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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

This seems like a good point to reflect a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Wave

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

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

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

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

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

In summary:

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

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

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

The Single Biggest Change

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

Why, you ask?

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

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

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

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

Synergy.

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

Inheritance

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

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

What’s Hot and What’s Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Y DNA – 20 Years and Still Critically Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow, just wow.

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

Mitochondrial DNA – Matrilineal Line of Humankind is Being Rewritten

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

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

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

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

Y and Mitochondrial Resources

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

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

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

Click on images to enlarge

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

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

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

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

CentiMorgans – The Word of Two Decades

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

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

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

Chromosome Browser – Genetics Tool to View Chromosome Matches

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

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

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

Triangulation – Science Plus Group DNA Matching Confirms Genealogy

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve written a lot about triangulation recently.

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

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

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

Clustering Matches and Correlating Trees

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

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

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

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

These articles should get you started with clustering.

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

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

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

Painting DNA Makes Chromosome Browsers and Triangulation Easy

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

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

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

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

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

DNA Matches Plus Trees Enhance Genealogy

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

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

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

click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transition to Digital and Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot courtesy MyHeritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Penny Walters for creating this lovely graphic.

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

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

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

Companies and Owners Come & Go

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

Other changes included:

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

Some Companies Reduced Services and Cut Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage provide subscription services for genealogy records.

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

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

Scientific Research Still Critical & Pushes Frontiers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it.

That’s the challenge, a gauntlet of sorts.

Who’s going to pick it up?

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Y DNA Resources and Repository

I’ve created a Y DNA resource page with the information in this article, here, as a permanent location where you can find Y DNA information in one place – including:

  • Step-by-step guides about how to utilize Y DNA for your genealogy
  • Educational articles and links to the latest webinars
  • Articles about the science behind Y DNA
  • Ancient DNA
  • Success stories

Please feel free to share this resource or any of the links to individual articles with friends, genealogy groups, or on social media.

If you haven’t already taken a Y DNA test, and you’re a male (only males have a Y chromosome,) you can order one here. If you also purchase the Family Finder, autosomal test, those results can be used to search together.

What is Y DNA?

Y DNA is passed directly from fathers to their sons, as illustrated by the blue arrow, above. Daughters do not inherit the Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is what makes males, male.

Every son receives a Y chromosome from his father, who received it from his father, and so forth, on up the direct patrilineal line.

Comparatively, mitochondrial DNA, the pink arrow, is received by both sexes of children from the mother through the direct matrilineal line.

Autosomal DNA, the green arrow, is a combination of randomly inherited DNA from many ancestors that is inherited by both sexes of children from both parents. This article explains a bit more.

Y DNA has Unique Properties

The Y chromosome is never admixed with DNA from the mother, so the Y chromosome that the son receives is identical to the father’s Y chromosome except for occasional minor mutations that take place every few generations.

This lack of mixture with the mother’s DNA plus the occasional mutation is what makes the Y chromosome similar enough to match against other men from the same ancestors for hundreds or thousands of years back in time, and different enough to be useful for genealogy. The mutations can be tracked within extended families.

In western cultures, the Y chromosome path of inheritance is usually the same as the surname, which means that the Y chromosome is uniquely positioned to identify the direct biological patrilineal lineage of males.

Two different types of Y DNA tests can be ordered that work together to refine Y DNA results and connect testers to other men with common ancestors.

FamilyTreeDNA provides STR tests with their 37, 67 and 111 marker test panels, and comprehensive STR plus SNP testing with their Big Y-700 test.

click to enlarge

STR markers are used for genealogy matching, while SNP markers work with STR markers to refine genealogy further, plus provide a detailed haplogroup.

Think of a haplogroup as a genetic clan that tells you which genetic family group you belong to – both today and historically, before the advent of surnames.

This article, What is a Haplogroup? explains the basic concept of how haplogroups are determined.

In addition to the Y DNA test itself, Family Tree DNA provides matching to other testers in their database plus a group of comprehensive tools, shown on the dashboard above, to help testers utilize their results to their fullest potential.

You can order or upgrade a Y DNA test, here. If you also purchase the Family Finder, autosomal test, those results can be used to search together.

Step-by-Step – Using Your Y DNA Results

Let’s take a look at all of the features, functions, and tools that are available on your FamilyTreeDNA personal page.

What do those words mean? Here you go!

Come along while I step through evaluating Big Y test results.

Big Y Testing and Results

Why would you want to take a Big Y test and how can it help you?

While the Big Y-500 has been superseded by the Big Y-700 test today, you will still be interested in some of the underlying technology. STR matching still works the same way.

The Big Y-500 provided more than 500 STR markers and the Big Y-700 provides more than 700 – both significantly more than the 111 panel. The only way to receive these additional markers is by purchasing the Big Y test.

I have to tell you – I was skeptical when the Big Y-700 was introduced as the next step above the Big Y-500. I almost didn’t upgrade any kits – but I’m so very glad that I did. I’m not skeptical anymore.

This Y DNA tree rocks. A new visual format with your matches listed on their branches. Take a look!

Educational Articles

I’ve been writing about DNA for years and have selected several articles that you may find useful.

What kinds of information are available if you take a Y DNA test, and how can you use it for genealogy?

What if your father isn’t available to take a DNA test? How can you determine who else to test that will reveal your father’s Y DNA information?

Family Tree DNA shows the difference in the number of mutations between two men as “genetic distance.” Learn what that means and how it’s figured in this article.

Of course, there were changes right after I published the original Genetic Distance article. The only guarantees in life are death, taxes, and that something will change immediately after you publish.

Sometimes when we take DNA tests, or others do, we discover the unexpected. That’s always a possibility. Here’s the story of my brother who wasn’t my biological brother. If you’d like to read more about Dave’s story, type “Dear Dave” into the search box on my blog. Read the articles in publication order, and not without a box of Kleenex.

Often, what surprise matches mean is that you need to dig further.

The words paternal and patrilineal aren’t the same thing. Paternal refers to the paternal half of your family, where patrilineal is the direct father to father line.

Just because you don’t have any surname matches doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of what you’re thinking.

Short tandem repeats (STRs) and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) aren’t the same thing and are used differently in genealogy.

Piecing together your ancestor’s Y DNA from descendants.

Haplogroups are something like our pedigree charts.

What does it mean when you have a zero for a marker value?

There’s more than one way to break down that brick wall. Here’s how I figured out which of 4 sons was my ancestor.

Just because you match the right line autosomally doesn’t mean it’s because you descend from the male child you think is your ancestor. Females gave their surnames to children born outside of a legal marriage which can lead to massive confusion. This is absolutely why you need to test the Y DNA of every single ancestral line.

When the direct patrilineal line isn’t the line you’re expecting.

You can now tell by looking at the flags on the haplotree where other people’s ancestral lines on your branch are from. This is especially useful if you’ve taken the Big Y test and can tell you if you’re hunting in the right location.

If you’re just now testing or tested in 2018 or after, you don’t need to read this article unless you’re interested in the improvements to the Big Y test over the years.

2019 was a banner year for discovery. 2020 was even more so, keeping up an amazing pace. I need to write a 2020 update article.

What is a terminal SNP? Hint – it’s not fatal😊

How the TIP calculator works and how to best interpret the results. Note that this tool is due for an update that incorporates more markers and SNP results too.

You can view the location of the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA ancestors of people whose ethnicity you match.

Tools and Techniques

This free public tree is amazing, showing locations of each haplogroup and totals by haplogroup and country, including downstream branches.

Need to search for and find Y DNA candidates when you don’t know anyone from that line? Here’s how.

Yes, it’s still possible to resolve this issue using autosomal DNA. Non-matching Y DNA isn’t the end of the road, just a fork.

Science Meets Genealogy – Including Ancient DNA

Haplogroup C was an unexpected find in the Americas and reaches into South America.

Haplogroup C is found in several North American tribes.

Haplogroup C is found as far east as Nova Scotia.

Test by test, we made progress.

New testers, new branches. The research continues.

The discovery of haplogroup A00 was truly amazing when it occurred – the base of the phylotree in Africa.

The press release about the discovery of haplogroup A00.

In 2018, a living branch of A00 was discovered in Africa, and in 2020, an ancient DNA branch.

Did you know that haplogroups weren’t always known by their SNP names?

This brought the total of SNPs discovered by Family Tree DNA in mid-2018 to 153,000. I should contact the Research Center to see how many they have named at the end of 2020.

An academic paper split ancient haplogroup D, but then the phylogenetic research team at FamilyTreeDNA split it twice more! This might not sound exciting until you realize this redefines what we know about early man, in Africa and as he emerged from Africa.

Ancient DNA splits haplogroup P after analyzing the remains of two Jehai people from West Malaysia.

For years I doubted Kennewick Man’s DNA would ever be sequenced, but it finally was. Kennewick Man’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is X2a and his Y DNA was confirmed to Q-M3 in 2015.

Compare your own DNA to Vikings!

Twenty-seven Icelandic Viking skeletons tell a very interesting story.

Irish ancestors? Check your DNA and see if you match.

Ancestors from Hungary or Italy? Take a look. These remains have matches to people in various places throughout Europe.

The Y DNA story is no place near finished. Dr. Miguel Vilar, former Lead Scientist for National Geographic’s Genographic Project provides additional analysis and adds a theory.

Webinars

Y DNA Webinar at Legacy Family Tree Webinars – a 90-minute webinar for those who prefer watching to learn! It’s not free, but you can subscribe here.

Success Stories and Genealogy Discoveries

Almost everyone has their own Y DNA story of discovery. Because the Y DNA follows the surname line, Y DNA testing often helps push those lines back a generation, or two, or four. When STR markers fail to be enough, we can turn to the Big Y-700 test which provides SNP markers down to the very tip of the leaves in the Y DNA tree. Often, but not always, family-defining SNP branches will occur which are much more stable and reliable than STR mutations – although SNPs and STRs should be used together.

Methodologies to find ancestral lines to test, or maybe descendants who have already tested.

DNA testing reveals an unexpected mystery several hundred years old.

When I write each of my “52 Ancestor” stories, I include genetic information, for the ancestor and their descendants, when I can. Jacob was special because, in addition to being able to identify his autosomal DNA, his Y DNA matches the ancient DNA of the Yamnaya people. You can read about his Y DNA story in Jakob Lenz (1748-1821), Vinedresser.

Please feel free to add your success stories in the comments.

What About You?

You never know what you’re going to discover when you test your Y DNA. If you’re a female, you’ll need to find a male that descends from the line you want to test via all males to take the Y DNA test on your behalf. Of course, if you want to test your father’s line, your father, or a brother through that father, or your uncle, your father’s brother, would be good candidates.

What will you be able to discover? Who will the earliest known ancestor with that same surname be among your matches? Will you be able to break down a long-standing brick wall? You’ll never know if you don’t test.

You can click here to upgrade an existing test or order a Y DNA test.

Share the Love

You can always forward these articles to friends or share by posting links on social media. Who do you know that might be interested?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Most Popular Articles of 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethnicity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Native American Ancestry

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

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

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

Understanding Autosomal DNA

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

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

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

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

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

Surprises

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

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

Vikings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Migration Pedigree Chart

Another just plain fun idea is the Migration Pedigree Chart.

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

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

ThruLines

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

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

Covid

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

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

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

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

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

Locked in the Library

Be careful what you ask for.

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

Well, now you are and now you do.

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

What can you discover?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

DNA Tidbit #5: What’s Your Goal?

You probably see this all the time on social media:

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

No further information is given.

The answer is, “What is your goal?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But why?

Originally, I had two broad goals.

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

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

Broad and Deep

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Deep

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

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

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

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

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

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

click to enlarge

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

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

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

Deep Goal #2 – Confirming a Specific Ancestor

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

What do I mean by that?

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

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

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

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

click to enlarge

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

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

click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Goal #3 – Breaking Down a Brick Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goals Summary

Now, it’s your turn.

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

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

Happy ancestor hunting!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates

I utilize DNA matches in various ways, some of which are a little unusual. In many cases, I mine autosomal DNA matches to search for people whose Y and mitochondrial DNA can provide descendants, including me and them, with additional insights into our common ancestors.

Y and mitochondrial DNA connects testers to their ancestors in ways that autosomal cannot. It’s a different type of DNA, not combined with the DNA of the other parent, so it’s not diluted and halved in each generation like autosomal DNA. Y and mitochondrial lines each descend from only one ancestral line, rich in historical information, with the ability to reach far back in time along with the ability to connect testers recently.

You First

The very first thing you can do to further your own research is to test yourself in three ways:

  • Autosomal DNA – Test at all 4 primary testing vendors, meaning FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry and 23andMe. The reason for testing at (or transferring to) multiple vendors is because they each have a unique focus and tools. Perhaps more importantly, they each have different people in their databases. Each testing company has benefits. FamilyTreeDNA has people who tested as long as 20 years ago and are no longer available for testing. MyHeritage has many European testers and you’ll find matches there that you won’t find elsewhere if your ancestors came from Europe. Ancestry has the largest database, but fewer advanced tools.
  • Full Sequence Mitochondrial DNA Available at FamilyTreeDNA, this test allows focus solely on your matrilineal line, meaning your mother’s mother’s mother’s line directly without confusion introduced by DNA from other lines.
  • Y DNA – For males only, also available at FamilyTreeDNA, provides focus on the direct patrilineal, or surname, line.

Obviously, if you haven’t upgraded your own Y and mitochondrial DNA tests to the highest level possible, the first thing you can do is to test or upgrade to the highest level where you receive the most refined amount of information.

(There’s a sale at FamilyTreeDNA right now, lasting until August 31, 2020, so it’s a great time to upgrade or order Y and mitochondrial. Check it out here.)

Different Kinds of DNA Serve Different Genealogical Purposes

Let’s look, briefly at how the various types of DNA tests benefit genealogy. Autosomal tests that you and family members can take will help you find other family members to test for specific Y and mitochondrial DNA lines.

Remember that you can test family members in addition to yourself, so if you’re a female, you may want to recruit your father or an uncle or brother to represent your patrilineal line DNA. If you’d like to read a brief article about the different types of DNA and their benefits, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is a good resource.

Y and Mito Pedigree.png

In this image, you can see that if you’re a male you can test for both your Y (blue-square) and mitochondrial DNA (red-circle) ancestral lines. If you’re a female, you can test only your mitochondrial DNA because females don’t have a Y chromosome. Both males and females, of course, can test (green) autosomal DNA which reveals a different type of connection to all of your ancestral lines, but with autosomal, you have to figure out which people match you on which lines.

Y and mitochondrial DNA provides you with a different type of information about laser-focused specific lines that you can’t obtain through autosomal testing, and reaches back in time far beyond the curtain when surnames were adopted.

personal pedigree

You personally can only test for the red-circle mitochondrial DNA line, and perhaps the blue-square Y DNA line if you’re a male. Unless you find family members to test for the Y and mitochondrial DNA of your ancestors, you’re leaving valuable information unresearched. That means all those colored boxes and squares that aren’t blue or red.

I’ve solved MANY brick walls using both Y and mitochondrial DNA, often in conjunction with autosomal.

Let’s take a look at each type of DNA testing a little more in-depth, so that you understand how each one works and why they are important to genealogy.

The Specifics

Y DNA – Y DNA descends through the direct male paternal line and is inherited by men only. You match against other Y DNA testers, hopefully finding surname links.

The Big Y test and upgrade at FamilyTreeDNA provides testers with all 111 traditional STR markers, plus another 589+ STRs available only in the Big Y test, plus a scan of the balance of the rest of the Y chromosome that is useful for genealogy. SNP results are increasingly being used for genealogy, in addition to STRs.

SNPs group men into genetic lineages and STRs help with defining and refining the closest generations when matching to each other. Often, the benefits of these two tests overlap, which is why I recommend that males test to the Big Y-700 level which provides 700+ STR markers plus all SNPs with mutations that define ancestral lineages.

Y DNA haplogroups, derived from SNPs, reveal the geographic part of the world where the lineage originated, such as Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa, as well as a migration path across the continents based on where SNPs are and were historically found. Ancient DNA samples are being added to the database.

If you or a family member took an earlier Y DNA test, you can upgrade to the Big Y-700 today which provides you with matching for both the STR markers and separately, SNP markers, along with other genealogical tools.

You can order or upgrade your Y DNA here. Don’t forget family members accounts you may control. They may agree to have their kit upgraded too.

To upgrade, sign in to your account, and click on your desired upgrade level under Y DNA testing.

ymt y upgrade.png

Then click on upgrades.

ymt upgrade.png

I wrote about Y DNA in these recent articles:

I have more Y DNA articles planned for the future.

You can search for additional articles by going to the main page of this blog and enter “Y DNA” into the search box for additional articles already published.

Many features such as the matches maps, haplogroup origins and ancestral origins pages are the same for Y DNA results as mitochondrial DNA results. You can view mitochondrial articles here.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – Mitochondrail DNA descends through the direct matrilineal line to both sexes of children. Everyone has mitochondrial DNA and it is inherited matrilineally by you from your mother, from her mother, from her mother, etc.

The FMS or full mitochondrial sequence DNA test tests the entire mitochondria that provides information about your direct matrilineal line. Family Tree DNA provides matching, which can sometimes lead to genealogical breakthroughs such as when I identified Lydia Brown, the mother of my Phoebe Crumley and then a couple years later, her mother, Phoebe Cole – via mitochondrial DNA. Those discoveries led us to her mother, Mary Mercy Kent, via genealogy records. All we needed was to punch our way through that initial brick wall – and mitochondrial DNA was our battering ram.

Additionally, you’ll receive a full haplogroup designation which allows you to look back in time before the advent of surnames and identifies the location where your ancestral line came from. For those seeking confirmation of Native American heritage, Y and mitochondrial DNA provides unquestionable proof and doesn’t wash out in time as autosomal DNA does.

Mitochondrial DNA includes haplogroups, matching and other genealogical tools.

You can order or upgrade you or a family member’s mitochondrial DNA here.

To upgrade, sign in to your account, and click on the desired upgrade level.

ymt mt upgrade

Then click on Upgrade if you’re upgrading or Add On if you’re ordering a new product for yourself.

ymt add ons upgrades.png

I wrote several mitochondrial DNA articles and compiled them into a summary article for your convenience.

Autosomal DNA – With autosomal DNA testing, you test once and there’s not an upgrade unless the vendor changes DNA testing platforms, which is rare. Each of the four vendors compares your DNA with all other people who’ve taken that test, or transferred from other companies. They match you with descendants from all of your ancestral lines. While the Y and mtDNA tests look back deeply in time as well as recently on one specific line, the autosomal tests are broad but not deep, spanning all ancestral lines, but limited to approximately 10 generations.

Each autosomal vendor has unique benefits and focus as well as shortcomings. I’ve listed the major points for each vendor relative to searching for Y and mitochondrial
DNA testing candidates. It’s important to understand the advantages of each vendor because it will help you understand the testers you are most likely to find in each database and may help focus your search.

FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder

  • Because FamilyTreeDNA archives customer’s DNA for 25 years, many people who tested Y or mitochondrial DNA 20 years ago and are now deceased upgraded to autosomal tests when they became available, or have been upgraded by family members since. These early testers often reach back another generation or so into the past to people born a century ago.
  • Advanced autosomal matching integrates with Y and mitochondrial DNA along with surname and other projects
  • Phased Family Matching provides the ability to link family members that match you to your tree which allows Family Tree DNA to group matches as paternal or maternal by utilizing matching segments to the same side of your family
  • Genetic Affairs, a third-party tool available for testers, builds common trees by reading the trees of your matches and comparing their trees with your own to identify common ancestors.
  • Genetic Affairs builds trees and pedigrees of your matches by searching for common ancestors in your MATCHES trees, even if you have no tree or don’t share those ancestors in your tree. This functionality includes Y and mitochondrial DNA if you have tested. This facilitates discovery of common ancestors of the people who you match, which may well lead you to ancestral discoveries as well.
  • Genetic Affairs offers clustering of your shared matches.
  • DNA file transfers are accepted from other vendors, free, with a $19 one time fee to unlock advanced tools.
  • Family Tree DNA has tested people worldwide, with a few location exceptions, since inception in the year 2000.
  • No direct triangulation, but Phased Family Matching provides maternal and paternal side triangulation when matches can be grouped into maternal and paternal sides.
  • Matches and segment match information are available for download.
  • The great thing about the advanced matching tool at Family Tree DNA is that it facilitates searching for people who match you on different kinds of tests, so it helps determine the potential closeness or distance of Y and mitochondrial relationships.

MyHeritage

Ancestry

  • Ancestry has the largest database, but did not begin testing until 2012 and did not test widely outside of the US/UK for some time. They now sell tests in 34 countries. Their testers are primarily focused in the US, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, and diaspora, with some overlap into Europe.
  • Ancestry offers ThruLines, a tool that connects testers whose DNA matches with common ancestors in their trees.
  • Ancestry does not provide a chromosome browser, a tool provided by the other three primary testing companies, nor do they provide triangulation or matching segment location information necessary to confirm that you match on the same segment with other people.
  • Ancestry has issued cease and desist orders to third party tools that perform functions such as clustering, autotrees, autopedigrees or downloading of matches. Ancestry does not provide these types of features for their users.
  • Ancestry does not accept transfers, so if you want to be in Ancestry’s database, you must test with Ancestry.
  • No Y or mitochondrial DNA testing available.
  • Match list is not available for download.

23andMe

  • The primary focus of 23andMe has always been health testing, so many people who test at 23andMe are not interested in genealogy.
  • 23andMe tests are sold in about 50 countries, but not worldwide.
  • 23andMe provides a chromosome browser, triangulation, segment information and a beta genetically constructed tree for close matches.
  • 23andMe does NOT support a genealogical tree either uploaded or created on their site, making tree comparisons impossible.
  • Genetic Affairs AutoCluster works at 23andMe, but AutoTree and AutoPedigree do not because 23andMe does not support trees.
  • 23andMe does make match files available for downloading.
  • No Y or mitochondrial DNA full testing or matching, but basic haplogroups are provided.
  • 23andMe caps matches at 2000, less any matches that have opted out of matching. My matches currently number 1770.
  • 23andMe does not accept transfers from other vendors, so if you want to be in their database, you must test with 23andMe.

Reaching Out to Find Testers

Unfortunately, we only carry the mitochondrial DNA of our mother and only men carry the Y DNA of their father. That means if we want to obtain that DNA information about our other family lines, we have to find people who descend appropriately from the ancestor in question and test that person.

I’ll share with you how I search for people who descend from each ancestor. After finding that person, I explain the situation, why the different kinds of tests are important, and offer a testing scholarship for the Y or mtDNA test at Family Tree DNA if they have not already taken that test. If they’ve tested their autosomal DNA elsewhere. I also explain that they can transfer their autosomal DNA file for free too and will receive new matches.

Here’s an article with links to upload/download instructions for each testing company. Feel free to share.

Each DNA testing company has different features, but you can use all of the companies to find people descended in the appropriate way from each ancestor. It’s easier if you know how to utilize each vendor’s tools to optimize your chances of success. I’m going to step you through the search process with hints and tips for each vendor.

Finding Y DNA and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at FamilyTreeDNA

Because FamilyTreeDNA tests for both Y and mitochondrial DNA and has for 20 years, you stand a better chance of finding a candidate there who may have already tested, so that’s where I always begin.

Y DNA

Let’s say, for example, that I need to find a male descendant of my Ferverda line in order to ask them to test for Y DNA. The person can be descended from either a close relative, if I know of one, or a more distant relative that I don’t know, but need to find through searching other ways.

Search for Surnames and Projects at Family Tree DNA

First, search the FamilyTreeDNA website for your goal surname among existing testers, and then the appropriate surname project to see if your line has already tested.

ymt ferverda

On the main page, here, scroll down to until you see the prompt, above, and enter the surname. Be sure to consider alternate spellings too.

ymt ferverda search.png

In this case, I see that there is a Ferverda surname project with 18 people, and scrolling on down, that 4 people with this specific surname have tested.

ymt results.png

However, searching for an alternate spelling, the way it’s spelled in the Netherlands, I find that another 10 people have tested.

ymt ferwerda

Of course, some may be females, but they probably know males by that surname.

First, I’m going to check the Ferverda DNA project to see if a Ferverda male from my line has tested, and if so, to what level.

Click on the project link in the search results to see the DNA Project.

ymt admin.png

Note two things. First, the administrator’s name, as you may need this later. If you click on their name, their email address is displayed.

Second, click on DNA Results and select Y DNA if you’re presented with a choice. If the project has a public facing page, and most do, you’ll see something like the following information.

ymt project

Hey look, it’s my lucky day, given that both of these men descend from my ancestor. I happen to know that they have both taken the Big Y test, because I’m the project administrator, but you won’t know that. One way to get an idea is if they have less than the full 111 markers showing, they probably haven’t taken the Big Y, because a 111 upgrade is included in the Big Y test today.

You have three options at this point to contact one of these men:

  • See if the people are on your own autosomal DNA match list, or the match lists of kits from that family that you manage. If so, you can view their email address and contact them. If you haven’t yet tested autosomally, meaning the Family Finder test, at Family Tree DNA, you can transfer autosomal tests from elsewhere, for free, which means you will be viewing matches within hours or a couple days. Otherwise, you can order a Family Finder test, of course.
  • If the person with the Ferverda or Ferwerda surname is not on your Family Finder match list, reach out to the project administrator with a note to the person you want to contact and ask the administrator to forward your email to the project member.
  • If the administrator doesn’t answer, contact Family Tree DNA support and make the same request.

Checking Family Finder, one of those people is on my match list and I’m pretty sure it’s the right person, because when I click on his profile, not only does the haplogroup match the DNA project, but so does the ancestor.

ymt ferverda profile.png

Searching Family Finder

If there isn’t a DNA project match you can identify as your direct line ancestor, you can search your Family Finder matches for the surname to find a male with that surname. If your match has a tree, see if your ancestor or ancestral line is showing, then note whether they have taken a Y DNA test. They may have taken a Y test, but have not joined a project or not entered any “earliest known ancestor.” You can see which tests they’ve taken by looking at the little tabs above their profile on their tree, or on their profile card.

ymt ferverda tree

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Regardless, you’re now in touch with a potential contact.

Don’t dismiss females with that surname, or people who show that surname in their ancestral surname list. Women with the surname you’re looking for may have husbands, fathers, brothers or uncles who descend from the line you are seeking.

ymt search field.png

Utilize Genetic Affairs

My ace in the hole at FamilyTreeDNA is the Genetic Affairs AutoTree and AutoPedigree function.

Genetic Affairs is a third-party tool that you can use to assist with analysis of your matches at FamilyTreeDNA.

ymt genetic affairs

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At Genetic Affairs, selecting AutoTree generates trees where common ancestors of you and your matches, or your matches to each other, are displayed.

Your goal is to identify people descended from a common ancestor either directly paternally through all males for Y DNA or through all females to the current generation, which can be males, for mitochondrial DNA.

This article provides step-by-step instructions for the Genetic Affairs AutoTree and AutoPedigree functions.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA lineages are a bit more challenging because the surname changes every generation and DNA projects are unlikely to help.

The AutoTree/AutoPedigree report through Genetic Affairs serves the same purpose for mitochondrial DNA – building trees that intersect with a common ancestor. I generally drop the “minimum size of the largest DNA segment shared with the match” to 7 cM for this report. My goal running this report for this purpose isn’t to analyze autosomal DNA, but to find testing candidates based on how my matches descend from a specific ancestor, so I want to include as many matches as possible.

Family Finder Can Refine Y and mtDNA Information

In some cases, a Family Finder test can refine a potential relationship between two people who match on either Y DNA or mitochondrial. Additionally, you may want to encourage, or gift, specific matches with an upgrade to see if they continue to match you at higher testing levels.

Let’s say that two men match closely on a Y DNA test, but you’d like to know how far back the common ancestor lived.

ymt y matches.png

In this instance, you can see that the second match has taken a BIg Y and a Family Finder test, but the exact match (genetic distance of 0) has not. If the first individual cannot provide much genealogy, having them take a Family Finder test would help at least rule out a relationship through second cousins and would give you at least some idea how far back in time your common ancestor may have lived. If you do match on Family Finder, you receive an estimate of your relationship and can check the match level possibilities using the DNAPainter Shared cM Tool. If they upgrade to the Big Y-700 test, you may be able to differentiate your line from theirs, or confirm when and where a split occurred – or that there is no split.

This same autosomal testing scenario works for mitochondrial DNA.

For people who have taken both tests, Family Finder plus either Y or mitochondrial DNA, the Advanced Matching menu allows you to select combinations of tests and projects to query.

ymt advanced

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Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at MyHeritage

MyHeritage provides a wonderful tool called Theories of Family Relativity (TOFR) which finds common ancestors between you and your DNA matches, even if the ancestor is not in both trees, so long as a path exists between the two testers’ trees using other trees or research documents, such as census records. Of course, you’ll need to verify accuracy.

ymt tofr.png

At MyHeritage, select DNA Matches, then “Has Theory of Family Relativity.”

ymt mh ferverda

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You can see that I have 65 matches with a Theory of Family Relativity. Additionally, I can then search by surname.

ymt mh ferverda tree.png

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If I am looking for a Ferverda Y DNA candidate, I’ve found one thanks to this TOFR.

If you don’t find a tree where your match descends from your ancestor in the desired way, you can also widen the search by de-selecting Theories of Family Relativity and instead selecting SmartMatchs or shared surname combined with the name of your ancestor. There are many search and filter combinations available.

Let’s look at a mitochondrial DNA example where I’m searching for a descendant of Elizabeth Speaks who married Samuel Clarkson/Claxton.

ymt smartmatches

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In this case, I have one SmartMatch, which means that someone by the name of Elizabeth Speaks is found in my matches tree. I need to look to see if it’s the RIGHT Elizabeth Speaks and if my match descends through all females to the current generation. If so, I’ve found my mitochondrial DNA candidate and I can leave them a message.

You can also view SmartMatches (without a DNA match) from your own tree.

I can go to that person in my tree, click on their profile, and see how many SmartMatches I have. Clicking on 13 SmartMatches allows me to view those matches and I can click through to the connected trees.

ymt mt speaks.png

I can also click on “research this person” to discover more.

If you’re still not successful, don’t give up quite yet, because you can search in the records for trees that shows the person whom you seek. A SmartMatch is only created if the system thinks it’s the same person in both trees. Computers are far from perfect.

ymt mh trees

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Narrow the search as much as possible to make it easier to find the right individual, and then view the trees for descent in the proper manner.

Another wonderful tool at MyHeritage is the Genetic Affairs AutoCluster tool, built-in for MyHeritage users.

ymt mh cluster.png

The above cluster shows that one person carries the surname of Elizabeth’s husband. Viewing the accompanying spreadsheet for the AutoCluster run reveals that indeed, I’ve already identified a couple of matches as descendants of the desired ancestral couple. The spreadsheet shows links to their trees, my notes and more.

ymt cluster ss

Clusters show you where to look. Without the cluster, I had only identified two people as descendants of this ancestral couple. I found several more candidates to evaluate and two mitochondrial candidates are found in this cluster.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at 23andMe

23andMe is a little more tricky because they don’t support either uploaded or created user trees which makes finding descendants of a particular ancestor quite challenging.

However, 23andMe attempts to create a tree of your closer relatives genetically. which you can find under “DNA Relatives,” under the Ancestry tab, then “Family Tree” at the top.

I’ve added the names of my ancestors when I can figure out who the match is. Please note that this “created tree” is seldom exactly accurate, but there are often enough hints that you’ll be able to piece together at least some of the rest.

Here’s part of my “created” tree at 23andMe. I’m at far right.

ymt23 tree.png

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If you’re a genealogist, your eyes are going to glaze over about now, because the “people” aren’t in the correct locations – with maternal and paternal sides of the tree swapped. Also, please note, the locations in which they place people are estimates AND 23andMe does NOT take into account or provide for half-relationships.

That said, you can still obtain candidates for Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

In this case, I’m searching for a mitochondrial DNA candidate for Evaline Miller, my grandfather’s mother or a Y DNA candidate for the Ferverda line.

I can tell by the surname of the male match, Ferverda, that he probably descends through a son, making him a Y DNA candidate.

Both Cheryl and Laura are possible mitochondrial DNA candidates for Evaline Miller, based on this tree, depending of course on how they actually do descend.

I can contact all of my matches, but in the event that they don’t answer, I’m not entirely out of luck. If I can determine EXACTLY how the match descends, and they descend appropriately for mitochondrial DNA, I can view the match to see at least a partial haplogroup. Since 23andMe only uses relatively close matches when constructing your tree, I’m relatively likely to recognize the names of the testers and may have them in my genealogy program.

By clicking on the Ferverda male, I can see that his Y haplogroup is I-Z58. That’s not nearly as refined as the Y DNA information at Family Tree DNA, but it’s something if I have nothing else and he doesn’t answer my query that would include the offer of a Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA.

ymt 23 hap

You can search at 23andMe by surname, but unless your match has entered their ancestral surnames and you recognize surnames that fit together, without a tree, unless your match answers your query, it’s very difficult to determine how you connect.

ymt 23 search.png

You can also view “Relatives in Common,” hoping to recognize someone you know as a common match.

ymt relatives in common

Please note that 23andMe does allow testers to enter a link to a tree, but few do.

ymt tree link.png

It’s worth checking, and be sure to enter your own tree link location.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at Ancestry

Ancestry’s ThruLines provides an excellent tool to find both Y and mitochondrial DNA participants.

Ancestry organizes their ThruLines by ancestor.

ymt thrulines

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Select your desired Ancestor, someone whose DNA you seek. Clearly, Y DNA candidates are very easy because you simply choose any male ancestor in the correct line with the surname and look for a male match with the appropriate surname.

In this case, I’m selecting Martha Ruth Dodson, because I need her mitochondrial DNA.

ymt dodson.png

By clicking on her “card” I then see my matches assigned to her ThruLine.

Ymt ancestry thruline

Obviously, for mitochondrial DNA, I’m looking for someone descended through all females, so Martha’s daughter, Elizabeth Estes’s son Robert won’t work, but her daughter, Louisa Vannoy, at left is the perfect candidate. Thankfully, my cousin whom I match, at bottom left is descended through all females to the current generation, which can be male or female, so is a mitochondrial DNA candidate.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates in Trees in General

I’ve utilized the combination of trees and DNA matches at FamilyTreeDNA through Genetic Affairs, Ancestry and MyHeritage, but you can also simply search for people who descend from the same ancestor based on their tree alone at the vendors who support trees as part of genealogical records. This includes both Ancestry and MyHeritage but also sites like Geneanet which is becoming increasingly popular, especially in Europe. (I have not worked extensively with Geneanet yet but plan to take it for a test drive soon.)

My reason for utilizing DNA matches+trees first is that the person has already been introduced to the concept that DNA can help with genealogy, and has obviously embraced DNA testing at least once. Not only that, with the assist of a Theory of Family Relativity, ThruLine or genetic Affairs automation tools, it’s much easier to find appropriate candidates.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at WikiTree

If you reach beyond DNA testing companies, WikiTree provides a valuable feature which allows people to specify that they descend from a particular ancestor, and if they have DNA tested, how they descend – including Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal.

Here’s an example on the profile of John Y. Estes at WikiTree, one of my Estes ancestors.

ymt wiki.png

If someone descends appropriately for either Y or mitochondrial DNA line, and has taken that test, their information is listed.

In this case, there are two Y DNA testers and two autosomal, but no mitochondrial DNA which would have descended from John’s mother, of course.

You can click on the little green arrow icon to see how any DNA tested person descends from the ancestor whose profile you are accessing.

ymt wiki compare

Of course, the same surname for males is a good indication that the man in question is descended from that paternal line, but check to be sure, because some males took their mother’s surname for various reasons.

Here’s my line-of-descent from John Y. Estes. I can click on anyone else whose DNA information is listed as well to see how they descend from John. If they descend from John through all females, then they obviously descend from his wife though all females too which means they are a mitochondrial DNA candidate for her.

ymt wiki relationship.png

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Clicking on autosomal testers may reveal someone appropriately descended from the ancestor in question.

You can then click on any ancestor shown to view their profile, and any DNA tested descendants.

By clicking on name of the descendant whose DNA test you are interested in, you’ll be able to view their profile. Look for the Collaboration section where you can send them a private message that will be delivered by email from WikiTree.

ymt collaborate

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at GedMatch

One final avenue to find Y and mitochondrial DNA candidates is through GedMatch, It’s probably the least useful option, though, because the major vendors all have some sort of tree function, except for 23andMe, and for some reason, many people have not uploaded GEDCOM files (trees) to GEDmatch.

Therefore, if you can find someone on GedMatch that tested elsewhere perhaps, such as LivingDNA who also provides a base haplogroup, or 23andMe, and they uploaded a GEDCOM file (tree) to GedMatch, you can utilize the GEDmatch “Find common ancestors” automated tree-matching functionality.

gedmatch mrca matches

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GEDmatch produces a list of your matches with common ancestors in their trees, allowing you to select the appropriate ancestor or lineage.

I wrote step-by-step instructions in the article, GEDmatch Introduces Automated Tree Matching.

Additionally, GEDmatch includes the Genetic Affairs AutoCluster tool in their Tier1 subscription offering,

ymt gedmatch.png

Gedmatch users who know their Y and mitochondrial haplogroup can enter that information in their profile and it will be reflected on the autosomal match list.

ymt gedmatch hap

Summary Chart

In summary, each testing vendor has a different focus and unique tools that can be used to search for Y and mitochondrial DNA candidates. Additionally, two other resources, WikiTree and GEDmatch, although not DNA testing vendors, can lead to discovering Y and mtDNA candidates as well.

I’ve created a quick-reference chart.

  Family Tree DNA MyHeritage Ancestry 23andMe Wikitree GEDmatch
Y DNA Test Yes No No No, partial haplogroup provided No test, listed by ancestor No, user entered
mtDNA Test Yes No No No, partial haplogroup provided No test, listed by ancestor No, user entered
DNA Projects Yes No No No Some Some
Strengths other than mentioned categories 20 year worldwide customer base, phased family matching European focus, SmartMatches, wide variety of filters Largest autosomal database Genetic tree beta DNA by ancestor May include users not found elsewhere who tested outside the major companies
Drawbacks No direct triangulation or tree matching No Genetic Affairs AutoTree or AutoPedigree Can’t download matches, no triangulation, clusters, AutoTree, or AutoPedigree No trees, 2000 match limit “One tree” may be incorrect Few trees, no AutoTree or AutoPedigree
Clustering Genetic Affairs Included in advanced tools No, prohibited Genetic Affairs N/A Included in Tier1
Genetic Affairs AutoTree & AutoPedigree Yes No No No, no tree support N/A No
Tree matching between users No, through Genetic Affairs Theories of Family Relativity ThruLines No Not directly MRCA common ancestors in Tier1

Now it’s your turn. Which Y and mitochondrial DNA lines can you find today?

Happy Hunting!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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“Earliest Known Ancestors” at Family Tree DNA in 3 Easy Steps

Why should you take the time to complete the information about your earliest known ancestor, your EKA, at Family Tree DNA?

The answer is simple – because it helps you with your genealogy and it helps others too. Genealogy, and in particular, genetic genealogy is by definition a team sport. It takes at least two to test and match – and the more, the merrier. From there, it’s all about information sharing.

Maybe the easiest way to illustrate the benefit of providing Earliest Known Ancestor information is by showing what happens if you DON’T complete the EKA field.

To be direct, you lose important opportunities to work with other genealogists and, if others don’t complete their EKA, you also lose the opportunity to see who their earliest known ancestors are. This information, when viewing your Y and mitochondrial DNA matches, shows immediately who is from your genetic line. It can also help you break down brick walls to push your own EKA back a few generations. I’ve used this tactic, successfully, repeatedly with both Y and mitochondrial DNA.

Earliest Known Ancestors Are Used 7 Ways

  • Matches – Every Y and mitochondrial DNA match displays your matches’ Earliest Known Ancestor

Here’s what your matches look like if they don’t complete their EKA information.

eka match.png

How depressing to see blanks listed for the Earliest Known Ancestor for your matches. These are exact full sequence mitochondrial matches, but no ancestors listed. A few do have trees, as indicated by the blue pedigree icon, but the ability to quickly view a list of ancestors would be so beneficial.

Looking at the matches for one of my Estes male cousins, below, you can see a much more helpful example.

eka complete

You may see a genealogical line you recognize. Or, several you don’t which may serve as a huge hint.

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  • Surname and other types of projects, meant to attract more testers, also suffer when Earliest Known Ancestors and Countries of Origin, when known, aren’t completed.
  • Matches Maps – Another place where your Earliest Known Ancestor information will help is on the Matches Map which displays the location of your matches Earliest Known Ancestors, available for both Y DNA tests and mitochondrial DNA tests as well as Family Finder.

eka matches map

Looking for clusters of matches can be very revealing and can point your research in a specific direction. Genetic clues are indispensable, as is the information about the earliest ancestors of your matches. I am clearly related to these clusters of people in Scandinavia – but it’s up to me to figure out how, and when. It would be very useful to know of any of them share the same EKA.

Additional places where your EKA is utilized to provide information about your ancestry include:

  • Ancestral Origins: A page provided for both Y and mtDNA results where locations of your matches’ EKA are shown.
  • Haplogroup Origins: A page provided for both Y and mtDNA where locations of your haplogroup are found.

eka origins.jpg

I wrote about Ancestral Origins and Haplogroup Origins, here, and here, with lots of examples.

I wrote about the Y tree, here, which shows locations for each haplogroup. An article about the mitochondrial tree can be found here. These are the most comprehensive trees available, anyplace, and they are completely free and accessible to anyone, whether they have tested at FamilyTreeDNA or not. Science at work.

That’s 7 different ways your Earliest Known Ancestor information can benefit you – and others too.

However, this information can’t be utilized unless testers complete their EKA information.

Here’s how to enter your EKA information.

How Do You Complete Your Earliest Known Ancestor Information?

Your ancestor information lives in three separate places at FamilyTreeDNA – and they are not all interconnected meaning they don’t necessarily feed each other bidirectionally.

The information is easy to complete. We will step through each location and how to update your information.

What is Direct Paternal and Direct Maternal?

Before we go any further, let’s take just a minute and define these two terms.

When completing Earliest Known Ancestor information, you’ll be asked for your “Direct Paternal Ancestor” and “Direct Maternal Ancestor.” This does NOT mean the oldest person on each side, literally. Some people interpret that to mean the furthest person back on that side of your family. That’s NOT what it means either.

Your direct paternal ancestor is the furthest person in your tree on your father’s, father’s father’s direct paternal line. In other words, your most distant patrilineal ancestor.

Your direct maternal ancestor is the further person in your tree on your mother’s mother’s mother’s direct maternal line. This is your most distant matrilineal ancestor.

eka maternal paternal.png

In this view of my cousin’s tree, Holman Estes is the Earliest Known Ancestor on the paternal, meaning patrilineal, line. Of course, that’s also the Y DNA inheritance path too.

Sarah Jones is the Earliest Known Ancestor on the maternal, or matrilineal line. Mitochondria DNA descends down the matrilineal line.

The home person in this tree inherited the Y DNA of Holman Estes (and his patrilineal ancestors) and the mitochondrial DNA of Sarah Jones (and her matrilineal ancestors.)

Ok, let’s put this information to work.

Step 1 – Earliest Known Ancestor

When you sign on, click on the down arrow beside your name on the upper right hand corner of your personal page.

eka account settings

Click on “Account Settings.”

On the “Account Settings” page, click on “Genealogy,” then on “Earliest Known Ancestors.”

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In our example, above, the tester has completed the Direct Paternal Ancestor information, but not the Direct Maternal Ancestor.

Note that “Country of Origin” and “Location” are somewhat different. Location can mean something as specific as a city, county or region, along with map coordinates.

Country of Origin can mean something different.

To select a location and to complete your ancestor’s information, click on “Update Location.” If you don’t click on “Update Location,” you’ll need to save this form before exiting.

When you click on “Update Location,” the system takes you to the Matches Map screen where you can easily plot ancestral locations.

eka plot locations

In our example, we see that our tester has already entered his paternal EKA, Nicholas Ewstes in Deal, in the UK. We don’t need to do anything to that information, but we need to add a Maternal Location.

Click on “Edit Location”

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You’ll see a screen where you can click to edit either the Maternal or Paternal Location. In this case, I’m selecting Maternal.

eka step 2

Enter the name of your ancestor. I tend to enter more information that will uniquely identify her to someone looking at their match list, such as when and where she lived.

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If there’s room, I could also add “m 1849 Hayesville, Ohio to John Parr” which would further uniquely identify Sarah – especially given that her surname is Jones. If a match sees “Sarah Jones,” that doesn’t provide much context, but “Sarah Jones married in 1849 in Hayesville, Ohio to James Parr,” even if the tester doesn’t provide a tree, gives the match something to sink their teeth into.

When finished, click “Next.”

eka step 3

Enter the location and press “Search.” Longitude and latitude will be filled in for you.

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Click “Select” if this is the correct location.

eka step 4

By changing the location name here, you could enter a historical name, for example, if the location name has changed since your ancestor lived there.

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You’ll see the final information before you Save and Exit.

eka both

You’ll view the map with your direct paternal ancestor and direct maternal ancestor both shown with pins on your map. This is before matching, of course.

Now, if you look back at the Direct Maternal Ancestor field under Account Settings, you’ll see the information you entered on the map, except for the Country of Origin.

eka direct maternal.png

This information doesn’t feed backwards into the EKA “Country of Origin” field, because country of origin can mean different things.

For example, my cousin’s direct maternal ancestor’s location would be United States because that’s where she lived. But is it where her line originated?

eka unknown origin

When looking at the Country of Origin dropdown box, you can see that United States can actually mean different things.

  1. Does it mean she was born here and we know her ancestors were European or African, but the specific country is uncertain?
  2. Does it mean her ancestors were Native American – and if so, do we actually know that, or is it yet unproven oral history?
  3. Or does United States simply mean that my cousin’s genealogy is stuck in Ohio?

In his case, it means stuck in Ohio. The mitochondrial haplogroup of this woman’s direct matrilineal descendants and her Matches Map tells us that her ancestors were European in origin, not Native or African.

In his case, “Unknown Origin” is not inaccurate, but by making that selection, other people won’t know if the tester really doesn’t know, or if they simply forgot to enter a location. I generally enter “United States” when the US is where I’m stuck.

Please note that the actual geographic location, including longitude and latitude, does populate from map selections.

When exiting the Direct Maternal or Direct Paternal Ancestors page, always click on the orange Save button, or it won’t.

Step 2 – Matches Map

You’ve already had a preview of this functionality in Step 1.

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The second way to populate EKA information is to select Matches Map directly from the menu on your personal page at Family Tree DNA.

eka pins

click to enlarge

I clicked on Matches Map from my cousin’s Y DNA page, so we’ll see his Y DNA Matches displayed. These pins displayed on his map are there because his matches entered their Earliest Known Ancestor information. The different colors indicate the relative closeness of matches.

His white pin that shows his own ancestor is displayed behind several other men’s pins (red arrow at right) who have also tracked their Y DNA ancestor to Deal, England and match the tester.

My cousin can update or enter his EKA information by clicking on “Update Ancestor’s Location” (red arrow at bottom) where a box allowing him to select between Paternal and Maternal will be displayed.

Please note that every pin on this map has an associated match that can be displayed by either mousing over the individual pins or by clicking on “Show Match List” in the bottom left corner.

Step 3 – Trees

Be sure to upload your tree too.

eka pedigree.png

Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA match pedigree icons looks like this, indicating your match has uploaded or created a tree.

eka pedigree ff

The Family Finder pedigree icon will be blue if a tree is provided and greyed out otherwise.

Always check your match’s tree because sometimes the Earliest Known Ancestor and the earliest ancestor in your match’s tree are not the same person.

Additional research may have been completed, but regardless of the reason for a discrepancy, you want to view the most distant person in that line.

Sometimes people get confused about who belongs in the Earliest Known Ancestor field, so a tree check is always a good idea.

  • Hint: If you see a male in the maternal field, you know they are confused. Same for a female in the paternal field.

To create or upload a GEDCOM file click on “myTree” at the top of your personal page.

download ancestry ftdna

Then, select your choice of creating a tree manually or uploading a GEDCOM file that you already created elsewhere.

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If you need to download a tree from Ancestry to upload to FamilyTreeDNA, I wrote about how to do that, here.

Whether you upload or create a tree, choose yourself (assuming it’s your test, or select the person whose DNA test it is) as the home person in the tree.

eka home person

Bonus – Ancestral Surnames

Once your tree is uploaded, if you have NOT previously entered your Ancestral Surnames (under Account Settings,) uploading a GEDCOM file will populate the surnames, but not just with your direct ancestral lines. It populates ALL of the surnames from your tree. This isn’t a feature that I want. I recommend adding only direct line surnames manually or from a spreadsheet. If you have a small tree or don’t mind having surname matches not in your direct line, then allowing the surnames to auto-populate is probably fine.

eka surnames.png

If you’re wondering how Ancestral Surnames are used, the two Family Finder matches below illustrate the benefits.

eka surname list

When you have matching surnames in common, they float to the top of the list and are bolded. The first match matches the tester and they bothhave those bolded surnames in their trees.

With no matching surnames, the list is still present, but no bolding, as shown in the second match.

eka surname bold.png

You can then click on the ancestral surnames to see all of the surnames listed by that match.

If you search for matches that include a specific surname on Family Finder, that surname is displayed blue, the common surnames are bolded, and the rest aren’t.

eka surname search

By looking at these common ancestral surnames, I can often tell immediately how I’m related to my match.

eka surname blue.png

Summary

Using Earliest Known Ancestors, Matches Maps and Ancestral Surnames at Family Tree DNA is as easy a 1-2-3 and well worth the effort.

If you provided this information previously, is it still up to date? For your kit and any others you manage?

What hints are waiting for you?

Have other people uploaded their trees or added EKAs since you last checked?

You can always send an email to your matches who need to add Earliest Known Ancestors by clicking on the envelope icon. Feel free to provide them with a link to this article that explains the benefits of entering their EKA information along with step-by-step instructions.

DNA is the gift that just keeps on giving – but it can give a lot more with Earliest Known Ancestors and their locations!

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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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Fun Genealogy Activities for Trying Times

My mother used to say that patience is a virtue.

patience stones.jpg

I’m afraid I’m not naturally a very virtuous person, at least not where patience is concerned. I don’t seem to take after my ancestor, Patience Brewster (1600-1634.) Perhaps those “patience” genes didn’t make it to my generation. Or maybe Patience wasn’t very patient herself.

Not only does patience not come naturally to me, it’s more difficult for everyone during stressful times. People are anxious, nerves are frazzled and tempers are short. Have you noticed that recently?

I guess you could say that what we’ve been enduring, in terms of both health issues and/or preparation for the Covid-19 virus along with the economic rollercoaster – not to mention the associated politics, is stress-inducing.

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Let’s see:

  • Worry about a slow-motion epidemic steamrollering the population as it wraps around the world – check.
  • Worry about family members – check.
  • Worry about TP, hand sanitizer, food, medication and other supplies – check.
  • Worry about jobs and income – check.
  • Worry about retirement accounts and medical bills – check.
  • Worry about long-term ramifications – check.

Nope, no stress here. What about you?

And yes, I’m intentionally understated, hoping to at least garner a smile.

Once you’ve stocked up on what you need and decided to stay home out of harm’s way – or more to the point, out of germ’s way – how can you feel more patient and less stressed?

I have some suggestions!

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The Feel Better Recipe

First, just accept that once you’ve done what you can do to help yourself, which includes minimizing exposure – there’s little else that you can do. I wrote about symptoms and precautions, here. The best thing you can do is wash, stay home and remain vigilant.

If someone you know or love doesn’t understand why we need to limit or eliminate social interaction at this point, here’s an article that explains how NOT to be stupid, as well as an article here about what flattening the curve means and why social distancing is our only prayer at this point to potentially avoid disaster. We are all in this together and we all have a powerful role to play – just by staying at home.

Educating and encouraging others to take precautionary steps might help, but worrying isn’t going to help anything because you can’t affect much beyond your own sphere of influence. As much as we wish we could affect the virus itself, or increase the testing supply, or influence good decision-making by others, we generally can’t.

What can we do, aside from sharing precautionary information and hoping that we are “heard?”

We can try to release the worry.

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If you sit there thinking about releasing the worry, which means you’re focused on worrying – that’s probably not going to be very productive.

Neither is drinking your entire supply of Jack Daniels in one sitting – not the least of which is because you may need that as hand sanitizer down the road a bit. Oh, wait, hand sanitizer is supposed to be more than 60% alcohol, which would be 120 proof. Never mind, go ahead and drink the Jack Daniels😊

What you really need is a distraction. Preferably a beneficial distraction that won’t give you a hangover. Not like my distraction this past month when the washing machine flooded through the floor into the basement including my office below. No, not that kind of distraction.

Some folks can “escape the world,” in a sense, by watching TV, but I’m not one of those people. I need to engage my mind with some sort of structure and I want to feel like I’m accomplishing something. If you’re a “TV” person, you’re probably watching TV now and not reading this anyway – so I’m guessing that’s not my readership audience, by and large.

Beneficial Distractions

Here are 20 wonderful ideas for fun and useful things to do – and guess what – they aren’t all genealogy related. Let’s start with something that will make you feel wonderful.

labyrinth

  1. Take a walk – outside, but not around other people. Your body and mind will thank you. Your body likes to move and exercise generates beneficial feel-good endorphins, reducing anxiety. Remember to take hand sanitizer with you and open doors by pushing with your arm or hip, if possible. Also, if you need to get fuel for your vehicle, take disposable gloves to handle the pump. Disinfectant, soap and water is your friend – maybe your best friend right now.

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  1. Read a book. Escapism, pure and simple. I have a stack of books just waiting. If you don’t, you can download e-books to your Kindle or iPad or phone directly from Amazon without going anyplace or have books delivered directly to your door. Try Libby Copeland’s The Lost Family, which you can order here. It’s dynamite. (My brother and my story are featured, which I wrote about here.) If you’d like DNA education, you can order Diahan Southard’s brand new book, Your DNA Guide: Step by Step Plans, here. I haven’t read Diahan’s book, but I’m familiar with the quality of her work and don’t have any hesitation about recommending it. (Let me know what you think.) And hey, you don’t even need hand sanitizer for this!

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  1. Check your DNA matches at all the vendors where you’ve tested. If you don’t check daily, now would be a good time to catch up. Not just autosomal matches, but also Y and mitochondrial at Family Tree DNA. Those tests often get overlooked. Maybe some of your matches have updated their trees or earliest known ancestor information.

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  1. Speaking of trees, update your trees on the three DNA/genealogy sites that support trees: FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and Ancestry. Keeping your tree up to date through at least the 8th generation (including their children) enables the companies to more easily connect the dots for their helpful tools like Phased Family Matching aka bucketing at FamilyTreeDNA, Theories of Family Relativity aka TOFR at MyHeritage and ThruLines at Ancestry.

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  1. Connect your known matches to their appropriate place on your tree at Family Tree DNA, as illustrated above. This provides fuel for Family Tree DNA to be able to designate your matches as maternal or paternal, even if your mother and father haven’t tested. In this case, I’ve connected my first cousin once removed who matches me in her proper location in my tree. People who match my cousin and I both are assigned to my maternal bucket.

patience y dna.pngpatience mtdna.png

  1. Order or upgrade a Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA test or a Family Finder autosomal test for you or a family member at Family Tree DNA. Upgrades, shown above, are easy if the tester has already taken at least one test, because DNA is banked at the lab for future orders. You don’t have to go anyplace to do this and DNA testing results and benefits last forever. Your DNA works for you 24x7x365.

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  1. Join a free project at FamilyTreeDNA. Those can be surname projects, haplogroup projects, regional projects such as Acadian AmeriIndian and other interest topics like American Indian. You can search or browse for projects of interest and collaborate with others. Projects are managed by volunteer administrators who obviously have an interest in the project’s topic.

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  1. At each of the vendors, find your highest autosomal match whom you cannot place as a relative. Work on their line via tree construction and then utilizing clustering using Genetic Affairs. I wrote about Genetic Affairs, an amazing tool, here, which you can try for free.

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  1. Check the FamilySearch WIKI for your genealogy locations by googling “Claiborne County, Tennessee FamilySearch wiki” where you substitute the location of where you are searching for “Claiborne County, Tennessee.” FamilySearch is free and the WIKI includes resources outside of FamilySearch itself, including paid and other free sites.

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  1. While you’re at it, if you haven’t already, create a FamilySearch account and create or upload a tree to FamilySearch. It will be connected to branches of existing trees to create one large worldwide tree. Yes, you’ll be frustrated in some cases because there are incorrect ancestors sometimes listed in the “big tree” – BUT – there are procedures in place to remediate that situation. The important aspect is that FamilySearch, which is free, provides hints and resources not available any other place for some ancestors. Not long ago, I found a detailed estate packet that I had no idea existed – for a female ancestor no less. You can search at FamilySearch for ancestors, genealogies, records and in other ways. New records become available often.  This will keep you occupied for days, I promise!

Patience Journal.png

  1. Begin a Novel Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic journal. Think of your descendants 100 years in the future. Wouldn’t you like to know what your great-grandparents were doing during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic? Or even their siblings or neighbors, because that was likely similar to what your ancestors were doing as well. You don’t have to write much daily – just write. Not just facts, but how you feel as well. Are you afraid, concerned specifically about someone? What’s going on with you – in your mind? That’s the part of you that your descendants will long to know a century from now.

Quilt rose

  1. Create something with your hands. I made a quilt this week for an ailing friend, unrelated to this epidemic. No, I didn’t “have time” to do that, but I made time because this quilt is important, and I know they need the “get well’’” wishes and love that quilt will wrap them in. It always feels good to do something for someone else.

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  1. Garden, or in my case, that equates to pulling weeds. Not only is weeding productive, you can work off frustration by thinking about someone or something that upsets you as you yank those weeds out by their roots. Of course, that means you’ll have to first decide what is, and is not, a weed😊. That could be the toughest part.

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  1. At MyHeritage, you can use Irish records for free this month, plus try a free subscription, here in order to access all the rest of the millions of records available at MyHeritage. Check for Smart Matches for ancestors, shown above, and confirm that they are accurate, meaning that the ancestor the other person has in their tree is the same person as you have in your tree – even if they aren’t exactly identical. You don’t need to import any of their information, and I would suggest that you don’t without reviewing every piece of information individually. Confirming Smart Matches helps MyHeritage build Theories of Family Relativity – not to mention you may discover additional information about your ancestors. While you’re checking Smart Matches, who ARE those other people with your grandmother in their tree. Are they relatives who might have information that you don’t? This is a good opportunity to reach out. And what are those 12 pending record matches? Inquiring minds want to know. Let’s check.
patience newspapers

Click to enlarge.

  1. Check either NewsPapers.com or the Newspaper collection at MyHeritage, or both, systematically, for each ancestor. You never know what juicy tidbits you might discover about your ancestors. Often, things “forgotten” by families are the informative morsels you’ll want to know and are hidden in those local news articles. These newsy community newspapers bring the life and times of our ancestors to light in ways nothing else can. Wait, what? My Brethren ancestor, Hiram Ferverda, pleaded guilty to something??? I’d better read this article!

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  1. Interview your relatives. Make a list of questions you’d like for them to answer about themselves and the most distant common ancestors that they knew, or knew about. You can conduct interviews without being physically together via the phone or Skype or Facetime. Document what was said for the future, in writing, and possibly by recording as well. After someone has passed, hearing their voice again is priceless.

Upload download

  1. Transfer your DNA file to vendors that accept transfers, getting more bang for your testing dollars by finding more matches. 23andMe and Ancestry don’t accept transfers.  At MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA, transfers are free and so is matching, but advanced tools require a small unlock fee. I wrote a step-by-step series about how to transfer, here. Each article includes instructions for transferring from or to Ancestry, MyHeritage, 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA. Don’t forget to upload to GedMatch for additional tools.

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  1. Focus on your most irritating brick wall and review what records you do, and don’t have that could be relevant. That would include local, county, state and federal records, tax lists, census, church records and minutes and local histories if they exist. Have you called the local library and asked about vertical files or other researchers? What about state archive resources? Don’t forget activities like google searches. Have you utilized all possible DNA clues, including Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, if applicable? How about third-party tools like Genetic Affairs and DNAgedcom?

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  1. Try DNAPainter, for free. Painting your chromosomes and walking those segments back in time to your ancestors from whom they descended is so much fun. Not to mention you can integrate ethnicity and now traits, too. I’ve written instructions for using using DNAPainter in a variety of ways, here.

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  1. Expand your education by watching webinars at Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Many are free and a yearly subscription is very reasonable. Take a look, here.

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  1. Spring cleaning your house or desk. Ewww – cleaning – the activity that is never done and begins undoing itself immediately after you’ve finished? Makes any of the above 20 activities sound wonderful by comparison, right? I agree, so pick one and let’s get started!

Let me know what you find. Write about your search activities and discoveries in your Pandemic journal too.

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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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DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons

If you’re involved in genetic genealogy, you’ve probably noticed the recent announcements by both 23andMe and Ancestry relative to workforce layoffs as a result of declining sales.

Layoffs

In January, 23andMe announced that it was laying off 100 people which equated to 14% of its staff.

Following suit, Ancestry this week announced that they are laying off 100 people, 6% of their work force. They discuss their way forward, here.

One shift of this type can be a blip, but two tends to attract attention because it *could* indicate a trend. Accordingly, several articles have been written about possible reasons why this might be occurring. You can read what TechCrunch says here, Business Insider here, and The Verge, here.

Depending on who you talk to and that person’s perspective, the downturn is being attributed to:

  • Market Saturation
  • No Repeat Sales
  • Privacy Concerns
  • FAD Over

Ok, So What’s Happening?

Between Ancestry and 23andMe alone, more than 26 million DNA tests have been sold, without counting the original DNA testing company, FamilyTreeDNA along with MyHeritage who probably have another 4 or 5 million between them.

Let’s say that’s a total of 30 million people in DNA databases that offer matching. The total population of the US is estimated to be about 329 million, including children, which means that one person in 10 or 11 people in the US has now tested. Of course, DNA testing reaches worldwide, but it’s an interesting comparison indicating how widespread DNA testing has become overall.

This slowing of new sales shouldn’t really surprise anyone. In July 2019, Illumina, the chip maker who supplies equipment and supplies to the majority of the consumer DNA testing industry said that the market was softening after a drop in their 2019 second quarter revenue.

Also last year, Ancestry and MyHeritage both announced health products, a move which would potentially generate a repeat sale from someone who has already tested their DNA for genealogy purposes. I suspected at the time this might be either a pre-emptive strike, or in response to slowed sales.

In November 2019, Family Tree DNA announced an extensive high-end health test through Tovana which tests the entire Exome, the portion of our DNA useful for medical and health analysis.

In a sense, this health focus too is trendy, but moves away from genealogy into an untapped area.

23andMe who, according to their website, has obtained $791 million in venture capital or equity funding has always been focused on medical research. In July of 2018 GlaxoSmithKline infused $300 million into 23andMe in exchange for access to DNA results of their 5 million customers who have opted-in to medical research, according to Genengnews. If you divide the 300 million investment by 5 million opted-in customers, 23andMe received $60 per DNA kit.

That 5 million number is low though, based on other statements by 23andMe which suggests they have 10 million total customers, 80% of which opt-in for medical research. That would be a total of 8 million DNA results available to investors.

Divide $791 million by 8 million kits and 23andMe, over the years, has received roughly $99 for each customer who has opted in to research.

We know who Ancestry has partnered with for research, but not how much Ancestry has received.

There’s very big money, huge money, in collaborating with Big Pharma and others. Given the revenue potential, it’s amazing that the other two vendors, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, haven’t followed suit, but they haven’t.

Additionally, in January, 23andMe sold the rights to a new drug it developed in-house as a potential treatment for inflammatory diseases for a reported (but unconfirmed by 23andMe) $5 million.

It’s ironic that two companies who just announced layoffs are the two who have partnered to sell access to their opted-in customers’ DNA results.

My Thoughts

I’ve been asked several times about my thoughts on this shift within the industry. I have refrained from saying much, because I think there has been way too much “hair on fire” clickbait reporting that is fanning the flames of fear, not only in the customer base, but in general.

I am sharing my thoughts, and while they are not entirely positive, in that there is clearly room for improvement, I want to emphasize that I am very upbeat about this industry as a whole, and this article ends very positively with suggestions for exactly that – so please read through.

Regardless of why, fewer new people are testing which of course results in fewer sales, and fewer new matches for us.

My suspicion is that each of the 4 reasons given above is accurate to some extent, and the cumulative effect plus a couple of other factors is the reason we’re seeing the downturn.

Let’s take a look at each one.

Market Saturation

Indeed, we’ve come a very long way from the time when DNA was a verboten topic on the old RootsWeb mailing lists and boards.

Early DNA adopters back then were accused of “cheating,” and worse. Our posts were deleted immediately. How times have changed!

As the technology matured, 23andMe began offering autosomal testing accompanied by cousin matching.

Ancestry initially stepped into the market with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, but ultimately destroyed that database which included Y and mitochondrial DNA results from Relative Genetics, a company they had previously acquired. People in those databases, as well as who had irreplaceable samples in Sorenson, which Ancestry also purchased and subsequently took offline permanently have never forgotten.

Those genealogists have probably since tested at Ancestry, but they may be more inclined to test the rest of their family at places like Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage who have chromosome browsers and tools that support more serious researchers.

I think a contributing factor is that fewer “serious genealogists” are coming up in the ranks. The perception that all you need to do is enter a couple of generations and click on a few leaves, and you’re “done” misleads people as to the complexity and work involved in genealogical research. Not to mention how many of those hints are inaccurate and require analysis.

Having said that, I view each one of these people who are encouraged for the first time by an ad, even if it is misleading in its simplicity, as a potential candidate. We were all baby genealogists once, and some of us stayed for reasons known only to us. Maybe we have the genealogy gene😊

But yes, I would agree that the majority, by far, of serious genealogists have already tested someplace. What they have not done universally is transferred from 23andMe and Ancestry to the other companies that can help them, such as MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch. If they had, the customer numbers at those companies would be higher. We all need to fish in every pond.

Advertising and Ethnicity

The DNA ads over the last few years have focused almost exclusively on ethnicity – the least reliable aspect of genetic genealogy – but also the “easiest” to understand if a customer takes their ethnicity percentages at face value. And of course, every consumer that purchases a test as a result of one of these ads does exactly that – spits or swabs, mails and opens their results to see what they “are” – full of excited anticipation.

Many people have absolutely no idea there’s more, like cousin matching – and many probably wouldn’t care.

The buying public who purchases due to these ads are clearly not early adopters, and most likely are not genealogists. One can hope that at least a few of them get hooked as a result, or at least enter a minimal tree.

Unfortunately, of the two companies experiencing layoffs, only Ancestry supports trees. Genealogy revolves around trees, pure and simple.

23andMe has literally had years to do so and has refused to natively support trees. Their FamilySearch link is not the same as supporting trees and tree matching. Their attempt at creating a genetic tree is laudable and has potential, but it’s not something that can be translated into a genealogical benefit for most people. I’m guessing that there aren’t any genealogists working for 23andMe, or they aren’t “heard” amid the vervre surrounding medical research.

All told, I’m not surprised that the two companies who are experiencing the layoffs are the two companies whose ads we saw most often focused on ethnicity, especially Ancestry. Who can forget the infamous kilt/leiderhosen ad that Ancestry ran? I still cringe.

Many people who test for ethnicity never sign on again – especially if they are unhappy with the results.

Ancestry and 23andMe spent a lot on ad campaigns, ramped up for the resulting sales, but now the ads are less effective, so not being run as much or at all. Sales are down. Who’s to say which came first, the chicken (fewer ads) or the egg (lower sales.)

This leads us to the next topic, add on sales.

No Repeat Sales

DNA testing, unless you have something else to offer customers is being positioned as a “one and done” sale, meaning that it’s a single purchase with no potential for additional revenue. While that’s offered as a reason for the downturn, it’s not exactly true for DNA test sales.

Ancestry clearly encourages customers to subscribe to their records database by withholding access to some DNA features without a subscription. For Ancestry, DNA is the bait for a yearly repeat sale of a subscription. Genealogists subscribe, of course, but people who aren’t genealogists don’t see the benefit.

Ancestry does not allow transfers into their database, which would provide for additional revenue opportunity. I suspect the reason is twofold. First, they want the direct testing revenue, but perhaps more importantly, in order to sell their customer’s DNA who have agreed to participate in research, or partner with research firms, those customers need to have tested on Ancestry’s custom chip. This holds true for 23andMe as well.

Through the 23andMe financial information in the earlier section, it’s clear that while the consumer only pays a one time fee to test, multiple research companies will pay over and over for access to that compiled consumer information.

Ancestry and 23andMe have the product, your opted-in DNA test that you paid for, and they can sell it over and over again. Hopefully, this revenue stream helps to fund development of genetic genealogical tools.

MyHeritage also provides access to advanced DNA tools by selling a subscription to their records database after a free trial. MyHeritage has integrated their DNA testing with genealogical records to provide their advanced Theories of Family Relativity tool, a huge boon to genealogists.

While Family Tree DNA doesn’t have a genealogical records database like Ancestry and MyHeritage, they provide Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing, in addition to the autosomal Family Finder test. If more people tested Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, more genealogical walls would fall due to the unique inheritance path and the fact that neither Y nor mitochondrial DNA is admixed with DNA from the other parent.

Generally, only genealogists know about and are going to order Y DNA and mtDNA tests, or sponsor others to take them to learn more about their ancestral lines. These tests don’t provide yearly revenue like an ongoing subscription, but at least the fact that Family Tree DNA offers three different tests does provide the potential for at least some additional sales.

Both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA encourage uploads, and neither sell, lease or share your DNA for medical testing. You can find upload instructions, here.

In summary of this section, all of the DNA testing companies do have some sort of additional (potential) revenue stream from DNA testing, so it’s not exactly “one and done.”

Health Testing Products

As for health testing, 23andMe has always offered some level of health information for their customers. Health and research has always been their primary focus. Health and genealogy was originally bundled into one test. Today, DNA ancestry tests with the health option at 23andMe cost more than a genealogy-only test and are two separate products.

MyHeritage also offers a genealogy only DNA test and a genealogy plus health DNA test.

In 2019, both Ancestry and MyHeritage added health testing to their menu as upgrades for existing customers.

In November 2019, FamilyTreeDNA announced an alliance with Tovana for their customers to order a full exome grade medical test and accompanying report. I recently received mine and am still reviewing the results – they are extensive.

It’s clear that all four companies see at least some level of consumer interest in health and traits as a lucrative next step.

Medical Research and DNA Sales

Both Ancestry and 23andMe are pursuing and have invested in relationships with research institutions or Big Pharma. I have concerns with how this is handled. You may not.

I’m supportive of medical research, but I’m concerned that most people have no idea of the magnitude and scope of the contracts between Ancestry and 23andMe with Big Pharma and others, in part, because the details are not public. Customers may also not be aware of exactly what they are opting in to, what it means or where their DNA/DNA results are going.

As a consumer, I want to know where my DNA is, who is using it, and for what purpose. I don’t want my DNA to wind up being used for a nefarious purpose or something I don’t approve of. Think Uighurs in China by way of example. BGI Genetics, headquartered in China but with an Americas division and facilities in Silicon Valley has been a major research institute for years. I want to know what my DNA is being used for, and by whom. The fact that the companies won’t provide their customers with that information makes me makes me immediately wonder why not.

I would like to be able to opt-in for specific studies, not blindly for every use that is profitable to the company involved, all without my knowledge. No blank checks. For example, I opted out of 23andMe research when they patented the technology for designer babies.

Furthermore, I feel that if someone is going to profit from my DNA, it should be me since I paid for the sequencing. At minimum, a person whose DNA is used in these studies should receive some guarantee that they will be provided with any drug in which their DNA is used for development, in particular if their insurance doesn’t pay and they cannot afford the drug.

Drug prices have risen exponentially in the US recently, with many people no longer able to afford their medications. For example, the price of insulin has tripled over the last decade, causing people to ration or cut back on their insulin, if not go without altogether. It would be the greatest of ironies if the very people whose DNA was sold and used to create a drug had no access to it.

Of course, Ancestry and 23andMe are not required to inform consumers of which studies their DNA or DNA results are used for, so we don’t know. Always read all of the terms and conditions, and all links when authorizing anything.

Both companies indicate that your DNA results are anonymized before being shared, but we now know that’s not really possible anymore, because it’s relatively easy to re-identify someone. This is exactly how adoptees identify their biological parents through genetic matches. Dr. Yaniv Erlich reported in the journal Science November 2018 that more than 60% of Europeans could be reidentified through a genealogy database of only 1.28 million individuals.

I think greater transparency and a change in policy favoring the consumer would go a long way to instilling more confidence in the outside research relationships that both Ancestry and 23andMe pursue and maintain. It would probably increase their participation level as well if people could select the research initiatives to which they want to contribute their DNA.

Privacy Concerns

The news has been full of articles about genetic privacy, especially in the months since the Golden State Killer case was solved. That was only April 2018, but it seems like eons ago.

Unfortunately, much of what has been widely reported is inaccurate. For example, no company has ever thrown the data base open for the FBI or anyone to rummage through like a closet full of clothes. However, headlines and commentary like that attract outrage and hundreds of thousands of clicks. In the news and media industry, “it’s all about eyeballs.”

In one case, an article I interviewed for extensively in an educational capacity was written accurately, but the headline was awful. The journalist in question replied that the editors write the headlines, not the reporters.

One instance of this type of issue would be pretty insignificant, but the news in this vein hasn’t abated, always simmering just below the surface waiting for something to fan the flames. Outrage sells.

For the most part, those within the genealogy community at least attempt to sort out what is accurate reporting and what is not, but those people are the ones who have already tested.

People outside the genealogy community just know that they’ve now seen repeated headlines reporting that their genetic privacy either has been, could be or might be breached, and they are suspicious and leery. I would be too. They have no idea what that actually means, what is actually occurring, where, or that they are probably far more at risk on social media sites.

These people are not genealogists, and now they look at ads and think to themselves, “yes, I’d like to do that, but…”

And they never go any further.

People are frightened and simply disconnect from the topic – without testing.

If, as a consumer, you see several articles or posts saying that <fill in car model> is really bad, when you consider a purchase, even if you initially like that model, you’ll remember all of those negative messages. You may never realize that the source was the competition which would cause you to interpret those negative comments in a completely different light.

I think that some of the well-intentioned statements made by companies to reassure their existing and potential customers have actually done more harm than good by reinforcing that there’s a widespread issue. “You’re safe with us” can easily be interpreted as, “there’s something to be afraid of.”

Added to that is the sensitive topic of adoptee and unknown parent searches.

Reunion stories are wonderfully touching, and we all love them, but you seldom see the other side of the coin. Not every story has a happy ending, and many don’t. Not every parent wants to be found for a variety of reasons. If you’re the child and don’t want to find your parents, don’t test, but it doesn’t work the other way around. A parent can often be identified by their relatives’ DNA matches to their child.

While most news coverage reflects positive adoptee reunion outcomes, that’s not universal, and almost every family has a few lurking skeletons. People know that. Some people are fearful of what they might discover about themselves or family members and are correspondingly resistant to DNA testing. Realizing you might discover that your father isn’t your biological father if you DNA test gives people pause. It’s a devastating discovery and some folks decide they’d rather not take that chance, even though they believe it’s not possible.

The genealogical search techniques for identifying unknown parents or close relatives and the technique used by law enforcement to identify unknown people, either bodies or perpetrators is exactly the same. If you are in one of the databases, who you match can provide a very big hint to someone hunting for the identify of an unknown person.

People who are not genealogists, adoptees or parents seeking to find children placed for adoption may be becoming less comfortable with this idea in general.

Of course, the ability for law enforcement to upload kits to GedMatch/Verogen and Family Tree DNA, under specific controlled conditions, has itself been an explosive and divisive topic within and outside of the genealogy community since April 2018.

These law enforcement kits are either cold case remains of victims, known as “Does,” or body fluids from the scenes of violent crimes, such as rape, murder and potentially child abduction and aggravated assault. To date, since the Golden State Killer identification, numerous cases have produced a “solve.” ISOGG, a volunteer organization, maintains a page of known cases solved, here.

GEDmatch encourages people to opt-in for law-enforcement matching, meaning that their kit can be seen as a match to kits uploaded by law enforcement agencies or companies working on behalf of law enforcement agencies. If a customer doesn’t opt-in, their kit can’t be seen as a match to a law enforcement kit.

Family Tree DNA initially opted-out all EU kits from law enforcement matching, due to GDPR, and provides the option for their customers to opt-out of law-enforcement matching.

Neither MyHeritage, Ancestry nor 23andMe cooperate with law enforcment under any circumstances and have stated that they will actively resist all subpoenaes in court.

ISOGG provides a FAQ on Investigative Genetic Genealogy, here.

The two sides of the argument have rather publicly waged war on each other in an ongoing battle to convince people of the merits of their side of the equation, including working with news organizations.

Unfortunately, this topic is akin to arguing over politics. No one changes their mind, and everyone winds up mad.

Notice I’m not linking any articles here, not even my own. I do not want to fan these flames, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the topic of law enforcement usage itself, the on-going public genetic genealogy community war and resulting media coverage together have very probably contributed to the lagging sales. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that while a great division of opinion exists, and many people are opposed, there are also many people who are extremely supportive.

All of this, combined, intentionally or not, has introduced FUD, fear, uncertainty and doubt – a very old disinformation “sales technique.”

In a sense, for consumers, this has been like watching pigs mud-wrestle.

As my dad used to say, “Never mud-wrestle with a pig. The pig enjoys it, you get muddy and the spectators can’t tell the difference.” The spectators in this case vote with their lack of spending and no one is a winner.

DNA Testing Was A FAD

Another theory is that genealogy DNA testing was just a FAD whose time has come and gone. I think the FAD was ethnicity testing, and that chicken has come home to roost.

Both 23andMe and Ancestry clearly geared up for testers attracted by their very successful ads. I was just recently on a cruise, and multiple times I heard people at another table discussing their ethnicity results from some unnamed company. They introduced the topic by saying, “I did my DNA.”

The discussion was almost always the same. Someone said that they thought their ethnicity was pretty accurate, someone else said theirs was awful, and the discussion went from there. Not one time did anyone ever mention a company name, DNA matching or any other functionality. I’m not even sure they understood there are different DNA testing companies.

If I was a novice listening-in, based on that discussion, I would have learned to doubt the accuracy of “doing my DNA.”

If most of the people who purchased ethnicity tests understood in advance that ethnicity testing truly is “just an estimate,” they probably wouldn’t have purchased in the first place. If they understood the limitations and had properly set expectations, perhaps they would not have been as unhappy and disenchanted with their results. I realize that’s not very good marketing, but I think that chicken coming home to roost is a very big part of what we’re seeing now.

The media has played this up too, with stories about how the ethnicity of identical twins doesn’t match. If people bother to read more than the headline, and IF it’s a reasonably accurate article, they’ll come to understand why and how that might occur. If not, what they’ll take away is that DNA testing is wrong and unreliable. So don’t bother.

Furthermore, most people don’t understand that ethnicity testing and cousin matching are two entirely different aspects of a DNA test. The “accuracy” of ethnicity is not related to the accuracy of cousin matching, but once someone questions the credibility of DNA testing – their lack of confidence is universal.

I would agree, the FAD is over – meaning lots of people testing primarily for ethnicity. I think the marketing challenge going forward is to show people that DNA testing can be useful for other things – and to make that easy.

Ethnicity was the low hanging fruit and it’s been picked.

Slowed Growth – Not Dead in the Water

The rate of growth has slowed. This does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that genetic genealogy or DNA testing is dead in the water. DNA fishes for us 365x24x7.

For example, just today, I received a message from 23andMe that 75 new relatives have joined 23andMe. I also received match notifications from Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage.  Hey – calorie-free treats!!!

These new matches are nothing to sneeze at. I remember when I was thrilled over ONE new match.

I have well over 100,000 matches if you combine my matches at the four vendors.

Without advanced tools like triangulation, Phased Family Matching, Theories of Family Relativity, ThruLines, DNAPainter, DNAgedcom and Genetic Affairs, I’d have absolutely no prayer of grouping and processing this number of matches for genealogy.

Even if I received no new matches for the next year, I’d still not be finished analyzing the autosomal matches I already have.

This Too Shall Pass

At least I hope it will.

I think people will still test, but the market has corrected. This level of testing is probably the “new normal.”

Neither Ancestry or 23andMe are spending the big ad dollars – or at least not as big.

In order for DNA testing companies to entice customers into purchasing subscriptions or add-on products, tools need to be developed or enhanced that encourage customers to return to the site over and over. This could come in the form of additional results or functionality calculated on their behalf.

That “on their behalf” point is important. Vendors need to focus on making DNA fun, and productive, not work. New tools, especially in the last year or two, have taken a big step in that direction. Make the customer wonder every day what gift is waiting for him or her that wasn’t there yesterday. Make DNA useful and fun!

I would call this “DNA crack.” 😊

Cooking Up DNA Crack!

In order to assist the vendors, I’ve compiled one general suggestion plus what I would consider to be the “Big 3 Wish List” for each of their DNA products in term of features or improvements that would encourage customers to either use or return to their sites. (You’re welcome.)

I don’t want this to appear negative, so I’ve also included the things I like most about each vendor.

If you have something to add, please feel free to comment in a positive fashion.

Family Tree DNA

I Love: Y and Mitochondrial DNA, Phased Family Matching, and DNA projects

General Suggestion – Fix chronic site loading issues which discourage customers

  • Tree Matching – fix the current issues with trees and implement tree matching for DNA matches
  • Triangulation – including by match group and segment
  • Clustering – some form of genetic networks

MyHeritage

I Love: Theories of Family Relativity, triangulation, wide variety of filters, SmartMatches and Record Matches

General – Clarify confusing subscription options in comparative grid format

  • Triangulation by group and segment
  • View DNA matches by ancestor
  • Improved Ethnicity

Ancestry

I Love: Database size, ThruLines, record and DNA hints (green leaves)

General – Focus on the customers’ needs and repeated requests

  • Accept uploads
  • Chromosome Browser (yes, I know this is a dead horse, but that doesn’t change the need)
  • Triangulation (dead horse’s brother)

23andMe

I Love: Triangulation, Ethnicity quality, ethnicity segments identified, painted and available for download

General – Focus on genealogy tools if you’re going to sell a genealogy test

  • Implement individual customer trees – not Family Search
  • Remove 2000 match limit (which is functionally less after 23andMe hides the people not opted into matching)
  • DNA + Tree Matching

Summary

In summary, we, as consumers need to maintain our composure, assuring others that no one’s hair is on fire and the sky really is not falling. We need to calmly educate as opposed to frighten.

Just the facts.

Other approaches don’t serve us in the end. Frightening people away may “win” the argumentative battle of the day, but we all lose the war if people are no longer willing to test.

This is much like a lifeboat – we all succeed together, or we all lose.

Everybody row!

As genealogists, we need to:

  • Focus on verifying ancestors and solving genealogy challenges
  • Sharing those victories with others, including family members
  • Encourage our relatives to test, and transfer so that their testing investment provides as much benefit as possible
  • Offer to help relatives with the various options on each vendor’s platform
  • Share the joy

People share exciting good news with others, especially on Facebook and social media platforms, and feel personally invested when you share new results with them. Collaboration bonds people.

A positive attitude, balanced perspective and excitement about common ancestors goes a very, very long was in terms of encouraging others.

We have more matches now than ever before, along with more and better tools. Matches are still rolling in, every single day.

New announcements are expected at Rootstech in a couple short weeks.

There’s so much opportunity and work to do.

The sky is not falling. It rained a bit.

The seas may have been stormy, but as a genealogist, the sun is out and a rising tide lifts us all.

Rising tide

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Disclosure

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Thank you so much.

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2019: The Year and Decade of Change

2019 ends both a year and a decade. In the genealogy and genetic genealogy world, the overwhelmingly appropriate word to define both is “change.”

Everything has changed.

Millions more records are online now than ever before, both through the Big 3, being FamilySearch, MyHeritage and Ancestry, but also through multitudes of other sites preserving our history. Everyplace from National Archives to individual blogs celebrating history and ancestors.

All you need to do is google to find more than ever before.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made more progress in the past decade that in all of the previous ones combined.

Just Beginning?

If you’re just beginning with genetic genealogy, welcome! I wrote this article just for you to see what to expect when your DNA results are returned.

If you’ve been working with genetic genealogy results for some time, or would like a great review of the landscape, let’s take this opportunity to take a look at how far we’ve come in the past year and decade.

It’s been quite a ride!

What Has Changed?

EVERYTHING

Literally.

A decade ago, we had Y and mitochondrial DNA, but just the beginning of the autosomal revolution in the genetic genealogy space.

In 2010, Family Tree DNA had been in business for a decade and offered both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Ancestry offered a similar Y and mtDNA product, but not entirely the same markers, nor full sequence mitochondrial. Ancestry subsequently discontinued that testing and destroyed the matching database. Ancestry bought the Sorenson database that included Y, mitochondrial and autosomal, then destroyed that data base too.

23andMe was founded in 2006 and began autosomal testing in 2007 for health and genealogy. Genealogists piled on that bandwagon.

Family Tree DNA added autosomal to their menu in 2010, but Ancestry didn’t offer an autosomal product until 2012 and MyHeritage not until 2016. Both Ancestry and MyHeritage have launched massive marketing and ad campaigns to help people figure out “who they are,” and who their ancestors were too.

Family Tree DNA

2019 FTDNA

Family Tree DNA had a banner year with the Big Y-700 product, adding over 211,000 Y DNA SNPs in 2019 alone to total more than 438,000 by year end, many of which became newly defined haplogroups. You can read more here. Additionally, Family Tree DNA introduced the Block Tree and public Y and public mitochondrial DNA trees.

Anyone who ignores Y DNA testing does so at their own peril. Information produced by Y DNA testing (and for that matter, mitochondrial too) cannot be obtained any other way. I wrote about utilizing mitochondrial DNA here and a series about how to utilize Y DNA begins in a few days.

Family Tree DNA remains the premier commercial testing company to offer high resolution and full sequence testing and matching, which of course is the key to finding genealogy solutions.

In the autosomal space, Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide Phased Family Matching which uses your matches on both sides of your tree, assuming you link 3rd cousins or closer, to assign other testers to specific parental sides of your tree.

Family Tree DNA accepts free uploads from other testing companies with the unlock for advanced features only $19. You can read about that here and here.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage, the DNA testing dark horse, has come from behind from their late entry into the field in 2016 with focused Europeans ads and the purchase of Promethease in 2019. Their database stands at 3.7 million, not as many as either Ancestry or 23andMe, but for many people, including me – MyHeritage is much more useful, especially for my European lines. Not only is MyHeritage a genealogy company, piloted by Gilad Japhet, a passionate genealogist, but they have introduced easy-to-use advanced tools for consumers during 2019 to take the functionality lead in autosomal DNA.

2019 MyHeritage.png

You can read more about MyHeritage and their 2019 accomplishments, here.

As far as I’m concerned, the MyHeritage bases-loaded 4-product “Home Run” makes MyHeritage the best solution for genetic genealogy via either testing or transfer:

  • Triangulation – shows testers where 3 or more people match each other. You can read more, here.
  • Tree Matching – SmartMatching for both DNA testers and those who have not DNA tested
  • Theories of Family Relativity – a wonderful new tool introduced in February. You can read more here.
  • AutoClusters – Integrated cluster technology helps you to visualize which groups of people match each other.

One of their best features, Theories of Family Relativity connects the dots between people you DNA match with disparate trees and other documents, such as census. This helps you and others break down long-standing brick walls. You can read more, here.

MyHeritage encourages uploads from other testing companies with basic functions such as matching for free. Advanced features cost either a one-time unlock fee of $29 or are included with a full subscription which you can try for free, here. You can read about what is free and what isn’t, here.

You can develop a testing and upload strategy along with finding instructions for how to upload here and here.

23andMe

Today, 23andMe is best known for health, having recovered after having had their wings clipped a few years back by the FDA. They were the first to offer Health results, leveraging the genealogy marketspace to attract testers, but have recently been eclipsed by both Family Tree DNA with their high end full Exome Tovana test and MyHeritage with their Health upgrade which provides more information than 23andMe along with free genetic counseling if appropriate. Both the Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage tests are medically supervised, so can deliver more results.

23andMe has never fully embraced genetic genealogy by adding the ability to upload and compare trees. In 2019, they introduced a beta function to attempt to create a genetic tree on your behalf based on how your matches match you and each other.

2019 23andMe.png

These trees aren’t accurate today, nor are they deep, but they are a beginning – especially considering that they are not based on existing trees. You can read more here.

The best 23andMe feature for genealogy, as far as I’m concerned, is their ethnicity along with the fact that they actually provide testers with the locations of their ethnicity segments which can help testers immensely, especially with minority ancestry matching. You can read about how to do this for yourself, here.

23andMe generally does not allow uploads, probably because they need people to test on their custom-designed medical chip. Very rarely, once that I know of in 2018, they do allow uploads – but in the past, uploaders do not receive all of the genealogy features and benefits of testing.

You can however, download your DNA file from 23andMe and upload elsewhere, with instructions here.

Ancestry

Ancestry is widely known for their ethnicity ads which are extremely effective in recruiting new testers. That’s the great news. The results are frustrating to seasoned genealogists who get to deal with the fallout of confused people trying to figure out why their results don’t match their expectations and family stories. That’s the not-so-great news.

However, with more than 15 million testers, many of whom DO have genealogy trees, a serious genealogist can’t *NOT* test at Ancestry. Testers do need to be aware that not all features are available to DNA testers who don’t also subscribe to Ancestry’s genealogy subscriptions. For example, you can’t see your matches’ trees beyond a 5 generation preview without a subscription. You can read more about what you do and don’t receive, here.

Ancestry is the only one of the major companies that doesn’t provide a chromosome browser, despite pleas for years to do so, but they do provide ThruLines that show you other testers who match your DNA and show a common ancestor with you in their trees.

2019 Ancestry.png

ThruLines will also link partial trees – showing you ancestral descendants from the perspective of the ancestor in question, shown above. You can read about ThruLines, here.

Of course, without a chromosome browser, this match is only as good as the associated trees, and there is no way to prove the genealogical connection. It’s possible to all be wrong together, or to be related to some people through a completely different ancestor. Third party tools like Genetic Affairs and cluster technology help resolve these types of issues. You can read more, here.

You can’t upload DNA files from other testing companies to Ancestry, probably due to their custom medical chip. You can download your file from Ancestry and upload to other locations, with instructions here.

Selling Customers’ DNA

Neither Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage nor Gedmatch sell, lease or otherwise share their customers’ DNA, and all three state (minimally) they will not in the future without prior authorization.

All companies utilize their customers’ DNA internally to enhance and improve their products. That’s perfectly normal.

Both Ancestry and 23andMe sell consumers DNA to both known and unknown partners if customers opt-in to additional research. That’s the purpose of all those questions.

If you do agree or opt-in, and for those who tested prior to when the opt-in began, consumers don’t know who their DNA has been sold to, where it is or for what purposes it’s being utilized. Although anonymized (pseudonymized) before sale, autosomal results can easily be identified to the originating tester (if someone were inclined to do so) as demonstrated by adoptees identifying parents and law enforcement identifying both long deceased remains and criminal perpetrators of violent crimes. You can read more about re-identification here, although keep in mind that the re-identification frequency (%) would be much higher now than it was in 2018.

People are widely split on this issue. Whatever you decide, to opt-in or not, just be sure to do your homework first.

Always read the terms and conditions fully and carefully of anything having to do with genetics.

Genealogy

The bottom line to genetic genealogy is the genealogy aspect. Genealogists want to confirm ancestors and discover more about those ancestors. Some information can only be discovered via DNA testing today, distant Native heritage, for example, breaking through brick walls.

This technology, as it has advanced and more people have tested, has been a godsend for genealogists. The same techniques have allowed other people to locate unknown parents, grandparents and close relatives.

Adoptees

Not only are genealogists identifying people long in the past that are their ancestors, but adoptees and those seeking unknown parents are making discoveries much closer to home. MyHeritage has twice provided thousands of free DNA tests via their DNAQuest program to adoptees seeking their biological family with some amazing results.

The difference between genealogy, which looks back in time several generations, and parent or grand-parent searches is that unknown-parent searches use matches to come forward in time to identify parents, not backwards in time to identify distant ancestors in common.

Adoptee matching is about identifying descendants in common. According to Erlich et al in an October 2018 paper, here, about 60% of people with European ancestry could be identified. With the database growth since that time, that percentage has risen, I’m sure.

You can read more about the adoption search technique and how it is used, here.

Adoptee searches have spawned their own subculture of sorts, with researchers and search angels that specialize in making these connections. Do be aware that while many reunions are joyful, not all discoveries are positively received and the revelations can be traumatic for all parties involved.

There’s ying and yang involved, of course, and the exact same techniques used for identifying biological parents are also used to identify cold-case deceased victims of crime as well as violent criminals, meaning rapists and murderers.

Crimes Solved

The use of genetic genealogy and adoptee search techniques for identifying skeletal remains of crime victims, as well as identifying criminals in order that they can be arrested and removed from the population has resulted in a huge chasm and division in the genetic genealogy community.

These same issues have become popular topics in the press, often authored by people who have no experience in this field, don’t understand how these techniques are applied or function and/or are more interested in a sensational story than in the truth. The word click-bait springs to mind although certainly doesn’t apply equally to all.

Some testers are adamantly pro-usage of their DNA in order to identify victims and apprehend violent criminals. Other testers, not so much and some, on the other end of the spectrum are vehemently opposed. This is a highly personal topic with extremely strong emotions on both sides.

The first such case was the Golden State Killer, which has been followed in the past 18 months or so by another 100+ solved cases.

Regardless of whether or not people want their own DNA to be utilized to identify these criminals and victims, providing closure for families, I suspect the one thing we can all agree on is that we are grateful that these violent criminals no longer live among us and are no longer preying on innocent victims.

I wrote about the Golden State Killer, here, as well as other articles here, here, here and here.

In the genealogy community, various vendors have adopted quite different strategies relating to these kinds of searches, as follows:

  • Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage – have committed to fight all access attempts by law enforcement, including court ordered subpoenas.
  • MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch allow uploads, so forensic kits, meaning kits from deceased remains or rape kits could be uploaded to search for matches, the same as any other kit. Law Enforcement uploads violate the MyHeritage terms of service. Both Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch have special law enforcement procedures in place. All three companies have measures in place to attempt to detect unauthorized forensic uploads.
  • Family Tree DNA has provided a specific Law Enforcement protocol and guidelines for forensic uploads, here. All EU customers were opted out earlier in 2019, but all new or existing non-EU customers need to opt out if they do not want their DNA results available for matching to law enforcement kits.
  • GEDmatch was recently sold to Verogen, a DNA forensics company, with information, here. Currently GEDMatch customers are opted-out of matching for law enforcement kits, but can opt-in. Verogen, upon purchase of GEDmatch, required all users to read the terms and conditions and either accept the terms or delete their kits. Users can also delete their kits or turn off/on law enforcement matching at any time.

New Concerns

Concerns in late 2019 have focused on the potential misuse of genetic matching to potentially target subsets of individuals by despotic regimes such as has been done by China to the Uighurs.

You can read about potential risks here, here and here, along with a recent DoD memo here.

Some issues spelled out in the papers can be resolved by vendors agreeing to cryptographically sign their files when customers download. Of course, this would require that everyone, meaning all vendors, play nice in the sandbox. So far, that hasn’t happened although I would expect that the vendors accepting uploads would welcome cryptographic signatures. That pretty much leaves Ancestry and 23andMe. I hope they will step up to the plate for the good of the industry as a whole.

Relative to the concerns voiced in the papers and by the DoD, I do not wish to understate any risks. There ARE certainly risks of family members being identified via DNA testing, which is, after all, the initial purpose even though the current (and future) uses were not foreseen initially.

In most cases, the cow has already left that barn. Even if someone new chooses not to test, the critical threshold is now past to prevent identification of individuals, at least within the US and/or European diaspora communities.

I do have concerns:

  • Websites where the owners are not known in the genealogical community could be collecting uploads for clandestine purposes. “Free” sites are extremely attractive to novices who tend to forget that if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Please be very cognizant and leery. Actually, just say no unless you’re positive.
  • Fearmongering and click-bait articles in general will prevent and are already causing knee-jerk reactions, causing potential testers to reject DNA testing outright, without doing any research or reading terms and conditions.
  • That Ancestry and 23andMe, the two major vendors who don’t accept uploads will refuse to add crypto-signatures to protect their customers who download files.

Every person needs to carefully make their own decisions about DNA testing and participating in sharing through third party sites.

Health

Not surprisingly, the DNA testing market space has cooled a bit this past year. This slowdown is likely due to a number of factors such as negative press and the fact that perhaps the genealogical market is becoming somewhat saturated. Although, I suspect that when vendors announce major new tools, their DNA kit sales spike accordingly.

Look at it this way, do you know any serious genealogists who haven’t DNA tested? Most are in all of the major databases, meaning Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch.

All of the testing companies mentioned above (except GEDmatch who is not a testing company) now have a Health offering, designed to offer existing and new customers additional value for their DNA testing dollar.

23andMe separated their genealogy and health offering years ago. Ancestry and MyHeritage now offer a Health upgrade. For existing customers, FamilyTreeDNA offers the Cadillac of health tests through Tovana.

I would guess it goes without saying here that if you really don’t want to know about potential health issues, don’t purchase these tests. The flip side is, of course, that most of the time, a genetic predisposition is nothing more and not a death sentence.

From my own perspective, I found the health tests to be informative, actionable and in some cases, they have been lifesaving for friends.

Whoever knew genealogy might save your life.

Innovative Third-Party Tools

Tools, and fads, come and go.

In the genetic genealogy space, over the years, tools have burst on the scene to disappear a few months later. However, the last few years have been won by third party tools developed by well-known and respected community members who have created tools to assist other genealogists.

As we close this decade, these are my picks of the tools that I use almost daily, have proven to be the most useful genealogically and that I feel I just “couldn’t live without.”

And yes, before you ask, some of these have a bit of a learning curve, but if you are serious about genealogy, these are all well worthwhile:

  • GedMatch – offers a wife variety of tools including triangulation, half versus fully identical segments and the ability to see who your matches also match. One of the tools I utilize regularly is segment search to see who else matches me on a specific segment, attached to an ancestor I’m researching. GedMatch, started by genealogists, has lasted more than a decade prior to the sale in December 2019.
  • Genetic Affairs – a barn-burning newcomer developed by Evert-Jan Blom in 2018 wins this years’ “Best” award from me, titled appropriately, the “SNiPPY.”.

Genetic Affairs 2019 SNiPPY Award.png

Genetic Affairs offers clustering, tree building between your matches even when YOU don’t have a tree. You can read more here.

2019 genetic affairs.png

Just today, Genetic Affairs released a new cluster interface with DNAPainter, example shown above.

  • DNAPainter – THE chromosome painter created by Jonny Perl just gets better and better, having added pedigree tree construction this year and other abilities. I wrote a composite instructional article, here.
  • DNAGedcom.com and Genetic.Families, affiliated with DNAAdoption.org – Rob Warthen in collaboration with others provides tools like clustering combined with triangulation. My favorite feature is the gathering of all direct ancestors of my matches’ trees at the various vendors where I’ve DNA tested which allows me to search for common surnames and locations, providing invaluable hints not otherwise available.

Promising Newcomer

  • MitoYDNA – a non-profit newcomer by folks affiliated with DNAAdoption and DNAGedcom is designed to replace YSearch and MitoSearch, both felled by the GDPR ax in 2018. This website allows people to upload their Y and mitochondrial DNA results and compare the values to each other, not just for matching, which you can do at Family Tree DNA, but also to see the values that do and don’t match and how they differ. I’ll be taking MitoYDNA for a test drive after the first of the year and will share the results with you.

The Future

What does the future hold? I almost hesitate to guess.

  • Artificial Intelligence Pedigree Chart – I think that in the not-too-distant future we’ll see the ability to provide testers with a “one and done” pedigree chart. In other words, you will test and receive at least some portion of your genealogy all tidily presented, red ribbon untied and scroll rolled out in front of you like you’re the guest on one of those genealogy TV shows.

Except it’s not a show and is a result of DNA testing, segment triangulation, trees and other tools which narrow your ancestors to only a few select possibilities.

Notice I said, “the ability to.” Just because we have the ability doesn’t mean a vendor will implement this functionality. In fact, just think about the massive businesses built upon the fact that we, as genealogists, have to SEARCH incessantly for these elusive answers. Would it be in the best interest of these companies to just GIVE you those answers when you test?

If not, then these types of answers will rest with third parties. However, there’s a hitch. Vendors generally don’t welcome third parties offering advanced tools and therefore block those tools, even though they are being used BY the customer or with their explicit authorization to massage their own data.

On the other hand, as a genealogist, I would welcome this feature with open arms – because as far as I’m concerned, the identification of that ancestor is just the first step. I get to know them by fleshing out their bones by utilizing those research records.

In fact, I’m willing to pony up to the table and I promise, oh-so-faithfully, to maintain my subscription lifelong if one of those vendors will just test me. Please, please, oh pretty-please put me to the test!

I guess you know what my New Year’s Wish is for this and upcoming years now too😊

What About You?

What do you think the high points of 2019 have been?

How about the decade?

What do you think the future holds?

Do you care to make any predictions?

Are you planning to focus on any particular goal or genealogy problem in 2020?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Genetic Affairs Reconstructs Trees from Genetic Clusters – Even Without Your Tree or Common Ancestors

Since Genetic Affairs launched in 2018, they’ve added a LOT of new functionality. I initially wrote about their clustering functionality here.

Genetic Affairs AutoClustering, SuperClusters and brand-new AutoTree tree reconstruction are to-die-for features for traditional genealogists. For adoptees or people seeking unknown parentage, they are the best thing since sliced bread, automating tasks previously peformed manually over labor-filled hours, days and months.

Why Genetic Affairs?

Genetic Affairs works with matches from three vendors; Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder test and 23andMe.

MyHeritage has integrated a version of Genetic Affairs directly into their product offering on the MyHeritage website so every MyHeritage DNA customer receives clustering functionality, free, through MyHeritage, but not tree reconstruction.

GedMatch has also implemented an autocluster version for Tier 1 users, but GedMatch’s version only works at GedMatch, of course, and does not include the new tree reconstruction feature.

This article pertains to the functionality of the features available directly through Genetic Affairs, including:

  • Clustering your matches visually to identify ancestral lines of people that match you and each other
  • Reports by cluster including common surnames and locations
  • Analysis of trees within each cluster to identify common ancestors
  • Partially reconstructs trees with your known ancestors for each cluster
  • Partially reconstructs trees between your matches even if you don’t have a tree or don’t share the common ancestor

Genetic Affairs provides visualization for linked DNA matches along with critically important clues to help you figure out just how you are related to these people, and these clusters of interrelated people. The Genetic Affairs user manual can be found here.

Analysis

Each time you run Genetic Affairs is called an analysis. Each analysis scans your kit at the selected vendor(s) for all current matches. A few minutes later, you receive a zip file via e-mail with two or three files depending on your selections at Genetic Affairs and the tree availabilty of the vendor:

  • Autocluster file including the visual clusters plus additional information
  • Excel spreadsheet of cluster members and relevant information such as common ancestors and common locations
  • Tree file containing reconstructed trees (23andMe does not support trees, so no trees are available for 23andMe clusters)

Let’s look at each feature. Grab a cup of coffee and head for the computer.

Selecting Analysis Options

I encourage you to experiment. Selecting a wider range of cM (centimorgans) results in a larger file, but may also mean that the analysis times out.

For this report, I’m utilizing my matches at FamilyTreeDNA and selected a cM range of 50 minimum and 250 maximum. I wanted a minimum cluster size of 2 people, meaning 2 in addition to me. This resulted in 249 total matches that met that criteria and 20 people who met the cM criteria but did not have another person with whom to cluster.

I tried a second analysis using 20 cM – 300 cM resulting in a much larger file with 499 people in the cluster group. Currently, 499 is the maximum that will be processed.

Genetic Affairs profiles.png

On the Genetic Affairs Profiles page, I can view all of the profiles I manage. Users can schedule updates where Genetic Affairs automatically scans for matches and produces reports.

Genetic Affairs my profiles

Click to enlarge

By clicking on the Autoscan button, you can schedule automated recurring scans with e-mail notification.

Genetic Affairs autoscan

Click to enlarge

You can scan daily, weekly, monthly or never – whatever interval you select.

You can select both the minimum level of DNA match and the minimum cM. The lowest you can select is 9cM.

You can view any e-mails that have been sent to you by Genetic Affairs. The green envelope means that there’s something in your e-mail box. This answers the question about whether the report was completed and sent. If the report has been sent, but is not in your e-mail, check your spam filter.

Starting the Scan

Back on the Genetic Affairs profiles page, you can initiate an autocluster by clicking on the AutoCluster button where you’ll see the options based on which vendor you’ve selected.

Genetic Affairs autocluster.png

For example, at Ancestry, you can include only people in a particular group or only starred matches.

Genetic Affairs Ancestry autocluster

Click to enlarge

23andMe includes surname enrichment and triangulated groups options.

Genetic Affairs 23andme autocluster.png

FamilyTreeDNA and Ancestry both include the “AutoTree – identify common ancestors from trees” option. It’s very important that you click this box if you select the “Default AutoCluster” option – or you won’t get the reconstructed trees.

Genetic Affairs default autocluster.png

Of course, you can always run the analysis again.

Genetic Affairs autotree.png

If you click on the “AutoTree AutoCluster” function, the AutoTree box is already checked for you.

Genetic Affairs autotree autocluster.png

Rule Based AutoCluster

The “Rule based AutoCluster” is a dream-come-true for people seeking unknown parents or ancestors in a relatively recent timeframe.

Genetic Affairs Rule Based Autocluster.png

The “Rule based AutoCluster” provides you with options that allow you to do three things:

  • NOT – Exclude your matches with someone else. For example, your mother has tested. You can use the NOT rule to exclude anyone you might match through your mother’s side, providing you with clusters from your father’s side.
  • AND – Combine your results with someone else’s. If you have identified a half-sibling, you can view only clusters of only people who match you AND your half sibling.
  • OR – Combined rules. You can request a cluster of everyone in clusters with person A but not in a cluster with person B. In this case, if you match a number of half siblings, you can include all of their matches, except people who match them through their “other” parent, if that parent has tested.

Genetic Affairs has provided some graphics and examples here, but you may have to be a member of the site to access this page because the options are customized for you. So I’ll include the non-customized information, below. You can click these to open in a separate window and enlarge.

Genetic Affairs rule based 1.pngGenetic Affairs rule based 2.png

The “Rule based AutoCluster” explanations provided by Genetic Affairs.

Genetic Affairs rule based 3.png

Read the details of how these tools work. They are powerful, so don’t assume you understand without reading carefully.

Now let’s cluster!

Clustering Your Matches

Genetic Affairs autocluster order.png

At Genetic Affairs, if you initiate clustering by clicking on the AutoCluster button, you’ll need to put a checkmark in the AutoTree function box. If you began by clicking the AutoTree button, the box is automatically checked for you.

A few minutes later, you’ll receive an email with a zipped file. Save this file to someplace on your computer where you can find it, and open the zipped file by clicking.

Genetic Affairs zip file.png

You’ll see the files, above.

Click on the chrome AutoCluster HTML file which will display in your browser.

The first thing you will see is your visual autocluster. It’s so much fun to watch your matches “fly” into place!

Each of the people in this cluster are somehow related to the other people in the custer who have cells of the same color. The people with grey cells are included in two clusters – meaning the one to the right and the one above, both.

Genetic Affairs cluster.png

The names of the matches are listed to the left and above the display.

The legend is to the right.

Genetic Affairs cluster legend.png

I have a total of 41 clusters.

Scrolling down the page, each cluster has additional information, and each column is searchable or selectable, including comments I’ve entered at the vendor.

Genetic Affairs autocluster info

Click to enlarge

Just by looking at these first 3 matches, I know immediately which side of the family and which ancestors are involved with this cluster. I can look at my notes, to the right, which indicate whether I’ve identified our common ancestor. I paint identified matches at DNAPainter which I’ve entered into the notes field at the vendor.

If I’m signed in to my account at the vendor, I can click on my match’s tree link, above, and take a look. Keep in mind that these people can be related to you, and each other, through multiple ancestors.

Genetic Affairs autocluster members.png

You can hover over any person in the grid, above, to view additional information. For each person whose square is grey, indicating membership in (at least) two clusters, you can hover over the grey square and view the members of both clusters. In this case, I’m hovered over the grey square of Brooke and E.H and the black box shows me who is in both people’s clusters.

Note that while a match could be related to you through several ancestors, and hence be in more than 2 clusters, because of the grid nature of clustering, a match can only be displayed in a maximum of 2 different clusters.

Looking at the auto-generated table below, I see the common surnames in cluster 1. Keep in mind that many of these people maybe related to each other through a spouse that you aren’t. Your ancestor’s brother’s children, for example, are also related to each other through your ancestor’s brother’s wife.

Genetic Affairs surnames.png

I know that Vannoy is the common line, but Upton isn’t my ancestor – at least not that I know of. However, a surname with 20 people in a cluster needs to be investigated and evaluated. Do I have any missing wives in this line? Here’s a really great place to start digging.

In this case, it turns out that one of my ancestor’s children married an Upton, and several of his descendants have tested.

Let’s see what other tools we have.

The Ancestor Spreadsheet

Opening the spreadsheet file, I see several rows and columns.

Genetic Affairs common ancestor

Click to enlarge

The common ancestor between the people in the rows is listed at left. The green cells are from my tree.

Two example ancestors are shown above, Mary McDowell and William Harrell, who just happen to have been married to each other.

Scrolling on down, I see rows without green cells.

Genetic Affairs ancestors

Click to enlarge

These people share a common ancestor in their trees, an ancestor that isn’t in my tree. Presumably this is an ancestor I don’t share with them – or one I haven’t identified.

For example, “Bev” and “van” share William Grubb. “Vicki” and “Mark” share Martha Helen Smith. I don’t share either of these ancestors, but Martha Smith married Alvis Winster Bolton, the son of my ancestor – so I know why Martha Helen Smith appears as a common person in the trees of my matches, but not me.

Further down in the same cluster, I notice that one match shares multiple lines in our trees. Therefore, our DNA match could be on either line, or some segments from one line and some from the other.

Scrolling to the bottom of each cluster’s sheet, common locations are provided.

Genetic Affairs locations

Click to enlarge

While the designation of “Tennessee” isn’t terribly exciting, scrolling further down provides a list by county, and that IS exciting, especially if you’re chasing a brick wall. Sometimes a group of ancestors in a location where you’re seeking a female’s family is very suggestive especially when combined with ancestral names and surnames.

Let’s move on to the third group of files, Trees.

The Tree File

Click on the tree file and you’ll see the following.

Genetic Affairs tree file.png

Reconstructed Trees

For each cluster where trees can be reconstructed, you’ll see two files for cluster 1:

  • Ancestors 1
  • Tree 1

Opening the file labeled Ancestors 1, I see the following information for the first ancestor, meaning a common ancestor between the two people listed below that ancestor. You can click to enlarge these images.

Genetic Affairs ancestors by cluster.png

Opening the corresponding Tree 1 file, I see that Genetic Affairs has reconstructed the tree between me and the other testers as best it can based on the provided trees.

Genetic Affairs reconstructed trees.png

Looking at the tree for cluster 3, below, I see this line in cluster 1, above, has been extended because Sarah, the pink match and me all share a common ancestor, Elizabeth Shepherd.

Genetic Affairs reconstructed tree 2.png

Looking at another cluster, below, while I don’t share an ancestor in a tree, three people that I match at a relatively high level do.

Genetic Affairs reconstructed tree no common ancestor.png

As you can see, their common ancestor is Anne Adelaide Chiasson. This is my Acadian line, so our common ancestor or ancestors must be someplace on up that tree, or the result of an undocumented adoption, or a missing ancestor in our trees.

Constructing the trees of your matches to each other, even when you don’t have a common ancestor in your tree, is the best feature of all.

Clustering plus tree reconstruction, especially in combination with the other clues, is the key to breaking through those unyielding  brick walls.

Super AutoClusters

Just as I was getting ready to publish this article, Genetic Affairs released a new feature called Super AutoCluster.

I absolutely love this, because it combines your clusters from multiple vendors – today Ancestry, who does not provide segment information, along with Family Tree DNA, who  provides invaluable segment information.

This combination can be extremely powerful.

To begin a Super AutoCluster, click on that option under an AncestryDNA kit that also has a kit at Family Tree DNA. Both kits need to have a profile at Genetic Affairs.

Genetic Affairs supercluster.png

Next, you’ll see the screen confirming the kits to use. The combined autocluster tool is limited to a total of 500 matches, or 250 at each account. However, that’s more than enough to make some great progress.

Press “Perform Analysis.”

Drum roll please…

Voila, your combined cluster.

Genetic Affairs supercluster cluster

Click to enlarge

In this example, you can see the large peach and purple Ancestry clusters. The green red, brown and pink smaller clusters are Family Tree DNA clusters. The Family Tree DNA clusters have tiny little Fs in their cells. If you click the above graphic to enlarge, you can see the Fs.

However, the grey cells that intersect the two clusters, meaning an Ancestry and a Family Tree DNA cluster, are found in both of those clusters, connecting the clusters for you logically.

If you look closely at the cells labeled here with “common names,” you’ll see “N” in the cells indicating a common names for you to check out within that cluster.

The “Common Ancestors” box shows the people who connect to both clusters.

There are also a number of people that span the green and red Family Tree DNA clusters too.

Genetic Affairs then proceeds to combine the clustered DNA matches and trees for you from both vendors.

Genetic Affairs supercluster tree

Click to enlarge

In addition to the cluster graph and spreadsheet information that now includes combined information, you’ll see a much larger clustered tree.

And again, the best part is that even if you don’t know how you connect to people through trees, their tree and ancestors will be connected, even if you’re absent. You’ll be present in the genetic cluster itself, so you can work the combined tree cluster to see where you might fit in that branch of the family. Because trust me, you do fit – somehow, someplace.

Cost

Genetic Affairs uses a “credit” payment system. Your first 200 credits are free so you can learn. These may last you for weeks or months, depending on how often you run the clusters. If you manage multiple kits, you’ll use credits more quickly, but it’s worth every last dollar. Genetic Affairs is very inexpensive. I manage multiple accounts and I spend around $5 per month. You can read about Genetic Affairs’ payment plans and see sample calculations here.

My recommendation is simply to dive in and use your free credits. By the way, I’m gifting myself with a “credit purchase” for Christmas😊

Genetic Affairs is a wonderful genealogy gift idea for serious genealogists, adoptees or people seeking unknown parents or ancestors in recent generations.

Have You Tested or Transferred With All 4 Vendors?

If you haven’t yet tested at or transferred to each of the main 4 vendors, clustering, reconstructed trees and SuperClusters is yet another reason to do so. Additionally, every close relative’s DNA holds hints that yours doesn’t, so be sure to test them too.

You can purchase kits, below, or read about how to transfer your DNA to vendors who accept uploads – FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch, all for free, here.

Enjoy!

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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