Robert Vernon Estes: Still Missing, But Not Forgotten – 52 Ancestors #339

Today was an incredible day – one I’ve been working towards and looking forward to for more than a year. One that Robert Vernon Estes earned more than 70 years ago.

Robert was a POW, captured in Korea on November 30, 1950.

Bobby is still MIA since he was never officially reported as either captured or known dead through official channels and his body was never returned.

He was declared dead, however, in 1954 after a fellow POW after release reported that Robert had died sometime around January 31, 1951.

This military photo in the Monticello paper is the only known photo of Bobby and we wouldn’t have that were it not for an incredibly tenacious volunteer at the White County Historical Society. I can’t thank her enough.

Our family has dispersed to the wind. Bobby is my father’s brother’s child. Bobby’s parents divorced as did my parents. I knew Bobby had died in the military, but had no details. Bobby’s father was involved in some type of accident that caused brain damage.

Bobby’s mother died before he was declared dead. I don’t know what happened to his step-father. Bobby’s brother went his own way and a generation or two later, the family had scattered to the winds.

Bobby died at 19, never married and had no children.

Seventy years later, I am Bobby’s closest remaining family member and as such, was the Gold Star Family representative at today’s memorial service. I think officially Gold Star family members are limited to immediate family – but my invitation addressed me as a Gold Star family member and I filled in for others now deceased.

I’m honored to represent Bobby, the first cousin I never knew, but who I’m named after.

I have written about Robert Vernon Estes twice.

Indiana War Memorial Foundation

The Indiana War Memorial Foundation had planned to honor Indiana’s Korean War MIAs in 2020, but had to postpone the event until this summer.

Today dawned hot and humid – a typical Indiana summer day with the exception of the high level smoke that made the atmosphere hazy in addition to hot and humid. The one blessing is that there was at least a hint of a breeze.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument

The Soldier and Sailors Monument, dedicated in 1902 sits dead center in the middle of Indianapolis, dead center in the middle of Indiana.

alexeatswhales, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Bricks, many engraved with the names of veterans, pave the circular street and sidewalks surround the towering monument.

As I turned the corner to hunt for a parking garage, the monument loomed above the city in front of me. You can’t miss it.

The streets were blocked today and families, having traveled from from all over the country were instructed to arrive early.

The ceremony would begin at 10.

I noticed the man on the motorcycle and thought to myself that he must be awfully hot.

After parking and walking the couple blocks to the circle, I discovered why the bike was present.

Rolling Thunder

Rolling Thunder is an advocacy group of bikers who are veterans founded in 1995. Their membership is committed to accounting for all POW and MIA soldiers from all wars.

You may remember Rolling Thunder to the Wall in Washington DC in 2010 and the blessing of the bikes.

The last Washington DC ride took place in 2019, but the local and state chapters are still extremely active in their support and advocacy.

I walked straight up to these men and thanked them for both their service and for joining us today. One veteran reminded me of my brother, and it was all I could do to keep my voice from cracking and try not to stare.

We will see these guys a bit later:)

Signing In

As each family signed in, we noted the name of our soldier and our relationship. I was one of the early arrivals and noticed both “sister” and “daughter.” Siblings were still alive, but all of the parents, born about 1910 or earlier, would be gone now. Every single one of them passed away without closure about what happened to their son.

Bobby’s mother died before he was declared dead, but not before she received a small box with a few of his belongings. I hope they brought her at least some level of comfort.

Today, in Indy, bricks laid in honor of our family members who never came home would be unveiled to honor their service and sacrifice.

Family Packets

Not to say that it was hot or anything, but in the packets provided for each family were the quintessential “funeral fans.” Now I don’t suppose everyone called them funeral fans. They were always stuck in the back of pews with the hymnals at church when I was growing up.

Everyone at funerals always nervously fanned, AND, often funeral homes bought the fans – for advertising of course. Jesus praying was always on one side and the funeral home’s name was always on the other.

A lovely brochure was also included in the packet with the scheduled events of the day.

Of course, honoring these brave men was the purpose of today’s somber event.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Before I go any further, I need to thank a number of anonymous people. I took many of these photos and videos, but not all. Our families had been assembled by virtue of common tragedy which provided us with an immediate bond. We talked, thanked the veterans and men in uniform present, shared photos, messaged back and forth, air-dropped and asked random people to please take our pictures in front of something or with other family members. By the time the ceremony actually began, we were on a first name basis and sharing stories.

In fact, perhaps the most amazing thing of all is what happened afterwards. You’re not going to believe this. But let’s get through the ceremony first.

Settling In

As people began to get settled, I stepped back far enough to get a photo of the tent that had (thankfully) been set up for the families in front of the Memorial. I had to stand back a LONG way. It’s HUGE!

As I kept backing up further to get this shot, I realized there was something going on in the street behind me.

Firetrucks and the Flag

Clearly security was a consideration for an event like this, and the streets were blocked off. The circle itself and the block leading to the circle.

I heard some commotion and turned around.

What are they doing?

Oh, look, it’s one of those huge flags.

I was excited to get to witness this. Look at the one guy literally “holding the bag.”

I remembered that my phone has video capability. Forgive the amateur behind the camera here – I had to flip it sideways at the end. It was quite an endeavor to keep the flag from touching the ground.

The flag was unfurled with a little help from one of the Rolling Thunder guys. Notice the firefighter with the now-empty bag. I wonder how they get the flag back in that bag.

I have to say, the flag being raised with synchronized ladders is an amazing sight and makes you feel really small and awestruck.

The flag was raised high above the street. I would love to have gone up to the observation tower in the Memorial and taken a look, but that building (ironically) wasn’t open, and besides, I didn’t want to miss anything outside.

I scoped out my seat near the end of the first row. People were milling around, but beginning to take their seats.

Preparations were taking place on the stage area and Rolling Thunder veterans were everyplace.

I happened to look back at the tent and saw the flag. You couldn’t miss the flag!

I was making my way to my seat at far left, above, and then I spotted “trouble.” The good kind of trouble:)

Trouble

You’ve all been my readership family long enough by now to know that I cannot go anyplace without some adventure finding me or me getting in some kind of trouble. When trouble fails to find me, that’s how I’ll know I’m dead.

You may recall, my brother-who-was-not-my-brother was a long haul trucker, a biker and a wounded Vietnam Marine.

Trust me, if you’re ever in real trouble someplace, find one of these guys.

Standing near my seat was another group of Rolling Thunder guys. I swear, they were the security detail. I mean, who’s going to mess with anyone with legions of these guys around. No sane person, that’s for sure!

I thanked these men for their service AND what they do today. The voice of remembrance when it’s all too easy to forget.

We talked about the MIA and POW men still unaccounted for and I told them that even though Bobby is officially MIA, we know he’s deceased, of course. Everyone shook their head in agreement. One of the men asked me his name. Then I explained it is my name too, I’m named for Robert. And I kept Estes too. Then I told them about Dave.

Not a dry eye in the place. A bit of shoe shuffling, allergies and hugging.

Let’s just say we bonded. Notice my special friend to my left who is modeling my bag. These guys were so doggone much fun to visit with and explained more about what Rolling Thunder does, how they participate, and their commitment. Trust me, no one rides bikes, wears leather and hangs out in the intense mid-summer heat if they aren’t either related or committed.

Before sitting down, I decided to grab one picture of the families and the flag from the memorial steps.

The Ceremony Begins

I had a great seat with a wonderful view of the Memorial itself. All those years I lived in Indiana and I never really paid attention. I’m not sure I had ever seen the Memorial other than from a distance.

The Indiana National Guard’s 38th Infantry Brass Quintet, in full dress uniform, was located to the right.

I can only imagine how miserable they must have been. You would never have known it from their lovely music.

The dignitaries begin delivering remarks.

The flags are ceremonially escorted into the stage area by a color guard – you’ve guessed it. Rolling Thunder again.

Remember that I mentioned there was, blessedly, a breeze?

The most shocking thing happened a minute or two later.

The breeze blew the American flag right over, onto the ground with a resounding thud. An audible gasp emanated from the crowd. Everyone knows that the flag is never supposed to touch the ground. When I was younger I thought a flag had to be destroyed if it touched the ground. I wondered what would happen, not eventually to the flag, but in this instance. In the middle of a ceremony honoring a special class of our veterans.

Two men from Rolling Thunder walked up behind the dignitaries, picked up the flags and proceeded to stand for the duration of the ceremony holding the flags upright. What a beautiful picture.

The National Anthem was sung, acapella, by Staff Sergeant Ronald Walker, also in full dress uniform. This man is both brave and amazing!

Unveiling the Bricks

Next, the bricks were unveiled. I had been unaware that the blue tarp was actually covering the bricks.

I don’t have to tell you who did the unveiling do I?

I was pleased to see that the bricks for the Korean POW/MIAs had been placed together, not scattered around the plaza.

My neighbor had a better view than I did and kindly shared his video with me.

The unveiling of the bricks was followed by the wreath laying.

The wreath laying is a respectful tradition associated with either funerals or memorial services.

The Roll Call

I didn’t know about the concept of Roll Call before. Now I’ll never be able to unhear it.

The name of the soldier still missing is read. A veteran, in this case, a Rolling Thunder member, steps forward and says, “Still missing, Sir,” then steps back.

This was repeated 195 times as the names were read in alphabetical order.

Simple.

Somber.

Gut-wrenching.

Each family member in attendance had been given a sign with their soldier’s photo, if one was available, and asked to stand and hold the photo facing the crowd when it was their turn.

The veteran sitting next to me knew the name of my soldier and filmed this, then gifted it to me.

I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am.

I was saddened to notice how many men did not have representative family members present.

As the Roll Call finished, and the Rolling Thunder men exited, a bagpiper played Amazing Grace. One of two songs I can never get through dry-eyed.

Followed, of course, by the next song I cannot get through dry-eyed.

The flags or colors were retired in the same way they had been presented initially.

After the Ceremony

Robert Vernon Estes and his 194 comrades never received a funeral. Their families never had closure. Regardless of what happened to those men in Korea, it’s clear that they are not still living today.

It was sad that we needed to have this service, but it was beautiful and somber and cathartic. It may not be closure for the immediate family, but it’s at least recognition that these men have not been forgotten.

After the ceremony, there was a palpable sense of gratitude and relief. The camaraderie of sharing this experience with others was so meaningful and important. I’m struggling to find the right words to convey the mixture of sad and glad and relief still mixed with prayers that one day, at least some of these men’s remains will be returned for burial. A real funeral, with taps, and the 21 gun salute, and everything else that they deserve. Not an empty hole of nothingness.

I’m so filled with gratitude for the many people who made this possible.

Some, but not all of the volunteers who made this lovely ceremony possible for the veterans and the Gold Star families. Thank you so very much.

The beautiful wreath standing by the bricks.

The only other wreath-laying ceremony I have ever attended was when the DAR set the stone for my Revolutionary War ancestor on another beastly hot summer day.

The Rest of the Story

I attended the ceremony alone. The people sitting in the row behind me seemed friendly enough. As we waited for the ceremony to begin, we chatted pleasantly about our respective family members that we were honoring.

They did not know much about the history of the unit in which their family member had fought. I was trying to explain about obtaining records from NARA, and declassified unit records – in essence what I had done for Robert Estes.

I had noticed that someone representing the Indiana senator’s office was sitting two seats from me. I turned around and told the man behind me that he needed to talk to the person from the senator’s office and ask for liaison assistance.

After they spoke, our group began talking again, and I told him I think that the unit his family member served in fought with the unit Robert served in.

Their family was fortunate to have several people in attendance, while I’m the only one left in my generation in my line. By this time, it was noon and miserably hot – on the north side of 90. The committee had provided rollups and ice cold water while the families visited afterwards, but everyone was ready for something more.

They invited me along to eat with them. I hesitated, not wanting to be a third wheel and hoping they didn’t feel obligated to invite me. They said, “hey, you’re family,” and you know, it felt like family. We decided we would just all be family, at least for today. I was so grateful for the invitation and felt like we had a common bond. Maybe it was the emotion of the day – I can’t explain it.

We managed to find the absolute worst Italian restaurant I’ve ever eaten in – but the companionship was wonderful and we had a room in the back to ourselves.

After we finished, I mentioned that I had to go back to the memorial because somehow I had forgotten to find Bobby’s brick and take a picture – and I wanted a picture of me with the brick too.

They said they had to walk back that way anyway, so we went together.

The stage area was clear and everyone was gone, of course.  Only a few flowers remained. But those bricks are permanent and will still be there long after we are gone!

I was so very pleased to be present for the one thing of permanence that will remain of Bobby.

I wanted to photograph the rest of the bricks, together.

That’s When It Happened!

Look.

Robert Minniear is the other family’s MIA soldier. He went missing on November 30, 1950,

So did Bobby.

Both men’s families were from the same part of Indiana.

We just stared at each other dumbstruck with the realization of our discovery. Our family members indeed had gone missing the same day. Likely in the same battle in Korea. Spoiler alert – I came back to my hotel and did indeed verify that the two units were fighting together on that day.

Did our family members know each other? Before, or after they were captured, or both? Were they held as POWs together, or was their Robert killed during either the fighting itself or the horrific conditions immediately after?

Can the information I’ve found about Bobby’s unit help their family gain closure?

What are the chances that this would happen? That we would all attend this ceremony, sit together, strike up a friendly conversation, feel a bond, go to lunch, discover our common roots in the same town, then the revelation of the same MIA date? Did I mention that one of these men is also named Robert, born the same year I was and named for his Robert too?

I’d swear, if I didn’t know better, that the Robert’s were sort of nudging us.

As Mike, my new family member was reading the dates on the rest of the bricks, he noticed several other men who were MIA that same day and remain so:

  • Gene Ruby – PFC USMC
  • Everett W. Leffler – CPL US Army
  • Robert L. White – SGT US Army
  • Robert Lee White – CPL US Army (I hope these two men aren’t closely related – that poor family.)
  • Donald K. Mitchell – CPL US Army
  • James Mishler – PFC US Army

Maybe, just maybe, this story isn’t quite over just yet. Maybe information about one of our soldiers is information about all of our soldiers…

Maybe there’s a chapter yet to be written.

What’s the Difference Between Pedigree Collapse and Endogamy?

There has been recent discussion and confusion about the difference between pedigree collapse and endogamy.

Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences and what it means to genealogists.

Pedigree Collapse

Pedigree collapse occurs when the same person/people appear in your tree multiple times as ancestors.

In this example, you can see that John Smith and Mary Johnson appear twice, which of course means the ancestors further back in time in those lines all appear at least twice too.

Genetically speaking, our tester, Tester Smith, could be expected to inherit more of the DNA of John Smith and Mary Johnson because they are receiving an infusion of their DNA from both sides of their tree.

Each parent provides 50% of their respective DNA to each child, but contribute different pieces of their DNA to different children.

Each grandparent normally contributes approximately 25% to each grandchild, although it may be slightly more or less. Each great-grandparent contributes about 12.5% to each great-grandchild.

However, since John Smith appears twice in Tester Smith’s tree as a great-grandparent, John Smith would be expected to contribute approximately 12.5% of his DNA times 2 to Tester Smith. This means that approximately 25% of Tester Smith’s DNA descends from John Smith. The same is true for John Smith’s wife, Mary Johnson.

Let’s look at how this affects our chromosomes and matching.

Chromosome Perspective with No Pedigree Collapse

First, let’s look at a situation where there’s no pedigree collapse. Chromosome 22 has about 72 cM of DNA that is being compared for genealogy, so let’s use that chromosome for our example, with chromosome 22 being representative of all other chromosomes (except the X chromosome.)

If each grandparent contributes one fourth of each person’s DNA, then our tester’s mother would have received approximately 25% of her DNA from her 4 grandparents, respectively, or 18 cM from each grandparent.

For purposes of these examples, I’m going to use the 25% average amount of DNA inherited for each grandparent, but you can read more specifics here and here, if you’re interested.

In this example with no pedigree collapse, you can see that our tester received 9 cM or 12.5% of each of their great-grandparents’ DNA. The great-grandparents’ DNA combined in the grandparents and then Tester’s parents such that Tester received 18 cM or 25% of their DNA from each grandparent and 9 cM or 12.5% from each great-grandparent.

Note that Tester Smith received one 9 cM piece of each color of his 8 grandparents’ colored DNA. It’s easy to visualize inheritance this way.

Chromosome Perspective with Pedigree Collapse

Our second example shows pedigree collapse with John Smith and Mary Johnson being present as great-grandparents twice.

Note that Tester Smith inherited a segment of John Smith’s red DNA from their mother and one from their father. Tester also inherited one segment of Mary Johnson’s yellow DNA from each parent.

In this situation, the red DNA segment inherited by Tester Smith’s father from John Smith and the red DNA segment inherited from Tester’s mother from John Smith could potentially be:

  • The same DNA segment contributed by John Smith to both of his children, George Smith and Fred Smith, meaning those segments will match entirely.
  • Partially the same DNA segments meaning that some of John Smith’s DNA that Tester Smith inherited from his parents will match each other and some won’t.
  • Entirely different DNA segments meaning that although the DNA was inherited from John Smith in both cases, his children, George Smith and Fred Smith inherited different pieces of John Smith’s DNA. That DNA was passed through George Smith and Fred Smith’s children to Tester Smith. Even though both segments inherited by Tester descended from John Smith originally, they don’t match because they were different segments to begin with.

Tester Smith will inherit approximately half of the DNA from John Smith that his parents received, so their red segments of DNA could be exactly the same, partially the same, or completely different.

Since I am showing the red segments in different positions on the chromosomes, we’ll presume that the positions shown indicate chromosome location (addresses.) Since the red DNA is not in the same location on the mother’s and father’s chromosomes, the DNA from John Smith inherited by Tester from his parents are different segments.

Tester will have inherited 18 cM total from John Smith and 18 cM total from Mary Johnson (using averages). In this illustration, the red and yellow segments, respectively are two separate 9 cM segments. If by chance those two red (or yellow) segments had been inherited in adjacent locations, they would match as one 18 cM segment – even though they were really two separate segments inherited through two different parents. The phenomenon where segments from common ancestors joining each other again in descendants causes relationship predictions to be closer than the actual relationships.

Said another way, even though Tester Smith inherited 25% of John Smith’s DNA, John Smith is still a great-grandparent, albeit twice, not a grandparent even though vendors would predict someone with 25% shared DNA as a grandparent.

Of course, each generation further back in the tree means that the amount of DNA inherited from each ancestor is cut in half, so the effects of pedigree collapse become less pronounced the further back in time the collapse occurs.

Looking at our example, if John Smith and Mary Johnson were duplicated in Tester’s tree another generation further removed, Tester would inherit 6.25% times two from John Smith, or a total of 12.5% of his DNA, and the same from Mary Johnson. Another generation back in time, 6.25% total. Eventually, many of those segments will disappear entirely due to loss during recombination, so distant pedigree collapse is not necessarily discernable in this way.

To summarize, pedigree collapse occurs in a genealogical timeframe, meaning that you could at least potentially identify the ancestors who are duplicated in your tree. If you know where in your tree the duplication occurs, you can calculate the expected amount of DNA that you will inherit (assuming an exact 50% inheritance/recombination rate in each generation) from each of those ancestors.

Endogamy

Endogamy is different. Instead of one person or a pair of ancestors who are duplicated, testers will have no immediate ancestors who are the same in their tree, but they will have many historical ancestors who are identical.

Endogamy most often occurs in closed communities where out-marriage is either highly discouraged or impossible. Common examples include Jewish populations, especially in Europe with the Ashkenazi, Native Americans, Finnish people, Acadians, Amish, Mennonite and Brethren communities. Of course, there are many more.

These communities often married only within their own community for many generations. Each community member shares the DNA of many common ancestors from long ago.

In this example, the DNA from distant common ancestors is handed down to the parents from the grandparents, but the ancestral segments are shown in small pieces. I used 4.5 cM as the segment size, but endogamous samples have many small, fragmented segments below that threshold.

“Small” segments for purposes of this discussion are those below the 6 cM minimum vendor matching/viewing threshold of FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and 23andMe. Ancestry’s minimum match threshold is 8 cM. The take-away here is that none of those individual 4.5 cM segments would match between testers at any of those vendors because they are below all vendor’s thresholds.

The red arrows point to small segments where the mother and father both inherited small pieces of the same identical DNA from the same distant ancestors. Our tester will receive the pink and red DNA segment from both parents, because there is nothing else in that location for them to inherit.

The green arrows show examples of identical by chance matches where the yellow and red DNA, respectively, is not handed down from one parent. Instead, the two yellow and two red segments abut and are joined to form one 9 cM segment where two individual 4.5 cM segments converge – one inherited from the mother and one from the father.

This, of course, is the definition of identical by chance (IBC) where the DNA from two parents just happens to align in such a way that the tester matches another person. However, in ADDITION to being IBC, those two smaller segments just happened to be from common earlier ancestors in an endogamous population. Because endogamous populations have a limited amount of available DNA, it’s much more common to have small segments that match in descendants – and sometimes recombine to match in larger segments too.

In this case, the DNA of unknown distant ancestors just happened to be handed down and aligned adjacent to each other.

Our tester will match to anyone else who just happens to have inherited those two small ancestral DNA segments in the same location from that same population. When the original number of ancestors is limited, so are the number of DNA segments available for inheritance, and it’s very common for random ancestral segments to align in this way. Think of each ancestor’s tiny DNA segments salting a bowl of soup. You’re going to get some in every spoonful.

If those two adjacent 4.5 yellow segments are passed down together to the next generation, they add up to 9 cM, so will be considered a match to another person who inherited those same two adjacent 4.5 cM segments from that yellow ancestor – even though that unknown yellow ancestor could have lived ages ago – long before the possibility of genealogical matches. When no new DNA is introduced into populations, the only DNA available to be passed to the next generation is the ancestral DNA that has been salting the same pot of soup for generations.

This is exactly why we see the following situations in highly endogamous populations:

  • Many matches at lower cM levels due to identical by change recombination
  • Many small segments in common below vendor match thresholds
  • Significantly more smaller segment matches than non-endogamous individuals due to the historical ancestral DNA being passed and recombined from descendant to descendant.

A fully endogamous individual from the Ashkenazi population often has 4 or 5 times as many matches, or more, than non-endogamous individuals.

Conversely, some fully endogamous individuals from populations that have not tested many people will have very few matches, but may not be able to identify their genealogical relationship with any of their matches.

Segments Compared

In the article Concepts – Endogamy and DNA Segments, I provided several real-life examples of how endogamy affects DNA matches.

FamilyTreeDNA’s most recent matching update, among other things, has:

  • Removed the segments below 6 cM from the DNA match totals
  • Developed a new technique to determine and remove many identical by chance (IBC) matches
  • Fully imputed all transfer kits from other vendors (yay!,) meaning that early transfers who did not previously have distant matches now do
  • Recalculated everyone’s matches based on all of the above
  • Developed an improved relationship prediction algorithm
  • Re-predicted everyone’s relationships

While these changes benefit everyone, they provide huge benefits to people with high numbers of matches due to endogamy.

In this chart from the earlier article, you can see individuals predicted to the same relationship level, with segments as small as 1 cM showing, although matching never occurred at this level:

  • Non-endogamous matches at left
  • Jewish matches in the center
  • Native American matches at right.

The chromosomes of the Jewish and Native people look polka dotted by comparison to the non-endogamous people. All of their matching segments are shorter then the non-endogamous group at the same predicted level, because all of the small segments were included in the relationship prediction calculations.

The removal of segments below 6 cM at FamilyTreeDNA improves accuracy and relationship predictions for everyone. A white paper will be available soon describing their new techniques.

Population Genetics

While endogamous matches are frustrating for genealogists due to both the high number of matches and the difficulty identifying common pedigree ancestors, endogamous matches are very useful in another way.

Looking at our endogamous example again, let’s say our tester is entirely Jewish, with no admixture.

Our tester has a child with a partner who is entirely Asian, with no admixture. The DNA of these two populations does not fit the same genetic pattern.

In this example, the Asian person’s DNA is chartreuse green (for simplicity.) The Jewish DNA in the child has been divided in half, losing all of the army green, bright blue, and light blue segments, along with part of the tan, grey and yellow segments. Notice that the child still has two yellow segments and two red ones.

Population geneticists look for distinct patterns among populations of people who have lived exclusively together, in close proximity, or mixed often for tell-tale genetic signals where high frequencies of certain DNA patterns, or colors here, appear. Think of an island like Australia or New Zealand where there were no new populations available.

Those telltale small DNA segments, below matching thresholds, signal membership in or a genetic affiliation with that population. Of course, not all populations are quite as distinctive as the Jewish or Aussie/NZ populations. Some populations have not been isolated as long or more admixture has taken place. Think about Europe and those fluid borders.

Still, the signal of the founding populations is present for several generations, and sometimes longer if the testers ancestors were from the same population or region of the world and those identifying segments have been preserved during genetic recombination.

This individual’s ethnicity or populations would likely be predicted at or near 50% Jewish and 50% Asian. Those populations have been separated for tens of thousands of years and are relatively easy, genetically, to tell apart.

However, ascertaining between France and Germany is another matter altogether.

Real Life Examples

In the “picture is worth a thousand words” category, let’s take a look at some visuals.

Genetic Affairs has developed autocluster technology which I’ve written about several times. In the introductory article AutoClustering by Genetic Affairs, I provided examples of “normal” non-endogamous autoclusters.

A non-endogamous individual where other people from their family lines have tested would show several separate clusters. Individuals included in the same colored cluster match each other. Those clusters represent different ancestors or ancestral couples. For the most part, the people in individual clusters don’t match other clusters, although some will as the smaller clusters tend to represent generations further back in time. The people who match two clusters are shown by grey cells.

On the other hand, people who descend from an entirely endogamous population pretty much have one large interrelated square, not neatly arranged descending colored blocks.

My mother’s great-grandfather is Acadian, a highly endogamous population. She has no known pedigree collapse outside of the Acadian population. However, the Acadian population has substantial pedigree collapse meaning that most of her matches would have substantial pedigree collapse. All Acadians share the same founding ancestors from the early 1600s.

As researchers, we are fortunate to have meticulous Catholic church and tax records maintained by the Acadians. Other genealogists aren’t nearly as fortunate and therefore can’t necessarily differentiate between endogamy and pedigree collapse or a combination of both.

Mother would have inherited about 12.5% of her DNA from Antoine (Anthony Lord) Lore.

Mom’s orange Acadian cluster at upper left is oversized, much larger than her next cluster, and you can see that many orange-cluster people are related to each other. Mom has more Acadian matches than would normally account for 12.5% of her matches at the threshold used to generate the autocluster. These proportionally oversized autoclusters are the hallmark of endogamy.

One generation further downstream, my Acadian cluster, which accounts for 6.25% of my DNA is still my largest cluster, shown below, NOT clusters from my four grandparents as might be expected.

However, my Acadian cluster isn’t nearly as large as my mother’s, illustrating just how much was lost through recombination in one generation.

My friend and professional Dutch genealogist, Yvette Hoitink was gracious enough to provide an example of endogamy from an individual whose ancestors were from Winterswijk, a small village in the Netherlands.

Graphic courtesy of Yvette Hoitink

Yvette tells us that in Winterswijk, people were serfs, some until 1795, and were required to pay a fine if they married a serf belonging to a different landlord.

Now, in addition to being a small village, we understand why so many people were related to each other, and why the other clusters are so tiny. Do note that many of the people in the red cluster also match people in the other colored clusters too, as identified by the grey cells. Truly, everyone does seem to be related to (at least) some of this person’s other ancestors.

Courtesy Yvette Hoitink

Just so you don’t think all Dutch people are endogamous, Yvette also provided this autocluster of an individual from Friesland where people weren’t serfs during that timeframe.

Regional differences and population history, both on a large or small scale, really do make a HUGE difference.

Pedigree Collapse, Endogamy and Their Cousin, Population Genetics

I hope you have a better idea how pedigree collapse is different than endogamy and why endogamy is useful in population genetics.

  • Pedigree collapse means you have the same ancestor(s) present in your tree, but other than those lines, it does NOT mean that everyone in your tree is related to each other.
  • When everyone within a group is related somehow to everyone else, that’s endogamy.
  • Of course, like many things in life, these “states of being” are not exclusive and entirely separate. You can have pedigree collapse without endogamy, but long-term community pedigree collapse within a group of people, such as the Acadians, defines endogamy.
  • When endogamy is present, literally everyone is somehow related to everyone else, one way or another – especially distantly.
  • You can have endogamy without any known recent ancestors.
  • You can also have both pedigree collapse and endogamy, together, like my Acadian family line. If you do, I’m sorry😊!

With pedigree collapse, you have duplicate ancestors but you know who they are.

With endogamy, you’ll have a huge distant family, but it’s difficult or sometimes impossible to determine which ancestors, even if you DO know who they are, contributed specific DNA segments. Lots of matches with smaller matching DNA segments are prevalent and likely result from distant population-based matches.

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

Thank you so much.

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  • com – Lots of wonderful genealogy research books

Genealogy Research

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

How Many Men Discover or Confirm Their Surname with Y DNA Testing?

About 15 years ago, Bennett Greenspan, founder of FamilyTreeDNA, at one of the early conferences said that about 30% of men who take a Y DNA test find a strong surname match. That number has increased now to nearly 100%, or “almost everyone.”

Exceptions

Of course, there are exceptions that fall into a number of categories:

  • Jewish families from regions where surnames weren’t adopted until in the 1800s.
  • Jewish families whose direct paternal line suffered dramatic losses during the Holocaust.
  • Dutch families who did not adopt surnames until Napoleon’s edict in 1811.
  • Cultures who have or recently had patronymic surnames that change every generation.
  • Men whose DNA is either extremely rare (and no relatives have tested) or are from under-sampled regions of the world.
  • Males whose paternal line may be recent immigrants and people in the homeland don’t participate in genealogy or don’t DNA test.
  • Males whose ancestors were enslaved. In the US, families adopted surnames after the Civil War ended slavery in the 1860s, so Y DNA testing plus autosomal is critically important to reunite these families. Please note that the Y DNA haplogroup, even an estimate provided with STR testing, will indicate whether the direct paternal lineage is European, African, Native American/Asian – all of which are found in the descendants of men who were enslaved. The Big Y-700 provides significantly more information along with placement on the haplotree.

I started writing Y DNA reports for clients in 2004 (although I no longer accept private clients) and at that time, often saw men with no matches. Today, a man with no matches is extremely unusual, and most have strong surname matches. As more men test, everyone will have more matches, of course, and the more we can learn about our ancestors.

What do matches reveal?

Matches Reveal

In essence, matches to other men with common surnames do one of two things:

  1. Confirm the surname lineage, at least to the common ancestor.
  2. Identify the surname where the tester is likely to find his ancestral roots.
  3. Provide perspective further back in time answering the question, “Where did I come from?”

Of course, this second point is crucial for males searching for the identity of their paternal lines.

While time has moved on, the number of testers in the database has dramatically increased, and almost everyone has relevant matches now – I still see the 30% metric oft-repeated. Let’s put this to the test and see what we find.

Setting Up the Experiment

I selected 20 men who have taken the Big Y test whose kits I manage or who were randomly selected from projects that I manage and who have given permission for their results to be published on public project pages.

I recorded results for the tester’s own or very similar surnames. Slightly different but recognizable spellings are counted as the same name.

I included matches at 12 markers, 111 markers, and the Big Y results. Men who purchase or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test will have all 111 STR panel markers included. Obviously, individual testers should check their results at every level.

Big Y testers actually receive 700+ STR markers, but can only easily filter for matches at 111 (or below), so that’s the number I used. Plus, males can purchase  37 and 111 panels without taking the Big Y test, so this comparative information will be valid for all Y DNA testers.

Click to enlarge image.

Additionally, I used the Advanced Matches feature to check for people who match someone on BOTH the Y DNA and their Family Finder autosomal test. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that the reason they match on both tests is because of their common surname line – but it’s a hint and may be very useful, especially with closer Family Finder matches.

I intentionally included some men with recent European heritage who are unlikely to have matches simply because their families have been in colonial America since the 1600s or 1700s and their ancestor had a dozen sons who each had a dozen sons.

Why Did I Include 12 Marker Results?

You may wonder why I included 12 marker matches since that test is no longer sold individually and is the least granular. Truthfully, it’s too often deemed useless and overlooked.

Hear me out on this one😊

Many of the men who originally took the 12 and 25 marker tests, before the higher panels (37, 67, 111, and Big Y) were available are deceased now. Twenty years is a generation, and FamilyTreeDNA began testing the Y chromosome in the year 2000.

While these low marker tests alone are not conclusive, with additional information, such as trees, common ancestors, and other testers who match, they form pieces of evidence that can be invaluable. Some have also taken an autosomal test which can be especially important, given that they are another generation or two (or three) further back in time than the people testing today.

You won’t see these men as matches at 37, 67 or 111 markers, because they are deceased and can’t upgrade, but they may provide the nugget of information you need by matching at 12 or 25 markers. You’ll need to evaluate that match in light of other information. I’ll review that in the next two sections.

20 Men

If you’re a man or can find a male to test for each of your genealogy lines, the Y DNA is the fastest, most reliable way to identify an ancestral surname – not just in your father’s generation, but moving back in time.

Of the 20 men selected, all men had matches to their surname. However, one Smith man, #18, had a unique situation that might be very genealogically relevant.

I’ll discuss each match briefly with some commentary below the chart.

Surname Match Name 12 Marker 111 Marker Big Y Advanced – 12 + FF Both
1 Howery Howery 9 of 20 2 of 2 0 (none tested) 1
2 Graves Graves 8 of 51 2 of 8 1 Graves + others 1 – different surname
3 Perkins Perkins/McDonald 16 of 1762 1 of 63, many McDonalds 0 Perkins (no testers) but several McD names 8 – 2 McDonald
4 Napier Napier 19 of 19,217 2 of 13 2 Napier + others 1 + many others
5 Rice Rice 45 of 58 14 of 19 7 of 10 1
6 Rader Rader  13 of 18,576 7 of 7 7 3
7 Estes Estes 69 of 502 21 of 24 9 of 10 2 + 4 different surname
8 Campbell Campbell 178 of 369 61 of 103 7 of 10 4 of 5
9 Lentz Lentz 1 of 1 0 of 1 1 different name, no other Lentz Big Y testers 0
10 Bonnevie Bonnevie 1 of 1 (tested to 37) 0 0 no test
11 Vannoy Vannoy 7 of 49 2 of 4 0 of 1 0
12 Lore/Lord Lore/Lord 3 of 7 1 of 3 1 of 1 0
13 Clarkson/Claxton Clarkson/Claxton 19 of 540 1 of 1 0 of 9 (No Big Y testers) 0 of 3
14 Muncey Muncy/Muncey 9 of 155 7 of 16 1 of 4 1
15 Miller Miller 5 of 6 2 at 67, no 111 testers 0 – no Miller match testers 1 of 2
16 Speak(s) Speak(s) 9 of 9 21 of 51 4 of 17 0
17 Smith Smith/Jennings 2 of 16, 9 Jennings 0 of 2 (Jennings) 1 Jennings of 3 1 Jennings
18 Bolton Bolton 8 of 1750 2 of 2 0 of 28 0 of 12
19 Crumley Crumley 10 of 79 7 of 93 3 of 127 0 of 2
20 Harrell Harrell 81 of 17,638 3 of 7 2 of 2 0 of 119

Messages Revealed in the Results

Let’s briefly review the information we’ve discovered and extrapolate from each of these 20 matches. Analysis is the key to success.

  1. The Howery surname is rather unusual. This man had only two 111 marker matches and both were to men of the same surname. Half of his 12 marker matches are the same surname. None of his matches had taken the Big Y test, so he has no same-surname or other surname matches there. He did match one of his Y DNA matches on the Family Finder test though. This is high-quality confirmation that Howery is indeed the biological ancestral surname and our tester can set about finding and confirming his common ancestors with his matches.
  2. The Graves male had several 12-marker matches, but many 12-marker matches have not tested at the 111 marker level. He matches one Graves male on the Big Y plus some men with other surnames. The Big Y reaches back further in time, so these matches may reflect common ancestors before the advent of surnames.
  3. Our Perkins male has very interesting matches. He does have both 12 and 111 Perkins matches, but he also had a LOT of McDonald matches. More McDonald matches than Perkins matches. This suggests that indeed, his ancestors were Perkins, at least back to the earliest known ancestor (EKA), but before that, he may well be a member of the McDonald Y DNA clan. There were no Perkins Big Y testers, but if I were him, I’d ask my Perkins matches to upgrade.
  4. I can tell by looking at the huge number of 12 marker matches for our Napier man that he is haplogroup R, the most common in Europe, with an EXTREMELY common 12 marker haplotype. Note how dramatically the number of 111 marker matches drops – from 19,000+ to 13 – a perfect example of why we suggest men upgrade to at least 111 markers to refine their matches. Both of his 111 marker Napier matches have upgraded to the Big Y, and he matches them there as well. He does match one Napier on both the 12 marker test and Family Finder Advanced Matching – but he also matches MANY other men. This is because of the extremely high number of 12 marker matches. In his case, I would only use Y DNA marker panels higher than 12 markers in the Advanced Matching.
  5. Lots of Rice testers from this line confirm a common ancestor. I wonder if there is a Rice male from someplace overseas who has tested. If so, this might be that “jump the pond” event that genealogists who have European ancestors who are found in colonial America seek.
  6. Our Rader tester also has many 12 marker matches, but his only matches at 111 and on the Big Y are his Rader kinsmen. No doubt about that surname whatsoever.
  7. My Estes line has several 12 marker matches, but that gets slimmed right down at 111 markers. Using the Big Y test, we further divided those branches of Estes men. I literally could not have sorted out who was descended from whom without the Big Y test results. Way too many Johns, Williams, and Elishas in burned counties in Virginia.
  8. Our Campbell tester is unquestionably confirmed to be descended from the Clan Campbell line from Inverary, Scotland. However, the challenge in this family is which Campbell male they descend from in Virginia. The Big Y-700 test has narrowed the possibilities significantly, and the tester is currently in the process of attempting to convince his three closest Y STR 111 matches to take the Big Y test. Yes, he has offered to pay as well. Hey, in genealogy, you do what you need to do. Y DNA is likely the only way this puzzle from the 1700s will ever be unraveled.
  9. The Lentz line is German with rare DNA, but they do have a confirming match to another Lentz male.
  10. Bonnievie spelled various ways is French and has one 12 marker match who only tested to 37 markers. He has no matches above that. Not only is his Y DNA quite rare, DNA testing is illegal in France which makes additional testers few and far between. Unfortunately, his one match has not taken a Family Finder test either.
  11. Several men from the Vannoy line have tested and a Big Y test match to another man confirmed that the ancestral line is Dutch – not French as was speculated for decades. The STR tests have revealed Vannoy lines, by similar spellings, from lines we didn’t know existed.
  12. Lore or Lord is a rare Acadian family surname. Our tester does have matches to other Lore/Lord men, which confirms the line to the ancestor who arrived in Acadia in the early 1600s, but future testers will be needed before we can confirm his origins to either France or as one of the English soldiers who served at the fort.
  13. The Clarkson/Claxton testers confirm two lines, one spelled each way, from Tennessee and North Carolina line to a common ancestor in either Virginia or North Carolina in the 1770s. However, the family is still working to further assemble that puzzle. Finding a Clarkson/Claxton match on STR markers or the Big Y who descends from a male not from the two known lines would help immensely. Our hope is that a Clarkson/Claxton from an earlier line or from the British Isles will test and provide that push over the brick wall. Any Clarkson/Clarkson men out there who haven’t taken the Y DNA test yet?
  14. The Muncy/Munsey line is confirmed to a common ancestor born in England in and died on Long Island in 1674. Based on both STR and SNP results from the Big Y, we can narrow the lineages of Muncy men who test and aren’t familiar with their Muncy genealogy. Of course, the Muncy line eventually migrated through Virginia and seemingly named every man in every generation either John, Samuel or Francis – but DNA testing helps immensely to sort this out.
  15. While Miller is a very common occupation surname, DNA testing has put to rest many incorrect myths about this particular Swiss Miller line. Men with the same surname in the same location, even in the same church, does not equate to the same genetic family line. Any male with a common surname absolutely needs to do Y DNA testing and at the highest level. There’s nothing worse than spending countless hours barking up the wrong tree – especially when Y DNA testing will save you.
  16. Our Speaks man matched another Speak male who knew where his ancestors were from in Lancashire. Testing additional men living in Lancashire at the 111 marker and Big Y levels allowed the Speak line to be divided into specific lineages beginning in the 1500s, piecing together the earlier ancestors into a descendant tree. Recently, an “orphan” line in the US has been connected to his ancestors, thanks to both STR values AND Big Y testing.
  17. Smith is quite interesting because we discover that something doesn’t add up. Our Smith man matches two Smith men who have the same ancestor born in 1810 but that son, John, does not match the descendants of his brothers. There seems to be an undocumented adoption of some sort at that point in time. John Smith’s Y DNA is not the same as his brothers whose descendants match each other. Given that our Smith tester, and his two matches, do not match the other descendants of the ancestor they are supposed to descend from, we can pinpoint the generation in which the adoption event occurred. However, we have a further clue, because these Smith men match the Jennings line closely- including one advanced match where the Smith man also matches autosomally in addition to the Y DNA. This is clearly a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know” and would never have known without Y DNA testing.
  18. Our Bolton tester matches several other Bolton men who descend from a common immigrant ancestor. If the Bolton matches upgrade to the Big Y-700 test, they might be able to determine separate genetic lines branching through the various sons of the immigrant ancestor. Evaluating the surnames that the tester matches at the Big Y level may assist with evaluating deeper ancestry in England and determining where the Bolton ancestors originated before the 1600s in London.
  19. Crumley is a difficult family to research, in part because several people with the same surname are found in close proximity, but Y DNA testing has shown that these men are not related. Big Y testing has disproved that the Crumley progenitor originated in Germany, although a different Crumley family did. The Big Y matches include many Mc… surnames along with Ferguson and Gillespie. The Big Y Block Tree shows the closest matches with ancestors born in Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland – which is very likely where the Crumley progenitor originated too.
  20. Harrell is another difficult surname, spelled numerous ways with several Harrell/Herrell/Harrold/Herrald families moving westward in the 1600s and 1700s from the thirteen original colonies. This Harrell line has not been able to connect to a single progenitor in the colonies, yet, but Y DNA testing and the block tree confirm that this Harrell line originated in the British Isles, very likely England.

What Did These 20 Men Learn?

Every single one of these men benefitted from Y DNA testing, although exactly how depends to some extent on their testing goal. Other men also benefitted by matching.

One man, our Smith, #17, needs to look at the Jennings family prior to 1810. Is there a Jennings man living in close proximity, or do court records exist that might be illuminating?

If one of these 20 men had been an adoptee or otherwise searching for an unknown paternal line, they would have been able to identify a surname connection and perhaps a progenitor ancestor. I encourage everyone to either order a Family Finder autosomal test or transfer a DNA file (for free) from another vendor if they have taken an autosomal test elsewhere. Step-by-step transfer instructions are found here. Be sure that the Y DNA and autosomal tests are on the same kit/account at FamilyTreeDNA so that you can use the advanced matching tool.

With the Big Y-700 test, these men can discern or confirm lines descending from their direct paternal ancestors – sometimes within a generation or two of the tester. This test is so sensitive and granular and has such deep coverage (millions of bases) now that often we find small mutations between fathers and sons or brothers.

While STR markers, 12-111 are genealogically important, they do tend to mutate rapidly and sometimes back-mutate. SNPs, tested in the Big Y-700 test, don’t do that, and the power of STRs and SNPs together have the potential to break down brick walls and correct trees. In fact, it happens every single day.

Resources

If you’d like to watch a video about Y DNA, Y DNA-related genetic terms, and the benefits of Big Y-700 testing, you can watch a great educational video by Janine Cloud here. Be sure to note the part where she talks about why people who have previously taken the Big Y-500 might want to upgrade to the Big Y-700.

Also, check out my Y DNA Resource page, here.

What Don’t You Know?

Y DNA tests, including the Big Y-700 which includes all STR panels, and the autosomal Family Finder test are on sale at FamilyTreeDNA right now for Father’s Day.

There’s no better time to find missing pieces and discover information that you can’t find any other way.

Click here to order Y DNA tests, the Family Finder, or upgrade an existing test.

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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

Yes, Ancestry is Glitchy Right Now – Here’s What TO and NOT TO DO

Public Service Announcement – Ancestry has been a bit glitchy for a few days/weeks and remains so. All vendors have issues from time to time, and it seems to be Ancestry’s turn right now. I wasn’t affected at first, but these tree-based problems seem to randomly come and go. So even if you’re not affected right now, you may be soon.

Here are tips on dealing with the reported issues, and perhaps more important, what NOT to do. Trying to fix things may just cause more problems.

What’s going on?

What’s Up With Ancestry?

A few days ago I signed on to Ancestry to discover that all of my tree branches beyond the first page displayed were “gone.” At that point in time, if I clicked on the right arrow, either no ancestors appeared, just those blank boxes to add parents, or in one case, one ancestor appeared with no parents.

This was uniform for all of my tree branches.

Needless to say, it struck panic into my genealogist’s heart. The saving grace is that indeed, no one but me has edit access to my tree – so I know positively that no one but me could delete anything.

Furthermore, I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that I had not deleted or broken the links of all of those ancestral lines. I don’t do “sleepwalk-genealogy” and if I did, I’d be much more likely to add someone😊

To try to quell the panic a bit, I used the Tree Search feature in the upper right-hand corner of the Tree page and yes, those “missing” ancestors were still in my tree file. They just weren’t showing correctly.

Technology Background

I spent years in technology and I learned two things:

  • Don’t panic and jump to conclusions
  • Sometimes things fix themselves, at least from the user’s perspective

After a couple of easy noninvasive steps, I decided to LEAVE THINGS ALONE and see what happened.

1-2-3 Things to Do

Here’s the 1-2-3 of things to do, in order.

  1. Sign out and back in.
  2. Try a different browser. If you are using a mobile app, use the computer and vice versa.
  3. Go away and check again later or tomorrow.

What Worked?

In this case, number three worked. The next day, everything was back to normal again with no residual damage.

Thankfully.

Had that not been the case, I would have started searching on social media for common issues and I would have called Ancestry’s support – no matter how much I don’t like doing that.

But there’s one thing I would NOT have done.

DO NOT

DO NOT start to repair things. If you start trying to reconnect people, when the underlying problem is actually resolved by Ancestry, Heaven only knows what a mess you’ll have with people double connected.

Twins and Duplicates

Another issue reported is that people are being duplicated in trees, including the tree owner/home person who finds that they have a twin with the same information.

Again, DO NOT start deleting and correcting.

What You CAN Do

Verify that indeed, only people you trust have edit access to your tree.

Under the name of the appropriate tree at upper left, select Tree Settings.

For another person to be able to either contribute to or edit your tree, you must specifically invite them to do so. Guests can only view your tree.

While Ancestry says that all invitees are editors, that’s not the case, as shown below when I clicked to invite someone.

As you can see, the default is “Guest,” but always verify after someone accepts your invitation.

Patience

Patience is difficult, but if you’re experiencing tree problems at Ancestry, just do something else for a few hours or a couple days.

Here are four great genetic genealogy activities you can do elsewhere that are productive.

  1. Download a copy of your DNA file from Ancestry and upload to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, or GedMatch to find additional matches. Instructions can be found here.
  2. At FamilyTreeDNA, upload your file and get matches for free. Check Family Finder, Y or mitochondrial DNA matches, or order a Big Y test or upgrade. The Father’s Day sale just started and you can sign on or order, here.
  3. At MyHeritage, if you don’t have a DNA test, upload free and get matches here. Check your DNA matches using their new Genetic Groups filter. I provided instructions, here. While you’re viewing your DNA matches, be sure to check for SmartMatches, record matches and other hints. If you’re not a records subscriber, you can subscribe with a 14-day free trial here.
  4. At 23andMe, testers are limited to 2000 matches unless you purchase an annual subscription – then you’re limited to about 5000 matches. However, 23and Me does not roll matches off your list that you’ve connected to, invited to connect, made a note about or messaged. (At least they never have and mine remain.) Go to the last page of your DNA Relatives list, which are your smallest segment matches, and start working backward to be sure you’ve initiated some type of communication that will prevent them from rolling off your match list.

These tasks aren’t just busywork. You have no idea what kind of a gold nugget you may discover.

You’ll have accomplished several things, enlarged your horizons and maybe, just maybe, by the time you’re done your tree at Ancestry will have righted itself again.

What fun things did you discover?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

What is a Heteroplasmy and Why Do I Care?

Most people have never heard of a heteroplasmy – but you might have one.

You Might Have a Heteroplasmy If…

…You have no exact matches at the full sequence mitochondrial DNA level.

A heteroplasmy is one of the first things I think of when someone tells me they have no exact full sequence matches but several that are a genetic distance of 1, meaning one mutation difference.

That phenomenon usually means the tester has a rare mutation that no one else has, at least no one who has tested their mitochondrial DNA (yet) – and that mutation just might be a heteroplasmy.

Heteroplasmies are generally (but not always) quite recent mutations. Actually, heteroplasmies are mutations caught in the act of mutating – kind of like an insect in genetic amber – frozen in time in your generation.

By Anders L. Damgaard – http://www.amber-inclusions.dk – Baltic-amber-beetle CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16792582

Let’s say you might have a heteroplasmy. Or maybe you want to see if you do. Even if YOU don’t have a heteroplasmy, other people’s heteroplasmies can and will affect matching.

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about heteroplasmies but didn’t know to ask😊

Heteroplasmies are Fascinating

A heteroplasmy is actually quite interesting because it’s a genetic mutation in progress.

This means you have two versions of a DNA sequence showing in your mitochondrial DNA at a specific location.

Said another way, at a specific genetic location, you show both of two separate nucleotides. Amounts detected of a second nucleotide greater than 20% are considered a heteroplasmy. Amounts below 20% are ignored. Generally, within a few generations, the mutation will resolve in one direction or the other – although some heteroplasmies persist for several generations and can sometimes define family branches.

If you’d like to read more about mitochondrial DNA, I wrote a series of step-by-step articles and combined them into one resource page, here.

Show Me!

You can easily check to see if you have a heteroplasmy by signing on to your FamilyTreeDNA account. Hopefully, you’ve taken the full sequence test.

Today, new testers, thankfully, can only purchase full sequence tests, so HVR1 results don’t present quite the same challenges when combined with heteroplasmies as they used to. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

If you have only taken the HVR1 or HVR1+HVR2 “Plus” test, as opposed to the Full Sequence, you can upgrade by signing on here and clicking on the “Full” button on the Maternal Ancestry section of your personal page.

These buttons will be pink if you’ve taken that test already, and grey if you need to upgrade. If you have an account at FamilyTreeDNA, you can add a mitochondrial DNA test to that same account by clicking on “Add Ons and Upgrades” at the top of your personal page. You can order a test if you’re a new customer, here.

How Do I Know if I Have a Heteroplasmy?

Your mitochondrial DNA has a total of 16,569 locations that you can think of as addresses. If your DNA at those locations is normal, meaning no mutations, they won’t be listed in your results.

Mutations are shown in your mitochondrial DNA results by a different letter at the end of the location.

For example, here are my mutations for my HVR1 region. Each of these locations in the HVR1 region has a mutation.

For locations that are shown in your results, meaning those where you have a mutation, you’ll see, in order:

  • A letter, either T, A, C or G
  • The location number
  • A different letter, typically another one of T, A, C or G, but sometimes a small d

For the first mutation, C16069T, the location address is 16069, the normal value is C, the mutation that occurred is T.

Heteroplasmies are shown in your mitochondrial DNA results by letters other than T, A, C, G or d at the end of the location.

I don’t have any heteroplasmies, so I’m switching to the results of a cousin who has a heteroplasmic mutation at location T16362Y to use as an example. The trailing Y means they have a heteroplasmy at location 16362.

But first, what do those letters mean?

The Letters

The letters stand for the nucleotide bases that comprise DNA, as follows:

  • T – Thymine
  • A – Adenine
  • C – Cytosine
  • G – Guanine
  • d – a deletion has occurred. There is no nucleotide at this location.

For location T16362Y, the first letter, T, is the “normal” value found at this location. If a mutation has occurred, the second letter is the mutated value. Normally, this is one of the other nucleotides, A, C or G.

Any other letter after the location has a specific meaning; in this case, Y means that both a C and a T were found, per the chart below.

Note – if you have a small letter t, a, c or g, it’s not a heteroplasmy, and I wrote about small letters and what they mean in the article, Mitochondrial DNA Part 2: What Do Those Numbers Mean?

Check Your Results

On your FamilyTreeDNA personal page in the mtDNA section, click on the Mutations tab.

If you’ve taken the full sequence test, you’ll see Extra Mutations. You’re looking for any mutation that ends in any letter other than T, A, C, G or d.

If you haven’t taken the full sequence test, you don’t have “Extra” mutations listed, but you can still view your mutations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions.

Look for any value that has any letter other than T, A, C, G or lower case d at the end of the location.

The Y tells us that this location is a heteroplasmy.

Heteroplasmy Matching

Ok, let’s look at a heteroplasmy mutation at location 16326. A heteroplasmy can occur at any mitochondrial location. I’ve selected this location because it occurs in the HVR1 region of the mitochondrial DNA, so even people who haven’t tested at the full sequence level will see results for this location. Plus, the location at which the heteroplasmy occurs affects matching in different ways.

Using the example of T16362Y, the Y tells us that both nucleotides C and T were found. This location should match against anyone carrying the following values in the same location:

  • Y (letter indicating a C/T heteroplasmy)
  • T (standard or normal value)
  • C (mutated value)

However, currently at Family Tree DNA, the heteroplasmy only counts as a match to anyone with a Y, the specific heteroplasmy indicator, and the “normal” value of T, but not the mutated value of C.

This table shows how heteroplasmies are counted at FamilyTreeDNA. For heteroplasmy T16362Y, based on the value your potential match has at this location, you either will or will not be considered a match at that location.

Scenario Other Person’s Value Your Result – T16362Y
1 T16362Y – heteroplasmy indicator Match to you at this location
2 T16362T – normal value, not a mutation Match to you at this location
3 T16362C – mutated value Not counted as match to you at this location
  • If your match has a value of Y, the heteroplasmic C/T value, they are counted as a match to you, so no problem.
  • If your match has a value of T, the normal value, this location won’t be shown on their mutation list at all. They WILL be counted as a match to you so there’s no issue.
  • If your match has a value of C, the mutated value, in my opinion they should also be counted as a match to you, but they aren’t today. The logic, I believe, was that the most likely value is the standard or normal value and that the mutated value is much less likely to be accurate. Regardless, I’ve requested this change and am hoping for a matching adjustment in a future release for heteroplasmies.

Heteroplasmies do affect matching at the different levels.

Viewing Your Matches

Mitochondrial DNA, for testing purposes, is broken into three regions, HVR1 (hyper-variable region 1), HVR2 and the Coding Region.

At FamilyTreeDNA, you can view your matches at each level. The matches are cumulative, meaning that the HVR2 level includes the HVR1 level information, and the Coding Region level includes the HVR1 and HVR2 regions. That highest level which includes all three regions shows information from your entire your entire full mitochondrial DNA sequence.

Heteroplasmy Effects on Matching

If you otherwise match someone exactly, but one of you has a heteroplasmy and the other person carries the mutated value, you will be counted as a mismatch of 1 at the full sequence level.

A mismatch has different effects when it occurs in the HVR1, HVR2 or Coding Regions, respectively.

GD is an abbreviation for Genetic Distance which is how mutations are counted. A GD of 1 means the two people have one mutation difference between them.

In the following chart, the effects of you having a nonmatch, heteroplasmic or otherwise, in each of the regions is shown at each level. The region in which the mismatch occurs is shown in the first column, at left, and the effect the mismatch has on matching in each region is shown in columns 2-4.

The red sections are not counted as matches.

Mismatch Occurs in this Region HVR1 Level Match to Someone Else HVR2 Level Match to Someone Else Coding Region Level Match to Someone Else
HVR1 region nonmatch GD of 1 means no match GD of 1 means no match GD of 1 is a match
HVR2 region nonmatch Does not affect HVR1 – so you are a match GD of 1 means no match GD of 1 is a match
Coding Region nonmatch Does not affect HVR1 – so you are a match Does not affect HVR2 – so you are a match GD of 1 is a match

For purposes of this discussion, we’re assuming our two people being compared in the chart above match exactly on every other location so matching is not otherwise affected.

  • If your heteroplasmic nonmatch occurs in the HVR1 region – in other words, scenario 3 – you’ll fall into the HVR1 nonmatch row. That means you won’t be shown as a match at the HVR1 or HVR1+HVR2 levels, but you WILL be shown as a full sequence match.
  • If your heteroplasmic nonmatch is in the HVR2 region of addresses, it won’t affect your HVR1 matches, but it will affect your HVR2 and Coding Region matches. This means you will be shown as HVR1 match, not an HVR2 match, but will be a full sequence match.
  • If your heteroplasmic nonmatch is in the Coding Region, it won’t affect your HVR1 or HVR2 matches, but it will affect your Coding Region matches. However, it won’t preclude matches and you’ll be shown as a match in all three regions.

To be very clear, I have no issue with these match thresholds. It’s important to understand how this works, and therefore why heteroplasmic (and other) mismatches in specific regions affect our matches in the way they do.

Why Aren’t Mismatches of 1 Counted as Matches in the HVR1 or HVR2 Regions?

The match threshold at FamilyTreeDNA for the HVR1 and the HVR1+HVR2 regions, both small regions of about 1000 locations each, is that only an exact match is considered a match. Therefore, a heteroplasmic nonmatch in this region can really be confusing and sometimes misleading, especially if either or BOTH people have NOT tested at the full sequence level.

These are the match thresholds in effect today.

HVR1 GD or # of Mutations Allowed for a Match HVR2 GD or # of Mutations Allowed for a Match Coding Region GD or # of Mutations Allowed for a Match
0 – no mutations allowed 0 – no mutations allowed 3 mutations allowed

If both people match on either the heteroplasmy identified (Y in our case) or one person has the normal value – all is fine. But if one person has a heteroplasmy and the other has the mutated value – then a mismatch occurs. This is really only problematic when:

  • The heteroplasmy mismatch is in the HVR1 region and both people have only tested at that level, causing the two people to not match at all.
  • The heteroplasmy mismatch occurs in combination with other mutations that, cumulatively, push the two people over the GD 3 full sequence matching threshold.

The second scenario happens rarely, but I have seen situations where people don’t match their mothers, aunts, siblings, or other close relatives because of multiple heteroplasmic mutations occurring in different people.

And yes, this is hen’s teeth rare – but it does occasionally happen.

So, what’s the bottom line about heteroplasmies?

Heteroplasmy Bottom Line

  1. You can suspect a heteroplasmy if you have full sequence matches, but no exact matches.
  2. If you have a heteroplasmy in the HVR1 region, understand that you may not have many or any matches in the HVR1 and HVR2 regions. The remedy is to test at the full sequence level and check matches there.
  3. If you have a heteroplasmy and don’t match someone you expect to match – reach out to them and ask about their value at that specific location. If that location isn’t listed for them in their results, then they have no mutation there and your heteroplasmy is NOT the cause of you not matching with them.
  4. If you don’t match someone you expect to match, reach out to them and ask if THEY have any heteroplasmies. The easiest way to ask is, “Do you have any mutations listed that end with anything other than T, A, C, G or d?” Feel free to link to this article so that they’ll know where to look, and why you’re asking.

Do you have any heteroplasmies?

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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

Where Did My Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Come From?

Mother’s Day is approaching, so I’m writing articles about mitochondrial DNA inspired by the most common questions in the Mitochondrial DNA for Genealogy Facebook group. I’ll be adding these articles to the Mitochondrial DNA Resource page, here.

FamilyTreeDNA has already started their Mother’s Day sale where both the mitochondrial DNA test and Family Finder are both on sale. Take a look.

I can’t believe how much the prices have dropped over the years – as the technology has improved. I took the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test when it was first offered and I think it was something like $800, as was the first autosomal test I ordered lo those many years ago.

Today, these tests are $139 and $59, respectively, and are critical tools for everyone’s genealogy.

Where Did My Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Come From?

This is one of the most common questions about mitochondrial DNA. Everyone wants to know something about their haplogroup.

The answer is multi-faceted and depends on the question you’re actually trying to answer.

There are really two flavors of this question:

  • Where did my ancestors come from in a genealogical timeframe?
  • Where did my ancestors come from before I can find them in genealogical records?

Clearly, the timeframes involved vary to some extent, because when records end varies for each ancestral line. Generally speaking, genealogy records don’t extend back beyond 500 years or so. Whenever your genealogy records end, that’s where your haplogroup and match information becomes critically important to your research.

Fortunately, we have tools to answer both types of questions which actually form a continuum.

Some answers rely on having taken a mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA and some don’t.

  • We’ll discuss finding haplogroup information for people who have taken a (preferably full sequence) mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA.
  • We’ll discuss how people who have obtained their haplogroups through autosomal testing at other vendors can find information.
  • We’ll talk about finding haplogroup information when other family members have tested who carry the mitochondrial DNA of ancestors that you do not.

Tools exist for each of these situations.

Genealogical Timeframe

If you’re trying to answer the question of where other people who carry your haplogroup are found in the world, that question can be further subdivided:

  • Where are the earliest known matrilineal ancestors of my mitochondrial DNA matches located?
  • Where are other mitochondrial DNA testers who carry my haplogroup, even if I don’t match them, found in the world?

Let’s start at FamilyTreeDNA and then move to public resources.

FamilyTreeDNA

Mitochondrial DNA Tests

FamilyTreeDNA provides a great deal of information for people who have taken a mitochondrial DNA test. We’ll step through each tab on a tester’s personal page that’s relevant to haplogroups.

To find the location of your matches’ most distant ancestors, you need to have taken the mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA in order to obtain results and matches. I know this might seem like an obvious statement, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t realize that there are separate tests for Y and mitochondrial DNA.

Your most detailed, and therefore most accurate and specific results will result from taking the Full Sequence test, called the mtFull test and sometimes abbreviated as FMS (full mitochondrial sequence.)

Taking a full sequence test means you’ve tested all three different regions of the mitochondria, HVR1, HVR2, and the Coding Region. Don’t worry about those details. Today, the Full Sequence test is the only test you can order, but people who tested earlier could order a partial test. Those people can easily upgrade today.

click on images to enlarge

You can see, in the upper right-hand corner of the mitochondrial section of my personal page, above, that I’ve taken both tests. The “Plus” test is the HVR1 and HVR2 portion of the test.

If you haven’t taken any mitochondrial DNA test, then the mitochondrial section doesn’t show on your personal page.

If your Plus and Full buttons are both greyed out, that means you took the HVR1 level test only, and you can click on either button to upgrade.

If your “Full” button is greyed out, that means you haven’t tested at that level and you can click on the Full button to upgrade.

Entering Ancestor Information is Important

Genealogy is a collaborative sport and entering information about our ancestors is important – both for our own genealogy and for other testers too.

Your matches may or may not enter their ancestor’s information in all three locations where it can be useful:

  • Earliest Known Ancestor (found under the dropdown beneath your name in the upper right-hand corner of your personal page, then “Account Settings,” then “Genealogy,” then “Earliest Known Ancestors”)
  • Matches Map (found on your Y or mtDNA personal page tab or “Update Location” on Earliest Known Ancestors tab)
  • Uploading or creating a tree (found under myTree at the very top of your personal page)

Please enter your information by following the notes above, or you can follow the step-by-step instructions, here. You’ll be glad you did.

Your Haplogroup

You’ll find your haplogroup name under the Badges section of your personal page as well as at the top of the mtDNA section.

click all images to enlarge

The mtDNA section at FamilyTreeDNA has five tabs that each provides different pieces of the puzzle of where your ancestors, and therefore your haplogroups, came from.

Checking all of these tabs in the mtDNA section of your results is critical to gather every piece of evidence provided by your matches and the scientists as well. Let’s take a look at each one and what they reveal about your haplogroup.

Let’s start with your matches.

Matches

On the matches page, you’ll only be matched with people who carry the same haplogroup – or at least the same base haplogroup.

The haplogroup level of your matches depends on the level of test they have taken. In other words, if your match has only taken the HVR1 level test, and they only have a base haplogroup of J, then you’ll only see them, and their haplogroup J, on your HVR1 match page. If they have tested at a higher level and you match them at the HVR1 level, you’ll see the most specific haplogroup possible as determined by the level they tested.

The (default) match page shows your matches at the highest-level test you have tested. In my case, that’s the “HVR1, HVR2, Coding Region” because I’ve taken the full sequence test which tests the entire mitochondria.

At the full sequence level match page, I’ll only see people who match me on the same extended haplogroup. In my case, that’s J1c2f.

Viewing your matches’ Earliest Known Ancestor shows where their ancestors were located, which provides clues as to where your common haplogroup was found in the world at that time. Based on those results, the geographic distribution, what you know about your own ancestors, and how far back in time, your matches’ information may be an important clue about your own ancestry.

Generally, the closer your matches, meaning the fewer mutations difference, the closer in time you share a common ancestor. I say “generally,” because mutations don’t happen on a time schedule and can happen in any generation.

The number of mutations is shown in the column “Genetic Distance.” Genetic Distance is the number of mutations difference between you and your match. So a 3 in the GD column means 3 mutations difference. A GD of 0 is an exact match. At the HVR1 and HVR2 levels, no genetic distance is provided because only exact matches are shown at those levels.

The little blue pedigree icons on the Matches page indicate people who have created or uploaded trees. You’ll definitely want to take a look at those. Sometimes you’ll discover that your matches have added more generations in their tree than is shown in the Earliest Known Ancestor field.

Is Taking the Full Sequence Test Important?

Why is taking the full sequence test important? Looking at my HVR1 matches, below, provides the perfect example.

This shows my first four HVR1-only matches. In other words, these people match me on a small subset of my mitochondrial DNA. About 1000 locations of the total 16,569 are tested in the HVR1 region. You can see that utilizing the HVR1 region, only, the people I match exactly in that region have different extended, or full haplogroups, assigned when taking the full sequence test.

Crystal and Katherine have both taken the full sequence test as indicated by FMS (full mitochondrial sequence,) and they are both haplogroup J1c2f, but Peter is haplogroup J1c2g – a different haplogroup.

Peter is shown as an exact match to me at the HVR1 level, but he has a different full haplogroup, so he won’t be shown as a match at the HVR1/HVR2/Coding Region (full sequence) level.

Crystal and Katherine will match me at the full sequence level if we have three or fewer mutations difference in total.

Susan has only tested to the HVR1 level, so she can only be assigned to haplogroup J from those 1000 locations. That tells us that (at least) one of mutations that defines haplogroup J resides in the HVR1 region.

At the HVR1 matching level, I’ll be matched with everyone I match exactly so long as they are in haplogroup J, the common denominator haplogroup of everyone at that level.

If Susan were to test at the full sequence level, she would obtain a full haplogroup and I might continue to match her at the full sequence level if she is haplogroup J1c2f and matches me with three or fewer mutations difference. At the full sequence level, I’ll only match people who match my haplogroup exactly and match at a genetic distance of 0, 1, 2 or 3.

Now, let’s look at the Ancestral Origins tab.

Ancestral Origins

The Ancestral Origins tab is organized by Country within match level. In the example above, I’ve shown exact matches or GD=0.

The match total on the Ancestral Origins tab shows the number of people whose ancestors were from various locations – as entered by the testers.

The most common places for my full sequence exact matches are in Norway and Sweden. That’s interesting because my ancestor was found in Germany in the 1600s.

There is also a comments column, to the right, not shown here, which may hold additional information of interest such as “Ashkenazi” or “Sicily” or “Canary Islands.”

The Country Total column is interesting too because it tells you how many people are in the database who have indicated that location as ancestral. The Match Percentage column is pretty much irrelevant unless your haplogroup is extremely rare.

Matches Map

The matches map falls into the “picture is worth 1000 words category.”

This is the map of the earliest known matrilineal ancestor locations of my full sequence matches.

My ancestor is the white pin in Germany. Red=exact match, orange=1 mutation difference, yellow=2 mutations difference. I have no GD=3 matches showing.

By clicking on any pin, you can see additional information about the ancestor of the tester.

You can also select an option on the map to view lower testing levels, such as my HVR1 matches shown below.

While some people are tempted to ignore the HVR1 or HVR2 Matches Maps, I don’t.

If the question you’re trying to answer is where your haplogroup came from, viewing the map of where people are located who may match you more distantly in time is useful. While we know for sure that some of these people have different full haplogroups, we also know that they are all members of haplogroup J plus some subclade. Therefore, these matches shared a common haplogroup J ancestor.

J subgroups are clearly European but some are found in Anatolia, the path out of Africa to Europe, although that could be a function of back-migration.

When looking at match maps, keep two things in mind:

  • The information is provided by testers. It’s possible for them to misunderstand what is meant by providing the information for their earliest known “direct maternal ancestor.” I can’t tell you how many male names I’ve seen here. Clearly, the tester misunderstood the purpose and what was being asked – because men don’t pass mitochondrial DNA to their offspring. Check the pins for surnames that seem to fit the pin location, and that pins have been accurately placed.
  • Testing bias. In other words, lots of people have tested in the US as compared to Europe, and probably more people in the UK than say, Turkey. Testing is still illegal in France.

Haplogroup Origins

While the Ancestral Origins tab is organized by the locations of your matches ancestors, the Haplogroup Origins tab is focused on your haplogroup by match level only.

In many cases, the numbers will match your Ancestral Origins exactly, but for other test levels, the numbers will be different.

For example, at the HVR1/HVR2 level, I can easily see at a glance the locations where my haplogroup is found, and the number of my matches in those various locations.

This page is reflective of where the haplogroup itself is found, according to your matches.

There may be other people with the same haplogroup that you don’t match and won’t be reflected on this page.  We’ll see them either in projects or on the Public Mitochondrial Tree in following sections.

Migration Map

The migration map tab shows the path between Mitochondrial Eve who lived in African about 145,000 years ago and your haplogroup today. For haplogroups J, Eve’s descendant left African and traveled through the Middle East and on into Southwest Asia before turning left and migrating throughout Europe.

Clearly, the vast majority of this migration occurred before genealogy, but not all, or you wouldn’t be here today.

Thousands of my ancestors brought my mitochondrial DNA from Africa through Anatolia, through Europe, to Scandinavia, and back to Germany – then on to the US where it continued being passed on for five more generations before reaching me.

Additional Features – Other Tools

On your personal page, scroll down below your Mitochondrial DNA results area and you’ll see Public Haplotrees under the Other Tools tab.

This tree is available to FamilyTreeDNA customers as well as the public.

Public Mitochondrial DNA Haplotree

The public mitochondrial haplotree provided by FamilyTreeDNA includes location information and is available to everyone, customer or not, for free. Please note that only full sequence results were used to construct this tree, so partial results, meaning haplogroups of people who tested at the HVR1/2 levels only, are not included because the haplogroup cannot be refined at that level.

If you’ve received a haplogroup from a different test at another vendor, you can use this public tool to obtain location information. FamilyTreeDNA has the single largest repository of mitochondrial tests in the world, having tested customers for 21 years, and they have made this tree with location information available for everyone.

If you are a customer, you can sign in and access this tree from your account, above.

If you access the haplotree in this manner, be sure to select the mtDNA tree, not the Y DNA tree which is the default.

Or you can simply access the mtDNA the same way as the public, below.

Go to the main FamilyTreeDNA page by clicking here.

On the main page, scroll to the very bottom – yes, just keep scrolling.

At the very bottom, in the footer, you’ll see “Community.” (Hint, if you don’t see Community at the very bottom of this page, you’re probably signed in to your account.)

Click on “mtDNA Haplotree.”

Next, you’ll see the beginning, or root, of the mitochondrial DNA tree, with the RSRS at the top of the page. The tree structure and haplogroups are defined at Phylotree Build 17, here. All of the main daughter haplogroups, such as “J,” are displayed beneath or you can select them across the top.

Enter the haplogroup name in the “Branch Name” field in the upper right. For me, that’s J1c2f.

I don’t match all of the J1c2f people in the database, because there more total country designations shown here (82) than I have full sequence matches with locations provided (50 from my Ancestral Origins page.)

If you click on the three dots at right, you’ll see a Country Report which provides details for this haplogroup and downstream haplogroups, if there are any. I wrote about that, in detail, here.

There are no “J1c2f plus a daughter” haplogroups defined today, so there is nothing listed downstream.

However, that’s not always the case. There may be a downstream clade that you’re not a member of, meaning you don’t carry that haplogroup-defining mutation.

Or, you may have tested someplace that provides you with a partial haplogroup, so you don’t know if you have a subclade or not. You can still glean useful information from partial haplogroups.

Partial Haplogroups From Autosomal Tests

There’s nothing “wrong” with partial haplogroups. It’s nice to know at least some history about your matrilineal ancestry. What you don’t receive, of course, aside from matching, is more recent, genealogical, information.

Both 23andMe and LivingDNA provide autosomal customers with partial mitochondrial haplogroups. Both of these vendors tend to be accurate as far as they go, as opposed to other vendors, who shall remain unnamed, that are often inaccurate.

Autosomal tests don’t specifically test the mitochondrial DNA directly like a full sequence mitochondrial DNA test does, but they do use “probes” that scan specific haplogroup defining locations. Of course, each of the autosomal chips has a finite number of locations and every location that is used for either mitochondrial or Y DNA haplogroups is a space the vendors can’t use for autosomal locations.

Therefore, customers receive partial haplogroups.

In my case, I’ve received J1c at LivingDNA and J1c2 at 23andMe.

Both vendors provide basic information about your haplogroup, along with migration maps. Wikipedia also provides basic haplogroup information. Google is your friend – “mitochondrial haplogroup J Wikipedia.”

DNA Projects

Most haplogroups have a DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA. Note that these projects are administered by volunteers, so your mileage will vary in terms of participant grouping, along with whether or not results or maps are displayed. You can just google for “mitochondrial haplogroup J DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA” and you’ll find the project or perhaps multiple projects to select from. Some haplogroups have a main “J” project and perhaps a subproject, like “J1c,” for example.

You can join the project, either from this page if you’ve tested at FamilyTreeDNA, or from your personal page via the “myProjects” tab at the top of your personal page.

If you’re looking for public haplogroup information, click on “DNA Results.”

If the Haplogroup J DNA testers have joined this project, authorized displaying their results in projects, and provided ancestor information, you will be able to see that on the “Results” page. Projects are often grouped by haplogroup subgroup. Please note that the default page display size is 25, so scroll to the bottom to see how many pages are in the project. Multiply that number times 25 (182 pages total X 25 = 4550) and change the page display size to that number (4550, in this case.)

One of the most useful tools for haplogroup discovery is the project map which offers the same subgroups as the project groupings.

You can select “All” on the dropdown to display the locations of the earliest known ancestors of everyone in this haplogroup project, or you can select a subclade. This map is displaying haplogroup J1c2 as an example of my partial haplogroup.

The Public Mitochondrial Tree and Partial Haplogroups

To find more comprehensive information for partial haplogroups, I can use the free mitochondrial tree at FamilyTreeDNA. While projects only reflect information for people who have joined those particular projects, the tree provides more comprehensive information.

Anyone with a partial haplogroup can still learn a great deal. Like with any haplogroup, you can view where tester’s ancestors lived in the world.

In this case, it doesn’t matter whether I’m looking at partial haplogroups J1c or J1c2, there are many subgroups that I could potentially belong to.

In fact, haplogroup J1c has subclades through J1c17, so there are pages and pages of haplogroup subclade candidates.

Does a Full Haplogroup Really Matter?

How much difference can there be? Is J1c or J1c2 good enough? Good questions.

It depends – on what you want to know.

  • For general interest, perhaps.
  • For genealogy, no.

Genealogists need the most granular results possible to obtain the most information possible. You don’t know what you don’t know. But how much might that be, aside from full sequence matches?

There’s a significant difference in the country details of haplogroup J1c, J1c2 and J1c2f. I created a chart of the top 10 locations, and how many people’s ancestors are found there for J1c, J1c2, and J1c2f.

Wow, that’s a big difference.

How accurately do J1c and J1c2 results reflect the locations in my full J1c2f haplogroup? I color-coded the results and removed the locations from J1c and J1c2 that are not reflected in J1c2f.

As it turns out, the 5 most frequent locations in J1c and the top 3 locations in J1c2 aren’t even in the top 10 of J1c2f. Obtaining a full haplogroup is important.

Current and Past Populations

It’s worth noting that where a current population is found is not always indicative of where an ancestral population was found.

Of course, with genealogy, we can look back a few generations by seeing where the ancestors of our close and distant matches were found.

My earliest known ancestor is found in a marriage record in 1647 in Wirbenz, Germany when she was 26 years old. However, the majority of my exact mitochondrial DNA matches are not found in Germany, or even in Europe, but in Scandinavia. I’m sure there’s a story there to be told, possibly related to the Thirty Years’ War which began in 1618 and devastated Germany. The early German records where she lived were destroyed.

Even in the abbreviated genealogical timeframe where records and surnames exist, as compared to the history of mankind and womankind, we can see examples of population migration and shift with weather, warfare, and opportunity.

We can’t peer further back in time, at least not without ancient DNA, except by a combination of general history, haplogroup inference, and noting where branching from our mother clade occurred.

We know that people move. Sometimes populations were small and the entire population moved to a new location.

Sometimes, the entire population didn’t move, the but descendants of the migrating group survived to take DNA tests, while the population remaining in the original location has no present-day descendants.

Sometimes descendants of both groups survived.

Of course, throughout history, mutations continued to occur in all lines, forming new genetic branches – haplogroups.

Thank goodness they did, because mutations, or lack thereof, are incredibly important clues to genealogy as well as being our breadcrumbs back into the mists of distant time. Those haplogroup-defining mutations are the umbilical cord that allows us to connect with those distant ancestors.

These tools, especially used together, are the best way to answer the question, “Where did my Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Come From?”

Where did your haplogroup come from?

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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

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!!!

_____________________________________________________________

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

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!!!

_____________________________________________________________

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