even though initially I can only identify some people back to either my grandparents (mustard color) or my grandmother’s parents (grey) or her grandparents (blue). The fact that several people descend from Henry and Nancy, through multiple children, confirms this segment back to that couple. Of course, we don’t know which person of that couple until we find people matching from upstream ancestors.

What about that purple person? I don’t know how they match to me – meaning through which ancestor based on genealogy. However, I know for sure at least part of that matching segment, the burgundy portion, is through Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann, or their ancestors.

Deep Goal #3 – Breaking Down a Brick Wall

Of course, the nature of your brick wall may vary, but I’ll use the example of not being able to find the parents of an ancestral couple.

In the above example, I mentioned that each segment goes back to a couple. Clearly, in the next generation, that segment either comes from either the father or mother, or parts from both perhaps. In this case, that oldest burgundy segment originated with either Henry Bolton or Nancy Mann.

In other words, in the next generation upstream, that segment can be assigned to another couple.

Even if we don’t know who that couple is, it’s still their DNA and other people may have inherited that very same segment.

What we need to know is if the people who share that segment with us and each other also have people in their trees in common with each other that we don’t have in our trees.

Does that make sense? I’m looking for commonality between other testers in their trees that might allow me to connect back another generation.

That common couple in their trees may be the key to unlocking the next generation.

Caveat – please note that people they have in common that we don’t may also be wives of their ancestors downstream of our common ancestor. Just keep that in mind.

Let’s shift away from that Bolton example and look at another way to identify clusters of people and common ancestors.

In order to identify clusters of people who match me and each other, I utilize Genetic Affairs autocluster, or the AutoCluster features incorporated into MyHeritage or the Tier 1 “Clusters” option at GEDmatch.

Based on the ancestors of people in this red cluster that I CAN identify, I know it’s a Crumley cluster. The wife of my William Crumley (1767/8 – 1837/40) has never been identified. I looked at the trees of the people in this cluster that I don’t know and can’t identify a common ancestor, and I discovered at least two people have a Babb family in their tree.

Babb was a near neighbor to William Crumley’s family, but I’ve also noticed that Babb married into this line downstream another 3 generations in Iowa. These families migrated from Frederick County, VA to Greene County, TN and on, together – so I’ll need to be very careful. However, I can’t help but wonder if my William’s wife was a Babb.

I need to see if any of my other matches have Babb as a common name. Now, I can search for Babb at any of the testing vendors to see what, if anything, I can discover.

Genetic Affairs has a combined AutoCluster and AutoTree/AutoPedigree function that compares and combines the trees of cluster members for you, here.

Goals Summary

Now, it’s your turn.

  • What are your genealogy goals that DNA can assist with?
  • Are those goals broad or deep?
  • What kind of DNA test can answer or help answer those questions?
  • What tools and research techniques fit the quandary at hand?

I suggest that you look at each ancestor, and in particular each end-of-line ancestor thinking about where you can focus to obtain answers and reveal new ancestors.

Happy ancestor hunting!

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Genealogy Tree Replacement – Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Eventually, every serious genealogist faces the question of tree replacement at vendors – whether they should do it at all, and if so, how to proceed safely.

I’ve started to write this article a couple of times now, but I hesitate to publish articles when I haven’t tried all the different scenarios.

In this case, I haven’t, but I’m sharing what I DO know and why I’ve made the choice I have so that you can do your own research on the rest. Keep in mind that software changes from time to time, so information that you find online about this topic may be stale and it’s always best to confirm with the vendor in question before making a major change.

I use RootsMagic on my computer for my master tree, but I also have trees at Ancestry, MyHeritage, and Family Tree DNA so that I can derive the maximum benefit from those DNA/research platforms. This, of course, leads to the challenge of keeping multiple trees up to date – and the inevitable question of replacing trees.

Why Might You Want to Replace a Tree?

Let’s say you uploaded a tree from your genealogy software on your computer years ago to the various sites and now you’ve made a lot of changes.

Or, let’s say you didn’t want to upload your entire tree originally, so you created an abbreviated tree at the various sites.

Initially, that’s what I did, creating a direct line ancestors-only tree to upload. I had incorporated lots of non-documented information into my tree on my computer over the past many decades and I certainly didn’t want to share information online without verifying. I don’t want to be “THAT” person who spreads bad information, even unintentionally.

Now, let’s say you’ve continued your research and you want to share more than the original tree you uploaded or created at a vendor. You don’t want to update individual trees in 3 or 4 places though.

Or, let’s say that while you originally included an ancestors-only tree, now you want to add children and extend to current so that ThruLines at Ancestry, Theories of Family Relativity at MyHeritage and Phased Family Matching at Family Tree DNA can work more effectively. I uploaded my original “ancestors only” trees before those products were introduced.

What are the effects of deleting an existing tree and uploading a new tree at the various vendors? Should you or shouldn’t you?

Deleting Trees – BAD IDEA

First, if you ARE going to replace your tree, DON’T delete your existing tree first.

Deleting a tree breaks all of the links you’ve established – both to records, connected DNA kits, and some DNA tools. Any notes or groupings will be gone as well. Let’s look at each vendor individually.

Please keep in mind that there may be additional issues that I’m not aware of because I have not personally deleted my primary tree at any vendor.

Ancestry – If you delete an existing tree, your ThruLines will be gone and will likely regenerate differently with a new tree. Of course, that may be part of why you want to upload a new tree. Any documents you’ve saved to people in your existing tree will be gone and the links to those documents as well.

You can, of course, download the documents to your computer one by one. Downloading your tree does NOT download associated documents from Ancestry. Conversely, uploading trees doesn’t either, no matter where you upload it.

You can sync some desktop genealogy software applications with Ancestry. Both RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker synchronize your tree on your desktop with your Ancestry tree. Some software is better suited in synchronizing “both directions” than others. Syncing issues in user groups are quite prevalent.

Warning: I do not sync. If you’re going to try syncing between the two sources, I would recommend experimenting on a tree that is NOT your primary tree either at Ancestry or on your desktop, and reading extensively before attempting. Check user groups for the software in question to see what issues are being encountered. Also, be sure you have a current backup and check that synchronizing worked correctly before proceeding further.

If you delete your tree at Ancestry and upload a new tree, you will need to reconnect your DNA test or tests that you manage under the DNA tab, then the settings gear at right.

You’ll then need to redo any work such as TreeTags, notes, comments or saving records that you’ve already performed.

In essence, you’re uploading a blank slate.

MyHeritage – If you delete an existing tree, your Theories of Family Relativity. any Smart Matches, notes or records will be deleted along with any photos that you’ve linked. Furthermore, your DNA kits associated with people in your tree will lose their names when they become disconnected.

MyHeritage provides free software called Family Tree Builder for your desktop that does synchronize your tree with MyHeritage, including records.

MyHeritage has also collaborated with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) to import a portion of their tree from FamilySearch into MyHeritage, and keep the trees synchronized.

Caveat: I have not used the Family Tree Builder software or the LDS sync feature.

If you delete your tree and upload a new tree, you’ll need to reconnect your DNA and that of any kits you manage to your tree. In order NOT to lose the names on your kits, do that in reverse order, meaning upload the new tree, reassign the DNA kit to the proper person on the new tree before deleting the old tree.  Beware of same name people when making this assignment.

You can reassign kits under the DNA tab, “Manage DNA kits,” then the three dots at right of the kit you want to reassign.

MyHeritage runs the Theories of Family Relativity (TOFR) algorithm periodically, every few months. You won’t get new TOFR until they run the software again. If you delete your tree, be prepared to wait on TOFR and redo everything you’ve currently done to anyone in your tree.

Just like with Ancestry, you’re uploading a blank slate.

Family Tree DNA – If you delete your tree, links to any DNA tests that you have connected to the appropriate people in your tree will be broken. Assigning family members to their proper place in your tree is required for Family Matching to function.

Family Matching utilizes the DNA of relatives you’ve linked in your tree by comparing in common segment matches between you, them, and other people to identify shared matches as maternal or paternal.

If you delete your tree and upload a new tree, you will need to reconnect your family members under the myTree tab at the top of your page. You can connect matches for the Family Finder autosomal test, Y DNA, and mitochondrial – whichever tests you’ve taken. If you only have a few matches that you’ve linked, relinking is no problem. If you have a lot, it’s more time-consuming.

Beware: Uploading very large trees is problematic due to file size and/or bandwidth. Call support before attempting.

My recommendation would be to include direct line ancestors, their spouses, descendants of those ancestors with spouses, but not unrelated (to you) spouses trees. In other words, your sister-in-law’s family isn’t relevant to your genetic genealogy.

23andMe – 23andMe does not support trees in the traditional sense, so uploading is not possible. You can, however, link to a current public tree that you’ve created elsewhere which can be viewed by your matches. To enter a tree link, look under the settings option (gear), then under “Edit enhanced profile.”

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When providing a link, be sure the tree you link to is public, not private.

Alternatives

At both Ancestry and MyHeritage, which are the two vendors who offer genealogical records and the ability to save records to people in your tree, you can upload multiple trees to the same account, presuming you have a current subscription.

If you don’t have the option to sync through your desktop software, or aren’t comfortable doing so, you can upload a more robust tree, but keep in mind that any records you save to the new tree will be lost if you delete that one in the future too.

If you’re going to upload a new tree, upload the new tree BEFORE deleting the old tree.

Connect any records person by person before deleting the old tree. That way, you don’t have to search for those records all over again.

I would let the old tree sit idle for some time so that you know you’ve retrieved everything. There’s no rush to delete the old tree.

Of course, a third methodology is to maintain multiple trees. That’s actually what I do. Here’s why.

My Methodology

I use the third alternative that certainly isn’t ideal, but I maintain four separate trees. I hear you cringing, but it really isn’t as awful as it sounds – and it’s infinitely better than redoing everything because I’m an active researcher and have thousands of connected records.

  • One tree lives on my computer where I update information and add new people, including speculative – although they are clearly noted as such. I also include massive notes – in some cases much longer than notes fields at vendors typically allow. I download documents to a folder on my computer with that person’s name from all subscription sites. I also write my 52 Ancestor’s articles using documentation from all sites that I compile in one place on my system. I also back up my system religiously, meaning every night, automatically.
  • One tree lives at Ancestry where I add links to my 52 Ancestor stories, save documents found at Ancestry and extend lines as I work on them. I don’t add extensive side branches. I have included all of my direct ancestors for at least 10 generations, or as far back as I can document, along with their children and grandchildren to enable Thrulines and green leaf hints.
  • One tree lives at MyHeritage where I upload and link many photos because I can easily enhance and colorize them and see my ancestors more clearly. I link ancestors in my tree to my published ancestor stories, save documents and use the same approach with the MyHeritage tree that I do with Ancestry, including extending families for my ancestors to enable the formation of Theories of Family Relatively. I methodically work all of my DNA matches and AutoClusters, recording my findings in comments.
  • One tree lives at Family Tree DNA where I include all of my direct line ancestors to about 10 generations. I extend each ancestral branch to include each DNA match as I identify our common ancestor and how my match fits into my tree. At Family Tree DNA, linking each match to the proper place in their tree enables additional people to be assigned as maternal or paternal which is their methodology of triangulation.

Summary – To Replace or Not to Replace?

Yes, I’m painfully aware that maintaining 4 trees is a pain in the patoot, but each vendor, except for 23andMe of course, provides important features that are sacrificed with the deletion and replacement of trees. The more you take advantage of the vendor’s features, the more difficult it is to redo your work.

The only tree I would consider replacing would be the one at Family Tree DNA because there are no genealogy records attached. Genealogy research records are not a business they’re in.

The only useful portion at FamilyTreeDNA is the ancestral line and the branches that descend to other testers and I simply add those branches manually as needed.

Having said that, I would never replace any tree, anyplace, with my “master tree” that lives on my computer system.

If you are considering replacing your tree, particularly at either Ancestry or MyHeritage, I strongly suggest that you contact support at the vendor in question to discuss the ramifications BEFORE you take that step.

Once done, there is no “undo” button, so be sure that you really want to make that decision and proceed in well-thought-out, measured, “no regret” steps.

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Introducing DNA Tidbits – DNA Tidbit #1: Triangulation

I know this winter is going to be difficult, but don’t lose heart. I have a plan.

Covid is already spiking and many families have already canceled holiday plans. This situation, combined with the seasonal darkness and cold will make things even more difficult for people in the northern hemisphere. I’ve been trying to think of some way to help make things better, to lift our collective spirits – and I’ve come up with an idea.

Drum roll please…

Today, I’m introducing the first of what will be weekly “DNA Tidbits” – fun genealogy+DNA tasks that might, just might, reveal buried treasure.

You know, tidbits, as in those wonderful tiny little nuggets of luscious goodness that tide you over until you can eat the whole thing, whatever your “thing” is. No, wait…eat the whole thing – that’s not what I meant to say:) Tidbits are about pacing ourselves, right??!!

DNA Tidbits will be enjoyable to do together because we can share our findings. They will range from introductory to a little more complex so everyone can play, and learn.

We will be jumping around between different vendors and third-party tools, so this might be a good time to be sure you’re in the 4 major databases, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry, and 23andMe, either by testing or by transfer, where possible.

Here’s a step-by-step article about how to transfer results to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage, which are the only two testing vendors that accept transfers:

DNA Tidbits

DNA tidbits will be different from my regular articles in that they aren’t going to be detailed educational lessons on HOW to do specific things. That’s already handled in lots of articles on my blog that are keyword searchable.

Keyword Searchable

For example, if you want to read about triangulation, what it is, and how to use triangulation at the various vendors, use the search box on the blog and type in “triangulation.”

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You’ll find educational and instructional articles along with other articles where I’ve mentioned triangulation, plus lots of examples.

DNA Tidbit #1 – Triangulation

A DNA Tidbit challenge will read something like this:

Challenge: Go to each of the three testing vendors, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and 23andMe who provide triangulation, plus GedMatch. View your 5 highest matches that triangulate. Triangulation, of course, means that three people – you, a match plus someone else (not a direct relative meaning not parents or siblings) all match each other on the same segment.

Can you tell how the person or people you triangulate with match? Through which ancestral line? You might be able to discern this by viewing each triangulated match to see:

  • Who else they match in common with you. If they triangulate with you and your first cousin who you already know, that’s a huge hint as to the ancestral line.
  • Who else they match on that same segment.
  • Ancestors share by you and those matches. Look at their surnames, trees, and other tools to see if you can identify common ancestors.

How can or does this help your genealogy?

Have you painted those segments at DNAPainter? That’s yet another way to achieve triangulation.

Triangulation Instructions

When I’ve written articles about how to perform the various tasks referenced in a DNA Tidbit, I’ll include links to instructions.

Why is Ancestry missing from this list?

Because Ancestry doesn’t have a chromosome browser or triangulation, which is why checking at GedMatch is important. At least some Ancestry customers will upload their DNA files to GedMatch and not elsewhere.

Community

During these next few months when we won’t be able to see members of our own families, our genealogy community will be more important than ever. Be sure to post a comment sharing your outcome for each week’s Tidbit. Did you find something unexpected?

Trust me, you’ll inspire others and we all need positive inspiration right now!

This triangulation exercise is DNA Tidbit #1.

I’ll go first with a couple of examples to help you along the way. This is probably more detailed than future Tidbits because Tidbits are designed to be quick for you and me, both. Can’t do everything? That’s OK, do something.

There are no tidbit or chocolate police!

DNA Tidbit #1 – Triangulation Results

Family Tree DNA – My top 5 triangulated autosomal matches are people assigned to one parent or the other. That’s how triangulation occurs at Family Tree DNA. I’ve skipped the people whose relationships I’ve already identified, which I track by notes, and selected my top 5 that I haven’t previously identified. Their note icon is grey meaning nothing recorded there.

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Unfortunately, Christopher has uploaded no tree. He is, however, assigned to my paternal side with a sizeable piece of matching DNA across multiple segments.

Looking at who we match in common, I can discern immediately that we connect through my great-grandparents, Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy because we match people who descend from both of those lines upstream of that couple.

Christopher and I match on three significant segments.

  • The first segment also matches a cousin who descends through Lazarus and Elizabeth.
  • The second segment matches a cousin who descends from the Campbell/Dodson line which is Lazarus Estes’s mother’s line.
  • The third segment matches a cousin who also descends through the Campbell line so this segment can be attributed to Elizabeth Campbell of the Elizabeth Campbell/Lazarus Dodson marriage. That means, in generational order, this segment descends to me through my father, his father William George Estes, his father Lazarus Estes, his mother Rutha Dodson, and her mother Elizabeth Campbell and her parents John Campbell and Jenny Dobkins.

Next, I viewed these matches in the chromosome browser of course, and in the matrix tool.

I made a note on the match at FamilyTreeDNA and painted these segments at DNA Painter, noting how I identified the segments.

Unfortunately, none of my top 5 triangulated matches had trees that were productive in terms of identifying a common ancestor.

Have you gotten this far? Good job. Eat a strawberry or chocolate tidbit.

MyHeritage – I chose Jason from my match list, the first person with whom I did not have a note indicating I’ve already worked with the match.

I reviewed the DNA match to see if Jason and I share triangulated segments with other people, indicated by the purple icon on my shared matches with Jason.

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Jason and I triangulate with my cousin Buster, which tells me that we share a common ancestor from either the Lazarus Estes or Elizabeth Vannoy lines, my paternal grandfather’s parents They are my most recent common ancestors with Buster.

However, as I scan on down the list of shared matches that Jason and I triangulate with, I see several people from my paternal grandmother’s side who do not share ancestors with my paternal grandfather’s side. My grandparents were not related to each other.

This indicates that Jason and I are related through two different lines that lived in the same area and intermarried.

I might need two pieces of chocolate for this one!

I need to send Jason a message. He doesn’t have a tree, but I bet he knows at least some of his genealogy since this connection seems to be within the past few generations based on the amount of DNA we share.

23andMe is more difficult because you can’t quickly see which matches have notes. Notes only appear after you’ve clicked on the match, and then at the very bottom of that page after scrolling to the end. Instead, I use the stars to indicate that I’ve worked with the match.

I click on the star to turn it yellow after I’ve analyzed a match, in addition to making notes.

My first match at 23andMe with no yellow star is RA.

Checking who I match in common with RA, I can see that 23andMe has assigned RA to my father’s side of my genetic tree, as a descendant of Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy. Keep in mind that this tree is not uploaded, but genetically created by 23andMe with the customer adding the appropriate names of their ancestors in their proper position. This relationship tree can be incorrect, but it’s certainly a useful tool.

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Clicking “Find Relatives in Common” on my match page with RA, I see that RA and I do share DNA, meaning triangulate, with several relatives on my list. That’s what “Shared” means in this context at 23andMe – shared same segment.

Unfortunately, RA has not entered any additional information such as a tree link, family surnames, or locations.

I’ll message RA for more information as soon as I finish my next bite of chocolate.

GEDmatch is a bit different because your match list is not pre-generated, meaning there is no stored match list so no ability to create and save notes for matches.

At GEDmatch, I did a One-to-Many comparison which allowed me to view my match list.

In the far right column, you can see the testing company and test version. A=Ancestry, F=FTDNA, and M=23andMe along with the version when it says the results were migrated to the current platform. Otherwise, you’ll see the name of the testing company your match uploaded from more recently.

I selected an Ancestry match since I’ll match the people from MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA at their respective sites that already have triangulation capability. I will match close matches at 23andMe, but 23andMe caps matches at 1500 (unless you’re on the V5 chip WITH a subscription), so some matches may be here that aren’t there.

Ancestry testers are my best bet for finding new triangulated matches at GEDmatch because Ancestry doesn’t support triangulation on their own platform.

Based on my match’s name, I think the first person on this match list that I can’t identify is the same match, Christopher, that I was working with at Family Tree DNA. He uploaded 4 different files to GEDmatch, including an Ancestry file. This tells me he might have a nice tree at Ancestry since he’s obviously interested enough in genealogy to test multiple places😊

I went back to the main GEDmatch menu and selected Triangulation from the Tier 1 (paid subscription) options. Triangulation selects your closest matches and indeed, Christopher was among the triangulated groups with other people I recognize, providing immediate hints as to how we are related.

Next, I’m going to run over to Ancestry to see if indeed, I can find Christopher and view his tree there.

Unfortunately, I can’t find Christopher at Ancestry by the name he used elsewhere, although I do see a good candidate using initials but who has a private tree☹

Time for another chocolate!

Fortunately, I have Christopher’s email from GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, so I can send him a friendly email introducing myself and asking about his genealogy.

DNA Tidbit #1 – Summary

Surprisingly, with reviewing just 5 triangulated matches at each vendor, I found a LOT to work with and discovered the ancestral lines through which several people are related to me, even if I can’t isolate exactly which ancestor. I painted each of those matches at DNAPainter. I’m currently sitting at 90% of my segments painted, which means they are identified with a specific ancestral line. Every identified match gets me closer to 100%.

I’m left with the distinct impression that after I find genealogical connections with these closest matches, that the leftover matches that triangulate will be the ones to break down brick walls.

Those will be the matches I really need to concentrate on, because somehow these people DO all match each other too, and the common ancestor they share between themselves may be the clue I desperately need. You know, the key to those people waiting just behind that brick wall of burned records and no last names.

Making that discovery will, indeed, be cause to celebrate with more than tidbits!!!

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Holiday DNA Sales Have Started Early

Wow – the sales started early this year! I understand that Black Friday has morphed into the month of November. I’m good with that!

I’m not really surprised because many people are spending more time at home and let’s face it, genealogy is a great at-home activity. I’m glad the sales are starting earlier and running longer because it encourages more people to become engaged.

Genealogy can even help you produce holiday gifts for others in a myriad of ways. Not just purchasing DNA kits for yourself and family members but creating stories or giving them a book you’ve created with photos of grandma and grandpa’s life, perchance.

Of course, DNA is a HUGE part of genealogy. Even if you’re not going to be able to see Uncle Joe this Thanksgiving, you can certainly have a fun Zoom session and document him swabbing or spitting for his DNA test! Make memories, one way or another

Let’s see what the vendors are offering. Then, be sure to read to the end for a surprise.

FamilyTreeDNA – Early Bird Holiday Sale

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FamilyTreeDNA has more products to offer than any of the other vendors with autosomal, Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests, each offering something unique.

Y DNA focuses only on your direct patrilineal (surname) line if you are a male. Mitochondrial DNA follows your matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line for both sexes. The Family Finder autosomal test traces all ancestral lines. You can read a quick article about these different tests and how they work in this article:

The Family Finder test uses matches to known family members like parents, aunts, uncles and cousins to assign other matches who match both you and your family member to either maternal or paternal sides of your tree.

You can also use Genetic Affairs AutoCluster, AutoTree and AutoPedigree tools at FamilyTreeDNA to get even more mileage out of your DNA tests.

If you were an early tester with Y and mitochondrial DNA, you can upgrade now to a more robust test to receive more granular results.

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Have you noticed the ancient DNA articles I’ve been writing recently?

Your most refined haplogroup revealed only in the Big Y-700 or mitochondrial mtFull Sequence test allows you to compare your haplogroup with ancient samples most effectively. I promise you, there will be more articles upcoming! These are just pure joy, connecting back in time.

The FamilyTreeDNA sale ends November 24th. Please click here to order or upgrade.

MyHeritage

MyHeritageDNA includes lots of features that other vendors don’t have, such as integrated AutoClusters and Theories of Family Relativity (TOFR) which connects you and your matches through a network of common records and trees. TOFR is surprisingly accurate, either pointing the way to or identifying common ancestors.

I wrote about how to use these and other included tools to unravel your genealogy in this recent article, with a free companion webinar:

Additionally, MyHeritage has a strong focus in Europe that includes lots of European testers – perfect for people whose ancestors are emigrants from another country.

MyHeritageDNA is on sale now for $49, a $30 savings, plus free shipping if you purchase two or more kits. Please click here to order.

This sale ends November 25th.

Ancestry

Best known for their large database, AncestryDNA offers ThruLines which takes advantage of their database size to suggest common ancestors for you and your matches based on multiple trees. I wrote about ThruLines in this article:

The AncestryDNA test is on sale now for $59, a $40 savings, with free US shipping. Please click here to order.

Sale ends November 23rd.

23andMe

23andMe is best known in the genealogy community for the accuracy of their Ancestry Composition, known as ethnicity results, which they paint on your chromosomes.

23andMe also creates a “genetic tree” between you and your closest matches based on who does and who does not match each other, and how they match each other. I wrote about genetic trees and subsequently, how they solved one mystery in these two articles.

While the genetic tree technology isn’t perfected yet, it’s certainly the direction of the future and can provide insight into how you and others are related and where to look for them in your actual genealogy tree.

The 23andMe Ancestry only test is available for a 10% reduction in price at $88.95. Please click here to order.

Of course, 23andMe also offers a health product that includes the ancestry product.

The 23andMe Health + Ancestry test is available for $99, a saving of 50%. Please click here to order.

These sale prices end November 26th.

Surprise!!!

I have an early holiday gift for you too.

Beginning later this week, I’m publishing the first article in a new interactive series aptly named…drum roll…“DNA Tidbits.”

Indeed, there is fruit-of-the-vine to be harvested and that’s exactly what we are going to do – in small steps! Tidbits.

Just like everything else on this blog, it’s completely free of course and we are going to have lots of FUN!

Let me give you a hint – you’ll probably want to have test results at all of these companies because the Tidbits will be bouncing around a bit – so if you need to buy something, please click on the links below.

Thank you and I can’t wait to get started!

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

More Losses at 23andMe – Including No Ethnicity Update for V2, V3 or V4 Chip Customers

12-31-2020: Update to this article. 23andMe has reversed their position and provided ethnicity updates to both V3 and V4 chip testers. The status of V2 kits is unclear. Those kits show an update date in early December, but no update tag and nothing has changed in their ethnicity results. Additionally, 23andMe has restored the matches that were removed – although it’s unclear whether or not they have simply restored existing matches or if the previous threshold of 2000 matches is back in place as well. They have also restored some search functionality, such as within user-entered notes, but not all functionality. For example, you still cannot search matches by haplogroup.

Original article begins here:

Did you test with 23andMe prior to August 2017? If you were among the millions of customers who tested in the decade between 2007 and 2017, you tested on the V1-V4 chip.

Unfortunately, 23andMe has made the decision to no longer provide ethnicity updates for customers who have NOT tested on the current V5 chip.

Moving to the V5 chip is not an upgrade – it’s a completely new test that customers must purchase and spit-to-submit again. This means that if your family member that you purchased a test for died, you’re just out of luck. Too bad – so sad.

Last week, 23andMe published this article detailing their new ethnicity improvements. Everyone was excited, but then the article ended with this spoiler at the very bottom.

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I still can’t believe my eyes.

What – No Ethnicity Updates?????

In this industry, no company that I can recall has EVER failed to update ethnicity for earlier chips. Especially given that ethnicity is the hook that companies have used to entice many, many customers to test.

When FamilyTreeDNA changed from the Affymetrix chip to the Illumina chip in 2011, they retested every single customer FOR FREE.

FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and Ancestry have continued to update results for all customers on any chip level. Those companies would be publicly skewered alive if they did anything else.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a betrayal of the trust of 23andMe customers.

We know now that companies can easily utilize imputation for equalizing different chips for genealogy purposes. All three other major companies do exactly that with their own tests and in the case of MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA, with transfers from the other three major companies, including 23andMe’s current and older chip levels. Of course, imputation “fills in blanks” with “realistic values,” which is not appropriate for medical testing – and the underlying goal of 23andMe is medical research, not genealogy

Therefore, genealogy customers are being penalized in an effort to force them to the V5 chip if they want to view their new ethnicity updates or have more than 1500 matches, and then, only with a subscription.

This “sales strategy” is simply not acceptable.

Matches Restricted

This no-ethnicity-update revelation comes on the heels of 23andMe reducing the match threshold to 1500 FOR ALL CUSTOMERS unless customers have tested on the V5 chip AND subscribe, both.

I wrote about that change, here.

That’s Not All – No Search by Common Surname or Ancestral Location

The genealogy community continues to discover more losses. Hat tip to my blog subscriber who noticed that customers can no longer search by common surname or ancestral location.

23andMe confirmed that change in an email saying:

  • You can search for profile names and current locations in the DNA Relatives search section.

Wow, I don’t want my matches knowing where I currently live. is that really what’s happening? Surely not.

But sure enough, here’s one of my matches, minus their name of course.

This gives me cold chills. This information should never, ever, be available unless the tester gives it directly to another specific person.

Why would 23andMe ever implement a feature like this that causes potential physical security risks to their customers? I’d wager most people have no idea that this information is displayed to all of their matches. Fortunately, it’s only displayed if you specifically enter the information.

To check your location status, remove or update this information, click on the down arrow beside your name in the upper right-hand corner of your 23andMe page, then on “Settings”.

Scroll down and click on “Edit Enhanced Profile.”

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Make any changes.

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This is also the section where you enter other information that will help you connect with matches in a meaningful way. Be sure to share a link to a family tree someplace. While 23andMe is discontinuing some of the features that are important for genealogists, that makes it even more important to utilize the remaining features.

23andMe also confirmed that:

  • You can no longer search for family surnames, other locations, or any other user entered information.

This change is infinitely sad, because surnames, especially unusual ones are critically important to genealogists, and in combination with locations.

You can filter by ancestor birthplaces, but that only means through the grandparent level.

Not terribly useful for genealogists, and the US is a very big place. Knowing someone’s grandparents were born in the US is not helpful. However, if I have an ancestor from a location like Germany, this might be more useful.

You can also filter by SOME of your family surnames, but not all of them. Apparently, only your top 20 in terms of how many people share that surname. Just take a guess which one is highest on my list. Probably yours too.

My own surname and that of all 4 of my grandparents is missing from this list. I don’t find an ancestral surname until one of my great-grandparents’ surnames, Miller, appears. This list is really only a list of the most common surnames in the US that I happen to have in my genealogy.

No Haplogroup Search

Another feature that has disappeared is the ability to search your DNA Relatives by haplogroup. Granted, they were only partial haplogroups, but they could rule out a lineage connection to your direct matrilineal line or, if a male, your patrilineal line. If you knew your grandparents or other haplogroup lineages, you could do the same for them.

But not anymore

Where Are the Genealogists?

How has 23andMe moved so far away from the genealogy community? This feels like death by 1000 tiny cuts. Whittling away our features along with our trust.

At one time, 23andMe had a genealogy ambassadors program where experienced genealogical ambassadors represented the genealogy community and provided input. Unfortunately, 23andMe dissolved the program a year or so ago, but then again, they didn’t seem to listen much to their ambassadors anyway.

Health AND Ancestry

23andMe is increasingly pushing the health AND ancestry test on the V5 chip. I’d wager their medical and research partners want specific data on this chip that’s not available on previous versions.

When clicking on my V4 account, the upgrade available is only for both health and ancestry. There is no “ancestry only” test available like there used to be.

The $99 price for the V5 upgrade is the same for my V3 kit. Yes, I tested twice (three times actually on V2, V3, and V4) to understand the matching differences between the V3 and the V4 chip.

Truthfully, given the way 23andMe is treating their current clients, I have absolutely no desire to gift them with my health information to turn into revenue.

Consent or WithDraw Consent to Share Genetic Information

While 23andMe can utilize research information from surveys in some ways without your explicit consent, assuming you answer their surveys, which I do not, they currently don’t share your genetic data unless you opt-in to consent.

I’m not comfortable with not knowing who is using my DNA information and for what research purpose – but your comfort level may vary. 23andMe’s “designer baby” patent in 2013 ended my participation in research.

If you click on “Research,” then “Surveys and Studies,” 23andMe will remind you if you haven’t opted in for research.

You can check your current consent status by scrolling to the bottom of this page after you sign in.

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You will see your current consent status, and you have the ability to update your status with a different choice. Please read every document provided before consenting.

You can also access your Research Consent and other account settings by clicking on the down arrow by your name, at the far right top, and then on “Settings.”

Research Consent is very near the bottom, under Preferences.

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May the Fleas of 1000 Camels Infest Your Armpits

May fleas infest your armpits, 23andMe, for removing the services and features that genealogists purchased and expect to continue to receive. Worse yet, you’ve damaged our collective credibility, because we’ve been recommending 23andMe to our family members and friends for years now, and purchasing kits for them, all in good faith. Now, we get the opportunity to apologize to our family members for your behavior. We trusted you, and we shouldn’t have.

In the past, 23andMe has always updated ethnicity for everyone. New medical and health reports weren’t always added, ostensibly because the necessary genetic locations weren’t on older chips, but genealogy features and updates were never held hostage before – nor was existing functionality removed except for trees.

In retrospect, the removal of trees was probably the first sign that 23andMe was seriously moving away from genealogists and was only paying lip-service in order to obtain our DNA for the very lucrative medical research business.

I haven’t always agreed with the decisions made by 23andMe in the past, but this time, I feel that 23andMe is intentionally acting disingenuously – blatantly arm-twisting their long-time genealogy customers by withholding updates we have every right to expect. Odd way to treat the community that stood by 23andMe and kept buying tests while the FDA had their health and medical reports shut down for two years, from 2013 to 2015 when they finally reached an agreement and began selling their health product again.

As a customer, your only recourse, other than complaining, which I encourage you to do (customercare@23andMe.com), is to opt-out of research consent. 23andMe may not hear our voices or care about our ethnicity or matches, but I bet they will notice the revocation of consent. Our DNA is a cash-cow for 23andMe as a DNA-broker.

Your other alternative to receive your updated ethnicity results, of course, is to purchase an upgrade and pay to test, again. Just like the only way to get more than 1500 matches is to upgrade plus pay a subscription fee – and then you’re still limited to 5000 matches. Upgrade or not, you won’t receive the other features they’ve removed.

Truthfully, there’s no way in bloody h*ll that a company is going to get me to spend MORE money by abusing my trust and attempting to strong-arm me in this fashion. Nada. That’s simply not going to happen.

I’d wager that treating genealogists in this manner is a very short-sighted strategy. We talk within this community and make recommendations to each other. 23andMe is generating a great deal of bad-will right now.

I left wondering what else existing customers will lose, and when the V5 customers will be arm-twisted to purchase a new test, yet again.

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

23andMe Changes – Download Matches Now or Lose Many

Recently, 23andMe implemented a new subscription model. In their new model, which requires retesting (with a new sample) on the V5 chip, you can pay a yearly subscription fee of $29 to receive up to 4500 matches.

The subscription service is by invitation, which you can see at this link, excerpt below:

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Current Customers Losing Matches and Losing Out

Unfortunately, without notice to customers, 23andMe is reducing (or has already reduced) the match cap for current, existing, customers from 2000 matches to 1500.

In the past, the 2000 cap was minus the number of matches that had not opted-in to sharing. The new 1500 cap is the top 1500 that HAVE opted-in to sharing.

In my case, I went from over 1700 matches to 1500.

In the past, you could actually retain more than 2000 matches if you had issued a sharing invitation or corresponded with your match. Now, all of that work is gone. One of my friends had more than 4700 matches through years of work and now has 1500.

This purge may not have happened to you yet, as they seem to be rolling through the database in stages. Check your matches and if you have more than 1500, work with them immediately.

More Features are Gone

Furthermore, other features have been removed, such as the ability to sort by haplogroup and notes and possibly more. I haven’t tested everything. What’s clear is that current customers are losing matches, features, and are being “downgraded.”

That’s very unfortunate, as this appears to be arm-twisting in order to encourage people to upgrade to the V5 chip and subscription service to retain existing matches.

Many people can’t upgrade because they have died. For example, if you manage a parent’s kit who is deceased, this purge will hurt you immensely because even if you do upgrade, you’ll not be able to phase your matches against their kit.

Preserving Matches

Unless you upgrade and subscribe, you can’t do anything to preserve your actual matches above 1500, but what you can do is to download your matches in spreadsheet format which, for now, still contains your previous matches.

This opportunity won’t last long, as 23andMe support has replied to an inquiry that they will soon be adjusting the download list to match your new 1500 match list.

We don’t know when this will happen, as 23andMe has communicated absolutely nothing about these changes to customers, so download now.

Downloading Your “Aggregate Data”

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On your DNA Relatives page, scroll to the very bottom.

Click on “Download aggregate data.”

A file will be downloaded to your system which will include a significant amount of information from your matches’ profiles. Of course, important information such as matches-in-common won’t be there, but at least something will be.

Download now before it’s too late.

Opinion

23andMe has always been focused on health, with genealogists being a means to an end. That’s why our matches have been limited and functions such as trees, similar to features at the other three major vendors, have never been implemented. This isn’t news.

23andMe has disregarded questions about where my DNA is being stored, which studies it was included in, and for what purposes before they implemented the opt-in system for medical research, as opposed to the opt-out system.

I opted out of research years ago, because I’m not comfortable not knowing how my DNA is being utilized, and by whom. Furthermore, I have an issue with the amount of money 23andMe is being paid for the DNA information I paid to test. 23andMe states that they have received $791 million in venture capital and lists their investors, here. With 12 million customers, that’s about $66 per customer or $99 for opted-in customer.

That being said, I have previously upgraded from V2 to V3 to V4, paying to retest each time, in part, so that I could write about my experiences for my blog followers.

This time, I’m not upgrading and I’m done. They’ve gone too far by reducing the match cap by 25% of the matches we were previously allowed, an artificial barrier not imposed by any other vendor. And that’s assuming you had done nothing to prevent matches from rolling off your list previously. Not only that, but this purge has been done without notice of any type.

I won’t be removing my DNA, because it’s already there (and I’ve paid for it 3 times), but I won’t be answering any questions for the 23andMe surveys which they aggregate for the data, I won’t be spending any money to upgrade, and I certainly won’t be recommending 23andMe except for adoptees and people seeking unknown close family who haven’t found their answers elsewhere.

As Kenny Rogers said; “Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away…”

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Quick Tip – Trees, Death Dates and Unintentionally “Private” Ancestors

I manage trees for a number of DNA tests for my relatives at various vendors. DNA and trees work hand-in-hand to identify common ancestors, providing hints to direct you along that path.

If you don’t have a tree at the sites that support trees, meaning FamilyTreeDNA, Ancestry and MyHeritage, please either create one or upload a GEDCOM file from your genealogy software. Many of the features provided by those vendors depend on both your DNA results and the tree you’re linked to. While 23andMe does not support trees, you can include a link to a tree in another site under “settings,” then “enhanced profile” – so do that.

In many cases, especially for Y and mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA, I only enter the relevant line for the tests taken. That way, anyone who matches my cousin can check their tree and easily view the relevant line for the test.

Often, especially if the person tested at my request, I’m the one who has done the genealogy and I don’t research the wives or collateral lines that are not relevant to the test that was taken. I don’t want to do a lot of maintenance work to export only a small branch from my desktop software, so I create each tree by hand from scratch.

Of course, if they have taken a Family Finder test, I upload a more robust tree for them that includes as much of their various lines as I know.

Uploading or creating trees helps us and other genealogists break through their brick walls too.

Ned Matched John – But Encountered a “Privacy” Roadblock

Recently, another Estes tester, we’ll call him Ned, matched the Y DNA of my cousin, John, and emailed me, saying that John’s entire tree was private. I told him that I had not made John’s tree private, so Ned sent me a screenshot.

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There’s no dispute – while the tree itself isn’t private, every single person in the tree is.

What could be causing this? In other words, how do I fix it? That’s not AT ALL what I intended.

Let’s Check the Privacy Settings

The first thing to do, of course, is to check the settings – so I signed in to John’s account.

I checked the privacy settings, located under Account Settings just below the user name of the kit, after you sign in.

According to the Privacy and Sharing settings, John’s tree is not private.

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That seemed odd, so I checked John’s tree myself. It looks fine to me, so I wonder what might be wrong?

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Nothing is showing as private from John’s perspective from within his account.

I decided to send Ned a direct sharing link to see if that made any difference.

The link I shared with Ned made no difference, but reading the information in the red box did! Yay for documentation!

I had not filled in the birth or death dates of the people in question or marked them as deceased. Yes, I know – my bad.

I clicked on the profile and then “View Profile” to verify.

Sure enough – no dates. To edit the profile, click on the pencil.

In order to cause the death date and death location fields to display, you must check the “Deceased” box which then turns blue.

Even if you don’t know the death date or location, marking the person as deceased allows their information to be displayed, such as their name, and NOT to be marked as private.

If you do NOT click the deceased box, the person’s profile WILL be marked “private” and will not be shown to anyone except you, the tester, if you sign in. You’ll have no idea that it isn’t showing to other people when you had intended to share all along.

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I marked each person as deceased and added death dates and locations while I was working on the tree.

Did that take care of the problem?

Let’s take a look from Ned’s perspective.

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Sure did.

In order for people to display, you need to kill them off, again😊

Tree Privacy

Every vendor has a combination of features that control tree privacy and security. You will be able to mark the entire tree private or shareable. You may be able to make it searchable, or not, depending on the vendor.

No vendor will display known living people to others – but the calculations they use to determine who may be living, unless you specifically mark them as deceased, will vary.

Be sure to check all of those factors, and find a way to view the tree from someone else’s perspective to check and be sure it’s functioning the way you expect.

I would never have known that all of John’s ancestors were private if Ned hadn’t contacted me.

At Family Tree DNA, if you view your own tree and you notice that neither dates nor question marks appear in the date field on the pedigree page – that means you have not marked these people as deceased – so no information for them will show to anyone else.

If you see any dates or question marks beneath the names of people on your tree – then that individual’s profile will show and is not private, unless you have marked the entire tree as private.

Check your trees to see if you have an unknown issue. Those valuable trees provide critical information to your matches. They may not contact you to ask why your tree is private – in fact – most won’t. They assume it’s a choice you meant to make.

Be sure you’re not unintentionally driving cousins away. You never know who’s going to have that crucial piece of information or photo, and you want all of your cousin-bait to function as intended!

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research