Testing Strategy – Should I Test at Ancestry and Transfer to Family Tree DNA?

As most people know by now, Ancestry doesn’t accept DNA file transfers from other vendors, so many people recommend testing first at Ancestry and then transferring to Family Tree DNA.

Actually, that’s not always the best choice.

  • There is nothing inherently WRONG with that strategy, but it may not be right for you either. Transferring to Family Tree DNA from Ancestry certainly won’t hurt anything, but a transfer will only provide 20-25% of your matches if you tested at Ancestry after May of 2016 because the DNA chips used for processing are different at the two vendors.
  • If you tested at Ancestry before May of 2016, the Ancestry kit and the Family Tree DNA kits are identical, so transferring will give you the same matches at Family Tree DNA as if you had tested there. You are on the Ancestry V1 kit, so just transfer.  There is no need for a V1 kit to retest at Family Tree DNA. The transfer itself is free, as are your matches, but to unlock all features and tools costs $19. A bargain.
  • If you tested at Ancestry after May of 2016, you tested on the V2 kit. Ancestry changed the markers tested and now the Ancestry kit is only partially compatible with Family Tree DNA. As an Ancestry V2 transfer kit, you will only receive about 20-25% of the matches you would receive if you tested at Family Tree DNA.  The matches you receive will be your closest matches, but is that enough?

For some people, especially adoptees, your closest matches may be all that you are interested in.  If so, you’re golden with any Ancestry transfer.

For genealogists, you’re missing 75-80% of your matches, and your brick-wall breaker may well be in that group. Not good at all!

Let’s look at my kits for example.  I have tested directly at Family Tree DNA, and I have also transferred an Ancestry V2 kit to Family Tree DNA.

As you can see, my Family Finder kit received 3115 matches.  My Ancestry V2 transfer kit only received 26.65% of those matches.

Plus, if you attach the DNA of known family members to your tree, Family Tree DNA provides phased matching, which tells you which side of your tree a match connects to.  In the example above, that means that I know immediately which side 1236 of my matches connect to.  That’s a whopping 40% and that’s before I even look at their trees or common surnames! This is an incredible tool.

People who recommend that you test at Ancestry, today, and transfer to Family Tree DNA may not understand the unintended consequences, or they may be people who work primarily with adoptees. They may also not understand the value of phased matches for genealogists.

For people who tested at Ancestry after May of 2016, my recommendation is to take the Family Finder test directly at Family Tree DNA as well as test at Ancestry separately.

If you tested at MyHeritage, that test is fully compatible at Family Tree DNA as well, so do transfer, no retest needed!

To Order or Transfer

To order your Family Finder test, click here and then on the Family Finder test, shown below.

To transfer to Family Tree DNA for free from any company, click here and then in the upper left hand corner of the screen, click Autosomal Transfer, last option under the dropdown under the blue DNA Tests to get started.

Related Articles:

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc.  In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received.  In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product.  I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community.  If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Black Friday, Holiday and DNA Sales by Any Other Names

Now that DNA testing has gone mainstream, with more and more people interested and testing – it’s the perfect time to purchase kits for yourself and family.

Remember, genetic genealogy is a team sport and the more people who test, the more successful everyone will be!

This is the first year that there have been numerous companies having pre-holiday sales, Black Friday sales, Cyber Sales and any other kind of sale they can have to attract attention.  A rose by any other name is still a sale😊

My first suggestion is to stay mainstream.  Because of the popularity of DNA testing, many new companies are jumping on the bandwagon with somewhat questionable products.  Don’t get caught up purchasing something you really didn’t mean to purchase and whose results are sketchy, at best.

Therefore, I’m listing the companies I consider to be mainstream below, whether or not I’m 100% comfortable with their products or terms and conditions.  As always, the companies I link to, I do recommend and feel that their products bring the best value to consumers transparently and without other agendas.  You can read more about the individual companies and their products as I’ve discussed their products and services over time by utilizing the little search icon at the right hand side of the blog page.

Who To Test With?

My recommendation is to unquestionably take the following genealogy tests, minimally:

  • Autosomal DNA (Family Finder test) at Family Tree DNA includes ethnicity, matching and advanced tools
  • Y DNA Test (males only) at Family Tree DNA for patrilineal line, includes haplogroup estimate and matching
  • Mitochondrial DNA Test at Family Tree DNA for matrilineal line includes matching and haplogroup
  • AncestryDNA autosomal test includes ethnicity and matching

There is an entire range of secondary testing companies that I would add after that, with the autosomal matching tests the highest priority:

  • MyHeritage autosomal test includes matching and ethnicity
  • 23andMe autosomal test includes matching, ethnicity and haplogroups

Other tests don’t provide matching, but do provide interesting features:

Not a testing company, but genealogy research provided by:

Last, a new startup company with cool DNA gear:

If you want to research the pros, cons and details of the tests and what each company offers, please read these two articles:

If you’re an adoptee or looking for an unidentified parent or grandparent, you’ll want to test at all 4 companies that provide matching to other testers:

Ready, set, go….sales!

The Sales

Let’s look at the sales being offered at each company.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA has announced a Black Friday sale on their Family Finder autosomal test priced at $49 which you can order here.

However, many other tests are on sale as well and will continue to be on sale throughout the holiday season.

Family Tree DNA’s holiday sale began on November 12th and will continue through the end of the year.  Sale items include Y and mitochondrial DNA, their autosomal Family Finder test, and some upgrades – most notably – the Big Y which includes a free upgrade to a 111 STR test.

Their autosomal Family Finder test includes ethnicity, matching to relatives as well as a dozen or so tools to help you with your genealogy.

Family Tree DNA is definitely the most sophisticated testing company, providing the most tools without the need for an added subscription.

In addition to their Holiday Sale, they post a Holiday Rewards coupon to the personal page of everyone who have already tested.  I provide mine from the multiple accounts I manage weekly for people to share.

Recent articles about the Big Y testing and sales include:

If you’ve every considered Y DNA testing (for males) or you have already tested and would like to purchase the Big Y, now is definitely the time.

Ancestry

Ancestry.com autosomal DNA kits are on sale for $79 in the US.

Ancestry’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale provides the same kit for £49 in the UK.

These kits include both ethnicity and matching, but please be aware that only about half of the features are available without at least a minimal subscription.

Be sure to review the terms and conditions carefully before purchase to assure that you are comfortable with the ways in which your DNA may be shared with other entities.

MyHeritage

The MyHeritage autosomal test is on sale for $49 but the sale only runs through November 27th. They are also offering free shipping on 3 kits or more.

You can order here.

23andMe

23andMe is offering their autosomal test which includes ethnicity and matching at the price of 2 for $49 each for their Ancestry Service kit which is genealogy only, without the health traits.  Their Health plus Ancestry remains at its normal price.

Be sure to review the terms and conditions carefully before purchase to assure that you are comfortable with the ways in which your DNA may be shared with other entities.

Genographic Project

The Genographic Project kit which provides ethnicity plus Y (males only) and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups (males and females) regularly for $99.95, but reduced to $69 this weekend. The Genographic project does not provide matching but does support open research.

This price reflects that the Helix processing and kit is actually free, and you are only paying for the Genographic app.

LivingDNA

The LivingDNA test which provides ethnicity results focused on the British Isles plus Y (males only) and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups (males and females) is regularly offered for $159, but is $89 for Black Friday.

Insitome

First purchase only, $80 off plus free shipping.  What this really means is that you are receiving the Helix text kit for free and are only paying for the Insitome app, which is ALSO on sale.

I recently reviewed the Neanderthal and Metabolism apps here.

Insitome is announcing today that they are adding a third product focusing on Regional Ancestry.

Want a sneak peek? Here you go, compliments of Insitome!

In addition to the map above, testers will be receiving a migration map as well

I don’t have my own results yet to share with you, but as soon as I do, guaranteed, I’ll be writing an article.

You can order the Regional Ancestry product now for $19.99, but results won’t be available for delivery until around January 8th. The best deal is this weekend, but after Cyber Monday, the Ancestry Regional app is still on sale, as follows

  • From Black Friday – Cyber Monday
    • You get a free Helix DNA kit + shipping
    • First time purchasers get it for $19.99
    • 2nd time purchasers get it for $19.99
  • From Tuesday, November 28th – December 12th
    • You get free shipping from Helix
    • First time purchasers get it for $59.99
    • 2nd time purchasers get it for $19.99

I don’t think the $19 price is supposed to be available until Black Friday, but I notice it’s available now if you click on the “Order for myself” button through this link.  The price is adjusted in the shopping car. Click here to order.

Legacy Tree Genealogists

Legacy Tree Genealogists doesn’t do DNA testing, but they do a great job of genealogy research, especially if you have a brick wall.  In my case, this occurs with overseas research where I don’t know the language, the customs or even where records are kept.

Legacy Tree’s DNA related specialty is with adoptee and missing parent searches.  Their staff does include an awesome specialist in this type of research, Paul Woodbury.

To purchase genealogy research, or to obtain a quote, click here and use the code CYBER100 to obtain $100 off through November 29th. If you miss the Cyber Sale, you can always get $50 off by using this link and telling them Roberta referred you.

DNAGeeks

New to the scene, DNAGEEKS, founded by geneticists David Mittelman and Razib Kahn, doesn’t offer a DNA test, but does offer DNA themed garb, gadgets and coming soon, educational items. As everyone knows, I’m a HUGE fan of education and anything to encourage people to ask questions and become interested in DNA and DNA testing is wonderful

Also, DNAGEEKS gets the 2017 award for the coolest website picture, above!

My personal favorite item is the orange helix t-shirt – and yes, I’m ordering one.  Not even waiting for Santa!

I suggested to David Mittelman, that I would really like a helix cover for my iPhone.  A few hours later, he e-mailed me with this new product. I’m so geeked – pardon the pun. The great news is that you can order one too!

What do you think?  Your phone is the ONE thing everyone sees – so why not make a statement!

To order either the t-shirt or the phone case, click on this link, then Products, then Science Outreach Gear – but wait, there’s a coupon too.

A big thank you to DNAGEEKS for a special coupon only for my blog followers that gets you 15% off of anything Black Friday through Cyber Monday – just enter the following coupon code at checkout:

dnaexplained17

You can click here to view all of DNAGEEKS cool items and don’t forget the code.

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc.  In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received.  In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product.  I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community.  If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

FTDNA Unlock Sale, Upload Fix & Triangulation

Three important pieces of information today:

  • The unlock at Family Tree DNA for transferred autosomal files from other vendors is only $10 for the duration of October, a savings of almost 50% with the coupon code.
  • After unlocking your results, you can triangulate your Ancestry, 23andMe or MyHeritage results with your Family Tree DNA matches using the new third party tool, The Triangulator.
  • For those who have been having problems transferring Ancestry results to Family Tree DNA, a fix.

Unlock Sale

You can always transfer your results from either 23andMe (V3 or V4), Ancestry (V1 or V2) or MyHeritage to Family Tree DNA for free and see your matches, but to unlock the chromosome browser, an extremely useful tool that shows you exactly where your DNA matches, your ethnicity estimates (myOrigins) or your ancientOrigins, you need to unlock the results which normally costs $19 – a lot less than a second DNA test.

For the rest of October, which is only 4 days, you can unlock your results for only $10 with the coupon code below.

Please keep in mind that the 23andMe V4 test, in production between November 2013 and August 2017, and the Ancestry V2 test, in production since May 2016, are not fully compatible with the Family Tree DNA test and transferring those results only provide you with your closest matches – normally about 20-25% of the total matches you would have if you took a Family Finder test. My Ancestry V2 transfer test provides me with 3rd-5th cousins and my smallest matching segment is 14cM. To obtain all of the matches you would have with a fully compatible DNA test, order a Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA for $69.

The Ancestry V1 test (used until May 2016), 23andMe V3 test (used until November 2013) and MyHeritage transfer files are fully compatible, so no need to order a Family Finder test if you can transfer one of those.

Triangulate

After you transfer and unlock, you’ll be able to use the new Triangulator tool on your Family Tree DNA matches. The Triangulator is easy and simple and no longer requires talking everyone into transferring their results to GedMatch to be able to triangulate.

You can read about the new Triangulator tool, here.

Transfer Troubles

Some people have been experiencing problems with transferring some Ancestry files to Family Tree DNA.

You can find Ancestry download instructions here.

There are three possible solutions for the problem. I suggest trying them in this order:

  • Delete the first download file (so you don’t get them confused) and download the Ancestry raw data file again. There have been instances of incomplete downloads. Do not open the file before uploading to Family Tree DNA.
  • Open the transfer file after downloading from Ancestry and search for the text “V1” or “V2” in the first few rows. If it says V1, change it to V2 and it if says V2, change it to V1. Save and close the file. Do not rezip the file. Just upload it to Family Tree DNA.
  • A solution for upload issues that do not resolve with one of the two steps above has been discussed on the Family Tree DNA forums. A third-party tool converts an Ancestry raw data file into a format accepted by Family Tree DNA using a blank template of a known V2 working file. You can find the tool and instructions here. There are no known issues with V1 files uploading.

Summary

With the unlock sale, the transfer fix and the new Triangulation tool, now is definitely the time to transfer those files so you can match and triangulate Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage files with your matches at Family Tree DNA. You never know what you’ll find.

Click here to transfer or unlock files, or to order the Family Finder test. Remember, the code for the $10 unlock is ATUL1017.

Have fun and don’t stay up all night triangulating like I did!

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 850 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

Imputation Matching Comparison

In a future article, I’ll be writing about the process of uploading files to DNA.Land and the user experience, but in this article, I want to discuss only one topic, and that’s the results of imputation as it affects matching for genetic genealogy. DNA.Land is one of three companies known positively to be using imputation (DNA.Land, MyHeritage and LivingDNA), and one of two that allows transfers and does matching for genealogy

This is the second in a series of three articles about imputation.

Imputation, discussed in the article, Concepts – Imputation, is the process whereby your DNA that is tested is then “expanded” by inferring results you don’t have, meaning locations that haven’t been tested, by using information from results you do have. Vendors have no choice in this matter, as Illumina, the chip maker of the DNA chip widely utilized in the genetic genealogy marketspace has obsoleted the prior chip and moved to a new chip with only about 20% overlap in the locations previously tested. Imputation is the methodology utilized to attempt to bridge the gap between the two chips for genetic genealogy matching and ethnicity predications.

Imputation is built upon two premises:

1 – that DNA locations are inherited together

2 – that people from common populations share a significant amount of the same DNA

An example of imputation that DNA.Land provides is the following sentence.

I saw a blue ca_ on your head.

There are several letters that are more likely that others to be found in the blank and some words would be more likely to be found in this sentence than others.

A less intuitive sentence might be:

I saw a blue ca_ yesterday.

DNA.Land doesn’t perform DNA testing, but instead takes a file that you upload from a testing vendor that has around 700,000 locations and imputes another 38.3 million variants, or locations, based on what other people carry in neighboring locations. These numbers are found in the SNPedia instructions for uploading DNA.Land information to their system for usage with Promethease.

I originally wrote about Promethease here, and I’ll be publishing an updated article shortly.

In this article, I want to see how imputation affects matching between people for genetic genealogy purposes.

Genetic Genealogy Matching

In order to be able to do an apples to apples comparison, I uploaded my Family Tree DNA autosomal file to DNA.Land.

DNA.Land then processed my file, imputed additional values, then showed me my matches to other people who have also uploaded and had additional locations imputed.

DNA.Land has just over 60,000 uploads in their data base today. Of those, I match 11 at a high confidence level and one at a speculative level.

My best match, meaning my closest match, Karen, just happened to have used her GedMatch kit number for her middle name. Smart lady!

Karen’s GedMatch number provided me with the opportunity to compare our actual match information at DNA.Land, then also at GedMatch, then compare the two different match results in order to see how much of our matching was “real” from portions of our tested kits that actually match, and what portion of our DNA matches as a result of the DNA.Land imputation.

At DNA.Land, your match information is presented with the following information:

  • Relationship degree – meaning estimated relationship
  • # shared segments – although many of these are extremely small
  • Total shared cM
  • Total recent shared length in cM
  • Longest recent shared segment in cM
  • Relationship likelihood graph
  • Shared segments plotted on chromosome display
  • Shared segments in a table

Please note that you can click on any graphic to enlarge.

DNA.Land provides what they believe to be an accurate estimate of recent and anciently shared SNA segments.

The match table is a dropdown underneath the chromosome graphic at far right:

For this experiment, I copied the information from the match table and dropped it into a spreadsheet.

DNALand Match Locations

My match information is shown at DNA.Land with Karen as follows:

Matching segments are identified by DNA.Land as either recent or ancient, which I find to be over-simplified at best and misleading or inaccurate at worst. I guess it depends on how you perceive recent and ancient. I think they are trying to convey the concept that larger segments tend to me more recent, and smaller segments tend to be older, but ancient in the genetics field often refers to DNA extracted from exhumed burials from thousands of years ago.  Furthermore, smaller segments can be descended from the same ancestor as larger segments.

GedMatch Match

Since Karen so kindly provided her GedMatch kit number, I signed in to GedMatch and did a one-to-one match with this same kit.

Since all of the segments are 3 cM and over at DNA.Land, I utilized a GedMatch threshold of 3 cM and dropped the SNP count to 100, since a SNP count of 300 gave me few matches. For this comparison, I wanted to see all my matches to Karen, no matter how few SNPs are involved, in an attempt to obtain results similar to DNA.Land. I normally would not drop either of these thresholds this low. My typical minimum is 5cM and 500 SNPs, and even if I drop to 3cM, I still maintain the 500 SNP threshold.

Let’s see how the data from GedMatch and DNA.Land compares.

In my spreadsheet, below, I pasted the segment match information from DNA.Land in the first 5 columns with a red header. Note that DNA.Land does not provide the number of shared SNPs.

At right, I pasted the match information from GedMatch, with a green header. We know that GedMatch has a history of accurately comparing segments, and we can do a cross platform comparison. I originally uploaded my FTDNA file to DNA.Land and Karen uploaded an Ancestry file. Those are the two files I compared at GedMatch, because the same actual matching locations are being compared at both vendors, DNA.Land (in addition to imputed regions) and GedMatch.

I then copied the matching segments from GedMatch (3cM, 100 SNPs threshold) and placed them in the middle columns in the same row where they matched corresponding DNA.Land segments. If any portion of the two vendors segments overlapped, I copied them as a match, although two are small and partial and one is almost negligible. As you can see, there are only 10 segments with any overlap at all in the center section. Please note that I am NOT suggesting these are valid or real matches.  At this point, it’s only a math/match exercise, not an analysis.

The match comparison column (yellow header) is where I commented on the match itself. In some cases, the lack of the number of SNPs at DNA.Land was detrimental to understanding which vendor was a higher match. Therefore, when possible, I marked the higher vendor in the Match Comparison column with the color of their corresponding header.

Analysis

Frankly, I was shocked at the lack of matching between GedMatch and DNA.Land. Trying to understand the discrepancy, I decided to look at the matches between Karen, who has been very helpful, and me at other vendors.

I then looked at our matches at Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage and at Family Tree DNA.

The best comparison would be at Family Tree DNA where Karen loaded her Ancestry file.  Therefore, I’m comparing apples to apples, meaning equivalent to the comparison at GedMatch and DNA.Land (before imputation).

It’s impossible to tell much without a chromosome browser at Ancestry, especially after Timber processing which reduces matching DNA.

DNA.Land categorized my match to Karen as “high certainty.” My match with Karen appears to be a valid match based on the longest segment(s) of approximately 30cM on chromosome 8.

  • Of the 4 segments that DNA.Land identifies as “recent” matches, 2 are not reflected at all in the GedMatch or Family Tree DNA matching, suggesting that these regions were imputed entirely, and incorrectly.
  • Of the 4 segments that DNA.Land identifies as “recent” matches, the 2 on chromosome 8 are actually one segment that imputation apparently divided. According to DNA.LAND, imputation can increase the number of matching segments. I don’t think it should break existing segments, meaning segments actually tested, into multiple pieces. In any event, the two vendors do agree on this match, even though DNA.Land breaks the matching segment into two pieces where GedMatch and Family Tree DNA do not. I’m presuming (I hate that word) that this is the one segment that Ancestry calls as a match as well, because it’s the longest, but Ancestry’s Timber algorithm downgrades the match portion of that segment by removing 11cM (according to DNA.Land) from 29cM to 18cM or removes 13cM (according to both GedMatch and Family Tree DNA) from 31cM to 18cM. Both GedMatch and Family Tree DNA agree and appear to be accurate at 31cM.
  • Of the total 39 matching segments of any size, utilizing the 3cM threshold and 100 SNPs, which I set artificially very low, GedMatch only found 10 matching segments with any portion of the segment in common, meaning that at least 29 were entirely erroneous matches.
  • Resetting the GedMatch match threshold to 3 cM and 300 SNPS, a more reasonable SNP threshold for 3cM, GedMatch only reports 3 matching segments, one of which is chromosome 8 (undivided) which means at this threshold, 36 of the 39 matching DNA.Land segments are entirely erroneous. Setting the threshold to a more reasonable 5cM or 7cM and 500 SNPs would result in only the one match on chromosome 8.

  • If 29 of 39 segments (at 3cM 100 SNPs) are erroneously reported, that equates to 74.36% erroneous matches due to imputation alone, with out considering identical by chance (IBC) matches.
  • If 35 of 39 segments (at 3cM 300 SNPs) are erroneously reported, that equates to 89.74% percent erroneous matches, again without considering those that might be IBC.

Predicted vs Actual

One additional piece of information that I gathered during this process is the predicted relationship.

Vendor Total cM Total Segments Longest Segment Predicted Relationship
DNA.Land 162 to 3 cM 39 to 3 cM 17.3 & 12, split 3C
GedMatch 123 to 3 cM 27 to 3 cM 31.5 5.1 gen distant
Family Tree DNA 40 to 1 cM 12 to 1 cM 32 3-5C
MyHeritage No match No match No match No match
Ancestry 18.1 1 18.1 5-8C
23andMe 26 1 26 3-6C

Karen utilized her Ancestry file and I used my Family Tree DNA file for all of the above matching except at 23andMe and Ancestry where we are both tested on the vendors’ platform. Neither 23andMe nor Ancestry accept uploads. I included the 23andMe and Ancestry comparisons as additional reference points.

The lack of a match at MyHeritage, another company that implements imputation, is quite interesting. Karen and I, even with a significantly sized segment are not shown as a match at MyHeritage.

If imputation actually breaks some matching segments apart, like the chromosome 8 segment at DNA.Land, it’s possible that the resulting smaller individual segments simply didn’t exceed the MyHeritage matching threshold. It would appear that the MyHeritage matching threshold is probably 9cM, given that my smallest segment match of all my matches at MyHeritage is 9cM. Therefore, a 31 or 32 cM segment would have to be broken into 4 roughly equally sized pieces (32/4=8) for the match to Karen not to be detected because all segment pieces are under 9cM. MyHeritage has experienced unreliable matching since their rollout in mid 2016, so their issue may or may not be imputation related.

The Common Ancestor

At Family Tree DNA, Karen does not match my mother, so I can tell positively that she is related through my father’s line. She and I triangulate on our common segment with three other individuals who descend from Abraham Estes 1647-1720 .

Utilizing the chromosome browser, we do indeed match on chromosome 8 on a long segment, which is also our only match over 5cM at Family Tree DNA.

Based on our trees as well as the trees of our three triangulated Estes matches, Karen and I are most probably either 8th cousins, or 8th cousins once removed, assuming that is our only common line. I am 8th cousins with the other three triangulated matches on chromosome 8. Karen’s line has yet to be proven.

Imputation Matching Summary

I like the way that DNA.Land presents some of their features, but as for matching accuracy, you can view the match quality in various ways:

  1. DNA.Land did find the large match on chromosome 8. Of course, in terms of matching, that’s pretty difficult to miss at roughly 30cM, although MyHeritage managed. Imputation did split the large match into two, somehow, even though Karen and I match on that same segment as one segment at other vendors comparing the same files.
  2. Of the 39 DNA.Land total matches, other than the chromosome 8 match, two other matches are partial matches, according to GedMatch. Both are under 7cM.
  3. Of DNA.Land’s total 39 matches, 35 are entirely wrong, in addition to the two that are split, including two inaccurate imputed matches at over 5cM.
  4. At DNA.Land, I’m not so concerned about discerning between “real” and “false” small segment matches, as compared to both FTDNA and GedMatch, as I am about incorrectly imputed segments and matches. Whether small matches in general are false positives or legitimate can be debated, each smaller segment match based on its own merits. Truthfully, with larger segments to deal with, I tend to ignore smaller segments anyway, at least initially. However, imputation adds another layer of uncertainty on top of actual matching, especially, it appears, with smaller matches. Imputing entire segments of incorrect DNA concerns me.
  5. Having said that, I find it very concerning that MyHeritage who also utilizes imputation missed a significant match of over 30cM. I don’t know of a match of this size that has ever been proven to be a false match (through parental phasing), and in this case, we know which ancestor this segment descends from through independent verification utilizing multiple other matches. MyHeritage should have found that match, regardless of imputation, because that match is from portions of the two files that were both tested, not imputed.

Summary

To date, I’m not impressed with imputation matching relative to genetic genealogy at either DNA.Land or MyHeritage.

In one case, that of DNA.Land, imputation shows matches for segments that are not shown as matches at either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch who are comparing the same two testers’ files, but without imputation. Since DNA.Land did find the larger segment, and many of their smaller segments are simply wrong, I would suggest that perhaps they should only show larger segments. Of course, anyone who finds DNA.Land is probably an experienced genetic genealogist and probably already has files at both GedMatch and Family Tree DNA, so hopefully savvy enough to realize there are issues with DNA.Land’s matching.

In the second imputation case, that of MyHeritage, the match with Karen is missed entirely, although that may not be a function of imputation. It’s hard to determine.  MyHeritage is also comparing the same two files uploaded by Karen and I to the other vendors who found that match, both vendors who do and don’t utilize imputation.

Regardless of imputing additional locations, MyHeritage should have found the matching segment on chromosome 8 because that region does NOT need to be imputed. Their failure to do so may be a function of their matching routine and not of imputation itself. At this point, it’s impossible to discern the cause. We only know, based on matching at other vendors, that the non-match at MyHeritage is inaccurate.

Here’s what DNA.Land has to say about the imputed VCF file, which holds all of your imputed values, when you download the file. They pull no punches about imputation.

“Noisey and probabilistic.” Yes, I’d say they are right, and problematic as well, at least for genetic genealogists.

Extrapolating this even further, I find it more than a little frightening that my imputed data at DNA.Land will be utilized for medical research.

Quoting now from Promethease, a medical reference site that allows the consumer to upload their raw data files, providing consumers with a list of SNPs having either positive or negative research in academic literature:

DNA.land will take a person’s data as produced by such companies and impute additional variants based on population frequency statistics. To put this in concrete terms, a person uploading a typical 23andMe file of ~700,000 variants to DNA.land will get back an (imputed) file of ~39 million variants, all predicted to be present in the person. Promethease reports from such imputed files typically contain about 50% more information (i.e. 50% more genotypes) than the corresponding reports from raw (non-imputed) data.

Translated, this means that your imputed data provides twice as much “genetic information” as your actual tested data. The question remains, of course, how much of this imputed data is accurate.

That will be the topic of the third imputation article. Stay tuned.

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 850 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

Quick Tip – Making Your DNA Results More Clickable

There are many motivations for DNA testing. Some people want to connect with relatives to share information. Just think, your match may have photos of your family that you’ve never seen!

If contacting and connecting with your relatives is your motivation, you’ll want your user profile to be the most click-friendly and attractive possible.

How do people decide which profiles to click on and which to bypass, especially now that so many people are testing and one can’t possibly contact them all?

I’m including several click-friendly factors here, but probably the number one decision criteria is your profile photo, or lack of one.

Use a Profile Photo

You want your photo to be inviting and friendly. Lack of a photo means a missed opportunity.

Have someone take a smiling photo of you, without anything distracting or polarizing in the photo, and post to your profile. Look friendly! Your photo needs to say, “Talk to me.  I won’t bite your head off.”

People like to look at photos and are more likely to spend time on results that have photos attached. Do you pause, look at photos of your matches to see if they look like you?  I do.

Don’t like any of your current photos?  Have someone take a new one.  My husband took the one above in the yard last month with his cell phone.

Still don’t like your picture? That’s OK, post a baby photo or something cute.

Grow a Tree

Not every vendor has the ability to upload trees. 23and me does not, but Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and MyHeritage do today.

The purpose of genetic genealogy is genealogy – and trees are inherent to the success of finding those common lines – regardless of whether or not you’ve tested for autosomal DNA, Y line DNA or mitochondrial DNA. Your matches are going to want to see your ancestor in the line relevant to them.

Furthermore, once you’ve created a tree, you can upload the same tree to any of the vendors where you have tested, except for 23andMe who has no tree capacity.

At Family Tree DNA, you can upload a GEDCOM file or create a tree from scratch.

Be sure to link your relatives who have tested to your tree too, so that your results show your phased Family Finder matches indicating which side of your tree certain matches come from. You can see the red, blue and purple icons indicating whether the matches are related maternally, paternally, or both, below. I have over 1000 matches assigned to parental sides simply by connecting my DNA matches to their proper place in my tree.

(You can click to enlarge any image.)

After you upload a GEDCOM file, Family Tree DNA then extracts your tree surnames and populates the surname feature so that when you have matches, you can see common surnames in your trees.

In the example above, the common surnames in our trees are bolded, at right, and float to the top of the list so they are easily viewable.

You can enter the surnames by hand, but if you don’t have a tree, or hand entered surnames, you don’t receive the bolded surname matches.

At Ancestry, your tree is compared to all of your matches’ trees and if you have a common ancestor in the tree within the past 9 generations, Ancestry flags your result with a green leaf signifying that there is a DNA tree hint.

Clicking on “View Match” shows you your match’s tree and yours side by side.

If you don’t upload or create a tree, you won’t be able to take advantage of this feature. Once you upload or create your tree, be SURE to link your DNA to you in your tree, or it’s the same as having no tree in terms of DNA benefits.

To link your DNA test to your tree at Ancestry, click on the DNA tab, then on Settings and scroll down about half way.

Share, Share, Share

Nothing turns matches off quite as fast as discovering that your tree is not public. It’s akin to saying that I want to see yours, but I’m not showing you mine.

I’m not referring here to keeping living people private, or even the first generation or two. That’s understandable. I’m referring to trees that are entirely private as evidenced by the little lock by the green leaf below.

I used to contact my private matches and ask, nicely, which ancestor we share in common. They can see my tree, and benefit from seeing my tree by knowing who the common ancestor is, and the path to that ancestor, but I can’t. Truthfully, I’ve stopped asking. I received very few replies.

I simply bypass these locked trees after looking to see who I match in common, to see if I can surmise who the common ancestor is by virtue of comparison to our matches in common.

Yes, I know many people feel strongly about private trees, but if you’re looking for contacts, private trees have a very chilling effect out the gate.

In order to benefit from having a tree, but not giving away the store either, I only have a direct line tree at Ancestry – meaning only my ancestors.  In some cases, I do have siblings for my ancestors, but not extended family lines.

Use Real Names

People have a more positive reaction to real names rather than names like RJEcatlover or RJE33724306219.

Your real name option may be gone if someone else has the same name, especially at Ancestry, but in that case, use something approaching your real name. Mine is RobertaEstes13 at Ancestry because there were obviously 12 subscribers by that name in front of me. So far, none are DNA matches.

At other places, I tend to use a middle initial to differentiate myself.

Females need to consider using their birth name and not a married name.  Not only is this in keeping with their names in the tree, it’s more relevant to the genealogy at hand.

Always record your ancestors in your tree by their birth name, not their married name.  I Many of my matches to the male only of a couple are a result of the fact that John Doe’s wife was records as Jane Doe, not Jane Smith, her birth name.

Contact Information

Different vendors handle contacts between testers in different ways. Regardless of the vendor’s methodology, you need to make yourself accessible if you want contacts, and respond to requests.

Family Tree DNA provides e-mail addresses to matches. This is the most direct method of contact,and my preference because there are less steps that can go wrong.  It does mean that you have to keep your e-mail address current.

Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage require you to utilize their internal message system for communications. This adds a layer of communication that can go awry. For instance, if the e-mail sent by the vendor hits the spam filter, or never gets sent, or bounces, you, as the originator, have no way of knowing. Of course, you still need to keep your e-mail address current with the vendor, regardless.

Both 23andMe and Ancestry retain the messages sent and received, so you can check on their system to see if you have new or unread communications.

Having said that, both systems have had recent, ongoing or intermittent glitches – lost messages when 23andMe transitioned to the New Experience and reports of DNA messages not being recorded in your Ancestry mailbox, meaning messages initiated through the green as opposed to the tan button.

Additionally, Ancestry’s e-mail notification system is well known for not reliably delivering messages, especially through the DNA message links, so check your messages often. That’s the little grey envelope icon at the top right of your Ancestry signon page.

I keep track of my contacts through any vendor separately, so if there is a hiccup, it’s not the end of my documentation.

Oh, and if you’re sending a contact request, use proper English and punctuation (not text-eze), along with providing your name and the name of the person you match. Many people manage multiple kits, not that we’re DNA addicts or anything like that!

Summary

I hope these quick tips have helped you “decorate” and refine your profile in a useful way that encourages your matches to click and make contact. Those contacts may be the first step in breaking down those pesky brick walls. You just never know who has that piece of information that you need – or the photo of great-grandma!

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure will now appear at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 850 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

Which Ethnicity Test is Best?

While this question is very straightforward, the answer is not.

I have tested with or uploaded my DNA file to the following vendors to obtain ethnicity results:

The links above provide product reviews of recently released or updated results.

Guess what? None of the vendors’ results are the same. Some aren’t even close to each other, let alone to my known and proven genealogy.

In the article, Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages, I explained how to calculate your expected ethnicity percentages from your genealogy. As each vendor has introduced ethnicity results, or updated previous results, I’ve added to a cumulative chart.

It bears repeating before we look at that chart that ethnicity testing is relatively accurate on a continental level, meaning:

  • Africa
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Native American
  • Jewish

Intra-continent or sub-continent, meaning within continents, it’s extremely difficult to tease out differences between countries, like France, Germany and Switzerland. Looking at the size of these regions, and the movement of populations, we can certainly understand why. In many ways, it’s like trying to discern the difference between Indiana and Illinois.

What Does “Best” Mean?

While the question of which test is best seems like it would be easy to answer, it isn’t.

“Best” is a subjective term, and often, people interpret best to mean that the test reflects a portion of what they think they know about their ethnicity. Without a rather robust and proven tree, some testers have little subjective data on which to base their perceptions.  In fact, many people, encouraged by advertising, take these tests with the hope that the test will in fact provide them with the answer to the question, “Who am I?” or to confirm a specific ancestor or ancestral heritage rumor.

For example, people often test to find their Native American ancestry and are disappointed when the results don’t reveal Native ancestry. This can be because:

  • There is no Native ancestor.
  • The Native ancestor thought to be 100% was already highly admixed.
  • The Native ancestor is too far back in the tester’s tree and the ancestor’s DNA “washed out” in subsequent generations.
  • The testing company failed to pick up what might be arguably a trace amount.

Genealogy Compared to All Vendors’ Results

In some cases, discrepancies arise due to how the different companies group their results and what the groupings mean, as you can see in the table below comparing all vendors’ results to my known genealogy.

In the table below, I’ve highlighted in yellow the “best” company result by region, as compared to my known genealogy shown in the column titled “Genealogy %”.

British Isles – The British Isles is fairly easy to define, because they are islands, and the results for each vendor, other than The Genographic Project, are easy to group into that category as well. Family Tree DNA comes the closest to my known genealogy in this category, so would be the “best” in this category. However, every region, shown in pink, does not have the same “best” vendor.

Scandinavian – I have no actual Scandinavian heritage in my genealogy, but I’m betting I have a number of Vikings, or that my German/Dutch is closely related to the Scandinavians. So while LivingDNA is the lowest, meaning the closest to my zero, it’s very difficult to discern the “true” amount of Scandinavian heritage admixed into the other populations. It’s also possible that Scandinavian is not reflecting (entirely) the Vikings, but Dutch and German as a result of migrations of entire peoples. My German and Dutch ancestry cumulatively adds to 39%.

Eastern European – I don’t have any known Eastern European, but some of my German might fall into that category, historically. I simply don’t know, so I’m not ranking that group.

Northwestern Europe – For the balance of Northwestern Europe, 23andMe comes the closest with 43% of my 45.24% from my known genealogy.

Mediterranean and Southern European – For the Mediterranean, Greece, Italy and Southern Europe, I have no known genealogy there, and not even anyplace close, so I’m counting as accurate all three vendors who reported zero, being Living DNA, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage.

Unknown – The next grouping is my unknown percentage. It’s very difficult to ascribe a right or wrong to this grouping, so I’ve put vendor results here that might fall into that unknown group. In my case, I suspect that some of the unknown is actually Native on my father’s side. I haven’t assigned accuracy in this section. It’s more of a catch all, for now.

Native and Asian – The next section is Native and Asian, which can in some circumstances can be attributed to Native ancestry. In this case, I know of about 1% proven Native heritage, as the Native on my mother’s line is proven utilizing both Y and mitochondrial DNA tests on descendants. I suspect there is more Native to be revealed, both on her side and because I can’t positively attribute some of my father’s lineage that is mixed race and reported to be Native, but is as yet unproven. By proof, I mean either Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA or concrete documentation.

I have counted any vendor who found a region above zero and smaller than my unknown percentage of 3.9% as accurate, those vendors being Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage.

Southwest Asia – I have no heritage from Southwest Asia, which typically means the Indian subcontinent. National Geographic reports this region, but their categories are much broader than the other companies, as reflected by the grey bands utilized to attempt to summarize the other vendor’s data in a way that can be compared to the Genographic Project information. While I’m pleased to contribute to the National Geographic Society through the Genographic Project, the results are the least connected to my known genealogy, although their results may represent deeper migratory ancestry.

Summary

As you can see, the best vendor is almost impossible to pinpoint and every person that tests at multiple vendors will likely have a different opinion of what is “best” and the reasons why. In some ways, best depends on what you are looking for and how much genealogy work you’ve already invested to be able to reliably evaluate the different vendor results. In my case, the best vendor, judged by the highest total percentage of “most accurate” categories would be Family Tree DNA.

While DNA testing for ethnicity really doesn’t provide the level of specificity that people hope to gain, testers can generally get a good view of their ancestry at the continental level. Vendors also provide updates as the reference groups and technology improves.  This is a learning experience for all involved!

I hope that seeing the differences between the various vendors will encourage people to test at multiple vendors, or transfer their results to additional vendors to gain “a second set of eyes” about their ethnicity. Several transfers are free. You can read about which vendors accept results from other vendors, in the article, Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

I also hope that ethnicity results encourage people to pursue their genealogy to find their ancestors. Ethnicity results are fun, but they aren’t gospel, and shouldn’t be interpreted as “the answer.” Just enjoy your results and allow them to peak your curiosity to discover who your ancestors really were through genealogy research! There are bound to be some fun surprises just waiting to be discovered.

If you are interested in why your results may vary from what you expected, please read “Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum.”

If you’re interested in taking a DNA test, you might want to read “Which DNA Test is Best?” which discusses and compares what you need to know about each vendor and the different tests available in the genetic genealogy market today.

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure will now appear at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 850 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

Concepts – Why Genetic Genealogy and Triangulation?

One of the questions often asked is why triangulation in genetic genealogy is so important.

Before I answer that, let’s take a look at why genealogists use autosomal DNA for genetic genealogy in the first place.

Why Genetic Genealogy?

Aside from ethnicity testing, genetic genealogists utilize autosomal DNA testing to further their genealogical research or confirm the research they have already performed. Genetic genealogy cannot stand alone on DNA evidence, but must include traditional genealogical research. DNA is simply another tool in the genealogist’s tool box – albeit a critical one.

There are three established primary vendors in this field, Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe, plus a few newcomers. All three vendors offer autosomal DNA tests utilized by genetic genealogists in various ways. If you want to learn more about the differences between these vendors’ offerings, please read the article, “Which DNA Test is Best?”

In order to achieve genealogical goals, there are four criteria that need to be met. All are required to achieve triangulation which is the only way to confirm a genealogical ancestral match to a specific ancestor.

  • DNA Matching – The tester’s DNA matches that of other testers at the company where they tested, or at GedMatch. All three vendors provide matching information, along with GedMatch, a third-party tool utilized by genetic genealogists.

Family Tree DNA assigns matches to either maternal, paternal or both sides of the tester’s tree based on connecting the DNA of relatives, up through third cousins, who have tested to their appropriate location in the tester’s tree.

In the example above, you can see the individuals linked to my tree include my mother with her Family Finder test, plus her two first cousins, Donald and Cheryl Ferverda who have also tested.

  • Ancestor Matching – The testers identify a common ancestor or ancestral line based on their previous work, aka, genealogy and family trees.  In the example above, the common ancestors are the parents of the brothers, John and Roscoe Ferverda.  Identifying a common ancestor is an easy task with known close relatives, but becomes more challenging the more distant the common ancestor.

Of the vendors, 23andMe does not have a Gedcom upload or ability for testers to display trees and for the vendor to utilize to match surnames, although they can link to external trees. Ancestry provides “tree matching,” shown above, and Ancestry and Family Tree DNA, shown below, both provide surname matching.

  • Segment Matching – Utilizing chromosome browsers or downloaded match lists including segment information to identify actual DNA segments that match other testers.

Family Tree DNA’s chromosome browser is shown above.

Each individual tester will have two groups of matches on the same segment, one group from their mother’s side of the tree and one from their father’s side of the tree. Each tester carries DNA inherited from both parents on two different “sides” of each chromosome. You can read more about that in the article, One Chromosome, Two Sides, No Zipper – ICW and the Matrix.

Of the three vendors, Ancestry does not provide segment matching, a chromosome browser, nor any segment information, so testers cannot perform this step at Ancestry.

23andMe does provide this information, but each tester must individually “opt in” to data sharing, and many do not. If testers do not globally “opt in” they must authorize sharing individually for every match, so testers will not be able to see the chromosome segment information for many 23andMe matches. In my case, only about 60% are sharing.

Family Tree DNA provides a chromosome browser, the file download capability with segment information, and everyone authorizes sharing of information when they initially test – so there is no opt-in confusion.

Ancestry and 23andMe raw DNA data files can be transferred to both Family Tree DNA and GedMatch where chromosome browsers and other tools are available. For more information about transferring files, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

Triangulation – The process used to combine all three of the above steps in order to assign specific segments of the tester’s DNA to specific ancestors, by virtue of:

  • The tester’s DNA matching the DNA of other testers on a specific segment.
  • Identifying that the individuals who match the tester on that segment also match each other. This is part of the methodology employed to group the testers matches into two groups, the maternal and paternal groupings.
  • Identifying which ancestor contributed that segment to all of the people who match the tester and each other on that same segment.

In order for a group of matches to triangulate, they must match each other on the same segment of DNA and they must all share a common ancestor.

Triangulation is part DNA, meaning the inheritance, part technology, meaning the ability to show that all testers in a match group all match each other and on the same segment, and part genealogy, meaning the ability to identify the common ancestor of the group of individuals.

The following chart shows a portion of my match download file on chromosome 5 from Family Tree DNA.

As you can see, these matches all cover significant portions of the same segment on chromosome 5.

Without further investigation, we know that I match all of these people, but we don’t know what that information is telling us about my genealogy. We don’t know who matches each other, and we can’t tell which people are from my mother’s and father’s sides. We also don’t know who the common ancestor is or common ancestors are.

However, looking at the trees of the individuals involved, or contacting them for further information, and/or recognizing known cousins from a specific line all combine to contribute to the identification of our common ancestors.

Below is the same spreadsheet, now greatly enriched after my genealogy work is applied to the DNA matches in two additional columns.

I’ve colored my triangulated groups pink for my mother’s side and blue for my father’s side.

In this case, I also have access to my cousins’ DNA match results, so I can view their matches as well, looking for common matches on my match list.

One of the reasons genealogists always suggest testing older family members and as many cousins as possible is because triangulation becomes much easier with known cousins from particular lines to point the way to the common ancestor. In this case, one cousin, Joe, is from my mother’s side and one, Lou, is from my father’s side.

By looking at my matches’ genealogy, I’ve now been able to assign this particular segment on chromosome 5, on my mother’s side to ancestors Johann Michael Miller and his wife Susanna Berchtol. The same segment, on my father’s side is inherited from Charles Dodson and his wife, Ann, last name unknown.

In order to achieve triangulation, the common ancestor must be determined for the match group. Once triangulation is achieved, descent from the common ancestor is confirmed.

Unless you are dealing with very close known relatives, like the Ferverda first cousins, there is no other way to prove a genetic connection to a specific ancestor.

At Family Tree DNA, I can utilize the chromosome browser and the ICW and matrix tools to determine which of this group matches each other. At 23andMe, I can utilize their shared DNA matching tool. This information can then be recorded in my DNA spreadsheet, as illustrated above.

Triangulation cannot be achieved at Ancestry or utilizing their tools. Ancestry’s DNA Circles provide extended match groups, indicating who matches whom for a particular ancestor shown in a tester’s tree, but do not indicate that the matches are on the same segment. Circles do not guarantee that Circle members are matching on DNA from that ancestor, only that they do match and show a common ancestor in their tree.  The third triangulation step of segment matching is missing.  Ancestry does not provide segment information in any format, so Ancestry customers who want to triangulate can either retest elsewhere or download their data files to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch for free.

Summary

Before the advent of genetic genealogy, genealogists had to take it on faith that the paper trail was accurate, and that there was no misattributed parentage – either through formal or informal adoption or hanky-panky.  That’s not the case anymore.

Today, DNA through triangulation can prove ancestry for groups of people to a common ancestor by identifying segments that have descended from that ancestor and are found in multiple descendants today.

Of course, the next step is to break down those remaining brick walls. For example, what is the birth name of Ann, wife of Charles Dodson, whose surname is unknown? Logically, the DNA descended from a couple, meaning Charles and Ann, contains DNA from both individuals. We don’t know if that segment on chromosome 5 is from Ann, Charles, or parts from both, BUT, if we begin to see a further breakdown to another, unknown family line among the Charles and Ann segments, that might be a clue.

One day, in the future, we’ll be able to identify our unknown family lines through DNA matches and other people’s triangulation. That indeed, is the Holy Grail.

Additional Resources

If you’d like to read more specific information about autosomal DNA matching and triangulation, be sure to read the links in the article, above. The following articles may be of interest as well:

DeMystifying Autosomal DNA Matching

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – What Now?

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum

Concepts – Segment Size, Legitimate and False Matches

How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical by Descent, State, Population and Chance

Nine Autosomal Tools at Family Tree DNA

If you think you might come up short, because you have only one known cousin who has tested, well, think again.

Just One Cousin

Here’s wishing you lots of triangulated matches!!!