MyHeritage LIVE Conference Day 2 – The Science Behind DNA Matching    

The MyHeritage LIVE Oslo conference is but a fond memory now, and I would count it as a resounding success.

Perhaps one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much is the scientific aspect and because the content is very focused on a topic I enjoy without being the size and complexity of Rootstech. The smaller, more intimate venue also provides access to the “right” people as well as the ability to meet other attendees and not be overwhelmed by the sheer size.

Here are some stats:

  • 401 registered guests
  • 28 countries represented including distant places like Australia and South America
  • More than 20 speakers plus the hands-on workshops where specialist teams worked with students
  • 38 sessions and workshops, plus the party
  • 60,000 livestream participants, in spite of the time differences around the world

I was blown away by the number of livestream attendees.

I don’t know what criteria Gilad Japhet will be using to determine “success” but I can’t imagine this conference being judged as anything but.

Let’s take a look at the second day. I spent part of the time talking to people and drifting in and out of the rear of several sessions for a few minutes. I meant to visit some of the workshops, but there was just too much good, distracting content elsewhere.

I began Sunday in Mike Mansfield’s presentation about SuperSearch. Yes, I really did attend a few sessions not about DNA, but my favorite was the session on Improved DNA Matching.

Improved DNA Matching

I’m sure it won’t surprise any of my readers that my favorite presentations were about the actual science of genetic genealogy.

Consumers don’t really need to understand the science behind autosomal results to reap the benefits, but the underlying science is part of what I love – and it’s important for me to understand the underpinnings to be able to unravel the fine points of what the resulting matches are and are not revealing. Misinterpretation of DNA results leading to faulty conclusions is a real issue in genetic genealogy today. Consequently, I feel that anyone working with other people’s results and providing advice really needs to understand how the science and technology together works.

Dr. Daphna Weissglas-Volkov, a population geneticist by training, although she clearly functions far beyond that scope today, gave a very interesting presentation about how MyHeritage handles (their greatly improved) DNA Matching. I’m hitting the high points here, but I would strongly encourage you to watch the video of this session when they are made available online.

In addition to Dr. Weissglas-Volkov’s slides, I’ve added some additional explanations and examples in various places. You can easily tell that the slides are hers and the graphics that aren’t MyHeritage slides are mine.

Dr. Weissglas-Volkov began the session by introducing the MyHeritage science team and then explaining terminology to set the stage.

A match is when two people match each other on a fairly long piece of DNA. Of course, “fairly long” is defined differently by each vendor.

Your genetic map (of your chromosomes) is comprised of the DNA you inherit from different ancestors by the process of recombination when DNA is transferred from the parents to the child. A centiMorgan is the relatively likelihood that a recombination will occur in a single generation. On average, 36 recombinations occur in each generation, meaning that the DNA is divided on any chromosome. However, women, for reasons unknown have about 1.5 times as many recombinations as men.

You can’t see that when looking at an example of a person compared to their parents, of course, because each individual is a full match to each parent, but you can see this visually when comparing a grandchild to their maternal grandmother and their paternal grandmother on a chromosome browser.

The above illustration is the same female grandchild compared to her maternal grandmother, at left, and her paternal grandmother at right. Therefore the number of crossovers at left is through a female child (her mother), and the number at right is through a male child (her father.)

# of Crossovers
Through female child – left 57
Through male child – right 22

There are more segments at left, through the mother, and the segments are generally shorter, because they have been divided into more pieces.

At right, fewer and larger segments through the father.

Keep in mind that because you have a strand of DNA from each parent, with exactly the same “street addresses,” that what is produced by DNA sequencing are two columns of data – but your Mom’s and Dad’s DNA is intermixed.

The information in the two columns can’t be identified as Mom’s or Dad’s DNA or strand at this point.

That interspersed raw data is called a genotype. A haplotype is when Mom’s and Dad’s DNA can be reassembled into “sides” so you can attribute the two letters at each address to either Mom or Dad.

Here’s a quick example.

The goal, of course, is to figure out how to reassemble your DNA into Mom’s side and Dad’s side so that we know that someone matching you is actually matching on all As (Mom) or all Gs (Dad,) in this example, and not a false match that zigzags back and forth between Mom and Dad.

The best way to accomplish that goal of course is trio phasing, when the child and both parents are available, so by comparing the child’s DNA with the parents you can assign the two strands of the child’s DNA.

Unfortunately, few people have both or even one parent available in order to actual divide their DNA into “sides,” so the next best avenue is statistical phasing. I’ve called this academic phasing in the past, as compared to parental phasing which MyHeritage refers to as trio phasing.

There’s a huge amount of confusion about phasing, with few people understanding there are two distinct types.

Statistical phasing is a type of machine learning where a large number of reference populations are studied. Since we know that DNA travels together in blocks when inherited, statistical phasing learns which DNA travels with which buddy DNA – and creates probabilities. Your DNA is then compared to these models and your DNA is reshuffled in order to assemble your DNA into two groups – one representing your Mom’s DNA and one representing your Dad’s DNA, according to statistical probability.

Looking at your genotype, if we know that As group together at those 6 addresses in my example 95% of the time, then we know that the most likely scenario to create a haplotype is that all of the As came from one parent and all of the Gs from the other parent – although without additional information, there is no way to yet assign the maternal and paternal identifier. At this point, we only know parent 1 and parent 2.

In order to train the computers (machine learning) to properly statistically phase testers’ results, MyHeritage uses known relationships of people to teach the machines. In other words, their reference panels of proven haplotypes grows all of the time as parent/child trios test.

Dr. Weissglas-Volkev then moved on to imputation.

When sequencing DNA, not every location reads accurately, so the missing values can be imputed, or “put back” using imputation.

Initially imputation was a hot mess. Not just for MyHeritage, but for all vendors, imputation having been forced upon them (and therefore us) by Illumina’s change to the GSA chip.

However, machine learning means that imputation models improve constantly, and matching using imputation is greatly improved at MyHeritage today.

Imputation can do more than just fill in blanks left by sequencing read errors.

The benefit of imputation to the genetic genealogy community is that vendors using disparate chips has forced vendors that want to allow uploads to utilize imputation to create a global template that incorporates all of the locations from each vendor, then impute the values they don’t actually test for themselves to complete the full template for each person.

In the example below, you can see that no vendor tests all available locations, but when imputation extends the sequences of all testers to the full 1-500 locations, the results can easily be compared to every other tester because every tester now has values in locations 1-500, regardless of which vendor/chip was utilized in their actual testing.

Therefore, using imputation, MyHeritage is able to match between quite disparate chips, such as the traditional Illumina chips (OmniExpress), the custom Ancestry chip and the new GSA chip utilized by 23andMe and LivingDNA.

So, how are matches determined?

Matching

First your DNA and that of another person are scanned for nearly identical seed sequences.

A minimum segment length of 6cM must be identified for further match processing to occur. Anything below 6cM is discarded at this point.

The match is then further evaluated to see if the seed match is of a high enough quality that it should be perfected and should count as a match. Other segments continue to be evaluated as well. If the total matching segment(s) is 8 total cM or greater, it’s considered a valid match. MyHeritage has taken the position that they would rather give you a few accidental false matches than to miss good matches. I appreciate that position.

Window cleaning is how they refer to the process of removing pileup regions known to occur in the human genome. This is NOT the same as Ancestry’s routine that removes areas they determine to be “too matchy” for you individually.

The difference is that in humans, for example, there is a segment of chromosome 6 where, for some reason, almost all humans match. Matching across that segment is not informative for genetic genealogy, so that region along with several others similar in nature are removed. At Ancestry, those genome-wide pileup segments are removed, along with other regions where Ancestry decides that you personally have too many matches. The problem is that for me, these “too matchy” segments are many of my Acadian matches. Acadians are endogamous, so lots of them match each other because as a small intermarried population, they share a great deal of the same DNA. However, to me, because I have one great-grandfather that’s Acadian, that “too matchy” information IS valuable although I understand that it wouldn’t be for someone that is 100% Acadian or Jewish.

In situations such as Ashkenazi Jewish matching, which is highly endogamous, MyHeritage uses a higher matching threshold. Otherwise every Ashkenazi person would match every other Ashkenazi person because they all descend from a small founder population, and for genealogy, that’s not useful.

The last step in processing matches is to establish the confidence level that the match is accurately predicted at the correct level – meaning the relationship range based on the amount of matching DNA and other criteria.

For example, does this match cluster with other proven matches of the same known relationship level?

From several confidence ascertainment steps, a confidence score is assigned to the predicted relationship.

Of course, you as a customer see none of this background processing, just the fact that you do match, the size of the match and the confidence score. That’s what genealogists need!

Matching Versus Triangulation Thresholds

Confusion exists about matching thresholds versus triangulation thresholds.

While any single segment must be over 6 cM in length for the matching process to begin, the actual match threshold at MyHeritage is a total of 8 cM.

I took a look at my lowest match at MyHeritage.

I have two segments, one 6.1 cM segment, and one 6 cM segment that match. It would appear that if I only had one 6 cM segment, it would not show as a match because I didn’t have the minimum 8 cM total.

Triangulation Threshold

However, after you pass that matching criteria and move on to triangulation with a matching individual, you have the option of selecting the triangulation threshold, which is not the same thing as the match threshold. The match threshold does not change, but you can change the triangulation threshold from 2 cM to 8 cM and selections in-between.

In the example below, I’m comparing myself against two known relatives.

You won’t be shown any matches below the 6 cM individual segment threshold, BUT you can view triangulated segments of different sizes. This is because matching segments often don’t line up exactly and the triangulated overlap between several individuals may be very small, but may still be useful information.

Flying your mouse over the location in the bubble, which is the triangulated segment, tells you the size of the triangulated portion. If you selected the 2 cM triangulation, you would see smaller triangulated portions of matches.

Closing Session

The conference was closed by Aaron Godfrey, a super-nice MyHeritage employee from the UK. The closing session is worth watching on the recorded livestream when it becomes available, in part because there are feel good moments.

However, the piece of information I was looking for was whether there will be a MyHeritage LIVE conference in 2019, and if so, where.

I asked Gilad afterwards and he said that they will be evaluating the feedback from attendees and others when making that decision.

So, if you attended or joined the livestream sessions and found value, please let MyHeritage know so that they can factor your feedback onto their decision. If there are topics you’d like to see as sessions, I’m sure they’d love to hear about that too. Me, I’m always voting for more DNA😊

I hope to hear about MyHeritage LIVE 2019, and I’m voting for any of the following locations:

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Israel
  • Germany
  • Switzerland

What do you think?

Family Tree DNA’s New Chromosome Browser

Family Tree DNA has released their new, updated chromosome browser with a completely new look and feel. It’s quite different from the previous version, so let’s take a test drive.

The first thing you notice is a new link on your personal page in the Family Finder section.

You can access the chromosome browser in one of two ways.

  • Matches button
  • Clicking on the Chromosome Browser button

Either way, you eventually get to the same place.

Matches

By viewing your matches, you can now select a total of 7 people, increased from 5 previously, to compare to you in the chromosome browser.

After selecting the people you want to view in the chromosome browser, click on the Chromosome Brower button above your matches, just like before.

Note that on your Matches page, the other tools, such as In Common With (ICW), Not In Common With (NICW), Search by name, Search by ancestral surname, the list of ancestral surnames for each match and other information is exactly where it has always been located. Nothing else changed on the Match page except your ability to select 7 people instead of just 5.

The Chromosome Browser

The new chromosome browser tool looks different. A lot different. It’s also much more intuitive.

If you make match selections on your match page and click the chromosome browser button, you see the following page reflecting your choices. The link no longer immediately compares the individuals in the chromosome browser.

Your match list is shown to the right of the selected individuals, shown at left.

This is also the page where you land if you click the Chromosome Browser button on your dashboard.

From Your Dashboard

If you don’t click on your Matches button first, and click directly on the Chromosome Browser button, this is what you’ll see.

Your matches are shown at right, and when you select them, they will appear on the list at left.

Select as many as 7. You’ll see them appear to the left as you make your selections.

Features

To aid in your selection, you can utilize the filter above the matches to view only specific levels of matches.

The “name search,” at upper right, searches for an individual match with that first or last name.

However, if you enter the full name, it finds that individual person, so if you know you want to compare Uncle Rex Doe’s kit, you just search for his name as Rex, Doe or Rex Doe.

This page does NOT search the ancestral surnames. If you want to do that, you need to work from the matches page which does search for people with that ancestral surname in their Ancestral Surname List.

I’m very glad to see this new search feature for matches at the browser level. It makes searching for a particular match a LOT easier.

Notice that not all of the match information is available on this page. X matching, match date, linked relationships and ancestral surnames are only available on the Matches page.

The icons for contacting matches, notes and the tree are also only available on the Matches page.

However, a new field is available here, the number of shared segments. This number includes segments to the 1cM level so long as they are 500 SNPs or larger. For most (nonresearch) purposes, I generally use segments of 7cM or larger, although I do sometimes want to see smaller segments.

At right, the In Common With and Not In Common With functions are available by clicking on the three dots:

In Common With and Not In Common With

The In Common With (ICW) and Not In Common With (NICW) features have been greatly improved.

By selecting an individual, such as William Sterling Estes in this example, then clicking the In Common With (ICW) link, I see all of the people I match in common with William Sterling Estes. Furthermore, the system now automatically puts William Sterling Estes into my match list. By making additional selections from that ICW list and adding them to the list, I can then easily compare my DNA, that of William Sterling Estes and the people that we both match to determine if we have common matching chromosome segments.

The Not In Common With feature works exactly the same way.

Compare

To view the new chromosome browser, click on the orange compare button at the bottom of the list. It’s so large you can’t miss it!

Chromosome Browser Format

The new chromosome browser itself looks a LOT different. To begin with, the color and design of the chromosomes themselves has changed. There is now space for 7 people in the comparison on each chromosome, plus you as the “background” person that those 7 are being compared to.

Chromosomes 1-5 with 7 matches being compared to me are shown below. At the top of the page, the colors of the segments are coded by the colors at the top of the profile placards of the matches I selected.

You can view information about any individual by clicking on their profile button.

By clicking on the Update Selected Matches button, at right above the chromosomes, you can change the individuals being compared.

Now, let’s take a look at how to interpret these matches.

Reading the Results

As before, the centromere is notated by the little white “waists” in each chromosome, and the light grey represents regions not tested, so you won’t see matches there.

Please note that you can click any image to enlarge.

Notice Charlene, the navy blue person match on my chromosome 1.

Reading left to right, we have:

  • At the beginning of the chromosome, dark grey tested region with no match
  • Beginning with the red box, navy blue match region
  • Light grey untested region, crossing centromere and continuing until small navy blue region
  • The entire small tested region is navy blue, indicating a match
  • Small light grey untested region
  • Dark grey tested region that does not match
  • Navy blue region that does match to the end of the red box
  • Dark grey tested region that does not match to the end of the chromosome

We would read this as 2 matching segments, not 3, with the first large navy segment and the tiny middle navy segment forming one contiguous segment across the centromere and untested regions. The third navy part of that chromosome is a separate matching segment, because it’s separated from the first two by a darker grey area that is tested but does not match.

By positioning your cursor over the colored portions of the chromosome, and waiting for a second or so, the information about that specific segment will appear.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any graphic.

Downloading Just These Matching Segments

Clicking on Download Segments, the blue link at right just above chromosome 1 downloads just the information in a csv file for the people currently being compared in the browser. It does not download all of your matches. That feature is elsewhere.

Options

The default minimum centiMorgans display view is still 5, and you can select 1, 5, 7 or 10. All matches displayed are 500 SNPs or larger.

Detailed Segment Data

Another new feature is the Detailed Segment Data tab. Click to view.

In essence, this is the same information as the csv download file, except you don’t have to download the file and you don’t have to know anything about Excel. However, you can’t sort this data by chromosome like you can in a spreadsheet.

You can select which DNA match you wish to view, one by one.

I hope that Family Tree DNA will add the feature of being able to sort each column.

Downloading All Matches

For those interested in downloading all matches, not just the matches displayed, you can perform that function at the bottom of your matches page:

Or at the bottom of the initial Chromosome Browser selection page, but BEFORE you click on compare.

Quick Reference Feature Navigation Chart

I’m always grateful for new features and updates, but sometimes new features feel a bit like someone rearranged the furniture in the room while you were sleeping. I’ve created a quick reference chart to show you what’s available where and to help you navigate.

Summary

I like the updated chromosome browser as well as the new In Common With feature. The new browser facilitates 7 comparisons at once and is a LOT more user friend with new ease-of-use features. The new ICW page eliminates several steps and confusion that exists when trying to use the function from the Matches page.

I’m hoping that this update is a new skin in preparation for more nifty new features, such as triangulation. Hint, hint, Family Tree DNA. Christmas is coming😊

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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MyHeritage Rolls Out Chromosome Browser and Other Features

Recently, MyHeritage rolled out a major update of their DNA software as well as new features, including:

  • Improved Matching
  • Chromosome Browser
  • SmartMatching
  • Ancestral Surnames
  • Shared DNA Matches
  • Shared Ethnicity

You can read their blog posting here.

Additionally, they announced that they have over 1 million people in their data base now, with only 20% being transfers.

Let’s take a look at the improvements.

Note: On 2-8-2018 I updated this article where indicated.

Improved Matching

MyHeritage got off to an incredibly rocky start with their matching algorithm. You can read about their earlier problems here and here.

My most recent check in my account showed less than 100 matches and many were very inaccurate – by orders of magnitude – in both directions. People I knew that I matched elsewhere, I didn’t match at MyHeritage, and people I didn’t match elsewhere, I did match at MyHeritage.

In the first example I checked initially, MyHeritage showed me matching 8 times as much DNA as did at another vendor to the same match. In other words, 8 cM at the other vendor and 64 cM at MyHeritage. Of course, incorrect matching also leads to incorrect relationship suggestions. Clearly something was very wrong.

MyHeritage definitely needed an overhaul and it looks like that’s exactly what they did. Are their changes all improvements? I’d say yes, for the most part, but some inaccuracies still exist along with a few frustrations. They are still actively making improvements.

For example, my match who went from 8 cM elsewhere to 64 cM at MyHeritage previously is now gone altogether at MyHeritage. It would be nice if there was an indicator at MyHeritage of where your match originally tested (if they are a transfer kit) so you could easily compare, but alas, there isn’t.

Let’s take a look at the changes.

More Matches

The first thing I noticed is that I have substantially more matches.

Truthfully, I hadn’t been keeping track because their matching was so awful that it didn’t matter. However, given that I had few in late 2017, less than 100, and I now have almost 3300, I’d say it’s certainly possible that my matches increased tenfold.

Of course, results for kits sold during the holidays are being delivered now, so helps bump match numbers too.

Match Quality Comparison

The person who tested at both Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage that matches me most closely in both places is Bonnie, a proven third cousin once removed.

Estimated Relationship Total cM Longest Block Segments
Family Tree DNA 2nd-4th cousin 69 31 3 (includes X)
MyHeritage 3rd-5th cousin 52.5 30.5 2 (X not reported)

At Family Tree DNA, the X chromosome match is not included in the total cM, but is included in the matching.

The X is not included at all in matching at MyHeritage, which removes the ability to use the distinctive pattern of X matching.

Comparing my match with Bonnie, both vendors report matches on the same chromosomes, other than the X. While the cM amounts are quite similar, the total SNPs are widely divergent with the SNPs at MyHeritage being roughly 4-5 times higher than at Family Tree DNA.

FTDNA cM MH cM FTDNA SNPs MH SNPs
Chromosome 13 22.16 22.08 2574 13,440
Chromosome 16 31.02 30.48 2469 9,600
X Chromosome 49.3 Not reported 1776 Not reported

In case you’re thinking I made a transcription error on the SNPs above, which are dramatically different between vendors, I really didn’t.  I checked three times to be sure.

The MyHeritage values for chromosome 13, above, with the Family Tree DNA table for the same chromosome segment at the bottom, below.

Comparing my chromosome 13 to my parent (below) shows a total SNP count on chromosome 13 of 27,967 SNPs on the entire chromosome, so there is no way that the MyHeritage segment is roughly half of that total.

Based on this information, I would unquestionably view the MyHeritage SNP count as inaccurate. I wonder if this is a result of imputation. Even though we both have results at Family Tree DNA, I have no way of knowing if my match transferred her FTDNA kit (as I did) or if MyHeritage is imputing portions of our matching segments because she transferred a kit from elsewhere. Still, I would not expect the quadrupling of SNP values to be a result of an imputed match when the cMs seem to be quite accurate.

Update: MyHeritage says this discrepancy is the result of imputation, and that this is actually the accurate count.  I compared this same segment at GedMatch with the same results as with Family Tree DNA above.  At the current time, simply be aware that SNP county between vendors that include MyHeritage may be quite different.

Viewing Data

Let’s take a look at viewing more information about my match with Bonnie. There’s a lot more to see. 

Please note that Bonnie is a SmartMatch, but this information takes a few second to fill after the page loads, so it’s easy to bypass a SmartMatch by scrolling past it before the page finishes loading. I’m referring to a delay of 10-15 seconds or more. You can see the example below with the View Smart Matches link and the screenshot above without that link for the same match.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that in some cases, the same page fails to show the SmartMatches entirely, so this useful feature is not consistent:(

I was paging through my matches one page at a time looking for SmartMatches, but I finally gave up at about page 300 (of 347 pages total) when I realized I was probably missing many due to the page loading issues. Perhaps they can improve this in time. This problem combined with the inability to sort for only kits with SmartMatches makes this really nice feature terribly frustrating, consuming unnecessary hours.

Update:  On the MyHeritage DNA Results page, to the right of the search box, you will see a little upside-down key looking thing.  It’s supposed to be a funnel representing a filter.  If you click on it, you will discover that you can filter by people who have trees, shared surnames or SmartMatches. Hurray!!!

To view detailed information about a match, click on the pink “Review DNA Match” on the lower right hand corner of your match list. Don’t bother clicking on “view tree” here, because you’ll see their tree in a much-preferred pedigree view when you’re reviewing their DNA information. It’s nice to see the number of people in Bonnie’s tree.

Contact

There has been some discrepancy about whether people who do not have subscriptions can contact their matches. If you have had issues in the past, try again. In a blog article published yesterday, MyHeritage indicates that contacting matches is now free.

Smart Matches

Scrolling down, the next section of my DNA match with Bonnie is called “Smart Matches.” This is quite interesting, because it shows me common individuals in our trees. Please note that THIS DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE ANCESTORS IN YOUR TREES. In other words, if those people are in your trees and are not your ancestors, they will show in the Smart Matches.

One of my very LEAST FAVORITE things about MyHeritage is that they list women by their husband’s surnames. It’s really quite confusing, so keep that in mind when you’re trying to decipher the SmartMatching.

Update:  You can control how married versus birth surnames are shown in your tree, but needless to say, you can’t control other people’s settings.

Individuals in my tree are shown at left and individuals in Bonnie’s tree are shown at right. It’s interesting that they refer to Bonnie as “he” and “his,” given the female avatar, which suggests that someone someplace entered a gender incorrectly perhaps.

Click on “Review Smart Match” in the bottom right corner, which displays additional information.

At the end of the comparison section, MyHeritage shows you both trees and you can accept or reject the match as the same family.

If you accept the match, MyHeritage then gives you the option of extracting data from your matches’ tree into your tree. I never, EVER do this. This is exactly how undocumented misinformation is spread like wildfire through copy/paste trees and unverified information. Now, if I had the opportunity to review any attached documents or records first…then maybe – but that’s not how this feature works today.

Ancestral Surnames

Scrolling down, the next section is ancestral surnames, as extracted from both trees.

However, it seems there’s a bug here too, because I clearly DO have a tree, as proven by the fact that SmartMatching found ancestors in both trees. SmartMatching can’t happen without both people having a tree.

Update:  I uploaded my tree long ago, and somehow during that process, I got deleted from the tree.  Given that I’m the home person, that caused this glitch, which is now fixed.

Unfortunately, MyHeritage prompted me to build a tree, and when I declined, they added a second tree for me anyway with only my node. Some things are just “too helpful” like having a 2 year old in the kitchen!

Shared DNA Matches

Keep scrolling down to see Shared DNA Matches. This section is quite interesting, because it shows a third person who matches both you and your match. In this case, the person matches both me and Bonnie.

The information at left is how Wilma matches me and the information at right is how Wilma matches Bonnie. What this doesn’t tell me is:

  • If Wilma, Bonnie and I match on a common segment
  • If Wilma, Bonnie and I share a common ancestor in our tree

I can find out both of the above items by looking at my match to Wilma to see if I match her on the same segment where I match Bonnie and by looking at Wilma’s tree, if she has one. What I can’t determine is whether or not Wilma and Bonnie match on the same segment, so this isn’t triangulation, but it’s still a great feature.

Pedigree Chart

Keep scrolling past all of the shared matches to the pedigree chart.

Your pedigree chart will be shown on one tab. Again, mine is missing. However, the tab I’m the most interested in is Bonnie’s pedigree chart. Sure enough, there’s our common ancestral couple.

The great news is that this displays 5 generations in pedigree view.  The really bad news is that if your common ancestor is more than 5 generations back, you can’t see the balance of their tree in pedigree view.  You must go back to the “view tree” option which only shows the tree in “family view” and it often looks like a big spaghetti mess, leaving the viewer unable to determine how the person searched for connects with the tester or home person in tree.  Breadcrumbs or a solid line or something, anything, would be nice! Maybe next version.

Be sure to check your tree settings and permissions at MyHeritage, because one of the options is to allow others, as in all others, to modify your tree. I would strongly recommend against this feature given that there is no ability to restrict this access to specific people.

Update:  MyHeritage indicates that this is not exactly the case and that they are have rephrased their verbiage surrounding these settings as follows:

* You and family site members whom you invited (recommended)
* You and family site managers whom you invited and nominated
* Only you

You can also grant permission for others to download your tree.

Shared Ethnicities

Keep scrolling. Next, you’ll find the shared ethnicities between Bonnie and me.

If you’re wondering about my South American Amazonian ancestors – well, so am I. I do have proven Native American from Canada. MyHeritage has said that they will be doing an ethnicity update sometime in the future. Still, at least MyHeritage did find my Native segments.

Chromosome Browser

Last, but not least, scroll once again to see your matches’ DNA matched with yours on a chromosome browser.

Fly over the pink segments to view the information about that segment, keeping in mind that the number of SNPs may be highly inflated.

Missing Features and Other Considerations

MyHeritage has made much-needed improvements and added some great features, but some functions are still missing:

  • No ability to download matches and match information – this is a significant hindrance. Update: MyHeritage indicates this is coming.
  • Chromosome browser does not support multiple comparisons – just one person at a time, but yesterday MyHeritage announced this feature is coming shortly.
  • No triangulation, but coming shortly.
  • SmartMatch notification does not load consistently or quickly, causing many SmartMatches to be missed. Update: Since you can filter by SmartMatches, this is less important.
  • Cannot select the page for viewing matches.  This means that if you are on page 100 and you get disconnected from the internet, you can’t just start viewing again at page 100 without clicking through the earlier pages.
  • No way to indicate that you’ve “dealt with” a match.  A checkbox or some type of icon would be very nice.
  • Cannot select pedigree view in their trees.  Horribly frustrating.
  • Some features are buggy, as noted in the article.
  • SNPs are inaccurate (increased 4 to 5 times.) Update: MyHeritage is checking on this but believes they are a result of imputation and are accurate.
  • No X matching
  • No ethnicity painting
  • No parental phasing (attributing matches to parental sides with or without parents having tested.)

As long as I’m making a wish list, I’d also like to search by ancestor for matches. I know that sounds somewhat backwards, but it would help me answer the question of whether or not anyone who has that same ancestor in their tree matches me. I wouldn’t categorize this as missing functionality, because no one else has this feature either.

Given where MyHeritage was a year ago, they’ve really made substantial improvements in their DNA product offering and added a chromosome browser along with other features. I really like the concept of SmartMatching that shows common tree matches with my DNA matches although I would really like for this feature to only show direct line ancestors, not every common person in our trees.

Of course, SmartMatching doesn’t automatically mean the common tree ancestor IS THE ancestor that the matching DNA segment descended from, but it’s a wonderful piece of information and points my research in that direction. Other people with the same ancestor matching on the same segment (especially if they triangulate) adds weight to that evidence.

Yesterday, in a webinar that I have not yet had the opportunity to view in its entirety, MyHeritage announced that they will add the ability to match multiple people in the chromosome browser in addition to triangulation.  You can view the 90 minute webinar for free here.

Triangulation combined with SmartMatching of ancestors would be an extremely powerful tool.

As with any company that you test with or upload your DNA data to, be sure to fully read and understand ALL OF the terms and conditions, including any privacy policy and settings. Be aware that MyHeritage is an Israeli company and is not bound by either US or EU laws in the same way that companies who are headquartered in those locations are bound. I’m not saying that this is either bad or good, just that it’s different than the other primary vendors.

Transfers

MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA are the two DNA testing vendors that provide free autosomal matches, other than GedMatch who is not a testing vendor but also provides free matching.  You can read more in the article Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

If you’re not fishing in all 3 of those ponds by transferring your DNA results, now might be a good time to transfer. You just never know which relative you might catch!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliate links are limited to:

2017 – The Year of DNA

Every year for the past 17 years has been the year of DNA for me, but for many millions, 2017 has been the year of DNA. DNA testing has become a phenomenon in its own right.

It was in 2013 that Spencer Wells predicted that 2014 would be the “year of infection.” Spencer was right and in 2014 DNA joined the ranks of household words. I saw DNA in ads that year, for the first time, not related to DNA testing or health as in, “It’s in our DNA.”

In 2014, it seemed like most people had heard of DNA, even if they weren’t all testing yet. John Q. Public was becoming comfortable with DNA.

In 2017 – DNA Is Mainstream  

If you’re a genealogist, you certainly know about DNA testing, and you’re behind the times if you haven’t tested.  DNA testing is now an expected tool for genealogists, and part of a comprehensive proof statement that meets the genealogical proof standard which includes “a reasonably exhaustive search.”  If you haven’t applied DNA, you haven’t done a reasonably exhaustive search.

A paper trail is no longer sufficient alone.

When I used to speak to genealogy groups about DNA testing, back in the dark ages, in the early 2000s, and I asked how many had tested, a few would raise their hands – on a good day.

In October, when I asked that same question in Ireland, more than half the room raised their hand – and I hope the other half went right out and purchased DNA test kits!

Consequently, because the rabid genealogical market is now pretty much saturated, the DNA testing companies needed to find a way to attract new customers, and they have.

2017 – The Year of Ethnicity

I’m not positive that the methodology some of the major companies utilized to attract new consumers is ideal, but nonetheless, advertising has attracted many new people to genetic genealogy through ethnicity testing.

If you’re a seasoned genetic genealogist, I know for sure that you’re groaning now, because the questions that are asked by disappointed testers AFTER the results come back and aren’t what people expected find their way to the forums that genetic genealogists peruse daily.

I wish those testers would have searched out those forums, or read my comparative article about ethnicity tests and which one is “best” before they tested.

More ethnicity results are available from vendors and third parties alike – just about every place you look it seems.  It appears that lots of folks think ethnicity testing is a shortcut to instant genealogy. Spit, mail, wait and voila – but there is no shortcut.  Since most people don’t realize that until after they test, ethnicity testing is becoming ever more popular with more vendors emerging.

In the spring, LivingDNA began delivering ethnicity results and a few months later, MyHeritage as well.  Ethnicity is hot and companies are seizing a revenue opportunity.

Now, the good news is that perhaps some of these new ethnicity testers can be converted into genealogists.  We just have to view ethnicity testing as tempting bait, or hopefully, a gateway drug…

2017 – The Year of Explosive Growth

DNA testing has become that snowball rolling downhill that morphed into an avalanche.  More people are seeing commercials, more people are testing, and people are talking to friends and co-workers at the water cooler who decide to test. I passed a table of diners in Germany in July to overhear, in English, discussion about ethnicity-focused DNA testing.

If you haven’t heard of DTC, direct to consumer, DNA testing, you’re living under a rock or maybe in a third world country without either internet or TV.

Most of the genetic genealogy companies are fairly closed-lipped about their data base size of DNA testers, but Ancestry isn’t.  They have gone from about 2 million near the end of 2016 to 5 million in August 2017 to at least 7 million now.  They haven’t said for sure, but extrapolating from what they have said, I feel safe with 7 million as a LOW estimate and possibly as many as 10 million following the holiday sales.

Advertising obviously pays off.

MyHeritage recently announced that their data base has reached 1 million, with only about 20% of those being transfers.

Based on the industry rumble, I suspect that the other DNA testing companies have had banner years as well.

The good news is that all of these new testers means that anyone who has tested at any of the major vendors is going to get lots of matches soon. Santa, it seems, has heard about DNA testing too and test kits fit into stockings!

That’s even better news for all of us who are in multiple data bases – and even more reason to test at all of the 4 major companies who provide DNA matching for their customers: Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, MyHeritage and 23andMe.

2017 – The Year of Vendor and Industry Churn

So much happened in 2017, it’s difficult to keep up.

  • MyHeritage entered the DNA testing arena and began matching in September of 2016. Frankly, they had a mess, but they have been working in 2017 to improve the situation.  Let’s just say they still have some work to do, but at least they acknowledge that and are making progress.
  • MyHeritage has a rather extensive user base in Europe. Because of their European draw, their records collections and the ability to transfer results into their data base, they have become the 4th vendor in a field that used to be 3.
  • In March 2017, Family Tree DNA announced that they were accepting transfers of both the Ancestry V2 test, in place since May of 2016, along with the 23andMe V4 test, available since November 2013, for free. MyHeritage has since been added to that list. The Family Tree DNA announcement provided testers with another avenue for matching and advanced tools.
  • Illumina obsoleted their OmniExpress chip, forcing vendors to Illumina’s new GSA chip which also forces vendors to use imputation. I swear, imputation is a swear word. Illumina gets the lump of coal award for 2017.
  • I wrote about imputation here, but in a nutshell, the vendors are now being forced to test only about 20% of the DNA locations available on the previous Illumina chip, and impute or infer using statistics the values in the rest of the DNA locations that they previously could test.
  • Early imputation implementers include LivingDNA (ethnicity only), MyHeritage (to equalize the locations of various vendor’s different chips), DNA.Land (whose matching is far from ideal) and 23andMe, who seems, for the most part, to have done a reasonable job. Of course, the only way to tell for sure at 23andMe is to test again on the V5 chip and compare to V3 and V4 chip matches. Given that I’ve already paid 3 times to test myself at 23andMe (V2, 3 and 4), I’m not keen on paying a 4th time for the V5 version.
  • 23andMe moved to the V5 Illumina GSA chip in August which is not compatible with any earlier chip versions.
  • Needless to say, the Illumina chip change has forced vendors away from focusing on new products in order to develop imputation code in order to remain backwards compatible with their own products from an earlier chip set.
  • GedMatch introduced their sandbox area, Genesis, where people can upload files that are not compatible with the traditional vendor files.  This includes the GSA chip results (23andMe V5,) exome tests and others.  The purpose of the sandbox is so that GedMatch can figure out how to work with these files that aren’t compatible with the typical autosomal test files.  The process has been interesting and enlightening, but people either don’t understand or forget that it’s a sandbox, an experiment, for all involved – including GedMatch.  Welcome to living on the genetic frontier!

  • I assembled a chart of who loves who – meaning which vendors accept transfers from which other vendors.

  • I suspect but don’t know that Ancestry is doing some form of imputation between their V1 and V2 chips. About a month before their new chip implementation in May of 2016, Ancestry made a change in their matching routine that resulting in a significant shift in people’s matches.

Because of Ancestry’s use of the Timber algorithm to downweight some segments and strip out others altogether, it’s difficult to understand where matching issues may arise.  Furthermore, there is no way to know that there are matching issues unless you and another individual have transferred results to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch, neither of which remove any matching segments.

  • Other developments of note include the fact that Family Tree DNA moved to mitochondrial DNA build V17 and updated their Y DNA to hg38 of the human reference genome – both huge undertakings requiring the reprocessing of customer data. Think of both of those updates as housekeeping. No one wants to do it, but it’s necessary.
  • 23andMe FINALLY finished transferring their customer base to the “New Experience,” but many of the older features we liked are now gone. However, customers can now opt in to open matching, which is a definite improvement. 23andMe, having been the first company to enter the genetic genealogy autosomal matching marketspace has really become lackluster.  They could have owned this space but chose not to focus on genealogy tools.  In my opinion, they are now relegated to fourth place out of a field of 4.
  • Ancestry has updated their Genetic Communities feature a couple of times this year. Genetic Communities is interesting and more helpful than ethnicity estimates, but neither are nearly as helpful as a chromosome browser would be.

  • I’m sure that the repeated requests, begging and community level tantrum throwing in an attempt to convince Ancestry to produce a chromosome browser is beyond beating a dead horse now. That dead horse is now skeletal, and no sign of a chromosome browser. Sigh:(
  • The good news is that anyone who wants a chromosome browser can transfer their results to Family Tree DNA or GedMatch (both for free) and utilize a chromosome browser and other tools at either or both of those locations. Family Tree DNA charges a one time $19 fee to access their advanced tools and GedMatch offers a monthly $10 subscription. Both are absolutely worth every dime. The bad news is, of course, that you have to convince your match or matches to transfer as well.
  • If you can convince your matches to transfer to (or test at) Family Tree DNA, their tools include phased Family Matching which utilizes a combination of user trees, the DNA of the tester combined with the DNA of family matches to indicate to the user which side, maternal or paternal (or both), a particular match stems from.

  • Sites to keep your eye on include Jonny Perl’s tools which include DNAPainter, as well as Goran Rundfeldt’s DNA Genealogy Experiment.  You may recall that in October Goran brought us the fantastic Triangulator tool to use with Family Tree DNA results.  A few community members expressed concern about triangulation relative to privacy, so the tool has been (I hope only temporarily) disabled as the involved parties work through the details. We need Goran’s triangulation tool! Goran has developed other world class tools as well, as you can see from his website, and I hope we see more of both Goran and Jonny in 2018.
  • In 2017, a number of new “free” sites that encourage you to upload your DNA have sprung up. My advice – remember, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.  Ask yourself why, what’s in it for them.  Review ALL OF THE documents and fine print relative to safety, privacy and what is going to be done with your DNA.  Think about what recourse you might or might not have. Why would you trust them?

My rule of thumb, if the company is outside of the US, I’m immediately slightly hesitant because they don’t fall under US laws. If they are outside of Europe or Canada, I’m even more hesitant.  If the company is associated with a country that is unfriendly to the US, I unequivocally refuse.  For example, riddle me this – what happens if a Chinese (or fill-in-the-blank country) company violates an agreement regarding your DNA and privacy?  What, exactly, are you going to do about it from wherever you live?

2017 – The Year of Marketplace Apps

Third party genetics apps are emerging and are beginning to make an impact.

GedMatch, as always, has continued to quietly add to their offerings for genetic genealogists, as had DNAGedcom.com. While these two aren’t exactly an “app”, per se, they are certainly primary players in the third party space. I use both and will be publishing an article early in 2018 about a very useful tool at DNAGedcom.

Another application that I don’t use due to the complex setup (which I’ve now tried twice and abandoned) is Genome Mate Pro which coordinates your autosomal results from multiple vendors.  Some people love this program.  I’ll try, again, in 2018 and see if I can make it all the way through the setup process.

The real news here are the new marketplace apps based on Exome testing.

Helix and their partners offer a number of apps that may be of interest for consumers.  Helix began offering a “test once, buy often” marketplace model where the consumer pays a nominal price for exome sequencing ($80), significantly under market pricing ($500), but then the consumer purchases DNA apps through the Helix store. The apps access the original DNA test to produce results. The consumer does NOT receive their downloadable raw data, only data through the apps, which is a departure from the expected norm. Then again, the consumer pays a drastically reduced price and downloadable exome results are available elsewhere for full price.

The Helix concept is that lots of apps will be developed, meaning that you, the consumer, will be interested and purchase often – allowing Helix to recoup their sequencing investment over time.

Looking at the Helix apps that are currently available, I’ve purchased all of the Insitome products released to date (Neanderthal, Regional Ancestry and Metabolism), because I have faith in Spencer Wells and truthfully, I was curious and they are reasonably priced.

Aside from the Insitome apps, I think that the personalized clothes are cute, if extremely overpriced. But what the heck, they’re fun and raise awareness of DNA testing – a good thing! After all, who am I to talk, I’ve made DNA quilts and have DNA clothing too.

Having said that, I’m extremely skeptical about some of the other apps, like “Wine Explorer.”  Seriously???

But then again, if you named an app “I Have More Money Than Brains,” it probably wouldn’t sell well.

Other apps, like Ancestry’s WeRelate (available for smartphones) is entertaining, but is also unfortunately EXTREMELY misleading.  WeRelate conflates multiple trees, generally incorrectly, to suggest to you and another person on your Facebook friends list are related, or that you are related to famous people.  Judy Russell reviews that app here in the article, “No, actually, we’re not related.” No.  Just no!

I feel strongly that companies that utilize our genetic data for anything have a moral responsibility for accuracy, and the WeRelate app clearly does NOT make the grade, and Ancestry knows that.  I really don’t believe that entertaining customers with half-truths (or less) is more important than accuracy – but then again, here I go just being an old-fashioned fuddy dud expecting ethics.

And then, there’s the snake oil.  You knew it was going to happen because there is always someone who can be convinced to purchase just about anything. Think midnight infomercials. The problem is that many consumers really don’t know how to tell snake oil from the rest in the emerging DNA field.

You can now purchase DNA testing for almost anything.  Dating, diet, exercise, your taste in wine and of course, vitamins and supplements. If you can think of an opportunity, someone will dream up a test.

How many of these are legitimate or valid?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m exceedingly suspicious of a great many, especially those where I can find no legitimate scientific studies to back what appear to be rather outrageous claims.

My main concern is that the entire DTC testing industry will be tarred by the brush of a few unethical opportunists.

2017 – The Year of Focus on Privacy and Security

With increased consumer exposure comes increased notoriety. People are taking notice of DNA testing and it seems that everyone has an opinion, informed or not.  There’s an old saying in marketing; “Talk about me good, talk about me bad, just talk about me.”

With all of the ads have come a commensurate amount of teeth gnashing and “the-sky-is-falling” type reporting.  Unfortunately, many politicians don’t understand this industry and open mouth only to insert foot – except that most people don’t realize what they’ve done.  I doubt that the politicians even understand that they are tasting toe-jam, because they haven’t taken the time to research and understand the industry. Sound bites and science don’t mix well.

The bad news is that next, the click-bait-focused press picks up on the stories and the next time you see anyone at lunch, they’re asking you if what they heard is true.  Or, let’s hope that they ask you instead of just accepting what they heard as gospel. Hopefully if we’ve learned anything in this past year, it’s to verify, verify, verify.

I’ve been an advocate for a very long time of increased transparency from the testing companies as to what is actually done with our DNA, and under what circumstances.  In other words, I want to know where my DNA is and what it’s being used for.  Period.

Family Tree DNA answered that question succinctly and unquestionably in December.

Bennett Greenspan: “We could probably make a lot of money by selling the DNA data that we’ve been collecting over the years, but we feel that the only person that should have your DNA information is you.  We don’t believe that it should be sold, traded or bartered.”

You can’t get more definitive than that.

DTC testing for genetic genealogy must be a self-regulating field, because the last thing we need is for the government to get involved, attempting to regulate something they don’t understand.  I truly believe government interference by the name of regulation would spell the end of genetic genealogy as we know it today.  DNA testing for genetic genealogy without sharing results is entirely pointless.

I’ve written about this topic in the past, but an update is warranted and I’ll be doing that sometime after the first of the year.  Mostly, I just need to be able to stay awake while slogging through the required reading (at some vendor sites) of page after page AFTER PAGE of legalese😊

Consumers really shouldn’t have to do that, and if they do, a short, concise summary should be presented to them BEFORE they purchase so that they can make a truly informed decision.

Stay tuned on this one.

2017 – The Year of Education

The fantastic news is that with all of the new people testing, a huge, HUGE need for education exists.  Even if 75% of the people who test don’t do anything with their results after that first peek, that still leaves a few million who are new to this field, want to engage and need some level of education.

In that vein, seminars are available through several groups and institutes, in person and online.  Almost all of the leadership in this industry is involved in some educational capacity.

In addition to agendas focused on genetic genealogy and utilizing DNA personally, almost every genealogy conference now includes a significant number of sessions on DNA methods and tools. I remember the days when we were lucky to be allowed one session on the agenda, and then generally not without begging!

When considering both DNA testing and education, one needs to think about the goal.  All customer goals are not the same, and neither are the approaches necessary to answer their questions in a relevant way.

New testers to the field fall into three primary groups today, and their educational needs are really quite different, because their goals, tools and approaches needed to reach those goals are different too.

Adoptees and genealogists employ two vastly different approaches utilizing a common tool, DNA, but for almost opposite purposes.  Adoptees wish to utilize tests and trees to come forward in time to identify either currently living or recently living people while genealogists are interested in reaching backward in time to confirm or identify long dead ancestors. Those are really very different goals.

I’ve illustrated this in the graphic above.  The tester in question uses their blue first cousin match to identify their unknown parent through the blue match’s known lineage, moving forward in time to identify the tester’s parent.  In this case, the grandparent is known to the blue match, but not to the yellow tester. Identifying the grandparent through the blue match is the needed lynchpin clue to identify the unknown parent.

The yellow tester who already knows their maternal parent utilizes their peach second cousin match to verify or maybe identify their maternal great-grandmother who is already known to the peach match, moving backwards in time. Two different goals, same DNA test.

The three types of testers are:

  • Curious ethnicity testers who may not even realize that at least some of the vendors offer matching and other tools and services.
  • Genealogists who use close relatives to prove which sides of trees matches come from, and to triangulate matching segments to specific ancestors. In other words, working from the present back in time. The peach match and line above.
  • Adoptees and parent searches where testers hope to find a parent or siblings, but failing that, close relatives whose trees overlap with each other – pointing to a descendant as a candidate for a parent. These people work forward in time and aren’t interested in triangulation or proving ancestors and really don’t care about any of those types of tools, at least not until they identify their parent.  This is the blue match above.

What these various groups of testers want and need, and therefore their priorities are different in terms of their recommendations and comments in online forums and their input to vendors. Therefore, you find Facebook groups dedicated to Adoptees, for example, but you also find adoptees in more general genetic genealogy groups where genealogists are sometimes surprised when people focused on parent searches downplay or dismiss tools such as Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and chromosome browsers that form the bedrock foundation of what genealogists need and require.

Fortunately, there’s room for everyone in this emerging field.

The great news is that educational opportunities are abundant now. I’m listing a few of the educational opportunities for all three groups of testers, in addition to my blog of course.😊

Remember that this blog is fully searchable by keyword or phrase in the little search box in the upper right hand corner.  I see so many questions online that I’ve already answered!

Please feel free to share links of my blog postings with anyone who might benefit!

Note that these recommendations below overlap and people may well be interested in opportunities from each group – or all!!

Ethnicity

Adoptees or Parent Search

Genetic Genealogists

2018 – What’s Ahead? 

About midyear 2018, this blog will reach 1000 published articles. This is article number 939.  That’s amazing even to me!  When I created this blog in July of 2012, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough to write about.  That certainly has changed.

Beginning shortly, the tsunami of kits that were purchased during the holidays will begin producing matches, be it through DNA upgrades at Family Tree DNA, Big Y tests which were hot at year end, or new purchases through any of the vendors.  I can hardly wait, and I have my list of brick walls that need to fall.

Family Tree DNA will be providing additional STR markers extracted from the Big Y test. These won’t replace any of the 111 markers offered separately today, because the extraction through NGS testing is not as reliable as direct STR testing for those markers, but the Big Y will offer genealogists a few hundred more STRs to utilize. Yes, I said a few hundred. The exact number has not yet been finalized.

Family Tree DNA says they will also be introducing new “qualify of life improvements” along with new privacy and consent settings.  Let’s hope this means new features and tools will be released too.

MyHeritage says that they are introducing new “Discoveries” pages and a chromosome browser in January.  They have also indicated that they are working on their matching issues.  The chromosome browser is particularly good news, but matching must work accurately or the chromosome browser will show erroneous information.  Let’s hope January brings all three features.

LivingDNA indicates that they will be introducing matching in 2018.

2018 – What Can You Do?

What can you do in 2018 to improve your odds of solving genealogy questions?

  • Test relatives
  • Transfer your results to as many data bases as possible (among the ones discussed above, after reading the terms and conditions, of course)
  • If you have transferred a version of your DNA that does not produce full results, such as the Ancestry V2 or 23andMe V4 test to Family Tree DNA, consider testing on the vendor’s own chip in order to obtain all matches, not just the closest matches available from an incompatible test transfer.
  • Test Y and mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA.
  • Find ways to share the stories of your ancestors.  Stories are cousin bait.  My 52 Ancestors series is living proof.  People find the stories and often have additional facts, information or even photos. Some contacts qualify for DNA testing for Y or mtDNA lines. The GREAT NEWS is that Amy Johnson Crow is resuming the #52Ancestors project for 2018, providing hints and tips each week! Who knows what you might discover by sharing?! Here’s how to start a blog if you need some assistance.  It’s easy – really!
  • Focus on the brick walls that you want to crumble and then put together both a test and analysis plan. That plan could include such things as:

o   Find out if a male representing a Y line in your tree has tested, and if not, search through autosomal results to see if a male from that paternal surname line has tested and would be amenable to an upgrade.

o   Mitochondrial DNA test people who descend through all females from various female ancestors in order to determine their origins. Y and mtDNA tests are an important part of a complete genealogy story – meaning the reasonably exhaustive search!

o   Autosomal DNA test family members from various lines with the hope that matches will match you and them both.

o   Test family members in order to confirm a particular ancestor – preferably people who descend from another child of that ancestor.

o   Making sure your own DNA is in all 4 of the major vendors’ data bases, plus GedMatch. Look at it this way, everyone who is at GedMatch or at a third party (non-testing) site had to have tested at one of the major 4 vendors – so if you are in all of the vendor’s data bases, plus GedMatch, you’re covered.

Have a wonderful New Year and let’s make 2018 the year of newly discovered ancestors and solved mysteries!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliate links are limited to:

Using Spousal Surnames and DNA to Unravel Male Lines

When Y DNA matching at Family Tree DNA, it’s not uncommon for men to match other males of the same surname who share the same ancestor. In fact, that’s what we hope for, fervently!

However, if you’re stuck downstream, you may need to figure out which of several male children you descend from.

If you’re staring at a brick wall working yourselves back in time, you may need to try working forward, utilizing various types of information, including wives’ surnames.

For all intents and purposes, this is my Vannoy line, in Wilkes County, NC, so let’s use it as an example, because it embodies both the promise and the peril of this approach.

So, there you sit, disconnected from the Vannoy line. That little yellow box is just so depressing. So close, but yet so far. And yes, we’ve already exhausted the available paper trail records, years ago.

We know the lineage back through Elijah Vannoy, who was born between 1784-1786 in Wilkes County, or vicinity. We know my Vannoy cousin Y DNA matches with other men from the Vannoy line upstream of John Francis Vannoy, the known father of four sons in Wilkes County, NC and the first (and only) Vannoy to move from New Jersey to that part of North Carolina.

Therefore, we know who the candidates are to be Elijah’s father, but the connection in the yellow box is missing. Many Wilkes County records have gone missing over the years and births were not recorded in that timeframe.  The records from neighboring Ashe County where Daniel Vannoy lived burned during the Civil War, although some records did survive. In other words, the records are rather like Swiss cheese. Welcome to genealogy in the south.

Which of John Francis Vannoy’s four sons does Elijah descend from?

Let’s see what we can discover.

Contact Matches and Ask for Help

The first thing I would do is to ask for assistance from your surname matches.

Let’s say that you match a known descendant of each of these four men, meaning each of John Francis Vannoy’s sons. Ask each person if they know where the male Vannoy descendants of each son went along with any documentation they might have. If your ancestor, Elijah in this case, is not found in the same location as the sons, geography may be your friend.

In our case, we know that Francis Vannoy migrated to Knox County, Kentucky, but that was after he signed for his daughter’s marriage in Wilkes Co., NC in 1812. It was also about this time that Elijah Vannoy migrated to Claiborne County, TN, in the same direction, but not the same location. The two locations are an hour away by car today, separated by mountains and the Cumberland Gap, a nontrivial barrier.

We also know that Nathaniel Vannoy left a Bible that did not list Elijah as one of his children, but with a gap large enough to possibly encompass another child.  If you’re thinking to yourself, “Who would leave a child’s birth out of the Bible?,” I though the same thing until I encountered it myself personally in another line.  However, the Bible record does make Nathaniel a less likely father candidate, despite a persistent rumor that Nathaniel was Elijah’s father.

Our only other clues are some tax records recording the number of children in the household of various ages, but none are conclusive. None of these men had wills.

Y DNA Genetic Distance

Your Y DNA matches will show how many mutations you are from them at a particular marker level.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any graphic.

The number of mutations between two men is called the genetic distance.

The rule of thumb is that the more mutations, the further back in time the common ancestor. The problem is, the rule of thumb doesn’t always work. DNA mutates when it darned well pleases, not on any clock that we can measure with that degree of accuracy – at least not accurately enough to tell which of 4 sons a man descends from – unless that line has incurred a defining mutation between the ancestor and the current generation. We call those line marker mutations. To determine the mutation history, you need multiple men from each line to have tested.

You can read more about Y DNA matching in the article, Concepts – Y DNA Matching and Connecting with your Paternal Ancestor.

Check Autosomal DNA Tests

Next, check to see if your Y DNA matches from all Vannoy lines have also taken the autosomal Family Finder test, noted as FF, which shows matches from all ancestral lines, not just the paternal line.

You can see in the match list above that not many have taken the Family Finder test. Ask if they would be willing to upgrade. Be prepared to pay if need be – because you are, after all, the one with the “problem” to solve.

Generally, I simply offer to pay. It’s well worth it to me, and given that paper records don’t exist to answer the question – a DNA test under $100 is cheap. Right now, Family Finder tests are on sale for $69 until the end of the month.

Check for Intermarriage

While you’re waiting for autosomal DNA results, check the pedigrees for all for lines involved to see if you are otherwise related to these men or their wives.

For example, in Andrew Vannoy’s wife’s line and Elijah Vannoy’s wife’s line, we have a common ancestor. George Shepherd and Elizabeth Mary Angelique Daye are common to both lines, and John Shepherd’s wife is unknown, so we have one known problem and one unknown surname.

You can tell already that this could be messy, because we can’t really use Andrew Vannoy’s wife’s line to search for matches because Elijah’s line is likely to match through Andrew’s wife since Susannah Shepherd and Lois McNiel share a common lineage. Rats!

We’ll mark these in red to remind ourselves.

Check Advanced Matching

Family Tree DNA provides a wonderful tool that allows you to compare matches of different kinds of DNA. The Advanced Matching tab is found under “Tools and Apps” under the myFTDNA tab at the upper left.

In this case, I’m going to use the Advanced Match feature to see which of my Vannoy cousin’s Y matches at 37 markers, within the Vannoy DNA project, also match him autosomally.

This report is particularly nice, because it shows number of Y mutations, often indicating distance to a common ancestor, as well as the estimated autosomal relationship range.

You can see in this case that the first Vannoy male, “A,” is a close match both on Y DNA and autosomally, with 1 mutation difference and falling in the 2nd to 4th cousin range, as compared to the second Vannoy male, “D,” who is 3 mutations different and falls into the 4th to remote cousin range.

Not every Vannoy male may have joined the Vannoy project, so you’ll want to run this report a second time, replacing the Vannoy project search criteria with “The Entire Database.”

Unfortunately, not everyone that I need has taken the Family Finder test, so I’ll be contacting a few men, asking if I can sponsor their upgrades.

Let’s move on to our next tactic, using the wives’ surnames.

Search Utilizing the Wife’s Surname

We already know that we can’t rely on the Shepherd surname, so we’ll have to utilize the surnames of the other three wives:

  • Millicent Henderson – parents Thomas Henderson born circa 1730 Virginia, died 1806 Laurens, SC, wife Frances, surname unknown
  • Elizabeth Ray (Raye) – parents William Ray born circa 1725/1730 Herdford, England, died 1783 Wilkes Co., NC (the portion now Ashe Co.,) wife Elizabeth Gordon born circa 1783 Amherst Co., VA and died 1804 Surry Co., NC
  • Sarah Hickerson – parents Charles Hickerson born circa 1725 Stafford Co., VA, died before 1793 Wilkes Co., NC, wife Mary Lytle

Utilizing the Family Finder match search function, I’m going to search for matches that include the wives surnames, but are NOT descended from the Vannoy line.

Hickerson produced no non-Vannoy matches utilizing the matches of my first Vannoy cousin, but Henderson is another matter entirely.

Since the Henderson line would be on my cousin’s father’s side, the matches that are most relevant are the ones phased to his paternal line, those showing the blue person icon.

The surname that you have entered as the search criteria will show as blue in the Ancestral Surname list, at far right, and other matching surnames will show as black. Please note that this includes surnames from ANY person in the match’s tree if they have uploaded a Gedcom file, not just surnames of direct ancestral lines. Therefore, if the match has a tree, it’s important to click on the pedigree icon and search for the surname in question. Don’t assume.

Altogether, there are 76 Henderson matches, of which 17 are phased to his paternal line. You’ll need to review each one of at least the 17. Personally, I would painstakingly review each one of the 76. You never know where a shred of information will be found.

Please note, finding a match with a common surname DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU MATCH THIS PERSON THROUGH THAT SURNAME. Even finding a person with a common ancestor doesn’t mean that you both descend from that ancestor. You may have a second common ancestor. It means that you have more work to do, as proof, but it’s the beginning you need.

Of course, the first thing we need to do is eliminate any matches who also descend from a Vannoy, because there is no way to know if the matching DNA is through the Vannoy or Henderson lines. However, first, take note of how that person descends from the Vannoy line.

You can see your matches entire surname list by clicking on their profile picture.

The surname, Ray, is more difficult, because the search for Ray also returns names like Bray and Wray, as well as Ray.

But Wait – There’s a Happy Ending!

If you’re thinking, “this is a lot of work,” yes, it is.

Yes, you are absolutely going to do the genealogy of the wives’ lines so you can recognize if and how your matches might connect.

I enter the wives’ lines into my genealogy software and then I search for the ancestors found in my matches trees to see if they descend from that line.

One tip to make this easier is to test multiple people in the same line – regardless of whether they are males or carry the desired surname. They simply need to be descendants – that’s the beauty of autosomal DNA and why I carry kits with me wherever I go.  And yes, I’m really serious about that!

When you have multiple testers from the same line, you can utilize each test independently, searching for each surname in the Family Finder results.  Then, from the surname match list, select a sibling or other close relative with that same surname in their list, then choose the ICW feature. This allows you to see who both of those people match who also carries the Henderson surname in their surname list.

Not successful with that initial cousin’s match results – like I wasn’t with Hickerson?

Rinse and repeat, with every single person who you can find who has descended from the line in question. I started the process over again with a second cousin and a Hickerson search.

About the time you’re getting really, really tired of looking at all of those trees, extending the branches of other people’s lines, and are about to give up and go to bed because it’s 3 AM and you’re discouraged, you see something like this:

Yep, it’s good old Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.  I could hardly believe my eyes!!! This Hickerson match to a cousin in my Vannoy line descends from Charles Hickerson’s son, Joshua.

All of a sudden…it’s all worthwhile! Your fatigue is gone, replaced by adrenalin and you couldn’t sleep now if your life depended on it!

Using the ICW (in common with feature) to find additional known cousins who match the person with Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle in their tree, I found a total of three Vannoy cousins with significant matches.

Using the chromosome browser to compare, I’ve confirmed that one segment is a triangulated match of 12.69 cM (blue) on chromosome 2.

You can read more about triangulation in the article, Concepts – Why Genetic Genealogy and Triangulation? as well as the article, Concepts – Match Groups and Triangulation.

Do I wish I had more than three people in my triangulation group? Yes, of course, but with a match of this size triangulated between cousins and a Hickerson descendant who is a 30 year genealogist, sporting a relatively complete tree and no other common lines, it’s a great place to begin digging deeper! This isn’t the end, but a new beginning!

After obsessively digging through the matches of every Elijah Vannoy descended cousin I can find (sleep is overrated anyway) and whose account I have access to, I have now discovered matches with four additional people who have no other common lines with the Vannoy cousins and who descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle through sons David and Joseph Hickerson. I can’t tell if they triangulate without access to accounts that I don’t have access to, so I’ve sent e-mails requesting additional information.

WooHoo Happy Day!!! There’s a really big crack in the brick wall and I’ve just witnessed the sunrise of a beautiful, amazing day.

I think Elijah’s parents are…drum roll…Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson!

Which walls do you need to fall and how can you use this technique?

______________________________________________________________________

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Concepts – Why Genetic Genealogy and Triangulation?

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

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

Why Genetic Genealogy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Tree DNA’s chromosome browser is shown above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

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

DeMystifying Autosomal DNA Matching

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – What Now?

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum

Concepts – Segment Size, Legitimate and False Matches

How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical by Descent, State, Population and Chance

Nine Autosomal Tools at Family Tree DNA

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

Just One Cousin

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

Anne (probably not) Elmore (c1650/2-c1721), Wife of Charles Dodson, 52 Ancestors #159

Charles Dodson (1649-1706) of Richmond County, Virginia was married to a woman named Ann. That much we know, positively.

The first actual record we have of Ann is found with the birth of her son, Thomas.

The North Farnham Parish register tells us that Thomas Dodson was born to Charles and Ann Dodson on May 15, 1681.

Thomas is the only child attributed to Charles and Ann in the North Farnham Parish church records, which are known to be incomplete. In this case, they are quite incomplete.

Ann is still married to Charles at his death and is named as his executrix in early 1705/1706. Charles’ will lists all of their children, including a son named Charles Jr.

Charles Jr. first appears in the records in 1693 as a witness. This suggests strongly that he is age 21 at that time, which would put his birth in approximately 1672. Charles Jr. is also named after Charles Sr., typical for a first son, and he is also listed first in the deeds when his father conveys land on the same day to both Charles Jr. and Thomas in 1702/03.

Even if Charles Jr. is only 16 instead of 21 when he witnessed the two transactions in 1693, his first appearance in county records, that would put his birth no later than 1677.

Presuming that Ann is also the mother of Charles Jr., that means that Ann and Charles Sr. were probably married by 1671 if Charles Jr. was born in 1672, or perhaps they married slightly earlier. They couldn’t have married much earlier, given their ages.

We know from a deposition in 1699 that Charles Sr. was about 50 years of age at that time, putting his birth about 1649.

It stands to reason that Ann would have been born about the same time, or subtracting 20 years from her first child’s birth, about 1652. This meshes nicely with Charles Sr.’s age as well, so I think we can presume that 1671 marriage date is approximately accurate.

Obviously, given all this effort to figure Ann’s birth year, we have no other information about when she was born.

Ann’s Parents

When I first started Dodson research, Ann’s parents were always recorded as unknown. Then, in the past few years, I saw in several locations, including several Ancestry Trees and now WikiTree as well as FamilySearch where Ann was recorded as Ann Elmore, daughter of Peter Elmore.

At first, I was quite excited, especially when I found something that appeared to be relatively well-researched at Family Search – but appearances can be quitey deceiving.

Here’s the entry for Peter Elmore from FamilySearch.

Known Issues

I’m not an Elmore researcher, but I am a Dodson researcher and I don’t want to leave the above information in print without mentioning the known issues with the information, highlighted in red, as follows:

  • There is no indication that I can find where Charles Dodson Sr’s wife, who was remarried to John Hill, died on August 1, 1715. However, Charles Dodson Jr. wrote his will on July 8, 1715 and it was probated on May 1, 1716.
  • Ann Dodson, wife of Charles Dodson Jr., whose surname is unknown, had her will probated in court on March 4, 1718/1719. Of course to make the situation more confusing both Charles Dodson Sr. and Jr. had wifes with unknown surnames named Ann. Of course, Ann Dodson Hill would have been named Ann Hill in 1718/1719 since she was married to John Hill and had been for more than a decade.
  • There is no record that Ann Elmore married Charles Dodson in 1678 in Rappahannock County, or anyplace.
  • There is no shred of evidence that Charles Dodson’s parents were Jesse Dodson and Judith Hagar.
  • There is no evidence that Charles Dodson was born in Rappahannock County, although a deposition in 1799 does state that that he is about 50 years old.
  • There is no evidence that Charles Dodson was christened in 1650 or that his christening, whenever it was, was in Rappahannock County.
  • Charles Dodson Sr. did not sign his will on July 8, 1680, but on January 11, 1702/1703.
  • However, a deed was registered between Peter Elmore and Charles Dodson on July 7, 1680.
  • Charles Dodson Sr. died between October 4, 1705 and February 6, 1705/1706 when his will was probated, not in 1704/1705.
  • Charles Dodson Jr. was not born in or about 1679, because he is witnessing deeds in 1693. He was probably born about 1672.
  • Other than Charles and Thomas Dodson, there is no indication in the Dodson research when the other children of Charles and Ann Dodson were born. Researchers simply have to fit them into the child-bearing years of Ann, around Charles and Thomas.
  • According to Charles Dodson’s will in combination with church and other records, there is no daughter Mary. Charles Dodson Jr. had a daughter Mary born in 1715, several years after Charles Dodson Sr. has died.

Even with the above incorrect information, this is the best information I could find on the Elmore family and how Ann Elmore was thought to be Charles Dodson’s wife. Hopefully the Elmore information is more accurate than the Dodson information.

Is Ann Dodson the daughter of Peter Elmore?

I couldn’t keep the Elmore information straight, so I created this abbreviated tree to track the various Peter Elmores, according to the FamilySearch information.

Peter Elmore proves a bit confusing, because in 1686, the following deed was filed.

Old Rappahannock Co Deed Book 7 – 1686 -1688; pg 306-307

I Wm. Thacker of the County of Lancaster do give William Mathews of the County of Rappa: one Cow Calfe black marked on the right eare with a crop and a slit and the left eare slitt down the midle with the one halfe of her encrease to him his heires and assignes from me my heires forever or from any persons that shall lay claim by me the abovesd Mathews being Son to Mr Wm. Mathews deceased of the Parish of Farnham of the County aforesaid. Peter Elmore being Father in Law to the abovesd Mathews is obliged to see it recorded and to have the other halfe of the encrease of the sd Cow for to looke after them as Witness my hand this 9th day of January 1683/6

Teste Charles Dodson, Wm. Thacker

John Mills marke of

Recordr. in Cur Com Rappa 23d die Martii 1686/7

A Yearling Heifer pide with black and white to be recorded with all her female encrease for Frans: Elmore marked as followeth: Crop in the right eare and a hole and under keeled on the same on the left

Record Cur Com Rappa 23 Marchy 1686/7

Father-in-law in this context probably means step-father, especially given the reference to Frances Elmore, above, and a birth recorded in 1674. Other records from this same time period in this county use the words “father in law” to mean father by law or the person we term as a step-father today.

The only Peter Elmores old enough to be the Peter in the 1686 deed are either Peter Elmore born in 1627 or his son Peter born in 1643.

The Registers of North Farnham Parish 1663-1814 and Lunenburg Parish 1783-1800 Richmond County, Virginia Compiled and Published by George Harrison Sanford King 1966 show:

Elmore, Anne daughter of Peter and Frances Elmore, Aug 29, 1674

Peter, born in 1643, is the only Peter of the age to be having a child, Ann, in 1674, given that his father, Peter born in 1627 is married to Jane and (supposedly) already has a daughter, Ann.

If in fact there was an Ann Elmore born to Peter Elmore Sr., we now have a second, younger Ann Elmore who was born in 1674, shown on the chart below. This younger Ann Elmore is clearly not the wife of Charles Dodson who is having children with his wife Ann at the time the younger Ann Elmore is born in 1674.

Deed Book Page 348 Sept 1, 1675 – I Thomas Dusin give grant and make over Anne Elmore the daughter of Peter Elmore and Frances his wife one yearling heifer…to her the said Ann Ellmore her heirs and assigns forever. Signed with mark, witness Peter Calvin and John Ingo

A year after Anne’s birth, Thomas Dusin, for some reason, gives her a one yearling heifer.

Deed Book Page 278 – July 10, 1679 between Peter Elmore of Rappae County, planter and Charles Dodson, same, planter, and his heirs and assignes, as much plantable land as 3 tithables can tend in corn and tabb, with privilege of leaving out for partuidge and further that said Dodson shall have the privilege of coopers and carpenters timber for the use of ye plantation for the term of 19 years from date hereof. (Further the said Elmore doth engage to furnish ye said Dodson with apple trees and peach trees suffichant to make an orchard both of apples and peaches) and further at the expiration of ye said terms the said Dodson is to leave a 30 foot dwelling house and a 50 foot tobacco house tennentable with all fencing in repairs that is at the expiration of the time. An further ye said Dodson to pay ye said Peter Elmore 50 pounds tobacco yearly during he said terme but if said Dodson chance to leave ye said plantation before the expiration of the said time that then ye said Peter Elmore shall have ye refusal before any other.

Signed Peter Elmore with mark and Charles Dodson. Witness William Smoote and Charles Wilson. Looks like it was registered July 7, 1680.

I’m almost positive that this transaction is why Ann Dodson, wife of Charles, is believed to be Ann Elmore, daughter of Peter. I must admit, this transaction, because of its rather strange nature, makes me wonder the same thing. However, if this were a deed to a daughter, one would think that it would not revert to Peter Elmore after 19 years. This is not a gift, but a business arrangement.

Unfortunately, because land isn’t conveyed, we really can’t say for sure whether this is Peter Elmore Sr. or Peter Elmore Jr., because Peter’s wife is not required to sign a release of her dower.

Deed Book Page 282 April 24, 1680 – Henry Dawson to Peter Elmore right in a bill of sale. Witnessed by William Dawson and Charles Dodson

Charles Dodson clearly does have a close relationship with Peter Elmore. Unfortunately, we really don’t know why. Are they just close neighbors, or is there something more? If they are related, keep in mind that we don’t know who Charles Dodson’s parents are, who Peter Elmore’s parents are, who Jane Elmore’s parents are nor who Ann Dodson’s parents are.  So if they are actually related, it could be through any of those individuals in any capacity.

Deed Book Page 310 – May 30, 1681 John Harding to Jane Elmore, daughter of Peter Elmore one black cow yearling. Signed with mark. Witness Charles Dodson and Jane Ellmore (signed with mark)

Given that this 1681 deed is witnessed by Jane Ellmore, she surely must be the daughter of the elder Peter Elmore, not the Peter Jr. born in 1643.

Deed Book Page 151 November 1684 – Mr Colston, I should desire you to record for Ann Elmore my eldest daughter two cowes with calves by their sides with all their increase and in soe doeing shall obleig. Signed Peter Elmore by mark

And likewise one cowe and calfe to be between my two youngest sons with their increase. Signed Peter Elmore by mark

And likewise a black heifer of 2 years to William Mathews my son-in-law with all her increase Signed Peter Elmore by mark

This deed executed in November 1684 provides us with even more information about Peter Elmore Jr. This has to be Peter Elmore Jr. because he refers to William Matthews, so this Ann Elmore is the Ann born in 1674.

The close relationship between Charles Dodson and Peter Elmore continues, as we see by the following transactions.

Will Book Jan. 29, 1686/87 Edward Johnson will, Charles Dodson executor, Peter Elmore witness.

Court Order Book March 2, 1686/7 page 15 Ordered Richard White, William Smoote, Peter Elmore or any 2 of them do sometime between this and the next court meet to inventory and appraise the estate of Edward Johnson.

Deed Book Page 165 Charles Dodson convey to beloved son Thomas Dodson brown cow called by the name of Nancy marked with a crop and swallow forke on the left eare and a crop on the right eare together with all her female increase being in exchange with him my said son Thomas for one cow given him by his Godfather Peter Elmore. July 31, 1693 signed, wit William Ward and William Colston

Does Ann Elmore, Daughter of Peter Elmore Sr., Exist?

This 1793 document explains something about the relationship between Charles Dodson and Peter Elmore. Peter is the godfather, not the grandfather, of Charles and Ann’s son Thomas Dodson, born in 1681. If Peter was the child’s grandfather, this deed would have said grandfather, not godfather – because blood would trump any other kind of relationship, since a relationship was identified. If Peter Elmore was Peter Elmore Jr., it would have said uncle, not godfather.

Furthermore, there is no child named Peter among Ann Dodson’s children, nor a child named Jane, Peter Elmore’s wife’s name.

I’m beginning to wonder if Anne Elmore, daughter of Peter Sr., born in 1627, ever actually existed at all. There is nothing anyplace to suggest that she did. Jane, yes – Ann, no.

I’m beginning to think that perhaps Ann Elmore was added to the list of Peter Elmore’s children by a genealogist because someone deduced that Ann Dodson was Ann Elmore because of the 1689 transaction between Charles Dodson, whose wife’s name was Ann, and Peter Elmore.

Charles and Ann Dodson obviously were very close to Peter Elmore, but why?

We’ve now produced evidence that suggests Ann Dodson is not Ann Elmore. However, we still have no idea who Ann Dodson is.

We also don’t know who Charles Dodson’s parents were, or where he came from either. We do know that there is no record of any Dodson family in the region before Charles first appears in the 1679 transaction between Charles Dodson and Peter Elmore.

For all we know, Charles and Ann may have married in England, or wherever they were before they are found in Rappahannock County in 1679.

By that time, Ann and Charles have at least one son, Charles Jr., have probably been married about 9 years and most likely have had about 4 children. We know that Charles Jr. lived to adulthood, and it’s safe to say that Thomas born in 1781 is the second son that lived, but we don’t know if any of the children born between Charles and Thomas survived.

Can Ann Dodson Write?

Ann witnesses four documents in 1693, 1694 and 1705. It appears that she signed her name, although that may simply be because the clerk did not mention that she could not write and signed with a mark. Given that her son, Charles Jr., also married an Ann, it’s difficult to discern which Ann was signing, although the ones where Charles Jr. is absent are much more likely to have been signed by Ann, wife of Charles Sr.

If Ann is literate, it makes the probability that she was raised in England much more likely than being raised in early Virginia.

Court Order Book May 1, 1693 Power of Attorney Easter Mills of Richmond Co. constitute my trusty and loving friend Edward Reid of same to be my attorney to ask a deed above made by my husband John Mills and myself unto Charles Richardson of the same of 125 acres. Wit Ann Dodson, Charles Dodson, Jr, Charles Dodson Sr. Book 1, page 71

Deed Book May 28, 1694 William Richardson and Elizabeth his wife of Richmond Co planter to John Henley of same, planter, 50 ac parcel in Farnham parish adj said Richardson’s land and Thomas Dusin part of a devident of land purch of John Mills of Richmond Co on main branch of Totuskey. Wit Ann Dodson, Charles Dodson Jr, Charles Dodson Sr. Ack June 6, 1694 Book 2 page 29

Notice that in the above deed, no one is noted as signing with an X, but below, having to do with the same deed, both Ann and Charles Jr. are noted as signing by their marks.

Court Order Book May 28, 1694 Elizabeth Richardson POA to Thomas Dusin to acknowledge deed. Signed with mark, wit Ann Dodson by mark, Charles Dodson Jr. by mark and Charles Dodson Sr.

Will Book 24 Apr 1704-04 Oct 1705. Richmond Co, Virginia Wills, Will of Eve Smith. Grandson William and John Goad; daughter Catherine to have her father, John Williams’ chest; granddaughter Hannah Goad; exec. son Abraham Goad; Wits: William Dodson, Charles Dodson, Sr., Anne Dodson.

Life on the Northern Neck

Life on the Northern Neck of Virginia at that time revolved around the planting, nurturing and harvesting of tobacco, a very labor intensive crop.

Charles Dodson was very clearly a man with a great deal of initiative and drive, given that he started out in 1679 by working the land of Peter Elmore that he would never own, and by the time he died, 27 years later, he owned 900 acres.

Ann’s life too would have revolved around crops, seasons and church. While church attendance was mandatory at the time, most people, especially women, didn’t need much encouragement to attend. Where the court sessions were an important social occasion for men, women didn’t usually attend court, and church provided that same type of camaraderie for women.

Charles and Ann lived in, along or on Briery Swamp, a part of the Totuskey watershed. They paid for their land with tobacco, the traditionally accepted money in colonial Virginia.

Ann’s husband did the normal male things of the day. He witnessed wills, witnessed deeds and attended court, occasionally serving as a juror. Charles apparently settled differences with people amicably, because for a very long time, he wasn’t sued and he didn’t sue anyone.

He was highly thought of in the community, because in 1686/1687, when neighbor John Lincoln died, it was reported that John would “have none other than Charles Dodson” for his executor.

In 1688, Charles and Ann would have been about 38 years old.

Something began to change. The first suit was filed against Charles Dodson, with a second one following at the same court tern.

In 1693, a rather unusual transaction occurred where Charles Dodson trades cows with his son, Thomas, who was age 12.

Charles continues to sign deeds as a witness and appear in court, until in 1695, when the “Ozgrippin event” occurred. According to depositions, Charles, along with two other men went to the house of Matthew Ozgrippen (or Ozgriffen), apparently Charles Dodson’s tenant, and forcibly entered the house, beat Matthew and destroyed his tobacco and corn crop.

For two years, and with Murphy of Murphy’s law in attendance, Charles Dodson and Matthew Ozgrippen battled in the courts, with Matthew ultimately winning, but not nearly as much money (tobacco) as he had requested.

Charles then begins to file suits and not appear afterwards.

The behavior of Charles has changed perceptibly and I have to wonder if he changed at home too. He would have been between 40 and 50 at this time. His behavior is similar to what I’ve witnessed up close and personal when strokes or closed head injuries are incurred.

About 1698, the 19 year “arrangement” for Charles to farm and improve Peter Elmore’s land expires, and apparently Charles and Ann built a new house on a new plantation on land they owned, because Charles’ will in 1702/1703 references it as such.

In 1699, when he is age 50, Charles does serve on a jury once more, gives a deposition and is also involved with Ozgrippen again in a suit. Ann must have been holding her breath, waiting on one of those two men to kill the other.

In January 1702/03, Charles Dodson wrote his will. He would have been about 53 at the time. He didn’t pass away right away, in fact, not for 3 more years – and he resumes filing suit and not showing up for court too.

In March of 1705/1706, Charles Dodson’s estate is probated, with Ann as executrix.

Charles Dodson’s Estate Inventory

Charles Dodson’s estate inventory was filed with the court on Oct. 17, 1706, as follows:

  • Feather bed and bedstead and parcel of sheets and one blanket and one rugg – 0600
  • One flock bed and paire of blankets one sheet and rug and bolster and bedstead – 0500
  • One saw and six reep hooks and one paire of old pestells holsters and one old chest and one old bill book – 0200
  • Eight chairs – 0800
  • Two wooden chairs – 0100
  • One chest of drawers and table – 1000
  • Two chest – 0250
  • One small table couch – 0150
  • One warming pan two paire of tongs and one box iron – 0200
  • One pair hilliards – 0250
  • One super table cloth and 12 napkins – 0200
  • Four old napkins and one old table cloth – 0050
  • One feather bed curtains and valens one blankett one pair of sheets and two pillows – 1100
  • A parcel of old books – 0150
  • Ole looking glass and lantron? – 0050
  • One old flock bed 2 blankets rug bolster and pillows – 0400
  • 2 spinning wheels – 0150
  • 3 pots 3 pothooks and 3 pot hangers one spit and one iron pestell – 0450
  • 99 weight of pewter – 0950
  • One bellmettle pestle and mortar 0 0700
  • 7.5 pounds of brass – 0130
  • One servant man 3 years and 8 months to serve – 2200
  • One pare of small hilliards and two smoothing iron and two cutting knives and skewers – 0150
  • One mare and two horses – 2400
  • Parcel of old iron – 0100
  • Pair of cart wheels – 0060
  • Old crosscut saw – 0150
  • One saddle and pillow or pillion – 0120
  • 3 cows and 3 years old – 1800
  • One cow and calfe – 0500
  • 6 two yeare olde – 1200
  • One steere of 5 years old – 0500
  • 2 barren cows and heifer and one calfe – 1400
  • 3 old sheep – 0300
  • 3 lambs – 0200

Total 18780

Signed John Rankin, William Smoot and Richard R. White (his mark)

I absolutely love estate inventories, because they tell us exactly what was in the household and on the farm when the man died. Inventories included everything owned by the couple, because the man was presumed to own all property of any kind except for the wife’s clothes and any real estate deeded to her individually after they were married. The wife was entitled to one third of the value of the husband’s estate unless the husband provided for more. However, the estate’s real value was established by the sale of the inventory items, not by the inventory itself, so everything was inventoried prior to sale.  In some cases, the widow was made an initial allocation so she and the children could simply survive.

The feather bed clearly was the bed that Charles and Ann slept in, but it’s worth noting that there were no bedcurtains or valances which would have suggested a more upper-class household.

There were three beds in the inventory, two of flock which meant a mattress of scraps of fabric and wool instead of feathers. However, Ann and Charles had 8 children and a servant. Obviously there was a lot of bed-sharing going on and not everyone had a bed. The servant may have slept in the barn or on straw in the kitchen.

The spinning wheels certainly weren’t tools used by Charles and were obviously Ann’s.

This photo of a woman with a spinning wheel was taken about 1920, but not a lot had changed in spinning wheel design in the past couple hundred years.

The looking glass may have been a shared resource. Looking glasses were scarce and status symbols.

I do wonder why there were no pots and pans, silverware, candle holders, etc. The absence of these items if very unusual for this time period – and let’s face it, you can’t live without candles and silverware and Charles Dodson, while he wasn’t rich, he certainly was not a poor man.

Ann Remarries

Four months after Charles’ will is probated, Ann has remarried to John Hill, probably between March 6th and July 3rd, 1706.

John Hill is no stranger. In fact, he has been a lifelong friend of Charles Dodson. John Hill had previously married the widow of John Lincoln and she had probably recently died as well, assuming Ann married the same John Hill. They probably knew each other well, possibly for their entire lives. A decision to marry would have benefitted both parties. Life alone was difficult if not impossible in colonial Virginia, and Ann would probably have had some children yet at home given that she was probably between 50 and 55 when Charles died. Women had children until they biologically could not, generally between the ages of 41-45, which meant Ann probably had at least 5 or 6 children remaining at home.

Court Order Book Page 137 March 6, 1705/06 Will of Charles Dodson proved by oath of Christopher Petty with oath of John Beckwith.

Will Book Page 171 July 3, 1706 Upon petition of John Hill and Anne his wife, exec of the will of Charles Dodson decd ordered that John Rankin, William Smoote, John Mills and Richard White or any 3 of them meet at the house of John Hill and inventory and appraise the estate of Charles Dodson. All sworn plus John Hill and Anne, his wife.

Court Order Book Page 262 April 3, 1707 Action brought by Thomas Dodson against John Hill marrying the executrix of Charles Dodson is dismissed, plt not prosecuting.

Thomas Dodson was Ann’s second oldest son, of course, who would have about 26 years old at the time and had been married since 1701. Something upset him enough to file suit, although the issue was apparently resolved within the family as the suit was obviously dropped. I wonder if his suit had anything to do with what appears to be missing estate inventory items.

Court Order Book Page 275 May 7, 1707 John Hill and Anne his wife exec of Charles Dodson confest judgement to Katherine Gwyn exec of will of Majr David Gwyn for 8 pounds 19 shillings and 8 pence 3 farthings and 731 pounds of sweet scented tobacco due upon balance of accounts ordered to be paid with costs.

Court Order Book Page 281 May 8, 1707 Imparlance granted in suite between John Harper plt and John Hill and Anne his wife exec of Charles Dodson decd, till next court.

Court Order Book Page 292 July 3, 1707 John Harper against John Hill and Anne his wife exec of Charles Dodson decde, deft for 500 pounds of tobacco upon balance of accounts, def pleaded they owed nothing and plt asked time to next court.

Court Order Book Page 303 Sept. 4, 1707 Judgement granted to John Harper against John Hill and Anne his wife exec of Charles Dodson, decd, for 405 pounds tobacco due by account proved by oath of plt ordered paid with costs.

Court Order Book Page 323 Dec. 4, 1707 John Hill and Anne his wife exe of will of Charles Dodson decd against John Harper dismissed, plt not prosecuting.

Court Order Book Page 40 June 2 1709 Judgment granted to John Davis Sr. against John Hill and Anne, wife, exec of Charles Dodson decd for 136 pounds tobacco due by account ordered paid with costs.

John Hill

As with Charles Dodson previously, we now have to track Ann’s life through husband, John Hill. As we might expect, it appears there is more than one John Hill, at least eventually. We can’t tell the difference between the two, if there are two this early, and we don’t know when Ann died.

Court Order Book Page 27 June 1, 1709 Ordered Luke Hanks officiate as constable for the ensuing year in room and stead of John Hill in the precincts between Totuskey and Farnham Creeks.

Court Order Book Page 337 Sept. 8, 1715 Petition of Thomas Mountjoy and John Hill for their keep an ordinary at the place where they now live is granted provided they give bond and security as the law directs.

Court Order Book Page 475 May 2, 1716 Ordered the Sheriff to summon William Hill and John Hill to appear to answer the presentment of the grand jury against them for stopping the creek and mill road from the Folly Neck in Farnham Parish within this 3 months.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any image.

Folly Neck is the point of land on the south side of Tosuskey Creek where it intersects with the Rappahannock River. Folly Neck Road (614) intersects with the main road (3). Did Ann live here with John Hill, or did they live on one of Charles Dodson’s plantations?  Was this one of Charles Dodson’s plantations? Folly Neck is just south of Totuskey Creek and not far from Rich Neck, shown a the top of the map below, where  Charles Dodson’s land deeded to both Charles Jr. and Thomas in 1703 was located.

The old Farnham Parish church is just south of Emmerton in the bend of the road and the new church, built in 1737, is currently located at Farnham.  The river near Sharps is Farnham Creek and the one heading northwest underneath the word Simonson is Morattico Creek.

Court Order Book Page 43 August 2, 1716 John Hill his action of case against Ann Dodson executrix of the will of Charles Dodson decd for 313 pounds tobacco due by account is dismissed, plt not prosecuting.

This Charles Dodson is Charles Dodson Jr., the son of Charles Sr. and Ann Dodson Hill, and the Ann Dodson mentioned here is the wife of Charles Jr.

Deed Book September 1716 Deed between Thomas Mountjoy and John Hill.

Deed Book Page 66 October 4, 1716 John Doyle from Edward Barrow gent, one of his majesties justices of the peace for this county, against the estate of John Hill for 261 pounds of tobacco is dismissed, the plt not prosecuting.

Given that this 1716 record doesn’t say John Hill, deceased, it’s unclear whether or not this John Hill in question is deceased.  It seems unlikely since there has been no other mention of a will or probate estate in any existing court or will book for Richmond County. The same day, John Hill is in court, noted below.

Deed Book Page 67 October 4, 1716 John Hill came into court and confessed until Augustine Higgins 4167 pounds of tobacco which is ordered to be paid with costs.

Court Order Book Page 72 October 4, 1716 Action of debt between Joseph Hutchinson Plt and Thomas Mountjoy and John Hill, deft, for 750 pounds tobacco due by bill being called and not appearing on motion judgement is granted him against William Carter, returned security for the deft for the aforesaid sum and costs unless defts appear at next court and answer action.

Court Order Book Page 73 October 4, 1716 Mary Stevens action of debt against John Hill for 600 pounds tobacco due by bill, dismissed, plt not prosecuting.

Court Order Page 91 Feb. 7, 1716/17 Joseph Hutchison action of debt against Thomas Mountjoy and John Hill dismissed the plt not prosecuting.

John Hill was appointed constable, but I failed to copy the date which was in either the  1716 -1717 Court Order book or the 1717-1718 book.

Assuming this John Hill is the same John Hill that was married to Ann Dodson, she has died sometime between June 2, 1709 when she is last mentioned in the court records pertaining to the estate of Charles Dodson, and March 7, 1721/1722, when John Hill’s new wife released her down in land John Hill sells.

Court Order Book Page 36 March 7, 1721/22 Frances Hill wife of John Hill relinquished right of dower in piece of land sold by her husband unto Thomas Creele and ack last Jan court.

The Creele family does live in the neighborhood, because in later generations, the Dodson family intermarries with Creeles. Based on the next entry, John Hill has obviously married a recently widowed woman, for the third time. Given that he seems to have a propensity for that, I wonder if Ann Dodson Hill had just recently died in late 1721 or early 1722.

Court Order Book Page 36 March 7, 1721/22 John Hill and Frances Hill, relict of Robert Reynolds, decd came into court and made oath that Robert Reynolds departed this life without making any will so farr as they know or believe and on their petition and giving security for their just and faithful administration of the decds estate, certificate granted them for obtaining probate.

Court Order Book Page 36 March 7, 1721/22 John Hill, Frances Hill, Caron Brannon and James Neale came into court and ack bond for John Hill and Frances Hill admin of estate of Robert Reynolds, decd.

Court Order Book Page 36 March 7, 1721/22 Thomas Dodson, Christopher Petty, Bartholomew Richard Dodson and Thomas Scurlock or any 3 of them to appraise estate of Robert Reynolds decd. All sworn plus John and Frances Hill, the admins.

It’s impossible to tell whether the above John Hill is the same one that was married to Ann Dodson, but the continued interaction with the Dodson family suggests possibly so. It’s also possible that we are dealing with a second generation John Hill, although Jr. and Sr. is never used in these records.

Court Order Book Page 83 January 2, 1722/23 Ordered John Hill in the Forrest of Moratico of Northumberland Parish to answer to the presentment of the grand jury for unlawfully absenting themselves from their Parish Church for one month last past.

This entry is somewhat confusing, because there is not now nor was there ever, that I an find, a Northumberland Parish in Richmond County, Virginia.  There was a Northumberland County formed in 1648, a neighbor to Richmond County, but the parishes in Northumberland were called St. Stephens and Wycomico (Wicomico) when the county was founded.  Northumberland Parish, is therefore, a bit of a mystery.

If John Hill lived in the Forest of Moratico, so did Ann. This reminds me of Sherwood Forest, although I’m sure I’m being overly romantic. I could not find the Forest of Moratico on current maps, or any map between now and then. Clearly, it’s someplace near the Moratico River which is in the general vicinity of the Dodson lands in Richmond County.

I’m guessing that the Forest of Morattico would be someplace near Morattico Creek shown at the red balloon, above. There are several wooded areas, including three state-owned areas shown in green above.  Below, you can see the extent of the tree cover.

The involvement between the Dodson clan and John Hill continues.

Deed Book Dec. 10, 1723 Thomas Durham to Thomas Dodson Sr. 5 shillings 100 acres formerly belonging to Abraham Marshall bounded by Spanish Oak corner tree of Charles Dodson part of patent formerly granted to William Thatcher by the main branch of Totoskey and then (metes and bounds.) Signed Thomas and Mary Durham, wit John Hill, William Walker and Jeremiah Greenham

Deed Book Dec. 10, 1723 between Thomas Durham to Thomas Dodson Sr. of Richmond Co. 5000 pounds tobacco received by Thomas Dodson Sr certain parcel of land formerly belonging to Abraham Marshall bearing date 25th of 9ber, 1692, containing 100 acres bounded (same as lease above). Signed Thomas Durham, Mary Durham, wit John Hill, William Walker, Jeremiah Greenham

Thomas Dodson Sr. is Ann’s son.

Court Order Book Page 307 Sept. 7, 1726 William Garland plt and Edward Jones deft, the deft being called and not appearing, judgement granted him against deft and John Hill his security for the sum sued for in the declaration shall appear next court with cost providing deft does not then appear and answer thereto.

Court Order Book Page 307 Sept. 7, 1726 John Nancy vs John Hill deft damage 100 pounds sterling the plt being called and not appearing, at deft’s motion ordered that he be nonsuited and that he pay the deft damage according to law and attorney’s fees with costs.

Court Order Book Page 308 Sept. 7, 1726 John Hill his case damage 20 pounds sterling against Richard Woollard dismissed, the plt not prosecuting.

I made a note that there is a John Hill listed in the book, Richmond Co Will Book 4 1717-1725 by TLC, but unfortunately, I did not copy the page. The date could be wrong as well, as the books at the Allen County Public Library in this series appears to have the covers mixed up. This site shows that John’s will was probated April 3, 1728 where he leaves the plantation and land to his wife, who is unnamed.

I expect the 1728 entry is “our” John Hill, as he is clearly dead by April 1728 when Frances is shown in the court records as his executrix. Furthermore, three sons of Charles and Ann Dodson are still connected with this man.

Court Order Book Page 399 April 3, 1728 Last will of John Hill decd presented by Frances Hill, executrix and oath of James Wilson and John Hightower, two witnesses.

Court Order Book Page 399 April 3, 1728 Frances Hill, John Hightower and Lambert Dodson came into court and ack bond for Frances Hill’s administration of will of John Hill decd.

Court Order Book Page 399 April 3, 1728 Thomas Scurlock, Thomas Dodson, John Hightower and Bartholomew Richard Dodson or any 3 of them to appraise estate of John Hill. Oaths admin to all 3 plus Frances Hill.

Court Order Book Page 435 October 2, 1728 Action of debt between Frances Hill executrix of will of John Hill, decd, plt and Thomas Livack and Mary, wife executrix of will of John Mills, decd, for 16,000 pounds tobacco due by bond, the def being called and not appearing the motion of the plt judgement is granted her against the defts.

These next two orders show that there was unquestionably (at least) two John Hills, because one is still living.

Court Order Book Page 644 May 3, 1732 Thomas Dodson, Sr, Jeremiah Greenham and John Hill on grand jury.

Court Order Book Page 172 April 1, 1734 Jeremiah Greenham and John Hill on jury.

At this point in time, it’s very unlikely for this John Hill, active in court, to be the husband of Ann Dodson Hill. Ann would have been about 85 years old by now, and John probably as well. They are very likely both deceased by this time and if John isn’t deceased, he’s probably not riding his horse to court. I stopped extracting John Hill information at this point.

I believe that Ann died before 1721/1722 when John had remarried to Frances.

Where is Ann Buried?

In the book, “The Registers of North Farnham Parish 1663-1814,” the following map of the current and old Farnham Parish churches is shown. The current church was built in 1737, and the previous church was located some distance away, on the main road.

This map gives the only locations I have ever seen of the original church, other than a general description.

What I don’t know is whether this is an approximation, or if the old-timers actually knew the location of the old church.

Regardless, given this map, I was able to find the location on Google maps today based on the bends in the road.

Map above, satellite view below.

The X on the map from the Farnham Parish book would be found approximately where the Calvary United Methodist Church is found today.

A closer view allows us to see the lay of the land.

The church does have a cemetery, although we have no idea of course whether this cemetery predates this church or whether the original Farnham Parish church was even in this location.

The original church was certainly someplace nearby, so let’s take a drive down this road.

What a beautiful white country church. Whether the original Farnham Parish Church church was in this location or not, Ann would have seen this beautiful countryside on her way to church.

The earliest burials in this cemetery with markers are a Ficklin in 1873 and a Lyell 1884. The area of the cemetery is quite large, so there may well be many unmarked burials in the churchyard. I was unable to find any history of this particular church online.

The fields beside the church would have been prime farmland – flat and dry. At that time, they would have been planted in tobacco (for 3 years) or corn (for 3 years), or lieing fallow (for 20 years), waiting for the nutrients to replenish so that the fields could be planted once again.

Ann’s Children

Ann and Charles had several children who survived at least until Charles made his will in January 1702/1703. There were likely several more children born to Ann as well. In the following generations, there were at least three grandchildren named for Charles but only one that we know of named for Ann. Of course, we don’t know the identities of the children of William, Anne or Elizabeth and only two names of children of Richard Bartholomew who are remembered in Charles’ will, but we know nothing further.

If Ann was born about 1652 and had her first child in 1672, she would have been having children until about 1695 or so when she would have been about 43 years of age.

  • Charles Junior was born between 1672 and 1677 and likely closer to 1672 given that he witnessed a document in 1693. Based on the deeds by Charles and the fact that he was named for his father, he was most likely the eldest son, if not the eldest child. Charles married an Anne whose surname is unknown.  Charles Jr. died between July of 1715 and May of 1716 when his will was probated.
  • Child born about 1674
  • Child born about 1676
  • Child born about 1678
  • Thomas Dodson was born on May 15, 1681, married Mary Durham on August 1, 1701 and died on November 21, 1740 in Richmond County.

We don’t have birth dates for the remainder of the children, so I’ve listed them as best we know.

  • Child born about 1683
  • Elizabeth possibly born about 1685, nothing further known except that she was alive when her father wrote his will in 1703
  • Anne possibly born about 1687, nothing more is known except that she was alive when her father wrote his will in 1703
  • Bartholomew Richard Dodson married Elizabeth Clark and their first child, James was born on December 23, 1716 according to the North Farnham Parish Records. This would suggest his birth date probably around 1689 if James was the first child. They are last found in the Richmond County records in 1734 selling their land to brother Thomas Dodson, listing themselves as “of Northumberland County.” Unfortunately, Northumberland County records are mostly missing and Bartholomew Richard disappears after this date.

I suspect that Bartholomew Richard’s name may be a hint as to the parents of either Ann or Charles, given that middle names were not utilized at that time unless they were family names and Bartholomew was a very unusual name.

  • William Dodson born about 1691, about whom nothing more is known. He may have died before a 1717 land conveyance by James Tune and Bartholomew Richard Dodson that could have been his land, or he may simply have moved away, abandoning his land with no record.
  • John Dodson born about 1693 was married to Elizabeth Goad about 1724 and died in Shenandoah Co., VA in 1784. In 1726, John sold or leased to Robert Mathews his 100 acres for the use of Mathews for 3 natural lifetimes, with the actual ownership remaining with John, per Charles Sr.’s wishes in his will. In 1737, two of John’s sons, Charles age 1 and Moses age 8 were taken into the care of the church, although nothing more is said as to why. John left soon thereafter and is found in Augusta County by 1741 when his daughter Elizabeth was baptized. John bequeaths his land, leased for 3 lifetimes, to his son, Charles, in his will.
  • Lambeth Dodson was born about 1695 and married a Sarah whose surname is unknown. Lambeth sold the land he inherited from his father being “the new dwelling plantation with 100 acres of land belonging to it” to his brother, Thomas, who bequeathed the land in his will in 1739 to his son Greenham Dodson. By 1753, Lambeth is found in Halifax County, VA and in Guilford Co., NC by 1779.

Lambeth’s son, Greenham Dodson married Eleanor Hightower and sold the 100 acres of Charles’ land to Jeremiah Greenham in 1746, Richmond County deeds 10-373. This land needs to be tracked forward from Jeremiah, with the hope that it can be located today.

Ann’s DNA

The only DNA that we could specifically identify today of Ann’s would be her mitochondrial DNA which is passed from mothers to all of their children, but only passed on to subsequent generations by females. Unfortunately, we know absolutely nothing about what happened to Ann’s two daughters, Anne and Elizabeth. We only know they existed because Charles’ will mentions them. They could have died or married, but regardless, we have no further records of these women, so we can’t obtain Ann’s mitochondrial DNA.

Many people carry autosomal DNA tracking back to Charles and Ann. Some of that DNA is undoubtedly Ann’s DNA, but when we have DNA attributed to a couple, the only way to tell whose DNA is whose is to be able to track specific segments upstream to either the Dodson side or Ann’s side.

The way to do that is to track those segments by finding them in Dodson’s, for example, who do not descend through Ann or Charles – meaning through Charles Dodson’s siblings. Since we don’t know who Charles’ parents nor Ann’s parents were, we don’t know who their siblings are either, so our figurative hands are tied relative to identifying whether segments descending from this couple are his or hers. We can only tell that they are “theirs.”

At Family Tree DNA, where I can both search for current and ancestral surnames, AND compare people to look for matching segments in a chromosome browser, I did just that.

I found a total of 22 people who either have the current surname of Dodson or have Dodson listed in their Ancestral Surnames. Some have trees, and some don’t.

I checked each tree to see how my matches descend from a Dodson ancestor. I discovered that we descend through at least two sons of Charles and Ann Dodson. Several people are brick walled and don’t have their genealogy back far enough to connect.

However, the Dodson DNA connects us when compared to known Dodson descendants.

I pushed all of these people through to the chromosome browser, 5 at a time, and downloaded the matching results, combining them into one working spreadsheet. In total, I had 22 matches that matched me on a total of 452 separate segments. Many of these people matched me on some of the same segments

There are two sizeable segments of chromosome 5 that have, amazingly, arrived intact from the Dodson line.

This first segment is staggered across the first half of the chromosome, and of this group, only two, the yellow and orange have their Dodson lines proven back to Charles. Both the yellow and orange descend through son Thomas, the same as me.

The cM values and ranges for the people shown above as compared to me are:

While the chromosome browser tells me that all of these people match me on the same chromosome – all chromosomes have two sides – Mom’s and Dad’s. Furthermore, these matches are staggered, so not entirely overlapping. Therefore, some of the people may not match each other either because their overlapping portion of the segment on chromosome 5 isn’t large enough to be considered a match to each other, or because some people could be matching me from a line on my mother’s side.

To see if these people all match each other, I used the Matrix tool.

Three of these individuals match each other, plus me, although a matrix match does not guarantee a match on the same segment(s). It does, however, create a genetic network of people known to match and share ancestors, or in this care, a mixture of people proven to Charles and Ann and people whose genealogy isn’t proven quite that far back but who are Dodson descendants.

Two individuals do not match each other. If the overlap occurs without enough DNA matching to be over the threshold, non-matching can be the result. As you can see in the table and also on the chromosome graphic above, the orange and magenta are very offset from the other 3. Sure enough, these two don’t match the other 3 more closely aligned matches over the matching threshold, so either they don’t belong in this group or their overlap isn’t large enough for a match to each other. Looking for other clues, neither of those two are assigned to my father’s side through phased matching.

But wait, there’s more.

A second matching segment on chromosome 5 is even more remarkable.

These segments are even longer and more robust. Five people are shown above on the chromosome browser, above, and in the first 5 rows below.

Three additional people match on these segments, but the chromosome browser only displays 5 at a time. The row below green would be the exact same segment as the green segment. The segment with only 1.37 cM is very small and the last segment, at 13.34 is a known cousin, so I omitted that individual from the browser.

To be as sure as I can be that these segments are legitimate and that these people also match each other, I used the matrix tool again.

This matrix shows that all of the individuals in the matrix match. I’ve included two of the three individuals whose DNA did not fit in the chromosome browser, excluding the one small segment match. All match each other, except for the last row who is the known cousin whose matching segment is much smaller and does not extend the full length of the segments of the other individuals who are matching to me. Therefore, that cousin matches some, but not others, as might be expected.

While Family Tree DNA does not have explicit triangulation, the combination of the chromosome browser showing matches on the same segment, the same family line and the matrix tool indicating that these people also match each other is a very powerful indication that triangulation would or will occur if you can verify that these people also match each other. These individuals form a match group.

So, at this point, we can assume that of these people, all of the group in the second matrix and at least 3 of the 5 in the first matrix all descend from Charles and Ann Dodson, for a minimum total of 10 people plus me.

This is actually quite remarkable, because these large segments have survived through 10 generations on my side alone – plus about as many generations for each of them as well.

If one can assume that the other people matching that chromosome 5 segment are also 10 generations removed from Charles and Ann, they would be my 9th cousins.

The shared cM chart doesn’t even go as far out as 9th cousins. The highest is 8th, with the maximum amount of shared DNA by cM for 8th cousins being 16 cM with an average of 9. These centiMorgans ranging from 15 to 39 for this entire group is really quite amazing. The Dodson DNA seems to “stick together” quite well.

Now if we could just tell if we are looking at Ann’s DNA or Charles’ DNA, or some combination of both. Maybe someday there will be an avenue to associate this segment with the Dodson line or Ann’s family line – and if that day comes, maybe we’ll finally be able to solve the mystery of who Ann Dodson, wife of Charles Dodson, really was.

Which DNA Test is Best?

If you’re reading this article, congratulations. You’re a savvy shopper and you’re doing some research before purchasing a DNA test. You’ve come to the right place.

The most common question I receive is asking which test is best to purchase. There is no one single best answer for everyone – it depends on your testing goals and your pocketbook.

Testing Goals

People who want to have their DNA tested have a goal in mind and seek results to utilize for their particular purpose. Today, in the Direct to Consumer (DTC) DNA market space, people have varied interests that fall into the general categories of genealogy and medical/health.

I’ve approached the question of “which test is best” by providing information grouped into testing goal categories.  I’ve compared the different vendors and tests from the perspective of someone who is looking to test for those purposes – and I’ve created separate sections of this article for each interest..

We will be discussing testing for:

  • Ethnicity – Who Am I? – Breakdown by Various World Regions
  • Adoption – Finding Missing Parents or Close Family
  • Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification
  • Medical/Health

We will be reviewing the following test types:

  • Autosomal
  • Y DNA (males only)
  • Mitochondrial DNA

I have included summary charts for each section, plus an additional chart for:

  • Additional Vendor Considerations

If you are looking to select one test, or have limited funds, or are looking to prioritize certain types of tests, you’ll want to read about each vendor, each type of test, and each testing goal category.

Each category reports information about the vendors and their products from a different perspective – and only you can decide which of these perspectives and features are most important to you.

You might want to read this short article for a quick overview of the 4 kinds of DNA used for genetic genealogy and DTC testing and how they differ.

The Big 3

Today, there are three major players in the DNA testing market, not in any particular order:

Each of these companies offers autosomal tests, but each vendor offers features that are unique. Family Tree DNA and 23andMe offer additional tests as well.

In addition to the Big 3, there are a couple of new kids on the block that I will mention where appropriate. There are also niche players for the more advanced genetic genealogist or serious researcher, and this article does not address advanced research.

In a nutshell, if you are serious genealogist, you will want to take all of the following tests to maximize your tools for solving genealogical puzzles. There is no one single test that does everything.

  • Full mitochondrial sequence that informs you about your matrilineal line (only) at Family Tree DNA. This test currently costs $199.
  • Y DNA test (for males only) that informs you about your direct paternal (surname) line (only) at Family Tree DNA. This test begins at $169 for 37 markers.
  • Family Finder, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching at Family Tree DNA. This test currently costs $89.
  • AncestryDNA, an autosomal test at Ancestry.com that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. (Do not confuse this test with Ancestry by DNA, which is not the same test and does not provide the same features.) This test currently costs $99, plus the additional cost of a subscription for full feature access. You can test without a subscription, but nonsubscribers can’t access all of the test result features provided to Ancestry subscribers.
  • 23andMe Ancestry Service test, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. The genealogy version of this test costs $99, the medical+genealogy version costs $199.

A Word About Third Party Tools

A number of third party tools exist, such as GedMatch and DNAGedcom.com, and while these tools are quite useful after testing, these vendors don’t provide tests. In order to use these sites, you must first take an autosomal DNA test from a testing vendor. This article focuses on selecting your DNA testing vendor based on your testing goals.

Let’s get started!

Ethnicity

Many people are drawn to DNA testing through commercials that promise to ‘tell you who you are.” While the allure is exciting, the reality is somewhat different.

Each of the major three vendors provide an ethnicity estimate based on your autosomal DNA test, and each of the three vendors will provide you with a different result.

Yep, same person, different ethnicity breakdowns.

Hopefully, the outcomes will be very similar, but that’s certainly not always the case. However, many people take one test and believe those results wholeheartedly. Please don’t. You may want to read Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages to see how varied my own ethnicity reports are at various vendors as compared to my known genealogy.

The technology for understanding “ethnicity” from a genetic perspective is still very new. Your ethnicity estimate is based on reference populations from around the world – today. People and populations move, and have moved, for hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of years. Written history only reaches back a fraction of that time, so the estimates provided to people today are not exact.

That isn’t to criticize any individual vendor. View each vendor’s results not as gospel, but as their opinion based on their reference populations and their internal proprietary algorithm of utilizing those reference populations to produce your ethnicity results.

To read more about how ethnicity testing works, and why your results may vary between vendors or not be what you expected, click here.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from testing, only to be sure consumers understand the context of what they will be receiving. Generally speaking, these results are accurate at the continental level, and less accurate within continents, such as European regional breakdowns.

All three testing companies provide additional features or tools, in addition to your ethnicity estimates, that are relevant to ethnicity or population groups.

Let’s look at each company separately.

Ethnicity – Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity tool is called myOrigins and provides three features or tools in addition to the actual ethnicity estimate and associated ethnicity map.

Please note that throughout this article you can click on any image to enlarge.

On the myOrigins ethnicity map page, above, your ethnicity percentages and map are shown, along with two additional features.

The Shared Origins box to the left shows the matching ethnic components of people on your DNA match list. This is particularly useful if you are trying to discover, for example, where a particular minority admixture comes from in your lineage. You can select different match types, for example, immediate relatives or X chromosome matches, which have special inheritance qualities.

Clicking on the apricot (mitochondrial DNA) and green (Y DNA) pins in the lower right corner drops the pins in the locations on your map of the most distant ancestral Y and mitochondrial DNA locations of the individuals in the group you have selected in the Shared Origins match box. You may or may not match these individuals on the Y or mtDNA lines, but families tend to migrate in groups, so match hints of any kind are important.

A third unique feature provided by Family Tree DNA is Ancient Origins, a tool released with little fanfare in November 2016.

Ancient Origins shows the ancient source of your European DNA, based on genome sequencing of ancient DNA from the locations shown on the map.

Additionally, Family Tree DNA hosts an Ancient DNA project where they have facilitated the upload of the ancient genomes so that customers today can determine if they match these ancient individuals.

Kits included in the Ancient DNA project are shown in the chart below, along with their age and burial location. Some have matches today, and some of these samples are included on the Ancient Origins map.

Individual Approx. Age Burial Location Matches Ancient Origins Map
Clovis Anzick 12,500 Montana (US) Yes No
Linearbandkeramik 7,500 Stuttgart, Germany Yes Yes
Loschbour 8,000 Luxembourg Yes Yes
Palaeo-Eskimo 4,000 Greenland No No
Altai Neanderthal 50,000 Altai No No
Denisova 30,000 Siberia No No
Hinxton-4 2,000 Cambridgeshire, UK No No
BR2 3,200 Hungary Yes Yes
Ust’-Ishim 45,000 Siberia Yes No
NE1 7,500 Hungary Yes Yes

Ethnicity – Ancestry

In addition to your ethnicity estimate, Ancestry also provides a feature called Genetic Communities.

Your ethnicity estimate provides percentages of DNA found in regions shown on the map by fully colored shapes – green in Europe in the example above. Genetic Communities show how your DNA clusters with other people in specific regions of the world – shown with dotted clusters in the US in this example.

In my case, my ethnicity at Ancestry shows my European roots, illustrated by the green highlighted areas, and my two Genetic Communities are shown by yellow and red dotted regions in the United States.

My assigned Genetic Communities indicate that my DNA clusters with other people whose ancestors lived in two regions; The Lower Midwest and Virginia as well as the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana.

Testers can then view their DNA matches within that community, as well as a group of surnames common within that community.

The Genetic Communities provided for me are accurate, but don’t expect all of your genealogical regions to be represented in Genetic Communities. For example, my DNA is 25% German, and I don’t have any German communities today, although ancestry will be adding new Genetic Communities as new clusters are formed.

You can read more about Genetic Communities here and here.

Ethnicity – 23andMe

In addition to ethnicity percentage estimates, called Ancestry Composition, 23andMe offers the ability to compare your Ancestry Composition against that of your parent to see which portions of your ethnicity you inherited from each parent, although there are problems with this tool incorrectly assigning parental segments.

Additionally, 23andMe paints your chromosome segments with your ethnic heritage, as shown below.

You can see that my yellow Native American segments appear on chromosomes 1 and 2.

In January 2017, 23andMe introduced their Ancestry Timeline, which I find to be extremely misleading and inaccurate. On my timeline, shown below, they estimate that my most recent British and Irish ancestor was found in my tree between 1900 and 1930 while in reality my most recent British/Irish individual found in my tree was born in England in 1759.

I do not view 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline as a benefit to the genealogist, having found that it causes people to draw very misleading conclusions, even to the point of questioning their parentage based on the results. I wrote about their Ancestry Timeline here.

Ethnicity Summary

All three vendors provide both ethnicity percentage estimates and maps. All three vendors provide additional tools and features relevant to ethnicity. Vendors also provide matching to other people which may or may not be of interest to people who test only for ethnicity. “Who you are” only begins with ethnicity estimates.

DNA test costs are similar, although the Family Tree DNA test is less at $89. All three vendors have sales from time to time.

Ethnicity Vendor Summary Chart

Ethnicity testing is an autosomal DNA test and is available for both males and females.

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Ethnicity Test Included with $89 Family Finder test Included with $99 Ancestry DNA test Included with $99 Ancestry Service
Percentages and Maps Yes Yes Yes
Shared Ethnicity with Matches Yes No Yes
Additional Feature Y and mtDNA mapping of ethnicity matches Genetic Communities Ethnicity phasing against parent (has issues)
Additional Feature Ancient Origins Ethnicity mapping by chromosome
Additional Feature Ancient DNA Project Ancestry Timeline

 

Adoption and Parental Identity

DNA testing is extremely popular among adoptees and others in search of missing parents and grandparents.

The techniques used for adoption and parental search are somewhat different than those used for more traditional genealogy, although non-adoptees may wish to continue to read this section because many of the features that are important to adoptees are important to other testers as well.

Adoptees often utilize autosomal DNA somewhat differently than traditional genealogists by using a technique called mirror trees. In essence, the adoptee utilizes the trees posted online of their closest DNA matches to search for common family lines within those trees. The common family lines will eventually lead to the individuals within those common trees that are candidates to be the parents of the searcher.

Here’s a simplified hypothetical example of my tree and a first cousin adoptee match.

The adoptee matches me at a first cousin level, meaning that we share at least one common grandparent – but which one? Looking at other people the adoptee matches, or the adoptee and I both match, we find Edith Lore (or her ancestors) in the tree of multiple matches. Since Edith Lore is my grandmother, the adoptee is predicted to be my first cousin, and Edith Lore’s ancestors appear in the trees of our common matches – that tells us that Edith Lore is also the (probable) grandmother of the adoptee.

Looking at the possibilities for how Edith Lore can fit into the tree of me and the adoptee, as first cousins, we fine the following scenario.

Testing the known child of daughter Ferverda will then provide confirmation of this relationship if the known child proves to be a half sibling to the adoptee.

Therefore, close matches, the ability to contact matches and trees are very important to adoptees. I recommend that adoptees make contact with www.dnaadoption.com. The volunteers there specialize in adoptions and adoptees, provide search angels to help people and classes to teach adoptees how to utilize the techniques unique to adoption search such as building mirror trees.

For adoptees, the first rule is to test with all 3 major vendors plus MyHeritage. Family Tree DNA allows you to test with both 23andMe and Ancestry and subsequently transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, but I would strongly suggest adoptees test on the Family Tree DNA platform instead. Your match results from transferring to Family Tree DNA from other companies, except for MyHeritage, will be fewer and less reliable because both 23andMe and Ancestry utilize different chip technology.

For most genealogists, MyHeritage is not a player, as they have only recently entered the testing arena, have a very small data base, no tools and are having matching issues. I recently wrote about MyHeritage here. However, adoptees may want to test with MyHeritage, or upload your results to MyHeritage if you tested with Family Tree DNA, because your important puzzle-solving match just might have tested there and no place else. You can read about transfer kit compatibility and who accepts which vendors’ tests here.

Adoptees can benefit from ethnicity estimates at the continental level, meaning that regional (within continent) or minority ethnicity should be taken with a very large grain of salt. However, knowing that you have 25% Jewish heritage, for example, can be a very big clue to an adoptee’s search.

Another aspect of the adoptees search that can be relevant is the number of foreign testers. For many years, neither 23andMe, nor Ancestry tested substantially (or at all) outside the US. Family Tree DNA has always tested internationally and has a very strong Jewish data base component.

Not all vendors report X chromosome matches. The X chromosome is important to genetic genealogy, because it has a unique inheritance path. Men don’t inherit an X chromosome from their fathers. Therefore, if you match someone on the X chromosome, you know the relationship, for a male, must be from their mother’s side. For a female, the relationship must be from the mother or the father’s mother’s side. You can read more about X chromosome matching here.

Neither Ancestry nor MyHeritage have chromosome browsers which allow you to view the segments of DNA on which you match other individuals, which includes the X chromosome.

Adoptee Y and Mitochondrial Testing

In addition to autosomal DNA testing, adoptees will want to test their Y DNA (males only) and mitochondrial DNA.

These tests are different from autosomal DNA which tests the DNA you receive from all of your ancestors. Y and mitochondrial DNA focus on only one specific line, respectively. Y DNA is inherited by men from their fathers and the Y chromosome is passed from father to son from time immemorial. Therefore, testing the Y chromosome provides us with the ability to match to current people as well as to use the Y chromosome as a tool to look far back in time. Adoptees tend to be most interested in matching current people, at least initially.

Working with male adoptees, I have a found that about 30% of the time a male will match strongly to a particular surname, especially at higher marker levels. That isn’t always true, but adoptees will never know if they don’t test. An adoptee’s match list is shown at 111 markers, below.

Furthermore, utilizing the Y and mitochondrial DNA test in conjunction with autosomal DNA matching at Family Tree DNA helps narrows possible relatives. The Advanced Matching feature allows you to see who you match on both the Y (or mitochondrial) DNA lines AND the autosomal test, in combination.

Mitochondrial DNA tests the matrilineal line only, as women pass their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on. Family Tree DNA provides matching and advanced combination matching/searching for mitochondrial DNA as well as Y DNA. Both genders of children carry their mother’s mitochondrial DNA. Unfortunately, mitochondrial DNA is more difficult to work with because of the surname changes in each generation, but you cannot be descended from a woman, or her direct matrilineal ancestors if you don’t substantially match her mitochondrial DNA.

Some vendors state that you receive mitochondrial DNA with your autosomal results, which is only partly accurate. At 23andMe, you receive a haplogroup but no detailed results and no matching. 23andMe does not test the entire mitochondria and therefore cannot provide either advanced haplogroup placement nor Y or mitochondrial DNA matching between testers.

For additional details on the Y and Mitochondrial DNA tests themselves and what you receive, please see the Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA section.

Adoption Summary

Adoptees should test with all 4 vendors plus Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

  • Ancestry – due to their extensive data base size and trees
  • Family Tree DNA – due to their advanced tools, chromosome browser, Y and mitochondrial DNA tests (Ancestry and 23andMe participants can transfer autosomal raw data files and see matches for free, but advanced tools require either an unlock fee or a test on the Family Tree DNA platform)
  • 23andMe – no trees and many people don’t participate in sharing genetic information
  • MyHeritage – new kid on the block, working through what is hoped are startup issues
  • All adoptees should take the full mitochondrial sequence test.
  • Male adoptees should take the 111 marker Y DNA test, although you can start with 37 or 67 markers and upgrade later.
  • Y and mitochondrial tests are only available at Family Tree DNA.

Adoptee Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage
Autosomal DNA – Males and Females
Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes – problems
Relationship Estimates* Yes – May be too close Yes – May be too distant Yes – Matches may not be sharing Yes –  problematic
International Reach Very strong Not strong but growing Not strong Small but subscriber base is European focused
Trees Yes Yes No Yes
Tree Quantity 54% have trees, 46% no tree (of my first 100 matches) 56% have trees, 44% no tree or private (of my first 100 matches) No trees ~50% don’t have trees or are private (cannot discern private tree without clicking on every tree)
Data Base Size Large Largest Large – but not all opt in to matching Very small
My # of Matches on 4-23-2017 2,421 23,750 1,809 but only 1,114 are sharing 75
Subscription Required No No for partial, Yes for full functionality including access to matches’ trees, minimal subscription for $49 by calling Ancestry No No for partial, Yes for full functionality
Other Relevant Tools New Ancestor Discoveries
Autosomal DNA Issues Many testers don’t have trees Many testers don’t have trees Matching opt-in is problematic, no trees at all Matching issues, small data base size is problematic, many testers don’t have trees
Contact Methodology E-mail address provided to matches Internal message system – known delivery issues Internal message system Internal message system
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes No
Y-DNA – Males Only
Y DNA STR Test Yes- 37, 67, and 111 markers No No No
Y Haplogroup Yes as part of STR test plus additional testing available No Yes, basic level but no additional testing available, outdated haplogroups No
Y Matching Yes No No No
Advanced Matching Between Y and Autosomal Yes No No No
Mitochondrial DNA- Males and Females
Test Yes, partial and full sequence No No No
Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Yes, included in test No Yes, basic but full haplogroup not available, haplogroup several versions behind No
Advanced Matching Between Mitochondrial and Autosomal Yes No No No

Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification

People who want to take a DNA test to find cousins, to learn more about their genealogy, to verify their genealogy research or to search for unknown ancestors and break down brick walls will be interested in various types of testing

Test Type Who Can Test
Y DNA – direct paternal line Males only
Mitochondrial DNA – direct matrilineal line Males and Females
Autosomal – all lines Males and Females

Let’s begin with autosomal DNA testing for genealogy which tests your DNA inherited from all ancestral lines.

Aside from ethnicity, autosomal DNA testing provides matches to other people who have tested. A combination of trees, meaning their genealogy, and their chromosome segments are used to identify (through trees) and verify (through DNA segments) common ancestor(s) and then to assign a particular DNA segment(s) to that ancestor or ancestral couple. This process, called triangulation, then allows you to assign specific segments to particular ancestors, through segment matching among multiple people. You then know that when another individual matches you and those other people on the same segment, that the DNA comes from that same lineage. Triangulation is the only autosomal methodology to confirm ancestors who are not close relatives, beyond the past 2-3 generations or so.

All three vendors provide matching, but the tools they include and their user interfaces are quite different. 

Genealogy – Autosomal –  Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA entered DNA testing years before any of the others, initially with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Because of the diversity of their products, their website is somewhat busier, but they do a good job of providing areas on the tester’s personal landing page for each of the products and within each product, a link for each feature or function.

For example, the Family Finder test is Family Tree DNA’s autosomal test. Within that product, tools provided are:

  • Matching
  • Chromosome Browser
  • Linked Relationships
  • myOrigins
  • Ancient Origins
  • Matrix
  • Advanced Matching

Unique autosomal tools provided by Family Tree DNA are:

  • Linked Relationships that allows you to connect individuals that you match to their location in your tree, indicating the proper relationship. Phased Family Matching uses these relationships within your tree to indicate which side of your tree other matches originate from.
  • Phased Family Matching shows which side of your tree, maternal, paternal or both, someone descends from, based on phased DNA matching between you and linked relationship matches as distant as third cousins. This allows Family Tree DNA to tell you whether matches are paternal (blue icon), maternal (red icon) or both (purple icon) without a parent’s DNA. This is one of the best autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, shown below.

  • In Common With and Not In Common With features allow you to sort your matches in common with another individual a number of ways, or matches not in common with that individual.
  • Filtered downloads provide the downloading of chromosome data for your filtered match list.
  • Stackable filters and searches – for example, you can select paternal matches and then search for a particular surname or ancestral surname within the paternal matches.
  • Common ethnicity matching through myOrigins allows you to see selected groups of individuals who match you and share common ethnicities.
  • Y and mtDNA locations of autosomal matches are provided on your ethnicity map through myOrigins.
  • Advanced matching tool includes Y, mtDNA and autosomal in various combinations. Also includes matches within projects where the tester is a member as well as by partial surname.
  • The matrix tool allows the tester to enter multiple people that they match in order to see if those individuals also match each other. The matrix tool is, in combination with the in-common-with tool and the chromosome browser is a form of pseudo triangulation, but does not indicate that the individuals match on the same segment.

  • Chromosome browser with the ability to select different segment match thresholds to display when comparing 5 or fewer individuals to your results.
  • Projects to join which provide group interaction and allow individuals to match only within the project, if desired.

To read more about how to utilize the various autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, with examples, click here.

Genealogy – Autosomal – Ancestry

Ancestry only offers autosomal DNA testing to their customers, so their page is simple and straightforward.

Ancestry is the only testing vendor (other than MyHeritage who is not included in this section) to require a subscription for full functionality, although if you call the Ancestry support line, a minimal subscription is available for $49. You can see your matches without a subscription, but you cannot see your matches trees or utilize other functions, so you will not be able to tell how you connect to your matches. Many genealogists have Ancestry subscriptions, so this is minimally problematic for most people.

However, if you don’t realize you need a subscription initially, the required annual subscription raises the effective cost of the test quite substantially. If you let your subscription lapse, you no longer have access to all DNA features. The cost of testing with Ancestry is the cost of the test plus the cost of a subscription if you aren’t already a subscriber.

This chart, from the Ancestry support center, provides details on which features are included for free and which are only available with a subscription.

Unique tools provided by Ancestry include:

  • Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) which indicate a match with whom you share a common ancestor in your tree connected to your DNA, allowing you to display the path of you and your match to the common ancestor. In order to take advantage of this feature, testers must link their tree to their DNA test. Otherwise, Ancestry can’t do tree matching.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the single most useful DNA tool at Ancestry. Subscription required.

  • DNA Circles, example below, are created when several people whose DNA matches also share a common ancestor. Subscription required.

  • New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs), which are similar to Circles, but are formed when you match people descended from a common ancestor, but don’t have that ancestor in your tree. The majority of the time, these NADs are incorrect and are, when dissected and the source can be determined, found to be something like the spouse of a sibling of your ancestor. I do not view NADs as a benefit, more like a wild goose chase, but for some people these could be useful so long as the individual understands that these are NOT definitely ancestors and only hints for research. Subscription required.
  • Ancestry uses a proprietary algorithm called Timber to strip DNA from you and your matches that they consider to be “too matchy,” with the idea that those segments are identical by population, meaning likely to be found in large numbers within a population group – making them meaningless for genealogy. The problem is that Timber results in the removal of valid segments, especially in endogamous groups like Acadian families. This function is unique to Ancestry, but many genealogists (me included) don’t consider Timber a benefit.
  • Genetic Communities shows you groups of individuals with whom your DNA clusters. The trees of cluster members are then examined by Ancestry to determine connections from which Genetic Communities are formed. You can filter your DNA match results by Genetic Community.

Genealogy – Autosomal – 23and Me

Unfortunately, the 23andMe website is not straightforward or intuitive. They have spent the majority of the past two years transitioning to a “New Experience” which has resulted in additional confusion and complications when matching between people on multiple different platforms. You can take a spin through the New Experience by clicking here.

23andMe requires people to opt-in to sharing, even after they have selected to participate in Ancestry Services (genealogy) testing, have opted-in previously and chosen to view their DNA Relatives. Users on the “New Experience” can then either share chromosome data and results with each other individually, meaning on a one by one basis, or globally by a one-time opt-in to “open sharing” with matches. If a user does not opt-in to both DNA Relatives and open sharing, sharing requests must be made individually to each match, and they must opt-in to share with each individual user. This complexity and confusion results in an approximate sharing rate of between 50 and 60%. One individual who religiously works their matches by requesting sharing now has a share rate of about 80% of their matches in the data base who HAVE initially selected to participate in DNA Relatives. You can read more about the 23andMe experience at this link.

Various genetic genealogy reports and tools are scattered between the Reports and Tools tabs, and within those, buried in non-intuitive locations. If you are going to utilize 23andMe for matching and genealogy, in addition to the above link, I recommend Kitty Cooper’s blogs about the new DNA Relatives here and on triangulation here. Print the articles, and use them as a guide while navigating the 23andMe site.

Note that some screens (the Tools, DNA Relatives, then DNA tab) on the site do not display/work correctly utilizing Internet Explorer, but do with Edge or other browsers.

The one genealogy feature unique to 23andMe is:

  • Triangulation at 23andMe allows you to select a specific match to compare your DNA against. Several pieces of information will be displayed, the last of which, scrolling to the bottom, is a list of your common relatives with the person you selected.

In the example below, I’ve selected to see the matches I match in common with known family member, Stacy Den (surnames have been obscured for privacy reasons.)  Please note that the Roberta V4 Estes kit is a second test that I took for comparison purposes when the new V4 version of 23andMe was released.  Just ignore that match, because, of course I match myself as a twin.

If an individual does not match both you and your selected match, they will not appear on this list.

In the “relatives in common” section, each person is listed with a “shared DNA” column. For a person to be shown on this “in common” list, you obviously do share DNA with these individuals and they also share with your match, but the “shared DNA” column goes one step further. This column indicates whether or not you and your match both share a common DNA segment with the “in common” person.

I know this is confusing, so I’ve created this chart to illustrate what will appear in the “Shared DNA” column of the individuals showing on the list of matches, above, shared between me and Stacy Den.

Clicking on “Share to see” sends Sarah a sharing request for her to allow you to see her segment matches.

Let’s look at an example with “yes” in the Shared DNA column.

Clicking on the “Yes” in the Shared DNA column of Debbie takes us to the chromosome browser which shows both your selected match, Stacy in my case, and Debbie, the person whose “yes” you clicked.

All three people, meaning me, Stacy and Debbie share a common DNA segment, shown below on chromosome 17.

What 23andMe does NOT say is that these people. Stacy and Debbie, also match each other, in addition to matching me, which means all three of us triangulate.

Because I manage Stacy’s kit at 23andMe, I can check to see if Debbie is on Stacy’s match list, and indeed, Debbie is on Stacy’s match list and Stacy does match both Debbie and me on chromosome 17 in exactly the same location shown above, proving unquestionably that the three of us all match each other and therefore triangulate on this segment. In our case, it’s easy to identify our common relative whose DNA all 3 of us share.

Genealogy – Autosomal Summary

While all 3 vendors offer matching, their interfaces and tools vary widely.

I would suggest that Ancestry is the least sophisticated and has worked hard to make their tools easy for the novice working with genetic genealogy. Their green leaf DNA+Tree Matching is their best feature, easy to use and important for the novice and experienced genealogist alike.  Now, if they just had that chromosome browser so we could see how we match those people.

Ancestry’s Circles, while a nice feature, encourage testers to believe that their DNA or relationship is confirmed by finding themselves in a Circle, which is not the case.

Circles can be formed as the result of misinformation in numerous trees. For example, if I were to inaccurately list Smith as the surname for one of my ancestor’s wives, I would find myself in a Circle for Barbara Smith, when in fact, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that her surname is Smith. Yet, people think that Barbara Smith is confirmed due to a Circle having been formed and finding themselves in Barbara Smith’s Circle. Copying incorrect trees equals the formation of incorrect Circles.

It’s also possible that I’m matching people on multiple lines and my DNA match to the people in any given Circle is through another common ancestor entirely.

A serious genealogist will test minimally at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, who provides a chromosome browser and other tools necessary to confirm relationships and shared DNA segments.

Family Tree DNA is more sophisticated, so consequently more complex to use.  They provide matching plus numerous other tools. The website and matching is certainly friendly for the novice, but to benefit fully, some experience or additional education is beneficial, not unlike traditional genealogy research itself. This is true not just for Family Tree DNA, but GedMatch and 23andMe who all three utilize chromosome browsers.

The user will want to understand what a chromosome browser is indicating about matching DNA segments, so some level of education makes life a lot easier. Fortunately, understanding chromosome browser matching is not complex. You can read an article about Match Groups and Triangulation here. I also have an entire series of Concepts articles, Family Tree DNA offers a webinar library, their Learning Center and other educational resources are available as well.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor to provide Phased Family Matches, meaning that by connecting known relatives who have DNA tested to your tree, Family Tree DNA can then identify additional matches as maternal, paternal or both. This, in combination with pseudo-phasing are very powerful matching tools.

23andMe is the least friendly of the three companies, with several genetic genealogy unfriendly restrictions relative to matching, opt-ins, match limits and such. They have experienced problem after problem for years relative to genetic genealogy, which has always been a second-class citizen compared to their medical research, and not a priority.

23andMe has chosen to implement a business model where their customers must opt-in to share segment information with other individuals, either one by one or by opting into open sharing. Based on my match list, roughly 60% of my actual DNA matches have opted in to sharing.

Their customer base includes fewer serious genealogists and their customers often are not interested in genealogy at all.

Having said that, 23andMe is the only one of the three that provides actual triangulated matches for users on the New Experience and who have opted into sharing.

If I were entering the genetic genealogy testing space today, I would test my autosomal DNA at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, but I would probably not test at 23andMe. I would test both my Y DNA (if a male) and mitochondrial at Family Tree DNA.

Thank you to Kitty Cooper for assistance with parent/child matching and triangulation at 23andMe.

Genealogy Autosomal Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Matching Yes Yes Yes – each person has to opt in for open sharing or authorize sharing individually, many don’t
Estimated Relationships Yes Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser Yes No – Large Issue Yes
Chromosome Browser Threshold Adjustment Yes No Chromosome Browser No
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes
Trees Yes Yes – subscription required so see matches’ trees No
Ability to upload Gedcom file Yes Yes No
Ability to search trees Yes Yes No
Subscription in addition to DNA test price No No for partial, Yes for full functionality, minimal subscription for $49 by calling Ancestry No
DNA + Ancestor in Tree Matches No Yes – Leaf Hints – subscription required – Best Feature No
Phased Parental Side Matching Yes – Best Feature No No
Parent Match Indicator Yes No Yes
Sort or Group by Parent Match Yes Yes Yes
In Common With Tool Yes Yes Yes
Not In Common With Tool Yes No No
Triangulated Matches No – pseudo with ICW, browser and matrix No Yes – Best Feature
Common Surnames Yes Yes – subscription required No
Ability to Link DNA Matches on Tree Yes No No
Matrix to show match grid between multiple matches Yes No No
Match Filter Tools Yes Minimal Some
Advanced Matching Tool Yes No No
Multiple Test Matching Tool Yes No multiple tests No multiple tests
Ethnicity Matching Yes No Yes
Projects Yes No No
Maximum # of Matches Restricted No No Yes – 2000 unless you are communicating with the individuals, then they are not removed from your match list
All Customers Participate Yes Yes, unless they don’t have a subscription No – between 50-60% opt-in
Accepts Transfers from Other Testing Companies Yes No No
Free Features with Transfer Matching, ICW, Matrix, Advanced Matching No transfers No transfers
Transfer Features Requiring Unlock $ Chromosome Browser, Ethnicity, Ancient Origins, Linked Relationships, Parentally Phased Matches No Transfers No transfers
Archives DNA for Later Testing Yes, 25 years No, no additional tests available No, no additional tests available
Additional Tool DNA Circles – subscription required
Additional Tool New Ancestor Discoveries – subscription required
Y DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Mitochondrial DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Advanced Testing Available Yes No No
Website Intuitive Yes, given their many tools Yes, very simple No
Data Base Size Large Largest Large but many do not test for genealogy, only test for health
Strengths Many tools, multiple types of tests, phased matching without parent DNA + Tree matching, size of data base Triangulation
Challenges Website episodically times out No chromosome browser or advanced tools Sharing is difficult to understand and many don’t, website is far from intuitive

 

Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA

Two indispensable tools for genetic genealogy that are often overlooked are Y and mitochondrial DNA.

The inheritance path for Y DNA is shown by the blue squares and the inheritance path for mitochondrial DNA is shown by the red circles for the male and female siblings shown at the bottom of the chart.

Y-DNA Testing for Males

Y DNA is inherited by males only, from their father. The Y chromosome makes males male. Women instead inherit an X chromosome from their father, which makes them female. Because the Y chromosome is not admixed with the DNA of the mother, the same Y chromosome has been passed down through time immemorial.

Given that the Y chromosome follows the typical surname path, Y DNA testing is very useful for confirming surname lineage to an expected direct paternal ancestor. In other words, an Estes male today should match, with perhaps a few mutations, to other descendants of Abraham Estes who was born in 1647 in Kent, England and immigrated to the colony of Virginia.

Furthermore, that same Y chromosome can look far back in time, thousands of years, to tell us where that English group of Estes men originated, before the advent of surnames and before the migration to England from continental Europe. I wrote about the Estes Y DNA here, so you can see an example of how Y DNA testing can be used.

Y DNA testing for matching and haplogroup identification, which indicates where in the world your ancestors were living within the past few hundred to few thousand years, is only available from Family Tree DNA. Testing can be purchased for either 37, 67 or 111 markers, with the higher marker numbers providing more granularity and specificity in matching.

Family Tree DNA provides three types of Y DNA tests.

  • STR (short tandem repeat) testing is the traditional Y DNA testing for males to match to each other in a genealogically relevant timeframe. These tests can be ordered in panels of 37, 67 or 111 markers and lower levels can be upgraded to higher levels at a later date. An accurate base haplogroup prediction is made from STR markers.
  • SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) testing is a different type of testing that tests single locations for mutations in order to confirm and further refine haplogroups. Think of a haplogroup as a type of genetic clan, meaning that haplogroups are used to track migration of humans through time and geography, and are what is utilized to determine African, European, Asian or Native heritage in the direct paternal line. SNP tests are optional and can be ordered one at a time, in groups called panels for a particular haplogroup or a comprehensive research level Y DNA test called the Big Y can be ordered after STR testing.
  • The Big Y test is a research level test that scans the entire Y chromosome to determine the most refined haplogroup possible and to report any previously unknown mutations (SNPs) that may define further branches of the Y DNA tree. This is the technique used to expand the Y haplotree.

You can read more about haplogroups here and about the difference between STR markers and SNPs here, here and here.

Customers receive the following features and tools when they purchase a Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test at 23andMe. The 23andMe Y DNA information is included in their Ancestry Services test. The Family Tree DNA Y DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. You can click here to read about the difference in the technology between Y DNA testing at Family Tree DNA and at 23andMe. Ancestry is not included in this comparison because they provide no Y DNA related information.

Y DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of STR panel marker testing Yes, in panels of 37, 67 and 111 markers No
Test panel (STR) marker results Yes Not tested
Haplogroup assignment Yes – accurate estimate with STR panels, deeper testing available Yes –base haplogroup by scan – haplogroup designations are significantly out of date, no further testing available
SNP testing to further define haplogroup Yes – can purchase individual SNPs, by SNP panels or Big Y test No
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees available for your matches Yes No
E-mail of matches provided Yes No
Calculator tool to estimate probability of generational distance between you and a match Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic projects No
Ability to search Y matches Yes No Y matching
Ability to search matches within projects Yes No projects
Ability to search matches by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer result location on tree Yes, detailed with every branch Yes, less detailed, subset
Terminal SNP used to determine haplogroup Yes Yes, small subset available
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins – match ancestral location summary by haplogroup, by test level Yes No
SNP map showing worldwide locations of any selected SNP Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the paternal line, by test panel Yes No
Big Y – full scan of Y chromosome for known and previously unknown mutations (SNPs) Yes No
Big Y matching Yes No
Big Y matching known SNPs Yes No
Big Y matching novel variants (unknown or yet unnamed SNPs) Yes No
Filter Big Y matches Yes No
Big Y results Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

Mitochondrial DNA Testing for Everyone

Mitochondrial DNA is contributed to both genders of children by mothers, but only the females pass it on. Like the Y chromosome, mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the DNA of the other parent. Therefore, anyone can test for the mitochondrial DNA of their matrilineal line, meaning their mother’s mother’s mother’s lineage.

Matching can identify family lines as well as ancient lineage.

You receive the following features and tools when you purchase a mitochondrial DNA test from Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test from 23andMe. The Family Tree DNA mitochondrial DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. The 23andMe mitochondrial information is provided with the Ancestry Services test. Ancestry is omitted from this comparison because they do not provide any mitochondrial information.

Mitochondrial DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of testing Yes, mtPlus and Full Sequence No
Test panel marker results Yes, in two formats, CRS and RSRS No
Rare mutations, missing and extra mutations, insertions and deletions reported Yes No
Haplogroup assignment Yes, most current version, Build 17 Yes, partial and out of date version
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees of matches available to view Yes No
E-mail address provided to matches Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic available No
Ability to search matches Yes No
Ability to search matches within project Yes No projects
Ability to search match by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer location on tree No Yes
Mutations used to determine haplogroup provided Yes No
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins –match ancestral location summary by haplogroup Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the maternal line, by test level Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

 

Overall Genealogy Summary

Serious genealogists should test with at least two of the three major vendors, being Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, with 23andMe coming in as a distant third.

No genetic genealogy testing regimen is complete without Y and mitochondrial DNA for as many ancestral lines as you can find to test. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you’ll never know if you don’t test.

Unfortunately, many people, especially new testers, don’t know Y and mitochondrial DNA testing for genetic genealogy exists, or how it can help their genealogy research, which is extremely ironic since these were the first tests available, back in 2000.

You can read about finding Y and mitochondrial information for various family lines and ancestors and how to assemble a DNA Pedigree Chart here.

You can also take a look at my 52 Ancestors series, where I write about an ancestor every week. Each article includes some aspect of DNA testing and knowledge gained by a test or tests, DNA tool, or comparison. The DNA aspect of these articles focuses on how to use DNA as a tool to discover more about your ancestors.

 

Testing for Medical/Health or Traits

The DTC market also includes health and medical testing, although it’s not nearly as popular as genetic genealogy.

Health/medical testing is offered by 23andMe, who also offers autosomal DNA testing for genealogy.

Some people do want to know if they have genetic predispositions to medical conditions, and some do not. Some want to know if they have certain traits that aren’t genealogically relevant, but might be interesting – such as whether they carry the Warrior gene or if they have an alcohol flush reaction.

23andMe was the first company to dip their toes into the water of Direct to Consumer medical information, although they called it “health,” not medicine, at that time. Regardless of the terminology, information regarding Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for example, were provided for customers. 23andMe attempted to take the raw data and provide the consumer with something approaching a middle of the road analysis, because sometimes the actual studies provide conflicting information that might not be readily understood by consumers.

The FDA took issue with 23andMe back in November of 2013 when they ordered 23andMe to discontinue the “health” aspect of their testing after 23andMe ignored several deadlines. In October 2015, 23andMe obtained permission to provide customers with some information, such as carrier status, for 36 genetic disorders.

Since that time, 23andMe has divided their product into two separate tests, with two separate prices. The genealogy only test called Ancestry Service can be purchased separately for $99, or the combined Health + Ancestry Service for $199.

If you are interested in seeing what the Health + Ancestry test provides, you can click here to view additional information.

However, there is a much easier and less expensive solution.

If you have taken the autosomal test from 23andMe, Ancestry or Family Tree DNA, you can download your raw data file from the vendor and upload to Promethease to obtain a much more in-depth report than is provided by 23andMe, and much less expensively – just $5.

I reviewed the Promethease service here. I found the Promethease reports to be very informative and I like the fact that they provide information, both positive and negative for each SNP (DNA location) reported. Promethease avoids FDA problems by not providing any interpretation or analysis, simply the data and references extracted from SNPedia for you to review.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should be sure you really want to know before you delve into medical testing. Some mutations are simply indications that you could develop a condition that you will never develop or that is not serious. Other mutations are not so benign. Promethease provides this candid page before you upload your data.

Different files from different vendors provide different results at Promethease, because those vendors test different SNP locations in your DNA. At the Promethease webpage, you can view examples.

Traits

Traits fall someplace between genealogy and health. When you take the Health + Ancestry test at 23andMe, you do receive information about various traits, as follows:

Of course, you’ll probably already know if you have several of these traits by just taking a look in the mirror, or in the case of male back hair, by asking your wife.

At Family Tree DNA, existing customers can order tests for Factoids (by clicking on the upgrade button), noted as curiosity tests for gene variants.

Family Tree DNA provides what I feel is a great summary and explanation of what the Factoids are testing on their order page:

“Factoids” are based on studies – some of which may be controversial – and results are not intended to diagnose disease or medical conditions, and do not serve the purpose of medical advice. They are offered exclusively for curiosity purposes, i.e. to see how your result compared with what the scientific papers say. Other genetic and environmental variables may also impact these same physiological characteristics. They are merely a conversational piece, or a “cocktail party” test, as we like to call it.”

Test Price Description
Alcohol Flush Reaction $19 A condition in which the body cannot break down ingested alcohol completely. Flushing, after consuming one or two alcoholic beverages, includes a range of symptoms: nausea, headaches, light-headedness, an increased pulse, occasional extreme drowsiness, and occasional skin swelling and itchiness. These unpleasant side effects often prevent further drinking that may lead to further inebriation, but the symptoms can lead to mistaken assumption that the people affected are more easily inebriated than others.
Avoidance of Errors $29 We are often angry at ourselves because we are unable to learn from certain experiences. Numerous times we have made the wrong decision and its consequences were unfavorable. But the cause does not lie only in our thinking. A mutation in a specific gene can also be responsible, because it can cause a smaller number of dopamine receptors. They are responsible for remembering our wrong choices, which in turn enables us to make better decisions when we encounter a similar situation.
Back Pain $39 Lumbar disc disease is the drying out of the spongy interior matrix of an intervertebral disc in the spine. Many physicians and patients use the term lumbar disc disease to encompass several different causes of back pain or sciatica. A study of Asian patients with lumbar disc disease showed that a mutation in the CILP gene increases the risk of back pain.
Bitter Taste Perception $29 There are several genes that are responsible for bitter taste perception – we test 3 of them. Different variations of this gene affect ability to detect bitter compounds. About 25% of people lack ability to detect these compounds due to gene mutations. Are you like them? Maybe you don’t like broccoli, because it tastes too bitter?
Caffeine Metabolism $19 According to the results of a case-control study reported in the March 8, 2006 issue of JAMA, coffee is the most widely consumed stimulant in the world, and caffeine consumption has been associated with increased risk for non-fatal myocardial infarction. Caffeine is primarily metabolized by the cytochrome P450 1A2 in the liver, accounting for 95% of metabolism. Carriers of the gene variant *1F allele are slow caffeine metabolizers, whereas individuals homozygous for the *1A/*1A genotype are rapid caffeine metabolizers.
Earwax Type $19 Whether your earwax is wet or dry is determined by a mutation in a single gene, which scientists have discovered. Wet earwax is believed to have uses in insect trapping, self-cleaning and prevention of dryness in the external auditory canal of the ear. It also produces an odor and causes sweating, which may play a role as a pheromone.
Freckling $19 Freckles can be found on anyone no matter what the background. However, having freckles is genetic and is related to the presence of the dominant melanocortin-1 receptor MC1R gene variant.
Longevity $49 Researchers at Harvard Medical School and UC Davis have discovered a few genes that extend lifespan, suggesting that the whole family of SIR2 genes is involved in controlling lifespan. The findings were reported July 28, 2005 in the advance online edition of Science.
Male Pattern Baldness $19 Researchers at McGill University, King’s College London and GlaxoSmithKline Inc. have identified two genetic variants in Caucasians that together produce an astounding sevenfold increase of the risk of male pattern baldness. Their results were published in the October 12, 2008 issue of the Journal of Nature Genetics.
Monoamine Oxidase A (Warrior Gene) $49.50 The Warrior Gene is a variant of the gene MAO-A on the X chromosome. Recent studies have linked the Warrior Gene to increased risk-taking and aggressive behavior. Whether in sports, business, or other activities, scientists found that individuals with the Warrior Gene variant were more likely to be combative than those with the normal MAO-A gene. However, human behavior is complex and influenced by many factors, including genetics and our environment. Individuals with the Warrior Gene are not necessarily more aggressive, but according to scientific studies, are more likely to be aggressive than those without the Warrior Gene variant. This test is available for both men and women, however, there is limited research about the Warrior Gene variant amongst females. Additional details about the Warrior Gene genetic variant of MAO-A can be found in Sabol et al, 1998.
Muscle Performance $29 A team of researchers, led by scientists at Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth College, have identified and tested a gene that dramatically alters both muscle metabolism and performance. The researchers say that this finding could someday lead to treatment of muscle diseases, including helping the elderly who suffer from muscle deterioration and improving muscle performance in endurance athletes.
Nicotine Dependence $19 In 2008, University of Virginia Health System researchers have identified a gene associated with nicotine dependence in both Europeans and African Americans.

Many people are interested in the Warrior Gene, which I wrote about here.

At Promethease, traits are simply included with the rest of the conditions known to be associated with certain SNPs, such as baldness, for example, but I haven’t done a comparison to see which traits are included.

 

Additional Vendor Information to Consider

Before making your final decision about which test or tests to purchase, there are a few additional factors you may want to consider.

As mentioned before, Ancestry requires a subscription in addition to the cost of the DNA test for the DNA test to be fully functional.

One of the biggest issues, in my opinion, is that both 23andMe and Ancestry sell customer’s anonymized DNA information to unknown others. Every customer authorizes the sale of their information when they purchase or activate a kit – even though very few people actually take the time to read the Terms and Conditions, Privacy statements and Security documents, including any and all links. This means most people don’t realize they are authorizing the sale of their DNA.

At both 23andMe and Ancestry, you can ALSO opt in for additional non-anonymized research or sale of your DNA, which you can later opt out of. However, you cannot opt out of the lower level sale of your anonymized DNA without removing your results from the data base and asking for your sample to be destroyed. They do tell you this, but it’s very buried in the fine print at both companies. You can read more here.

Family Tree DNA does not sell your DNA or information.

All vendors can change their terms and conditions at any time. Consumers should always thoroughly read the terms and conditions including anything having to do with privacy for any product they purchase, but especially as it relates to DNA testing.

Family Tree DNA archives your DNA for later testing, which has proven extremely beneficial when a family member has passed away and a new test is subsequently introduced or the family wants to upgrade a current test.  Had my mother’s DNA not been archived at Family Tree DNA, I would not have Family Finder results for her today – something I thank Mother and Family Tree DNA for every single day.

Family Tree DNA also accepts transfer files from 23andMe, Ancestry and very shortly, MyHeritage – although some versions work better than others. For details on which companies accept which file versions, from which vendors, and why, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

If you tested on a compatible version of the 23andMe Test (V3 between December 2010 and November 2013) or the Ancestry V1 (before May 2016) you may want to transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA for free and pay only $19 for full functionality, as opposed to taking the Family Finder test. Family Tree DNA does accept later versions of files from 23andMe and Ancestry, but you will receive more matches if you test on the same chip platform that Family Tree DNA utilizes instead of doing a transfer.

Additional Vendor Considerations Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Subscription required in addition to cost of DNA test No Yes for full functionality, partial functionality is included without subscription, minimum subscription is $49 by calling Ancestry No
Customer Support Good and available Available, nice but often not knowledgeable about DNA Poor
Sells customer DNA information No Yes Yes
DNA raw data file available to download Yes Yes Yes
DNA matches file available to download including match info and chromosome match locations Yes No Yes
Customers genealogically focused Yes Yes Many No
Accepts DNA raw data transfer files from other companies Yes, most, see article for specifics No No
DNA archived for later testing Yes, 25 years No No
Beneficiary provision available Yes No No

 

Which Test is Best For You?

I hope you now know the answer as to which DNA test is best for you – or maybe it’s multiple tests for you and other family members too!

DNA testing holds so much promise for genealogy. I hesitate to call DNA testing a miracle tool, but it often is when there are no records. DNA testing works best in conjunction with traditional genealogical research.

There are a lot of tests and options.  The more tests you take, the more people you match. Some people test at multiple vendors or upload their DNA to third party sites like GedMatch, but most don’t. In order to make sure you reach those matches, which may be the match you desperately need, you’ll have to test at the vendor where they tested. Otherwise, they are lost to you. That means, of course, that eventually, if you’re a serious genealogist, you’ll be testing at all 3 vendors.  Don’t forget about Y and mitochondrial tests at Family Tree DNA.

Recruit family members to test and reach out to your matches.  The more you share and learn – the more is revealed about your ancestors. You are, after all, the unique individual that resulted from the combination of all of them!

Update: Vendor prices updated June 22, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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