Identify Your Ancestors – Follow Nested Ancestral Segments

I don’t think that we actively think about our DNA segments as nested ancestors, like Russian Matryoshka dolls, but they are.

That’s exactly why segment information is critical for genealogists. Every segment, and every portion of a segment, has an incredibly important history. In fact, you could say that the further back in time we can track a segment, the more important it becomes.

Let’s see how to unveil nested segments. I’ll use my chromosome 20 as an example because it’s a smaller chromosome. But first, let’s start with my pedigree chart.

Pedigree

Click images to enlarge.

Before we talk about nested segments that originated with specific ancestors, it’s important to take a look at the closest portion of my maternal pedigree chart. My DNA segments came from and through these people. I’ll be working with the first 5 generations, beginning with my mother as generation #1.

Generation 1 – Parents

In the first generation, we receive a copy of each chromosome from each parent. I have a copy of chromosome 20 from my mother and a copy from my father.

At FamilyTreeDNA, you can see that I match my mother on the entire tested region of each chromosome.

Therefore, the entire length of each of my chromosomes is assigned to both mother and father because I received a copy from each parent. I’m fortunate that my mother’s DNA was able to be tested before she passed away.

We see that each copy of chromosome 20 is a total of 110.20 cM long with 17,695 SNPs.

Of course, my mother inherited the DNA on her chromosome 20 from multiple ancestors whose DNA combined in her parents, a portion of which was inherited by my mother. Mom received one chromosome from each of her parents.

I inherited only one copy of each chromosome (In this case, chromosome 20) from Mom, so the DNA of her two parents was divided and recombined so that I inherited a portion of my maternal chromosome 20 from both of my maternal grandparents.

Identifying Maternal and Paternal Matches

Associating matches with your maternal or paternal side is easy at FamilyTreeDNA because their Family Finder matching does it automatically for you if you upload (or create) a tree and link matches that you can identify to their proper place in your tree.

FamilyTreeDNA then uses that matching segment information from known, identified relatives in your tree to place people who match you both on at least one significant-sized segment in the correct maternal, paternal, (or both) buckets. That’s triangulation, and it happens automatically. All you have to do is click on the Maternal tab to view your triangulated maternal matches. As you can see, I have 1432 matches identified as maternal. 

Some other DNA testing companies and third-party tools provide segment information and various types of triangulation information, but they aren’t automated for your entire match list like Family Finder matching at FamilyTreeDNA.

You can read about triangulation in action at MyHeritage, here, 23andMe, here, GEDmatch, here, and DNAPainter, which we’ll use, here. Genetic Affairs AutoKinship tool incorporates triangulation, as does their AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch. I’ve compiled a reference resource for triangulation, here.

Every DNA testing vendor has people in their database that haven’t tested anyplace else. Your best strategy for finding nested segments and identifying matches to specific ancestors is to test at or transfer your DNA file to every vendor plus GEDmatch where people who test at Ancestry sometimes upload for matching. Ancestry does not provide segment information or a chromosome browser so you’ll sometimes find Ancestry testers have uploaded to GEDmatch, FamilyTreeDNA  or MyHeritage where segment information is readily available. I’ve created step-by-step download/upload instructions for all vendors, here.

Generation 2 – Grandparents

In the second generation, meaning that of my grandparents, I inherited portions of my maternal and paternal grandmother’s and grandfather’s chromosomes.

My maternal and paternal chromosomes can be divided into two pieces or groups each, one for each grandparent.

Using DNAPainter, we can see my father’s chromosome 20 on top and my mother’s on the bottom. I have previously identified segments assigned to specific ancestors which are represented by different colors on these chromosomes. You can read more about how to use DNAPainter, here.

We can divide the DNA inherited from each parent into the DNA inherited from each grandparent based on the trees of people we match. If we test cousins from each side, assigning segments maternally or paternally becomes much, much easier. That’s exactly why I’ve tested several.

For the rest of this article, I’m focusing only on my mother’s side because the concepts and methods are the same regardless of whether you’re working on your maternal side or your paternal side.

Using DNAPainter, I expanded my mother’s chromosome 20 in order to see all of the people I’ve painted on my mother’s side.

DNAPainter allows us to paint matching segments from multiple testing vendors and assign them to specific ancestors as we identify common ancestors with our matches.

Based on these matches, I’ve divided these maternal matches into two categories:

  • Maternal grandmother, meaning my mother’s mother, bracketed in red boxes
  • Maternal grandfather, meaning my mother’s father, bracketed in black boxes.

The text and arrows in these graphics refer to the colors of the brackets/boxes, and NOT the colors of the segments beside people’s names. For example, if you look at the large black box at far right, you’ll see several people, with their matching segments identified by multiple colored bars. The different colored segments (bars) mean I’ve associated the match with different ancestors in multiple or various levels of generations.

Generation 3 – Great-grandparents

Within those maternal and paternal grandparent segments, more nested information is available.

The black Ferverda grandfather segments are further divided into black, from Hiram Ferverda, and gold from his wife Eva Miller. The same concept applies to the red grandmother segments which are now divided into red representing Nora Kirsch and purple representing Curtis Lore, her husband.

While I have only been able to assign the first four segments (at the top) to one person/ancestor, there’s an entire group of matches who share the grouping of segments at right, in gold, descended through Eva Miller. The Miller line is Brethren and Mennonite with lots of testers, so this is a common pattern in my DNA matches.

Eva Miller, the gold ancestor, has two parents, Margaret Elizabeth Lentz and John David Miller, so her segments would come from those two sides.

Generation 4 and 5 – Fuschia Segment

I was able to track the segment shown in fuschia indicated by the blue arrow to Jacob Lentz and his wife Fredericka Ruhle, German immigrant ancestors. Other people in this same match (triangulation) group descend from Margaret Elizabeth Lentz and John David Miller – but that fuschia match is the one that shows us where that segment originated. This allows us to assign that entire gold/blue bracketed set of segments to a specific ancestor or ancestral couple because they triangulate, meaning they all match me and each other.

Therefore, all of the segments that match with the fuschia segment also track back to Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle, or to their ancestors. We would need people who descend from Jacob’s parents and/or Fredericka’s parents to determine the origins of that segment.

In other words, we know all of these people share a common source of that segment, even if we don’t yet know exactly who that common ancestor was or when they lived. That’s what the process of tracking back discovers.

To be very clear, I received that segment through Jacob and Fredericka, but some of those matches who I have not been able to associate with either Jacob or Fredericka may descend from either Jacob or Fredericka’s ancestors, not Jacob and Fredericka themselves. Connecting the dots between Jacob/Fredericka and their ancestors may be enlightening as to the even older source of that segment.

Let’s take a look at nested segments on my pedigree chart.

Nested Pedigree

Click to enlarge.

You can see the progression of nesting on my pedigree chart, using the same colors for the brackets/boxes. The black Ferverda box at the grandparent level encompasses the entire paternal side of my mother’s ancestry, and the red includes her mother’s entire side. This is identical to the DNAPainter graphic, just expressed on my pedigree chart instead of my chromosome 20.

Then the black gets broken into smaller nested segments of black, gold and fuschia, while the red gets broken into red and purple.

If I had more matches that could be assigned to ancestors, I would have even more nested levels. Of course, if I was using all of my chromosomes, not just 20, I would be able to go back further as well.

You can see that as we move further back in time, the bracketed areas assigned to each color become smaller and smaller, as do the actual segments as viewed on my DNAPainter chromosomes.

Segments Get Progressively Smaller

You can see in the pedigree chart and segment painting above that the segments we inherit from specific ancestors divide over time. As we move further and further back in our tree, the segments inherited from any specific ancestor get smaller and smaller too.

Dr. Paul Maier in the MyOrigins 3.0 White Paper provides this informative graphic that shows the reduction in segments and the number of ancestors whose DNA we carry reaching back in time.

I refer to this as a porcupine chart.

Eventually, we inherit no segments from red ancestors, and the pieces of DNA that we inherit from the distant blue ancestors become so small and fragmented that they cannot be positively identified as coming from a specific ancestor when compared to and matched with other people. That’s why vendors don’t show small segment matches, although different vendors utilize different segment thresholds.

The debate about how small is too small continues, but the answer is not simply segment size alone. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

As segments become smaller, the probability, or chances that we match another person by chance (IBC) increases. Proof that someone shares a specific ancestor, especially when dealing with increasingly smaller segments is a function of multiple factors, such as tree completeness for both people, shared matches, parental match confirmation, and more. I wrote about What Constitutes Proof, here.

In the Family Finder Matching White Paper, Dr. Maier provides this chart reflecting IBD (Identical By Descent) and IBC (Identical By Chance) segments and the associated false positivity rate. That means how likely you are to match someone on a segment of that size by chance and NOT because you both share the DNA from a common ancestor.

I wrote Concepts: Identical by Descent, State, Population and Chance to help you better understand how this works.

In the chart below, I’ve combined the generations, relationships, # of ancestors, assuming no duplicates, birth year range based on an approximate 30-year generation, percent of DNA assuming exactly half of each ancestor’s DNA descends in each generation (which we know isn’t exactly accurate), and the average amount of total inherited cMs using that same assumption.

Note that beginning with the 7th generation, on average, we can expect to inherit less than 1% of the DNA of an ancestor, or approximately 55 total cM which may be inherited in multiple segments.

The amount of actual cMs inherited in each generation can vary widely and explains why, beginning with third cousins, some people won’t share DNA from a common ancestor above the various vendor matching thresholds. Yet, other cousins several generations removed will match. Inheritance is random.

Parallel Inheritance

In order to match someone else descended from that 11th generation ancestor, BOTH you AND your match will need to have inherited the exact SAME DNA segment, across 11 generations EACH in order to match. This means that 11 transmission events for each person will need to have taken place in parallel with that identical segment being passed from parent to child in each line. For 22 rolls of the genetic dice in a row, the same segment gets selected to be passed on.

You can see why we all need to work to prove that distant matches are valid.

The further back in time we work, the more factors we must take into consideration, and the more confirming proof is needed that a match with another individual is a result of a shared ancestor.

Having said that, shared distant matches ARE the key to breaking through brick-wall ancestors. We just need to be sure we are chasing the real deal and not a red herring.

Exciting Possibilities

The most exciting possibility is that some segments are actually passed intact for several generations, meaning those segments don’t divide into segments too small for matching.

For example, the 22 cM fuschia segment that tracks through generations 4 and 5 to Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle has been passed either intact or nearly intact to all of those people who stack up and match each other and me on that segment. 22 cM is definitely NOT a small segment and we know that it descended from either Jacob or Fredericka, or perhaps combined segments from each. In any case, if someone from the Lentz line in Germany tested and matched me on that segment (and by inference, the rest of these people too), we would know that segment descended to me from Jacob Lentz – or at least the part we match on if we don’t match on the entire segment.

This is exactly what nested segments are…breadcrumbs to ancestors.

Part of that 22cM segment could be descended from Jacob and part from Fredericka. Then of Jacob’s portion, for example, pieces could descend from both his mother and father.

This is why we track individual segments back in time to discern their origin.

The Promise of the Future

The promise of the future is when a group of other people triangulate on a reasonably sized segment AND know where it came from. When we match that triangulation group, their identified segment may well help break down our brick walls because we match all of them on that same segment.

It is exactly this technique that has helped me identify a Womack segment on my paternal line. I still haven’t identified our common ancestor, but I have confirmed that the Womacks and my Moore/Rice family interacted as neighbors 8 generations ago and likely settled together in Amelia county, migrating from eastern Virginia. In time, perhaps I’ll be able to identify the common Womack ancestor and the link into either my Moore or Rice lines.

I’m hoping for a similar breakthrough on my mother’s side for Philip Jacob Miller’s wife, Magdalena, 7 generations back in my tree. We know Magdalena was Brethren and where they lived when they took up housekeeping. We don’t know who her parents were. However, there are thousands of Miller descendants, so it’s possible that eventually, we will be able to break down that brick wall by using nested segments – ours and people who descend from Magdalena’s siblings, aunts, and uncles.

Whoever those people were, at least some of their descendants will likely match me and/or my cousins on at least one nested Miller segment that will be the same segment identified to their ancestors.

Genealogy is a team sport and solving puzzles using nested segments requires that someone out there is working on identifying triangulated segments that track to their common ancestors – which will be my ancestors too. I have my fingers crossed that someone is working on that triangulation group and I find them or they find me. Of course, I’m working to triangulate and identify my segments to specific ancestors – hoping for a meeting in the middle – that much-desired bridge to the past.

By the time you’ve run out of other records, nested segments are your last chance to identify those elusive ancestors. 

Do you have genealogical brick walls that nested segments could solve?

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2021 Favorite Articles

It’s that time of the year again when we welcome the next year.

2021 was markedly different than anything that came before. (Is that ever an understatement!)

Maybe you had more time for genealogy and spent time researching!

So, what did we read in 2021? Which of my blog articles were the most popular?

In reverse order, beginning with number 10, we have:

This timeless article published in 2015 explains how to calculate the amount of any specific heritage you carry based on your ancestors.

Just something fun that’s like your regular pedigree chart, except color coded locations instead of ancestors. Here’s mine

The Autosegment Triangulation Cluster Tool is a brand new tool introduced in October 2021. Created by Genetic Affairs for GEDmatch, this tool combines autoclusters and triangulation.

Many people don’t realize that we actually don’t inherit exactly 25% of our DNA from each grandparent, nor why.

This enlightening article co-authored with statistician Philip Gammon explains how this works, and why it affects all of your matches.

Who doesn’t love learning about ancient DNA and the messages it conveys. Does your Y or mitochondrial DNA match any of these burials? Take a look. You might be surprised.

How can you tell if you are full or half siblings with another person? You might think this is a really straightforward question with an easy answer, but it isn’t. And trust me, if you EVER find yourself in a position of needing to know, you really need to know urgently.

Using simple match, it’s easy to figure how much of your ancestor’s DNA you “should” have, but that’s now how inheritance actually works. This article explains why and shows different inheritance scenarios.

That 28 day timer has expired, but the article can still be useful in terms of educating yourself. This should also be read in conjunction with Ancestry Retreats, by Judy Russell.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say that their ethnicity percentages were “wrong,” I’d be a rich woman, living in a villa in sun-drenched Tuscany😊

This extremely popular article has either been first or second every year since it was published. Ethnicity is both exciting and perplexing.

As genealogists, the first thing we need to do is to calculate what, according to our genealogy, we would expect those percentages to be. Of course, we also need to factor in the fact that we don’t inherit exactly the same amount of DNA from each grandparent. I explain how I calculated my “expected” percentages of ethnicity based on my known tree. That’s the best place to start.

Please note that I am no longer updating the vendor comparison charts in the article. Some vendors no longer release updates to the entire database at the same time, and some “tweak” results periodically without making an announcement. You’ll need to compare your own results at the different vendors at the same point in time to avoid comparing apples and oranges.

The #1 Article for 2021 is…

  1. Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

This article has either been first (7 times) or second (twice) for 9 years running. Now you know why I chose this topic for my new book, DNA for Native American Genealogy.

If you’re searching for your Native American ancestry, I’ve provided step-by-step instructions, both with and without some percentage of Native showing in your autosomal DNA percentages.

Make 2022 a Great Year!

Here’s wishing you the best in 2022. I hope your brick walls cave. What are you doing to help that along? Do you have a strategy in mind?

__________________________________________________________

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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.

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Register for RootsTech 2022 Now – It’s Free!

Just the good news we need to end the year. RootsTech 2022, sponsored by FamilySearch, is entirely virtual and completely free – again.

In 2021, over a million people “attended” RootsTech and you can be one of those lucky people in March 2022 too.

In 2022, there will be more than 1500 sessions presented by hundreds of speakers from around the globe in many languages. Of course, that’s in addition to the vendor Expo booths, which I love, and the DNA Basics Learning Center.

The 2022 sessions and speakers aren’t listed yet, but this would be a good time to view any of the 2021 sessions that you never got a chance to. What better thing could you be doing for New Year’s Eve😊

Sign Up!

You can sign up for RootsTech 2022 here, for free.

I’ll let you know as soon as the 2022 sessions are added. The sessions showing are the 2021 classes which RootsTech has graciously made available for the entire year. I don’t know how long they will be viewable, so if you want to watch, please do so now.

As you might imagine, the 2022 speakers are busily (should I say crazily) designing and recording their content. You’ll be seeing me in both recorded sessions (about my new book, DNA for Native American Genealogy,) sharing success-story testimonials, and in several live sessions too.

Yes, some sessions will be live this time and the live sessions will be recorded for later playback. I like to interact with people, so I’ve decided to cross my fingers that the internet gremlins don’t visit me those days! I have seven exciting sessions under construction.

Be sure to test your Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA and upload your autosomal DNA to multiple locations in advance so you are prepared to benefit from all of the DNA track presentations and a multitude of wonderful speakers. There’s still time today and tomorrow to take advantage of end-of-the year sales.

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Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here. You can also subscribe to receive emails when I publish an article by clicking the “Follow” button at www.DNAexplain.com.

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends.

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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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Y DNA Tree of Mankind Reaches 50,000 Branches

Today is a really, REALLY big day in the genetic genealogy world.

The Y DNA tree of mankind at FamilyTreeDNA has reached 50,000 branches. That’s quite a milestone!

There’s been remarkably rapid growth in the past three years, as shown below.

From the FamilyTreeDNA blog article announcing this milestone event, we see the growth from 2018 to present cumulatively and within each haplogroup. Of course, haplogroup R, present in very high frequencies in Europe, forms the base of this mountain, but every haplogroup has achieved significant gains – which benefits all testers.

Who is Branch 50,000?

Michael Sager, the phylogeneticist at FamilyTreeDNA just added branch 50,000.

Drum roll please! Who is it? Surprisingly, it’s NOT found in haplogroup R, but a man from Vanuatu, a country in Oceania.

The new branch is a member of haplogroup S – specifically S-FTC416, immediately downstream of S-P315. Haplogroup S is found in Indonesia, Micronesia and other Pacific Island nations, including Australia and New Zealand.

This man was a new customer who joins a couple of Aboriginal samples found in academic papers from Kuranda (Queensland, Australia) and 3 ancient samples from Vanuatu.

How cool is that!!!

We’ve Come a LONG Way!

The Y DNA phylogenetic tree has been growing like wildfire.

  • Back in 2002, there were 153 branches on the Y-DNA tree, and a total of 243 known SNPs. (Some SNPs were either duplicates or not yet placed on the tree which explains the difference.)
  • In 2008, six years later, the tree had doubled to 311 branches and 600 SNPs. At the FamilyTreeDNA International Conference that year, attendees received this poster. I remember the project administrators marveling about how large the tree had grown.
  • In 2010, two years later, the tree was comprised of 440 branches and 800 SNPs. That poster was even larger, and it was the last year that the phylotree would fit onto a poster.
  • By 2012, when the Genographic Project V2 was announced, that bombshell announcement included information that the Genographic project was testing for 12,000 SNP locations on their chip, not all of which had been classified.
  • In 2014, when FamilyTreeDNA and Genographic jointly released their new Y tree to celebrate DNA Day, the Y tree had grown to more than 6200 SNPS, of which, more than 1200 were end-of-branch terminal SNPs. If this had been a poster, it would have been more than 62 feet long.

From that point on, the trajectory was unstoppable.

The earliest SNP-seeking product called Walk the Y had been introduced followed by the first-generation powerful Big Y NGS DNA scanning product.

That’s 1300% growth, or said another way, the database increased by 13 times in four years.

In the three years since, many of those SNPs, plus private variants that had not yet been named at that point have been added to the tree.

In January 2019, the Big Y-700 was announced and many people upgraded. The Big Y-700 provided dramatically increased resolution, meaning that test could find more mutations or SNPs. The effect of this granularity is that the Big Y-700 is discovering mutations and new SNPs in a genealogical timeframe, where the original haplogroups a few years ago could only piece together deeper ancestry.

The Big Y-700 has made a HUGE difference for genealogists.

  • Today, in December of 2021, the tree hit 50,000 branches. That poster would be more than 500 feet long, almost twice the length of a football field.

I have to wonder how many more branches are out there just waiting to be found? How many will we find in the next year? Or the next?

The pace doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, that’s for sure. Adding academic and ancient samples to the tree helps a great deal in terms of adding context to our knowledge.

What gems does your family’s Y DNA hold?

How Does a SNP or Variant Get Added to the Tree?

You might be wondering how all of this happens.

A SNP, which becomes a haplogroup has three states of “being,” following discovery.

  1. When the mutation, termed a SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism), pronounced “snip” is found in the first male, it’s simply called a variant. In other words, it varies from the nucleotide that is normally found in that position in that one man.
  2. When the SNP is found in multiple men, assuming it’s found consistently in multiple scans, and it’s in an area that is “clean” and not genetically “noisy,” then the SNP is given a name like R-ZS3700 or R-BY154784, and the SNP is placed on the tree in its correct position. From my article last week about using Y DNA STR and SNP markers for genealogy, you can see that both of those haplogroups have multiple men who have been found with those mutations.
  3. Some SNPs are equivalent SNPs. For example, in the image below, the SNP FT702 today is equivalent to R-ZS3700, meaning it’s found in the same men that carry R-ZS3700. Eventually, many equivalent SNPs form a separate tree branch.

One day, some man may test that does have R-ZS3700 but does NOT have FT702, which means that a new branch will be formed.

When men tested that had R-BY154784, that new branch was added to the left of R-ZS3700, because not all men with R-ZS3700 have the mutation R-BY154784.

You’ll notice that the teal blocks indicate the number of private variants which are mutations that have not yet been found in other men in this same branch structure, and those variants are therefore not yet named SNPs.

If You’ve Already Tested, How Do You Receive a New Haplogroup?

It’s worth noting here that none of the terminal SNPs that define these branches were available using the older Big Y tests which illustrates clearly why it’s important to upgrade from the Big Y or Big Y-500 to the Big Y-700.

In my Estes line, the terminal SNP in the Big Y-500 was R-BY490. These same men upgraded to the Big Y-700 and have now been assigned to four different, distinct, genealogically significant lineages based on SNPs discovered after they upgraded. Some men have three new SNPs that weren’t available in earlier tests. In real terms, that’s the difference between the common ancestor born in 1495 and descendants of John R. Estes who died in the 1880s. Genealogically speaking, that’s night and day.

If you haven’t taken a Big Y test, I heartily recommend it – even if you don’t have STR matches. I talked about why, here. Men can purchase the Big Y initially, or sign on to your account and upgrade if you’ve already taken another test.

In a nutshell, the Big Y-700 test provides testers with two types of tools that work both together and separately to provide genealogically relevant information.

Not to mention – you may be responsible for growing the tree of mankind, one branch at a time. What’s waiting for you?

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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.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

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