Genetic Affairs – New AutoKinship Tool Predicts Relationships and Builds Genetic Trees

Genetic Affairs recently introduced a new tool – AutoKinship. Evert-Jan (EJ) Blom, the developer was kind enough to step through these results with me to assure that I’m explaining things correctly. Thanks EJ!

AutoKinship automatically predicts family trees and pathways that you may be related to your matches based on how they match you and each other. Not only is this important for genealogists trying to piece our family tree together, it’s indispensable for anyone searching for unknown ancestors, beginning with parents and walking right on up the tree for the closest several generations.

Right now, the automated AutoKinship tool is limited to 23andMe profiles, but will also work as a standalone tool where users can fill in the shared DNA information for their matches. MyHeritage, 23andMe, and GEDMatch provide centiMorgan information about how your matches also match each other. Here’s a tutorial for the standalone tool.

Unfortunately, Ancestry does not provide their customers with segment information, but fortunately, you can upload a copy of your Ancestry DNA file to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA or GEDmatch, for free. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, here.

Automated AutoKinship Tool

After signing into to your Genetic Affairs account, assuming you have already set up your 23andMe profile at Genetic Affairs, click on “Run AutoKinship for 23andMe.”

I manage multiple profiles at 23andMe, so I need to click on “Profiles.”

Select the correct profile if you manage multiple kits at 23andMe.

You’ll see your various options that can be run for your 23andMe kit.

Select AutoKinship

If you select AutoKinship, you automatically receive an AutoCluster because AutoKinship is built on the AutoCluster functionality.

Make your selections. I recommend leaving these settings at the default, at least initially.

The default of 250 cM excludes your closest matches. You don’t want your closest matches because they will be members of too many clustered groups.

In my initial run, I made the mistake of changing the 50 cM lower threshold to 20 cM because I wanted more matches to be included. Unfortunately, the effect this had on my results was that my largest two clusters did not produce trees.

Hint: EJ states that the software tool works from the smallest cluster to the largest when producing trees. If you notice that your largest cluster, which is usually the first one displayed in the upper left hand corner (orange here), does not have associated trees, or some people are missing, that’s your clue that the AutoKinship ran out of server time to process and you need to raise either the minimum match threshold, in this case, 50 cM, or the minimum amount of DNA shared between your matches to each other, in this case, 10 cM.

You can also select between shared matches and triangulated groups. I selected shared matches, but I may well rerun this report with triangulated groups because that provides me with a great deal of even more useful information.

When you’re ready, click on the big green “you can’t miss it” Perform AutoCluster Analysis button.

Make a cup of coffee. Your report is processing. If your email doesn’t arrive, you can click on the little envelope in your Genetic Affairs profile and the report can be downloaded to your computer directly from that link.

Your Report Arrives!

You’ll receive a zip file in the email that you MUST SAVE TO YOUR COMPUTER to work correctly. You’ll see these files, but you can’t use them yet.

First, you MUST EXTRACT THE FILES from the zip file. My zip file displays the names of the file inside of the zipped file, but they are not extracted.

You must right click, as shown above, and then click on “Extract All” on a PC. Not sure what MAC users need to do but I think it autoextracts. If you click on some of the files in this article and they don’t load correctly, or say they aren’t present, that likely means:

  • You either forgot to save the file in the email to your computer
  • Or you failed to do the extract

The bottom two files are your normal AutoCluster visual html file and the same information in an excel file.

Click on the AutoCluster html file to activate.

Personally, I love watching the matches all fly into place in their clusters. This html file is going to be our home base, the file we’ll be operating from for all of the functions.

I have a total of 23 interrelated autoclusters. The question is, how are we all related to each other. You can read my article about AutoClusters and how they work here.

People who are members of more than one cluster are shown with those little grey squares signifying that they match people in two clusters, not just one cluster.

For example, one cluster might be my grandparents, but the second cluster might be my maternal great-great-grandfather. Membership in both clusters tells me that my matching DNA with those people in the second cluster probably descends from my great-great-grandfather. Some of the DNA matches in the first cluster assuredly also descend from that man, but some of them may descend from other related ancestors, like my maternal grandmother. It’s our job as genealogists to discern the connections, but the entire purpose of AutoKinship is to make that process much easier.

We are going to focus on the first few clusters to see what kinds of information Genetic Affairs can produce about these clusters. Notice that the first person in row 1 is related to the orange cluster, the green cluster, the purple and the brown clusters. That’s important information about that person, and also about the interrelationship of those clusters themselves and the ancestors they represent.

Remember, to be included in a grandparent cluster, that person’s DNA segment(s) must have descended from other ancestors, represented in other clusters. So you can expect one person to be found potentially in multiple clusters that serve to trace those common ancestors (and associated segments) back in time.

AutoKinship

The AutoKinship portion of this tool creates hypothetical trees based on relationships of you to each person in the cluster, and to the other cluster members to each other.

If you’re thinking triangulation, you’re right. I selected matches, not triangulated groups which is also an option. Some people do triangulate, but some people may match each other on different segments. Right now, it’s a jumble of hints, but we’ll sort some of this out.

If you scroll down in your html file, below your cluster, and below the explanation (which you should read,) you’ll see the AutoKinship verbiage.

I want to do a quick shout-out to Brit Nicholson, the statistician that works with EJ on probabilities of relationships for this tool and describes his methodology, here.

AutoKinship Table

You’ll see the AutoKinship Table that includes a link for each cluster that could be assembled into a potential tree.

Click on the cluster you wish to view.

In my case, clusters 1 through 5 are closely related to each other based on the common members in each cluster. I selected cluster 1.

Your most probable tree for that cluster will be displayed.

I’m fortunate that I recognized three of my third cousins. AutoKinship constructed a probable genetic pedigree, but I’ve overlayed what I know to be the correct pedigree.

With the exception of one person, this AutoKinship tree is accurate to the best of my knowledge. A slot for Elizabeth, the mother of William George Estes and the daughter of Joel is missing. I probably know why. I match two of my cousins with a higher than expected amount of DNA which means that I’m shown “closer” in genetic distance that I normally would be for that relationship level.

In one case, Charles and I share multiple ancestors. In the other case, I don’t know why I match Everett on so much more DNA than his brother Carl or our other cousin, Vianna. Regardless, I do.

In one other instance, there’s a half-relationship that throws a wrench into the tree. I know that, but it’s very difficult to factor half-relationships into tree building without prior knowledge.

If you continue to scroll down, you’ll see multiple options for trees for this cluster.

DNA Matrix

Below that, you’ll see a wonderful downloadable DNA matrix of how everyone in the cluster shares DNA with everyone else in the cluster.

At this point, exit from cluster one and return to your original cluster file that shows your cluster matrix.

Beneath the AutoKinship table, you’ll see AutoCluster Cluster Information.

AutoCluster Cluster Information

Click on any one of those people. I’m selecting Everett because I know how we are related.

Voila, a new cluster configuration forms.

I can see all of the people I match in common with Everett in each cluster. This tells me two things:

  • Which clusters are related to this line. In particular, the orange cluster, green, red, purple, brown, magenta and dark grey clusters. If you mouse over each cell in the cluster, more information is provided.
  • The little helix in each cell tells you that those two people triangulate with each other and the tester. How cool is that?!!

Note that you can display this cluster in 4 different ways.

Return again to your main autocluster page and scroll down once again.

This just might be my favorite part.

Chromosome Segments

You can import chromosome segment information into DNAPainter – instructions here.

What you’ll see next is the clusters painted on your chromosomes. I love this!!!

Of course, Genetic Affairs can’t tell you which side is maternal and which is paternal. You’ll need to do that yourself after you import into DNAPainter.

Just beneath this painting, you’ll see a chart titled Chromosome segment statistics per AutoCluster cluster.

I’m only showing the first couple as an example.

Click on one of links. I’m selecting cluster 1.

Cluster 1 has painted portions of each chromosome, but I’m only displaying chromosomes 1-7 here.

Following the painting is a visual display of each overlap region by cluster, by overlapping segment on each chromosome.

You can clearly see where these segments overlap with each other!

Surname Enrichment

If you select the surname enrichment option, you’ll receive two additional features in your report.

Please note that I ran this option separately at a different time, so the cluster members and clusters themselves do not necessarily correlate with the examples above.

The Enriched Surname section of your report shows surnames in common found between the matches in each specific cluster.

Keep in mind, this does NOT just mean surnames in common with YOUR surname list, assuming you’ve entered your surnames at 23andMe. (If you haven’t please do so now.) 23andMe does not support user trees, so your entered surnames are all that can be utilized when comparing information from your matches.

These are surnames that are found more than once among your matches. I’ve framed the ones in red that I recognize as being found in my tree, and I’ve framed the ones in black that I recognize as being “married in.” In other words, some people may descend through children of my ancestors who married people with that black bracketed surname.

I can tell you immediately, based on these surnames, that the first cluster is the cluster formed around my great-great-grandparents, Joel Vannoy and his wife, Phebe Crumley.

Cluster 6 is less evident, but Anderson might be connected to the Vannoy family. I’ll need to view the common matches in that cluster at 23andMe and look for additional clues.

Cluster 9 is immediately evident too. Ferverda is Hiram Ferverda, my great-grandfather and Eva Miller is his wife.

Cluster 10 is probably the Miller line as well. Indiana is a location in this case, not a surname.

Click on “Detailed Surname Table” for more information, as shown below.

Each group of people that shares any surname is shown in a table together. In this case, these three people, who I happen to know are brothers, all share these surnames. The surnames they also share with me are shown with red boxes. The other surnames are shared only with each other and no one else in the cluster. I know they aren’t shared with me because I know my tree.

While your initial reaction may be that this isn’t terribly useful, it is actually a HUGE gift. Especially if you find a cluster you aren’t familiar with.

Mystery Cluster

A mystery cluster is an opportunity to break down a brick wall. This report tells you which people to view on your match list who share that surname. My first step is to use that list and see who I match in common with each person at 23andMe.

My relatives in common with my Cluster 10 matches include my close Ferverda cousins who descend from our common Miller ancestor, plus a few Miller cousins. This confirms that this cluster does indeed originate in the Miller line.

Not everyone in that cluster shares the surname Miller. That might be a good thing.

I have a long-standing brick wall with Magdalena (surname unknown) who was married to Philip Jacob Miller, my 5-times great-grandparents. My cousins through that couple, at my same generation, would be about 6th cousins.

These matches are matching me at the approximate 4th cousin level or more distantly, so it’s possible that at least some of these matches COULD be through Magdalena’s family. In that case, I certainly would not recognize the common surnames. Therefore, it’s imperative that I chase these leads. I can also adjust the matching threshold to obtain more matches, hopefully, in this cluster, and run the report again.

Are you in love with Autokinship and its associated features yet? I am!

Summary

Wow is all I can say. There’s enough in this one report to keep me busy for days, especially since 23andMe does not support a tree function in the traditional genealogical sense.

I have several matches that I have absolutely no idea how they are related to me. This helps a great deal and allows to me systematically approach tree-building or identifying ancestors.

You can see if 23andMe has predicted these relationships in the same way, but other than messaging your matches, or finding them at another vendor who does support a tree, there’s no way to know if either 23andMe’s autogenerated tree or the Genetic Affairs trees are accurate.

What Genetic Affairs provides that 23andMe does not is composite information in one place – as a group in a cluster. You don’t have to figure out who matches whom one by one and create your own matrix. (Yes, I used to do that.)

You can also import the Genetic Affairs information into DNAPainter to make further use of these segments. I’ve written about using DNAPainter, here.

Once you’ve identified how one person in any cluster connects, you’ve found your lever to unlock the identity of the ancestors whose DNA is represented in that particular cluster – and an important clue/link to associated clusters as well.

If you don’t recognize these cousins at 23andMe, look for common surnames on your DNA Relatives match list, or see if a known close relative on your maternal or paternal side matches these people found in a cluster. Click on each match at 23andMe to see if they have provided notes, surnames, locations or even a link to a tree at another vendor.

Don’t forget, you can also select the “Based on Triangulated Groups” option instead of the “Based on Shared Matches” option initially.

Run A Report

If you have tested at 23andMe, give the Genetic Affairs AutoKinship report a try.

Is it accurate for you? Have you gained insight? Identified how people are related to you? Are there any surprises?

Do you have a mystery cluster? I hope so, because an answer just might be hiding there.

If you’d like to read more about Genetic Affairs tools, click here for my free repository of Genetic Affairs articles.

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Free Webinar: 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA

I recorded 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Webinars are free for the first week. After that, you’ll need a subscription.

If you subscribe to Legacy Family Tree, here, you’ll also receive the downloadable 24-page syllabus and you can watch any of the 1500+ webinars available at Legacy Family Tree Webinars anytime.

In 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA, I covered the following features and how to use them for your genealogy:

  • Ethnicity – why it works and why it sometimes doesn’t
  • Ethnicity – how it works
  • Your Chromosomes – Mom and Dad
  • Ethnicity at AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage DNA
  • Genetic Communities at AncestryDNA
  • Genetic Groups at MyHeritage DNA
  • Painted ethnicity segments at 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA
  • Painting ethnicity segments at DNAPainter – and why you want to
  • Shared ethnicity segments with your matches at AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage DNA
  • Downloading matches and segment files
  • Techniques to pinpoint Native Ancestors in your tree
  • Y DNA, Native ancestors and haplogroups
  • Mitochondrial DNA, Native ancestors and haplogroups
  • Creating a plan to find your Native ancestor
  • Strategies for finding test candidates
  • Your Ancestor DNA Pedigree Chart
  • Success!!!

If you haven’t yet tested at or uploaded your DNA to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage, you can find upload/download instructions, here, so that you can take advantage of the unique tools at all vendors.

Hope you enjoy the webinar and find those elusive ancestors!

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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 Uploads

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Join Me for Free Webinars in August and “Webtember”

Legacy Family Webinars provides free webinars every month. Check out the upcoming schedule, here.

You can register for free and watch live. If you’d like access to the ever-growing Webinar Library, you can subscribe, here, and watch any webinar, anytime.

I’m presenting a free webinar in both August and September.

10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA

On Friday, August 27th at 2 PM Eastern, I’ll be presenting “10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA.” You can register for free, here.

If you’re trying to figure out if you have a Native ancestor or you’d like to confirm those family legends, this webinar is for you.

Webtember Free Month-Long Genealogy Conference

Legacy Tree Webinars is sponsoring a free month-long virtual conference every Friday featuring 7 or 8 speakers each week. There are so many sessions I can’t wait to see.

Here’s the conference pdf listing all of the speakers and schedule.

On September 3rd at 11 AM, I’ll be presenting Paint Your Way Up Your Tree with MyHeritage and DNAPainter.

I love combining these two wonderful tools to easily discover which ancestors contributed my DNA segments. Once you know who contributed each segment, you also know how (through which line) you’re related to the other people you match (and who match each other) on that same segment. This is going to be so much fun!

Everyone can watch the Webtember presentations for free through the end of September.

I hope you’ll join us.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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Genealogy Research

The Origins of Zana of Abkhazia

Recently, Margaryan et al published a paper titled The genomic origin of Zana of Abkhazia.

Margaryan was the lead author on the 2020 paper, the Population genomics of the Viking world. I wrote about that in the article, 442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match?

Why are people interested in the origins of Zana? Who was Zana?

Zana

Zana was initially believed to have been a member of a group of Afro-Abkhazian people who lived in the Caucasus in the later 1800s.

Known as the African Caucasians, the Abkhazians of African descent lived in and near the settlement of Adzyubzha on the east coast of the Black Sea.

By Unknown author – livejournal.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8701583

This photo of an Afro-Abkhazian family is from “Caucasus. Volume I. The peoples of the Caucasus”, St. Petersburg., Kovalevsky P. I., 1914.

It’s uncertain how this group of African people came to live in this region, but they seem to have arrived when the region was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire in the 1600s, possibly as slaves to work the citrus plantations. In 1927, two Russian men visited the village and met elderly Africans. The Russian men felt that an Ethiopian version of their arrival story was likely accurate since there were several parallels between the names of the villages in Ethiopia and the Afro-Abkhazian villages.

By the 1800s, they spoke only the northwest Caucasian Abkhaz language.

The origins of Zana herself are cloaked in myth. One thing is for certain. Zana was exploited horribly.

How much of the story of Zana’s origins is accurate, and how much was concocted to justify her subsequent treatment is unknown.

The Story

Zana was reportedly living wild and naked in the forest in the Caucasus region. These mountains had long been rumored to hold creatures similar to Bigfoot, called Almasty in Russia.

The story goes that a traveling noble merchant, possibly Edgi Genaba, heard about an apewoman living in the forest and paid the local men to capture this poor creature sometime between 1850 and 1870. The locals forced her into a spike-lined pit.

The nobleman paid the men, named his captive Zana, shackled her, took her home, and enclosed Zana in a cage where she dug a hole in which to sleep. A slightly different version of the story says that Zana was sold from man to man until Genaba bought her.

Zana was apparently covered in thick red hair, powerfully muscular and at 6 feet 6 inches in height, towering over the local residents. When given clothes, she reportedly would shred them.

Genaba charged people who would come and gawk at the naked caged “apewoman” who could not or did not speak.

Zana did not try to escape and eventually, she was granted some reprieve by “only” being chained to a fence.

Eventually, Zana was taught to do chores and in essence, became a servant. She was also provided with alcohol. The local men repeatedly raped Zana while she was drunk.

Zana reportedly had a total of 6 children by unknown local men, although only four can be relatively assured and two proven. Zana apparently took the first two babies to a river to wash them, but the children died. After that, the local women took the following four children away from Zana to protect them since she apparently didn’t understand how to care for an infant.

None of Zana’s children had her thick hair. They all spoke normally and had families. Pictures remain of two of her children, a daughter, Kodzhanar and a son, Khwit. You can see photos of Kodzhanar, Khwit and Khwit’s children, here, in a supplement to the paper.

Zana died after living in captivity for about 20 years, having been taken advantage of, first by Genaba and eventually, by the village men as well.

But Zana’s exploitation didn’t even end there.

Dr. Bryan Sykes, once a respected geneticist, in his later years, became a Bigfoot hunter. After analyzing DNA evidence from Zana’s granddaughter and relatives, along with the remains of her son, Sykes suggested that Zana belonged to a “sub-species of modern humans,” and called her “half human and half ape,” according to a Daily Mail article published in April of 2015. Sykes published a book in 2015, whose title I refuse to print, in which he suggests that Zana’s ancestors exited Africa 100,000 years before and she and her ancestors had, in essence, become a Caucuses Bigfoot – or Almasty in the local vernacular. However, Sykes also states that Zana was 100% African, had genes from west Africa, yet resembled no west African group of people. If you’re scratching your head saying to yourself that those things are contradictory – you’d be right.

Thankfully, Margaryan has now published a respectful academic paper about Zana.

The genomic origin of Zana of Abkhazia

Margaryan paper abstract:

Enigmatic phenomena have sparked the imagination of people around the globe into creating folkloric creatures. One prime example is Zana of Abkhazia (South Caucasus), a well-documented 19th-century female who was captured living wild in the forest. Zana’s appearance was sufficiently unusual, that she was referred to by locals as an Almasty—the analog of Bigfoot in the Caucasus. Although the exact location of Zana’s burial site was unknown, the grave of her son, Khwit, was identified in 1971. The genomes of Khwit and the alleged Zana skeleton were sequenced to an average depth of ca. 3× using ancient DNA techniques. The identical mtDNA and parent-offspring relationship between the two indicated that the unknown woman was indeed Zana. Population genomic analyses demonstrated that Zana’s immediate genetic ancestry can likely be traced to present-day East-African populations. We speculate that Zana might have had a genetic disorder such as congenital generalized hypertrichosis which could partially explain her strange behavior, lack of speech, and long body hair. Our findings elucidate Zana’s unfortunate story and provide a clear example of how prejudices of the time led to notions of cryptic hominids that are still held and transmitted by some today.

Hypertrichosis

Hypertrichosis, also known as “werewolf syndrome” is an extremely rare condition in which an abnormal amount of hair grows on the body. While this condition can develop later in life, it can also be congenital, or present at birth.

In some cases, hair grows all over the body, but in others, only grows in some places.

While Zana’s hair growth suggests hypertrichosis, Zana may have had other challenges as well given that she was nonverbal.

In medieval times, people who suffered from hypertrichosis often lived in courts and functioned as entertainers. In the 19th and 20th centuries, you could find them as performers in circuses and sideshows.

Congenital hypertrichosis, present from birth, can be inherited.

Petrus Gonsalvus, born in 1537 and referred to as “the man of the woods” spent his life in royal courts in Italy and France. He had seven children, four of whom apparently inherited the mutation for this condition from Petrus.

Petrus and his children with excessive hair, two of whom are shown above, were not considered fully human, although their court life allowed them to be well documented.

Petrus married Lady Catherine and their story may have been at least a part of the inspiration for the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, published in 1740, 122 years after Petrus’s death.

Zana’s Son, Khwit’s Y DNA

Due to Zana’s circumstances, we have no idea who Khwit’s father was. Khwit and the father himself may have not known either, given how Zana was treated by the local men who raped her. Furthermore, Zana’s children were taken from her and she was non-verbal, so even if she did know, she couldn’t have told her children.

Khwit’s Y DNA provides tantalizing clues.

FamilyTreeDNA’s analysis of Zana’s son, Khwit’s Y chromosome places him in the R-Z2103 subclade of R1b associated with the Yamnaya culture, and more specifically on branch R-Y4364 which has its highest frequency in the Caucasus.

You can see that the flags beside the subgroups above R-FTA50400 are all represented in the Caucasus region; Armenia, Russian Federation, Turkey, and the Palestinian Territory. They also reach into the surrounding areas: Italy, Poland, Greece, Germany, and then beneath Khwit’s branch, we find Scotland represented by subclade R-FTA49702. Khwit and the man from Scotland share 14 variants that branch subclade R-FTA50400 from R-FGCLR459.

Scotland? Well, that’s unexpected.

Looking at the block tree, below, you can see that while the two men are related back in time, it’s distant and they are separated by many private variants.

How long ago did the common ancestor of Khwit and the Scotsman live?

Goran Runfeldt, Head of Research and Development at FamilyTreeDNA, indicated that an early estimate would be that the common ancestor of Khwit’s father and the tester from Scotland would have lived in the Caucasus about 2200 years ago.

He stated that additional Big Y-700 testing is underway and a more definitive MRCA date may be able to be established.

Zana’s Mitochondrial DNA

Of course, Zana’s children all carried her mitochondrial DNA. Her daughters passed Zana’s mitochondrial DNA on to their children as well.

Fortunately, Zana’s mitochondrial DNA helps reassemble the pieces of Zana’s history.

I reached out to Dr. Miguel Vilar, a member of the Million Mito team member in the hope of revealing more of Zana’s puzzle. Dr. Villar is a molecular anthropologist at UMD and former lead scientist for the Genographic Project.

Dr. Vilar offered:

The DNA data and old stories together paint a very sad picture for the historical figure of Zana. The PCA plot of the autosomal DNA suggests she was genetically related to the Dinka pastoralist people from South Sudan, a marginalized group known to be above average in height and body size. Further, Zana’s mtDNA results place her on a basal branch of L2b1b, which geographically would align with an East Central African origin.

The combination of Zana’s height, body size, hair, and (apparent) inability to speak certainly advanced or at least fostered the story of Zana not being human.

Unfortunately, these combined features seemed to justify the non-human treatment of Zana by the local residents, particularly the men.

Contemporary DNA analysis proves Zana was fully human with African origins. She was not admixed with non-African DNA. How she or her family came to the Caucasus, or when, is unknown, but it likely has to do with the Ottoman Empire slave trade that began in the 16th century. The legend of Zana has probably grown and changed with time and retelling.

Ethics

Clearly, Zana’s original situation and later exploitation have been an ethical quagmire.

The authors of the Zana paper perhaps sum this up best:

Following her capture in the forest, Zana was deprived of her basic human rights, and treated as a slave: she was kept in captivity, likely forced to have sexual relations with local men, and worked in forced labor conditions. After she passed away, the accounts on her mythical figure attracted several scientists to unearth her story and her son’s bones were exhumed. Our study intends both to reveal the true human nature of Zana and grant her and her descendants’ remains the dignity they deserve.

Zana’s story isn’t over. Additional testing and analysis are being performed. Based on those findings, if any, we may be able to add another chapter to Zana’s story.

Zana, like everyone else, deserves the truth, even if unraveled and told posthumously. We can’t right the historical wrongs today, but at least we can correct the record.

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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

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FamilyTreeDNA Relaunch – New Feature Overview

The brand-new FamilyTreeDNA website is live!

I’m very pleased with the investment that FamilyTreeDNA has made in their genealogy platform and tools. This isn’t just a redesign, it’s more of a relaunch.

I spoke with Dr. Lior Rauchberger, CEO of myDNA, the parent company of FamilyTreeDNA briefly yesterday. He’s excited too and said:

“The new features and enhancements we are releasing in July are the first round of updates in our exciting product roadmap. FamilyTreeDNA will continue to invest heavily in the advancement of genetic genealogy.”

In other words, this is just the beginning.

In case you were wondering, all those features everyone asked for – Lior listened.

Lior said earlier in 2021 that he was going to do exactly this and he’s proven true to his word, with this release coming just half a year after he took the helm. Obviously, he hit the ground running.

A few months ago, Lior said that his initial FamilyTreeDNA focus was going to be on infrastructure, stability, and focusing on the customer experience. In other words, creating a foundation to build on.

The new features, improvements, and changes are massive and certainly welcome.

I’ll be covering the new features in a series of articles, but in this introductory article, I’m providing an overview so you can use it as a guide to understand and navigate this new release.

Change is Challenging

I need to say something here.

Change is hard. In fact, change is the most difficult challenge for humans. We want improvements, yet we hate it when the furniture is rearranged in our “room.” However, we can’t have one without the other.

So, take a deep breath, and let’s view this as a great new adventure. These changes and tools will provide us with a new foundation and new clues. Think of this as finding long-lost documents in an archive about your ancestors. If someone told me that there is a potential for discovering the surname of one of my elusive female ancestors in an undiscovered chest in a remote library, trust me, I’d be all over it – regardless of where it was or how much effort I had to expend to get there. In this case, I can sit right here in front of my computer and dig for treasure.

We just need to learn to navigate the new landscape in a virtual room. What a gift!

Let’s start with the first thing you’ll see – the main page when you sign in.

Redesigned Main Page

The FamilyTreeDNA main page has changed. To begin with, the text is darker and the font is larger across the entire platform. OMG, thank you!!!

The main page has been flipped left to right, with results on the left now. Projects, surveys, and other information, along with haplogroup badges are on the right. Have you answered any surveys? I don’t think I even noticed them before. (My bad!)

Click any image to enlarge.

The top tabs have changed too. The words myTree and myProjects are now gone, and descriptive tabs have replaced those. The only “my” thing remaining is myOrigins. This change surprises me with myDNA being the owner.

The Results & Tools tab at the top shows the product dropdowns.

The most popular tabs are shown individually under each product, with additional features being grouped under “See More.”

Every product now has a “See More” link where less frequently used widgets will be found, including the raw data downloads. This is the Y DNA “See More” dropdown by way of example.

You can see the green Updated badge on the Family Finder Matches tab. I don’t know if that badge will always appear when customers have new matches, or if it’s signaling that all customers have updated Family Finder Matches now.

We’ll talk about matches in the Family Finder section.

The Family Finder “See More” tab includes the Matrix, ancientOrigins, and the raw data file download.

The mitochondrial DNA section, titled Maternal Line Ancestry, mtDNA Results and Tools includes several widgets grouped under the “See More” tab.

Additional Tests and Tools

The Additional Tests and Tools area includes a link to your Family Tree (please do upload or create one,) Public Haplotrees, and Advanced Matches.

Public haplotrees are free-to-the-public Y and mitochondrial DNA trees that include locations. They are also easily available to FamilyTreeDNA customers here.

Please note that you access both types of trees from one location after clicking the Public Haplotrees page. The tree defaults to Y-DNA, but just click on mtDNA to view mitochondrial haplogroups and locations. Both trees are great resources because they show the location flags of the earliest known ancestors of the testers within each haplogroup.

Advanced Matches used to be available from the menu within each test type, but since advanced matching includes all three types of tests, it’s now located under the Additional Tests and Tools banner. Don’t forget about Advanced Matches – it’s really quite useful to determine if someone matches you on multiple types of tests and/or within specific projects.

Hey, look – I found a tooltip. Just mouse over the text and tabs on various pages to see where tooltips have been added.

Help and Help Center

The new Help Center is debuting in this release. The former Learning Center is transitioning to the Help Center with new, updated content.

Here’s an example of the new easy-to-navigate format. There’s a search function too.

Each individual page, test type, and section on your personal home page has a “Helpful Information” button.

On the main page, at the top right, you’ll see a new Help button.

Did you see that Submit Feedback link?

If you click on the Help Center, you’ll be greeted with context-sensitive help.

I clicked through from the dashboard, so that’s what I’m seeing. However, other available topics are shown at left.

I clicked on both of the links shown and the content has been updated with the new layout and features. No wonder they launched a new Help Center!

Account Settings

Account settings are still found in the same place, and those pages don’t appear to have changed. However, please keep in mind that some settings make take up to 24 hours to take effect.

Family Finder Rematching

Before we look at what has changed on your Family Finder pages, let’s talk about what happened behind the scenes.

FamilyTreeDNA has been offering the Family Finder test for 11 years, one of two very early companies to enter that marketspace. We’ve learned so much since then, not only about DNA itself, but about genetic genealogy, matching, triangulation, population genetics, how to use these tools, and more.

In order to make improvements, FamilyTreeDNA changing the match criteria which necessitated rematching everyone to everyone else.

If you have a technology background of any type, you’ll immediately realize that this is a massive, expensive undertaking requiring vast computational resources. Not only that, but the rematching has to be done in tandem with new kits coming in, coordinated for all customers, and rolled out at once. Based on new matches and features, the user interface needed to be changed too, at the same time.

Sounds like a huge headache, right?

Why would a company ever decide to undertake that, especially when there is no revenue for doing so? The answer is to make functionality and accuracy better for their customers. Think of this as a new bedrock foundation for the future.

FamilyTreeDNA has made computational changes and implemented several features that require rematching:

  • Improved matching accuracy, in particular for people in highly endogamous populations. People in this category have thousands of matches that occur simply because they share multiple distant ancestors from within the same population. That combination of multiple common ancestors makes their current match relationships appear to be closer in time than they are. In order to change matching algorithms, FamilyTreeDNA had to rewrite their matching software and then run matching all over to enable everyone to receive new, updated match results.
  • FamilyTreeDNA has removed segments below 6 cM following sustained feedback from the genealogical community.
  • X matching has changed as well and no longer includes anyone as an X match below 6 cM.
  • Family Matching, meaning paternal, maternal and both “bucketing” uses triangulation behind the scenes. That code also had to be updated.
  • Older transfer kits used to receive only closer matches because imputation was not in place when the original transfer/upload took place. All older kits have been imputed now and matched with the entire database, which is part of why you may have more matches.
  • Relationship range calculations have changed, based on the removal of microsegments, new matching methodology and rematching results.
  • FamilyTreeDNA moved to hg37, known as Build 37 of the human genome. In layman’s terms, as scientists learn about our DNA, the human map of DNA changes and shifts slightly. The boundary lines change somewhat. Versions are standardized so all researchers can use the same base map or yardstick. In some cases, early genetic genealogy implementers are penalized because they will eventually have to rematch their entire database when they upgrade to a new build version, while vendors who came to the party later won’t have to bear that internal expense.

As you can see, almost every aspect of matching has changed, so everyone was rematched against the entire database. You’ll see new results. Some matches may be gone, especially distant matches or if you’re a member of an endogamous population.

You’ll likely have new matches due to older transfer kits being imputed to full compatibility. Your matches should be more accurate too, which makes everyone happy.

I understand a white paper is being written that will provide more information about the new matching algorithms.

Ok, now let’s check out the new Family Finder Matches page.

Family Finder Matches

FamilyTreeDNA didn’t just rearrange the furniture – there’s a LOT of new content.

First, a note. You’ll see “Family Finder” in some places, and “Autosomal DNA” in other places. That’s one and the same at FamilyTreeDNA. The Family Finder test is their autosomal test, named separately because they also have Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests.

When you click on Family Finder matches for the first time, you will assuredly notice one thing and will probably notice a second.

First, you’ll see a little tour that explains how to use the various new tools.

Secondly, you will probably see the “Generating Matches” notice for a few seconds to a few minutes while your match list is generated, especially if the site is busy because lots of people are signing on. I saw this message for maybe a minute or two before my match list filled.

This should be a slight delay, but with so many people signing in right now, my second kit took longer. If you receive a message that says you have no matches, just refresh your page. If you had matches before, you DO have matches now.

While working with the new interface this morning, I’ve found that refreshing the screen is the key to solving issues.

My kits that have a few thousand matches loaded Family Matching (bucketing) immediately, but this (Jewish) kit that has around 30,000 matches received this informational message instead. FamilyTreeDNA has removed the little spinning icon. If you mouse over the information, you’ll see the following message:

This isn’t a time estimate. Everyone receives the same message. The message didn’t even last long enough for me to get a screenshot on the first kit that received this message. The results completed within a minute or so. The Family Matching buckets will load as soon as the parental matching is ready.

These delays should only happen the first time, or if someone has a lot of matches that they haven’t yet viewed. Once you’ve signed in, your matches are cached, a technique that improves performance, so the loading should be speedy, or at least speedier, during the second and subsequent visits.

Of course, right now, all customers have an updated match list, so there’s something new for everyone.

Getting Help

Want to see that tutorial again?

Click on that little Help box in the upper right-hand corner. You can view the Tutorial, look at Quick References that explain what’s on this page, visit the Help Center or Submit Feedback.

Two Family Finder Matches Views – Detail and Table

The first thing you’ll notice is that there are two views – Detail View and Table View. The default is Detail View.

Take a minute to get used to the new page.

Detail View – Filter Matches by Match Type

I was pleased to see new filter buttons, located in several places on the page.

The Matches filter at left allows you to display only specific relationship levels, including X-Matches which can be important in narrowing matches to a specific subset of ancestors.

You can display only matches that fall within certain relationship ranges. Note the new “Remote Relative” that was previously called speculative.

Parental Matching and Filtering by Test Type or Trees

All of your matches are displayed by default, of course, but you can click on Paternal, Maternal or Both, like before to view only matches in those buckets. In order for the Family Matching bucketing feature to be enabled, you must attach known relatives’ DNA matches to their proper place in your tree.

Please note that I needed to refresh the page a couple of times to get my parental matches to load the first time. I refreshed a couple of times to be sure that all of my bucketed matches loaded. This should be a first-time loading blip.

There’s a new filter button to the right of the bucketing tabs.

You can now filter by who has trees and who has taken which kinds of tests.

You can apply multiple filters at the same time to further narrow your matches.

Important – Clearing Filters

It’s easy to forget you have a filter enabled. This section is important, in part because Clear Filter is difficult to find.

The clear filter button does NOT appear until you’ve selected a filter. However, after applying that filter, to clear it and RESET THE MATCHES to unfiltered, you need to click on the “Clear Filter” button which is located at the top of the filter selections, and then click “Apply” at the bottom of the menu. I looked for “clear filter” forever before finding it here.

You’re welcome😊

Enhanced Search

Thank goodness, the search functionality has been enhanced and simplified too. Full name search works, both here and on the Y DNA search page.

If you type in a surname without selecting any search filters, you’ll receive a list of anyone with that word in their name, or in their list of ancestral surnames. This does NOT include surnames in their tree if they have not added those surnames to their list of ancestral surnames.

Notice that your number of total matches and bucketed people will change based on the results of this search and any filters you have applied.

I entered Estes in the search box, with no filters. You can see that I have a total of 46 matches that contain Estes in one way or another, and how they are bucketed.

Estes is my birth surname. I noticed that three people with Estes in their information are bucketed maternally. This is the perfect example of why you can’t assume a genetic relationship based on only a surname. Those three people’s DNA matches me on my mother’s side. And yes, I confirmed that they matched my mother too on that same segment or segments.

Search Filters

You can also filter by haplogroup. This is very specific. If you select mitochondrial haplogroup J, you will only receive Family Finder matches that have haplogroup J, NOT J1 or J1c or J plus anything.

If you’re looking for your own haplogroup, you’ll need to type your full haplogroup in the search box and select mtDNA Haplogroup in the search filter dropdown.

Resetting Search Results

To dismiss search results, click on the little X. It’s easy to forget that you have initiated a search, so I need to remember to dismiss searches after I’m finished with each one.

Export Matches

The “Export CSV” button either downloads your entire match list, or the list of filtered matches currently selected. This is not your segment information, but a list of matches and related information such as which side they are bucketed on, if any, notes you’ve made, and more.

Your segment information is available for download on the chromosome browser.

Sort By

The Sort By button facilitates sorting your matches versus filtering your matches. Filters ONLY display the items requested, while sorts display all of the items requested, sorting them in a particular manner.

You can sort in any number of ways. The default is Relationship Range followed by Shared DNA.

Your Matches – Detail View

A lot has changed, but after you get used to the new interface, it makes more sense and there are a lot more options available which means increased flexibility. Remember, you can click to enlarge any of these images.

To begin with, you can see the haplogroups of your matches if they have taken a Y or mitochondrial DNA test. If you match someone, you’ll see a little check in the haplogroup box. I’m not clear whether this means you’re a haplogroup match or that person is on your match list.

To select people to compare in the chromosome browser, you simply check the little square box to the left of their photo and the chromosome browser box pops up at the bottom of the page. We’ll review the chromosome browser in a minute.

The new Relationship Range prediction is displayed, based on new calculations with segments below 6 cM removed. The linked relationship is displayed below the range.

A linked relationship occurs when you link that person to their proper place in your tree. If you have no linked relationship, you’ll see a link to “assign relationship” which takes you to your tree to link this person if you know how you are related.

The segments below 6 cM are gone from the Shared DNA total and X matches are only shown if they are 6 cM or above.

In Common With and Not In Common With

In Common With and Not In Common With is the little two-person icon at the right.

Just click on the little person icon, then select “In Common With” to view your shared matches between you, that match, and other people. The person you are viewing matches in common with is highlighted at the top of the page, with your common matches below.

You can stack filters now. In this example, I selected my cousin, Don, to see our common matches. I added the search filter of the surname Ferverda, my mother’s maiden name. She is deceased and I manage her kit. You can see that my cousin Don and I have 5 total common matches – four maternal and one both, meaning one person matches me on both my maternal and paternal lines.

It’s great news that now Cousin Don pops up in the chromosome browser box at the bottom, enabling easy confusion-free chromosome segment comparisons directly from the In Common With match page. I love this!!!.

All I have to do now is click on other people and then on Compare Relationship which pushes these matches through to the chromosome browser. This is SOOOO convenient.

You’ll see a new tree icon at right on each match. A dark tree means there’s content and a light tree means this person does not have a tree. Remember, you can filter by trees with content using the filter button beside “Both”.

Your notes are shown at far right. Any person with a note is dark grey and no note is white.

If you’re looking for the email contact information, click on your match’s name to view their placard which also includes more detailed ancestral surname information.

Family Finder – Table View

The table view is very similar to the Detail View. The layout is a bit different with more matches visible in the same space.

This view has lots of tooltips on the column heading bar! Tooltips are great for everyone, but especially for people just beginning to find their way in the genetic genealogy world.

I’ll have to experiment a bit to figure out which view I prefer. I’d like to be able to set my own default for whichever view I want as my default. In fact, I think I’ll submit that in the “Submit Feedback” link. For every suggestion, I’m going to find something really positive to say. This was an immense overhaul.

Chromosome Browser

Let’s look at the chromosome Browser.

You can arrive at the Chromosome Browser by selecting people on your match page, or by selecting the Chromosome Browser under the Results and Tools link.

Everything is pretty much the same on the chromosome browser, except the default view is now 6 cM and the smaller segments are gone. You can also choose to view only segments above 10 cM.

If you have people selected in the chromosome browser and click on Download Segments in the upper right-hand corner, it downloads the segments of only the people currently selected.

You can “Clear All” and then click on Download All Segments which downloads your entire segment file. To download all segments, you need to have no people selected for comparison.

The contents of this file are greatly reduced as it now contains only the segments 6 cM and above.

Family Tree

No, the family tree has not changed, and yes, it needs to, desperately. Trust me, the management team is aware and I suspect one of the improvements, hopefully sooner than later, will be an improved tree experience.

Y DNA

The Y DNA page has received an update too, adding both a Detail View and a Table View with the same basic functionality as the Family Finder matching above. If you are reading this article for Y DNA only, please read the Family Finder section to understand the new layout and features.

Like previously, the match comparison begins at the 111 marker level.

However, there’s a BIG difference. If there are no matches at this level, YOU NEED TO CLICK THE NEXT TAB. You can easily see that this person has matches at the 67 level and below, but the system no longer “counts down” through the various levels until it either finds a level with a match or reaches 12 markers.

If you’re used to the old interface, it’s easy to think you’re at the final destination of 12 markers with no matches when you’re still at 111.

Y DNA Detail View

The Y-DNA Detail and Table views features are the same as Family Finder and are described in that section.

The new format is quite different. One improvement is that the Paternal Country of Origin is now displayed, along with a flag. How cool is that!

The Paternal Earliest Known Ancestor and Match Date are at far right. Note that match dates have been reset to the rerun date. At this point, FamilyTreeDNA is evaluating the possibility of restoring the original match date. Regardless, you’ll be able to filter for match dates when new matches arrive.

Please check to be sure you have your Country of Origin, Earliest Known Ancestor, and mapped location completed and up to date.

Earliest Known Ancestor

If you haven’t completed your Earliest Known Ancestor (EKA) information, now’s the perfect time. It’s easy, so let’s do it before you forget.

Click on the Account Settings gear beneath your name in the right-hand upper corner. Click on Genealogy, then on Earliest Known Ancestors and complete the information in the red boxes.

  • Direct paternal line means your father’s father’s father’s line – as far up through all fathers as you can reach. This is your Y DNA lineage, but females should complete this information on general principles.
  • Direct maternal line means your mother’s mother’s mother’s line – as far up through all mothers that you can reach. This is your mitochondrial DNA lineage, so relevant for both males and females.

Completing all of the information, including the location, will help you and your matches as well when using the Matches Map.

Be sure to click Save when you’re finished.

Y DNA Filters

Y DNA has more filter options than autosomal.

The Y DNA filter, located to the right of the 12 Markers tab allows testers to filter by:

  • Genetic distance, meaning how many mutations difference between you and your matches
  • Groups meaning group projects that the tester has joined
  • Tree status
  • Match date
  • Level of test taken

If none of your matches have taken the 111 marker test or you don’t match anyone at that level, that test won’t show up on your list.

Y DNA Table View

As with Family Finder, the Table View is more condensed and additional features are available on the right side of each match. For details, please review the Family Finder section.

If you’re looking for the old Y DNA TiP report, it’s now at the far right of each match.

The actual calculator hasn’t changed yet. I know people were hoping for the new Y DNA aging in this release, but that’s yet to follow.

Other Pages

Other pages like the Big Y and Mitochondrial DNA did not receive new features or functionality in this release, but do sport new user-friendly tooltips.

I lost track, but I counted over 100 tooltips added across the platform, and this is just the beginning.

There are probably more new features and functionality that I haven’t stumbled across just yet.

And yes, we are going to find a few bugs. That’s inevitable with something this large. Please report anything you find to FamilyTreeDNA.

Oh wait – I almost forgot…

New Videos

I understand that there are in the ballpark of 50 new videos that are being added to the new Help Center, either today or very shortly.

When I find out more, I’ll write an article about what videos are available and where to find them. People learn in various ways. Videos are often requested and will be a popular addition. I considered making videos, but that’s almost impossible for anyone besides the vendor because the names on screens either need to be “fake” or the screen needs to be blurred.

So hurray – very glad to hear these are imminent!

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for new developments. As Lior said, FamilyTreeDNA is investing heavily in genetic genealogy and there’s more to come.

My Mom used to say that the “proof is in the pudding.” I’d say the myDNA/FamilyTreeDNA leadership team has passed this initial test with flying colors.

Of course, there’s more to do, but I’m definitely grateful for this lovely pudding. Thank you – thank you!

I can’t wait to get started and see what new gems await.

Take a Look!

Sign in and take a look for yourself.

Do you have more matches?

Are your matches more accurate?

How about predicted relationships?

How has this new release affected you?

What do you like the best?

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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

Books

Genealogy Research

Want Ancestor-Specific Ethnicity? Test Mitochondrial DNA

Recently, someone’s mitochondrial DNA test revealed that their ancestor was from Africa, but that person had no African heritage showing in their autosomal results or revealed in their genealogy.

They wondered how this was possible and which test was “wrong.” The answer is that neither test is wrong.

Mitochondrial DNA is important EXACTLY for this reason. It does not divide with inheritance, while autosomal DNA does and eventually disappears entirely.

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from our direct matrilineal line – our mother – her mother – on up the tree directly through all mothers.

If you need a refresher, the article, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy shows how different types of DNA are inherited from our ancestors.

Mitochondrial DNA and Ethnicity

Let’s look specifically at mitochondrial DNA ethnicity as compared to autosomal ethnicity.

In the chart above, an African ancestor (or ancestor of any ethnicity) who was the only ancestor of that ethnicity in your heritage is shown at the top – your five times great-grandmother. Using a 25-year generation, their autosomal DNA would have been admixed with partners of a different ethnicity 7 times between them and you.

Of course, that means the autosomal DNA of that ancestor would have been divided in (roughly) half 7 times.

Percent of Inherited Autosomal DNA

In the Percent of Inherited Autosomal DNA column, we look at it from your perspective. In other words, of the 100% of your ethnicity, stepping back each generation we can see how much of that particular ancestor you would carry. You carry 50% of your mother, 25% of your grandmother, and so forth.

You inherited approximately 0.78% of your GGGGG-Grandmother’s autosomal DNA, less than 1%.

If she was 100% African, then that 0.78% would be the only African autosomal DNA of hers that you carry, on average. You could carry a little less or a little more. We know that you don’t actually inherit exactly half of each of your ancestors’ DNA from your parents, nor they from their parents, so we can only use averages in that calculation.

Ancestral Percent Autosomal Ethnicity

In the Ancestral Percent Autosomal Ethnicity column, we look at it from the ancestor’s perspective.

Of your GGGGG-Grandmother’s 100% African ethnicity, how much would each subsequent generation be expected to inherit of that ethnicity, on average?

You would inherit 0.78% of that ancestor’s DNA. Given that GGGGG-Grandma was 100% African in this example, you would carry 0.78% African ethnicity.

Percent Mitochondrial DNA Inherited

Now, look at the Percent of Mitochondrial DNA Inherited column. Your African GGGGG-Grandmother’s mitochondrial DNA was 100% African in her generation, 7 generations ago, and still is 100% African in you, today.

That’s the beauty of mitochondrial DNA. It’s a forever record – never divided and never washes away.

How else would you EVER figure out her African roots today without records? Even if you did inherit a small amount of autosomal African DNA, and the vendor reported less than 1%, how would you determine which ancestor that African DNA came from, or when?

Not to mention trying to figure out if less than 1% or any small amount of reported ethnicity is a legitimate finding or “noise.”

What about if you, like my friend, carried no African autosomal DNA from that ancestor? There would be nothing to report in your autosomal ethnicity results – but your mitochondrial DNA would still tell the story of your African ancestor. Even after that trace is long gone in autosomal DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA is MUCH more reliable for each specific line in determining the “ethnicity” or biogeographical ancestry of each ancestor. I wrote about how to use your mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, here.

Discovering Your Forever Record

Everyone can test for their own mitochondrial DNA, and you can test other family members for their matrilineal lines as well. For example, your father or his siblings carry the mitochondrial DNA of his mother. You get the idea.

I record the mitochondrial haplogroup of each of my lines in my genealogy records and on their WikiTree profile card so others can share – now and in the future.

Genealogy research of female ancestors is less difficult with at least “one” record that reaches back where surnames and autosomal DNA don’t and can’t.

What will your mitochondrial “forever history” reveal?

Mitochondrial DNA tests are on sale this week for Mother’s Day – click here to upgrade or purchase.

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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

Books

Genealogy Research

DNA Day: Forty Years On and We’re Still Shaking The Tree!

Genealogists are always excited when DNA Day in April arrives because it means two things:

  • Celebrating DNA
  • Sales

This year we have a 40th anniversary to celebrate along with some great sales.

Those of you who know me already understand how excited I am about the powerful combination of genetics and genealogy. Yes, I’m a science/genealogy nerd and I’m also one of the scientists working on the Million Mito Project – the next generation of mitochondrial DNA.

We’re pushing that envelope and you’ll be the beneficiary.

So please forgive me if my excitement spills over for a bit here. Let’s celebrate together!

The Beginning – Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial graphic courtesy Dr. Paul Maier Copyright 2021 all rights reserved

Mitochondrial DNA, the DNA all humans inherit from their mother in a direct matrilineal line was first sequenced in 1981 at Cambridge University using the DNA of an anonymous volunteer. We know today that the volunteer whose DNA was used for that reference sample carried mutation values that eventually placed them in haplogroup H2a2a1. Of course, haplogroup H2a2a1 didn’t exist back then and has slowly evolved over the years as we learn more and updates to the tree occur.

That volunteer’s sequence of mutations was organized to form basic haplogroups, a genetic breadcrumb history that provides links both backward in time to our distant ancestors and forwards in time to us today. Comparing our mitochondrial DNA to other testers is genealogically relevant and can help break through brick walls. But that next chapter, genealogy, wouldn’t begin until the year 2000 when both Oxford Ancestors and FamilyTreeDNA introduced direct-to-consumer testing.

For 31 years after that initial discovery, everyone would be compared to the Cambridge Reference Sequence, the CRS.

Scientists didn’t know at the time, of course, but using the DNA of a person whose haplogroup was formed about 3500 years ago would make it challenging to correctly place people whose haplogroup was formed sometime between Mitochondrial Eve, our founding mother, and the haplogroup H reference sequence.

Think of it as trying to measure someone’s height when measuring from their shoulders up. You can do it, but you need to compensate for not measuring from the floor to the top of their head in one step.

Mitochondrial Eve lived about 150,000 years ago in Africa and was the founder of haplogroup L who eventually gave birth to all of the rest of the haplogroups in the world through haplogroups M and N who migrated out of Africa.

Courtesy FamilyTreeDNA

In 2012, a second comparison methodology, the Reconstructed Sapiens Reference Sequence (RSRS) was published in the landmark paper, A “Copernican” Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root, written by Behar et al.

The RSRS version of the tree defined branches beginning at the base with Mitochondrial Eve, the first woman who lived in African and has survivors today, and provided estimated dates of when individual haplogroups were formed in a supplement to the paper. In other words, the RSRS measured height, or the genetic distance from Eve to us, from the floor up.

Today, there is still no universally accepted standardization in reporting, in part because the earlier papers are still relevant and utilize the older CRS methodology. Different academic papers reference the CRS or the RSRS, and FamilyTreeDNA, the only company that tests the full sequence and provides matching for genealogy, reports both versions for customers.

click to enlarge graphics

I find the RSRS more relevant for genealogy, because it’s much easier to see and identify our extra and missing mutations which are the seeds of future haplogroups.

While the original scientific mitochondrial DNA paper from 1981 is behind a paywall, here, I found another article, Mitochondrial DNA published in the magazine, The Science Teacher, that’s free, here.

With Build 17 of the mitochondrial tree, published in 2016, more than 5,400 haplogroups were defined using 24,275 samples. You can view the defining mutations by haplogroup, here, or on Phylotree, here.

Many more samples are available now, and the tree is in desperate need of an update, but that update needs to be a scientific reevaluation, not just adding to the tips of the branches.

In February of 2020, the Million Mito Project was launched which will use more than a quarter-million samples, with a goal of a million, to rewrite the Tree of Womankind. Samples are included from:

  • FamilyTreeDNA
  • Genographic Project participants who opted in to scientific research
  • Academic samples

You can watch a short video about the Million Mito Project produced by yours truly, here. I’ll have more information on this topic, soon.

I put together a Mitochondrial DNA resource page, here, with everything you’ve ever wanted to know and then some😊

Individuals can particulate in the Million Mito Project (MMP) by taking the mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA. Academic institutions can participate by uploading research samples to GenBank and contacting a member of the research team.

1981 Was Just the First Baby Step

Of course, the sequencing of mitochondrial DNA 40 years ago was just the beginning of our genetic journey. The first 20 years was spent building the foundation for consumer testing. This second 20 years has been the express-train ride of a lifetime.

Today, we’re shaking that tree harder than ever! Man alive, has it ever produced too – ancestors, surprises, confirmation of paper trails, new cousins and so much more. We’ve learned, and are continuing to learn about the genetic journey of our ancestors that was entirely unavailable to us before genealogists embraced DNA testing.

Every year we celebrate DNA Day by testing our DNA and by reviewing our matches to see what they reveal about our own personal journey and those of our ancestors. New matches arrive all the time. The key is to:

  • Take each kind of DNA test.
  • Test relatives. Their matches are critical to our shared ancestral genealogy.
  • Find relatives to represent Y and mitochondrial DNA of ancestors whose Y and mitochondrial DNA we don’t’ carry.
  • Check back often to see what new matches have appeared, and what hints and secrets they might hold. If the key to that brick wall has arrived, and you don’t check, you’ll never know!

Take that test! Upgrade if that’s an option for either Y or mitochondrial DNA for yourself, and test your autosomal DNA or transfer to all of the four major companies. Fish in all the ponds. You don’t know where that fish you need is living.

Step-by-step upload-download instructions are here for every vendor.

Don’t forget about testing your relatives that share all of the same ancestors that you do – aunts, uncles, grandparents. They will have matches that you don’t.

DNA Day Sales

Not all vendors are offering DNA Day sales, at least not yet, but FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage have great sale prices, shown below.

FamilyTreeDNA

Of course, FamilyTreeDNA sells three types of DNA tests for genealogy, Y DNA (direct paternal surname line for males only, mitochondrial DNA (direct matrilineal line for both sexes), and the Family Finder autosomal test (all lines for everyone), so they have more products to discount.

Please note that the autosomal transfer advanced tool unlock is only $9 right now. The unlock provides access to your myOrigins results (ethnicity) and AncientOrigins along with the chromosome browser if you uploaded your DNA from another vendor. The unlock seldom goes on sale and $9 is a great price. How many tests have you transferred and not yet unlocked?

If you’ve taken an earlier Y or mitochondrial DNA test at a lower level, you can upgrade – and upgrades are on sale too.

Have you been waiting to order that Big Y upgrade? Now’s the time!

You can click right here to order, upgrade or unlock a transfer.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage’s autosomal DNA test is on sale until the 25th for $59 with free shipping if you purchase 2 or more tests.

MyHeritage recently added another new feature for their DNA customers – Shared Ethnicities and Genetic Groups.

When you click to compare your information with a match, you can scroll down to see common ethnicities and Genetic Groups that you share with that person.

You can see that I share a small amount of indigenous American DNA with this person.

Is this important? I don’t know. It might be and it’s up to me as a genealogist to run with this ball and see what I can uncover.

Shared Genetic Groups may make finding common origins with your DNA matches even easier. The person with whom I share that indigenous ancestry also has ancestors from Appalachia. Hmmm, now I need to see who else I match in common with this person. I’m pretty sure, just based on this, that they match on my father’s side.

You can click here to check out your common ethnicities or genetic groups at My Heritage, or to order tests for family members whose results will help you unravel your matches.

Don’t forget, if you’ve already tested elsewhere, you can click here to easily upload to MyHeritage for free matching and just pay the $29 unlock for their advanced tools including the chromosome browser, ethnicities, Genetic Groups, clustering and triangulation.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

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Genealogy Research

A Triangulation Checklist Born From the Question; “Why NOT Use Close Relatives for Triangulation?”

One of my readers asked why we don’t use close relatives for triangulation.

This is a great question because not using close relatives for triangulation seems counter-intuitive.

I used to ask my kids and eventually my students and customers if they wanted the quick short answer or the longer educational answer.

The short answer is “because close relatives are too close to reliably form the third leg of the triangle.” Since you share so much DNA with close relatives, someone matching you who is identical by chance can also match them for exactly the same reason.

If you trust me and you’re good with that answer, wonderful. But I hope you’ll keep reading because there’s so much to consider, not to mention a few gotchas. I’ll share my methodology, techniques, and workarounds.

We’ll also discuss absolutely wonderful ways to utilize close relatives in the genetic genealogical process – just not for triangulation.

At the end of this article, I’ve provided a working triangulation checklist for you to use when evaluating your matches.

Let’s go!

The Step-by-Step Educational Answer😊

Some people see “evidence” they believe conflicts with the concept that you should not use close relatives for triangulation. I understand that, because I’ve gone down that rathole too, so I’m providing the “educational answer” that explains exactly WHY you should not use close relatives for triangulation – and what you should do.

Of course, we need to answer the question, “Who actually are close relatives?”

I’ll explain the best ways to best utilize close relatives in genetic genealogy, and why some matches are deceptive.

You’ll need to understand the underpinnings of DNA inheritance and also of how the different vendors handle DNA matching behind the scenes.

The purpose of autosomal DNA triangulation is to confirm that a segment is passed down from a particular ancestor to you and a specific set of your matches.

Triangulation, of course, implies 3, so at least three people must all match each other on a reasonably sized portion of the same DNA segment for triangulation to occur.

Matching just one person only provides you with one path to that common ancestor. It’s possible that you match that person due to a different ancestor that you aren’t aware of, or due to chance recombination of DNA.

It’s possible that your or your match inherited part of that DNA from your maternal side and part from your paternal side, meaning that you are matching that other person’s DNA by chance.

I wrote about identical by descent (IBD), which is an accurate genealogically meaningful match, and identical by chance (IBC) which is a false match, in the article Concepts – Identical by…Descent, State, Population and Chance.

I really want you to understand why close relatives really shouldn’t be used for triangulation, and HOW close relative matches should be used, so we’re going to discuss all of the factors that affect and influence this topic – both the obvious and little-understood.

  • Legitimate Matches
  • Inheritance and Triangulation
  • Parental Cross-Matching
  • Parental Phasing
  • Automatic Phasing at FamilyTreeDNA
  • Parental Phasing Caveats
  • Pedigree Collapse
  • Endogamy
  • How Many Identical-by-Chance Matches Will I Have?
  • DNA Doesn’t Skip Generations (Seriously, It Doesn’t)
  • Your Parents Have DNA That You Don’t (And How to Use It)
  • No DNA Match Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Related
  • Imputation
  • Ancestry Issues and Workarounds
  • Testing Close Relatives is VERY Useful – Just Not for Triangulation
  • Triangulated Matches
  • Building Triangulation Evidence – Ingredients and a Recipe
  • Aunts/Uncles
  • Siblings
  • How False Positives Work and How to Avoid Them
  • Distant Cousins Are Best for Triangulation & Here’s Why
  • Where Are We? A Triangulation Checklist for You!
  • The Bottom Line

Don’t worry, these sections are logical and concise. I considered making this into multiple articles, but I really want it in one place for you. I’ve created lots of graphics with examples to help out.

Let’s start by dispelling a myth.

DNA Doesn’t Skip Generations!

Recently, someone emailed to let me know that they had “stopped listening to me” in a presentation when I said that if a match did not also match one of your parents, it was a false match. That person informed me that they had worked on their tree for three years at Ancestry and they have “proof” of DNA skipping generations.

Nope, sorry. That really doesn’t happen, but there are circumstances when a person who doesn’t understand either how DNA works, or how the vendor they are using presents DNA results could misunderstand or misinterpret the results.

You can watch my presentation, RootsTech session, DNA Triangulation: What, Why and How, for free here. I’m thrilled that this session is now being used in courses at two different universities.

DNA really doesn’t skip generations. You CANNOT inherit DNA that your parents didn’t have.

Full stop.

Your children cannot inherit DNA from you that you don’t carry. If you don’t have that DNA, your children and their descendants can’t have it either, at least not from you. They of course do inherit DNA from their other parent.

I think historically, the “skipping generations” commentary was connected to traits. For example, Susie has dimples (or whatever) and so did her maternal grandmother, but her mother did not, so Susie’s dimples were said to have “skipped a generation.” Of course, we don’t know anything about Susie’s other grandparents, if Susie’s parents share ancestors, recessive/dominant genes or even how many genetic locations are involved with the inheritance of “dimples,” but I digress.

DNA skipping generations is a fallacy.

You cannot legitimately match someone that your parent does not, at least not through that parent’s side of the tree.

But here’s the caveat. You can’t match someone one of your parents doesn’t with the rare exception of:

  • Relatively recent pedigree collapse that occurs when you have the same ancestors on both sides of your tree, meaning your parents are related, AND
  • The process of recombination just happened to split and recombine a segment of DNA in segments too small for your match to match your parents individually, but large enough when recombined to match you.

We’ll talk about that more in a minute.

However, the person working with Ancestry trees can’t make this determination because Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information. Ancestry also handles DNA differently than other vendors, which we’ll also discuss shortly.

We’ll review all of this, but let’s start at the beginning and explain how to determine if our matches are legitimate, or not.

Legitimate Matches

Legitimate matches occur when the DNA of your ancestor is passed from that ancestor to their descendants, and eventually to you and a match in an unbroken pathway.

Unbroken means that every ancestor between you and that ancestor carried and then passed on the segment of the ancestor’s DNA that you carry today. The same is true for your match who carries the same segment of DNA from your common ancestor.

False positive matches occur when the DNA of a male and female combine randomly to look like a legitimate match to someone else.

Thankfully, there are ways to tell the difference.

Inheritance and Triangulation

Remember, you inherit two copies of each of your chromosomes 1-22, one copy from your mother and one from your father. You inherit half of the DNA that each parent carries, but it’s mixed together in you so the labs can’t readily tell which nucleotide, A, C, T, or G you received from which parent. I’m showing your maternal and paternal DNA in the graphic below, stacked neatly together in a column – but in reality, it could be AC in one position and CA in the next.

For matching all that matters is the nucleotide that matches your match is present in one of those two locations. In this case, A for your mother’s side and C for your father’s side. If you’re interested, you can read more about that in the article, Hit a Genealogy Home Run Using Your Double-Sided Two-Faced Chromosomes While Avoiding Imposters.

You can see in this example that you inherited all As from your Mom and all Cs from your Dad.

  • A legitimate maternal match would match you on all As on this particular example segment.
  • A legitimate paternal match would match you on all Cs on this particular segment.
  • A false positive match will match you on some random combination of As and Cs that make it look like they match you legitimately, but they don’t.
  • A false positive match will NOT match either your mother or your father.

To be very clear, technically a false positive match DOES match your DNA – but they don’t match your DNA because you share a common ancestor with your match. They match you because random recombination on their side causes you to match each other by chance.

In other words, if part of your DNA came from your Mom’s side and part from your Dad’s but it randomly fell in the correct positional order, you’d still match someone whose DNA was from only their mother or father’s side. That’s exactly the situation shown above and below.

Looking at our example again, it’s evident that your identical by chance (IBC) match’s A locations (1, 3, 5, 7 & 9) will match your Mom. C locations (2, 4, 6 8, & 10) will match your Dad, but the nonmatching segments interleaved in-between that match alternating parents will prevent your match from matching either of your parents. In other words, out of 10 contiguous locations in our example, your IBC match has 5 As alternated with 5 Cs, so they won’t match either of your parents who have 10 As or 10 Cs in a row.

This recombination effect can work in either direction. Either or both matching people’s DNA could be randomly mixed causing them to match each other, but not their parents.

Regardless of whose DNA is zigzagging back and forth between maternal and paternal, the match is not genealogical and does not confirm a common ancestor.

This is exactly why triangulation works and is crucial.

If you legitimately match a third person, shown below, on your maternal side, they will match you, your first legitimate maternal match, and your Mom because they carry all As. But they WON’T match the person who is matching you because they are identical by chance, shown in grey below.

The only person your identical by chance match matches in this group is you because they match you because of the chance recombination of parental DNA.

That third person WILL also match all other legitimate maternal matches on this segment.

In the graphic above, we see that while the grey identical by chance person matches you because of the random combination of As from your mother and Cs from your father, your legitimate maternal matches won’t match your identical by chance match.

This is the first step in identifying false matches.

Parental Cross-Matching

Removing the identical by chance match, and adding in the parents of your legitimate maternal match, we see that your maternal match, above, matches you because you both have all As inherited from one parent, not from a combination of both parents.

We know that because we can see the DNA of both parents of both matches in this example.

The ideal situation occurs when two people match and they have both had their parents tested. We need to see if each person matches the other person’s parents.

We can see that you do NOT match your match’s father and your match does NOT match your father.

You do match your match’s mother and your match does match your mother. I refer to this as Parental Cross-matching.

Your legitimate maternal matches will also match each other and your mother if she is available for testing.

All the people in yellow match each other, while the two parents in gray do not match any of your matches. An entire group of legitimate maternal matches on this segment, no matter how many, will all match each other.

If another person matches you and the other yellow people, you’ll still need to see if you match their parents, because if not, that means they are matching you on all As because their two parents DNA combined just happened, by chance, to contribute an A in all of those positions.

In this last example, your new match, in green, matches you, your legitimate match and both of your mothers, BUT, none of the four yellow people match either of the new match’s parents. You can see that the new green match inherited their As from the DNA of their mother and father both, randomly zigzagging back and forth.

The four yellow matches phase parentally as we just proved with cross matching to parents. The new match at first glance appears to be a legitimate match because they match all of the yellow people – but they aren’t because the yellow people don’t match the green person’s parents.

To tell the difference between legitimate matches and identical by chance matches, you need two things, in order.

  • Parental matching known as parental phasing along with parental cross-matching, if possible, AND
  • Legitimate identical by descent (IBD) triangulated matches

If you have the ability to perform parental matching, called phasing, that’s the easiest first step in eliminating identical by chance matches. However, few match pairs will have parents for everyone. You can use triangulation without parental phasing if parents aren’t available.

Let’s talk about both, including when and how close relatives can and cannot be used.

Parental Phasing

The technique of confirming your match to be legitimate by your match also matching one of your parents is called parental phasing.

If we have the parents of both people in a match pair available for matching, we can easily tell if the match does NOT match either parent. That’s Parental Cross Matching. If either match does NOT match one of the other person’s parents, the match is identical by chance, also known as a false positive.

See how easy that was!

If you, for example, is the only person in your match pair to have parents available, then you can parentally phase the match on your side if your match matches your parents. However, because your match’s parents are unavailable, your match to them cannon tbe verified as legitimate on their side. So you are not phased to their parents.

If you only have one of your parents available for matching, and your match does not match that parent, you CANNOT presume that because your match does NOT match that parent, the match is a legitimate match for the other, missing, parent.

There are four possible match conditions:

  • Maternal match
  • Paternal match
  • Matches neither parent which means the match is identical by chance meaning a false positive
  • Matches both parents in the case of pedigree collapse or endogamy

If two matching people do match one parent of both matches (parental cross-matching), then the match is legitimate. In other words, if we match, I need to match one of your parents and you need to match one of mine.

It’s important to compare your matches’ DNA to generationally older direct family members such as parents or grandparents, if that’s possible. If your grandparents are available, it’s possible to phase your matches back another generation.

Automatic Phasing at FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA automatically phases your matches to your parents if you test that parent, create or upload a GEDCOM file, and link your test and theirs to your tree in the proper places.

FamilyTreeDNA‘s Family Matching assigns or “buckets” your matches maternally and paternally. Matches are assigned as maternal or paternal matches if one or both parents have tested.

Additionally, FamilyTreeDNA uses triangulated matches from other linked relatives within your tree even if your parents have not tested. If you don’t have your parents, the more people you identify and link to your tree in the proper place, the more people will be assigned to maternal and paternal buckets. FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor that does this. I wrote about this process in the article, Triangulation in Action at Family Tree DNA.

Parental Phasing Caveats

There are very rare instances where parental phasing may be technically accurate, but not genealogically relevant. By this, I mean that a parent may actually match one of your matches due to endogamy or a population level match, even if it’s considered a false positive because it’s not relevant in a genealogical timeframe.

Conversely, a parent may not match when the segment is actually legitimate, but it’s quite rare and only when pedigree collapse has occurred in a very specific set of circumstances where both parents share a common ancestor.

Let’s take a look at that.

Pedigree Collapse

It’s not terribly uncommon in the not-too-distant past to find first cousins marrying each other, especially in rather closely-knit religious communities. I encounter this in Brethren, Mennonite and Amish families often where the community was small and out-marrying was frowned upon and highly discouraged. These families and sometimes entire church congregations migrated cross-country together for generations.

When pedigree collapse is present, meaning the mother and father share a common ancestor not far in the past, it is possible to inherit half of one segment from Mom and the other half from Dad where those halves originated with the same ancestral couple.

For example, let’s say the matching segment between you and your match is 12 cM in length, shown below. You inherited the blue segment from your Dad and the neighboring peach segment from Mom – shown just below the segment numbers. You received 6 cM from both parents.

Another person’s DNA does match you, shown in the bottom row, but they are not shown on the DNA match list of either of your parents. That’s because the DNA segments of the parents just happened to recombine in 6 cM pieces, respectively, which is below the 7 cM matching threshold of the vendor in this example.

If the person matched you at 12 cM where you inherited 8 cM from one parent and 4 from the other, that person would show on one parent’s match list, but not the other. They would not be on the parent’s match list who contributed only 4 cM simply because the DNA divided and recombined in that manner. They would match you on a longer segment than they match your parent at 8 cM which you might notice as “odd.”

Let’s look at another example.

click to enlarge image

If the matching segment is 20 cM, the person will match you and both of your parents on different pieces of the same segment, given that both segments are above 7 cM. In this case, your match who matches you at 20 cM will match each of your parents at 10 cM.

You would be able to tell that the end location of Dad’s segment is the same as the start location of Mom’s segment.

This is NOT common and is NOT the “go to” answer when you think someone “should” match your parent and does not. It may be worth considering in known pedigree collapse situations.

You can see why someone observing this phenomenon could “presume” that DNA skipped a generation because the person matches you on segments where they don’t match your parent. But DNA didn’t skip anything at all. This circumstance was caused by a combination of pedigree collapse, random division of DNA, then random recombination in the same location where that same DNA segment was divided earlier. Clearly, this sequence of events is not something that happens often.

If you’ve uploaded your DNA to GEDmatch, you can select the “Are your parents related?” function which scans your DNA file for runs of homozygosity (ROH) where your DNA is exactly the same in both parental locations for a significant distance. This suggests that because you inherited the exact same sequence from both parents, that your parents share an ancestor.

If your parents didn’t inherit the same segment of DNA from both parents, or the segment is too short, then they won’t show as “being related,” even if they do share a common ancestor.

Now, let’s look at the opposite situation. Parental phasing and ROH sometimes do occur when common ancestors are far back in time and the match is not genealogically relevant.

Endogamy

I often see non-genealogical matching occur when dealing with endogamy. Endogamy occurs when an entire population has been isolated genetically for a long time. In this circumstance, a substantial part of the population shares common DNA segments because there were few original population founders. Much of the present-day population carries that same DNA. Many people within that population would match on that segment. Think about the Jewish community and indigenous Americans.

Consider our original example, but this time where much of the endogamous population carries all As in these positions because one of the original founders carried that nucleotide sequence. Many people would match lots of other people regardless of whether they are a close relative or share a distant ancestor.

People with endogamous lines do share relatives, but that matching DNA segment originated in ancestors much further back in time. When dealing with endogamy, I use parental phasing as a first step, if possible, then focus on larger matches, generally 20 cM or greater. Smaller matches either aren’t relevant or you often can’t tell if/how they are.

At FamilyTreeDNA, people with endogamy will find many people bucketed on the “Both” tab meaning they triangulate with people linked on both sides of the tester’s tree.

An example of a Jewish person’s bucketed matches based on triangulation with relatives linked in their tree is shown above.

Your siblings, their children, and your children will be related on both your mother’s and father’s sides, but other people typically won’t be unless you have experienced either pedigree collapse where you are related both maternally and paternally through the same ancestors or you descend from an endogamous population.

How Many Identical-by-Chance Matches Will I Have?

If you have both parents available to test, and you’re not dealing with either pedigree collapse or endogamy, you’ll likely find that about 15-20% of your matches don’t match your parents on the same segment and are identical by chance.

With endogamy, you’ll have MANY more matches on your endogamous lines and you’ll have some irrelevant matches, often referred to as “false positive” matches even though they technically aren’t, even using parental phasing.

Your Parents Have DNA That You Don’t

Sometimes people are confused when reviewing their matches and their parent’s match to the same person, especially when they match someone and their parent matches them on a different or an additional segment.

If you match someone on a specific segment and your parents do not, that’s a false positive FOR THAT SEGMENT. Every segment has its own individual history and should be evaluated individually. You can match someone on two segments, one from each parent. Or three segments, one from each parent and one that’s identical by chance. Don’t assume.

Often, your match will match both you and your parent on the same segment – which is a legitimate parentally phased match.

But what if your match matches your parent on a different segment where they don’t match you? That’s a false positive match for you.

Keep in mind that it is possible for one of your matches to match your parent on a separate or an additional segment that IS legitimate. You simply didn’t inherit that particular segment from your parent.

That’s NOT the same situation as someone matching you that does NOT match one of your parents on the same segment – which is an identical by chance or false match.

Your parent having a match that does not match you is the reverse situation.

I have several situations where I match someone on one segment, and they match my parent on the same segment. Additionally, that person matches my parent on another segment that I did NOT inherit from that parent. That’s perfectly normal.

Remember, you only inherit half of your parent’s DNA, so you literally did NOT inherit the other half of their DNA. Your mother, for example, should have twice as many matches as you on her side because roughly half of her matches won’t match you.

That’s exactly why testing your parents and close family members is so critical. Their matches are as valid and relevant to your genealogy as your own. The same is true for other relatives, such as aunts and uncles with whom you share ALL of the same ancestors.

You need to work with your family member’s matches that you don’t share.

No DNA Match Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Related

Some people think that not matching someone on a DNA test is equivalent to saying they aren’t related. Not sharing DNA doesn’t mean you’re not related.

People are often disappointed when they don’t match someone they think they should and interpret that to mean that the testing company is telling them they “aren’t related.” They are upset and take issue with this characterization. But that’s not what it means.

Let’s analyze this a bit further.

First, not sharing DNA with a second cousin once removed (2C1R) or more distant does NOT mean you’re NOT related to that person. It simply means you don’t share any measurable DNA ABOVE THE VENDOR THRESHOLD.

All known second cousins match, but about 10% of third cousins don’t match, and so forth on up the line with each generation further back in time having fewer cousins that match each other.

If you have tested close relatives, check to see if that cousin matches your relatives.

Second, it’s possible to match through the “other” or unexpected parent. I certainly didn’t think this would be the case in my family, because my father is from Appalachia and my mother’s family is primarily from the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, and New England. But I was wrong.

All it took was one German son that settled in Appalachia, and voila, a match through my mother that I surely thought should have been through my father’s side. I have my mother’s DNA and sure enough, my match that I thought should be on my father’s side matches Mom on the same segment where they match me, along with several triangulated matches. Further research confirmed why.

I’ve also encountered situations where I legitimately match someone on both my mother’s and father’s side, on different segments.

Third, imputation can be important for people who don’t match and think they should. Imputation can also cause matching segment length to be overreported.

Ok, so what’s imputation and why do I care?

Imputation

Every DNA vendor today has to use some type of imputation.

Let me explain, in general, what imputation is and why vendors use it.

Over the years, DNA processing vendors who sell DNA chips to testing companies have changed their DNA chips pretty substantially. While genealogical autosomal tests test about 700,000 DNA locations, plus or minus, those locations have changed over time. Today, some of these chips only have 100,000 or so chip locations in common with chips either currently or previously utilized by other vendors.

The vendors who do NOT accept uploads, such as 23andMe or Ancestry, have to develop methods to make their newest customers on their DNA processing vendor’s latest chip compatible with their first customer who was tested on their oldest chip – and all iterations in-between.

Vendors who do accept transfers/uploads from other vendors have to equalize any number of vendors’ chips when their customers upload those files.

Imputation is the scientific way to achieve this cross-platform functionality and has been widely used in the industry since 2017.

Imputation, in essence, fills in the blanks between tested locations with the “most likely” DNA found in the human population based on what’s surrounding the blank location.

Think of the word C_T. There are a limited number of letters and words that are candidates for C_T. If you use the word in a sentence, your odds of accuracy increase dramatically. Think of a genetic string of nucleotides as a sentence.

Imputation can be incorrect and can cause both false positive and false negative matches.

For the most part, imputation does not affect close family matches as much as more distant matches. In other words, imputation is NOT going to cause close family members not to match.

Imputation may cause more distant family members not to match, or to have a false positive match when imputation is incorrect.

Imputation is actually MUCH less problematic than I initially expected.

The most likely effect of imputation is to cause a match to be just above or below the vendor threshold.

How can we minimize the effects of imputation?

  • Generally, the best result will be achieved if both people test at the same vendor where their DNA is processed on the same chip and less imputation is required.
  • Upload the results of both people to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA. If your match results are generally consistent at those vendors, imputation is not a factor.
  • GEDmatch does not use imputation but attempts to overcome files with low overlapping regions by allowing larger mismatch areas. I find their matches to be less accurate than at the various vendors.

Additionally, Ancestry has a few complicating factors.

Ancestry Issues

AncestryDNA is different in three ways.

  • Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information so it’s impossible to triangulate or identify the segment or chromosome where people match. There is no chromosome browser or triangulation tool.
  • Ancestry down-weights and removes some segments in areas where they feel that people are “too matchy.” You can read Ancestry’s white papers here and here.

These “personal pileup regions,” as they are known, can be important genealogically. In my case, these are my mother’s Acadian ancestors. Yes, this is an endogamous population and also suffers from pedigree collapse, but since this is only one of my mother’s great-grandparents, this match information is useful and should not be removed.

  • Ancestry doesn’t show matches in common if the shared segments are less than 20cM. Therefore, you may not see someone on a shared match list with a relative when they actually are a shared match.

If two people both match a third person on less than a 20 cM segment at Ancestry, the third person won’t appear on the other person’s shared match list. So, if I match John Doe on 19 cM of DNA, and I looked at the shared matches with my Dad, John Doe does NOT appear on the shared match list of me and my Dad – even though he is a match to both of us at 19 cM.

The only way to determine if John Doe is a shared match is to check my Dad’s and my match list individually, which means Dad and I will need to individually search for John Doe.

Caveat here – Ancestry’s search sometimes does not work correctly.

Might someone who doesn’t understand that the shared match list doesn’t show everyone who shares DNA with both people presume that the ancestral DNA of that ancestor “skipped a generation” because John Doe matches me with a known ancestor, and not Dad on our shared match list? I mean, wouldn’t you think that a shared match would be shown on a tab labeled “Shared Matches,” especially since there is no disclaimer?

Yes, people can be forgiven for believing that somehow DNA “skipped” a generation in this circumstance, especially if they are relatively inexperienced and they don’t understand Ancestry’s anomalies or know that they need to or how to search for matches individually.

Even if John Doe does match me and Dad both, we still need to confirm that it’s on the same segment AND it’s a legitimate match, not IBC. You can’t perform either of these functions at Ancestry, but you can elsewhere.

Ancestry WorkArounds

To obtain this functionality, people can upload their DNA files for free to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage, companies that do provide full shared DNA reporting (in common with) lists of ALL matches and do provide segment information with chromosome browsers. Furthermore, both provide triangulation in different ways.

Matching is free, but an inexpensive unlock is required at both vendors to access advanced tools such as Family Matching (bucketing) and triangulation at Family Tree DNA and phasing/triangulation at MyHeritage.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at FamilyTreeDNA, here.

MyHeritage actually brackets triangulated segments for customers on their chromosome browser, including parents, so you get triangulation and parental phasing at the same time if you and your parent have both tested or uploaded your DNA file to MyHeritage. You can upload, for free, here.

In this example, my mother is matching to me in red on the entire length of chromosome 18, of course, and three other maternal cousins triangulate with me and mother inside the bracketed portion of chromosome 18. Please note that if any one of the people included in the chromosome browser comparison do not triangulate, no bracket is drawn around any others who do triangulate. It’s all or nothing. I remove people one by one to see if people triangulate – or build one by one with my mother included.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at MyHeritage, here.

People can also upload to GEDmatch, a third-party site. While GEDmatch is less reliable for matching, you can adjust your search thresholds which you cannot do at other vendors. I don’t recommend routinely working below 7 cM. I occasionally use GEDmatch to see if a pedigree collapse segment has recombined below another vendor’s segment matching threshold.

Do NOT check the box to prevent hard breaks when selecting the One-to-One comparison. Checking that box allows GEDmatch to combine smaller matching segments into mega-segments for matching.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at GEDmatch, here.

Transferring/Uploading Your DNA 

If you want to transfer your DNA to one of these vendors, you must download the DNA file from one vendor and upload it to another. That process does NOT remove your DNA file from the vendor where you tested, unless you select that option entirely separately.

I wrote full step-by-step transfer/upload instructions for each vendor, here.

Testing Close Relatives Is VERY Useful – Just Not for Triangulation

Of course, your best bet if you don’t have your parents available to test is to test as many of your grandparents, great-aunts/uncles, aunts, and uncles as possible. Test your siblings as well, because they will have inherited some of the same and some different segments of DNA from your parents – which means they carry different pieces of your ancestors’ DNA.

Just because close relatives don’t make good triangulation candidates doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. Close relatives are golden because when they DO share a match with you, you know where to start looking for a common ancestor, even if your relative matches that person on a different segment than you do.

Close relatives are also important because they will share pieces of your common ancestor’s DNA that you don’t. Their matches can unlock the answers to your genealogy questions.

Ok, back to triangulation.

Triangulated Matches

A triangulated match is, of course, when three people all descended from a common ancestor and match each other on the same segment of DNA.

That means all three people’s DNA matches each other on that same segment, confirming that the match is not by chance, and that segment did descend from a common ancestor or ancestral couple.

But, is this always true? You’re going to hate this answer…

“It depends.”

You knew that was coming, didn’t you! 😊

It depends on the circumstances and relationships of the three people involved.

  • One of those three people can match the other two by chance, not by descent, especially if two of those people are close relatives to each other.
  • Identical by chance means that one of you didn’t inherit that DNA from one single parent. That zigzag phenomenon.
  • Furthermore, triangulated DNA is only valid as far back as the closest common ancestor of any two of the three people.

Let’s explore some examples.

Building Triangulation Evidence – Ingredients and a Recipe

The strongest case of triangulation is when:

  • You and at least two additional cousins match on the same segment AND
  • Descend through different children of the common ancestral couple

Let’s look at a valid triangulated match.

In this first example, the magenta segment of DNA is at least partially shared by four of the six cousins and triangulates to their common great-grandfather. Let’s say that these cousins then match with two other people descended from different children of their great-great-great-grandparents on this same segment. Then the entire triangulation group will have confirmed that segment’s origin and push the descent of that segment back another two generations.

These people all coalesce into one line with their common great-grandparents.

I’m only showing 3 generations in this triangulated match, but the concept is the same no matter how many generations you reach back in time. Although, over time, segments inherited from any specific ancestor become smaller and smaller until they are no longer passed to the next generation.

In this pedigree chart, we’re only tracking the magenta DNA which is passed generation to generation in descendants.

Eventually, of course, those segments become smaller and indistinguishable as they either aren’t passed on at all or drop below vendor matching thresholds.

This chart shows the average amount of DNA you would carry from each generational ancestor. You inherit half of each parent’s DNA, but back further than that, you don’t receive exactly half of any ancestor’s DNA in any generation. Larger segments are generally cut in two and passed on partially, but smaller segments are often either passed on whole or not at all.

On average, you’ll carry 7 cM of your eight-times-great-grandparents. In reality, you may carry more or you may not carry any – and you are unlikely to carry the same segment as any random other descendants but we know it happens and you’ll find them if enough (or the right) descendants test.

Putting this another way, if you divide all of your approximate 7000 cM of DNA into 7 cM segments of equal length – you’ll have 1000 7 cM segments. So will every other descendant of your eight-times-great-grandparent. You can see how small the chances are of you both inheriting that same exact 7 cM segment through ten inheritance/transmission events, each. Yet it does happen.

I have several triangulated matches with descendants of Charles Dodson and his wife, Anne through multiple of their 9 (or so) children, ten generations back in my tree. Those triangulated matches range from 7-38 cM. It’s possible that those three largest matches at 38 cM could be related through multiple ancestors because we all have holes in our trees – including Anne’s surname.

Click to enlarge image

It helps immensely that Charles Dodson had several children who were quite prolific as well.

Of course, the further back in time, the more “proof” is necessary to eliminate other unknown common ancestors. This is exactly why matching through different children is important for triangulation and ancestor confirmation.

The method we use to confirm the common ancestor is that all of the descendants who match the tester on the same segment all also match each other. This greatly reduces the chances that these people are matching by chance. The more people in the triangulation group, the stronger the evidence. Of course, parental phasing or cross-matching, where available is an added confirmation bonus.

In our magenta inheritance example, we saw that three of the males and one of the females from three different descendants of the great-grandparents all carry at least a portion of that magenta segment of great-grandpa’s DNA.

Now, let’s take a look at a different scenario.

Why can’t siblings or close relatives be used as two of the three people needed for triangulation?

Aunts and Uncles

We know that the best way to determine if a match is valid is by parental phasing – your match also matching to one of your parents.

If both parents aren’t available, looking for close family matches in common with your match is the next hint that genealogists seek.

Let’s say that you and your match both match your aunt or uncle in common or their children.

You and your aunts or uncles matching DNA only pushes your common ancestor back to your grandparents.

At that point, your match is in essence matching to a segment that belongs to your grandparents. Your matches’ DNA, or your grandparents’ DNA could have randomly recombined and you and your aunt/cousins could be matching that third person by chance.

Ok, then, what about siblings?

Siblings

The most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of you and someone who also matches your sibling is your parents. Therefore, you and your sibling actually only count as one “person” in this scenario. In essence, it’s the DNA of your parent(s) that is matching that third person, so it’s not true triangulation. It’s the same situation as above with aunts/uncles, except the common ancestor is closer than your grandparents.

The DNA of your parents could have recombined in both siblings to look like a match to your match’s family. Or vice versa. Remember Parental Cross-Matching.

If you and a sibling inherited EXACTLY the same segment of your Mom’s and Dad’s DNA, and you match someone by chance – that person will match your sibling by chance as well.

In this example, you can see that both siblings 1 and 2 inherited the exact same segments of DNA at the same locations from both of their parents.

Of course, they also inherited segments at different locations that we’re not looking at that won’t match exactly between siblings, unless they are identical twins. But in this case, the inherited segments of both siblings will match someone whose DNA randomly combined with green or magenta dots in these positions to match a cross-section of both parents.

How False Positives Work and How to Avoid Them

We saw in our first example, displayed again above, what a valid triangulated match looks like. Now let’s expand this view and take a look more specifically at how false positive matches occur.

On the left-hand (blue) side of this graphic, we see four siblings that descend through their father from Great-grandpa who contributed that large magenta segment of DNA. That segment becomes reduced in descendants in subsequent generations.

In downstream generations, we can see gold, white and green segments being added to the DNA inherited by the four children from their ancestor’s spouses. Dad’s DNA is shown on the left side of each child, and Mom’s on the right.

  • Blue Children 1 and 2 inherited the same segments of DNA from Mom and Dad. Magenta from Dad and green from Mom.
  • Blue Child 3 inherited two magenta segments from Dad in positions 1 and 2 and one gold segment from Dad in position 3. They inherited all white segments from Mom.
  • Blue Child 4 inherited all gold segments from Dad and all white segments from Mom.

The family on the blue left-hand side is NOT related to the pink family shown at right. That’s important to remember.

I’ve intentionally constructed this graphic so that you can see several identical by chance (IBC) matches.

Child 5, the first pink sibling carries a white segment in position 1 from Dad and gold segments in positions 2 and 3 from Dad. From Mom, they inherited a green segment in position 1, magenta in position 2 and green in position 3.

IBC Match 1 – Looking at the blue siblings, we see that based on the DNA inherited from Pink Child 5’s parents, Pink Child 5 matches Blue Child 4 with white, gold and gold in positions 1-3, even though they weren’t inherited from the same parent in Blue Child 4. I circled this match in blue.

IBC Match 2 – Pink Child 5 also matches Blue Children 1 and 2 (red circles) because Pink Child 5 has green, magenta, and green in positions 1-3 and so do Blue Children 1 and 2. However, Blue Children 1 and 2 inherited the green and magenta segments from Mom and Dad respectively, not just from one parent.

Pink Child 5 matches Blue Children 1, 2 and 4, but not because they match by descent, but because their DNA zigzags back and forth between the blue children’s DNA contributed by both parents.

Therefore, while Pink Child 5 matches three of the Blue Children, they do not match either parent of the Blue Children.

IBC Match 3 – Pink Child 6 matches Blue Child 3 with white, magenta and gold in positions 1-3 based on the same colors of dots in those same positions found in Blue Child 3 – but inherited both paternally and maternally.

You can see that if we had the four parents available to test, that none of the Pink Children would match either the Blue Children’s mother or father and none of the Blue Children would match either of the Pink Children’s mother or father.

This is why we can’t use either siblings or close family relatives for triangulation.

Distant Cousins Are Best for Triangulation & Here’s Why

When triangulating with 3 people, the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) intersection of the closest two people is the place at which triangulation turns into only two lines being compared and ceases being triangulation. Triangle means 3.

If siblings are 2 of the 3 matching people, then their parents are essentially being compared to the third person.

If you, your aunt/uncle, and a third person match, your grandparents are the place in your tree where three lines converge into two.

The same holds true if you’re matching against a sibling pair on your match’s side, or a match and their aunt/uncle, etc.

The further back in your tree you can push that MRCA intersection, the more your triangulated match provides confirming evidence of a common ancestor and that the match is valid and not caused by random recombination.

That’s exactly what the descendants of Charles Dodson have been able to do through triangulation with multiple descendants from several of his children.

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that the reason autosomal DNA testing uses hundreds/thousands of base pairs in a comparison window and not 3 or 6 dots like in my example is that the probability of longer segments of DNA simply randomly matching by chance is reduced with length and SNP density which is the number of SNP locations tested within that cM range.

Hence a 7 cM/500 SNP minimum is the combined rule of thumb. At that level, roughly half of your matches will be valid and half will be identical by chance unless you’re dealing with endogamy. Then, raise your threshold accordingly.

Ok, So Where are We? A Triangulation Checklist for You!

I know this has been a relatively long educational article, but it’s important to really understand that testing close relatives is VERY important, but also why we can’t effectively use them for triangulation.

Here’s a handy-dandy summary matching/triangulation checklist for you to use as you work through your matches.

  • You inherit half of each of your parents’ DNA. There is no other place for you to obtain or inherit your DNA. There is no DNA fairy sprinkling you with DNA from another source:)
  • DNA does NOT skip generations, although in occasional rare circumstances, it may appear that this happened. In this situation, it’s incumbent upon you, the genealogist, to PROVE that an exception has occurred if you really believe it has. Those circumstances might be pedigree collapse or perhaps imputation. You’ll need to compare matches at vendors who provide a chromosome browser, triangulation, and full shared match list information. Never assume that you are the exception without hard and fast proof. We all know about assume, right?
  • Your siblings inherit half of your parents’ DNA too, but not the same exact half of your parent’s DNA that you other siblings did (unless they are identical twins.) You may inherit the exact same DNA from either or both of your parents on certain segments.
  • Your matches may match your parents on different or an additional segment that you did not inherit.
  • Every segment has an individual history. Evaluate every matching segment separately. One matching segment with someone could be maternal, one paternal, and one identical by chance.
  • You can confirm matches as valid if your match matches one of your parents, and you match one of your match’s parents. Parental Phasing is when your match matches your parent. Parental Cross-Matching is when you both match one of each other’s parents. To be complete, both people who match each other need to match one of the parents of the other person. This rule still holds even if you have a known common ancestor. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been fooled.
  • 15-20% (or more with endogamy) of your matches will be identical by chance because either your DNA or your match’s DNA aligns in such a way that while they match you, they don’t match either of your parents.
  • Your siblings, aunts, and uncles will often inherit the same DNA as you – which means that identical by chance matches will also match them. That’s why we don’t use close family members for triangulation. We do utilize close family members to generate common match hints. (Remember the 20 cM shared match caveat at Ancestry)
  • While your siblings, aunts, and uncles are too close to use for triangulation, they are wonderful to identify ancestral matches. Some of their matches will match you as well, and some will not because your close family members inherited segments of your ancestor’s DNA that you did not. Everyone should test their oldest family members.
  • Triangulate your close family member’s matches separately from your own to shed more light on your ancestors.
  • Endogamy may interfere with parental phasing, meaning you may match because you and/or your match may have inherited some of the same DNA segment(s) from both sides of your tree and/or more DNA than might otherwise be expected.
  • Pedigree collapse needs to be considered when using parental phasing, especially when the same ancestor appears on both sides of your family tree. You may share more DNA with a match than expected.
  • Conversely, with pedigree collapse, your match may not match your parents, or vice versa, if a segment happens to have recombined in you in a way that drops the matching segments of your parents beneath the vendor’s match threshold.
  • While you will match all of your second cousins, you will only match approximately 90% of your third cousins and proportionally fewer as your relationship reaches further back in time.
  • Not being a DNA match with someone does NOT mean you’re NOT related to them, unless of course, you’re a second cousin (2C) or closer. It simply means you don’t carry any common ancestral segments above vendor thresholds.
  • At 2C or closer, if you’re not a DNA match, other alternative situations need to be considered – including the transfer/upload of the wrong person’s DNA file.
  • Imputation, a scientific process required of vendors may interfere with matching, especially in more distant relatives who have tested on different platforms.
  • Imputation artifacts will be less obvious when people are more closely related, meaning closer relatives can be expected to match on more and larger segments and imputation errors make less difference.
  • Imputation will not cause close relatives, meaning 2C or closer, to not match each other.
  • In addition to not supporting segment matching information, Ancestry down-weights some segments, removes some matching DNA, and does not show shared matches below 20cM, causing some people to misinterpret their lack of common matches in various ways.
  • To resolve questions about matching issues at Ancestry, testers can transfer/upload their DNA files to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, and GEDmatch and look for consistent matches on the same segment. Start and end locations may vary to some extent between vendors, but the segment size should be basically in the same location and roughly the same size.
  • GEDmatch does not use imputation but allows larger non-matching segments to combine as a single segment which sometimes causes extremely “generous” matches. GEDmatch matching is less reliable than FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage, but you can adjust the matching thresholds.
  • The best situation for matching is for both people to test at the same vendor who supports and provides segment data and a chromosome browser such as 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, or MyHeritage.
  • Siblings cannot be used for triangulation because the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) between you and your siblings is your parents. Therefore, the “three” people in the triangulation group is reduced to two lines immediately.
  • Uncles and aunts should not be used for triangulation because the most recent common ancestors between you and your aunts and uncles are your grandparents.
  • Conversely, you should not consider triangulating with siblings and close family members of your matches as proof of an ancestral relationship.
  • A triangulation group of 3 people is only confirmation as far back as when two of those people’s lines converge and reach a common ancestor.
  • Identical by chance (IBC) matching occurs when DNA from the maternal and paternal sides are mixed positionally in the child to resemble a maternal/paternal side match with someone else.
  • Identical by chance DNA admixture (when compared to a match) could have occurred in your parents or grandparent’s generation, or earlier, so the further back in time that people in a triangulation group reach, the more reliable the triangulation group is likely to be.
  • The larger the segments and/or the triangulation group, the stronger the evidence for a specific confirmed common ancestor.
  • Early families with a very large number of descendants may have many matching and triangulated members, even 9 or 10 generations later.
  • While exactly 50% of each ancestor’s DNA is not passed in each generation, on average, you will carry 7 cM of your ancestors 10 generations back in your tree. However, you may carry more, or none.
  • The percentage of matching descendants decreases with each generation beyond great-grandparents.
  • The ideal situation for triangulation is a significant number of people, greater than three, who match on the same reasonably sized segment (7 cM/500 SNP or larger) and descend from the same ancestor (or ancestral couple) through different children whose spouses in descendant generations are not also related.
  • This means that tree completion is an important factor in match/triangulation reliability.
  • Triangulating through different children of the ancestral couple makes it significantly less likely that a different unknown common ancestor is contributing that segment of DNA – like an unknown wife in a descendant generation.

Whew!!!

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line.

  1. Don’t use close relatives to triangulate.
  2. Use parents for Parental Phasing.
  3. Use Parental Cross-Matching when possible.
  4. Use close relatives to look for shared common matches that may lead to triangulation possibilities.
  5. Triangulate your close relatives’ DNA in addition to your own for bonus genealogical information. They will match people that you don’t.
  6. For the most reliable triangulation results, use the most distant relatives possible, descended through different children of the common ancestral couple.
  7. Keep this checklist of best practices, cautions, and caveats handy and check the list as necessary when evaluating the strength of any match or triangulation group. It serves as a good reminder for what to check if something seems “off” or unusual.

Feel free to share and pass this article (and checklist) on to your genealogy buddies and matches as you explain triangulation and collaborate on your genealogy.

Have fun!!!

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Thank you so much.

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Descendants of WWII 92nd Infantry Buffalo Soldiers Sought to Identify Remains

Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division marching in Italy after freeing the region from German troops on April 8, 1945. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2181029

Recently, Fold3 published an article about the 92nd Infantry Division known as the Buffalo Soldiers – a black infantry division that fought in Italy during WWII and suffered severe casualties.

Fifty soldiers of the 700 lost have never been identified and remain unaccounted for.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is seeking family members of these deceased soldiers to submit DNA for comparison. Details are provided, here.

This is NOT Commercial Testing

Note that testing with any commercial company (such as Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, etc.) does nothing to identify these remains. If you have already tested there, it doesn’t count for this purpose.

The DNA of the soldiers’ remains is processed in the government forensic lab and is NOT entered in any public database. Family members must contact the Defense POW/MIA Agency and submit DNA specifically for identification of remains. DNA submitted for the identification of remains will not be used for any other purpose.

While this specific ask is for the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division, DNA of family members of all soldiers whose remains have not been recovered and repatriated should be submitted.

Historically, mitochondrial DNA is the easiest to recover from degraded remains, but sometimes they can recover enough autosomal DNA. If you’re a family member, offer regardless. Amazing results are being garnered with forensic samples that wasn’t possible even just months ago.

Trust me, I’m inquiring about submitting my DNA in the hope of identifying my first cousin, Robert Vernon Estes who died as a POW in North Korea.

If your family member’s remains have never been identified, please contact the authorities and volunteer to DNA test. Even if you don’t qualify for whatever reason, you may know or be able to locate someone who does.

Servicemen’s Families Sought

The entire list of unidentified 92nd Infantry soldiers who gave their life for their country can be found in this article.

The men listed below cannot be identified because there is no DNA sample available from a family member. When attempting to identify the parents and families of these men for this article, I found hints about why the families of these men may not have been located. It appears that some were not living with their birth families or had no siblings.

This makes it even more important for anyone who recognizes these men or these families to contact the Army Casualty office with information. Every soldier deserves to be identified.

  • Benjamin Davis Jr., 29, Webster, Florida, died February 9, 1945, so born about 1916. Jr. implies that his father’s name was the same, but I was not able to locate his family through census or other readily available genealogical search methods.
  • Melton Futch, 20, Perry, Florida, born January 28, 1923. Died Dec. 31, 1944. Parents Robert Futch born 1881 in Georgia and Laura Littingham born 1885 in Georgia, married in Taylor Florida on October 15, 1916.
  • James Thomas Mathis, 22, Fayetteville, Georgia, born there August 9, 1922, died December 27, 1945
  • Anderson Slaughter Jr., 23, Fulton, Georgia, born August 14, 1921, in Atlanta, Georgia. Died February 11, 1946. Essie Mae Slaughter is given as next of kin in 1942 draft registration. Her name is given as Elsie Slaughter on 1930 census as his mother, age 36 (born 1894), living with her mother Victoria Travelis or Travis or Trarelis (SP) age 59, (born about 1871). Eliga Travis died on October 10, 1920, with his wife listed as Victoria Travis. Jr. suggests Anderson’s name is the same as his father.
  • Wesley Melton, 20, Chicago, Illinois, born September 26, 1924. Died February 10, 1945. Edna Melton listed as next of kin on his draft registration in 1942. In the 1940 census, Edna, his mother, is listed as a widow, age 39, born about 1901 in Illinois. A woman by that name died July 12, 1972.
  • Staff Sgt. Henry W. Wilson, 24, Independence, Kansas. Draft registration says he was born December 11, 1919, in Kansas. Next of kin is Carrie Wilson. 1920 census shows Altee (spelled Henry in 1930 and 1940) Wilson (35) born in Oklahoma, father born in Tennessee, and mother in Oklahoma. Wife Caroline (34) born in Missouri, father born in Tennessee, and mother in Missouri. 1930 and 1940 census show two other children, a male, Leroy age 17, and a female, Louise age 13.
  • James Luther Strong, 34, Covington, Louisiana, born September 23, 1910, in LeCompte, Louisiana, died November 10, 1945. He was married when he enlisted in 1943. He listed his residence as St. Tammany, Louisiana but enlisted in Houston, TX. His draft registration card in 1940 gives his next of kin as Mrs. Kattie Bogany, his aunt. Who lived in Beaumont, Jefferson Co., TX.
  • Herbert Taylor, 23, Salisbury, Maryland, died February 12, 1946, so would have been born in 1923. 1930 census shows a person by his name, age 11, so born 1919, with Charles and Hattie Handy, listed as an adopted son. He was born in Virginia but both parents born in Maryland. There is a draft registration for Herbert Taylor, born May 8, 1915, in Newport News, VA who lists Nanie Duncan as his mother. He works for the Seaman Elridge Orchestra in Baltimore. Another registration for Herbert Lee Taylor who lists his wife as Adeline Taylor. None of these align well.
  • James Edward Warren, 19, Pelahatchie, Mississippi, born June 17, 1925, same location. Lists Lennie Macelroy, his mother, as next of kin who lives in the same place. Died February 6, 1945.
  • Maceo Aquinolda Walker, 20, New Rochelle, New York, born December 11, 1924, in Baltimore. Next of kin is Louis Walker of New Rochelle, same address. Died February 10, 1945. In the 1940 census he is listed with parents Louis Walker, 40 (born 1900) in Maryland and Patricia, 38, (born 1902) in Virginia. In 1930, Richard Shelton, brother-in-law is living with the family in NYC, age 22. No other children.
  • Cleo Penny, 23, New York. Died February 11, 1946. The 1930 census shows a Cleo Penny born in 1924 in NC. If this is the right family, there are 3 sisters and a brother.
  • William Thomas McFadden, 24, Olanta, South Carolina/Baltimore, MD. Died February 10, 1945. The 1930 census shows a person by this name in Motts, Florence Co., SC with parents Thomas L. McFadden (3) and wife Annie (28). If this is the correct person, there are 2 sisters and a brother. Also living in the residence is the sister-in-law, Elizabeth Nelson, age 13. His draft registration card in Baltimore, MD in 1942 shows that he was born in Olanta, SC on July 18, 1920, and that Catherine Dickey is his next of kin, with no relationship given.
  • Robert Williams, 26, Richmond, Virginia. Died February 8, 1945, so born about 1919. Several men by this name are found in the Richmond area.
  • 1st Lt. John M. Madison, 32, Washington D.C. Died April 5, 1945. The 1940 census shows him, age 27, a math teacher. The census says he is living with some family but his father is clearly not age 30. Something is amiss with the census. The house number suggests he is living alone.
  • Jose A. Lopez, 29, Washington D.C./Palmira, Cuba. Died February 8, 1945. Born 1915, not a citizen when enlisted in 1942.

For all we know, the bones of these men have already been tested in the Army forensic lab in Hawaii and are just waiting for a family member to match their DNA. If you are related to these men, please contact the Army Casualty Office at (800) 892-2490 to arrange to submit a DNA sample.

Please share this article.

How to Download Your DNA Matching Segment Data and Why You Should

There are two or three types of data that testers may be able to download from DNA testing sites. Genealogy customers need to periodically download as much as possible.

  1. Raw data files needed for transferring DNA files from the company where you tested to other testing or analysis/comparison sites such as FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch for matching and other tools.
  2. Matching segment files which detail your matches, segment by segment with people whom you match.
  3. Match information files that provide you with additional information about your matches. What’s included varies by vendor.

This type of information is not uniformly available from all vendors, but is available as follows:

Vendor Raw Data File Matching Segment File Match Information File
FamilyTreeDNA Yes Yes Yes
MyHeritage Yes Yes Yes
23andMe Yes Yes Yes
Ancestry Yes No No
GedMatch Not a testing company, so no Yes Yes

I have provided step-by-step information about how to download your raw DNA data files and upload them to other vendors in a series of articles that you can find here.

Some of the answers in the table above need caveats because each vendor is different. Let’s take a look.

Matching Segment Files

In this article, I’ll provide information about how to download your matching segment and match information file(s).

Unfortunately, Ancestry does not provide any segment data at all, nor do they provide a way to download your match information. Third-party tools that did this for you have been banned by Ancestry, under threat of legal action, so this information is no longer available to Ancestry customers.

You can’t obtain this information from Ancestry, but you can transfer your DNA file to other vendors such as FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and the third-party site, GEDmatch where you’ll receive additional matches. Some Ancestry matches will have transferred elsewhere as well, and you can take advantage of your matching segment information.

Why Do I Want a Matching Segment File?

The matching segment file provides you with information about exactly how and where you match each person.

Here’s an example that includes the match name, chromosome, start and end location of the match along with the total number of CentiMorgans (cM) and total SNPs in the matching segment. Your matching segment file consists of hundreds/thousands of rows of this information.

Determining who matches you on the same segment is important because it facilitates the identification of common ancestors. Segment matching is also the first step in triangulation which allows you to confirm descent from common ancestors with your matches.

I wrote about triangulation at each vendor in the following articles:

Matching and Triangulation help you sort out legitimate matches, and which ancestors that DNA segment comes from.

Sorting For Legitimate Matches

On each segment location of your DNA, you will match:

  • People from your Mom’s side
  • People from your Dad’s side
  • People that are identical by chance (IBC) where they match you because part of the DNA from your Mom’s side and part from your Dad’s side just happens to look like their DNA (or vice versa.)

You can see how matching works in this example of 10 DNA locations. You inherited half of your Mom’s DNA and half of your Dad’s.

  • Legitimate maternal matches to you on this segment will have all As in this location.
  • Legitimate paternal matches to you will have all Cs in this location.
  • Identical by chance matches will match you, because they have the same DNA as both of your parents that you carry – interspersed. They will not match either of your parents individually.

IBC matches DO technically match you, but accidentally. In other words, they are identical by chance (IBC) because they just happen to match the DNA of both of your parents intermixed. Conversely, you can match the DNA of their parents intermixed as well. Regardless of why, they are not a legitimate maternal or paternal match to you.

For example, you can see that the identical by chance (IBC) match to you, above, won’t match the legitimate maternal or legitimate paternal matches.

When comparing your matches on any segment, you’ll wind up with a group of people who match you and each other on your maternal side, a group on your paternal side, and “everyone else” who is IBC.

I wrote about IBD, identical by descent DNA and IBC, identical by chance DNA and how that works, here.

A downloadable segment match file allows you to sort all of your matches by chromosome and segment. That’s the first step in determining if your matches match each other – which is how to determine if people are legitimate matches or IBC.

Additionally, these files allow you to utilize features at DNAPainter along with the tools at DNAGedcom and Genetic Affairs.

Match Information File

There’s a second file you’ll want to download as well except at 23andMe who includes all of the information in one file. You’ll want to download these files from each vendor at the same time so they are coordinated and include the same matches from the same time.

Downloading the second file, your match information, provides additional information which will be helpful for your genealogy. The information in this file varies by vendor, but includes items such as, but not limited to:

  • Tree link
  • Haplogroup
  • Match date
  • Predicted Relationship Range
  • Actual Relationship
  • Total shared cM
  • Longest segment cM
  • Maternal or paternal bucket (FamilyTreeDNA)
  • Notes
  • Email
  • Family Surnames
  • Location
  • Percent of shared DNA

You never know when vendors are going to change something that will affect your matches, like 23andMe did last fall, so it’s a good idea to download periodically.

Downloading your segment match and match information files are free, so let’s do this.

Downloading Your Segment Match & Information Files

FamilyTreeDNA

Sign on to your account.

click images to enlarge

Under your Family Finder Autosomal DNA test results, click on Chromosome Browser.

On the chromosome browser page, at the top right, click on Download All Segments.

Caveat – if you access the chromosome browser through the Family Finder match page, shown below, you will receive the segment matches ONLY for the people you have selected.

After selecting specific matches, as shown above, the option on the chromosome browser page will only say “Download Segments.” It does NOT say “Download All Segments.”

Clicking on this link only downloads the segments that you match with those people, so always be sure to access “Download ALL Segments” directly through the chromosome browser selection on your Autosomal DNA Family Finder menu without going to your match page and selecting specific matches.

The segment download file includes only the segments, but not additional information, such as which side, maternal or paternal, those matches are bucketed to, surnames and so forth. You need to download a second file.

To download additional information about your matches, scroll to the very bottom of your Family Finder match page and click on either Download Matches or Download Filtered matches. If you’ve used a filter such as maternal or paternal, you’ll receive only those matches, so be sure no filters are in use to download all of your matches’ information.

Your reports will be downloaded to your computer, so save them someplace where you can find them.

MyHeritage

Sign in to your account and click on the DNA tab, then DNA Matches.

At the far right-hand side, you’ll see three little dots. Click on the dots and you’ll see the options to export both the entire DNA Matches list and the shared DNA segment info for all DNA Matches.

You’ll want to download both. The first file Is the DNA matches list.

To download your segment matches, select the second option, “Export shared DNA segment info…”

Your files will be emailed to you.

23andMe

At 23andMe, sign on to your account and click on “DNA Relatives” under the Ancestry tab.

You’ll see your list of matches. Scroll to the very bottom where you’ll see the link to “Download aggregate data.”

23andMe combines your segment and match information in one file.

Remember that at 23andMe, your matches are limited to 2000 (unless you’re a V5 subscriber), minus the number of people who have not opted in to Relative Sharing. Additionally, there will be a number of people in the download file whose names appear, but who don’t have any segment data. Those people opted-in to Relative Sharing, but not to share segment information.

For example, my download file has 2827 rows. Of those, 1769 are unique individuals, meaning that I have matches with multiple segments for 1058 people. This means that of my 2000 allowed matches, 231 (or more) did not opt-in for Relative Sharing. The “or more” means that 23andMe does not roll matches off the list if you have communicated with the person, so some people may actually have more than 2000 matches. It’s impossible to know how 23andMe approaches calculations in this case.

Of those 1769 unique individuals on my match list, 257, or 15% did not share segment information. I’d sure like for those to be automatically rolled off and replaced with the next 257 who do share. 1512 or roughly three-quarters, 75%, of my 2000 allowed matches are useful for genealogy.

Initially, when 23andMe made their changes last fall, they were reportedly limiting the download file number to 1000, but they have reversed that policy on the V3 and V4 chips. I downloaded files from both chip versions to confirm that’s true.

I don’t have the V5 chip subscription level, nor am I going to retest to do that, so I don’t know if V5 subscribers receive all 5000 of the allowed matches in their download file.

This is the perfect example of why it’s a good idea to download your match files periodically. 23andMe is the only testing vendor that restricts your matches and when they roll off your list, they are irretrievable.

Aside from that, safe is better than sorry. You never know when something will change at a vendor and you’ll wish you had downloaded your match files earlier.

GedMatch

GedMatch, a third-party vendor, provides lots of tools but isn’t intuitive and provides almost no tutorial or information about how to navigate or use their site. There are some YouTube videos and Kitty Cooper has written several how-to articles. GEDmatch has promised a facelift soon.

GEDmatch provides many tools for free, along with a Tier1 level which provides advanced features by subscription.

At GEDmatch, you can see up to 2000 matches for free, but you must be a Tier 1 subscription member to download your matches – and the download is restricted to your top 1000 matches.

There are two Tier 1 one-to-many comparison options that are very similar. For either, you’ll enter your kit number and make your selection. Given that you’re restricted to 1000 in the download, there is no reason to search for more than 1000 kits.

click to enlarge

Then, click on Visualization options

You will then see the list of visualization options which includes “List/CSV.”

Clicking on “List/CSV” provides you with options.

click to enlarge

You’ll want to select the Matched Segment List, and you can either select “Prevent Hard Breaks,” or not. Allowing hard breaks means that small non-matching regions between two matching segments is not ignored, and the two segments are reported as two separate segments – if they are large enough to be reported.

If you prevent hard breaks, non-matching regions of less than 500,000 thousand base positions are ignored, creating one larger blended segment. It’s my preference to allow hard breaks because I’ve seen too many instances of erroneously “blended” segments.

When your matching segment file is complete, you will be prompted to download to your computer.

Thanks to Genetic Affairs, I discovered an alternate way to obtain more than 1000 downloaded matches from GEDmatch.

GEDmatch Alternative Methodology

Genetic Affairs suggests using the DNA Segment Search with a minimum of 5000 kits, and to enable the option to “Prevent Hard Breaks.”

Do not close the session while GedMatch is processing or you’ll need to restart your query.

When finished click “Here” to download the file to your system.

Now you’re ready for part 2.

Next, you’ll want to select the Triangulation feature.

These functions take time, so you’ll be watching as the counter increases. Or maybe go eat dinner or research some genealogy.

I can hear the “Jeopardy countdown music

When finished, click on “Here” to download this second file.

Whew! Now you should have your segment and match information files from each company that supports this information and provides downloads.

Saving Files

I generally save my files by vendor and date. However, if you’re going to use the files for a special project – you may want to make a copy elsewhere. For example, I’m going to use these files for Genetic Affairs’ AutoSegment feature, so I’ve downloaded fresh files from each vendor on the same date and made a separate copy, stored in my Genetic Affairs folder. I’ll let you know how that goes😊

Bottom Line

  • Test at vendors that don’t accept transfers. Ancestry and 23andMe
  • Test at or transfer to the rest. FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GEDmatch
  • Unlock or subscribe to the advanced tools that include chromosome browsers, ethnicity, and more, depending on the vendor. FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, GEDmatch
  • Upload or create trees at each vendor (except 23andMe who doesn’t support trees.)
  • Download as much information as you can from each vendor.
  • Work your matches through shared (in common with) matches, trees, segments, and clusters!

Have fun!!!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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