Family Tree DNA Research Center Facilitates Discovery of Ancient Root to Y Tree

The genetic genealogy community has been abuzz for months now with the discovery of the new Root of the Y tree.  First announced last fall at the conference for DNA administrators hosted by Family Tree DNA, this discovery has literally changed the landscape of early genetic genealogy and our understanding of the timeframe of the origins of mankind.  While it doesn’t make much difference in genetic genealogy in the past few generations, since the adoption of surnames, it certainly makes a difference to all of us in terms of our ancestors and where we came from – our origins.  After all, the only difference between current genetic genealogy and the journey of mankind is a matter of generations – and all of our ancestors were there, and survived to reproduce, or we wouldn’t be here.

One of the important aspects of this discovery is the collaboration of citizen scientists with academic institutions and corporations.  In this case, the citizen scientist was Bonnie Schrack, a volunteer haplogroup project administrator, Dr. Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona, National Geographic’s Genographic Project, and Drs. Thomas Krahn and Astrid Krahn, both with the Gene by Gene Genomics Research Center.  Without any one of these players, and Family Tree DNA’s support of projects, this discovery would not have been made.  This discovery of the “new root” legitimizes citizen science in the field of genetic genealogy and ushers in a new day in scientific research in which crowd sourced samples, in this case, through Family Tree DNA projects, provide clues and resources for important scientific discoveries.

Today Gene by Gene released a press release about the discovery of the new root.  In conjunction, Family Tree DNA has lowered their Y DNA test price to $39 for the introductory 12 marker panel for the month of March, hoping to attract new participants and to eliminate price as a factor.  On April 1, the price will increase to $49, still a 50% discount from the previous $99.  Who knows where that next discovery lies.  Could it be in your DNA?

Family Tree DNA’s Genomics Research Center Facilitates Discovery of Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree

HOUSTON, March 26, 2013 /PRNewswire/   — Gene By Gene, Ltd., the Houston-based   genomics and genetics testing company, announced that a unique DNA sample submitted via National Geographic’s Genographic Project to its genetic genealogy subsidiary, Family Tree DNA, led to the discovery that the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree is potentially as old as 338,000 years.  This new information indicates that the last common ancestor of all modern Y chromosomes is 70 percent older than previously thought.

The surprising findings were published in the report “An African American Paternal Lineage Adds an Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree” in The   American Journal of Human Genetics earlier this month.  The study was conducted by a team of top research scientists, including lead scientist Dr. Michael F. Hammer of   the University of Arizona, who currently serves on Gene By Gene’s advisory board, and two of the company’s staff scientists, Drs.Thomas and Astrid-Maria Krahn.

The DNA sample had originally been submitted to National Geographic’s Genographic Project, the world’s largest “citizen science” genetic research effort with more than 500,000 public participants to date, and was later transferred to Family Tree DNA’s database for genealogical research.  Once in Family Tree DNA’s database, long-time project administrator Bonnie Schrack noticed that the sample was very unique and advocated for further testing to be done.

“This whole discovery began, really, with a citizen scientist – someone very similar to our many customers who are interested in learning more about their family roots using one of our genealogy products,” said Gene By Gene President Bennett Greenspan.  “While reviewing samples in our database, she recognized that this specific sample was unique and  brought it to the attention of our scientists to do further testing.  The results were astounding and show the value of individuals undergoing DNA testing so that we can continue to grow our databases and discover additional critical information about human origins and evolution.”

The discovery took place at Family Tree DNA’s Genomic Research Center, a CLIA registered lab in Houston which has processed more than 5 million discrete DNA tests from more than 700,000 individuals and organizations, including participants in the Genographic Project.  Drs. Thomas and Astrid-Maria Krahn of Family Tree DNA conducted the company’s Walk-Through-Y test on the sample and during the scoring process, quickly realized the unique nature of the sample, given the vast number of mutations.  Following their initial findings, Dr. Hammer and others joined to conduct a formal study, sequencing ~240 kb of the chromosome sample to identify private, derived mutations on this lineage, which has been named A00.

“Our findings indicate that the last common Y chromosome ancestor may have lived long before the first anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa about 195,000 years ago,” said Dr. Michael Hammer.  “Furthermore, the sample, which came from an African American man living in South Carolina, matched Y chromosome DNA of males from a very small area in western Cameroon, indicating that the lineage is extremely rare in Africa today, and its presence in the US is likely due to the Atlantic slave trade.  This is a huge discovery for our field and shows the critical role direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies can play in science; this might not have been known otherwise.”

Family Tree DNA recently dramatically reduced the price of its basic Y-DNA test by approximately 50%.  By offering the lowest-cost DNA test available on the market today, Gene By Gene and Family Tree DNA are working to eliminate cost as a barrier to individuals introducing themselves to personal genetic and genomic research.  They hope that expanding the pool of DNA samples in their database will lead to future important scientific discoveries.

About Gene By Gene, Ltd. 
Founded in 2000, Gene By Gene, Ltd. provides reliable DNA testing to a wide range of consumer and institutional customers through its four divisions focusing on ancestry, health, research and paternity.  Gene By Gene provides DNA tests through its Family Tree DNA division, which pioneered the concept of direct-to-consumer testing in the field of genetic genealogy more than a decade ago.  Gene by Gene is CLIA registered and through its clinical-health division DNA Traits offers regulated diagnostic  tests.  DNA DTC is the Research Use Only (RUO) division serving both direct-to-consumer and institutional clients   worldwide.  Gene By Gene offers AABB certified relationship tests through its paternity testing division, DNA Findings. The privately held company is headquartered in Houston, which is also home to its state-of-the-art Genomics Research Center.

SOURCE Gene By Gene, Ltd.



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Projects, Administrators and Expectations

projects fireside

One of the reasons  I wanted to start a blog was to be able to chat about genetic genealogy topics that interest people.  I can tell what’s on your mind by the questions I receive.  For some reason, I’ve received several questions and some complaints about projects and administrators recently, and I think a fireside chat might clarify things a lot.

A few questions arrived in my in-box this past week that I’d like to paraphrase and address.  The first question is from a male and the second from a female.

Question 1 –  I’m in a number of projects.  One of the administrators contacted me and suggested I do some additional SNP testing.  But my surname project administrator has never said anything about this.  If I needed more testing, why wouldn’t my surname project administrator tell me about this?  Is this legitimate?

Question 2 – I’m so upset.  I tried to join the XYZ surname project and the administrator told me that I couldn’t.  Why can’t they be more flexible and realize I’m related to that family?  This project is listed by Family Tree DNA as one I should join, but the administrator won’t let me.

I see confusion, misunderstanding and frustration in both of these questions, for both the participants and the administrators.  I’d like to talk a little bit about projects, why they are formed, administrators, participants and expectations.


There are four types of projects at Family Tree DNA.

1.  Surname Projects – The earliest projects formed were surname projects.  Those are based on surnames, like Estes, and typically focus on the paternal lines and the Y chromosome and only that specific surname.  Herein lies the first point of confusion.  Because these projects were formed to sort out male family lines of a particular surname, they are typically restricted to males who carry that surname, or sometimes males who match that surname through adoptions of some sort.

Question 2 relates to this problem.  From her perspective, she “should be” allowed to join, because she is related.  But from a scientific perspective, there is no benefit for a female to join a male focused project.  However, from a public relations perspective, it won’t hurt to let her join.  Because women’s surnames change every generations, she could theoretically join all the surname projects for all of her ancestors.  None of it would benefit her for matching etc., but it won’t hurt anything either.

From an administrator’s perspective, having people in a project that can’t advance the goals of the project is simply clutter.  Not only that, but we have to do something with them, categorize them somehow, or leave them ungrouped.  It’s also confusing to people looking at a Y-line project to see other surnames and apparently unrelated or unconnected people.  Conversely, I want people to be happy with genetic genealogy and since she is related and very interested, perhaps she can contribute something in the way of research.angel devil

If this sounds a bit like the angel and devil, one on each shoulder talking to each other…..well, that’s because it is and there is no one right answer.

There is an exception, of course, to what I just said.  It seems there is always an exception to everything.

Family Finder

Recently with the Family Finder tests, more and more administrators are including people in their surname projects who are related to that family but who do not carry the surname because it’s the only way we have today of including Family Finder participants and grouping them.  I have begun to do this myself as a project administrator.

The alternative to this is to begin lineage projects, such as the Johann Michael Miller Descendants project, just for descendants who have taken the Family Finder test.  This is a way to know who they are, to group them so that you can work with their results.  The challenge is that projects are not set up to function this way.  They are set up to display Yline (males) and mitochondrial DNA results, only, or both for a kit, and in this case, the Yline and mitochondrial DNA results are both irrelevant and misleading if they are displayed as valid results.  Administrators are trying to figure out the best way to deal with this.

The work-around I’ve implemented is a grouping within the surname project labeled Family Finder where those who are related but don’t carry the particular surname are grouped.  I am actively recruiting descendants for these groupings as Family Finder holds great promise in finding those elusive unidentified wives, unnamed children…..but I digress.

Here’s what my Crumley project looks like.  You can see that the grouping of Family Finder is entirely irrelevant to the rest of the project, but it’s the best we can do under the current project structure.

Projects 1

2.  Haplogroup Projects – The second type of project formed was haplogroup projects.  These are for both Y-line and mitochondrial.  Some haplogroups have only one project, like mitochondrial haplogroup K, for example.  Others, like mitochondrial haplogroup H or Y-line R have many subprojects.  These projects are a function of who wants to study what – and who is willing to do the work.

Haplogroup projects, by and large, are research projects.  This means that they are arranged quite differently than surname projects.  Surname projects are generally arranged by family and within family, by line, when possible.  Haplogroup projects aren’t concerned with surnames, but with deep ancestry and location, and they are arranged by haplogroup and sub-haplogroup.

A great deal of the progress in understanding haplogroups, their history, migration patterns and the discovery of subgroups has come from the haplogroup projects.  They are very important, make no mistake.  Family Tree DNA is the only place in the world where there are groups of people grouped by haplogroup in public projects.  This is citizen science at it’s best.

The haplogroup Q project had made significant scientific contributions.  You can see that participants are grouped by haplogroup, meaning by SNP.  In some cases, administrators also group participants by the tests needed to further refine their haplogroups.  When you refine your haplogroup with further testing, you also refine your personal story and contribute to science as well.

projects 2

Haplogroup Q groups participants by their haplogroup, above, but when they need additional testing, they are grouped with others who need that test, below.  Why do they need additional testing?  That’s how we learn about haplogroups.  Every additional SNP that you test positive or negative for tells us more about migrations, about where your ancestors lived and what they did.  The power of this isn’t just in one test, but in many tests combined that write the story of our ancestors.

Projects 3

To illustrate the power of many versus one, the mapping function comes to mind.  Each project administrator can enable or disable mapping.  Mapping can be very useful to surname projects, but it’s crucial to haplogroup projects.

Here’s the map for all of haplogroup Q.   Interesting, but all that this really tells us is that it’s pretty universal.  It’s one of two Native American haplogroups, but sub-groups are found throughout Asia and Europe as well.  Want to know if you’re Native?  Then you’ll have to do SNP testing.

Projects 4

The map below shows the oldest known ancestors for those who carry SNP M25.  Looking at this map tells you immediately that these people aren’t Native American.  But if you live in the US and you’re looking for Native ancestry, and you don’t test to this level, you can be left with the erroneous impression that your haplogroup Q result IS Native when it isn’t.

Projects 5

Ah, the power of maps.  Most project administrators enable maps.

The administrators of haplogroup projects are focused very differently than surname project administrators.  This explains the confusion in question 1 about why the surname admin didn’t suggest SNP testing, but the haplogroup project admin did.

Administrators Are Different People

Ok, stop laughting!

This introduces a bit of a different topic and that is what motivates haplogroup administrators.  I mean, let’s face it, why WOULD you volunteer for this?  The answer is simple – passion combined with a smidgen of insanity!

Surname administrators are most often the family genealogist.  We all know them.  We probably are them.  It’s what attracted us to genetic genealogy in the first place.  They may or may not be terribly familiar with the science of genetics, with SNPs, and may or may not be aware of the benefits of SNP testing.  They can, however, recite the details of the original immigrant who arrived in Virginia in 1683 and all their children!

Haplogroup project administrators tend to be scientists.  I’m very fortunate that my co-admin on the haplogroup E1b1a project is a population geneticist.  Yes, they are interested in their surname family, but they are also very focused on their ancient ancestry too – in making that connection between the two and unraveling their story.  To them, haplogroup projects represent opportunities not otherwise available.

This brings us to the third and fourth kinds of projects, lineage and geographic projects, whose administrators are passionate about their project’s subject.

3.  Lineage Projects – Not many of these exist today and most that do are maternal (mitochondrial) DNA lineage projects, such as the descendants of Jane Doe, but I expect as we sort through how to best address lineage with Family Finder tests, lineage projects will become more widely utilized.

4.  Geographic projects, the fourth type of project, are all projects other than above.  These include many special interest projects, such as the Hatteras Island project, the Cumberland Gap project, the Mothers of Acadia project, the Lumbee project, the Lost Colony project, and many more.

These projects are as different as the people who founded them.  Some projects are research projects and some are what I term courtesy projects.

My Cumberland Gap Project is a courtesy project.  This means I formed it to allow people from a particular region to interact and to share.  There is an associated Yahoo group that is very active. I do not have to approve membership. It’s open for all

The Lost Colony projects (and there are three, Y-line, mitochondrial and Family) are research projects.  This means that the membership is restricted to people with specific qualifications.  I don’t do this to be mean, it’s critical to the research goals of the project.  Let me illustrate.  The goal of the Lost Colony Y-line project is to test people with a specific set of surnames (the Lost Colonists surnames) who are found in very early eastern North Carolina counties.  The project description says this and so does the FAQ.  However, 99% of the requests to join the projects say something like this: “I want to compare my results with that of the Lost Colonists.”  Well, guess what folks…..we’re trying to figure out what the Lost Colonists’ DNA looks like too.

Right now, the people in the Lost Colony Y-line project are good candidates to be descended from the colonists.  We’re working to find the colonist families in England to confirm.  However, if I let everyone who wants to compare their DNA to these people into the project, how would we ever know who is a true colonist candidate and who is just a comparer???

People get really upset when I explain this to them.  And I have to say this…I can’t resist….had they read the project background and goals in the first place….they could have saved themselves and me both some time because they would have known that they don’t qualify, and why.  They can support the project in other ways if they are interested.

As a project administrator, my largest frustration by far is with people who don’t read what is available for them.

I finally set up the Lost Colony Family project as a courtesy project for everyone who wants to test and compare their results to each other.  Now there is a place for the frustrated people who can’t join the Lost Colony Y-line or mitochondrial projects.

Some geographic (and surname) projects require pedigree charts and a specific genealogy to join.  For example, both the Lumbee and Cherokee projects have this requirement.  Of course, for a Y-line or mtDNA project, your connection must be through either the paternal line or the maternal line.  We receive requests to join daily from people who are connected, but not by Y-line or mtDNA, and they are terribly frustrated and sometimes quite angry when they are told they aren’t qualified to join.  It’s not a judgment, it’s the way DNA works.

Project administrators are the gatekeepers to be sure the project retains focus and stays on track, which is only fair to the people hoping to learn and gain information by being project members.  Project administrators are not there to simply be difficult to random applicants.  Most of us really dislike having to decline a join request, even if we do explain.  We know that some people simply won’t understand and will be upset or angry with us personally.  Not fun.

This begs the question of why people are trying to join projects that aren’t good fits for them anyway???

Picking the Right Project

The good news and the bad news is that Family Tree DNA tries to help people find relevant projects.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to misinterpret this if you don’t understand the source of this information.  Below is an example.  I’ve entered my surname, Estes, and these are the “associated projects” that are shown.  Many people interpret these to be “recommended” by Family Tree DNA, and they join each and every one of them.  That’s not the goal, nor are all projects appropriate for everyone.

Projects 6

Since I’m a female, none of the Y projects are relevant to me, and neither is the Estes surname project, generally.  However, a new person wouldn’t have the experience to know this, so administrators need to help educate people.  I wrote about this in the article, “What Project Do I Join?”

These projects are on this list because their administrator included the surname in their project profile, meaning they are interested in attracting people, or at least some people, with that surname.  However, they may not be interested in attracting all people with that surname.  If your surname is Estes and your family never set foot in America, then obviously the Cumberland Gap group, focused on the convergence of states Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, is not likely to be of interest to you.  Since it is a courtesy project, you can join if you want, but if it was a project like the Lost Colony projects, then you would need to provide some evidence that your family fits the criteria for those the project is seeking.

Ok, so now we’ve talked about the four kinds of projects and how to select the right one for you.  Let’s talk a little bit about what you can expect from an administrator and what they expect from you.


First of all, administrators are volunteers.  They receive no compensation of any sort, no discounts, nothing, except they are eligible to attend the annual DNA Conference in Houston.  Eligible to attend does not mean the conference is free.  I don’t bring this up as a complaint, it’s just that there has been a persistent rumor that refuses to entirely die that administrators receive some percentage of sales or compensation of some sort for running projects.  They don’t and never have.

Because they are volunteers, their administration and personal communication styles vary widely.  Many don’t have any co-administrators so have no backup or assistance.  Some are prompt at answering e-mails, some not.  Genetic genealogy and projects are now more than 10 years old.  People age, they die, they get distracted and some just haven’t kept up.  This field moves very rapidly.  If you see a project in trouble, consider offering to help.  If that doesn’t work, notify Family Tree DNA.

There are published guidelines for administrators.  Mostly these deal with privacy and what they can and can’t do.  Most of this is intuitive, but maybe not to everyone so it is in writing.

A good project administrator:

  • Communicates with members, especially if contacted
  • Keeps the project groups current
  • Assists members equally and fairly
  • Is honest, but sensitive, especially in difficult situations like undocumented adoptions (NonParental Events)
  • Is courteous

Sounds kind of like the scouts doesn’t it?

Every project is different.  As an administrator, every time I send group messages to large projects, my e-mail address gets blacklisted as a spammer.  So I set up a Yahoo group for each of these projects, plus have provided my blog address.  Every person receives this information when they join in an automated e-mail which explains explicitly how to join the Yahoo groups and subscribe to my blog.  Still, last week, someone left one of these projects with the comment “no communication.”  Sigh.  Remember what I said about reading???

A few very poorly run projects do exist.  In one case, the administrator does not use Family Tree DNA’s public website, nor a private one, and the only way you can obtain project information is by signing up with My Family.  In another case, the administrator keeps the results private, much like above, but wrote a book about the surname a couple years ago.  That seems to call into question the motivation for the project.  These are sad and frustrating experiences for the participants.

Project admins cannot:

  • Charge a fee to join a project
  • Share or change private information (in fact, the Family Tree DNA website blocks that for admins)
  • Share the identity or personal information of participants without permission
  • Move members from one project to another
  • Use member information for any commercial purpose without authorization
  • Use member information and e-mails for spamming, etc.
  • Use a DNA project to advocate a personal or political agenda

Notify family tree DNA is you feel something is wrong or you have a concern.  Consider offering to help if you notice a project languishing.

Project Members

We’ve talked about projects, why they are different and what you can expect from an administrator, but what do they expect from you as a participant, or potential participant?

1. Courtesy – I’ve met many lovely people through genetic genealogy, but I’ve also met my share of real dooseys.  I see increasingly more “entitlement attitude” relative to projects with join criteria.  In the words of one person who did not meet the criteria, “I deserve to be in this project.  I have the right.”  I strongly suspect that only the nice people who want to learn will have gotten this far in this article, so I won’t expound further:)  For you folks, I don’t need to!

2. READ – Please, please read what is provided relative to the project goals and join criteria.  Now this is a double edged sword, because it means the admin needs to be sure to provide this information and keep it current.  Maybe I need to look at my project verbiage to see if it needs to be bolded, highlighted or in red!

3. Information – If information is requested, especially in a specific format, please comply as best you can.  There is generally a reason for the request.  Most admins don’t want to make extra work for you or themselves.  Not all projects require information.  I ask for a pedigree chart for everyone in my surname projects, and you would be amazed at how many people join the project and then never reply to any of my e-mails – probably about 50%.  This is why some admins have gone to requiring a pedigree chart of some sort before people are allowed to join. And providing a pedigree chart does not mean sending a link to your tree at Ancestry.  At Ancestry, all the admin can do is write everything down, by hand, IF they can find your line of the family in the chart.  Remember, current and recent generations are “private” at Ancestry, so finding the right family line is almost impossible without additional information.  I provide a mini-genealogy form for my project members that has them complete only the direct line directly back from them.  Here’s the one for mitochondrial and the one for Y-line is the same except the word mother is changed to father.

Projects 7

Our Fireside Chat

I hope this has helped dispel some of the confusion surrounding projects, administrators, participants and expectations.  This field started out to be quite simple, with only Y surname projects, but as the field has developed and evolved over the last decade, so have projects and with that has come some level of complexity.  Joining the correct projects for you, your family and your DNA can be one of the most beneficial aspects of genetic genealogy, allowing you to find family and collaborate your research efforts with others.



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2012 Top 10 Genetic Genealogy Happenings

2012 has been a very busy year for genetic genealogists.  There have been lots of discoveries and announcements that affect everyone, now and in the future.  The watchwords for 2012 would be “churn” and “explosive growth.”  Let’s take a look at the 10 most important events, why they are important and what they mean for the future of genetic genealogy.

These items are in what I think are relatively good order, ranked by their importance, although I had a very difficult time deciding between number 1 and 2.

1. The New Root – Haplogroup A00

At the Family Tree DNA conference in November, Michael Hammer, Bonnie Schrack and Thomas Krahn announced that they had made a monumental discovery in the age of modern man known as Y-line Adam.  The discovery of Haplogroup A00 pushes the “birth” of mankind back from about 140,000 years ago to an amazing 338,000 years ago.  Utterly amazing.  The DNA came from an American family from South Carolina.  This discovery highlights the importance of citizen science.  Bonnie is a haplogroup administrator who recognized the potential importance of one of her participants’ DNA.  Thomas Krahn of course is with Family Tree DNA and ran the WTY test, and Michael Hammer is at the University of Arizona.  So you have the perfect blend here of participant, citizen scientist, commercial lab and academia.  What was never thought possible a decade or so ago is not only working, it’s working well and changing the face of both science and humanity.

2. Geno 2.0

Geno 2.0 is the Nickname for the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project version 2.0.  That mouthful is why it has a nickname.

This amazing project has leveraged the results of the past 7 years of research from the original Genographic project into a new groundbreaking product.  Geno 2.0, utilizing the GenoChip, a sequencing chip created specifically for Nat Geo, offers the most complete Y tree in the world today, expanding the SNP tree from just over 800 SNPs to over 12,000.  They are in essence redrawing the Y chromosome tree as I write this.  In addition, the person who purchases Geno 2.0 will receive a mitochondrial DNA haplogroup assignment.  Over 3300 new mitochondrial mutations were discovered. A brand new anthropological “percentages of ethnicity” report is featured based on over 75,000 Ancestry Informative Markers, many only recently discovered by the Genographic project.  Additionally, participants will receive their percentage of both Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry based on 30,000 SNPs identified that signal interbreeding between the hominids.  A new website will also facilitate social networking and uploading information to Family Tree DNA.

The wonderful news is that there is a massive amount of new information here that will change the landscape of genetic genealogy.  The difficulty is that we are struggling a bit under the load of that massive amount of information that is just beginning to descend upon us.  It’s a great problem to have!

3. Reconstructed Sapiens Reference Sequence (RSRS)

In July, Family Tree DNA implemented the RSRS that in effect reconstructs the genetic profile of Mitochondrial Eve and bases the comparison of our DNA today against the RSRS sequence as opposed to the Cambridge Reference Sequence (rCRS) created in 1981 that is or was the current standard.  The RSRS is a result of the watershed paper published in April 2012 by Dr. Doron Behar and 8 other authors titled “A “Copernican” Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root.”  A complementary research website,, accompanies the paper.

4. Full Genome and Exome Sequence Offered Commercially by Gene by Gene

It was announced at the November DNA conference that Gene by Gene, the parent company of Family Tree DNA, through their division titled DNA DTC is offering full genomic sequencing for the amazing price of $5495 for the full genome and $695 for the exome.  This is a first in the consumer marketspace.  Today, this doesn’t have a lot of application for genetic genealogy, but as the price continues to drop, and utilities are built to process the full genomic data, certainly a market and applications will emerge.  This is an important step forward in the industry with a product that still cost 3 million dollars in 2007.

5. Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA

It’s official – they did it.  Yep, they interbred and well, they are not them anymore, they are us.  Given that everyone in Asia and Europe carries a part of them, but not people from Africa, it would appear that two populations admixed rather thoroughly in Eurasia and/or the populations were small.  The amount of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA will continue at approximately the proportions seen today in Europe (2% Neanderthal) and Asia unless a significant amount of admixture from a population (Africa) that does not carry this admixture is introduced.  So if you’re European, you carry both Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA.  They are your ancestors.  The good news is that you can find how much of each through  the Geno 2.0 test.  23andMe results give you the percentage of Neanderthal, but not Denisovan.

6. Ancestral Genome Reconstruction Begins,  Led by Falling Autosomal Prices and the Ability to Fish in Multiple Ponds

2012 has been the year of autosomal testing price reductions and a great deal of churn in this marketspace.  Companies are playing leap-frog with one another.  However, sometimes things are not all that they seem.

Initially, 23andMe opted for an initial payment plus monthly subscription model, which they abandoned for a one time payment price of $299 in early 2012.  Family Tree DNA was slightly less, at $289.

Ancestry led the price war by giving away kits, then selling them for $99, then $129 plus a subscription as an entrance into this market.  However, looking at the Ancestry consent form hints at possible reasons why they were selling below the cost of the tests.  You are in essence giving them permission to sell your DNA and associated information.  In addition, to gain full access to your results and matches, you must maintain some level of subscription to, increasing the total effective price.

Next came Family Tree DNA’s sale where they dropped their autosomal price to $199, but they were shortly upstaged by 23andMe whose price has now dropped to $99 permanently, apparently, a result of a 50 million dollar investment in order to reach 1 million customers.  They currently have about 180,000.  23andMe has always been in the medical/health business, so their clients have always understood what they were consenting to and for.

Not to be outdone, Family Tree DNA introduced the ability earlier in 2012 to upload your data files from 23andMe to FamilyTree DNA for $89, far less than a second test, which allows you to fish in a second pond where genealogists live for matches.  The challenge at 23andMe is that most of their clients test for the health traits and either don’t answer inquiries or match requests, or know little about their genealogy if they do.  At Family Tree DNA, matches don’t have to answer and allow a match, testers are automatically matched with all participants who take the Family Finder test (or upload their 23andMe results) and testers are provided with their matches’ e-mail address.

Of course, Geno 2.0 was also introduced in the midst of this, in July, for $199 with the additional lollipop of new SNPS, lots of them, that others simply don’t have access to yet.

The good news is that consumers have benefitted from this leapfrogging, I think.  Let’s hope that the subsidized tests at Ancestry and 23andMe don’t serve long term to water down the demand to the point where unsubsidized companies (who don’t selling participants genetic results to others) have problems remaining viable.

Personally, I’ve tested at all of these companies.  I’ll be evaluating the results shortly in detail on my blog at

The tools provided by most testing companies, plus GedMatch, and multiple ponds to fish in are allowing the serious genetic genealogist to “reconstruct” their genome, attributing segments to specific ancestors.  Conversely, we will also be able to “reconstruct” specific ancestral family lines as well by identifying autosomal segments in multiple descendants.  This new vision of autosomal genetic genealogy will allow much more accurate ancestral line matching, and ancestor identification in the not-so-distant future.

7. Ethnicity Tests Mature – Minus 1

The good news is that the various ethnicity tests (known as BGA or biogeographical ancestry tests) that provide participants with their percentages of various world populations are improving.  The bad news is that there is currently one bad apple in the card with very misleading percentages – and that is

23andMe introduced a new version of their ethnicity product in December, expanding from only 3 geographic categories to several.  The Geno 2.0 test results are just beginning to be returned which include ethnicity predictions and references to several base populations.

Family Tree DNA finally has some competition in this arena where for years they have been the only serious player, although opinions differ widely about which of these three organizations results are the most accurate.  All four are Illumina chip based, using hundreds of thousands of locations, as compared with the previous CODIS type tests which used between 15 and 300 markers and are now outdated.  All companies use different reference populations which, of course, provide somewhat different results to participants.  All companies, except Ancestry, have documented and shared their reference population information.

Outside of these companies, Doug McDonald offers a private analysis and Gedmatch offers a series of BGA comparisons written by third parties.

While this industry continues to grow and mature, I’m thinking about just averaging the autosomal ethnic results and calling it good:)

8. Finding Your Roots PBS Series with Henry Louis Gates

PBS sponsored a wonderful series in the spring of 2012 hosted by Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, the chair of African American Studies at Harvard.  This series followed a lesser known 2010 series.  The 2012 inspirational series reached tens of thousands of people and increased awareness of genetic genealogy as well as sparked an interest in genealogy itself, especially for mixed race and African American people.  I was disappointed that the series did not pursue the Native American results unexpectedly obtained for one participant.  It seemed like a missed opportunity.  Series like this bring DNA testing for genealogy into the mainstream, making it less “strange” and frightening and more desirable for the average person.  These stories were both inspirational and heartwarming.  I hope we can look forward to similar programs in the future.

CeCe Moore covered this series in March and April on her blog.

9. Ancestry, GeneTree and Sorenson

GeneTree, a for profit company and Sorenson, a non-profit company were both purchased by  This was about the same time as Ancestry introduced their autosomal AncestryDNA product.  Speculation was that the autosomal results at Sorenson might be the foundation for the new autosomal test comparisons, although there has been no subsequent evidence of this.

Ancestry initially gave away several thousand kits in order to build their data base, then sold thousands more for $99 before raising the price to what appears to be a normalized price of $129 plus an annual ancestry subscription.

While GeneTree was never a major player in the DNA testing marketspace, Sorenson Molecular Genealogical Foundation played an important role for many years as a nonprofit research institute.  There was significant distress in the genetic genealogy community related to the DNA contributed to Sorenson for research being absorbed by Ancestry as a “for profit” company.  Ancestry is maintaining the website, but no additional results will be added.  Sorenson has been entirely shuttered.  Many of the Sorenson/GeneTree employees appear to have moved over to Ancestry.

The initial AncestryDNA autosomal product offering is poor, lacks tools and the ethnicity portion has significant issues. It’s strength is that many people who test are already Ancestry subscribers and have attached their trees.  So you can’t see how you connect genetically to your matches (lack of tools), but you can see the trees, if they are attached and not marked as private, of those with whom you match.  Ancestry provides “hints” relative to matching individuals or surnames.

Eventually, if Ancestry improves its products, provides tools and releases the raw data to consumers, this may be a good thing.  It’s an important event in 2012 because of the massive size of Ancestry, but the product is mediocre at best.  Ancestry seems unwilling to acknowledge issues unless their feet are held to the fire publicly as illustrated with a “lab error” erroneous match for an adoptee caught by the consuming public and ignored by Ancestry until CeCe Moore exposed them in her blog.  Whether Ancestry ultimately helps or hurts the genetic genealogy industry is a story yet to be told.  There is very little positive press in the genetic genealogy community surrounding the Ancestry product, but with their captive audience, they are clearly going to be a player.

10. GedMatch

GedMatch,, created by John Olson and Curtis Rogers, isn’t new in 2012, but it’s maturing into a tool that is becoming the defacto workhorse of the serious autosomal community.  People who test at either 23andMe or Family Tree DNA download their raw results and other match information and then use a variety of tools at GedMatch to look at results in different ways and using different thresholds. GedMatch is currently working to accept the newly arriving Geno 2.0 data files.  Ancestry does not at this time allow their customers access to their raw data files, so there is nothing to upload. The bad news is that not everyone downloads/uploads their information.  Only the most savvy users, and the download/upload is not always a smooth process, often necessitating several attempts, a magic wand and some fairy dust for luck.

GedMatch is a volunteer effort funded by donations on the GedMatch site.  The magnitude of this project came to light when they needed new servers this year because the amount of traffic disabled their internet service provider.  It may be a volunteer effort, but it has mainstream requirements.  Therefore, while occasionally frustrating, it’s easy to understand why it’s light on documentation and one has to poke around a bit to figure things out.  I would actually prefer that they make it a subscription site, clean up the bugs, add the documentation and take it to the next level.  It would also be very nice if they could arrange something with the major players in terms of a seamless data transfer for clients.  All told, it’s an amazing contribution as a volunteer site.  Hats off to Curtis and John for their ongoing contribution to genetic genealogists!!!



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The New Root – Haplogroup A00

Now that things have calmed down a bit from the whirlwind of the Family Tree DNA Conference, I’d like to write in a little more comprehensive and sane manner about the revelation that we have a new root on the human tree.

I’m referring to the session given by Bonnie Schrack, Thomas Krahn and Michael Hammer titled “In Search of the Root: Discovery of a Highly Divergent Y Chromosome Lineage.”

Bonnie has posted her slides from the presentation as well as her speaking notes on her new haplogroup A webpage.  She contacted me with some corrections to my original Blog posting about that session at the conference as well as provided additional information.  Thank you Bonnie, not just for this info, but for your work with haplogroup A that has been such a key part of this momentous discovery.  This isn’t just a once-in-a-lifetime event, it’s a once-in-the-history-of-mankind event.  Watch the haplogroup A website for more information from Bonnie about this exciting discovery and project.

Understandably, Bonnie, Thomas and Michael are somewhat restricted in what they can say until such time as the resulting academic paper in the works is published.

We all know that male humans arise from a person we call Y-line Adam, just like we call the first woman Mitochondrial Eve.  Before a 2011 paper, it was believed that shortly after Adam, haplogroup A and B were formed about the same time and were brother haplogroups.  Fulvio Cruciani’s 2011 paper, “A Revised Root for the Human Y Chromosomal Phylogenetic Tree: The Origin of Patrilineal Diversity in Africa” reorganized that tree and showed that indeed, haplogroup A formed from the root of all humanity with B forming from haplogroup A.

Cruciani showed his newly organized tree with haplogroup A1b, A1a and then A2, A3 and BT as brother haplogroups.  Cruciani did not use STR data, only SNP data in his study.

A second recent study, also in 2011, “Signatures of the pre-agricultural peopling processes in sub-Saharan Africa as revealed by the phylogeography of early Y chromosome lineages” by Chiara Batini et al, did include some STR marker that matched some of the haplogroup A samples.  Batini did not use SNP testing, so did not realize the potential of these STR samples.  These did not match the new A00 root, but other rare haplogroup A samples in subgroups.

The 7 marker STR samples that did match the new A00 sample were from a private database at the Center for Genetic Anthropology who very graciously worked with Michael Hammer and provided small amounts of those samples for further analysis.

In my conference blog posting, I asked how this discovery was previously missed, and Bonnie Schrack responded as follows:

“The reasons we had never heard about A00 before would be:

  • Very scanty research and sample collection in Africa, in proportion to the size and diversity of the population, compared to Europe and other more developed countries
  • Only recently has large-scale Y sequencing become practical and affordable; Cruciani’s 2011 paper was a breakthrough precisely because for the first time they were able to sequence a few samples on the scale of a WTY, resulting in a lot of new SNPs, and we’ve been able to make even more progress because we had a larger pool of (customer) samples from which I could cherry-pick the most divergent samples, and then our genetic genealogy/anthropology community made it possible to raise enough funds for us to sequence the most important three of them (after that point, Hammer and FTDNA found the other samples and funds).”

Before the WTY program, this type of analysis simply wasn’t being done.  This monumental discovery was a combination of citizen science, the haplogroup A project, an innovative scientific program, the WTY at Family Tree DNA, academic partnership, Michael Hammer’s lab at the University of Arizona and other institutions, along with that crucial public participation.  Without the public participation aspect, the rest would be a moot point.

Haplogroup A research at Family Tree DNA discovered not only one, but two new branches of haplogroup A, one of which was actually a new base root that needed to be inserted before, upstream of, the current root.  The locations where these new branches/roots needed to be inserted required the renaming of the current branches, hence, the newly discovered branch A00 and Cruciani’s branch, formerly A1b, is now A0.

Thomas Krahn’s A00 discovery presentation slides are also available online.  You can tell he’s a scientist from the nature of his presentation.  You can see the actual process of discovery, in essence, what he saw as this new root was unearthed.  It’s fun to walk along with him, even if you don’t understand everything you see.

As part of this process, Thomas also sequenced the DNA of a chimp and a gorilla.  You can see the results at for the chimp at 6RCUU, the gorilla at 9ED3A and the new root, A00, at 6M5JA.  You can breathe easy, humans are far distant from chimps and gorillas, but maybe closer to Neanderthals or other archaic humans than we thought.

Update: As of 2019, Ysearch is no longer available.

At the end of Thomas’s presentation, he included the image of a tree with a new root and lots of interesting branches.

Zooming in on the branches, you can see all of the DNA sequencing paraphernalia, microplates, readouts and results.  Maybe there is a little artist buried someplace in Thomas amid those scientific genes!

This work was no small feat, and the significance is mind-boggling.  This new discovery pushed the date of Y-Adam back a whopping 67% in one fell swoop.  Cruciani’s birth age for haplogroup A1b was 140,000 years ago and A00, compared to Cruciani’s sample, falls at 237,000 years ago.

Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona reanalyzed the haplogroup A tree and root with the new information available, and his new ages are even more amazing.  Cruciani’s A1b/A0 sample is now at 200,000 years old and A00 is at 338,000, with a 98% confidence level.

These dates pre-date all human fossils, although there are some archaic fossils that have been found and dated after this time in neighboring Nigeria.  This new information provides us with glimpses through the keyhole of time into ancient human origins, and begs even more questions that will be answered in time, with more genetic and anthropology research.  We all descend from this common root, and we may all be more closely related to archaic man that we knew.

The A00 participant descends from a former slave family in South Carolina.  The closest matches are found in western Cameroon near the Gulf of Guinea, a prime location in the slave trade.

There appears to be about 500 years between the participant and the samples from Cameroon, an age that speaks to the beginning of the slave trade.

Having worked closely with Lenny Trujillo, the man whose WTY sample provided us with haplogroup-changing and defining information for haplogroup Q, and understanding what a moving experience this journey has been for Lenny, I wondered about how the family involved with this revolutionary discovery must feel.

As luck would have it, I have worked with this family in one of my projects as well, and they contacted me after seeing my blog about the conference.

I asked how they felt, how they were reacting to this history-changing event in which their family was the keystone.  I have extracted pieces from e-mails back and forth, and with the families permission, am sharing what they had to say.  Clearly, without them and their active and supportive participation, this discovery would not have been made.  We all owe them a debt of gratitude.

“I have a B.S. in Mathematics. I love science and learning. I recently retired, but I spent a lot of that time working with research scientists on cutting edge technology and methods so it is very exciting to me to be a part of such a scientific discovery. My family would say I was the right one chosen.  This is the family line I know the most about so I am glad it was this part of my family.

I don’t yet have the formal results from Family Tree DNA concerning the Y-DNA sample they tested in the Walk Through the Y, I did know that the discovery was monumental from some preliminary results from Thomas.

I wanted to see the tie back to Africa, looks like GOD did exceedingly, abundantly more than I could ever ask or think. Just think of how long HE has preserved this Y-lineage just for such a time as this.”



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Family Tree DNA Conference 2012 – Nits and Grits

First things first!  I want to thank Max and Bennett for graciously hosting the 8th Annual Genetic Genealogy Conference in Houston, Texas!  This is actually the 9th year, but a pesky hurricane interfered one year.  Max and Bennett are very generous with their time and resources and heavily subsidize this conference for us.  We’re registering in the photo above.

Georgia Kinney Bopp said it best.  At some point during this amazing conference, someone tweeted an earlier quote from a conversation between Ann Turner and Georgia:

“it’s hard to realize you’re living history while it happens…”

This was ever so true this weekend.  Even my husband (who is not genetic genealogy crazy) realized this.  I’m not sure everyone at the conference did, or realized the magnitude of what they were hearing, as we did have a lot of newbies.  Newbies are a good thing.  It means our obsessive hobby and this industry have staying power and there will be people to pass the torch to someday.

I’ve already covered the Native American focus meeting in an earlier blog.

For those of you who want the nitty gritty play by play as it happened at the conference, go to and search for hashtag #ftdna2012.  If you want some help with Twitter, I blogged about that too.  Twitter is far from perfect, but it is near-realtime as things are happening.

As always, Family Tree DNA hosts a reception on Friday evening.  This helps break the ice and allows people to put faces with names.  So many of us “know” each other by our e-mail name and online presence alone.

We had a special guest this year too, Nina, a little puppy who was rescued by Rebekah Canada just a few days before the conference.  Nina behaved amazingly well and many of us enjoyed her company. 

Bennett opened the conference this year, and in the Clint Eastwood political tradition, spoke to his companion, the chair named Max.  The real Max, it turns out, was losing his voice, but that didn’t prevent him from chatting with us and answering questions from time to time.

While Bennett was very low key with this announcement, it was monumental.  He indicated that the parent company of Family Tree DNA has reorganized a bit.  It has changed its name to Gene by Gene and now has 4 divisions.  You can check this out at  This isn’t the monumental part.

The new division, DNADTC’s new products are the amazing parts.  Through this new division, they are the first commercial company to offer a full genome sequence test.  The price, only $5495.  For somewhat less, $695, they are offering the exome, which are your 20,000 genes.  Whoever though it would be a genetic genealogy company who would bring this to the public.  Keep in mind that the human genome was only fully sequenced in 2003 at a cost of 3 billion dollars.

The amazing part is that a full genome sequence cost about 3 million in 2007 and the price will continue to fall.  While consumers will be able to order this, if they want, it comes with no tools, as it is focused at the research community who would be expected to have their own analytical tools.  However, genetic genealogists being who and what they are, I don’t expect the research market will outweigh the consumer market for long, especially when the price threshold reaches about $1000.

Bennett also said that he expects that National Geographic will, in 2013 sometime, decide to allow upgrades from Family Tree DNA clients for the Geno 2.0 product.  This will allow those people who cannot obtain a new sample to participate as well.  However, an unopened vial will be required.  No promises as to when, and the decision is not his to make.

The first session was Spencer Wells via Skype from Italy.  Spencer has just presented at two conferences within the week, one in San Francisco and one in Florence, Italy.  Fortunately, he was able to work us into his schedule and he didn’t even sound tired.

Of course, his topic was the Geno 2.0 test which is, of course, run on the new GenoChip.  The first results are in the final stages of testing, so we should see them shortly.  Sometime between the 19th and the end of the month.

This product comes with all new migration maps.  He showed one briefly, and I noticed that one of the two Native Y-lines are now showing different routes than before.  One across Siberia, which hasn’t changed, and one up the pacific rim.  Hmmm, can’t wait for that paper.

The new maps all include heat maps which show frequency by color.  The map below is a haplogroup Q heat map, but it is NOT from the Geno project.  I’m only using it as an example.

Spencer indicated that the sales of the 2.0 product rival those of the 1.0 product and that they have sold substantially more than 10K and substantially less than 100K kits so far.  In total, they have sold more than 470,000 kits in over 130 countries.  And that’s just the public participation part, not the indigenous samples.  They have collected over 75,000 indigenous samples from more than 100 populations resulting in 36 publications to date with another half dozen submitted but not yet accepted.  Academic publication is a very long process.

Nat Geo has given 62 legacy grants to indigenous communities that have participated totaling more than 1.7 million dollars.  That money comes in part from the public participation kits, meaning Geno 1.0 and now 2.0.

Geno 2.0 continues to be a partnership between National Geographic and Family Tree DNAFamily Tree DNA is running all of their samples in the expanded Houston lab.  Also added to the team is Dr. Eran Elhaik at Johns Hopkins University who has developed a new tool, AIMSFINDER, that locates never before identified Ancestral Informative Markers to identify population specific markers.  This is extremely important because it allows us to read our DNA and determine if we carry the markers reflective of any specific population.  Well, we don’t do the reading, they do with their sophisticated software.  But we are the recipients with the new deep ancestral ethnicity results which are more focused on anthropology than genealogy.  Spencer says that if you have 2% or more Native American, they can see it.  They have used results from both public and private repositories in developing these tools.

This type of processing power combined with a new protocol that tests all SNPS in a sequence, not just selected ones, promises to expand the tree exponentially and soon. It has already been expanded 7 fold from 863 branches of the Y tree to 6153 and more have already been discovered that are not on the GenoChip, but will be in the next version.

The National Geographic project will also be reaching out to administrators and groups who may have access to populations of interest.  For example, an ex-pat group in an American city.  Keep this in mind as you think of projects.

Another piece of this pie is a new educational initiative in schools called Threads.

This isn’t all, by any means, on this topic, I really do encourage you to go and use Twitter hashtag #ftdna2012.  Several of us were tweeting and the info was coming so fast and furious that no one could possibly get it all.

The future with Nat Geo looks exceedingly bright.  We have gone from the Barney Rubble age to the modern era and now there is promise for a rosy and as yet undiscovered future.

Judy Russell was next.  I have to tell you, when I saw where they positioned her, I was NOT envious.  I mean, who wants to follow Spencer Wells, even if he’s not there in person.  Well, if anyone was up to this, it certainly was Judy.  For those who don’t know, she blogs as The Legal Genealogist.

Judy is one of us.  That means she actually understands our industry, what drives genealogists and why.  In addition to being a lawyer, she is a certified genealogist and a genetic genealogy crazy too.  Maybe I shouldn’t call a lawyer crazy….well…it was meant as a compliment:)

Judy has the perspective to help us, not just criticize us remotely.  She reviewed several areas where we might make mistakes.  After all, we’re all volunteers coming from quite varied backgrounds.  She suggests that we all put some form of disclosure on our projects explaining what participants can expect in terms of use.  She used the Core Melungeon project as a good example, along with the Fox project.

“The goal of this project is to use DNA to better understand the origins of the Melungeon people, and this will be done by comparing the DNA with other project members, those outside of projects, and will incorporate relevant genealogical and historical research. All participants will be included in the ongoing studies and by joining the project, you are giving consent for your information to be anonymously included in ongoing genetic genealogy research. Your personal identity will not be revealed, but your results will be used to better understand the Melungeons as a people and their ancestors.”

From the Fox project:

“The exact function of these STR markers is not yet known and they have no known medical function but recent research shows they have some sort of regulatory function on the genes. While there is no medical information in these numbers, the absence of a certain few markers near a fertility gene could indicate sterility – something that would certainly already be known.

The results do provide a partial means of personal identification and, for this reason, our haplotype tables list only the FTDNA kit number and the most distant known male line ancestor. Within the project, however, the administrators feel free to disclose identities, particularly when a close match occurs.”

Judy’s stressed that we not tell people that there is no medical information revealed.  Partially, because we’ve discovered in rare cases that’s not true, and partially because we can’t see into the future.

Judy talked about regulation and that while we fear what it might intentionally or inadvertently do to genetic genealogy, it’s important to have regulations to get rid of the snake oil salesman, and yes, there are a couple in genetic genealogy.  They give us all a black eye and a bad name when people discover they’ve been hoodwinked. However, without regulation of some sort, we have no legal tools to deal with them.

Regulation certainly seems to be a double-edged sword.

I hope that Judy writes in her blog about what she covered in her session, because I think her message is important to all administrators and participants alike.  And just to be clear, the sky is not falling and Judy is not Chicken Little.  In fact, Judy is the most interesting attorney I have ever heard speak, and amazingly reasonable too.  She actually makes you WANT to listen, so if you ever get the chance to see one of her webcasts or attend one of her sessions, take the opportunity.

Following the break, breakout sessions began.  CeCe Moore ran one about “Family Finder,” Elise Friedman about “Group Administration” and Thomas Krahn provided the “Walk the Y Update.”  Bennett called this the propeller head session.  Harumph Bennett.  Guess you know which one I attended.  All sessions were offered a second time on Sunday.

Thomas said that they have once again upgraded their equipment, doubling their capacity again.  This gives 4 times the coverage of the original Walk the Y, covering more than 5 million bases.  To date, they have run 494 pre-qualified participants and of those, 198 did not find a new SNP.

There are changes coming in how the palindromic region is scored which will change the matches shown.  Palindromic mismatches will now be scored as one mutation event, not multiples.  Microalleles will able be reported in the next rollout version, expected probably in January.  The problem with microalleles is not the display, but the matching routine.

Of importance, there has not been an individual WTY tested from haplogroups B, M, D or S, and we need one.  So if you know of anyone, please contact Thomas.

Thomas has put his Powerpoint presentation online at

The next session by Dr. Tyrone Bowes was “Pinpointing a Geographical Location Using Reoccurring Surnames Matches.”  For those of us without a genetic homeland, this is powerful medicine.  Dr. Bowes has done us the huge favor of creating a website to tell us exactly how to do this.

He uses surnames, clan maps, matches, history and census records to reveal surname clusters.  One tidbit he mentioned is that if you don’t know the family ethnicity, look at the 1911 census records and their religion will often tell you.  Hmm, never thought of that, especially since our American ancestors left the homeland long ago.  But those remaining in the homeland are very unlikely to change, at least not in masse.  I’m glad he gave this presentation, or I would never have found his webpage and I can’t wait to apply these tools to some of my sticky-wickets.

This ended Saturday’s sessions, but at the end of every day, written questions are submitted for that day’s presenters or for Family Tree DNA.

Bennett indicated that another 3000 or 4000 SNPs will be added to the Family Finder calculations and a new version based on reference samples from multiple sources will be released in January.

Bennett also said that if and when Ancestry does provide the raw downloadable data to their clients, they will provide a tool to upload so that you can compare 23andMe and Ancestry both with your Family Finder matches.

Saturday evening is the ISOGG reception, also called the ISOGG party.  Everyone contributes for the room and food, and a jolly good time is had by all.  There is just nothing to compare with face to face communications.

For me, and for a newly found cousin, this was an amazing event.  A person named Z. B. Stroud left me a message that she was looking for me.  When I found her, along with her friend and cousin Revis, she tells me that she matches me autosomally, at 23andMe, and that she had sent me a sharing request that I had ignored.  I am very bad about that, because unless someone says they are related, I presume they aren’t and I don’t like to clutter up my list with non-related people.  It makes comparisons difficult.  My bad.  In fact, I’m going right now to approve that sharing request!!!

I will blog about this in the future, but without spilling too many beans….we had a wonderful impromptu family reunion.  We think our common ancestor is from the Halifax and Pittsylvania County region of Virginia, but of course, it will take some work to figure this out.

I’m also cousins with Revis Leonard (second from left).  We’ve known that for a long time, but Z.B. whose first name is Brisjon (second from right) is new to genealogy, DNA and cousin matching. I’m on the right above.  The Stroud project administrator, Susan Milligan, also related to Brisjon is on the left end.  In the center are Brisjon’s two cousins who came to pick her up for dinner and whom she was meeting for the first time.

But that’s not all all, cousin Brisjon also matches Catherine Borges.  Let me tell you, I know who got the tall genes in this family, and I’m not normally considered short.  Brisjon’s genealogical journey is incredibly amazing and she will be sharing it with us in an upcoming book.  Suffice it to say, things are not always what you think they are and Brisjon is living proof.  She also met her biological father for the first time this weekend!  I’m sure Houston and her 2012 visit where she met so many family members is a watershed event in her lifetime!  She is very much a lovely lady and I am so happy to have met her.  Cousins Rule!

ISOGG traditionally has its meeting on Sunday morning before the first session.  Lots of sleepy people because everyone has so much fun at the ISOGG party and stays up way too late.

Alice Fairhurst, who has done a remarkable job with the ISOGG Y SNP tree (Thank you Alice!) knows an avalanche is about to descend on her with the new Geno 2.0 chip.  They are also going to discontinue the haplogroup names, because they pretty much have to, but will maintain an indented tree so you can at least see where you are.  The names are becoming obsolete because everytime there is an insertion upstream, everything downstream gets renamed and it makes us crazy.  It was bad enough before, but going from 860+ branches to  6150+ in one fell swoop and knowing it’s probably just the beginning confirms the logic in abandoning the names.  However, we have to develop or implement some sort of map so you can find your relative location (no pun intended) and understand what it means.

Alice also mentioned that they need people to be responsible for specific haplogroups or subhaplogroups and they have lost people that have not been replaced, so if anyone is willing or knows of anyone….please contact Alice.

Alice also makes wonderful beaded double helix necklaces.

Brian Swann (sorry, no picture) is visiting from England this year and he spoke just a bit about British records.  He said it’s imperative to learn how they work and to use some of the British sites where they have been indexed.  He also reminded us to check GOONS (Guild of One Name Studies) for our surnames and that can help us localize family groups for recruiting.  He said that you may have to do family reconstructions because to get a Brit to test you have to offer them something.  That’s not terribly different from over here.  He also mentioned that today about half of the British people having children don’t marry, so in the next generation, family reconstruction will be much more difficult.  That too isn’t so terribly different than here, although I’m not sure about the percentages.  It’s certainly a trend, as are varying surname practices even within marriage.

Dr. Doron Behar began the official Sunday agenda with a presentation about the mtCommunity and a discussion of his recently published paper “A ‘Copernican’ Reassesement of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root.”  This paper has absolutely revolutionized the mitochondrial DNA community.  I blogged about this when the paper was first released and our home pages were updated.    One point he made is that it is important to remember is that your mutations don’t change.  The only thing that changes between the CRS (Cambridge Reference Sequence) and the RSRS (Reconstructed Sapiens Reference Sequence)  model is what your mutations are being compared to.  Instead of being compared to someone from Europe who live in 1981 (the CRS) we are now comparing to the root of the tree, Mitochondrial Eve (RSRS) as best we can reconstruct what her mitochondrial DNA looked like.

He also said that when people join the mtCommunity, their results are not automatically being added to GenBank at NCBI.  That is a separate authorization check box.

A survey was distributed to question participants as to whether they want results, when they select the GenBank option, to be submitted with their kit number.  Now, they are not, and they are under Bennett’s name, so any researcher with a question asks Bennett who has no “track back” to the person involved.  About 6000 of the 16,000 submissions today at GenBank are from Family Tree DNA customers.  Dr. Behar said that by this time next year, he would expect it to be over half.  Once again, genetic genealogy pioneers are leading the way!

At these conferences, there is always one session that would be considered the keynote.  Normally, it’s Spencer Wells when he is on the agenda, and indeed, his session was wonderful.  But at the 2012 conference, this next session absolutely stole the show.  Less public by far, and much less flashy, but at the core root of all humanity.

You can’t really tell from the title of this session what is coming.  Michael Hammer with Thomas Krahn and Bonnie Schrack, one of our own citizen scientists, presented something called “A Highly Divergent Y Chromosome Lineage.”  Yawn.  But the content was anything but yawn-material.  We literally watched scientific discovery unfold in front of our eyes.

Bonnie Schrack is the haplogroup A project administrator.  Haplogroup A is African and is at the root of the entire haplotree.  One of Bonnie’s participants, an African American man from South Carolina agreed to participate in WTY testing.  In a nutshell, when Thomas and Astrid began scoring his results, they continued and continued and continued, and wound up literally taking all night.  At dawn’s first light, Thomas told Astrid that he thought they had found an entirely new haplogroup that preceded any known today.  But he was too sleep deprived to be sure. Astrid, equally as sleep deprived, replied with “Huh?” in disbelief.  It’s certainly not a statement you expect to hear, even once in your lifetime.  This is a once in the history of mankind event.

Dr. Michael Hammer confirmed that indeed, they had discovered the new root of the human Y tree.  And not by a little either, but by a lot.  For those who want to take a look for yourself, Ysearch ID 6M5JA.  Hammer’s lab did the age projection on this sample, and it pushed the age of hominid men back by about 100,000 years, from 140,000 years ago to 237,000 years ago.  They then reevaluated the aging on all of the tree and have moved the prior date to about 200,000 years ago and the new one to about 338,000 years ago with a 98% confidence level.  This is before the oldest fossils that have been found, and also before the earliest mitochondrial DNA estimate, which previously had been twice as old as the Yline ancestor.

The previous root, A1b has been renamed A0 and the new root, just discovered is now A00.  Any other new roots discovered will simply get another zero appended.

How is it that we’ve never seen this before?  Well, it turns out that this line nearly went extinct.  Cruciani published a paper in 2012 that included some STR values that matched this sample, but fortunately, Michael Hammer’s lab held the actual samples.  A search of academic data bases reveals only a very few close matches, all in western Cameroon near the Gulf of Guinea.  Interestingly, next door, in Nigeria, fossils have been found younger than this with archaic features.  This is going to cause us to have to reevaluate the source of this lineage and with it the lineage of all mankind.  We must now ask the question about whether perhaps we really have stumbled upon a Neanderthal or other archaic lineage that of course “became” human.  Like many scientific discoveries, this answer only begs more questions.  My husband says this is like Russian tea dolls where ever smaller ones are nested in larger ones.

This discovery changes the textbooks, upsets the proverbial apple cart in a good way, and will keep scientists’ thinking caps on for years.  And to think, this was a result of one of our projects, an astute project administrator (Bonnie) and a single project member.  I wonder what the man who tested thinks of all of this. He is making science and all he thought he was doing was testing for genealogy.  You just never know where the next scientific breakthrough will come from.  Congrats to all involved, Bonnie, Thomas, Michael and to Bennett and Max for having this evolution revolution happen right in their lab!

If I felt sorry for Judy following Spencer, I really felt sorry for the breakout sessions following Thomas, Michael and Bonnie’s session.  Thankfully at least we had a break in-between, but most people were wandering around with some degree of stunned disbelief on their faces.  We all found it hard to fathom that we had been among the first to know of this momentous breakthrough.

I had a hard time deciding which session to attend, CeCe’s “Family Finder” session or Elise’s.  I decided to attend Elise’s “Advanced Admin Techniques” because I work with autosomal DNA with my clients and I tend to keep more current there.  Elise’s session was great for newer admins and held tips and hints for us old-timers too.  I realized I really need to just sit down and play with all of the options.

There are some great new features built in that I’ve never noticed.  For example, did you know that you can group people directly from the Y results chart without going to the subgrouping page?  It’s much easier too because it’s one step.  However, the bad news is that you still can’t invite someone who has already tested to join your project.  Hopefully that feature will be added soon.

The next session was “A Tale of Two Families” given by Rory Van Tuyl detailing how he used various techniques to discern whether individuals who did not show up as matches, meaning they were beyond the match threshold, were actually from the same ancient family or not.  Rory is a retired engineer and it shows in his attention to detail and affinity for math.

We always tell people that mutations can and do happen at any time, but Rory proved this.  He ran a monte-carlo simulation and showed that in one case, it was 50 generations between mutations, but in others, there was one mutation for three generations in a row.  Mutations by no means happen at a constant rate.  Of course, this means that our TIP calculator which has no choice but to use means and averages is by definition “not calibrated” for any particular family.

He also mentioned that his simulation shows that by about 150 generations, there are a couple of back mutations taking place.

The final session before the ending Q&A was Elliott speaking about IT, which really translates into new features and functions.  Let’s face it, today everything involves IT.

Again, I was having trouble typing fast enough, so you might want to check the Twitter feed.

They added the SNP maps (admins, please turn them on) and the interactive tour this year.  The tour isn’t used as much as it should be, so everyone, encourage your newbies to do this.

They have also added advanced matching, which I use a lot for clients, but many people didn’t realize it.  So maybe a quick tour through the website options might be in order for most of us.

They are handling 50 times more data now that a year ago.  Just think what next year will bring.  Wow.

They are going to update the landing page again with more color and more visible options for people to do things.  I hope they prompt people through things, like oldest ancestor mapping, for example.  Otherwise, if it isn’t easy, most don’t.

They are upgrading Population Finder and the Gedcom viewer.  They are adding a search feature.  Thank you!!  Older Gedcome will still be there but not searchable.

But the best news is that they are adding phasing (parent child) and an advanced capability to “reconstruct” an ancestor using more distant relatives, then the ability to search using that ancestral profile against Family Finder.  Glory be!  We are finally getting there.  Maybe my dreaming big wasn’t as far away as I thought.

They will also remove the 5 person autosomal download restriction and the “in common with” requirement to see additional information.  All good news.  They are also upgrading the Chromosome browser to add more filtering options.

They are also going to offer a developer “sandbox” area for applications.

The final Q&A session began with Bennett saying that their other priorities preclude upgrading Y search to 111 markers.

They are not planning to drop the entry level tests, 12 or 25 markers or the HVR1. If they do, lots of people will never take that plunge.  I was very glad to hear this.

And by way of trivia, Family Tree DNA has run more than 5 million individual tests.  Wow, not bad for a company that didn’t exist, in an industry that didn’t exist, 12 years ago!

It’s an incredible time to be alive and to be a genetic genealogist!  Thank you Family Tree DNA for making all of this possible.



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What the Heck is WTY?

Update: The WTY has been superceded by the Big Y test, but I’m leaving this article for historical continuity.

What the heck is WTY….and why do I care?

One of the reasons I started a blog is to continue what I do for my clients when I write their DNA reports. I make DNA understandable and fun for the normal air-breathing genealogist.

The past few days has been a whirlwind of information and announcements, some which tend to leave folks who don’t have a lot of experience in the dust.

For that, I do apologize.  However, I’d like to tackle a much easier topic now, and that’s the WTY test.  What is it and why is it so important?

WTY is short for Walk the Y, as in walk down the Y chromosome.

The tests we all order and love, at Family Tree DNA, that would be the 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 marker tests, tell us about genealogy – who we are related to in the past several hundred years.

Deeper ancestry, anthropological in nature, a line I draw about the time when surnames were being adopted, is different and little information of that nature is exposed by the STR (short tandem repeat) genealogy markers.

By the way, short tandem repeat means those locations in our DNA that are prone to develop repeated sequences.  Think of them as genetic stutters.  They are important to us as genealogists, because on the Y chromosome, we count the number of those stutters and that is the marker value reported.

For example, below, we see that for marker 393, we have a value of 13.  That means there were 13 repeats of the same sequence.  Obviously, combining all of these sequences, or marker values, together creates our own genealogical genetic profile or fingerprint.  This, of course, is what we use to compare to others to see whom we match.

However, deep ancestry, identified by our haplogroup, is determined by a different kind of mutation, called a SNP, a single nucleotide polymorphism.

These are mutations that happen in only one location, and they are considered to be once in the lifetime of man mutations.  In actuality, these mutations sometimes happen independently in different haplogroups, but the cumulative sequence of SNP mutations defines our haplogroup.

You can see, for example, below, a haplotree from a Family Tree DNA client’s results page.

This person tested positive for the light green SNP, M417.  The plus means that they have this specific mutation.  In his case, this is his terminal SNP, meaning the one furthest down the tree that defines his haplogroup, as we know it today.  That would be R1a1a1.

The SNPs shown in red, below M417 are ones that he has also been tested for, but does not have, so he knows he is not a member of those haplogroups.  These are shown with a minus sign, such as M56-.

Now for the problem that WTY has been helping to solve.

If your STR markers take you back about 500 years, in round numbers, and your haplogroup tells you where your ancestors were between 3000 and 4500 years ago, in this case, where were they in-between?  What were they doing?  Where did they live and how did they get from where they were 4500 years ago to where you find them 300 or 400 years ago, if you’re a lucky genealogist and can go back that far?

There is a significant gap in the timeframe between STR genealogy markers and haplogroup SNP markers.  Finding additional SNPs will eventually close the gap between STR genealogy markers and haplogroups.  We will have a complete timeline of our ancestors.  In some cases, we’re even finding family-specific SNPs, known as “personal SNPs.”  How cool is that?  A new haplogroup is born in your family!

Did you notice on the tree above that some of the SNP markers begin with L?  Every SNP discovered is prefaced with a letter that tells people which lab or university discovered the SNP.  The L SNPs have all been discovered at Family Tree DNA’s Genomics Lab in Houston, Texas, run by Thomas Krahn.  They are the product of the WTY discovery process.

When there is reason to believe that a SNP might be lurking undiscovered in the DNA of a person or a group, then the WTY becomes an option.  Generally, the clue would be STR markers that are significantly different than any previously seen, or part of a small and quite unusual cluster.

Today, we test all of the known downstream SNPS, the ones in red above, and then if none are found, we would apply to Family Tree DNA to do a WTY test.  This test is quite labor intensive.  In essence, they manually look at between 450,000 and 500,000 positions to see if they spy any new mutations.

If they do, they begin the SNP naming process and the process of getting the SNP officially added onto the tree.  You can see the most current haplotree (Y SNP tree) at the ISOGG site.  Because of the long naming and authentication process, sometimes trees at different locations aren’t quite in sync.  The ISOGG tree, maintained by volunteer genetic genealogists, has become what most people look to and use as the gold standard today.

In any case, this process is how new SNPs are discovered.  The Geno 2.0 project includes 12,000 SNPs for the Y chromosome, an exponential growth from the current 862, or so.  At least some of these SNPs were discovered at Family Tree DNA, as a result of savvy project administrators and others who are familiar enough with DNA results to suspect that a new SNP might exist, and who advocated with the tester and Family Tree DNA for WTY testing.

Hopefully, you now understand better about the WTY and why WTY tests are so critically important.

How might you know if you or a family member is a good candidate?

If you have tested to 67 or more markers and have no matches, you may be a candidate.  You would need to do a deep clade test, which tests all relevant downstream SNPS at this point.  In the past this has been the Deep Clade test, but today it would be the Geno 2.0 test.  If you think you might be a candidate, you’ll want to work with your haplogroup administrator to see if there are any experimental SNPS to test for after the deep clade/Geno 2.0 is completed.

The WTY is the perfect example of collaborative citizen science.  Participants fund part of the testing, haplogroup administrators identify good candidates, Family Tree DNA underwrites part of the testing fee and of course performs the test, and everyone benefits.  Before you know it, you’ve got 12,000 new SNPs combined with new technology that promises to do more than we’ve ever dared dream before!!!



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Citizen Science

My husband, Jim, who is kind of a geeky guy in the best of ways and really is interested in genetic genealogy from a technologist’s perspective, asked me a question about the new mitochondrial comparative sequence, the RSRS (Reconstructed Sapiens Reference Sequence).  We’ve been talking about it on the blog and on the various DNA lists for days now.  So it stands to reason we’re talking about it at the dinner table too.

He asked, “Why now?  Why not before when the transition would have been easier?”  That’s a great question!  The answer isn’t nearly as short as the question.  I hate it when he does this to me!

The answer is Citizen Science – that means you and me – lots of us actually.  How is that possible?  Let’s take a look at some history.  It’s actually quite interesting!

In 1981 when the Cambridge Reference Sequence was published as a comparative model, the science of genetics was functionally brand new.  This anonymous person at Cambridge University was the first person to have all 16569 bases of their mitochondria sequenced, something anyone can have today for a couple of hundred dollars.  But back then in the not so distant past, it was groundbreaking.  The Y DNA hadn’t even been mapped yet, so this was the very beginning.  At that point in time, there was no concept of mitochondrial Eve or Y-line Adam.  So the CRS became the norm because we had no other basis for comparison.

In 1999, the CRS was resequenced, and surprisingly, 11 errors were found in the original sequence.  Today that is called the Revised Cambridge Reference Sequence, or rCRS, technically, and that is the sequence that is used for both academia and genetic genealogy.  Most people just refer to it as the Cambridge Reference Sequence because no one would use the older sequence today.

1999 was also the first year that any commercially available genetic genealogy tests were available to the public.  They were available from Oxford Ancestors and were prohibitively expensive, but that didn’t stop many of us from ordering one.  If you bought the book, “Seven Daughters of Eve” you could send in the form in the back of the book, with a hefty check, and you too could discover which of the 7 daughters you descended from.

What you received was one piece of paper in the mail, months later, with a gold attendance star (like from Sunday School when you were a kid) placed on your haplogroup name.  So for several hundred dollars, significantly more than a full sequence test today, I got a gold star on a J.  I still have that certificate and I was unbelievably excited to know I was a member of Jasmine’s clan.  Of course, in order to justify my DNA test, I had to test my husband’s too, so it cost me twice as much!

In the year 2000, Family Tree DNA opened their doors and began selling genetic genealogy testing kits. They also began surname projects.  I don’t know if that was a stroke of genius or a stroke of luck.  Soon thereafter, they added both haplogroup projects and geographic projects.  These various project types allowed people with specific interests to focus on those areas of genetic genealogy.  Little did we know that projects would eventually provide a huge pool of people who have been DNA tested for research areas, such as determining new haplogroups.  In the past all sequencing had been done at academic institutions and often did not use full sequences initially due to the prohibitive cost.  Many of the early academic papers were written with far fewer samples than today’s projects have members.  Full sequence commercial testing has fostered exponential change in this industry.

By 2006, Family Tree DNA was offering the full mitochondrial sequence for genealogists, something still not offered today by any of the other major commercial testing companies.  This not only enabled genealogists to determine who was actually a close match, but it also enabled the haplogroup projects to collect many samples of full sequence data.  The coding region (meaning not the HVR1, HVR2 and HVR3 regions) is not shown in the public projects because of the possibility that they may carry medical information, but they are available for project administrators to see, if the individual participant authorizes administrator view access.

Haplogroups aren’t just determined by the hypervariable (HVR) regions, but by mutations found in the entire mitochondrial sequence, including the coding region.  Never before had groupings of participants this size been available outside of academia, and often, not even within academia.

Many of the project administrators began discovering new haplogroups in a flurry of activity.  Two that come immediately to mind are both Jim Logan and Bill Hurst.  Bill began publishing about haplogroup K in the Fall 2007 JoGG issue, as did Ian Logan with a discussion of what the mitochondrial DNA of “mitochondrial Eve” might look like.  In Spring of 2008, Jim Logan published a groundbreaking paper for haplogroup J, still in use today.  Indeed, citizen science came into its own in the spring of 2005 when the Journal of Genetic Genealogy (JoGG) was launched to facilitate exactly this type of academic publishing effort.  The more traditional publications weren’t quite ready to deal with citizen scientists making discoveries.  Clearly, citizen scientists didn’t fit well into the academic publishing “box.”

Bill Hurst has been collaborating with Dr. Doron Behar for several years now and is recognized in his most recent paper.  They presented a joint session at the 5th International Conference on Genetic Genealogy for DNA Administrators in Houston, Texas in March of 2009.

During this time, Family Tree DNA implemented an authorization system for people to make their full sequence DNA results, if they wanted, available to Dr. Behar for research.

Dr. Behar’s paper (along with several other authors), “A “Copernican” Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root” was published earlier this year, defining the RSRS (Reconstructed Sapiens Reference Sequence) revealing the genetic fingerprint of Mitochondrial Eve, the original mother of us all.  He was able to do this, in part, as a result of the many full sequence test results made available by Family Tree DNA customers, you and me, and by the hard work of haplogroup administrators like Bill Hurst and Jim Logan.  Of course, there are many other hard-working administrators too, and I don’t mean to slight anyone.

So, this is a long-winded way to answer Jim’s question, which, in case you’ve forgotten, was “why now for the RSRS and why not before?”  The answer is quite simply, Citizen Scientists were needed.  People like you and me.  Until the stars aligned where haplogroup projects existed, full sequence mitochondrial data became affordable and widely available, and there was a way for genealogists to contribute their results for scientific research, it couldn’t have been done – at least not yet.  It’s been a long way from the gold star on haplogroup J to the beautifully elegant RSRS, the mitochondrial map of Eve, the common ancestor of everyone living today – the entire trip made in just a dozen years.  Congratulations and thank you to everyone involved.  Indeed, it’s really quite a remarkable story!



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

Thank you so much.

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Genealogy Research