Lineage Societies: Requirements and DNA

I’ve been hesitant to rock this boat, hoping this ship would right itself, but I’ve decided that this vessel needs to be swayed a bit with the hope of providing encouragement and perhaps positive motivation for change.

Based on my ancestors, I qualify to join multiple lineage societies, including both the DAR and the Mayflower Society.

I checked the qualifications for both, and did not apply to the DAR, but did inquire about membership to the Mayflower Association for several reasons:

  • 2020 is the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Colony, meaning there should be lots going on next year.
  • I descend from Pilgrims; William Brewster, Patience Brewster, William’s wife Mary Brewster, Stephen Hopkins and Gyles Hopkins.
  • I felt that my expertise might be beneficial to the organization, in multiple ways, especially given the upcoming opportunities to recruit new members in 2020.

The first thing I ran into was a brick wall, not an ancestral brick wall, but an organizational one.

Birth Certificates

Lineage societies require your birth certificate.

Birth certificates are the most personal document you will ever have. Birth certificates are utilized for passports and are the premier document, meaning the most highly prized, for identity theft. Once compromised, you can never obtain a different birth certificate. It’s not like a credit card that you can cancel and have reissued.

Furthermore, you don’t actually need a birth certificate if you have tested the appropriate parent – and I have.

In fact, here’s my predicted relationship to my deceased mother at Family Tree DNA.

Lineage me mother.png

My mother is deceased, so her identity can no longer be compromized. I don’t have any problem providing her birth and death certificates in addition to an obituary that states that I’m her daughter – plus the genetic evidence of course. In fact, I could join the Mayflower DNA Project, and as administrators, they could see that relationship for themselves.

Furthermore, birth certificates are sometimes wrong – very wrong.

When Birth Certificates are Wrong

Birth certificates are wrong or misleading in the following circumstances:

  • People who are adopted and don’t know it
  • People who are adopted and know who their relevant biological parent is but have no access to a birth certificate showing their biological parents
  • People whose parent is not who they believe it is

In some circumstances, the child’s birth certificate isn’t incorrect, but the lineage may be incorrect when people’s ancestors beyond their parents are not the recorded individuals. Yes, I’m referring to the dreaded NPE, non-paternal event or not parent expected. You can read more about that here.

Aside from the issues above, there’s the issue of security when storing the birth certificate and privacy associated with the parents named on the birth certificate, especially if they are living.

Security and Privacy

Let’s take the issue of privacy first. Let’s say, for example, that an applicant’s parents weren’t married. The relevant parent is the applicant’s mother, not the father, so the identity of the father (or lack thereof) is irrelevant for lineage society membership.

The father’s privacy is compromised, along with the fact that the society now knows that the applicant’s parents weren’t married at the time the applicant was born. That’s entirely irrelevant to the application, and an invasion of the privacy of all 3 people involved.

Requiring applicants to submit a birth certificate, especially when genetic forms of identification are now readily available, forces the applicant to disclose information not relevant to joining a lineage society.

Frankly, anything beyond confirming an applicant’s connection to the relevant parent is none of anyone’s business.

Second, the applicant has absolutely no idea who is going to have access to their birth certificate in the future, once submitted, where it will be stored and security precautions taken, if any.

When inquiring about birth certificates at the Mayflower Society, I was told then are kept in locked cabinets but would probably be scanned soon.

While I’m sure this was supposed to make me feel better, it struck terror into my heart.

Often, organizations are slow to adopt technology as a whole, and when they do, they often aren’t aware of and don’t utilize safety and security precautions. Organizations owe it to their membership to stay current with security requirements and maintain up-do-date security measures. So, while I was already concerned enough about who has access to the filing cabinet key, I’m terrified about savvy hackers taking blatant advantage of an ill-secured or unsecured computer.

The sad part is that today, this is really a moot point because with DNA, many times we don’t need birth certificates for proof – and the only reason to continue doing what has always been done is ignorance, inertia and resistance to change.

Adoptees

Because birth certificates without genetic evidence are considered as the only accepted proof of a relationship to the applicant’s parents, this means that many adoptees have joined believing they are a linear descendant of the ancestor in question. Legally, they are.

Each organization needs to consider whether they want to honor linear paper descent as membership criteria or whether they are looking for linear biological descent. Or perhaps both.

Today, some adoptees who discover their biological parents would be eligible if they had not been adopted – but they are not eligible for membership because they don’t have a birth certificate with the biological parent’s name as their parent.

This creates an awkward situation, at best.

People who should be able to join, can’t, because of the birth certificate issue. And some people who are not biological descendants can join with no problem.

Is this the intention?

This is not small consideration. According to the University of Oregon, 5 million living people in the US are adopted, with 2-4% of all families having adopted, and 2.5% of children under the age of 18 being adoptees.

Y DNA

The DAR requires direct linear descent from a Revolutionary War Veteran. Like with the Mayflower Society, I won’t provide my birth certificate, so I’m not eligible to join.

The DAR has for many years accepted Y DNA at 37 markers as a portion of proof. According to this document, one close relative of the application must match the Y DNA of a descendant of an already “proven” patriot exactly at 37 markers.

This protocol is flawed in multiple ways.

Let’s say we have 2 men who descend from a common patrilineal ancestor, but we’re not sure which ancestor.

Today the Y DNA of these men matches at some level. STR mutations do not occur on a schedule and the reality of when/how often mutations occur varies widely. It’s certainly possible, and even likely, that in the roughly 9 generations, using a 25-year generation, since that patriot was born, that a marker mutation occurred. That would disqualify the applicant from using DNA evidence.

Conversely, if I’m a male Estes applicant and I want to apply to the DAR based on my descent from George Estes, my Y DNA may match the descendants of George at some level whether or not I’m descended from George or George’s brother, father or uncle. Y DNA really can only disprove a direct paternal relationship, not prove it.

In other words, there’s no or little analysis involved, simply a rule that doesn’t make sense.

Lineage chart

Click to enlarge

Let’s take a look at this example.

George Estes is the patriot, born in 1761. George had 3 brothers, Josiah, Bartlett and Winston.

George’s father, Moses II, had two brothers, John and William, who also had sons.

I’ve shown only one son’s line for both John and William, and I’ve named each man’s descendants the same name as his – for clarity.

John R. Estes, descendant of George was our original tester, and therefore, every other person who applies and submits Y DNA MUST match John R. Estes exactly at 37 markers.

George’s other descendant, George, comes along, but he does not match John R. exactly, having had one mutation someplace in the line between the patriot and George the tester’s birth. Therefore, George the tester’s Y DNA cannot be used – even though he is a descendant of George the patriot.

Based on my experience, it’s more likely that they won’t match at 37 markers, after 8 or 9 generations, than they will. That’s certainly the case in the Estes surname project.

In reality, in colonial families, everyone named their sons after their father, grandfather and often, brothers – so the names in all of these generations are likely to be the same, meaning John, William, George and Moses would likely be sprinkled in each generation of every line – causing confusion when attempting to genealogically connect back to the right Estes ancestor.

We see in our example chart, that by chance, William actually does match John R. exactly at 37 markers, even though George doesn’t. Therefore, if William was trying to use DNA to prove descent from George, even though that’s inaccurate, the Y DNA evidence would be allowed. So would Winston, descendant of George’s brother.

The only three that were accurate, based on the full 37 match rule is John, who does not descend from George, Josiah who was adopted and Bartlett who does descend from the same Estes line, but has too many mutations at that level to be considered a match to John R. Estes at all.

In other words, the only real descendant of the patriot is excluded, where 2 men not descended from the patriot would be included if they thought they descended from George.

Furthermore, one can be descended from George through a daughter and still qualify for DAR membership. If I believed, due to the Estes surname and other evidence, like a mention of a grandchild by name in George’s estate, that I descended from George’s son, but I actually descend through George’s daughter who was not married and gave her child the Estes surname – I would still technically qualify to join but the non-matching Y DNA would disqualify me today.

Another issue is if the original tester had been adopted or descended from a non-Estes male, every future tester would be compared to the wrong Y DNA and while the incorrect Y DNA would continue to be the reference sample for the patriot – even after it could be proven that was inaccurate due to multiple matching tests from multiple sons of George.

Rules without thoughtful analysis simply don’t work well. We know a whole lot more today than when these rules were put in place.

Parental Autosomal DNA is Definitive

Parental autosomal DNA is definitive unless you are dealing with an identical twin.

In addition to the actual match itself, you can see that parents and children match on the entire length of every chromosome.

Lineage parent child chromosome browser.png

Here’s my Mom’s chromosome browser match with me. There is no question that we are parent and child. Furthermore, looking at DNAPainter’s shared cM project tool, we can see that there is no other relationship that has the same match level as a parent/child relationship. My match with my mother is 3384 cM.

Lineage DNAPainter.png

Could someone go to a great deal of trouble to change a siblings name to their name or change their child’s name to their parent’s name to “fake” the identities of the people involved? Yes, they could if they had proper access to all accounts.

However, I can do exactly the same thing with a paper birth certificate, even with a seal.

My DNA test matching my mother, in conjunction with my mother’s birth and death certificates, in addition to her obituary identifying me as a child is about the most definitive evidence you could ever produce – far, far, more reliable than a birth certificate which would state that my mother is my mother even if I’m adopted.

This scenario works for adoptees as well in multiple scenarios, such as full siblings who clearly share both parents. In this case, if the non-adopted sibling is a lineage society member, then based on a DNA match at the full sibling level, the adopted individual should qualify for membership too. This isn’t the only example, just the first one that came to mind.

Thoughtful analysis and understanding of DNA is required.

Distant DNA is Not Black and White

While a parent-child autosomal relationship is evident, other autosomal relationships require analysis by someone experienced with that type of evaluation.

Furthermore, Y DNA can be deceptive as well, because the extent of what Y DNA can tell you is that two men descend from a common ancestor, not which common ancestor, nor how long ago, with very few exceptions. The exception would be when the actual Revolutionary War veteran experienced a SNP mutation that his sons have, but his brothers don’t.

However, no lineage societies that I know of utilize Y DNA SNP or even autosomal DNA evidence – even at the most basic level of parent/child.

With increasingly advanced testing, analysis versus line-in-the-sand rules needs to be implemented.

If lineage societies are going to utilize DNA testing, they need to stay current with technology and utilize best practices of genetic evidence.

Lineage Society Suggestions

Lineage societies need to re-evaluate their goals with applicants’ privacy and security in mind, in addition to how they can utilize genetic and other evidence to replace the existing birth certificate requirement – both in terms of traditional applicants like myself, as well as adoptees.

I have the following suggestions to be implemented as steps in a comprehensive solution:

  • Decide as a matter of policy whether applicants are allowed to join based on their paper trail descendancy, or their biological descendancy, or both. Paper trail only, meaning no additional evidence would be considered, would allow membership by children adopted into descendant families, but not children adopted out of descendant families. If genetic descendants are accepted, this allows children adopted out of descendant families to join once the relationship is discovered. If both types of membership are embraced, that avoids the issue of how to handle people who have already joined and subsequently discover they or their ancestors are/were adopted.
  • Determine the course of action when a line discovers that their Y DNA does not match that of the ancestor in question, especially given that the person could still potentially be a linear descendant through a female who gave the child her (the patriot’s) surname.
  • Obsolete the requirement for birth certificates at all when possible. If a DNA test proving a relationship can be substituted in lieu of a birth certificate, accept that as the preferred form of evidence.
  • Obsolete the requirement to physically submit any applicant’s birth certificate. Two individuals viewing a certificate with the relevant parent’s information exposed, and the non-relevant parent obscured, should suffice when no other avenue can be utilized. This eliminates the storage and privacy issues and requirements.
  • Implement a system that records the fact that current members and applicants have submitted a paper birth certificate that includes the parent of interest, then shred the existing birth certificates for anyone living. Without proof of death, this is presumed to be anyone under 100 years of age.
  • Allow additional proofs like parents’ obituaries instead of children’s birth certificates. This can easily be verified using publicly available sources such as Newspapers.com., etc.
  • Utilize Y DNA primarily to eliminate a line, and only when the descendants don’t match at 111 markers or are a completely different base haplogroup, such as haplogroup C versus R. Evaluate Y DNA matches along with other evidence, specifically looking for a mutation trail, if appropriate.
  • Remove the out-of-date requirement for future descendants to be required to match the Y DNA of an already “paper proven” ancestor. Paper can easily be wrong.
  • Revamp the DNA policies and procedures to incorporate qualified analysis. Provide guidelines instead of rules.
  • Retain a competent genetic genealogist to analyze applications that include DNA evidence, understanding that a CG, certified genealogist, certificate has no bearing on or evidence of the competence of that individual in DNA analysis. There is no genetic genealogy certification and many people who consult in the autosomal space are not experienced in the Y and mitochondrial DNA arenas.

The Alternate Future

Many older genealogical organizations are struggling for life. For the Mayflower Society, 2020 is a banner year. I hope they take advantage of the opportunity by not hobbling themselves with out-of-date requirements that are unnecessarily risky to applicants.

Younger people won’t join otherwise. Out of date and unreasonably burdensome membership requirements will cause membership to shrink over time until the organization shrivels and dies, going the way of the dinosaurs.

I would like to join multiple lineage organizations, but that won’t happen until the organizations update their policies to utilize widely and inexpensively available technology, along with associated best practices.

If you’d like to see these suggested changes implemented, and especially if you would be willing to help, make your voices heard to lineage societies, especially if you are already a member.

These organizations play an important role in the preservation of the records and information of our ancestors. I hope they choose to adapt.

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Concepts: What are NPEs and MPEs?

Child with helix

Sooner or later in genetic genealogy, you’re going to run across the acronym, NPE or MPE.

Years ago, the phrase NPE was coined to generally mean when the expected parent or parents weren’t.

  • NPE means nonpaternal event, also sometimes nonparental event.
  • Some folks didn’t like that term and began to use MPE, misattributed paternal event or misattributed parentage.

Of course, today, this situation could arise as a result of an adoption, a donor situation, either male or female, or the more often thought-of situation where the father isn’t who he’s presumed/believed to be based on the circumstances at hand.

Historically, adoptions weren’t a legal situation. If the parents died on the wagon train, someone took the kids to raise. Ditto a woman raising her sister’s children.

At that time, everyone knew the situation and it wasn’t a secret. A couple (or more) generations later, no one knows and the presumed parent(s) aren’t, especially if the child used the surname of the people who raised him or her. That’s a very common step-father situation, especially before official birth certificates.

Regardless of the situation, the “adoption” was undocumented for future generations. Hence, the term “undocumented adoption.” I’ve used “undocumented adoption” for a long time because I felt there was less judgement inherent in that description. Other people simply say “of unknown parentage.”

Discoveries are Common

Of course today with various types of DNA testing, these types of situations are slowly, or not so slowly, being discovered.

When they reveal themselves, you may have to saw a branch off of your tree. That’s ugly if you’re a genealogist, but at least it’s not someone you know personally.

However, if the people involved are closer in time, the discovery may be a shock or traumatic. I experienced this with my half-brother, Dave, who turned out not to be my biological brother.  I found him and then heartbreakingly lost him. I loved him regardless and wrote about our journey here, here and here.

These situations used to be remarkable, but with so many people DNA testing, these revelations are becoming daily events.

No Judgement

While the first thought that might occur is that someone was cheating, that may not be the case at all. Lots of circumstances may come into play. I wrote about several here.

I would encourage everyone to suspend judgement, not assume and to give our ancestors and family members the benefit of the doubt. We don’t and can’t know what happened to them.

Moccasins and glass houses😊

Besides that – if it wasn’t for your ancestors, you wouldn’t be you!

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

Thank you so much.

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Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching

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

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

How is Identifying Unknown Individuals Different from Genealogy?

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

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

Constructing a Tree

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

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

The Tree

Generations tree

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

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

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

Enter the world of genetics and DNA matching.

Genetics, The Game Changing Tool

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

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

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

The chart below shows my matches as of June 2019.

Vendor

Total Matches

Second Cousin or Closer

Family Tree DNA

4,609

18

MyHeritage

9,644

14

23andMe

1,501

5

Ancestry

80,151

8

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

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

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

Matches

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

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

Generations Family Tree DNA matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Perspective of the Adoptee

An adoptee tests not knowing anything about their ancestors.

Generations adoptee

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

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

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

Who Matches Each Other?

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

Relationship Level

Percentage of People Who Match

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

100%

2nd cousins

>99%

3rd cousins

90%

4th cousins

45%

5th cousins

15%

6th cousins and more distant

<5%

You can view a detailed chart with additional relationships here.

Tree Triangulation

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

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

Generations adoptee theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, there are tools and processes to help.

What Are the Odds?

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

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

Generations WATO

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

Generations WATO2

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

DNAPainter Shared cM Tool

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

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

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

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

Generations DNAPainter Shared cM Project

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

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

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

Generations 3384

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

Generations parent child

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

Generations 226

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

Generations 226 chart

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

The Steps to Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generations relationship table

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

Generations relationship levels

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

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

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

Generations descendants

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generations descendants 1C.png

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

Generations descendants 2C

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

The Perfect Scenario

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes DNA is a Waiting Game

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

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

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

DNA is a waiting game.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Dear Dave: Meet Your Family – 52 Ancestors #185

For three days and nights, the tears rained like a defective faucet that I couldn’t turn off. A combination of nerves, excitement and sadness, all tossed together in a salad-spinner. That DNA match set off a tear tsunami. Finding your family meant, of course, that I got to revisit your final departure, on the anniversary of your funeral. No irony here. 

Yep, allergies in full bloom!

Sleep, however, eluded me successfully.

Would Helen read her messages about your DNA match?

Would she reply to me?

Would she answer my questions?

Would she tell me who her grandparents were? I didn’t want to seem too nosey at first. What I really wanted to ask was, “where was your father in July of 1954?”

Would she sense the fear and trepidation in my e-mail and become wary?

Would crossing my fingers help?

And then, suddenly, ding, there it was. An e-mail from Helen. Then one from another cousin with the same surname.

Helen apparently hadn’t held it against me that I had to correct my original e-mail, not once, but twice. I shouldn’t type when I’m nervous and somewhat overwrought – but had I waited for that to subside, I’d still be waiting.

We had come this far and reaching out was the only way to end the agony – regardless of the outcome.

Then the next step in the worry-chain began. If this sounds like “over the top” anxiety, all I have to say is that you’ve never stood in the shoes of someone during the discovery process of long-lost immediate family. I thought I understood it before, but empathy is no substitute for the proverbial mile in the moccasins. 

Would I ever hear back from Helen again?

Would she tell me who her father was. 

Did she have uncles?

Where did they live in 1954?

I did (mostly) resist checking my phone every hour during the night to see if Helen had replied.  I admit, I checked twice. Ok, maybe three times.

Was it only yesterday morning that Helen sent her phone number and invited me to call? Surely, it was at least a year ago. 

I feel like I’m living in an alternate universe right now, or maybe a parallel reality.  Of course, sleep deprivation doesn’t help any. Like Helen said, it’s like we’ve stepped over some transformational line in the sand that we didn’t even see – and now we’re suddenly on the other side wondering what the heck just happened.

This just happened so fast. We’ve been run over by a bus whose passengers are every emotion on the planet.

Life changed in the blink of an eye. Helen has a new sibling – her family just expanded. DNA did in an instant what 60 years failed to do. I’m just so grateful that she is welcoming of this news and not upset. 

Yesterday, after I finally composed myself enough to call Helen, sitting at my desk in my jammies because I just couldn’t wait any longer, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Of course, I did.

Thankfully, Helen is a lovely person.

Then Helen called me back again. Then I called her. Then we laughed, and cried, and talked and did it all over again. Several times.

Helen told me how she and her sisters had longed for a brother.

She told me how her father had moved north from Georgia in 1952, after her mother’s horrific death, and how the rumors swirled of a half-brother someplace, born about 1955.

You were conceived in July 1954.

Helen DNA tested to make genealogical discoveries. It never occurred to her that she might find her long-rumored half-brother.

Well, Dave, meet your half-sister, Helen.

No, not me, the other one. And yes, we are truly as joyfully happy as we look.

Rest assured, we’re trouble-makers together!  You have no idea what you’ve done by introducing us😊

Of course, because our lives cannot EVER be simple, Helen’s results are low for a half-sibling match, so there’s a possibility you’re first cousins. Helen’s other sister is DNA testing as well, just to confirm. 

Would taking a look at Helen’s father help?

Dave, meet the man we believe is your father!

He is positively either your father or your uncle.  Helen and her sisters say that you don’t look anything like the one other Priest brother that may have been in a northern state about the time you were conceived. The rest of the Priest brothers never left the deep south – and let’s face it, proximity is kinda critical in this situation.

When I saw that photo of Helen’s father, my breath caught. Could this really be the man you sought for so long? Let’s look at the two of you together.

What do you think, Dave?  Is this your father? I think he’s a dead-ringer for you. Of course, those pictures of you simply don’t do you justice. (No, I am NOT biased either!)

Because yesterday was Valentine’s Day, Helen and I decided to delay our meeting until this evening. Another 24 hours of torture!

In an amazing stroke of good fortune, Helen and I live about an hour apart. So I left two hours early, just in case. 

I prepared to gift Helen with what small things I have of you. I have nothing tangible from your lifetime on earth, except for a few photos and the prayer Jim wrote for your funeral. I put the prayer in an envelope, made Helen a thumb drive of your photos to keep and took my laptop so that we could look at your pictures together. 

I told Helen about our fun times together. Your determination to climb that wall at the fair and how you succeeded, in spite of how ill you were from your treatments. You and Helen are remarkably alike – unstoppable once you set your mind to something. I was awestruck by the unmistakable similarities.

Helen and I met at a lovely restaurant whose patient staff was incredibly tolerant of our long dinner. She brought me a white rose. I brought her a brother.

We ate. We laughed. We talked about you. Were your ears burning? They should have been.

We cried. Ok, I cried.

We exchanged meaningful looks and shocking stories. We swore, in your honor, of course! And we hugged.

We discovered that somehow we had known each other forever – just like you and I did. Deja vu.

We share the same regret – that you didn’t live long enough to meet Helen and your other sisters – who are now welcoming you posthumously with open arms.  Helen had experienced exactly the same longing I felt when I searched so long for you. 

They were looking for you Dave, while you criss-crossed the country feeling so alone in the world.

All that time, THEY WERE LOOKING FOR YOU!!!

They wanted to meet you, to love you. They wanted to have with you what I had with you.

So, via me as the intermediary, today you finally met your sister. What are the odds? Your non-half-sister helping you to find your real one.  No one could make this stuff up!

I felt so honored to tell her about the beautiful man I knew so that in some small way, she can come to know you too. Through me, you two connected, across time and space. A long-distance hand-hold with me as the human extension cord..

It’s the best we can do now.

But you know the most amazing thing, Dave?

You gave us something too. A surprise Valentine. Something precious that neither of us expected.

You united us in sisterhood. Yea, I know that sounds really corny – and you would probably guffaw a bit.

Perhaps the final gift of your life is to both of us, your two sisters who both love you now. Bringing us together so we can love each other too. A beautiful new beginning.

I certainly didn’t expect to receive that gift today. I thought I was gifting Helen with you. Ending a chapter. I never expected to recognize so much of what I love in you – in her. Perhaps by finding your family, I found a piece of mine too, a new beginning. I went to give, but instead we both received. For this gift from beyond, I love you all the more  

Two sisters through another brother. Sewn together from broken hearts. Best Valentine’s Day, ever. An amazing happy ending to an incredibly sad story.  

Thank you.

Love you, now from both of us. 

Bobbi and Helen

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

2017 – The Year of DNA

Every year for the past 17 years has been the year of DNA for me, but for many millions, 2017 has been the year of DNA. DNA testing has become a phenomenon in its own right.

It was in 2013 that Spencer Wells predicted that 2014 would be the “year of infection.” Spencer was right and in 2014 DNA joined the ranks of household words. I saw DNA in ads that year, for the first time, not related to DNA testing or health as in, “It’s in our DNA.”

In 2014, it seemed like most people had heard of DNA, even if they weren’t all testing yet. John Q. Public was becoming comfortable with DNA.

In 2017 – DNA Is Mainstream  

If you’re a genealogist, you certainly know about DNA testing, and you’re behind the times if you haven’t tested.  DNA testing is now an expected tool for genealogists, and part of a comprehensive proof statement that meets the genealogical proof standard which includes “a reasonably exhaustive search.”  If you haven’t applied DNA, you haven’t done a reasonably exhaustive search.

A paper trail is no longer sufficient alone.

When I used to speak to genealogy groups about DNA testing, back in the dark ages, in the early 2000s, and I asked how many had tested, a few would raise their hands – on a good day.

In October, when I asked that same question in Ireland, more than half the room raised their hand – and I hope the other half went right out and purchased DNA test kits!

Consequently, because the rabid genealogical market is now pretty much saturated, the DNA testing companies needed to find a way to attract new customers, and they have.

2017 – The Year of Ethnicity

I’m not positive that the methodology some of the major companies utilized to attract new consumers is ideal, but nonetheless, advertising has attracted many new people to genetic genealogy through ethnicity testing.

If you’re a seasoned genetic genealogist, I know for sure that you’re groaning now, because the questions that are asked by disappointed testers AFTER the results come back and aren’t what people expected find their way to the forums that genetic genealogists peruse daily.

I wish those testers would have searched out those forums, or read my comparative article about ethnicity tests and which one is “best” before they tested.

More ethnicity results are available from vendors and third parties alike – just about every place you look it seems.  It appears that lots of folks think ethnicity testing is a shortcut to instant genealogy. Spit, mail, wait and voila – but there is no shortcut.  Since most people don’t realize that until after they test, ethnicity testing is becoming ever more popular with more vendors emerging.

In the spring, LivingDNA began delivering ethnicity results and a few months later, MyHeritage as well.  Ethnicity is hot and companies are seizing a revenue opportunity.

Now, the good news is that perhaps some of these new ethnicity testers can be converted into genealogists.  We just have to view ethnicity testing as tempting bait, or hopefully, a gateway drug…

2017 – The Year of Explosive Growth

DNA testing has become that snowball rolling downhill that morphed into an avalanche.  More people are seeing commercials, more people are testing, and people are talking to friends and co-workers at the water cooler who decide to test. I passed a table of diners in Germany in July to overhear, in English, discussion about ethnicity-focused DNA testing.

If you haven’t heard of DTC, direct to consumer, DNA testing, you’re living under a rock or maybe in a third world country without either internet or TV.

Most of the genetic genealogy companies are fairly closed-lipped about their data base size of DNA testers, but Ancestry isn’t.  They have gone from about 2 million near the end of 2016 to 5 million in August 2017 to at least 7 million now.  They haven’t said for sure, but extrapolating from what they have said, I feel safe with 7 million as a LOW estimate and possibly as many as 10 million following the holiday sales.

Advertising obviously pays off.

MyHeritage recently announced that their data base has reached 1 million, with only about 20% of those being transfers.

Based on the industry rumble, I suspect that the other DNA testing companies have had banner years as well.

The good news is that all of these new testers means that anyone who has tested at any of the major vendors is going to get lots of matches soon. Santa, it seems, has heard about DNA testing too and test kits fit into stockings!

That’s even better news for all of us who are in multiple data bases – and even more reason to test at all of the 4 major companies who provide autosomal DNA matching for their customers: Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, MyHeritage and 23andMe.

2017 – The Year of Vendor and Industry Churn

So much happened in 2017, it’s difficult to keep up.

  • MyHeritage entered the DNA testing arena and began matching in September of 2016. Frankly, they had a mess, but they have been working in 2017 to improve the situation.  Let’s just say they still have some work to do, but at least they acknowledge that and are making progress.
  • MyHeritage has a rather extensive user base in Europe. Because of their European draw, their records collections and the ability to transfer results into their data base, they have become the 4th vendor in a field that used to be 3.
  • In March 2017, Family Tree DNA announced that they were accepting transfers of both the Ancestry V2 test, in place since May of 2016, along with the 23andMe V4 test, available since November 2013, for free. MyHeritage has since been added to that list. The Family Tree DNA announcement provided testers with another avenue for matching and advanced tools.
  • Illumina obsoleted their OmniExpress chip, forcing vendors to Illumina’s new GSA chip which also forces vendors to use imputation. I swear, imputation is a swear word. Illumina gets the lump of coal award for 2017.
  • I wrote about imputation here, but in a nutshell, the vendors are now being forced to test only about 20% of the DNA locations available on the previous Illumina chip, and impute or infer using statistics the values in the rest of the DNA locations that they previously could test.
  • Early imputation implementers include LivingDNA (ethnicity only), MyHeritage (to equalize the locations of various vendor’s different chips), DNA.Land (whose matching is far from ideal) and 23andMe, who seems, for the most part, to have done a reasonable job. Of course, the only way to tell for sure at 23andMe is to test again on the V5 chip and compare to V3 and V4 chip matches. Given that I’ve already paid 3 times to test myself at 23andMe (V2, 3 and 4), I’m not keen on paying a 4th time for the V5 version.
  • 23andMe moved to the V5 Illumina GSA chip in August which is not compatible with any earlier chip versions.
  • Needless to say, the Illumina chip change has forced vendors away from focusing on new products in order to develop imputation code in order to remain backwards compatible with their own products from an earlier chip set.
  • GedMatch introduced their sandbox area, Genesis, where people can upload files that are not compatible with the traditional vendor files.  This includes the GSA chip results (23andMe V5,) exome tests and others.  The purpose of the sandbox is so that GedMatch can figure out how to work with these files that aren’t compatible with the typical autosomal test files.  The process has been interesting and enlightening, but people either don’t understand or forget that it’s a sandbox, an experiment, for all involved – including GedMatch.  Welcome to living on the genetic frontier!

  • I assembled a chart of who loves who – meaning which vendors accept transfers from which other vendors.

  • I suspect but don’t know that Ancestry is doing some form of imputation between their V1 and V2 chips. About a month before their new chip implementation in May of 2016, Ancestry made a change in their matching routine that resulting in a significant shift in people’s matches.

Because of Ancestry’s use of the Timber algorithm to downweight some segments and strip out others altogether, it’s difficult to understand where matching issues may arise.  Furthermore, there is no way to know that there are matching issues unless you and another individual have transferred results to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch, neither of which remove any matching segments.

  • Other developments of note include the fact that Family Tree DNA moved to mitochondrial DNA build V17 and updated their Y DNA to hg38 of the human reference genome – both huge undertakings requiring the reprocessing of customer data. Think of both of those updates as housekeeping. No one wants to do it, but it’s necessary.
  • 23andMe FINALLY finished transferring their customer base to the “New Experience,” but many of the older features we liked are now gone. However, customers can now opt in to open matching, which is a definite improvement. 23andMe, having been the first company to enter the genetic genealogy autosomal matching marketspace has really become lackluster.  They could have owned this space but chose not to focus on genealogy tools.  In my opinion, they are now relegated to fourth place out of a field of 4.
  • Ancestry has updated their Genetic Communities feature a couple of times this year. Genetic Communities is interesting and more helpful than ethnicity estimates, but neither are nearly as helpful as a chromosome browser would be.

  • I’m sure that the repeated requests, begging and community level tantrum throwing in an attempt to convince Ancestry to produce a chromosome browser is beyond beating a dead horse now. That dead horse is now skeletal, and no sign of a chromosome browser. Sigh:(
  • The good news is that anyone who wants a chromosome browser can transfer their results to Family Tree DNA or GedMatch (both for free) and utilize a chromosome browser and other tools at either or both of those locations. Family Tree DNA charges a one time $19 fee to access their advanced tools and GedMatch offers a monthly $10 subscription. Both are absolutely worth every dime. The bad news is, of course, that you have to convince your match or matches to transfer as well.
  • If you can convince your matches to transfer to (or test at) Family Tree DNA, their tools include phased Family Matching which utilizes a combination of user trees, the DNA of the tester combined with the DNA of family matches to indicate to the user which side, maternal or paternal (or both), a particular match stems from.

  • Sites to keep your eye on include Jonny Perl’s tools which include DNAPainter, as well as Goran Rundfeldt’s DNA Genealogy Experiment.  You may recall that in October Goran brought us the fantastic Triangulator tool to use with Family Tree DNA results.  A few community members expressed concern about triangulation relative to privacy, so the tool has been (I hope only temporarily) disabled as the involved parties work through the details. We need Goran’s triangulation tool! Goran has developed other world class tools as well, as you can see from his website, and I hope we see more of both Goran and Jonny in 2018.
  • In 2017, a number of new “free” sites that encourage you to upload your DNA have sprung up. My advice – remember, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.  Ask yourself why, what’s in it for them.  Review ALL OF THE documents and fine print relative to safety, privacy and what is going to be done with your DNA.  Think about what recourse you might or might not have. Why would you trust them?

My rule of thumb, if the company is outside of the US, I’m immediately slightly hesitant because they don’t fall under US laws. If they are outside of Europe or Canada, I’m even more hesitant.  If the company is associated with a country that is unfriendly to the US, I unequivocally refuse.  For example, riddle me this – what happens if a Chinese (or fill-in-the-blank country) company violates an agreement regarding your DNA and privacy?  What, exactly, are you going to do about it from wherever you live?

2017 – The Year of Marketplace Apps

Third party genetics apps are emerging and are beginning to make an impact.

GedMatch, as always, has continued to quietly add to their offerings for genetic genealogists, as had DNAGedcom.com. While these two aren’t exactly an “app”, per se, they are certainly primary players in the third party space. I use both and will be publishing an article early in 2018 about a very useful tool at DNAGedcom.

Another application that I don’t use due to the complex setup (which I’ve now tried twice and abandoned) is Genome Mate Pro which coordinates your autosomal results from multiple vendors.  Some people love this program.  I’ll try, again, in 2018 and see if I can make it all the way through the setup process.

The real news here are the new marketplace apps based on Exome testing.

Helix and their partners offer a number of apps that may be of interest for consumers.  Helix began offering a “test once, buy often” marketplace model where the consumer pays a nominal price for exome sequencing ($80), significantly under market pricing ($500), but then the consumer purchases DNA apps through the Helix store. The apps access the original DNA test to produce results. The consumer does NOT receive their downloadable raw data, only data through the apps, which is a departure from the expected norm. Then again, the consumer pays a drastically reduced price and downloadable exome results are available elsewhere for full price.

The Helix concept is that lots of apps will be developed, meaning that you, the consumer, will be interested and purchase often – allowing Helix to recoup their sequencing investment over time.

Looking at the Helix apps that are currently available, I’ve purchased all of the Insitome products released to date (Neanderthal, Regional Ancestry and Metabolism), because I have faith in Spencer Wells and truthfully, I was curious and they are reasonably priced.

Aside from the Insitome apps, I think that the personalized clothes are cute, if extremely overpriced. But what the heck, they’re fun and raise awareness of DNA testing – a good thing! After all, who am I to talk, I’ve made DNA quilts and have DNA clothing too.

Having said that, I’m extremely skeptical about some of the other apps, like “Wine Explorer.”  Seriously???

But then again, if you named an app “I Have More Money Than Brains,” it probably wouldn’t sell well.

Other apps, like Ancestry’s WeRelate (available for smartphones) is entertaining, but is also unfortunately EXTREMELY misleading.  WeRelate conflates multiple trees, generally incorrectly, to suggest to you and another person on your Facebook friends list are related, or that you are related to famous people.  Judy Russell reviews that app here in the article, “No, actually, we’re not related.” No.  Just no!

I feel strongly that companies that utilize our genetic data for anything have a moral responsibility for accuracy, and the WeRelate app clearly does NOT make the grade, and Ancestry knows that.  I really don’t believe that entertaining customers with half-truths (or less) is more important than accuracy – but then again, here I go just being an old-fashioned fuddy dud expecting ethics.

And then, there’s the snake oil.  You knew it was going to happen because there is always someone who can be convinced to purchase just about anything. Think midnight infomercials. The problem is that many consumers really don’t know how to tell snake oil from the rest in the emerging DNA field.

You can now purchase DNA testing for almost anything.  Dating, diet, exercise, your taste in wine and of course, vitamins and supplements. If you can think of an opportunity, someone will dream up a test.

How many of these are legitimate or valid?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m exceedingly suspicious of a great many, especially those where I can find no legitimate scientific studies to back what appear to be rather outrageous claims.

My main concern is that the entire DTC testing industry will be tarred by the brush of a few unethical opportunists.

2017 – The Year of Focus on Privacy and Security

With increased consumer exposure comes increased notoriety. People are taking notice of DNA testing and it seems that everyone has an opinion, informed or not.  There’s an old saying in marketing; “Talk about me good, talk about me bad, just talk about me.”

With all of the ads have come a commensurate amount of teeth gnashing and “the-sky-is-falling” type reporting.  Unfortunately, many politicians don’t understand this industry and open mouth only to insert foot – except that most people don’t realize what they’ve done.  I doubt that the politicians even understand that they are tasting toe-jam, because they haven’t taken the time to research and understand the industry. Sound bites and science don’t mix well.

The bad news is that next, the click-bait-focused press picks up on the stories and the next time you see anyone at lunch, they’re asking you if what they heard is true.  Or, let’s hope that they ask you instead of just accepting what they heard as gospel. Hopefully if we’ve learned anything in this past year, it’s to verify, verify, verify.

I’ve been an advocate for a very long time of increased transparency from the testing companies as to what is actually done with our DNA, and under what circumstances.  In other words, I want to know where my DNA is and what it’s being used for.  Period.

Family Tree DNA answered that question succinctly and unquestionably in December.

Bennett Greenspan: “We could probably make a lot of money by selling the DNA data that we’ve been collecting over the years, but we feel that the only person that should have your DNA information is you.  We don’t believe that it should be sold, traded or bartered.”

You can’t get more definitive than that.

DTC testing for genetic genealogy must be a self-regulating field, because the last thing we need is for the government to get involved, attempting to regulate something they don’t understand.  I truly believe government interference by the name of regulation would spell the end of genetic genealogy as we know it today.  DNA testing for genetic genealogy without sharing results is entirely pointless.

I’ve written about this topic in the past, but an update is warranted and I’ll be doing that sometime after the first of the year.  Mostly, I just need to be able to stay awake while slogging through the required reading (at some vendor sites) of page after page AFTER PAGE of legalese😊

Consumers really shouldn’t have to do that, and if they do, a short, concise summary should be presented to them BEFORE they purchase so that they can make a truly informed decision.

Stay tuned on this one.

2017 – The Year of Education

The fantastic news is that with all of the new people testing, a huge, HUGE need for education exists.  Even if 75% of the people who test don’t do anything with their results after that first peek, that still leaves a few million who are new to this field, want to engage and need some level of education.

In that vein, seminars are available through several groups and institutes, in person and online.  Almost all of the leadership in this industry is involved in some educational capacity.

In addition to agendas focused on genetic genealogy and utilizing DNA personally, almost every genealogy conference now includes a significant number of sessions on DNA methods and tools. I remember the days when we were lucky to be allowed one session on the agenda, and then generally not without begging!

When considering both DNA testing and education, one needs to think about the goal.  All customer goals are not the same, and neither are the approaches necessary to answer their questions in a relevant way.

New testers to the field fall into three primary groups today, and their educational needs are really quite different, because their goals, tools and approaches needed to reach those goals are different too.

Adoptees and genealogists employ two vastly different approaches utilizing a common tool, DNA, but for almost opposite purposes.  Adoptees wish to utilize tests and trees to come forward in time to identify either currently living or recently living people while genealogists are interested in reaching backward in time to confirm or identify long dead ancestors. Those are really very different goals.

I’ve illustrated this in the graphic above.  The tester in question uses their blue first cousin match to identify their unknown parent through the blue match’s known lineage, moving forward in time to identify the tester’s parent.  In this case, the grandparent is known to the blue match, but not to the yellow tester. Identifying the grandparent through the blue match is the needed lynchpin clue to identify the unknown parent.

The yellow tester who already knows their maternal parent utilizes their peach second cousin match to verify or maybe identify their maternal great-grandmother who is already known to the peach match, moving backwards in time. Two different goals, same DNA test.

The three types of testers are:

  • Curious ethnicity testers who may not even realize that at least some of the vendors offer matching and other tools and services.
  • Genealogists who use close relatives to prove which sides of trees matches come from, and to triangulate matching segments to specific ancestors. In other words, working from the present back in time. The peach match and line above.
  • Adoptees and parent searches where testers hope to find a parent or siblings, but failing that, close relatives whose trees overlap with each other – pointing to a descendant as a candidate for a parent. These people work forward in time and aren’t interested in triangulation or proving ancestors and really don’t care about any of those types of tools, at least not until they identify their parent.  This is the blue match above.

What these various groups of testers want and need, and therefore their priorities are different in terms of their recommendations and comments in online forums and their input to vendors. Therefore, you find Facebook groups dedicated to Adoptees, for example, but you also find adoptees in more general genetic genealogy groups where genealogists are sometimes surprised when people focused on parent searches downplay or dismiss tools such as Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and chromosome browsers that form the bedrock foundation of what genealogists need and require.

Fortunately, there’s room for everyone in this emerging field.

The great news is that educational opportunities are abundant now. I’m listing a few of the educational opportunities for all three groups of testers, in addition to my blog of course.😊

Remember that this blog is fully searchable by keyword or phrase in the little search box in the upper right hand corner.  I see so many questions online that I’ve already answered!

Please feel free to share links of my blog postings with anyone who might benefit!

Note that these recommendations below overlap and people may well be interested in opportunities from each group – or all!!

Ethnicity

Adoptees or Parent Search

Genetic Genealogists

2018 – What’s Ahead? 

About midyear 2018, this blog will reach 1000 published articles. This is article number 939.  That’s amazing even to me!  When I created this blog in July of 2012, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough to write about.  That certainly has changed.

Beginning shortly, the tsunami of kits that were purchased during the holidays will begin producing matches, be it through DNA upgrades at Family Tree DNA, Big Y tests which were hot at year end, or new purchases through any of the vendors.  I can hardly wait, and I have my list of brick walls that need to fall.

Family Tree DNA will be providing additional STR markers extracted from the Big Y test. These won’t replace any of the 111 markers offered separately today, because the extraction through NGS testing is not as reliable as direct STR testing for those markers, but the Big Y will offer genealogists a few hundred more STRs to utilize. Yes, I said a few hundred. The exact number has not yet been finalized.

Family Tree DNA says they will also be introducing new “qualify of life improvements” along with new privacy and consent settings.  Let’s hope this means new features and tools will be released too.

MyHeritage says that they are introducing new “Discoveries” pages and a chromosome browser in January.  They have also indicated that they are working on their matching issues.  The chromosome browser is particularly good news, but matching must work accurately or the chromosome browser will show erroneous information.  Let’s hope January brings all three features.

LivingDNA indicates that they will be introducing matching in 2018.

2018 – What Can You Do?

What can you do in 2018 to improve your odds of solving genealogy questions?

  • Test relatives
  • Transfer your results to as many data bases as possible (among the ones discussed above, after reading the terms and conditions, of course)
  • If you have transferred a version of your DNA that does not produce full results, such as the Ancestry V2 or 23andMe V4 test to Family Tree DNA, consider testing on the vendor’s own chip in order to obtain all matches, not just the closest matches available from an incompatible test transfer.
  • Test Y and mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA.
  • Find ways to share the stories of your ancestors.  Stories are cousin bait.  My 52 Ancestors series is living proof.  People find the stories and often have additional facts, information or even photos. Some contacts qualify for DNA testing for Y or mtDNA lines. The GREAT NEWS is that Amy Johnson Crow is resuming the #52Ancestors project for 2018, providing hints and tips each week! Who knows what you might discover by sharing?! Here’s how to start a blog if you need some assistance.  It’s easy – really!
  • Focus on the brick walls that you want to crumble and then put together both a test and analysis plan. That plan could include such things as:

o   Find out if a male representing a Y line in your tree has tested, and if not, search through autosomal results to see if a male from that paternal surname line has tested and would be amenable to an upgrade.

o   Mitochondrial DNA test people who descend through all females from various female ancestors in order to determine their origins. Y and mtDNA tests are an important part of a complete genealogy story – meaning the reasonably exhaustive search!

o   Autosomal DNA test family members from various lines with the hope that matches will match you and them both.

o   Test family members in order to confirm a particular ancestor – preferably people who descend from another child of that ancestor.

o   Making sure your own DNA is in all 4 of the major vendors’ data bases, plus GedMatch. Look at it this way, everyone who is at GedMatch or at a third party (non-testing) site had to have tested at one of the major 4 vendors – so if you are in all of the vendor’s data bases, plus GedMatch, you’re covered.

Have a wonderful New Year and let’s make 2018 the year of newly discovered ancestors and solved mysteries!

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Which DNA Test is Best?

If you’re reading this article, congratulations. You’re a savvy shopper and you’re doing some research before purchasing a DNA test. You’ve come to the right place.

The most common question I receive is asking which test is best to purchase. There is no one single best answer for everyone – it depends on your testing goals and your pocketbook.

Testing Goals

People who want to have their DNA tested have a goal in mind and seek results to utilize for their particular purpose. Today, in the Direct to Consumer (DTC) DNA market space, people have varied interests that fall into the general categories of genealogy and medical/health.

I’ve approached the question of “which test is best” by providing information grouped into testing goal categories.  I’ve compared the different vendors and tests from the perspective of someone who is looking to test for those purposes – and I’ve created separate sections of this article for each interest..

We will be discussing testing for:

  • Ethnicity – Who Am I? – Breakdown by Various World Regions
  • Adoption – Finding Missing Parents or Close Family
  • Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification
  • Medical/Health

We will be reviewing the following test types:

  • Autosomal
  • Y DNA (males only)
  • Mitochondrial DNA

I have included summary charts for each section, plus an additional chart for:

  • Additional Vendor Considerations

If you are looking to select one test, or have limited funds, or are looking to prioritize certain types of tests, you’ll want to read about each vendor, each type of test, and each testing goal category.

Each category reports information about the vendors and their products from a different perspective – and only you can decide which of these perspectives and features are most important to you.

You might want to read this short article for a quick overview of the 4 kinds of DNA used for genetic genealogy and DTC testing and how they differ.

The Big 3

Today, there are three major players in the DNA testing market, not in any particular order:

Each of these companies offers autosomal tests, but each vendor offers features that are unique. Family Tree DNA and 23andMe offer additional tests as well.

In addition to the Big 3, there are a couple of new kids on the block that I will mention where appropriate. There are also niche players for the more advanced genetic genealogist or serious researcher, and this article does not address advanced research.

In a nutshell, if you are serious genealogist, you will want to take all of the following tests to maximize your tools for solving genealogical puzzles. There is no one single test that does everything.

  • Full mitochondrial sequence that informs you about your matrilineal line (only) at Family Tree DNA. This test currently costs $199.
  • Y DNA test (for males only) that informs you about your direct paternal (surname) line (only) at Family Tree DNA. This test begins at $169 for 37 markers.
  • Family Finder, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching at Family Tree DNA. This test currently costs $89.
  • AncestryDNA, an autosomal test at Ancestry.com that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. (Do not confuse this test with Ancestry by DNA, which is not the same test and does not provide the same features.) This test currently costs $99, plus the additional cost of a subscription for full feature access. You can test without a subscription, but nonsubscribers can’t access all of the test result features provided to Ancestry subscribers.
  • 23andMe Ancestry Service test, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. The genealogy version of this test costs $99, the medical+genealogy version costs $199.

A Word About Third Party Tools

A number of third party tools exist, such as GedMatch and DNAGedcom.com, and while these tools are quite useful after testing, these vendors don’t provide tests. In order to use these sites, you must first take an autosomal DNA test from a testing vendor. This article focuses on selecting your DNA testing vendor based on your testing goals.

Let’s get started!

Ethnicity

Many people are drawn to DNA testing through commercials that promise to ‘tell you who you are.” While the allure is exciting, the reality is somewhat different.

Each of the major three vendors provide an ethnicity estimate based on your autosomal DNA test, and each of the three vendors will provide you with a different result.

Yep, same person, different ethnicity breakdowns.

Hopefully, the outcomes will be very similar, but that’s certainly not always the case. However, many people take one test and believe those results wholeheartedly. Please don’t. You may want to read Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages to see how varied my own ethnicity reports are at various vendors as compared to my known genealogy.

The technology for understanding “ethnicity” from a genetic perspective is still very new. Your ethnicity estimate is based on reference populations from around the world – today. People and populations move, and have moved, for hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of years. Written history only reaches back a fraction of that time, so the estimates provided to people today are not exact.

That isn’t to criticize any individual vendor. View each vendor’s results not as gospel, but as their opinion based on their reference populations and their internal proprietary algorithm of utilizing those reference populations to produce your ethnicity results.

To read more about how ethnicity testing works, and why your results may vary between vendors or not be what you expected, click here.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from testing, only to be sure consumers understand the context of what they will be receiving. Generally speaking, these results are accurate at the continental level, and less accurate within continents, such as European regional breakdowns.

All three testing companies provide additional features or tools, in addition to your ethnicity estimates, that are relevant to ethnicity or population groups.

Let’s look at each company separately.

Ethnicity – Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity tool is called myOrigins and provides three features or tools in addition to the actual ethnicity estimate and associated ethnicity map.

Please note that throughout this article you can click on any image to enlarge.

On the myOrigins ethnicity map page, above, your ethnicity percentages and map are shown, along with two additional features.

The Shared Origins box to the left shows the matching ethnic components of people on your DNA match list. This is particularly useful if you are trying to discover, for example, where a particular minority admixture comes from in your lineage. You can select different match types, for example, immediate relatives or X chromosome matches, which have special inheritance qualities.

Clicking on the apricot (mitochondrial DNA) and green (Y DNA) pins in the lower right corner drops the pins in the locations on your map of the most distant ancestral Y and mitochondrial DNA locations of the individuals in the group you have selected in the Shared Origins match box. You may or may not match these individuals on the Y or mtDNA lines, but families tend to migrate in groups, so match hints of any kind are important.

A third unique feature provided by Family Tree DNA is Ancient Origins, a tool released with little fanfare in November 2016.

Ancient Origins shows the ancient source of your European DNA, based on genome sequencing of ancient DNA from the locations shown on the map.

Additionally, Family Tree DNA hosts an Ancient DNA project where they have facilitated the upload of the ancient genomes so that customers today can determine if they match these ancient individuals.

Kits included in the Ancient DNA project are shown in the chart below, along with their age and burial location. Some have matches today, and some of these samples are included on the Ancient Origins map.

Individual Approx. Age Burial Location Matches Ancient Origins Map
Clovis Anzick 12,500 Montana (US) Yes No
Linearbandkeramik 7,500 Stuttgart, Germany Yes Yes
Loschbour 8,000 Luxembourg Yes Yes
Palaeo-Eskimo 4,000 Greenland No No
Altai Neanderthal 50,000 Altai No No
Denisova 30,000 Siberia No No
Hinxton-4 2,000 Cambridgeshire, UK No No
BR2 3,200 Hungary Yes Yes
Ust’-Ishim 45,000 Siberia Yes No
NE1 7,500 Hungary Yes Yes

Ethnicity – Ancestry

In addition to your ethnicity estimate, Ancestry also provides a feature called Genetic Communities.

Your ethnicity estimate provides percentages of DNA found in regions shown on the map by fully colored shapes – green in Europe in the example above. Genetic Communities show how your DNA clusters with other people in specific regions of the world – shown with dotted clusters in the US in this example.

In my case, my ethnicity at Ancestry shows my European roots, illustrated by the green highlighted areas, and my two Genetic Communities are shown by yellow and red dotted regions in the United States.

My assigned Genetic Communities indicate that my DNA clusters with other people whose ancestors lived in two regions; The Lower Midwest and Virginia as well as the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana.

Testers can then view their DNA matches within that community, as well as a group of surnames common within that community.

The Genetic Communities provided for me are accurate, but don’t expect all of your genealogical regions to be represented in Genetic Communities. For example, my DNA is 25% German, and I don’t have any German communities today, although ancestry will be adding new Genetic Communities as new clusters are formed.

You can read more about Genetic Communities here and here.

Ethnicity – 23andMe

In addition to ethnicity percentage estimates, called Ancestry Composition, 23andMe offers the ability to compare your Ancestry Composition against that of your parent to see which portions of your ethnicity you inherited from each parent, although there are problems with this tool incorrectly assigning parental segments.

Additionally, 23andMe paints your chromosome segments with your ethnic heritage, as shown below.

You can see that my yellow Native American segments appear on chromosomes 1 and 2.

In January 2017, 23andMe introduced their Ancestry Timeline, which I find to be extremely misleading and inaccurate. On my timeline, shown below, they estimate that my most recent British and Irish ancestor was found in my tree between 1900 and 1930 while in reality my most recent British/Irish individual found in my tree was born in England in 1759.

I do not view 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline as a benefit to the genealogist, having found that it causes people to draw very misleading conclusions, even to the point of questioning their parentage based on the results. I wrote about their Ancestry Timeline here.

Ethnicity Summary

All three vendors provide both ethnicity percentage estimates and maps. All three vendors provide additional tools and features relevant to ethnicity. Vendors also provide matching to other people which may or may not be of interest to people who test only for ethnicity. “Who you are” only begins with ethnicity estimates.

DNA test costs are similar, although the Family Tree DNA test is less at $89. All three vendors have sales from time to time.

Ethnicity Vendor Summary Chart

Ethnicity testing is an autosomal DNA test and is available for both males and females.

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Ethnicity Test Included with $89 Family Finder test Included with $99 Ancestry DNA test Included with $99 Ancestry Service
Percentages and Maps Yes Yes Yes
Shared Ethnicity with Matches Yes No Yes
Additional Feature Y and mtDNA mapping of ethnicity matches Genetic Communities Ethnicity phasing against parent (has issues)
Additional Feature Ancient Origins Ethnicity mapping by chromosome
Additional Feature Ancient DNA Project Ancestry Timeline

 

Adoption and Parental Identity

DNA testing is extremely popular among adoptees and others in search of missing parents and grandparents.

The techniques used for adoption and parental search are somewhat different than those used for more traditional genealogy, although non-adoptees may wish to continue to read this section because many of the features that are important to adoptees are important to other testers as well.

Adoptees often utilize autosomal DNA somewhat differently than traditional genealogists by using a technique called mirror trees. In essence, the adoptee utilizes the trees posted online of their closest DNA matches to search for common family lines within those trees. The common family lines will eventually lead to the individuals within those common trees that are candidates to be the parents of the searcher.

Here’s a simplified hypothetical example of my tree and a first cousin adoptee match.

The adoptee matches me at a first cousin level, meaning that we share at least one common grandparent – but which one? Looking at other people the adoptee matches, or the adoptee and I both match, we find Edith Lore (or her ancestors) in the tree of multiple matches. Since Edith Lore is my grandmother, the adoptee is predicted to be my first cousin, and Edith Lore’s ancestors appear in the trees of our common matches – that tells us that Edith Lore is also the (probable) grandmother of the adoptee.

Looking at the possibilities for how Edith Lore can fit into the tree of me and the adoptee, as first cousins, we fine the following scenario.

Testing the known child of daughter Ferverda will then provide confirmation of this relationship if the known child proves to be a half sibling to the adoptee.

Therefore, close matches, the ability to contact matches and trees are very important to adoptees. I recommend that adoptees make contact with www.dnaadoption.com. The volunteers there specialize in adoptions and adoptees, provide search angels to help people and classes to teach adoptees how to utilize the techniques unique to adoption search such as building mirror trees.

For adoptees, the first rule is to test with all 3 major vendors plus MyHeritage. Family Tree DNA allows you to test with both 23andMe and Ancestry and subsequently transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, but I would strongly suggest adoptees test on the Family Tree DNA platform instead. Your match results from transferring to Family Tree DNA from other companies, except for MyHeritage, will be fewer and less reliable because both 23andMe and Ancestry utilize different chip technology.

For most genealogists, MyHeritage is not a player, as they have only recently entered the testing arena, have a very small data base, no tools and are having matching issues. I recently wrote about MyHeritage here. However, adoptees may want to test with MyHeritage, or upload your results to MyHeritage if you tested with Family Tree DNA, because your important puzzle-solving match just might have tested there and no place else. You can read about transfer kit compatibility and who accepts which vendors’ tests here.

Adoptees can benefit from ethnicity estimates at the continental level, meaning that regional (within continent) or minority ethnicity should be taken with a very large grain of salt. However, knowing that you have 25% Jewish heritage, for example, can be a very big clue to an adoptee’s search.

Another aspect of the adoptees search that can be relevant is the number of foreign testers. For many years, neither 23andMe, nor Ancestry tested substantially (or at all) outside the US. Family Tree DNA has always tested internationally and has a very strong Jewish data base component.

Not all vendors report X chromosome matches. The X chromosome is important to genetic genealogy, because it has a unique inheritance path. Men don’t inherit an X chromosome from their fathers. Therefore, if you match someone on the X chromosome, you know the relationship, for a male, must be from their mother’s side. For a female, the relationship must be from the mother or the father’s mother’s side. You can read more about X chromosome matching here.

Neither Ancestry nor MyHeritage have chromosome browsers which allow you to view the segments of DNA on which you match other individuals, which includes the X chromosome.

Adoptee Y and Mitochondrial Testing

In addition to autosomal DNA testing, adoptees will want to test their Y DNA (males only) and mitochondrial DNA.

These tests are different from autosomal DNA which tests the DNA you receive from all of your ancestors. Y and mitochondrial DNA focus on only one specific line, respectively. Y DNA is inherited by men from their fathers and the Y chromosome is passed from father to son from time immemorial. Therefore, testing the Y chromosome provides us with the ability to match to current people as well as to use the Y chromosome as a tool to look far back in time. Adoptees tend to be most interested in matching current people, at least initially.

Working with male adoptees, I have a found that about 30% of the time a male will match strongly to a particular surname, especially at higher marker levels. That isn’t always true, but adoptees will never know if they don’t test. An adoptee’s match list is shown at 111 markers, below.

Furthermore, utilizing the Y and mitochondrial DNA test in conjunction with autosomal DNA matching at Family Tree DNA helps narrows possible relatives. The Advanced Matching feature allows you to see who you match on both the Y (or mitochondrial) DNA lines AND the autosomal test, in combination.

Mitochondrial DNA tests the matrilineal line only, as women pass their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on. Family Tree DNA provides matching and advanced combination matching/searching for mitochondrial DNA as well as Y DNA. Both genders of children carry their mother’s mitochondrial DNA. Unfortunately, mitochondrial DNA is more difficult to work with because of the surname changes in each generation, but you cannot be descended from a woman, or her direct matrilineal ancestors if you don’t substantially match her mitochondrial DNA.

Some vendors state that you receive mitochondrial DNA with your autosomal results, which is only partly accurate. At 23andMe, you receive a haplogroup but no detailed results and no matching. 23andMe does not test the entire mitochondria and therefore cannot provide either advanced haplogroup placement nor Y or mitochondrial DNA matching between testers.

For additional details on the Y and Mitochondrial DNA tests themselves and what you receive, please see the Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA section.

Adoption Summary

Adoptees should test with all 4 vendors plus Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

  • Ancestry – due to their extensive data base size and trees
  • Family Tree DNA – due to their advanced tools, chromosome browser, Y and mitochondrial DNA tests (Ancestry and 23andMe participants can transfer autosomal raw data files and see matches for free, but advanced tools require either an unlock fee or a test on the Family Tree DNA platform)
  • 23andMe – no trees and many people don’t participate in sharing genetic information
  • MyHeritage – new kid on the block, working through what is hoped are startup issues
  • All adoptees should take the full mitochondrial sequence test.
  • Male adoptees should take the 111 marker Y DNA test, although you can start with 37 or 67 markers and upgrade later.
  • Y and mitochondrial tests are only available at Family Tree DNA.

Adoptee Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage
Autosomal DNA – Males and Females
Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes – problems
Relationship Estimates* Yes – May be too close Yes – May be too distant Yes – Matches may not be sharing Yes –  problematic
International Reach Very strong Not strong but growing Not strong Small but subscriber base is European focused
Trees Yes Yes No Yes
Tree Quantity 54% have trees, 46% no tree (of my first 100 matches) 56% have trees, 44% no tree or private (of my first 100 matches) No trees ~50% don’t have trees or are private (cannot discern private tree without clicking on every tree)
Data Base Size Large Largest Large – but not all opt in to matching Very small
My # of Matches on 4-23-2017 2,421 23,750 1,809 but only 1,114 are sharing 75
Subscription Required No No for partial, Yes for full functionality including access to matches’ trees, minimal subscription for $49 by calling Ancestry No No for partial, Yes for full functionality
Other Relevant Tools New Ancestor Discoveries
Autosomal DNA Issues Many testers don’t have trees Many testers don’t have trees Matching opt-in is problematic, no trees at all Matching issues, small data base size is problematic, many testers don’t have trees
Contact Methodology E-mail address provided to matches Internal message system – known delivery issues Internal message system Internal message system
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes No
Y-DNA – Males Only
Y DNA STR Test Yes- 37, 67, and 111 markers No No No
Y Haplogroup Yes as part of STR test plus additional testing available No Yes, basic level but no additional testing available, outdated haplogroups No
Y Matching Yes No No No
Advanced Matching Between Y and Autosomal Yes No No No
Mitochondrial DNA- Males and Females
Test Yes, partial and full sequence No No No
Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Yes, included in test No Yes, basic but full haplogroup not available, haplogroup several versions behind No
Advanced Matching Between Mitochondrial and Autosomal Yes No No No

Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification

People who want to take a DNA test to find cousins, to learn more about their genealogy, to verify their genealogy research or to search for unknown ancestors and break down brick walls will be interested in various types of testing

Test Type Who Can Test
Y DNA – direct paternal line Males only
Mitochondrial DNA – direct matrilineal line Males and Females
Autosomal – all lines Males and Females

Let’s begin with autosomal DNA testing for genealogy which tests your DNA inherited from all ancestral lines.

Aside from ethnicity, autosomal DNA testing provides matches to other people who have tested. A combination of trees, meaning their genealogy, and their chromosome segments are used to identify (through trees) and verify (through DNA segments) common ancestor(s) and then to assign a particular DNA segment(s) to that ancestor or ancestral couple. This process, called triangulation, then allows you to assign specific segments to particular ancestors, through segment matching among multiple people. You then know that when another individual matches you and those other people on the same segment, that the DNA comes from that same lineage. Triangulation is the only autosomal methodology to confirm ancestors who are not close relatives, beyond the past 2-3 generations or so.

All three vendors provide matching, but the tools they include and their user interfaces are quite different. 

Genealogy – Autosomal –  Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA entered DNA testing years before any of the others, initially with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Because of the diversity of their products, their website is somewhat busier, but they do a good job of providing areas on the tester’s personal landing page for each of the products and within each product, a link for each feature or function.

For example, the Family Finder test is Family Tree DNA’s autosomal test. Within that product, tools provided are:

  • Matching
  • Chromosome Browser
  • Linked Relationships
  • myOrigins
  • Ancient Origins
  • Matrix
  • Advanced Matching

Unique autosomal tools provided by Family Tree DNA are:

  • Linked Relationships that allows you to connect individuals that you match to their location in your tree, indicating the proper relationship. Phased Family Matching uses these relationships within your tree to indicate which side of your tree other matches originate from.
  • Phased Family Matching shows which side of your tree, maternal, paternal or both, someone descends from, based on phased DNA matching between you and linked relationship matches as distant as third cousins. This allows Family Tree DNA to tell you whether matches are paternal (blue icon), maternal (red icon) or both (purple icon) without a parent’s DNA. This is one of the best autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, shown below.

  • In Common With and Not In Common With features allow you to sort your matches in common with another individual a number of ways, or matches not in common with that individual.
  • Filtered downloads provide the downloading of chromosome data for your filtered match list.
  • Stackable filters and searches – for example, you can select paternal matches and then search for a particular surname or ancestral surname within the paternal matches.
  • Common ethnicity matching through myOrigins allows you to see selected groups of individuals who match you and share common ethnicities.
  • Y and mtDNA locations of autosomal matches are provided on your ethnicity map through myOrigins.
  • Advanced matching tool includes Y, mtDNA and autosomal in various combinations. Also includes matches within projects where the tester is a member as well as by partial surname.
  • The matrix tool allows the tester to enter multiple people that they match in order to see if those individuals also match each other. The matrix tool is, in combination with the in-common-with tool and the chromosome browser is a form of pseudo triangulation, but does not indicate that the individuals match on the same segment.

  • Chromosome browser with the ability to select different segment match thresholds to display when comparing 5 or fewer individuals to your results.
  • Projects to join which provide group interaction and allow individuals to match only within the project, if desired.

To read more about how to utilize the various autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, with examples, click here.

Genealogy – Autosomal – Ancestry

Ancestry only offers autosomal DNA testing to their customers, so their page is simple and straightforward.

Ancestry is the only testing vendor (other than MyHeritage who is not included in this section) to require a subscription for full functionality, although if you call the Ancestry support line, a minimal subscription is available for $49. You can see your matches without a subscription, but you cannot see your matches trees or utilize other functions, so you will not be able to tell how you connect to your matches. Many genealogists have Ancestry subscriptions, so this is minimally problematic for most people.

However, if you don’t realize you need a subscription initially, the required annual subscription raises the effective cost of the test quite substantially. If you let your subscription lapse, you no longer have access to all DNA features. The cost of testing with Ancestry is the cost of the test plus the cost of a subscription if you aren’t already a subscriber.

This chart, from the Ancestry support center, provides details on which features are included for free and which are only available with a subscription.

Unique tools provided by Ancestry include:

  • Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) which indicate a match with whom you share a common ancestor in your tree connected to your DNA, allowing you to display the path of you and your match to the common ancestor. In order to take advantage of this feature, testers must link their tree to their DNA test. Otherwise, Ancestry can’t do tree matching.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the single most useful DNA tool at Ancestry. Subscription required.

  • DNA Circles, example below, are created when several people whose DNA matches also share a common ancestor. Subscription required.

  • New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs), which are similar to Circles, but are formed when you match people descended from a common ancestor, but don’t have that ancestor in your tree. The majority of the time, these NADs are incorrect and are, when dissected and the source can be determined, found to be something like the spouse of a sibling of your ancestor. I do not view NADs as a benefit, more like a wild goose chase, but for some people these could be useful so long as the individual understands that these are NOT definitely ancestors and only hints for research. Subscription required.
  • Ancestry uses a proprietary algorithm called Timber to strip DNA from you and your matches that they consider to be “too matchy,” with the idea that those segments are identical by population, meaning likely to be found in large numbers within a population group – making them meaningless for genealogy. The problem is that Timber results in the removal of valid segments, especially in endogamous groups like Acadian families. This function is unique to Ancestry, but many genealogists (me included) don’t consider Timber a benefit.
  • Genetic Communities shows you groups of individuals with whom your DNA clusters. The trees of cluster members are then examined by Ancestry to determine connections from which Genetic Communities are formed. You can filter your DNA match results by Genetic Community.

Genealogy – Autosomal – 23and Me

Unfortunately, the 23andMe website is not straightforward or intuitive. They have spent the majority of the past two years transitioning to a “New Experience” which has resulted in additional confusion and complications when matching between people on multiple different platforms. You can take a spin through the New Experience by clicking here.

23andMe requires people to opt-in to sharing, even after they have selected to participate in Ancestry Services (genealogy) testing, have opted-in previously and chosen to view their DNA Relatives. Users on the “New Experience” can then either share chromosome data and results with each other individually, meaning on a one by one basis, or globally by a one-time opt-in to “open sharing” with matches. If a user does not opt-in to both DNA Relatives and open sharing, sharing requests must be made individually to each match, and they must opt-in to share with each individual user. This complexity and confusion results in an approximate sharing rate of between 50 and 60%. One individual who religiously works their matches by requesting sharing now has a share rate of about 80% of their matches in the data base who HAVE initially selected to participate in DNA Relatives. You can read more about the 23andMe experience at this link.

Various genetic genealogy reports and tools are scattered between the Reports and Tools tabs, and within those, buried in non-intuitive locations. If you are going to utilize 23andMe for matching and genealogy, in addition to the above link, I recommend Kitty Cooper’s blogs about the new DNA Relatives here and on triangulation here. Print the articles, and use them as a guide while navigating the 23andMe site.

Note that some screens (the Tools, DNA Relatives, then DNA tab) on the site do not display/work correctly utilizing Internet Explorer, but do with Edge or other browsers.

The one genealogy feature unique to 23andMe is:

  • Triangulation at 23andMe allows you to select a specific match to compare your DNA against. Several pieces of information will be displayed, the last of which, scrolling to the bottom, is a list of your common relatives with the person you selected.

In the example below, I’ve selected to see the matches I match in common with known family member, Stacy Den (surnames have been obscured for privacy reasons.)  Please note that the Roberta V4 Estes kit is a second test that I took for comparison purposes when the new V4 version of 23andMe was released.  Just ignore that match, because, of course I match myself as a twin.

If an individual does not match both you and your selected match, they will not appear on this list.

In the “relatives in common” section, each person is listed with a “shared DNA” column. For a person to be shown on this “in common” list, you obviously do share DNA with these individuals and they also share with your match, but the “shared DNA” column goes one step further. This column indicates whether or not you and your match both share a common DNA segment with the “in common” person.

I know this is confusing, so I’ve created this chart to illustrate what will appear in the “Shared DNA” column of the individuals showing on the list of matches, above, shared between me and Stacy Den.

Clicking on “Share to see” sends Sarah a sharing request for her to allow you to see her segment matches.

Let’s look at an example with “yes” in the Shared DNA column.

Clicking on the “Yes” in the Shared DNA column of Debbie takes us to the chromosome browser which shows both your selected match, Stacy in my case, and Debbie, the person whose “yes” you clicked.

All three people, meaning me, Stacy and Debbie share a common DNA segment, shown below on chromosome 17.

What 23andMe does NOT say is that these people. Stacy and Debbie, also match each other, in addition to matching me, which means all three of us triangulate.

Because I manage Stacy’s kit at 23andMe, I can check to see if Debbie is on Stacy’s match list, and indeed, Debbie is on Stacy’s match list and Stacy does match both Debbie and me on chromosome 17 in exactly the same location shown above, proving unquestionably that the three of us all match each other and therefore triangulate on this segment. In our case, it’s easy to identify our common relative whose DNA all 3 of us share.

Genealogy – Autosomal Summary

While all 3 vendors offer matching, their interfaces and tools vary widely.

I would suggest that Ancestry is the least sophisticated and has worked hard to make their tools easy for the novice working with genetic genealogy. Their green leaf DNA+Tree Matching is their best feature, easy to use and important for the novice and experienced genealogist alike.  Now, if they just had that chromosome browser so we could see how we match those people.

Ancestry’s Circles, while a nice feature, encourage testers to believe that their DNA or relationship is confirmed by finding themselves in a Circle, which is not the case.

Circles can be formed as the result of misinformation in numerous trees. For example, if I were to inaccurately list Smith as the surname for one of my ancestor’s wives, I would find myself in a Circle for Barbara Smith, when in fact, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that her surname is Smith. Yet, people think that Barbara Smith is confirmed due to a Circle having been formed and finding themselves in Barbara Smith’s Circle. Copying incorrect trees equals the formation of incorrect Circles.

It’s also possible that I’m matching people on multiple lines and my DNA match to the people in any given Circle is through another common ancestor entirely.

A serious genealogist will test minimally at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, who provides a chromosome browser and other tools necessary to confirm relationships and shared DNA segments.

Family Tree DNA is more sophisticated, so consequently more complex to use.  They provide matching plus numerous other tools. The website and matching is certainly friendly for the novice, but to benefit fully, some experience or additional education is beneficial, not unlike traditional genealogy research itself. This is true not just for Family Tree DNA, but GedMatch and 23andMe who all three utilize chromosome browsers.

The user will want to understand what a chromosome browser is indicating about matching DNA segments, so some level of education makes life a lot easier. Fortunately, understanding chromosome browser matching is not complex. You can read an article about Match Groups and Triangulation here. I also have an entire series of Concepts articles, Family Tree DNA offers a webinar library, their Learning Center and other educational resources are available as well.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor to provide Phased Family Matches, meaning that by connecting known relatives who have DNA tested to your tree, Family Tree DNA can then identify additional matches as maternal, paternal or both. This, in combination with pseudo-phasing are very powerful matching tools.

23andMe is the least friendly of the three companies, with several genetic genealogy unfriendly restrictions relative to matching, opt-ins, match limits and such. They have experienced problem after problem for years relative to genetic genealogy, which has always been a second-class citizen compared to their medical research, and not a priority.

23andMe has chosen to implement a business model where their customers must opt-in to share segment information with other individuals, either one by one or by opting into open sharing. Based on my match list, roughly 60% of my actual DNA matches have opted in to sharing.

Their customer base includes fewer serious genealogists and their customers often are not interested in genealogy at all.

Having said that, 23andMe is the only one of the three that provides actual triangulated matches for users on the New Experience and who have opted into sharing.

If I were entering the genetic genealogy testing space today, I would test my autosomal DNA at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, but I would probably not test at 23andMe. I would test both my Y DNA (if a male) and mitochondrial at Family Tree DNA.

Thank you to Kitty Cooper for assistance with parent/child matching and triangulation at 23andMe.

Genealogy Autosomal Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Matching Yes Yes Yes – each person has to opt in for open sharing or authorize sharing individually, many don’t
Estimated Relationships Yes Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser Yes No – Large Issue Yes
Chromosome Browser Threshold Adjustment Yes No Chromosome Browser No
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes
Trees Yes Yes – subscription required so see matches’ trees No
Ability to upload Gedcom file Yes Yes No
Ability to search trees Yes Yes No
Subscription in addition to DNA test price No No for partial, Yes for full functionality, minimal subscription for $49 by calling Ancestry No
DNA + Ancestor in Tree Matches No Yes – Leaf Hints – subscription required – Best Feature No
Phased Parental Side Matching Yes – Best Feature No No
Parent Match Indicator Yes No Yes
Sort or Group by Parent Match Yes Yes Yes
In Common With Tool Yes Yes Yes
Not In Common With Tool Yes No No
Triangulated Matches No – pseudo with ICW, browser and matrix No Yes – Best Feature
Common Surnames Yes Yes – subscription required No
Ability to Link DNA Matches on Tree Yes No No
Matrix to show match grid between multiple matches Yes No No
Match Filter Tools Yes Minimal Some
Advanced Matching Tool Yes No No
Multiple Test Matching Tool Yes No multiple tests No multiple tests
Ethnicity Matching Yes No Yes
Projects Yes No No
Maximum # of Matches Restricted No No Yes – 2000 unless you are communicating with the individuals, then they are not removed from your match list
All Customers Participate Yes Yes, unless they don’t have a subscription No – between 50-60% opt-in
Accepts Transfers from Other Testing Companies Yes No No
Free Features with Transfer Matching, ICW, Matrix, Advanced Matching No transfers No transfers
Transfer Features Requiring Unlock $ Chromosome Browser, Ethnicity, Ancient Origins, Linked Relationships, Parentally Phased Matches No Transfers No transfers
Archives DNA for Later Testing Yes, 25 years No, no additional tests available No, no additional tests available
Additional Tool DNA Circles – subscription required
Additional Tool New Ancestor Discoveries – subscription required
Y DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Mitochondrial DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Advanced Testing Available Yes No No
Website Intuitive Yes, given their many tools Yes, very simple No
Data Base Size Large Largest Large but many do not test for genealogy, only test for health
Strengths Many tools, multiple types of tests, phased matching without parent DNA + Tree matching, size of data base Triangulation
Challenges Website episodically times out No chromosome browser or advanced tools Sharing is difficult to understand and many don’t, website is far from intuitive

 

Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA

Two indispensable tools for genetic genealogy that are often overlooked are Y and mitochondrial DNA.

The inheritance path for Y DNA is shown by the blue squares and the inheritance path for mitochondrial DNA is shown by the red circles for the male and female siblings shown at the bottom of the chart.

Y-DNA Testing for Males

Y DNA is inherited by males only, from their father. The Y chromosome makes males male. Women instead inherit an X chromosome from their father, which makes them female. Because the Y chromosome is not admixed with the DNA of the mother, the same Y chromosome has been passed down through time immemorial.

Given that the Y chromosome follows the typical surname path, Y DNA testing is very useful for confirming surname lineage to an expected direct paternal ancestor. In other words, an Estes male today should match, with perhaps a few mutations, to other descendants of Abraham Estes who was born in 1647 in Kent, England and immigrated to the colony of Virginia.

Furthermore, that same Y chromosome can look far back in time, thousands of years, to tell us where that English group of Estes men originated, before the advent of surnames and before the migration to England from continental Europe. I wrote about the Estes Y DNA here, so you can see an example of how Y DNA testing can be used.

Y DNA testing for matching and haplogroup identification, which indicates where in the world your ancestors were living within the past few hundred to few thousand years, is only available from Family Tree DNA. Testing can be purchased for either 37, 67 or 111 markers, with the higher marker numbers providing more granularity and specificity in matching.

Family Tree DNA provides three types of Y DNA tests.

  • STR (short tandem repeat) testing is the traditional Y DNA testing for males to match to each other in a genealogically relevant timeframe. These tests can be ordered in panels of 37, 67 or 111 markers and lower levels can be upgraded to higher levels at a later date. An accurate base haplogroup prediction is made from STR markers.
  • SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) testing is a different type of testing that tests single locations for mutations in order to confirm and further refine haplogroups. Think of a haplogroup as a type of genetic clan, meaning that haplogroups are used to track migration of humans through time and geography, and are what is utilized to determine African, European, Asian or Native heritage in the direct paternal line. SNP tests are optional and can be ordered one at a time, in groups called panels for a particular haplogroup or a comprehensive research level Y DNA test called the Big Y can be ordered after STR testing.
  • The Big Y test is a research level test that scans the entire Y chromosome to determine the most refined haplogroup possible and to report any previously unknown mutations (SNPs) that may define further branches of the Y DNA tree. This is the technique used to expand the Y haplotree.

You can read more about haplogroups here and about the difference between STR markers and SNPs here, here and here.

Customers receive the following features and tools when they purchase a Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test at 23andMe. The 23andMe Y DNA information is included in their Ancestry Services test. The Family Tree DNA Y DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. You can click here to read about the difference in the technology between Y DNA testing at Family Tree DNA and at 23andMe. Ancestry is not included in this comparison because they provide no Y DNA related information.

Y DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of STR panel marker testing Yes, in panels of 37, 67 and 111 markers No
Test panel (STR) marker results Yes Not tested
Haplogroup assignment Yes – accurate estimate with STR panels, deeper testing available Yes –base haplogroup by scan – haplogroup designations are significantly out of date, no further testing available
SNP testing to further define haplogroup Yes – can purchase individual SNPs, by SNP panels or Big Y test No
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees available for your matches Yes No
E-mail of matches provided Yes No
Calculator tool to estimate probability of generational distance between you and a match Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic projects No
Ability to search Y matches Yes No Y matching
Ability to search matches within projects Yes No projects
Ability to search matches by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer result location on tree Yes, detailed with every branch Yes, less detailed, subset
Terminal SNP used to determine haplogroup Yes Yes, small subset available
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins – match ancestral location summary by haplogroup, by test level Yes No
SNP map showing worldwide locations of any selected SNP Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the paternal line, by test panel Yes No
Big Y – full scan of Y chromosome for known and previously unknown mutations (SNPs) Yes No
Big Y matching Yes No
Big Y matching known SNPs Yes No
Big Y matching novel variants (unknown or yet unnamed SNPs) Yes No
Filter Big Y matches Yes No
Big Y results Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

Mitochondrial DNA Testing for Everyone

Mitochondrial DNA is contributed to both genders of children by mothers, but only the females pass it on. Like the Y chromosome, mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the DNA of the other parent. Therefore, anyone can test for the mitochondrial DNA of their matrilineal line, meaning their mother’s mother’s mother’s lineage.

Matching can identify family lines as well as ancient lineage.

You receive the following features and tools when you purchase a mitochondrial DNA test from Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test from 23andMe. The Family Tree DNA mitochondrial DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. The 23andMe mitochondrial information is provided with the Ancestry Services test. Ancestry is omitted from this comparison because they do not provide any mitochondrial information.

Mitochondrial DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of testing Yes, mtPlus and Full Sequence No
Test panel marker results Yes, in two formats, CRS and RSRS No
Rare mutations, missing and extra mutations, insertions and deletions reported Yes No
Haplogroup assignment Yes, most current version, Build 17 Yes, partial and out of date version
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees of matches available to view Yes No
E-mail address provided to matches Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic available No
Ability to search matches Yes No
Ability to search matches within project Yes No projects
Ability to search match by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer location on tree No Yes
Mutations used to determine haplogroup provided Yes No
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins –match ancestral location summary by haplogroup Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the maternal line, by test level Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

 

Overall Genealogy Summary

Serious genealogists should test with at least two of the three major vendors, being Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, with 23andMe coming in as a distant third.

No genetic genealogy testing regimen is complete without Y and mitochondrial DNA for as many ancestral lines as you can find to test. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you’ll never know if you don’t test.

Unfortunately, many people, especially new testers, don’t know Y and mitochondrial DNA testing for genetic genealogy exists, or how it can help their genealogy research, which is extremely ironic since these were the first tests available, back in 2000.

You can read about finding Y and mitochondrial information for various family lines and ancestors and how to assemble a DNA Pedigree Chart here.

You can also take a look at my 52 Ancestors series, where I write about an ancestor every week. Each article includes some aspect of DNA testing and knowledge gained by a test or tests, DNA tool, or comparison. The DNA aspect of these articles focuses on how to use DNA as a tool to discover more about your ancestors.

Testing for Medical/Health or Traits

The DTC market also includes health and medical testing, although it’s not nearly as popular as genetic genealogy.

Health/medical testing is offered by 23andMe, who also offers autosomal DNA testing for genealogy.

Some people do want to know if they have genetic predispositions to medical conditions, and some do not. Some want to know if they have certain traits that aren’t genealogically relevant, but might be interesting – such as whether they carry the Warrior gene or if they have an alcohol flush reaction.

23andMe was the first company to dip their toes into the water of Direct to Consumer medical information, although they called it “health,” not medicine, at that time. Regardless of the terminology, information regarding Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for example, were provided for customers. 23andMe attempted to take the raw data and provide the consumer with something approaching a middle of the road analysis, because sometimes the actual studies provide conflicting information that might not be readily understood by consumers.

The FDA took issue with 23andMe back in November of 2013 when they ordered 23andMe to discontinue the “health” aspect of their testing after 23andMe ignored several deadlines. In October 2015, 23andMe obtained permission to provide customers with some information, such as carrier status, for 36 genetic disorders.

Since that time, 23andMe has divided their product into two separate tests, with two separate prices. The genealogy only test called Ancestry Service can be purchased separately for $99, or the combined Health + Ancestry Service for $199.

If you are interested in seeing what the Health + Ancestry test provides, you can click here to view additional information.

However, there is a much easier and less expensive solution.

If you have taken the autosomal test from 23andMe, Ancestry or Family Tree DNA, you can download your raw data file from the vendor and upload to Promethease to obtain a much more in-depth report than is provided by 23andMe, and much less expensively – just $5.

I reviewed the Promethease service here. I found the Promethease reports to be very informative and I like the fact that they provide information, both positive and negative for each SNP (DNA location) reported. Promethease avoids FDA problems by not providing any interpretation or analysis, simply the data and references extracted from SNPedia for you to review.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should be sure you really want to know before you delve into medical testing. Some mutations are simply indications that you could develop a condition that you will never develop or that is not serious. Other mutations are not so benign. Promethease provides this candid page before you upload your data.

Different files from different vendors provide different results at Promethease, because those vendors test different SNP locations in your DNA. At the Promethease webpage, you can view examples.

Traits

Traits fall someplace between genealogy and health. When you take the Health + Ancestry test at 23andMe, you do receive information about various traits, as follows:

Of course, you’ll probably already know if you have several of these traits by just taking a look in the mirror, or in the case of male back hair, by asking your wife.

At Family Tree DNA, existing customers can order tests for Factoids (by clicking on the upgrade button), noted as curiosity tests for gene variants.

Family Tree DNA provides what I feel is a great summary and explanation of what the Factoids are testing on their order page:

“Factoids” are based on studies – some of which may be controversial – and results are not intended to diagnose disease or medical conditions, and do not serve the purpose of medical advice. They are offered exclusively for curiosity purposes, i.e. to see how your result compared with what the scientific papers say. Other genetic and environmental variables may also impact these same physiological characteristics. They are merely a conversational piece, or a “cocktail party” test, as we like to call it.”

Test Price Description
Alcohol Flush Reaction $19 A condition in which the body cannot break down ingested alcohol completely. Flushing, after consuming one or two alcoholic beverages, includes a range of symptoms: nausea, headaches, light-headedness, an increased pulse, occasional extreme drowsiness, and occasional skin swelling and itchiness. These unpleasant side effects often prevent further drinking that may lead to further inebriation, but the symptoms can lead to mistaken assumption that the people affected are more easily inebriated than others.
Avoidance of Errors $29 We are often angry at ourselves because we are unable to learn from certain experiences. Numerous times we have made the wrong decision and its consequences were unfavorable. But the cause does not lie only in our thinking. A mutation in a specific gene can also be responsible, because it can cause a smaller number of dopamine receptors. They are responsible for remembering our wrong choices, which in turn enables us to make better decisions when we encounter a similar situation.
Back Pain $39 Lumbar disc disease is the drying out of the spongy interior matrix of an intervertebral disc in the spine. Many physicians and patients use the term lumbar disc disease to encompass several different causes of back pain or sciatica. A study of Asian patients with lumbar disc disease showed that a mutation in the CILP gene increases the risk of back pain.
Bitter Taste Perception $29 There are several genes that are responsible for bitter taste perception – we test 3 of them. Different variations of this gene affect ability to detect bitter compounds. About 25% of people lack ability to detect these compounds due to gene mutations. Are you like them? Maybe you don’t like broccoli, because it tastes too bitter?
Caffeine Metabolism $19 According to the results of a case-control study reported in the March 8, 2006 issue of JAMA, coffee is the most widely consumed stimulant in the world, and caffeine consumption has been associated with increased risk for non-fatal myocardial infarction. Caffeine is primarily metabolized by the cytochrome P450 1A2 in the liver, accounting for 95% of metabolism. Carriers of the gene variant *1F allele are slow caffeine metabolizers, whereas individuals homozygous for the *1A/*1A genotype are rapid caffeine metabolizers.
Earwax Type $19 Whether your earwax is wet or dry is determined by a mutation in a single gene, which scientists have discovered. Wet earwax is believed to have uses in insect trapping, self-cleaning and prevention of dryness in the external auditory canal of the ear. It also produces an odor and causes sweating, which may play a role as a pheromone.
Freckling $19 Freckles can be found on anyone no matter what the background. However, having freckles is genetic and is related to the presence of the dominant melanocortin-1 receptor MC1R gene variant.
Longevity $49 Researchers at Harvard Medical School and UC Davis have discovered a few genes that extend lifespan, suggesting that the whole family of SIR2 genes is involved in controlling lifespan. The findings were reported July 28, 2005 in the advance online edition of Science.
Male Pattern Baldness $19 Researchers at McGill University, King’s College London and GlaxoSmithKline Inc. have identified two genetic variants in Caucasians that together produce an astounding sevenfold increase of the risk of male pattern baldness. Their results were published in the October 12, 2008 issue of the Journal of Nature Genetics.
Monoamine Oxidase A (Warrior Gene) $49.50 The Warrior Gene is a variant of the gene MAO-A on the X chromosome. Recent studies have linked the Warrior Gene to increased risk-taking and aggressive behavior. Whether in sports, business, or other activities, scientists found that individuals with the Warrior Gene variant were more likely to be combative than those with the normal MAO-A gene. However, human behavior is complex and influenced by many factors, including genetics and our environment. Individuals with the Warrior Gene are not necessarily more aggressive, but according to scientific studies, are more likely to be aggressive than those without the Warrior Gene variant. This test is available for both men and women, however, there is limited research about the Warrior Gene variant amongst females. Additional details about the Warrior Gene genetic variant of MAO-A can be found in Sabol et al, 1998.
Muscle Performance $29 A team of researchers, led by scientists at Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth College, have identified and tested a gene that dramatically alters both muscle metabolism and performance. The researchers say that this finding could someday lead to treatment of muscle diseases, including helping the elderly who suffer from muscle deterioration and improving muscle performance in endurance athletes.
Nicotine Dependence $19 In 2008, University of Virginia Health System researchers have identified a gene associated with nicotine dependence in both Europeans and African Americans.

Many people are interested in the Warrior Gene, which I wrote about here.

At Promethease, traits are simply included with the rest of the conditions known to be associated with certain SNPs, such as baldness, for example, but I haven’t done a comparison to see which traits are included.

 

Additional Vendor Information to Consider

Before making your final decision about which test or tests to purchase, there are a few additional factors you may want to consider.

As mentioned before, Ancestry requires a subscription in addition to the cost of the DNA test for the DNA test to be fully functional.

One of the biggest issues, in my opinion, is that both 23andMe and Ancestry sell customer’s anonymized DNA information to unknown others. Every customer authorizes the sale of their information when they purchase or activate a kit – even though very few people actually take the time to read the Terms and Conditions, Privacy statements and Security documents, including any and all links. This means most people don’t realize they are authorizing the sale of their DNA.

At both 23andMe and Ancestry, you can ALSO opt in for additional non-anonymized research or sale of your DNA, which you can later opt out of. However, you cannot opt out of the lower level sale of your anonymized DNA without removing your results from the data base and asking for your sample to be destroyed. They do tell you this, but it’s very buried in the fine print at both companies. You can read more here.

Family Tree DNA does not sell your DNA or information.

All vendors can change their terms and conditions at any time. Consumers should always thoroughly read the terms and conditions including anything having to do with privacy for any product they purchase, but especially as it relates to DNA testing.

Family Tree DNA archives your DNA for later testing, which has proven extremely beneficial when a family member has passed away and a new test is subsequently introduced or the family wants to upgrade a current test.  Had my mother’s DNA not been archived at Family Tree DNA, I would not have Family Finder results for her today – something I thank Mother and Family Tree DNA for every single day.

Family Tree DNA also accepts transfer files from 23andMe, Ancestry and very shortly, MyHeritage – although some versions work better than others. For details on which companies accept which file versions, from which vendors, and why, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

If you tested on a compatible version of the 23andMe Test (V3 between December 2010 and November 2013) or the Ancestry V1 (before May 2016) you may want to transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA for free and pay only $19 for full functionality, as opposed to taking the Family Finder test. Family Tree DNA does accept later versions of files from 23andMe and Ancestry, but you will receive more matches if you test on the same chip platform that Family Tree DNA utilizes instead of doing a transfer.

Additional Vendor Considerations Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Subscription required in addition to cost of DNA test No Yes for full functionality, partial functionality is included without subscription, minimum subscription is $49 by calling Ancestry No
Customer Support Good and available Available, nice but often not knowledgeable about DNA Poor
Sells customer DNA information No Yes Yes
DNA raw data file available to download Yes Yes Yes
DNA matches file available to download including match info and chromosome match locations Yes No Yes
Customers genealogically focused Yes Yes Many No
Accepts DNA raw data transfer files from other companies Yes, most, see article for specifics No No
DNA archived for later testing Yes, 25 years No No
Beneficiary provision available Yes No No

 

Which Test is Best For You?

I hope you now know the answer as to which DNA test is best for you – or maybe it’s multiple tests for you and other family members too!

DNA testing holds so much promise for genealogy. I hesitate to call DNA testing a miracle tool, but it often is when there are no records. DNA testing works best in conjunction with traditional genealogical research.

There are a lot of tests and options.  The more tests you take, the more people you match. Some people test at multiple vendors or upload their DNA to third party sites like GedMatch, but most don’t. In order to make sure you reach those matches, which may be the match you desperately need, you’ll have to test at the vendor where they tested. Otherwise, they are lost to you. That means, of course, that eventually, if you’re a serious genealogist, you’ll be testing at all 3 vendors.  Don’t forget about Y and mitochondrial tests at Family Tree DNA.

Recruit family members to test and reach out to your matches.  The more you share and learn – the more is revealed about your ancestors. You are, after all, the unique individual that resulted from the combination of all of them!

Update: Vendor prices updated June 22, 2017.

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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

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Genealogy Research

My Son in Vietnam – The Story of Bob and Nahn

Have you ever seen a “birth” announcement for a 48 year old child’s arrival? No? Well, you have now.

nhan-birth

Meet Nahn, son of Bob Thedford. You see, Bob never knew that Nahn existed, and Nahn didn’t know how to find his father.

For 48 years, Nahn dreamed and Bob had no idea…and then one day…that all changed, thanks to a DNA test at Family Tree DNA.

I became peripherally involved in Bob and Nahn’s story in 2013 when Bob’s wife, Louise, contacted me, in shock.

Bob, Nahn and Louise’s story is a bittersweet mix of sorrow and joy. I want to let Louise tell the story. After Nahn’s discovery, Louise created a document chronicling what happened so she didn’t have to write the same information over and over again to various people who wanted to know “what happened.”

Bob’s DNA Story

I want to relate a DNA story that happen in our family that added an unexpected branch to our family tree.

I took my first mtDNA test with Family Tree DNA in early 2006 and received my mitochondrial results in June 2006. In July 2010, I received results from a Family Finder DNA test. Then in March of 2012, I received results mt Full Sequence test.

When I was ordering my mt Full Sequence upgrade, I mentioned to my husband what I was doing. He said, “I want to take a DNA test. Can you order me a kit?”  So I placed an order for him for a Family Finder kit. We both received our results in March of 2012. At that time we had no idea of the life changing experience that was in store for us.

A few months later I ordered a kit for my son, our daughter and Bob’s mother. It was worked out between all of us that I would be the administrator of all kits. Checking on matches, following up on e-mails, contacting matchings. Anything that needed to be done to connect with distant cousins.

In September of 2013 we discovered that my husband had a Skin Cancer. It was caught in the early stages and we had hope that with proper treatment he could be cured.

Toward the end of September 2013, I went on-line to check all the FTDNA profiles for new matches. I have to login into each profile one at a time.

I would always check my profile first. On this night I has a few new matches but nothing that really caught my eye at the time.

Next I logged into my husband’s profile. He had a new match near the top of his match list just under our daughter and his mother.  I sat there and stared at the screen for a couple of minutes trying to comprehend what I was seeing.

The name on the screen was one I had never heard in the past. But the shared centiMorgans between my husband and this person was in the parent / child relationship range.

Our daughter shared 3,380 centiMorgans with her father. And this person shared 3,384 centiMorgans with my husband. I kept staring at the screen and the thought that was running through my head, the lab has made a mistake!!

nhan-match

I decided to contact Roberta Estes who writes a DNA Blog.  I explained to Roberta my findings. I said, “I think I already know the answer, but could there be a mistake by FTDNA in interpreting Vo Hun Nhan’s results?”

Her reply to me was, “I have never seen the lab make a mistake of the kind it would take for this to be in error.  Having said that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, but the entire process is automated via the tag on the vials.  I can’t even imagine how it would happen.”

I had checked our daughter and my mother-in-law’s profile, finding the same name with large amounts of matching centiMorgans. I began to think that the lab had not made a mistake.

After lot of investigation and e-mails to several people, we confirmed that Vo Huu Nhan is my husband’s 48 year old biological son. Without the DNA test we would never know of his existence. My husband had no idea that he had a son.

On October, 15, 2013, Bob reached out to Nahn’s contact, asking how to contact Nahn. Bob served in the Vietnam War from March 1968 to March 1969. Nhan was born in August 1969.

After my husband returned to the States he had 8 months left on his tour of duty. He was sent to Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama to finish out his tour. Huntsville is my home and that is where we first came to know each other.

Bob’s tour of duty was over in December 1969 and he returned back home to Fort Worth, Texas. It was not long after he returned back to Texas, that me and my 5 year old son moved to Fort Worth.

Four days after Bob reached out to Nahn’s contact, we received this letter about what Nahn said when he was told that they had found his father.

“I just received a message from Nhan’s best friend (Son Tran who introduced Nhan to me and asked me to give Nhan a chance to have a DNA test) that Nhan was very happy about the news… He said that “he would not be happier if someone gave him a million dollar than give him a father!!”

The results of the DNA test were bittersweet. All of the family was overly excited to have found Nhan but were sad to find out that for all these years we did not know of his existence. Nhan lives in South Vietnam in the Mekong Delta, he doesn’t speak English and does not own a computer.

All Nhan had been told about his father was that he was an American G.I. and his name was Bob. That was after he came home crying and asking his grandmother “Why the kid’s made fun of him and why did he look different compared to everyone else.” He looks more like Bob’s father than looks like Bob. Another thing we couldn’t deny after seeing a picture of him.

How Nhan came to know about the DNA test was through a childhood friend that lives in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). His friend Dang Van Son had heard that DNA kits were being brought to Saigon and that they were looking for “Children Left Behind” to come and take the test.

nhan-with-friend

Nahn and his friend, Son, in Vietnam. Son arranged for Nahn’s DNA test.

Son contacted Nhan and told him he should come and take the test. They only had 80 test kits to go around. I don’t know how many came for the test but Nhan was able to be tested.

After we confirmed that all was legit. Son began to e-mail us and send pictures of Nhan and his family as well as send messages from Nhan.  Nhan has 5 children, 1 son and 4 daughters.

nhan-with-children

Nahn has 3 grand-children by two daughters. This added 9 new family members to my Family Tree. Nhan has been married twice. One marriage ended in divorce and his second wife died of liver cancer about 2008.

Nhan had several jobs in Vietnam so I was told by his friend Son. Porter in market, rescue diver, worked on a floating market boat.

nhan-working

On Christmas morning of 2013 we received a call from Vietnam. It was Nhan calling to wish us a Merry Christmas. His friend Son’s daughter translated. Then we received an e-mail picture of the family. We were able to Skype with him one time before my husband passed away.

In 2014, Louise and Bob discovered how difficult Nahn’s life had been. Nahn’s friend, Son, sent them the following:

nhan-letter-2

You can learn about the lives of mixed American and Vietnamese children in this YouTube video, along with information about Trista Goldberg who founded Operation Reunite and partnered with Family Tree DNA to reunite these families.

Louise continues:

On April 17, 2015 before Bob passed away a few days later on April 26, the Washington Post published an article “Legacies of War” Forty years after the fall of Saigon, soldiers’ children are still left behind. They profiled 5 children still looking for their father’s. The lead story was about my husband and Nhan.

There is a picture in the article where they are sitting in front of the computer. The reporter is Skyping with our daughter Amanda for the story. That is Amanda on the screen. The second story is about Nhan’s childhood friend Dang Van Son that has been such a help to us and Nhan with keeping us in touch with each other.

nhan-skyping

Amanda and Nahn Skyping.

On the day Bob passed away, our local paper, the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s front page story was the story about my husband and Nhan from the Washington Post, Legacies of war connect Vietnam, Tarrant County.

It was so surreal to be walking to the coffee shop and pass all the newspaper’s boxes and see Bob and Nhan’s picture in the window of the boxes. Bob was in hospice at the hospital and we knew it was a matter of time, and shortly he would not be with us anymore.

By the time these articles were published my husband was to the point of non-communication. The Washington Post had wanted to Skype with me and Bob but it was not possible. Bob passed away on Sunday night, April 26, 2015.

I knew that Bob was critically ill, then Louise informed me that Bob had passed away. I was just heartsick that Bob and Nhan never had the opportunity to meet in person. It seemed that a dream for both Bob and Nahn, so close, finally within reach, had just slipped away. I thought, at that time, that this was the end of the story, and certainly not the ending any of us wanted – but it wasn’t the end after all.

Twenty-one months later, I heard from Louise again, this time with very unexpected news.

A Visa for Nahn

Again, from Louise:

In October of 2015 we received an e-mail from Trista Goldburg the person with “Operation Reunite” who bought kits from Family Tree DNA and took them to Saigon for testing.

She had received an e-mail from Franc Shelton, Country Fraud Prevention Coordinator, Mission Vietnam FPU, U.S. Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Dear Trista,

I hope you are well.  I would like to  encourage you to reach out to the family of Robert Thedford and urge the daughter of Mr. Thedford to consider undergoing another DNA collection, and to pay for a collection here at the consulate for Mr. Vo, at one of the approved labs from the list I sent you.

We just had a case in which we were able to close out because the parties involved proceeded in the manner which I discussed with you—in that case, the American father is practically indigent, but fortunately there were Viet Khieu benefactors in California who generously paid for the testing.  I moved that case to the front of the line and expedited all our procedures-we collected the alleged son’s sample here on 30 September and had the results back 2 weeks later (99.99%).  I hand-carried the results to the immigrant visa unit and strongly encouraged them to expedite their own processes (I have no control over that however).

Amanda was going to take a second test and we would pay for the test. The lab closest on the AABB Accredited Relationship (DNA) Testing Facilities list was, University of North Texas, Fort Worth, Texas.

When Amanda contacted them she was told they no longer did DNA testing. She replied back to Trista and let her know what she found. There were a few more letters exchanged. Amanda never did take a second test. We did not hear anything more for several months until July of this year when we received and e-mail from Nhan with a copy of his and his daughters Immigration Visa’s.

Nahn’s Letters

I have to share with you two letters Nhan sent to me. I feel sure his friend Son wrote the letter as Nhan dictated them. They are so sweet.

DEAR  MU USA  MUM,

ALLOW  ME  TO CALL    YOU  AS  MY USA  MUM.

IAM HAPPY THAT I HAVE  TWO  MUM  IN THE WORLD

  1. USA  MUM,
  2. VIETNAMSE MUM,

HAVE  GOOD MORNING MY USA MUM.

MAY GOD BLESS US

MY WARMEST REGARDS  TO YOU AND THE FAMILY,

STEP SON OF  LOVED HUSBAND  OF YOU.

VO HUU  NHAN.

1/JULY 2016 DEAR  MY USA MOTHER,

And another letter.

I DO  THANK  TO EVERY-ONE  WHO HELPED  ME  IN DNA  TESTING RESULLT,  AND BASING ON DNA TEST RESULT  I  KNOW  YOUR HUSBAND  IS  MY  BIOLOGCAL FATHER,

  DEAR  MY USA  MOTHER WITH YOUR  HELP  TODAY  I   WILL  OWN  FOR EVERYTHING YOU HAVE DONE  TO HELP ME,

I WILL  WORK  TO BE COME  AN US CITIZEN AS SOON AS I CAN,

I ALWAYS  AM  PROUD  OF MY US FATHER

I PRAY FOR HIM  DAILY   AND NOW HE HAS HIS LIFE  ON THE HEAVEN IT IS  THE BEST LIFE FOR HIS SOUL

AND I THINK HIS SOUL  ALWAYS  SHOW ME  THE WAY TO GO TO ——–

THANK   US MOTHER!

APPLICANT: VO HUU  NHAN

 11/JULY/2016

A Christmas Surprise

As these events unfolded, I was pulling for Louise and Bob, and rooting for Nahn, but without understanding the immigration process, there was little I could do to help. In fact, I didn’t think there was much anyone could do to help Nahn.

When Louise’s update e-mail arrived a few days after Christmas in 2016, it was with pictures – of Nahn – here – with her in the US. I was amazed, to put it mildly. A miracle had happened.

nhan-with-louise

Nahn and his American Mom, Louise

Not only that, but Nahn arrived with his mother and his youngest daughter – and not just to visit, but to live in the US permanently.

nhan-mother-daughter

Nahn, his Vietnamese mother and daughter in Texas, a few days after arrival, visiting Louise.

I asked Louise how Nahn’s arrival felt, for her and Amanda, given that Bob was gone and had so much wanted to meet Nahn. In a very real way, they were living Bob’s dream for him.

Yes it was a bittersweet reunion without Bob being here to enjoy it with us. Our daughter, Amanda, was excited about the meeting. She is my and Bob’s only child and now she has two half brothers.

nhan-with-amanda

Nahn and Amanda, half-siblings, meeting for the first time in Texas.  I love their smiles.  They look so happy!

Amanda has lived such a different life than Nhan. Nothing extravagant, her father has a hard-working police officer and worked a second part time job for 23 years to allow me to stay home with Amanda. Amanda earned her own way through college, but had so many more opportunities than Nahn. It’s so sad that Bob never knew Nahn existed.

Nhan has been able to prove he has an American father. Nhan, his youngest daughter, 12 year’s old, and his mother have been granted immigration visa’s. Nhan, his mother and daughter arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Tuesday night December 20th, 2016, thirty-six hours after leaving Vietnam.

I thought that Nahn and his family came for a visit, but that’s not the case, according to Louise.

My understanding is that Nhan, his mother and daughter plan to make Texas their new home. Currently they are living in Dallas, which is an hour or so from where I live. I am in contact with their Refugee Resettlement Case Worker at Refugee Services of Texas.

The case worker told me the night they arrived it was very cold, they came with one small bag of clothes and the clothes they had on. Clearly they weren’t prepared for winter. The next day, helping them settle in, she took them to a Walmart and said they walked in and their eyes got big and they said “WOW”!!!!!!!!!

Their case worker said her next goal is to help Nahn find a job. She will also help him learn how to ride a bus for transportation.

Nahn and his family have so many obstacles to overcome living here. The major one is the language barrier. None of them know any English except “Thank You, Hello” and “WOW” although they are already taking English classes.

nhan-with-daughter

Nahn and his daughter – their first Christmas in Texas, a few days after arrival.

In many ways, Nahn, his mother and daughter represent the journey of so many of our ancestors who arrived with the hope of making better lives for themselves and their children. They too arrived without knowing the language and with few, if any, belongings. The difference is that they often arrived in a group of other immigrants from the same country – so they had extended family and help – and others who could speak the language. Nahn and his small family arrived in a group of just 3.

I can only think how difficult the life they left must have been to warrant this kind of foray, really a leap of incredible faith, into an totally unknown world where an entirely uncertain future is more attractive than one’s current life. Nahn, his mother and daughter are incredibly brave. At some level, they must certainly be unspeakably frightened too.

I would be terrified, wondering how I would eat, how I would live, where I would live and would I be able to find work to provide for myself, my mother and a daughter with special needs.

One thing is for sure, Bob would be busting-the-buttons-off-his-shirt proud of Nhan.

How to Help

Knowing my blog readers, I know your next question will be how you can help Nahn and his family. I’m not sure what they will need from day to day, and what has already been taken care of. Please feel free to contact Nhan’s case worker, below, if you know of a job or want to help in another way.

Kate Beamon at Refugee Services of Texas
9696 Skillman, Suite 320 Dallas, TX 75243

Phone, (214) 821-4883
e-mail, kbeamon@rstx.org
http://www.rstx.org/about-us.html

Acknowledgements

A heartfelt thank you to Louise for sharing this very personal story of her family’s journey.

Louise conveys a special thank you from her family to Bennett Greenspan at Family Tree DNA.

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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.

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Genealogy Research

Looking for and Contacting Birth Family Members

When I ran the article title DNA Testing Strategy for Adoptees and People with Uncertain Parentage, one commenter asked how one goes about putting together the pieces of the puzzle, and then how does one go about making contact?  What do you do, or say, to increase your likelihood of being successful?

I am probably the all-time worst person to answer this question, because I intensely dislike telephone conversations and especially in awkward situations.  My family has had a few of those awkward parentage situations, mostly having to do with my father and grandfather, both “ladies men,” and I’ve been both rejected and hung up on more than once – so you don’t want advice from me on this topic.

I turned to someone with a track record of success – not only in terms of putting together the convincing evidence about the missing parent – but in terms of preparation for contact, approach and actually making the contact.

Diane Harman-Hoog, with www.dnaadoption.com was kind enough to write this article.

DNAadoption page

Diane works with adoptees and others seeking their biological parents every day.  She is a retired technology professional, so transitioning her skills to a genetic genealogy puzzle was the perfect fit for Diane.  In addition to working with a team who has developed the specific search techniques, sometimes in spite of some of the vendors we have to work with, Diane has created an educational venue and teaches others the techniques and how to help themselves.

Diane is summing up a significant process here, in just a few paragraphs.  If you’d like to know more about these techniques, please visit www.dnaadoption.com and take a look at their class offerings.

Many people call Diane and the people at DNAAdoption search angels – that’s because they truly are.  Not only are they reuniting families, when the family wants to be reunited – but Diane and her team are providing the adoptee with a history, something they have never had.  Thank you so much Diane – for this article and for everything that you and the folks at DNAadoption do.

From Diane Harman-Hoog

We at DNAadoption are having a great deal of success with reuniting birth family members with adoptees and with others who have lost track of a father, for example.

One of the first things an adoptee should do is try to get their non-identifying birth information, if available, through their adoption agency.  Many times this alone can be used in a traditional search even without DNA.  If they have non-id that is older than 5 years, we recommend they apply for an update. We at www.DNAAdoption.com can help if they don’t know how to go about this process.

The DNA Search Process

The world was a lot easier before Ancestry decided to ignore what we all felt were hard and fast principles of the search – meaning providing the tester with chromosome match information – the chromosome number and start and stop locations of matching DNA. We collected chromosome data and “In Common With” genealogy data, ran them through our programs with resulting spreadsheets that group overlapping DNA into sets and then noted which people in that set were ICW with others in the set.

A definition or two is in order here. I prefer to tell students that ICW means blood related. Overlapping means any part of the chromosome segments that overlap, they do not have to be the same length.

Identification by Triangulation

We can have two people with starting and ending addresses on a particular chromosome which makes us think that they received the segment from the same ancestor. However, nature plays a little joke with us on that part, because there are two sides to the chromosome and each side has the same address sequence. On one side, the addresses increase going one way and on the other side, they increase going the other way.

When we identify people who look like they have overlapping chromosomes then if they are blood related with each other, then the segments came from the same ancestor. The very small segments are probably not indicative of family heredity but are environmentally caused genetic strings.

I use this example of blood related. You are blood related (ICW) with all your matches as you are the very bottom of the relationships and related to both sides. You maternal grandmother is probably not blood related or ICW with your paternal grandfather. In most cases, they come from different families.

In general, the longer the segment the closer the relationship, but when the prediction is closer than second cousins, we start to look at the total of all the segments over about 6 cM (centimorgans) that overlap.

Then we look for common ancestors using the trees of those two individuals. Next is triangulation where three people match on the same segment. That is because every one of your matches overlaps with your DNA segments and is always ICW with you. So two plus one gives us the three to triangulate.

In order to look for common ancestors on the trees, you need 3 things:

    • Overlapping DNA segments
    • ICW status between the same individuals
    • And some tree information from each party.

Expanding trees

We get as much of the tree that we can for each person and then we have to go to work expanding the existing tree. First the tree must go up in the traditional genealogical manner, you, your parents, your grandparents etc. You also treat any matching person the same way so you get a normal looking genealogical tree. If this is a 2nd cousin match, take the tree back to at least 3 generations past the great grandparents.

Then comes the really tedious part. You come back down the tree identifying all the offspring and all of their offspring down to the years where you would expect the grandparent or other unidentified person to be living. As you go down the tree (towards the present), you must also add each spouse for each of the offspring and go up their ancestry a ways to see if they might also be related. By the time you get down to the actual candidate of the father, you would hope to find that both his mother and father are related to DNA matches of yours.

The difficulty often comes from two directions, incomplete trees that you just cannot fill in and completing the most recent generations. At that point we have to rely on Google searches and obituaries to make the final identifications.

In essence, the DNA identifies who you are related to, triangulation identifies groups of people who share a common ancestor, and their trees will lead you to the identification of both that common ancestor and hopefully, your parent.

If this is a little sketchy, the full course takes 4 weeks and I am trying to summarize it here. Some searches only take a tree or two but I have also done ones that took 200 trees (and five years).

Ancestry

Then Ancestry came along and is refusing to give us the chromosome numbers. This is particularly bad for adoptees who rely upon those numbers to confirm or deny the relationships.

So we deal with it in this manner. We have a DNA software Client for ancestry called DNAGedcom from the DNAGedcom site. It reads your Ancestry DNA account and generates a match list of all your matches and an ancestors list of all the ancestors of those matches. A more recent addition is also an ICW list to show us which matches are ICW with which other matches.

Gedmatch

Whenever possible do everything you can to encourage these matches to download onto Gedmatch.

Another trick, after you transfer the kits to Gedmatch, is to use the report on Gedmatch, named “People who match one or both of 2 kits”. This report takes the gedmatch # of two individuals and measures them against each other. If I run it against my brother, Ken, and my maternal cousin, Jon, I will get three different lists. The first list is of kits that both Jon and Ken match. Since our mother and Jon’s mother are sisters, then we can assume that these are maternal matches for both Jon and Ken. The second list shows kits that only Jon matches, that would be from his father’s side of the family and the third list shows only kits that Ken matches so that would be cousins that Ken matches who are not maternal but from our father’s side.

It must be understood that using DNA analysis is not an exact science but a learned art as DNA inheritance can be capricious. We are working with probabilities and averages here. We cannot say that there are 169 cM of DNA shared, so the match is a second cousin, but rather, the match might be a second cousin.

Now we play the odds. We match ancestors from the ancestors list and as a start call them Common Ancestors.  So if both Ancestry trees have Pierre LeBlanc born in 1769  in Louisiana and both Pierre’s have the same parents we call them common ancestors until proven otherwise. The odds are actually fairly high if the two families are ICW with each other.

We cannot just say that a child of Pierre LeBlanc is absolutely in Jon’s direct line but we will expand the trees and trace individuals down. If they eventually start lining up with other DNA match descendants we will accept that it is direct line. However, of course NPEs are always a concern and there is no way to completely protect from that eventuality.

phone

Contact Time

As you continue the search now, with live people, do not use the word “adoption” until you are certain of the relationship with the person you are speaking to. This includes people like a librarian, as well as possible relatives. Some people feel strongly about not assisting adoptees in finding a birth family. One of my clients let it slip to a first cousin. That was the end of the relationship. We really needed information that cousin had.

So now we have built trees down and have three males who were in the correct vicinity at the correct time for conception. Each of these males has one line descending from a DNA match, but only one has the other parent also descending from a DNA match!

Our tree has developed to include possible common ancestors from all three tests and gedmatch.

We try to obtain up-to-date contact information which in these days of cell phones is harder to get than it used to be.

The only person we encourage to make contact is the adoptee or another birth family member who is looking. None of us will do it for them. If contact is refused then at least they have talked to the person once.

Whether we are down to the exact level or perhaps only to a cousin or aunt or uncle, we advise proceeding with caution. We advise the contact to be made on the basis of DNA information and asking for help with a family tree. A lot of detective work goes on before a phone call is made to confirm the suspicions – at least as much as possible. We check where people were at that time, or did a woman have a child born at a time that would mean that this child could not have been hers. What was their life like?  Do most facts line up with the non-ID information? It is possible that the non-ID is fictional but we assume that most of it is right until we prove otherwise.

Making the Call

If a man is calling the person we are pretty sure is his birth mother, the conversation will go something like this. ”I am looking to fill in some members of my family tree and DNA testing shows that we might be related. I am quite sure I am related to the Woolworth line from talking to other matches. I want to be sure you have my contact information in case you think of something that might help me after we talk, email is –, my phone number is –. I was born on October 1, 1963 in Syracuse NY. Does that mean anything to you?  (Hoping for a positive indication.) Yes I was adopted, My adoption papers are hard to read, but my birth name might have been Dennis. The state has given me a little information about my birth mother, she was 26 and in secretarial school. Her mother was 56 and her father deceased. She had a sister and two brothers.”

Hopefully by then she is in tears.  Most birth mothers have been praying to be found. If she is unhappy then he should give her some time. He has provided contact information for himself. Also he should send her a little card afterward, thanking her for her time and provide a picture of himself and his family, along with his contact information.

Good luck to you all.

Diane Harman-Hoog

You can contact Diane at harmanhoog@gmail.com

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

How They Found the Real Benjamin Kyle

Benjamin Kyle 2010

The genetic genealogy community let out a simultaneous whoop for joy last week at the news that the identity of Benjamin Kyle had finally been found. At long last, the “man with no name” finally has a name – a real name – not a temporary name.

In case you’re not familiar, the man known as Benjamin Kyle was found beaten, stripped naked and left for dead behind a trash dumpster in 2004 in Richmond Hill, Georgia, outside Savannah.  He remembered nothing….nothing at all.  Not how he got there, not what happened, and not who he was.  His life became a living hell, because you not only can’t work, you can’t get any services, not even a bed in a homeless shelter, without being able to prove you are.  Surprised?  So was I.

Benjamin did remember snippets from time to time.  He remembered what he believed to be his birthday, 10 years to the day before Michael Jackson, and he remembered that he was Catholic.  He remembered landmarks in Indianapolis, Indiana as a child and some things from Colorado, but not much more.  He thought his first name might be Benjamin.

In 2008 Benjamin Kyle appeared on the Dr. Phil show, and in 2011, a documentary was produced about his plight.  Through this and other media coverage, his situation became known in the genetic genealogy community.  DNA testing commenced thanks to Family Tree DNA, and this saga culminated last week with the announcement that Benjamin’s identity has been found…along with his family…and yes…in Indiana.

Who accomplished this feat?  It wasn’t the police, as one might expect.  In fact, it is a little known group of “search angels” with www.DNAadoption.com, a nonprofit group that helps adoptees and others with unknown parentage find their roots through a combination of DNA testing and assembling the family trees of those whom they match, narrowing the search for their own family.  It’s a long tedious process, but it’s doable, and the DNAadoption volunteers developed and documented the methodology for success.

But hey, let’s listen as Diane Harman-Hoog tell this story herself in her article, Our Greatest Challenge.  After all, it’s their story, their victory – Diane along with the other search angels, and of course a victory for Benjamin Kyle too.  And for the inquiring minds who want to know exactly how the researchers accomplished this incredible feat….Diane shares the methodology!

Congratulations to all of the researchers and genetic genealogists involved in the search and discovery of the true identity of Benjamin Kyle.  I must say, in all of the footage I’ve seen of Benjamin, the video in the news article announcing the discovery of his identity is the first time I’ve ever seen him smiling and he looks genuinely happy!  It must have been an incredible day for Benjamin – like a second birth in one lifetime.  The gift of his life returned.

The folks at www.dnaadoption.com truly are angels.  Amazingly skilled, dedicated, devoted angels.  I’m positive that Benjamin Kyle would agree.  I do believe in the process of finding his original family that he has found a new family of genealogists too!

angel family

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

 

“Where do I come from?”

This is a true story, one of inspiration and hope, especially for adoptees or those seeking the identity of a parent.

I’ve been honored to be allowed to be a bystander, sometimes a coach, and often a cheerleader for my friend Mark…who…by the way, appears to be a distant cousin…although we don’t have the details figured out.  You know how us southerners are…we’re kin to everyone…as Mark is discovering.

After returning from the amazing experience of meeting his birth family members for the first time, he shared the latest chapter in his journey with me…and I’ve asked him to share it with you.  It’s beautiful and wonderful and let’s face it…finding family is the holy grail for us seekers.

Let me introduce you to guest author Mark and he’ll be telling you his story from this point on in his own words.

Mark

“Where do I come from?”

It’s a question everyone engaged in genealogy asks, but for those of us who are adoptees it has much more meaning.

I never asked my parents the question, although they had told me at a very early age that I was adopted. When I was young it was, “Oh, okay, what’s for lunch?”

They were already in their forties when they adopted me at birth right out of the hospital in Miami, and they never had another child. I was it, and kind of spoiled as a result. They were devoted to me and I to them, so while curious of my origins as I grew older, I never broached the subject for fear it might cause anguish or at least concern. I never wanted them to think I saw them as anything less than my real parents. For they were, always have been and always will be. I miss them very much.

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Still, the question lingered. Who am I?  Where did I come from?

I remember asking my aunt, actually my mother’s first cousin who lived in New York. She said I was Irish, probably because I resembled some of her Irish neighbors in Far Rockaway.

As a kid, I thought I was German since I kind of looked German and always wound up playing the German in soldier games and while terrible at French in school, excelled at German – little did I know.

I did know my ethnic heritage was not that of my parents – I didn’t look like them at all. As a child, my born-in-Russia grandmother would parade me down the boardwalk to meet her old friends. “Dat’s your grandzohn?” they would exclaim in obvious incredulity.

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Heritage and Health

Later, as an adult after my parents had passed, I began reading about genetics and how some diseases are inherited to varying degrees. It made me again think of the question and wonder if I could obtain genetic information that would answer the basic heritage question and the health question without necessarily finding a birth family. I saw no need to meet or contact my birth mother and cause anguish there.

So when I heard about National Geographic’s Genographic Project, I ordered the test right away. This was 10 years ago – boy, how time flies!

I’m sure everyone has experienced the thrill of receiving their first DNA results – I sure did. It came in a nice little package with a Certificate of Y-chromosome DNA Testing, which I still have, showing my haplogroup, R1b, and twelve short tandem repeat results. I had no clue what it all meant, but included was a nice map of the world showing that I came from – (drum roll) – Europe. Duh, that didn’t take rocket science to figure out, but genetic genealogy, or rather population genetics was still in its infancy.

Bitten by the Bug

Of course I wanted more, to know what those numbers stood for and what else I could find out. I was bitten by the DNA test bug and haven’t stopped.

I uploaded the results to Family Tree DNA, the lab that processed the Genographic results, to obtain what they then called Recent Ethnic Origins. This showed my closest matches at 12 STRs by country. I had three exact matches!

I thought I had found the answer – I was Scottish!  And two of the three were named MacGregor; I was a MacGregor! I started going to Scottish Festivals and Highland Games; bought the tartan tie and everything.

Mark Macgregor

Then I found out that 12 STRs doesn’t really tell you anything, even exact matches – you need to test 25, 37, 67 and on and on. I upgraded my markers,  contacted the MacGregor project administrator and received his reply, “Sorry, your STRs don’t match the MacGregor haplotype”

I was devastated, especially after spending money on MacGregor tchotchkes. I guess old man MacGregor has his own haplotype and to be a MacGregor you had to match his. So I tested at 25 and 37 and later at 67. No exact or even close matches at all – the MacGregors disappeared. I was left again without heritage.

I took more tests – Deep Clade and later Big Y for the Y-DNA and the full sequence for mtDNA. I now was R1b1b2a1b with a terminal SNP of L147.3, and H1ad on mtDNA, again simply European.

I shared a terminal Y-SNP with only one other gentleman. We were able to contact each other through the L176.2/SRY2627 project administrator and compare notes. Our STRs were not even close; he had estimated our MRCA at 500-1000 AD. He had traced his own paternal line to Northern Ireland and the Ulster Plantation, and probably back from there to the Borders area of England/Scotland. My Y-DNA could have come from anywhere in Western Europe.

Family Finder

I took the Family Finder test and again it showed European, western European with the largest percentage Orcadian

What the heck was Orcadian? Of course I had to look it up – people from the Orkneys. Well, we’re getting closer but how could they be that precise? It’s a tiny group of islands with a small population? Come to find out that FTDNA used data from the Human Genome Diversity Project that had as its only sample from the British Isles a handful of DNA tests from the Orkneys. Not much precision there! My DNA was simply closer to people from the Orkneys than say Upper Sandusky.

I also received, as one does with Family Finder, a list of cousin matches. Now we’re getting somewhere, as I have to date 102 pages of matches, 7 pages at the 2nd to 4th cousin range. I thought I might find a pattern, like a group of those closest with the same surname, say MacGregor (out of spite).

But no, the names didn’t follow any pattern; my closest match had a German name but those following were not German. A few were even French-sounding; the horror!

My closest match emailed me to inquire about my pedigree. As I had done previously with a MacGregor match who had contacted me from Australia of all places, my response was that as an adoptee I had no information on my birth family, and unless they were aware of a female family member placing her newborn for adoption in Miami in 1952, I would not be of any help, sorry.

23andMe

I also tested with 23andMe and found their most recent Ancestry Origins test to be the most informative. I was still 99.3% European, but the breakdown had more detail and the sampling was of better quality. It even showed I had 1/2 of 1% Native American; now that’s interesting!

23andMe’s DNA Relatives lists 922 pages of cousin matches, many, including my four closest, without names or contact information, except the ability to send an introduction. Again of course there was no pattern.

The fifth closest match, a 3rd to 5th cousin, contacted me with the usual question. We exchanged emails but she couldn’t figure out how we related. My four closest matches never responded to an introduction.

But now at least I had some genetic health information. (This was before the FDA took that off market.) It was fascinating, how I had a .045 increased risk of this and .128 reduced risk of that. Nothing truly frightening, thank heavens.

Non-Identifying Information for Adoptees

Around this time, I became aware that the State of Florida made available “non-identifying information” for adoptees. This was perfect! I wasn’t looking to identify my birth mother, but to determine my heritage and any hereditary health issues. So I requested what they could provide, knowing that adoption records are otherwise sealed and unavailable except in medical emergencies.

A few weeks later I received a 2-page letter from the Florida Adoption Reunion Registry. This was in December 2010. It provided exactly what I was looking for, and much more. It said that my birth mother was born in the summer of 1920 in a Southern state, so she’d be over 90 at that time, if alive.

It described her features and that she worked as a waitress. It stated that she had come to Miami to live with her mother when she discovered her pregnancy, and that her mother was 52 at the time of my birth; so that her mother was born around 1900.

She reported that both her mother and father were Protestant and of Irish descent, that her father had died in 1929 and at the time was separated from her mother.

She also reported that she had two brothers, one with children and had had a sister who passed away. She said that her mother remarried and was separated from her second husband, and that her father, my birth grandfather, had been a farmer of English and Irish descent.

This was what I was looking for and more closely matched with my DNA results. I concluded she was describing a Scots-Irish heritage when she mentioned both Protestant and Irish together.

She also described my putative birth father, which came as much more of a surprise, if accurate. He was allegedly French Canadian! So much for the German in me. She said she had known him for only a short time, never intended on marrying him and never told him of her pregnancy. Most importantly, she said she did not know of any serious or communicable (sic) diseases in her family. I took that to mean hereditary diseases.

More Please

This was wonderful information, but it somehow left me wanting to know more. I’m sure as genealogists you all know the feeling.

What Southern state?

What was the background of her father’s parents?

Was there anything more on the birth father’s family?

I was resigned to the fact that this would remain a puzzle. After all, I was just seeking heritage, or was there more to my own feelings? I knew I wouldn’t try to contact my birth mother no matter how much information I had. The last thing I wanted was to give some 90-year old woman a heart attack. But that all remained academic anyway; there was not sufficient information to search for any birth family.

Until…

Ancestry.com

Last year I tested with Ancestry.com to compare what they would show on ethnic heritage with the two other companies.

It did not compare favorably; the percentages for different parts of Europe were way different from the others. It had 13% for Iberia while 23andMe had 2%, and 7% for Scandinavia while 23andMe had 1%. Maybe they realized that the Orkneys were settled by Vikings.

But what took me to the next level of answering “the question” was their Member Matches. At the top of the list was a 2nd cousin match, administered by the next closest match, also a 2nd cousin, her daughter Jeanene. And she had 955 people on her public family tree!

I couldn’t not look – the curiosity was overwhelming.

Besides, my birth mother had in all likelihood passed away by now and there was no perceived danger in contacting 2nd cousins. So I reviewed her family tree and found a possible candidate for birth grandmother, one Beulah Wooten, born in 1900, whose brother Levon was Jeanene’s grandfather. She and her mother would indeed be 2nd cousins if that were the connection. So I signed up for membership with Ancestry and began my own research.

Connecting the Dots to Beulah

I also decided to contact Jeanene.

She was happy to share what information she had on Beulah, including a recently found death certificate from 1957, listed as Beulah Wooten Ellis who had passed away at her home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Intriguingly, the informant was listed as Mrs. Elizabeth Smith. The death certificate included her birth date of December 31, 1900.  It showed she was buried at Browns Gap Cemetery in Trenton, Georgia, just across the state line from Chattanooga.

I found the cemetery listed on Ancestry’s Find-a-Grave and found a gravestone showing both Beulah B. Langston with dates of birth and death matching that of the death certificate, and Eugene G. Langston, with a death date of March 16, 1928; very close to what the letter from the State had indicated.

I began to match up the facts reported in the non-identifying information provided by the State point-by-point with what I discovered in my research. It appeared Beulah married three times, the first to Eugene Langston who indeed turned out to be my birth grandfather, then to a Walter E. Jones with whom she had the two sons my birth mother reported as brothers, and finally to Alvis Ellis.

Beulah was listed with Alvis Ellis in the 1940 Census residing in Miami, Florida. Here was the connection to Miami.

Also buried at Browns Gap Cemetery was her daughter Junice Katherine Langston who was born in 1922 and died in 1937, matching my birth mother’s predeceased sister. While I could not find any birth certificates, one of those types of records Ancestry has so little of, I did find Beulah listed in the 1930 Census living in Chattanooga with her second husband Walter E. Jones, their two sons, and two daughters from her first marriage, Junice and Elizabeth Langston, age 10, and thus born around 1920. Was she the informant on the death certificate, born in 1920? This was the only reference I could find in my Beulah search to who I thought could possibly be my birth mother.

Suggestive, but not proof.

The Thrill of the Chase

Finding this information online was a thrill, and as you all know, one thing leads to another, requiring ever more research. I can easily see how genealogy can become an obsession. I see people on Ancestry who devote many hours a week over many years to it.

My hats off to those of you who have devoted decades before the internet driving from courthouse to courthouse, cemetery to cemetery, obtaining the information for your family trees.

I understand now, as I too have been bitten by the genealogy bug. That makes two bugs I’ve succumbed to.

I also see how some people make mistakes in their family trees, accepting others’ trees at face value without checking for themselves the sources for the information. My background as a retired attorney and former administrative judge leads me to require substantial evidence to support a fact and not simply accept what others have alleged. Which leads me back to Beulah and her daughter Elizabeth.

There was a private family tree on Ancestry that had an Elizabeth Langston listed. I contacted the person with the tree and mentioned the 1930 Census for the Jones household, asking if the Elizabeth Langston listed there was one and the same person. She replied that yes, it was, and was her husband’s grandmother, now deceased.

She stated, “Elizabeth had 3 children, two while married to Gilbert Conner, divorced (died 1955) Evelyn Conner Scott, Glenn Conner, (deceased) and Yvonne Smith while married to Almon Smith divorced (died1967). Married to William Lucas, lived and died in Portland Oregon, she passed away on Nov. 26, 2004. Hope this helps.”

It certainly did. The name Smith matched the informant on Beulah’s death certificate. I tried to contact her again, explaining who I was, but this time there was no response. I imagined my inquiry had caused quite a stir, or possibly she just ignored it fearing the stir it might cause, or perhaps thought I was misrepresenting myself and had other motives.

In any event, one Census report and one unconfirmed private family tree is not enough in my opinion to establish the fact of who my birth mother was. If true, then at least I knew she had passed away and the fear of her learning of the son she given up at birth 62 years before was gone. I still had to confirm her connection to Beulah, so my next step was to obtain a copy of the death certificate from Oregon.

Is Elizabeth Beulah’s Daughter?

You can imagine how anxious and excited I was opening the envelope containing Elizabeth’s death certificate.

That soon turned to joy.

There she was, born July 4, 1920, in Trenton, Georgia; occupation waitress; mother Beulah Langston. I had finished connecting the dots and matching up every fact from the non-identifying information the State of Florida provided with my research.

I had my proof – within a reasonable degree of certainty, as we say. There was still a deceased half-brother and two possibly living half-sisters out there, but my search for genetic heritage had led to finding my birth family, at least confirming Jeanene’s relationship as 2nd cousin through Beulah and her grandfather Levon.

There was simply no one else that matched up to Jeanene and her DNA.

More Than I Ever Expected

As I continued to research the Wooten and Langston lines, I discovered that the size of my new-found birth family was humongous. Beulah was one of 14 children, and some her siblings had equally large families.

The obituary for her father, Jim Frank Wooten, said he had 56 grandchildren! I had a lot of research to do if I were to find every 2nd cousin.

I still had those other close DNA matches to figure out. The closest match at FTDNA turned out to also be a Wooten whose grandmother was a sister to Jim Frank Wooten, my birth great grandfather.

The closest match who responded at 23andMe was related to the Langston line, through marriage to my birth great grandmother, a Williams.

I was thus able to triangulate, if you will, my closest matches at all three companies.

On occasion, I contacted other Ancestry members whose family trees showed promise but weren’t clear. One contact was to the wife of a nephew of an apparent 2nd cousin, one of 13 children of Matthew James Wooten, one of Beulah’s brothers. There was a different first name on her family tree than what I had found in my research. She responded and confirmed they were the same person, her husband’s aunt, and said she would contact her and provide my contact information.

One thing led to another, and I wound up talking with one of Matthew James Wooten’s sons. He, a sister and another cousin were vacationing in Florida, and we agreed to meet.

Of course I came prepared to argue my case before the Supreme Court with all the evidence I had accumulated up to that point. But they took one look at me and decided I was a Wooten after all. I gave them copies of my DNA reports in case others in the family had their doubts.

After all, how does someone pop up after 62 years claiming to be a son of someone who had three husbands and children by two of them?

They confirmed much of what I had found, such as knowing Elizabeth had spent time in Miami. We spent the entire day together talking about the family.

It was, as you can imagine, one of the most memorable, joyful days in my life; meeting family for the first time, one I never knew existed. They were warm and accepting, and I came away grateful I had started this search.

Decoration – A Southern Family Tradition

They told me about Decoration at the family cemetery, held each May in Trenton, Georgia. I knew I’d be attending no matter what.

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Decoration is an apparently Southern tradition I had not known about, one I find very compelling. It moreover serves as a family reunion where everyone gets together for a big feast after cleaning and decorating family headstones. I was able to attend and spent the previous week exploring the area near Chattanooga with its Civil War battlefields.

Of course I wondered how I would be accepted. I needn’t have. In fact, I was kind of an honored guest and welcomed with open hearts and lots of food.

Lots of food, especially deviled eggs.

One cousin remarked that if I had shown up as some skinny little thing they would have had doubts, but seeing I was “full-bodied” I fit right in

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Jeanene attended with her mother (above), as did many of the children of Matthew James Wooten from Virginia, some of whom I had not yet met. The Wooten cousin that was my closest match at FTDNA also attended from Alabama.

There were cousins galore, some 70-80 people at the community center in Trenton, including two first cousins, the daughters of one of Elizabeth’s half-brothers. We exchanged information and agreed to stay in touch.

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I wish I could remember the names of all the cousins I met, but I thought it would be rude to carry around a notebook.

And the old family photos! There was one of my birth mother at an earlier Decoration and several older photos of my birth-grandmother before she passed in 1957. I took several photos of photos with my cellphone.

I now can place a face with a name and keep in contact with cousins I never knew I had.

The Circle

One disappointment though; no one had had any communication for several years with my two possibly living half-sisters, or their families.

The circle was not yet complete, if it ever would be.

People say you can choose friends but not family. This is only partially true. Some of us have a choice when faced with the knowledge that a family exists out there that has no clue of our existence.

I wonder what it would be like to come to know the siblings I might still have.

The ambivalence is profound.

It’s like First Contact with an alien civilization, having found one a few light years from Earth; do we make contact not knowing what the response would be. But we as human beings have this insatiable need to explore the unknown and ask questions and take actions that may be very risky. It’s in our genes, if you will.

I have to ponder this for a while….

Hope Through Genetics

I’d like to thank Roberta for affording me this opportunity of sharing my quest to answer “the question.” I’ve followed her blog for some three years now and have found her own stories of family search truly inspiring, and appreciate her words of encouragement in my search.

We all seek to find out more of where we come from.

Adoptees and others who have lost contact with family now have hope through genetics to find the answer. We all look forward to the day when we can pinpoint where on Earth our ancestors came from. It might even be the Orkneys.

Mark

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