2016 Genetic Genealogy Retrospective

In past years, I’ve written a “best of” article about genetic genealogy happenings throughout the year. For several years, the genetic genealogy industry was relatively new, and there were lots of new tools being announced by the testing vendors and others as well.

This year is a bit different. I’ve noticed a leveling off – there have been very few announcements of new tools by vendors, with only a few exceptions.  I think genetic genealogy is maturing and has perhaps begun a new chapter.  Let’s take a look.

Vendors

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA leads the pack this year with their new Phased Family Matches which utilizes close relatives, up to third cousins, to assign your matches to either maternal or paternal buckets, or both if the individual is related on both sides of your tree.

Both Buckets

They are the first and remain the only vendor to offer this kind of feature.

Phased FF2

Phased Family Matching is extremely useful in terms of identifying which side of your family tree your matches are from. This tool, in addition to Family Tree DNA’s nine other autosomal tools helps identify common ancestors by showing you who is related to whom.

Family Tree DNA has also added other features such as a revamped tree with the ability to connect DNA results to family members.  DNA results connected to the tree is the foundation for the new Phased Family Matching.

The new Ancient Origins feature, released in November, was developed collaboratively with Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona Hammer Lab.

Ancient European Origins is based on the full genome sequencing work now being performed in the academic realm on ancient remains. These European results fall into three primary groups of categories based on age and culture.  Customer’s DNA is compared to the ancient remains to determine how much of the customer’s European DNA came from which group.  This exciting new feature allows us to understand more about our ancestors, long before the advent of surnames and paper or parchment records. Ancient DNA is redefining what we know, or thought we knew, about population migration.

2016-ancient-origins

You can view Dr. Hammer’s presentation given at the Family Tree DNA Conference in conjunction with the announcement of the new Ancient Origins feature here.

Family Tree DNA maintains its leadership position among the three primary vendors relative to Y DNA testing, mtDNA testing and autosomal tools.

Ancestry

In May of 2016, Ancestry changed the chip utilized by their tests, removing about 300,000 of their previous 682,000 SNPs and replacing them with medically optimized SNPs. The rather immediate effect was that due to the chip incompatibility, Ancestry V2 test files created on the new chip cannot be uploaded to Family Tree DNA, but they can be uploaded to GedMatch.  Family Tree DNA is working on a resolution to this problem.

I tested on the new Ancestry V2 chip, and while there is a difference in how much matching DNA I share with my matches as compared to the V1 chip, it’s not as pronounced as I expected. There is no need for people who tested on the earlier chip to retest.

Unfortunately, Ancestry has remained steadfast in their refusal to implement a chromosome browser, instead focusing on sales by advertising the ethnicity “self-discovery” aspect of DNA testing.

Ancestry does have the largest autosomal data base but many people tested only for ethnicity, don’t have trees or have private trees.  In my case, about half of my matches fall into that category.

Ancestry maintains its leadership position relative to DNA tree matching, known as a Shared Ancestor Hint, identifying common ancestors in the trees of people whose DNA matches.

ancestry-common-ancestors

23andMe

23andMe struggled for most of the year to meet a November 2015 deadline, which is now more than a year past, to transition its customers to the 23andMe “New Experience” which includes a new customer interface. I was finally transitioned in September 2016, and the experience has been very frustrating and extremely disappointing, and that’s putting it mildly. Some customers, specifically international customers, are still not transitioned, nor is it clear if or when they will be.

I tested on the 23andMe older V3 chip as well as their newer V4 chip. After my transition to the New Experience, I compared the results of the two tests. The new security rules incorporated into the New Experience meant that I was only able to view about 25% of my matches (400 of 1651(V3) matches or 1700 (V4) matches). 23andMe has, in essence, relegated themselves into the non-player status for genetic genealogy, except perhaps for adoptees who need to swim in every pool – but only then as a last place candidate. And those adoptees had better pray that if they have a close match, that match falls into the 25% of their matches that are useful.

In December, 23andMe began providing segment information for ethnicity segments, except the parental phasing portion does not function accurately, calling into question the overall accuracy of the 23andme ethnicity information. Ironically, up until now, while 23andMe slipped in every other area, they had been viewed at the best, meaning most accurate, in terms of ethnicity estimates.

New Kids on the Block

MyHeritage

In May of 2016, MyHeritage began encouraging people who have tested at other vendors to upload their results. I was initially very hesitant, because aside from GedMatch that has a plethora of genetic genealogy tools, I have seen no benefit to the participant to upload their DNA anyplace, other than Family Tree DNA (available for V3 23andMe and V1 Ancestry only).

Any serious genealogist is going to test at least at Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, both, and upload to GedMatch. My Heritage was “just another upload site” with no tools, not even matching initially.

However, in September, MyHeritage implemented matching, although they have had a series of what I hope are “startup issues,” with numerous invalid matches, apparently resulting from their usage of imputation.

Imputation is when a vendor infers what they think your DNA will look like in regions where other vendors test, and your vendor doesn’t. The best example would be the 300,000 or so Ancestry locations that are unique to the Ancestry V2 chip. Imputation would result in a vendor “inferring” or imputing your results for these 300,000 locations based on…well, we don’t exactly know based on what. But we do know it cannot be accurate.  It’s not your DNA.

In the midst of this, in October, 23andMe announced on their forum that they had severed a previous business relationship with MyHeritage where 23andMe allowed customers to link to MyHeritage trees in lieu of having customer trees directly on the 23andMe site.  This approach had been problematic because customers are only allowed 250 individuals in their tree for free, and anything above that requires a MyHeritage subscription.  Currently 23andMe has no tree capability.

It appears that MyHeritage refined their DNA matching routines at least somewhat, because many of the bogus matches were gone in November when they announced that their beta was complete and that they were going to sell their own autosomal DNA tests. However, matching issues have not disappeared or been entirely resolved.

While Family Tree DNA’s lab will be processing the MyHeritage autosomal tests, the results will NOT be automatically placed in the Family Tree DNA data base.

MyHeritage will be doing their own matching within their own database. There are no comparison tools, tree matching or ethnicity estimates today, but My Heritage says they will develop a chromosome browser and ethnicity estimates. However, it is NOT clear whether these will be available for free to individuals who have transferred their results into MyHeritage or if they will only be available to people who tested through MyHeritage.

2016-myheritage-matches

For the record, I have 28 matches today at MyHeritage.

2016-myheritage-second-match

I found that my second closest match at MyHeritage is also at Ancestry.

2016-myheritage-at-ancestry

At MyHeritage, they report that I match this individual on a total of 64.1 cM, across 7 segments, with the largest segment being 14.9 cM.

Ancestry reports this same match at 8.3 cM total across 1 segment, which of course means that the longest segment is also 8.3 cM.

Ancestry estimates the relationship as 5th to 8th cousin, and MyHeritage estimates it as 2nd to 4th.

While I think Ancestry’s Timber strips out too much DNA, there is clearly a HUGE difference in the reported results and the majority of this issue likely lies with the MyHeritage DNA imputation and matching routines.

I uploaded my Family Tree DNA autosomal file to MyHeritage, so MyHeritage is imputing at least 300,000 SNPs for me – almost half of the SNPs needed to match to Ancestry files.  They are probably imputing that many for my match’s file too, so that we have an equal number of SNPs for comparison.  Combined, this would mean that my match and I are comparing 382,000 actual SNPs that we both tested, and roughly 600,000 SNPs that we did not test and were imputed.  No wonder the MyHeritage numbers are so “off.”

My Heritage has a long way to go before they are a real player in this arena. However, My Heritage has potential, as they have a large subscriber base in Europe, where we desperately need additional testers – so I’m hopeful that they can attract additional genealogists that are willing to test from areas that are under-represented to date.

My Heritage got off to a bit of a rocky start by requiring users to relinquish the rights to their DNA, but then changed their terms in May, according to Judy Russell’s blog.

All vendors can change their terms at any time, in a positive or negative direction, so I would strongly encourage all individuals considering utilizing any testing company or upload service to closely read all the legal language, including Terms and Conditions and any links found in the Terms and Conditions.

Please note that MyHeritage is a subscription genealogy site, similar to Ancestry.  MyHeritage also owns Geni.com.  One site, MyHeritage, allows individual trees and the other, Geni, embraces the “one world tree” model.  For a comparison of the two, check out Judy Russell’s articles, here and here.  Geni has also embraced DNA by allowing uploads from Family Tree DNA of Y, mitochondrial and autosomal, but the benefits and possible benefits are much less clear.

If the MyHeritage story sounds like a confusing soap opera, it is.  Let’s hope that 2017 brings both clarity and improvements.

Living DNA

Living DNA is a company out of the British Isles with a new test that purports to provide you with a breakdown of your ethnicity and the locations of your ancestral lines within 21 regions in the British Isles.  Truthfully, I’m very skeptical, but open minded.

They have had my kit for several weeks now, and testing has yet to begin.  I’ll write about the results when I receive them.  So far, I don’t know of anyone who has received results.

2016-living-dna

Genos

I debated whether or not I should include Genos, because they are not a test for genealogy and are medically focused. However, I am including them because they have launched a new model for genetic testing wherein your full exome is tested, you receive the results along with information on the SNPs where mutations are found. You can then choose to be involved with research programs in the future, if you wish, or not.

That’s a vastly different model that the current approach taken by 23andMe and Ancestry where you relinquish your rights to the sale of your DNA when you sign up to test.  I like this new approach with complete transparency, allowing the customer to decide the fate of their DNA. I wrote about the Genos test and the results, here.

Third Parties

Individuals sometimes create and introduce new tools to assist genealogists with genetic genealogy and analysis.

I have covered these extensively over the years.

GedMatch, WikiTree, DNAGedcom.com and Kitty Cooper’s tools remain my favorites.

I love Kitty’s Ancestor Chromosome Mapper which maps the segments identified with your ancestors on your chromosomes. I just love seeing which ancestors’ DNA I carry on which chromosomes.  Somehow, this makes me feel closer to them.  They’re not really gone, because they still exist in me and other descendants as well.

Roberta's ancestor map2

In order to use Kitty’s tool, you’ll have to have mapped at least some of your autosomal DNA to ancestors.

The Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer written by Don Worth and available at DNAGedcom is still one of my favorite tools for quick, visual and easy to understand segment matching results.

ADSA Crumley cluster

GedMatch has offered a triangulation tool for some time now, but recently introduced a new Triangulation Groups tool.

2016-gedmatch-triangulation-groups

I have not utilized this tool extensively but it looks very interesting. Unfortunately, there is no explanation or help function available for what this tool is displaying or how to understand and interpret the results. Hopefully, that will be added soon, as I think it would be possible to misinterpret the output without educational material.

GedMatch also introduced their “Evil Twin” tool, which made me laugh when I saw the name.  Using parental phasing, you can phase your DNA to your parent or parents at GedMatch, creating kits that only have your mother’s half of your DNA, or your father’s half.  These phased kits allow you to see your matches that come from that parent, only.  However, the “Evil Twin” feature creates a kit made up of the DNA that you DIDN’T receive from that parent – so in essence it’s your other half, your evil twin – you know, that person who got blamed for everything you “didn’t do.”  In any case, this allows you to see the matches to the other half of your parent’s DNA that do not show up as your matches.

Truthfully, the Evil Twin tool is interesting, but since you have to have that parent’s DNA to phase against in the first place, it’s just as easy to look at your parent’s matches – at least for me.

Others offer unique tools that are a bit different.

DNAadoption.com offers tools, search and research techniques, especially for adoptees and those looking to identify a parent or grandparents, but perhaps even more important, they offer genetic genealogy classes including basic and introductory.

I send all adoptees in their direction, but I encourage everyone to utilize their classes.

WikiTree has continued to develop and enhance their DNA offerings.  While WikiTree is not a testing service nor do they offer autosomal data tools like Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, they do allow individuals to discover whether anyone in their ancestral line has tested their Y, mitochondrial or autosomal DNA.

Specifically, you can identify the haplogroup of any male or female ancestor if another individual from that direct lineage has tested and provided that information for that ancestor on WikiTree.  While I am generally not a fan of the “one world tree” types of implementations, I am a fan of WikiTree because of their far-sighted DNA comparisons, the fact that they actively engage their customers, they listen and they expend a significant amount of effort making sure they “get it right,” relative to DNA. Check out WikiTree’s article,  Putting DNA Results Into Action, for how to utilize their DNA Features.

2016-wikitree-peter-roberts

Thanks particularly to Chris Whitten at WikiTree and Peter Roberts for their tireless efforts.  WikiTree is the only vendor to offer the ability to discover the Y and mtDNA haplogroups of ancestors by searching trees.

All of the people creating the tools mentioned above, to the best of my knowledge, are primarily volunteers, although GedMatch does charge a small subscription service for their high end tools, including the triangulation and evil twin tools.  DNAGedcom does as well.  Wikitree generates some revenue for the site through ads on pages of non-members. DNAAdoption charges nominally for classes but they do have need-based scholarships. Kitty has a donation link on her website and all of these folks would gladly accept donations, I’m sure.  Websites and everything that goes along with them aren’t free.  Donations are a nice way to say thank you.

What Defined 2016

I have noticed two trends in the genetic genealogy industry in 2016, and they are intertwined – ethnicity and education.

First, there is an avalanche of new testers, many of whom are not genetic genealogists.

Why would one test if they weren’t a genetic genealogist?

The answer is simple…

Ethnicity.

Or more specifically, the targeted marketing of ethnicity.  Ethnicity testing looks like an easy, quick answer to a basic human question, and it sells kits.

Ethnicity

“Kim just wanted to know who she was.”

I have to tell you, these commercials absolutely make me CRINGE.

Yes, they do bring additional testers into the community, BUT carrying significantly misset expectations. If you’re wondering about WHY I would suggest that ethnicity results really cannot tell you “who you are,” check out this article about ethnicity estimates.

And yes, that’s what they are, estimates – very interesting estimates, but estimates just the same.  Estimates that provide important and valid hints and clues, but not definitive answers.

ESTIMATES.

Nothing more.

Estimates based on proprietary vendor algorithms that tend to be fairly accurate at the continental level, and not so much within continents – in particular, not terribly accurate within Europe. Not all of this can be laid a the vendor’s feet.  For example, DNA testing is illegal in France.  Not to mention, genetic genealogy and population genetics is still a new and emerging field.  We’re on the frontier, folks.

The ethnicity results one receives from the 3 major vendors (Ancestry, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe) and the various tools at GedMatch don’t and won’t agree – because they use different reference populations, different matching routines, etc.  Not to mention people and populations move around and have moved around.

The next thing that happens, after these people receive their results, is that we find them on the Facebook groups asking questions like, “Why doesn’t my full blooded Native American grandmother show up?” and “I just got my Ancestry results back. What do I do?”  They mean that question quite literally.

I’m not making fun of these people, or light of the situation. Their level of frustration and confusion is evident. I feel sorry for them…but the genetic genealogy community and the rest of us are left with applying ointment and Band-Aids.  Truthfully, we’re out-numbered.

Because of the expectations, people who test today don’t realize that genetic testing is a TOOL, it’s not an ANSWER. It’s only part of the story. Oh, and did I mention, ethnicity is only an ESTIMATE!!!

But an estimate isn’t what these folks are expecting. They are expecting “the answer,” their own personal answer, which is very, very unfortunate, because eventually they are either unhappy or blissfully unaware.

Many become unhappy because they perceive the results to be in error without understanding anything about the technology or what information can reasonably be delivered, or they swallow “the answer” lock stock and barrel, again, without understanding anything about the technology.

Ethnicity is fun, it isn’t “bad” but the results need to be evaluated in context with other information, such as Y and mitochondrial haplogroups, genealogical records and ethnicity results from the other major testing companies.

Fortunately, we can recruit some of the ethnicity testers to become genealogists, but that requires education and encouragement. Let’s hope that those DNA ethnicity results light the fires of curiosity and that we can fan those flames!

Education

The genetic genealogy community desperately needs educational resources, in part as a result of the avalanche of new testers – approximately 1 million a year, and that estimate may be low. Thankfully, we do have several education options – but we can always use more.  Unfortunately, the learning curve is rather steep.

My blog offers just shy of 800 articles, all key word searchable, but one has to first find the blog and want to search and learn, as opposed to being handed “the answer.”

Of course, the “Help” link is always a good place to start as are these articles, DNA Testing for Genealogy 101 and Autosomal DNA Testing 101.  These two articles should be “must reads” for everyone who has DNA tested, or wants to, for that matter.  Tips and Tricks for Contact Success is another article that is immensely helpful to people just beginning to reach out.

In order to address the need for basic understanding of autosomal DNA principles, tools and how to utilize them, I began the “Concepts” series in February 2016. To date I offer the following 15 articles about genetic genealogy concepts. To be clear, DNA testing is only the genetic part of genetic genealogy, the genealogical research part being the second half of the equation.

The Concepts Series

Concepts – How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical By Descent, State, Population and Chance

Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab

Concepts – Parental Phasing

Concepts – Y DNA Matching and Connecting With Your Paternal Ancestor

Concepts – Downloading Autosomal Data From Family Tree DNA

Concepts – Managing Autosomal DNA Matches – Step 1 – Assigning Parental Sides

Concepts – Genetic Distance

Concepts – Relationship Predictions

Concepts – Match Groups and Triangulation

Concepts – Sorting Spreadsheets for Autosomal DNA

Concepts – Managing Autosomal DNA Matches – Step 2 – Updating Matching Spreadsheets, Bucketed Family Finder Matches and Pileups

Concepts – Why DNA Testing the Oldest Family Members Is Critically Important

Concepts – Undocumented Adoptions Versus Untested Y Lines

My blog isn’t the only resource of course.

Kelly Wheaton provides 19 free lessons in her Beginners Guide to Genetic Genealogy.

Other blogs I highly recommend include:

Excellent books in print that should be in every genetic genealogist’s library:

And of course, the ISOGG Wiki.

Online Conference Resources

The good news and bad news is that I’m constantly seeing a genetic genealogy seminar, webinar or symposium hosted by a group someplace that is online, and often free. When I see names I recognize as being reputable, I am delighted that there is so much available to people who want to learn.

And for the record, I think that includes everyone. Even professional genetic genealogists watch these sessions, because you just never know what wonderful tidbit you’re going to pick up.  Learning, in this fast moving field, is an everyday event.

The bad news is that I can’t keep track of everything available, so I don’t mean to slight any resource.  Please feel free to post additional resources in the comments.

You would be hard pressed to find any genealogy conference, anyplace, today that didn’t include at least a few sessions about genetic genealogy. However, genetic genealogy has come of age and has its own dedicated conferences.

Dr. Maurice Gleeson, the gentleman who coordinates Genetic Genealogy Ireland films the sessions at the conference and then makes them available, for free, on YouTube. This link provides a list of the various sessions from 2016 and past years as well. Well worth your time!  A big thank you to Maurice!!!

The 19 video series from the I4GG Conference this fall is now available for $99. This series is an excellent opportunity for genetic genealogy education.

As always, I encourage project administrators to attend the Family Tree DNA International Conference on Genetic Genealogy. The sessions are not filmed, but the slides are made available after the conference, courtesy of the presenters and Family Tree DNA. You can view the presentations from 2015 and 2016 at this link.

Jennifer Zinck attended the conference and published her excellent notes here and here, if you want to read what she had to say about the sessions she attended. Thankfully, she can type much faster and more accurately than I can! Thank you so much Jennifer.

If you’d like to read about the unique lifetime achievement awards presented at the conference this year to Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, the founders of Family Tree DNA, click here. They were quite surprised!  This article also documents the history of genetic genealogy from the beginning – a walk down memory lane.

The 13th annual Family Tree DNA conference which will be held November 10-12, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency North Houston. Registration is always limited due to facility size, so mark your calendars now, watch for the announcement and be sure to register in time.

Summary

2016 has been an extremely busy year. I think my blog has had more views, more comments and by far, more questions, than ever before.

I’ve noticed that the membership in the ISOGG Facebook group, dedicated to genetic genealogy, has increased by about 50% in the past year, from roughly 8,000 members to just under 12,000. Other social media groups have been formed as well, some focused on specific aspects of genetic genealogy, such as specific surnames, adoption search, Native American or African American heritage and research.

The genetic aspect of genealogy has become “normal” today, with most genealogists not only accepting DNA testing, but embracing the various tools and what they can do for us in terms of understanding our ancestors, tracking them, and verifying that they are indeed who we think they are.

I may have to explain the three basic kinds of DNA testing and how they are used today, but no longer do I have to explain THAT DNA testing for genealogy exists and that it’s legitimate.

I hope that each of us can become an ambassador for genetic genealogy, encouraging others to test, with appropriate expectations, and helping to educate, enlighten and encourage. After all, the more people who test and are excited about the results, the better for everyone else.

Genetic genealogy is and can only be a collaborative team sport.

Here’s wishing you many new cousins and discoveries in 2017.

Happy New Year!!!

Lifetime Achievement Awards for Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld

At the 2016 Family Tree DNA 12th Annual International Conference on Genetic Genealogy held in Houston, Texas in November, I was honored to present Lifetime Achievement Awards to both Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld from the genetic genealogy community in the form of DNA double helix quilts.

I chose quilts as awards because quilts embody the deep cross-cultural symbolism of family, of caring and of warmth. Quilts can be utilitarian, artistic, or both – hung on the wall or napped under. They descend to the next generation, just like our DNA. These unique quilts, and yes, there are two, show the easily recognizable double helix strands, but also suggest the mystery of the unknown and yet to be discovered.  Quilts seemed the perfect medium.

award-dna-quilt

I must admit, I agonized for weeks about what I was going to say, and months about the DNA quilts themselves. Ok, I had a bit of analysis paralysis having to do with the quilt design and construction, but with the deadline of the approaching conference looming months, then weeks away, I kicked into overdrive to finish the quilts.

But then, the most difficult part – what to say to and about these amazing humans. I’ve been involved in public speaking for the past 30+ years, and I’m very comfortable – except not this time. This presentation was about a subject very close to my heart – and about the men who have provided all genetic genealogists with the opportunities we have today.

Before I share what I said, I would like to thank my co-conspirators:

  • Janine Cloud
  • Katherine Borges
  • Nora Probasco
  • Linda Magellan
  • Jim Brewster

Katherine, Nora and Linda have all been to all 12 of the conferences and are fellow quilters. Linda is making labels for their quilts to affix to the back so they will never forget – although I doubt there is much possibility of that happening. Jim Brewster will sew the labels to the backs of the quilts when Linda mails the labels to Texas.

Max and Bennett are very humble men and I know they were embarrassed and amazingly enough, for those of us who are fortunate enough to know then – they were also pretty much speechless. At least for a couple minutes!

I’d like to take this opportunity to share the awards presentation with you. I’ve taken the liberty of added a few photos.

Many people don’t know Max and Bennett personally, nor do they know the history of genetic genealogy and direct to consumer DNA testing. I hope this presentation both honors Max and Bennett, and serves to educate about the humble beginnings of genetic genealogy.

I’m honored to present two Lifetime Achievement Awards today. Yes, there has been a conspiracy afoot. You have no idea how difficult it is to sneak onto a conference agenda. Thank you Janine Cloud. Additional co-conspirators are Katherine Borges, Nora Probasco and Linda Magellan, three people who have attended every conference since the beginning.

award-beginning

Left to right, Roberta Estes, Linda Magellan, Katherine Borges, Nora Probasco

Let’s talk about the beginning.

Most everyone knows the story about Bennett Greenspan’s first retirement in 1999.

Bennett tried to retire, but managed to get underfoot at home, and his wife in essence threw him out of the house. She told him she didn’t much care WHAT he did, but he had to find SOMETHING to do, SOMEPLACE ELSE.

Now, knowing that Bennett is a genealogist, I’m betting that living in Houston, he went to the Clayton Library every day and assured his wife he was busy looking for a new career. He found it alright, or maybe it found him.

Someplace, at the Clayton Library or elsewhere, Bennett was thinking about how to prove that men with a common surname were or were not descended from a common ancestral line. Were they related? Bennett knew just enough about science to know that if he could find a way to test their Y chromosomes, and they descended from a common paternal ancestor, their Y DNA should match. Sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

Bennett began a search to find a scientist that could and would run that one Y DNA test for him. As it turns out, could and would were two entirely different matters. Bennett found Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona who runs the Hammer Lab that specializes in human evolutionary genetics.

Dr. Hammer could, but would he?

Bennett mentions talking to Dr. Hammer on the phone several times. Dr. Hammer mentions that Bennett camped out in his office and wouldn’t leave. However persistent Bennett was or wasn’t, in person or otherwise, we should all be incredibly grateful for his tenacity, because purely in self-defense, Dr. Hammer agreed to do the test – just that one test.

However, Dr. Hammer made a fateful throwaway comment as Bennett was on the way out the door. He said, “Someone should start a business doing this. You crazy genealogists ask me about this ALL THE TIME.

Talk about what never to say to a bored entrepreneur. That “all the time” statement echoed and rolled around in Bennett’s head. “All the time…all the time.”

Now, I don’t know exactly what happened next, but Bennett and Max were already business partners in another endeavor, and I’d bet the next conversation went something like this:

“Max – I’ve got an idea….”

Followed by a brief discussion and then:

“Bennett, are you crazy? No one will ever buy that?”

Like I said, I wasn’t there – but I’m really glad Bennett was a bit crazy – because so are the rest of us genealogists – as is proven by the size and magnitude of the genetic genealogy industry today.

The fledgling business, Family Tree DNA, was founded with Dr. Hammer’s lab doing the testing.

Fast forward a few months to July 14, 2000.

Cousin Doug Mumma, who, by the way, I didn’t know was a cousin until several years later thanks to a Family Finder test, called Family Tree DNA and talked to Bennett about Y DNA testing several Mumma men and men with similar surnames to see if they descended from a common ancestor. If Bennett was crazy wanting Y DNA testing, he is accompanied a whole lot of other genealogists. Perhaps it’s genetic.

Bennett agreed to form a project for Doug and Doug agreed to commit to purchase 20 kits. Doug’s first kit in the Mumma Surname Project was kit M-01 and by the time he was ready to purchase project kit number 21, the M was gone from the kit designation, and he purchased kit number 72.

Fast forward another few months.

I had tested my mitochondrial DNA with Oxford Ancestors and for something like $900 discovered that I was the daughter of Jasmine, one of the seven daughters of Eve. I received a one page diagram with a gold star placed on the letter J. My fascination with the science of genetic genealogy had begun.

One of my cousins mentioned that some company in Texas was doing DNA testing on men for the Y chromosome for genealogy. I was just sure this was some kind of scam, because I figured if that could be done, Oxford Ancestors would be offering that too – and they weren’t.

I found the phone number for Family Tree DNA, called and left a message.

Later that night, about 9:30, my phone rang and it was Bennett Greenspan returning my call – the President of Family Tree DNA.

Little did I know, at that time, that the office consisted of Bennett’s cell phone.

award-bennett-cell

We talked for an hour. I explained to Bennett that I had tested for mitochondrial DNA and asked about the Y DNA testing. Bennett described what Family Tree DNA was doing with testing and projects, convincing me it was not a scam after all. While I certainly understood the genetic basis of how Y DNA testing worked, I had not seen the website, or the software, and I was concerned about explaining how matching worked on the site between different men in a project.

Bennett said something fateful, which I’m sure he’s regretting right about now. He said, “Don’t worry – I’ll help you.” With that, I committed to purchase 5 kits and he committed to create the Estes surname project, and help me if I needed assistance. I quickly found 5 willing Estes genealogists who desperately wanted to know if they descended from a common Estes progenitor. The Estes DNA project was formed.

In mid-December 2002, I purchased kit 6656.  Kits were selling at the incredible rate of about 2000 a year!

The DNA results were amazing and full of potential for every ancestral line. I quickly became an advocate of genetic genealogy, although Rootsweb wouldn’t let us discuss DNA testing on the boards and lists, like it was some sort of pariah. DNA proved and disproved genealogy, myths and oral history – which bothered some folks immensely.

By 2004, genetic genealogy was growing and so was the interest in this field. Around the beginning of 2004, kit 17,000 was sold and twelve months later, on New Year’s Eve, kit 30,244 was sold. Participation in genetic genealogy nearly doubled in 2004 and in two years, it had quadrupled.  By now, kits were selling at just under 2000 per month.

November 2004 saw the first conference sponsored by Family Tree DNA in Houston which lasted only one day. The excitement in the community was palpable. Not only were we excited about the conference itself, and learning, but by meeting each other face to face.

award-2004-banner

award-2004

Bennett Greenspan, Bruce Walsh (obscured by Bennett), Max Blankfeld and Matt Kaplan from the University of Arizona, at the first conference. Photos from 2004 courtesy ISOGG.

In April of 2005, Family Tree DNA made the announcement that they had teamed with the National Geographic Society and the Genographic Project was launched. This liaison was the turning point that legitimized DNA testing to the rest of the world. People began to see DNA testing featured in the iconic magazine with the yellow cover and no one wondered anymore if we were just plain crazy.

In November 2005, the second Family Tree DNA Genetic Genealogy conference, which became the second annual conference, was held in Washington DC at the headquarters of the National Geographic Society.

This conference was extra exciting because of the location and the implications for genetic genealogy. We had come of age. The conference was held in the “Explorers Hall.” We were recognized as explorers too in this brave new genetic world.

award-2005

My husband and I stayed at a hotel called The Helix in Washington, within walking distance to the National Geographic building. On the morning of the conference, we left the hotel for the 5-minute walk to Nat Geo. In front of us, maybe 30 feet, were Max and Bennett, briskly walking and chatting. We continued behind them, not wanting to interrupt. In those few minutes, I remember distinctly thinking that I was literally watching history being made by the two men in front of me. Little did I know exactly how true that was and what the future held.

On New Year’s Eve, 2005, I purchased kit 50,000. Of course, I had to purchase about 10 kits to manage to get kit 50,000, right at midnight. Unbeknownst to me, the Genographic Project had sold nearly 100,000 kits. Genetic genealogy had passed silently from its infancy.

Every year since then, more history has unfolded.

Few people get the opportunity to shape the future.

Few people get the opportunity to directly affect more than a few lives – in this case, millions.

Few people get the opportunity to found not just a business, but an industry that will continue to provide information and answers long after we are nothing more than genealogical memories.

Few people get to chart the course of history.

Yes, I’m talking about Max and Bennett.

No, they don’t know anything about this.

About this time, Bennett apparently suspected not only that the awards might be for he and Max, but also realized that he had been “had.” Janine Cloud, was the person with the difficult task of making sure that Bennett and Max were in the room during this time, in addition to providing a disguised space on the agenda for these awards.

This is the look on Bennett’s face when he realized and looked at Janine.

award-bennett-gotcha

Followed by this photo.  Janine is standing behind Bennett.

award-bennett-2

Max, however, didn’t suspect, because he was busy. I can just hear Bennett, “Pssst, Max…..”

award-bennett-max

So, until now, Max probably really doesn’t know exactly what I said up to this point.

Max and Bennett not only founded the genetic genealogy industry, they have maintained a leadership position within that industry while others perished. They have an entire series of firsts attributed to them, but if I took time to list them all, we would be here all day.

What I will say is that they have created this industry with the utmost integrity and with their eye to the consumer. One example stands out.

I was standing at a conference some years ago when a man asked Bennett about backbone SNP testing. Bennett asked him which haplogroup. The man answered, then Bennett told him not to spend his money on that test for that haplogroup, because he wasn’t likely to learn anything he didn’t already know.

Being a project administrator, I was surprised at Bennett’s response. I spoke with Bennett and he said he never wanted his customers to feel like they didn’t receive value for their money. That’s not something one would expect to hear from the mouth of a businessman. But that is Bennett.

Integrity has been the guiding principle and the foundation of Family Tree DNA and remains so today.

Max and Bennett have given us what is arguably the single most valuable tool for genealogists – ever – not to mention those searching for their birth family.

Francis Crick and James Watson discovered DNA in 1953, but it would be another 47 years before Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld gave us the rosetta stone so that “the rest of us” can understand our DNA and how it’s relevant to our own lives – and those of our ancestors. That vision in 1999 and the fledgling startup company in 2000 was the cornerstone of the DTC, direct to consumer, DNA industry today.

I am honored to present Max and Bennett with special Lifetime Achievement Awards – that are – well – a bit different from any other lifetime achievement award. But then, they are unique so their awards should be as well.

I am asking Katherine Borges, Linda Magellan and Nora Probasco to help present these awards on behalf of the genetic genealogy community. All 3 have attended all of the conferences.

award-katherine

Katherine Borges closed the presentation with the following quote by Wilferd Peterson.

Walk with the Dreamers,
The Believers,
The Courageous,
The Planners,
The Doers,
The Successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground,
Let their Spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Thank you Max and Bennett for inviting and allowing us to walk with you on this most fabulous journey. You are the wind beneath our wings.

What you can’t see in the photos is the standing ovation for Max and Bennett. People came up to me afterwards and thanked me, saying that they wanted to say those things, but couldn’t or didn’t know how.

At this point, we told Max and Bennett that they had to close their eyes. They are indeed trusting souls.

When they opened their eyes, I’m sure they didn’t know quite what to think. They were both looking to their left at first, and I think they thought there was one quilt.

award-first-sight

I do love the looks on their faces. We wanted them to be surprised and joyful, and they clearly were.

award-both-quilts

They weren’t entirely speechless, but close.

award-max

Max said something short and gracious, then handed the microphone to Bennett and said , “Here Bennett, you say something.” The crowd laughed. Max and Bennett both handled the situation with the grace and dignity we have come to expect.

award-bennett

For those who would like to see a closeup, Katherine Borges took a nice picture.

award-closeup

I will be writing a separate article about the quilts themselves.

Family Tree DNA offers lab tours on the Monday following the conference, and I was able to take a photo of Max and Bennett in the office with the quilts.  For those who don’t know, Gene by Gene is the parent company of Family Tree DNA.

I’m sure none of us, including Max and Bennett had any idea 16 years ago where this road would lead.  It has been an amazing journey – a fantastic magic carpet ride!

award-both-gene-by-gene

I want to thank everyone who contributed in any way to these awards for Bennett and Max, including everyone who has bought tests and participated in DNA testing for genetic genealogy.  Every time I thank Max, he always says, “No, thank YOU.  We wouldn’t be here without you,” meaning the testing community.  That’s Max, and I know he means it sincerely.

Not only was this a wonderful opportunity to honor the men who founded and anchor this industry and community, but also to celebrate individuals being able to participate in discovery on the forefront of the final frontier, the one within us.  What Max and Bennett have provided is an opportunity beyond measure. I could never have dreamed a dream this big. I’m eternally grateful that they did.

Thank you, Max and Bennett, for everything you have done for genetic genealogy over the past 16 years, for founding Family Tree DNA, for projects and a wide variety of products, for embracing, including and encouraging genealogists, scientists and citizen scientists, and for providing continuing opportunities to unwrap the genetic gifts left to us by our ancestors.

I have struggled to find words big enough, strong enough and deep enough.  I hope when you look at your quilts, you will simply feel our everlasting gratitude for how profoundly you have touched and irreversibly changed the lives of so many, one by one, in essence sewing many small stitches in the quilt of humanity.

Photos courtesy Jennifer Zinck, Jim Hollern, Katherine Borges, Janine Cloud, Jim Kvochick and ISOGG.

Conferences, Reunions and Flavors of Family

riddell

Jim Brewster (FTDNA), Gail Riddell (New Zealand), me with Linda Magellan peeking over Jim’s shoulder at the ISOGG reception at the 2016 FTDNA conference. Photo courtesy Gail Riddell.

What do you call an event where you’ve seen the same folks for a dozen years? An event that brings people from the far corners of the earth, literally? A conference that feels far more like a family reunion.

What do you call those people?

Family.

New family.  Old family.  Family of heart.  Sisters or brothers by another mother maybe.  Friends you just haven’t met yet.  And sometimes…real, honest to blood cousins.

The 12th annual international family reunion, er, I mean International Genetic Genealogy Conference sponsored by Family Tree DNA occurred this past weekend in Houston.  I’m still on the road, typing on a tiny keyboard, and I really can’t do it justice just yet but I want to take this opportunity to send you a couple teasers and just to say how wonderful it was to see everyone again.

Sadly, some were missing.  Hopefully we’ll see them next year.  Unfortunately, a few have passed over to where genealogists get to meet all of their ancestors, so we have to cherish their memories and hope they will help out by sending us answers from their current location.

It’s hard to believe it has been a dozen years now.  The first conference was in 2004 – a one day event in Houston.  Little could we know or dream what the next decade+ would bring.

Another thing I find amazing is just how many people in this group of 230 or so people I am related to in one way or another.  All of these, bar none, were discovered via DNA testing.  Whoever would guess that in a room of 230 random people you would find several cousins? Certainly makes you wonder looking around the bus, at the people at work or in a restaurant.  How many share your ancestors?

I’m still on the road and will be for a few days, so you’ll get an article to do the conference justice when I get home.  In the mean time, I encourage you to read Jennifer Zinck’s wonderful summary articles on her blog, Ancestor Central.  Jen can type much faster than I ever could and she is able to listen at the same time too. The bad news is that there were several breakout sessions that ran concurrently and Jen can only be in one place at a time.  We have not yet defied the laws of physics.

Jen and I discovered that we have Mayflower ancestors in common, in addition to being friends – having met at this same conference years ago.  There just might be another ancestor trip in the planning stages….just saying.

Speaking of Jen, she contributed the photo below.  Many thanks, Jen.

We had a once-in-a-lifetime special event at the conference this year. Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan were presented with rather unique Lifetime Achievement Awards by the genetic genealogy community.  Max and Bennett were both very grateful, not to mention….nearly speechless, a second once-in-a-lifetime event!

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Left to right: Linda Magellan, Roberta Estes (talking), Max Blankfeld, Bennett Greenspan, Nora Probasco and Katherine Borges. Photo courtesy Jennifer Zinck.

As many of you may know, I’m a quilter and yes, I made the double helix quilts.  I asked Katherine Borges, Linda Magellan and Nora Probasco to help me with the presentation process since I could not hold up 4 corners of two quilts by myself….and these ladies have attended all 12 conferences as well.  Not to mention, they are quilters – so they were glad to be co-conspirators.

We were all very honored to present these awards and want to thank Janine Cloud at FTDNA for clandestinely working us into the schedule without raising suspicion!  While that sounds easy, believe me, it wasn’t.

I will be writing an article about Max, Bennett and the awards shortly, and a separate article about the quilts themselves.

Until then, I’m still basking in the glow of two days of hugs, meals with friends, collaboration, and newly discovered information and opportunities. I encourage each of you to find a reunion or conference to attend so you can have the same wonderful experience.  There is just nothing better than family, regardless of which kind of family you have – of blood or of heart – or maybe yet-to-be-met!

The Best and Worst of 2015 – Genetic Genealogy Year in Review

2015 Best and Worst

For the past three years I’ve written a year-in-review article. You can see just how much the landscape has changed in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 versions.

This year, I’ve added a few specific “award” categories for people or firms that I feel need to be specially recognized as outstanding in one direction or the other.

In past years, some news items, announcements and innovations turned out to be very important like the Genographic Project and GedMatch, and others, well, not so much. Who among us has tested their full genome today, for example, or even their exome?  And would you do with that information if you did?

And then there are the deaths, like the Sorenson database and Ancestry’s own Y and mitochondrial data base. I still shudder to think how much we’ve lost at the corporate hands of Ancestry.

In past years, there have often been big new announcements facilitated by new technology. In many ways, the big fish have been caught in a technology sense.  Those big fish are autosomal DNA and the Big Y types of tests.  Both of these have created an avalanche of data and we, personally and as a community, are still trying to sort through what all of this means genealogically and how to best utilize the information.  Now we need tools.

This is probably illustrated most aptly by the expansion of the Y tree.

The SNP Tsunami Growing Pains Continue

2015 snp tsunami

Going from 800+ SNPs in 2012 to more than 35,000 SNPs today has introduced its own set of problems. First, there are multiple trees in existence, completely or partially maintained by different organizations for different purposes.  Needless to say, these trees are not in sync with each other.  The criteria for adding a SNP to the tree is decided by the owner or steward of that tree, and there is no agreement as to the definition of a valid SNP or how many instances of that SNP need to be in existence to be added to the tree.

This angst has been taking place for the most part outside of the public view, but it exists just the same.

For example, 23andMe still uses the old haplogroup names like R1b which have not been used in years elsewhere. Family Tree DNA is catching up with updating their tree, working with haplogroup administrators to be sure only high quality, proven SNPs are added to branches.  ISOGG maintains another tree (one branch shown above) that’s publicly available, utilizing volunteers per haplogroup and sometimes per subgroup.  Other individuals and organizations maintain other trees, or branches of trees, some very accurate and some adding a new “branch” with as little as one result.

The good news is that this will shake itself out. Personally, I’m voting for the more conservative approach for public reference trees to avoid “pollution” and a lot of shifting and changing downstream when it’s discovered that the single instance of a SNP is either invalid or in a different branch location.  However, you have to start with an experimental or speculative tree before you can prove that a SNP is where it belongs or needs to be moved, so each of the trees has its own purpose.

The full trees I utilize are the Family Tree DNA tree, available for customers, the ISOGG tree and Ray Banks’ tree which includes locations where the SNPs are found when the geographic location is localized. Within haplogroup projects, I tend to use a speculative tree assembled by the administrators, if one is available.  The haplogroup admins generally know more about their haplogroup or branch than anyone else.

The bad news is that this situation hasn’t shaken itself out yet, and due to the magnitude of the elephant at hand, I don’t think it will anytime soon. As this shuffling and shaking occurs, we learn more about where the SNPs are found today in the world, where they aren’t found, which SNPs are “family” or “clan” SNPs and the timeframes in which they were born.

In other words, this is a learning process for all involved – albeit a slow and frustrating one. However, we are making progress and the tree becomes more robust and accurate every year.

We may be having growing pains, but growing pains aren’t necessarily a bad thing and are necessary for growth.

Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who work on these trees, and in particular, to Alice Fairhurst who has spearheaded the ISOGG tree for the past nine years. Alice retired from that volunteer position this year and is shown below after receiving two much-deserved awards for her service at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November.

2015 ftdna fairhurst 2

Best Innovative Use of Integrated Data

2015 smileDr. Maurice Gleeson receives an award this year for the best genealogical use of integrated types of data. He has utilized just about every tool he can find to wring as much information as possible out of Y DNA results.  Not only that, but he has taken great pains to share that information with us in presentations in the US and overseas, and by creating a video, noted in the article below.  Thanks so much Maurice.

Making Sense of Y Data

Estes pedigree

The advent of massive amounts of Y DNA data has been both wonderful and perplexing. We as genetic genealogists want to know as much about our family as possible, including what the combination of STR and SNP markers means to us.  In other words, we don’t want two separate “test results” but a genealogical marriage of the two.

I took a look at this from the perspective of the Estes DNA project. Of course, everyone else will view those results through the lens of their own surname or haplogroup project.

Estes Big Y DNA Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/26/estes-big-y-dna-results/

At the Family Tree DNA Conference in November, James Irvine and Maurice Gleeson both presented sessions on utilizing a combination of STR and SNP data and various tools in analyzing their individual projects.

Maurice’s presentation was titled “Combining SNPs, STRs and Genealogy to build a Surname Origins Tree.”
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/building-a-mutation-history-tree

Maurice created a wonderful video that includes a lot of information about working with Y DNA results. I would consider this one of the very best Y DNA presentations I’ve ever seen, and thanks to Maurice, it’s available as a video here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvyHY4R6DwE&feature=youtu.be

You can view more of Maurice’s work at:
http://gleesondna.blogspot.com/2015/08/genetic-distance-genetic-families.html

James Irvine’s presentation was titled “Surname Projects – Some Fresh Ideas.” http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/y-dna-surname-projects-some-fresh-ideas

Another excellent presentation discussing Y DNA results was “YDNA maps Scandinavian Family Trees from Medieval Times and the Viking Age” by Peter Sjolund.
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/ydna-maps-scandinavian-family-trees-from-medieval-times-and-the-viking-age

Peter’s session at the genealogy conference in Sweden this year was packed. This photo, compliments of Katherine Borges, shows the room and the level of interest in Y-DNA and the messages it holds for genetic genealogists.

sweden 2015

This type of work is the wave of the future, although hopefully it won’t be so manually intensive. However, the process of discovery is by definition laborious.  From this early work will one day emerge reproducible methodologies, the fruits of which we will all enjoy.

Haplogroup Definitions and Discoveries Continue

A4 mutations

Often, haplogroup work flies under the radar today and gets dwarfed by some of the larger citizen science projects, but this work is fundamentally important. In 2015, we made discoveries about haplogroups A4 and C, for example.

Haplogroup A4 Unpeeled – European, Jewish, Asian and Native American
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/05/haplogroup-a4-unpeeled-european-jewish-asian-and-native-american/

New Haplogroup C Native American Subgroups
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/11/new-haplogroup-c-native-american-subgroups/

Native American Haplogroup C Update – Progress
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/25/native-american-haplogroup-c-update-progress/

These aren’t the only discoveries, by any stretch of the imagination. For example, Mike Wadna, administrator for the Haplogroup R1b Project reports that there are now over 1500 SNPs on the R1b tree at Family Tree DNA – which is just about twice as many as were known in total for the entire Y tree in 2012 before the Genographic project was introduced.

The new Y DNA SNP Packs being introduced by Family Tree DNA which test more than 100 SNPs for about $100 will go a very long way in helping participants obtain haplogroup assignments further down the tree without doing the significantly more expensive Big Y test. For example, the R1b-DF49XM222 SNP Pack tests 157 SNPs for $109.  Of course, if you want to discover your own private line of SNPs, you’ll have to take the Big Y.  SNP Packs can only test what is already known and the Big Y is a test of discovery.

                       Best Blog2015 smile

Jim Bartlett, hands down, receives this award for his new and wonderful blog, Segmentology.

                             Making Sense of Autosomal DNA

segmentology

Our autosomal DNA results provide us with matches at each of the vendors and at GedMatch, but what do we DO with all those matches and how to we utilize the genetic match information? How to we translate those matches into ancestral information.  And once we’ve assigned a common ancestor to a match with an individual, how does that match affect other matches on that same segment?

2015 has been the year of sorting through the pieces and defining terms like IBS (identical by state, which covers both identical by population and identical by chance) and IBD (identical by descent). There has been a lot written this year.

Jim Bartlett, a long-time autosomal researcher has introduced his new blog, Segmentology, to discuss his journey through mapping ancestors to his DNA segments. To the best of my knowledge, Jim has mapped more of his chromosomes than any other researcher, more than 80% to specific ancestors – and all of us can leverage Jim’s lessons learned.

Segmentology.org by Jim Bartlett
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/12/segmentology-org-by-jim-bartlett/

When you visit Jim’s site, please take a look at all of his articles. He and I and others may differ slightly in the details our approach, but the basics are the same and his examples are wonderful.

Autosomal DNA Testing – What Now?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/07/autosomal-dna-testing-101-what-now/

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – Tips and Tricks for Contact Success
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/11/autosomal-dna-testing-101-tips-and-tricks-for-contact-success/

How Phasing Works and Determining IBS vs IBD Matches
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/02/how-phasing-works-and-determining-ibd-versus-ibs-matches/

Just One Cousin
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/11/just-one-cousin/

Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/17/demystifying-autosomal-dna-matching/

A Study Using Small Segment Matching
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/21/a-study-utilizing-small-segment-matching/

Finally, A How-To Class for Working with Autosomal Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/10/finally-a-how-to-class-for-working-with-autosomal-dna-results/

Parent-Child Non-Matching Autosomal DNA Segments
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/14/parent-child-non-matching-autosomal-dna-segments/

A Match List Does Not an Ancestor Make
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/19/a-match-list-does-not-an-ancestor-make/

4 Generation Inheritance Study
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/23/4-generation-inheritance-study/

Phasing Yourself
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/27/phasing-yourself/

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/25/autosomal-dna-matching-confidence-spectrum/

Earlier in the year, there was a lot of discussion and dissention about the definition of and use of small segments. I utilize them, carefully, generally in conjunction with larger segments.  Others don’t.  Here’s my advice.  Don’t get yourself hung up on this.  You probably won’t need or use small segments until you get done with the larger segments, meaning low-hanging fruit, or unless you are doing a very specific research project.  By the time you get to that point, you’ll understand this topic and you’ll realize that the various researchers agree about far more than they disagree, and you can make your own decision based on your individual circumstances. If you’re entirely endogamous, small segments may just make you crazy.  However, if you’re chasing a colonial American ancestor, then you may need those small segments to identify or confirm that ancestor.

It is unfortunate, however, that all of the relevant articles are not represented in the ISOGG wiki, allowing people to fully educate themselves. Hopefully this can be updated shortly with the additional articles, listed above and from Jim Bartlett’s blog, published during this past year.

Recreating the Dead

James Crumley overlapping segments

James and Catherne Crumley segments above, compliments of Kitty Cooper’s tools

As we learn more about how to use autosomal DNA, we have begun to reconstruct our ancestors from the DNA of their descendants. Not as in cloning, but as in attributing DNA found in multiple descendants that originate from a common ancestor, or ancestral couple.  The first foray into this arena was GedMatch with their Lazarus tool.

Lazarus – Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/14/lazarus-putting-humpty-dumpty-back-together-again/

I have taken a bit of a different proof approach wherein I recreated an ancestor, James Crumley, born in 1712 from the matching DNA of roughly 30 of his descendants.
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/roberta-estes-crumley-y-dna

I did the same thing, on an experimental smaller scale about a year ago with my ancestor, Henry Bolton.
https://dna-explained.com/2014/11/10/henry-bolton-c1759-1846-kidnapped-revolutionary-war-veteran-52-ancestors-45/

This is the way of the future in genetic genealogy, and I’ll be writing more about the Crumley project and the reconstruction of James Crumley in 2016.

                         Lump Of Coal Award(s)2015 frown

This category is a “special category” that is exactly what you think it is. Yep, this is the award no one wants.  We have a tie for the Lump of Coal Award this year between Ancestry and 23andMe.

               Ancestry Becomes the J.R. Ewing of the Genealogy World

2015 Larry Hagman

Attribution : © Glenn Francis, http://www.PacificProDigital.com

Some of you may remember J.R. Ewing on the television show called Dallas that ran from 1978 through 1991. J.R. Ewing, a greedy and unethical oil tycoon was one of the main characters.  The series was utterly mesmerizing, and literally everyone tuned in.  We all, and I mean universally, hated J.R. Ewing for what he unfeelingly and selfishly did to his family and others.  Finally, in a cliffhanger end of the season episode, someone shot J.R. Ewing.  OMG!!!  We didn’t know who.  We didn’t know if J.R. lived or died.  Speculation was rampant.  “Who shot JR?” was the theme on t-shirts everyplace that summer.  J.R. Ewing, over time, became the man all of America loved to hate.

Ancestry has become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world for the same reasons.

In essence, in the genetic genealogy world, Ancestry introduced a substandard DNA product, which remains substandard years later with no chromosome browser or comparison tools that we need….and they have the unmitigated audacity to try to convince us we really don’t need those tools anyway. Kind of like trying to convince someone with a car that they don’t need tires.

Worse, yet, they’ve introduced “better” tools (New Ancestor Discoveries), as in tools that were going to be better than a chromosome browser.  New Ancestor Discoveries “gives us” ancestors that aren’t ours. Sadly, there are many genealogists being led down the wrong path with no compass available.

Ancestry’s history of corporate stewardship is abysmal and continues with the obsolescence of various products and services including the Sorenson DNA database, their own Y and mtDNA database, MyFamily and most recently, Family Tree Maker. While the Family Tree Maker announcement has been met with great gnashing of teeth and angst among their customers, there are other software programs available.  Ancestry’s choices to obsolete the DNA data bases is irrecoverable and a huge loss to the genetic genealogy community.  That information is lost forever and not available elsewhere – a priceless, irreplaceable international treasure intentionally trashed.

If Ancestry had not bought up nearly all of the competing resources, people would be cancelling their subscriptions in droves to use another company – any other company. But there really is no one else anymore.  Ancestry knows this, so they have become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world – uncaring about the effects of their decisions on their customers or the community as a whole.  It’s hard for me to believe they have knowingly created such wholesale animosity within their own customer base.  I think having a job as a customer service rep at Ancestry would be an extremely undesirable job right now.  Many customers are furious and Ancestry has managed to upset pretty much everyone one way or another in 2015.

AncestryDNA Has Now Thoroughly Lost Its Mind
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/ancestrydna-has-now-thoroughly-lost-its-mind/

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/kenny-kenny-kenny/

Dear Kenny – Any Suggestions for our New Ancestor Discoveries?
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/dear-kenny-any-suggestions-for-our-new-ancestor-discoveries/

RIP Sorenson – A Crushing Loss
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/15/rip-sorenson-a-crushing-loss/

Of Babies and Bathwater
http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/17/of-babies-and-bathwater/

Facts Matter
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/

Getting the Most Out of AncestryDNA
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/02/getting-the-most-out-of-ancestrydna/

Ancestry Gave Me a New DNA Ancestor and It’s Wrong
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/03/ancestry-gave-me-a-new-dna-ancestor-and-its-wrong/

Testing Ancestry’s Amazing New Ancestor DNA Claim
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/07/testing-ancestrys-amazing-new-ancestor-dna-claim/

Dissecting AncestryDNA Circles and New Ancestors
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/09/dissecting-ancestrydna-circles-and-new-ancestors/

Squaring the Circle
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/03/29/squaring-the-circle/

Still Waiting for the Holy Grail
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/04/05/still-waiting-for-the-holy-grail/

A Dozen Ancestors That Aren’t aka Bad NADs
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/14/a-dozen-ancestors-that-arent-aka-bad-nads/

The Logic and Birth of a Bad NAD (New Ancestor Discovery)
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/12/the-logic-and-birth-of-a-bad-nad-new-ancestor-discovery/

Circling the Shews
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/24/circling-the-shews/

Naughty Bad NADs Sneak Home Under Cover of Darkness
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/24/naughty-bad-nads-sneak-home-under-cover-of-darkness/

Ancestry Shared Matches Combined with New Ancestor Discoveries
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/28/ancestry-shared-matches-combined-with-new-ancestor-discoveries/

Ancestry Shakey Leaf Disappearing Matches: Now You See Them – Now You Don’t
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/24/ancestry-shakey-leaf-disappearing-matches-now-you-see-them-now-you-dont/

Ancestry’s New Amount of Shared DNA – What Does It Really Mean?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/06/ancestrys-new-amount-of-shared-dna-what-does-it-really-mean/

The Winds of Change
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/11/08/the-winds-of-change/

Confusion – Family Tree Maker, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/13/confusion-family-tree-maker-family-tree-dna-and-ancestry-com/

DNA: good news, bad news
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/01/11/dna-good-news-bad-news/

Check out the Alternatives
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/12/09/check-out-the-alternatives/

GeneAwards 2015
http://www.tamurajones.net/GeneAwards2015.xhtml

23andMe Betrays Genealogists

2015 broken heart

In October, 23andMe announced that it has reached an agreement with the FDA about reporting some health information such as carrier status and traits to their clients. As a part of or perhaps as a result of that agreement, 23andMe is dramatically changing the user experience.

In some aspects, the process will be simplified for genealogists with a universal opt-in. However, other functions are being removed and the price has doubled.  New advertising says little or nothing about genealogy and is entirely medically focused.  That combined with the move of the trees offsite to MyHeritage seems to signal that 23andMe has lost any commitment they had to the genetic genealogy community, effectively abandoning the group entirely that pulled their collective bacon out of the fire. This is somehow greatly ironic in light of the fact that it was the genetic genealogy community through their testing recommendations that kept 23andMe in business for the two years, from November of 2013 through October of 2015 when the FDA had the health portion of their testing shut down.  This is a mighty fine thank you.

As a result of the changes at 23andMe relative to genealogy, the genetic genealogy community has largely withdrawn their support and recommendations to test at 23andMe in favor of Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.

Kelly Wheaton, writing on the Facebook ISOGG group along with other places has very succinctly summed up the situation:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153873250057922/

You can also view Kelly’s related posts from earlier in December and their comments at:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153830929022922/
and…
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153828722587922/

My account at 23andMe has not yet been converted to the new format, so I cannot personally comment on the format changes yet, but I will write about the experience in 2016 after my account is converted.

Furthermore, I will also be writing a new autosomal vendor testing comparison article after their new platform is released.

I Hate 23andMe
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/i-hate-23andme/

23andMe to Get Makeover After Agreement With FDA
https://dna-explained.com/2015/10/21/23andme-to-get-a-makeover-after-agreement-with-fda/

23andMe Metamorphosis
http://throughthetreesblog.tumblr.com/post/131724191762/the-23andme-metamorphosis

The Changes at 23andMe
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-changes-at-23andme/

The 23and Me Transition – The First Step
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/05/the-23andme-transition-first-step-november-11th/

The Winds of Change
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/11/08/the-winds-of-change/

Why Autosomal Response Rate Really Does Matter
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/24/why-autosomal-response-rate-really-does-matter/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/

Now…and not now
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/12/06/now-and-not-now/

                             Cone of Shame Award 2015 frown

Another award this year is the Cone of Shame award which is also awarded to both Ancestry and 23andMe for their methodology of obtaining “consent” to sell their customers’, meaning our, DNA and associated information.

Genetic Genealogy Data Gets Sold

2015 shame

Unfortunately, 2015 has been the year that the goals of both 23andMe and Ancestry have become clear in terms of our DNA data. While 23andMe has always been at least somewhat focused on health, Ancestry never was previously, but has now hired a health officer and teamed with Calico for medical genetics research.

Now, both Ancestry and 23andMe have made research arrangements and state in their release and privacy verbiage that all customers must electronically sign (or click through) when purchasing their DNA tests that they can sell, at minimum, your anonymized DNA data, without any further consent.  And there is no opt-out at that level.

They can also use our DNA and data internally, meaning that 23andMe’s dream of creating and patenting new drugs can come true based on your DNA that you submitted for genealogical purposes, even if they never sell it to anyone else.

In an interview in November, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki said the following:

23andMe is now looking at expanding beyond the development of DNA testing and exploring the possibility of developing its own medications. In July, the company raised $79 million to partly fund that effort. Additionally, the funding will likely help the company continue with the development of its new therapeutics division. In March, 23andMe began to delve into the therapeutics market, to create a third pillar behind the company’s personal genetics tests and sales of genetic data to pharmaceutical companies.

Given that the future of genetic genealogy at these two companies seems to be tied to the sale of their customer’s genetic and other information, which, based on the above, is very clearly worth big bucks, I feel that the fact that these companies are selling and utilizing their customer’s information in this manner should be fully disclosed. Even more appropriate, the DNA information should not be sold or utilized for research without an informed consent that would traditionally be used for research subjects.

Within the past few days, I wrote an article, providing specifics and calling on both companies to do the following.

  1. To minimally create transparent, understandable verbiage that informs their customers before the end of the purchase process that their DNA will be sold or utilized for unspecified research with the intention of financial gain and that there is no opt-out. However, a preferred plan of action would be a combination of 2 and 3, below.
  2. Implement a plan where customer DNA can never be utilized for anything other than to deliver the services to the consumers that they purchased unless a separate, fully informed consent authorization is signed for each research project, without coercion, meaning that the client does not have to sign the consent to obtain any of the DNA testing or services.
  3. To immediately stop utilizing the DNA information and results from customers who have already tested until they have signed an appropriate informed consent form for each research project in which their DNA or other information will be utilized.

And Now Ancestry Health
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/06/and-now-ancestry-health/

Opting Out
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/26/opting-out/

Ancestry Terms of Use Updated
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/07/ancestry-terms-of-use-updated/

AncestryDNA Doings
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/05/ancestrydna-doings/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/

23andMe and Ancestry and Selling Your DNA Information
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/30/23andme-ancestry-and-selling-your-dna-information/

                      Citizen Science Leadership Award   2015 smile

The Citizen Science Leadership Award this year goes to Blaine Bettinger for initiating the Shared cM Project, a crowdsourced project which benefits everyone.

Citizen Scientists Continue to Push the Edges of the Envelope with the Shared cM Project

Citizen scientists, in the words of Dr. Doron Behar, “are not amateurs.” In fact, citizen scientists have been contributing mightily and pushing the edge of the genetic genealogy frontier consistently now for 15 years.  This trend continues, with new discoveries and new ways of viewing and utilizing information we already have.

For example, Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project was begun in March and continues today. This important project has provided real life information as to the real matching amounts and ranges between people of different relationships, such as first cousins, for example, as compared to theoretical match amounts.  This wonderful project produced results such as this:

2015 shared cM

I don’t think Blaine initially expected this project to continue, but it has and you can read about it, see the rest of the results, and contribute your own data here. Blaine has written several other articles on this topic as well, available at the same link.

Am I Weird or What?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/07/am-i-weird-or-what/

Jim Owston analyzed fourth cousins and other near distant relationships in his Owston one-name study:
https://owston.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/an-analysis-of-fourth-cousins-and-other-near-distant-relatives/

I provided distant cousin information in the Crumley surname study:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/roberta-estes-crumley-y-dna

I hope more genetic genealogists will compile and contribute this type of real world data as we move forward. If you have compiled something like this, the Surname DNA Journal is peer reviewed and always looking for quality articles for publication.

Privacy, Law Enforcement and DNA

2015 privacy

Unfortunately, in May, a situation by which Y DNA was utilized in a murder investigation was reported in a sensationalist “scare” type fashion.  This action provided cause, ammunition or an excuse for Ancestry to remove the Sorenson data base from public view.

I find this exceedingly, exceedingly unfortunate. Given Ancestry’s history with obsoleting older data bases instead of updating them, I’m suspecting this was an opportune moment for Ancestry to be able to withdraw this database, removing a support or upgrade problem from their plate and blame the problem on either law enforcement or the associated reporting.

I haven’t said much about this situation, in part because I’m not a lawyer and in part because the topic is so controversial and there is no possible benefit since the damage has already been done. Unfortunately, nothing anyone can say or has said will bring back the Sorenson (or Ancestry) data bases and arguments would be for naught.  We already beat this dead horse a year ago when Ancestry obsoleted their own data base.  On this topic, be sure to read Judy Russell’s articles and her sources as well for the “rest of the story.”

Privacy, the Police and DNA
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/02/08/privacy-the-police-and-dna/

Big Easy DNA Not So Easy
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/03/15/big-easy-dna-not-so-easy/

Of Babies and Bathwater
http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/17/of-babies-and-bathwater/

Facts Matter
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/

Genetic genealogy standards from within the community were already in the works prior to the Idaho case, referenced above, and were subsequently published as guidelines.

Announcing Genetic Genealogy Standards
http://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2015/01/10/announcing-genetic-genealogy-standards/

The standards themselves:
http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Genetic-Genealogy-Standards.pdf

Ancient DNA Results Continue to Amass

“Moorleiche3-Schloss-Gottorf” by Commander-pirx at de.wikipedia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ancient DNA is difficult to recover and even more difficult to sequence, reassembling tiny little blocks of broken apart DNA into an ancient human genome.

However, each year we see a few more samples and we are beginning to repaint the picture of human population movement, which is different than we thought it would be.

One of the best summaries of the ancient ancestry field was Michael Hammer’s presentation at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November titled “R1B and the Peopling of Europe: an Ancient DNA Update.” His slides are available here:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/r1b-and-the-people-of-europe-an-ancient-dna-update

One of the best ongoing sources for this information is Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog. He covered most of the new articles and there have been several.  That’s the good news and the bad news, all rolled into one. http://dienekes.blogspot.com/

I have covered several that were of particular interest to the evolution of Europeans and Native Americans.

Yamnaya, Light Skinned Brown Eyed….Ancestors?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/15/yamnaya-light-skinned-brown-eyed-ancestors/

Kennewick Man is Native American
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/18/kennewick-man-is-native-american/

Botocudo – Ancient Remains from Brazil
https://dna-explained.com/2015/07/02/botocudo-ancient-remains-from-brazil/

Some Native had Oceanic Ancestors
https://dna-explained.com/2015/07/22/some-native-americans-had-oceanic-ancestors/

Homo Naledi – A New Species Discovered
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/11/homo-naledi-a-new-species-discovered/

Massive Pre-Contact Grave in California Yields Disappointing Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/10/20/mass-pre-contact-native-grave-in-california-yields-disappointing-results/

I know of several projects involving ancient DNA that are in process now, so 2016 promises to be a wonderful ancient DNA year!

Education

2015 education

Many, many new people discover genetic genealogy every day and education continues to be an ongoing and increasing need. It’s a wonderful sign that all major conferences now include genetic genealogy, many with a specific track.

The European conferences have done a great deal to bring genetic genealogy testing to Europeans. European testing benefits those of us whose ancestors were European before immigrating to North America.  This year, ISOGG volunteers staffed booths and gave presentations at genealogy conferences in Birmingham, England, Dublin, Ireland and in Nyköping, Sweden, shown below, photo compliments of Catherine Borges.

ISOGG volunteers

Several great new online educational opportunities arose this year, outside of conferences, for which I’m very grateful.

DNA Lectures YouTube Channel
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/26/dna-lectures-youtube-channel/

Allen County Public Library Online Resources
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/03/allen-county-public-library-online-resources/

DNA Data Organization Tools and Who’s on First
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/08/dna-data-organization-tools-and-whos-on-first/

Genetic Genealogy Educational Resource List
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/03/genetic-genealogy-educational-resource-list/

Genetic Genealogy Ireland Videos
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHnW2NAfPIA2KUipZ_PlUlw

DNA Lectures – Who Do You Think You Are
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7HQSiSkiy7ujlkgQER1FYw

Ongoing and Online Classes in how to utilize both Y and autosomal DNA
http://www.dnaadoption.com/index.php?page=online-classes

Education Award

2015 smile Family Tree DNA receives the Education Award this year along with a huge vote of gratitude for their 11 years of genetic genealogy conferences. They are the only testing or genealogy company to hold a conference of this type and they do a fantastic job.  Furthermore, they sponsor additional educational events by providing the “theater” for DNA presentations at international events such as the Who Do You Think You Are conference in England.  Thank you Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA Conference

ftdna 2015

The Family Tree DNA Conference, held in November, was a hit once again. I’m not a typical genealogy conference person.  My focus is on genetic genealogy, so I want to attend a conference where I can learn something new, something leading edge about the science of genetic genealogy – and that conference is definitely the Family Tree DNA conference.

Furthermore, Family Tree DNA offers tours of their lab on the Monday following the conference for attendees, and actively solicits input on their products and features from conference attendees and project administrators.

2015 FTDNA lab

Family Tree DNA 11th International Conference – The Best Yet
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/18/2015-family-tree-dna-11th-international-conference-the-best-yet/

All of the conference presentations that were provided by the presenters have been made available by Family Tree DNA at:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA?utm_campaign=website&utm_source=sendgrid.com&utm_medium=email

2016 Genetic Genealogy Wish List

2015 wish list

In 2014, I presented a wish list for 2015 and it didn’t do very well.  Will my 2015 list for 2016 fare any better?

  • Ancestry restores Sorenson and their own Y and mtDNA data bases in some format or contributes to an independent organization like ISOGG.
  • Ancestry provides chromosome browser.
  • Ancestry removes or revamps Timber in order to restore legitimate matches removed by Timber algorithm.
  • Fully informed consent (per research project) implemented by 23andMe and Ancestry, and any other vendor who might aspire to sell consumer DNA or related information, without coercion, and not as a prerequisite for purchasing a DNA testing product. DNA and information will not be shared or utilized internally or externally without informed consent and current DNA information will cease being used in this fashion until informed consent is granted by customers who have already tested.
  • Improved ethnicity reporting at all vendors including ancient samples and additional reference samples for Native Americans.
  • Autosomal Triangulation tools at all vendors.
  • Big Y and STR integration and analysis enhancement at Family Tree DNA.
  • Ancestor Reconstruction
  • Mitochondrial and Y DNA search tools by ancestor and ancestral line at Family Tree DNA.
  • Improved tree at Family Tree DNA – along with new search capabilities.
  • 23andMe restores lost capabilities, drops price, makes changes and adds features previously submitted as suggestions by community ambassadors.
  • More tools (This is equivalent to “bring me some surprises” on my Santa list as a kid.)

My own goals haven’t changed much over the years. I still just want to be able to confirm my genealogy, to learn as much as I can about each ancestor, and to break down brick walls and fill in gaps.

I’m very hopeful each year as more tools and methodologies emerge.  More people test, each one providing a unique opportunity to match and to understand our past, individually and collectively.  Every year genetic genealogy gets better!  I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy and Ancestrally Prosperous New Year!

2015 happy new year

2014 Top Genetic Genealogy Happenings – A Baker’s Dozen +1

It’s that time again, to look over the year that has just passed and take stock of what has happened in the genetic genealogy world.  I wrote a review in both 2012 and 2013 as well.  Looking back, these momentous happenings seem quite “old hat” now.  For example, both www.GedMatch.com and www.DNAGedcom.com, once new, have become indispensable tools that we take for granted.  Please keep in mind that both of these tools (as well as others in the Tools section, below) depend on contributions, although GedMatch now has a tier 1 subscription offering for $10 per month as well.

So what was the big news in 2014?

Beyond the Tipping Point

Genetic genealogy has gone over the tipping point.  Genetic genealogy is now, unquestionably, mainstream and lots of people are taking part.  From the best I can figure, there are now approaching or have surpassed three million tests or test records, although certainly some of those are duplicates.

  • 500,000+ at 23andMe
  • 700,000+ at Ancestry
  • 700,000+ at Genographic

The organizations above represent “one-test” companies.  Family Tree DNA provides various kinds of genetic genealogy tests to the community and they have over 380,000 individuals with more than 700,000 test records.

In addition to the above mentioned mainstream firms, there are other companies that provide niche testing, often in addition to Family Tree DNA Y results.

In addition, there is what I would refer to as a secondary market for testing as well which certainly attracts people who are not necessarily genetic genealogists but who happen across their corporate information and decide the test looks interesting.  There is no way of knowing how many of those tests exist.

Additionally, there is still the Sorenson data base with Y and mtDNA tests which reportedly exceeded their 100,000 goal.

Spencer Wells spoke about the “viral spread threshold” in his talk in Houston at the International Genetic Genealogy Conference in October and terms 2013 as the year of infection.  I would certainly agree.

spencer near term

Autosomal Now the New Normal

Another change in the landscape is that now, autosomal DNA has become the “normal” test.  The big attraction to autosomal testing is that anyone can play and you get lots of matches.  Earlier in the year, one of my cousins was very disappointed in her brother’s Y DNA test because he only had a few matches, and couldn’t understand why anyone would test the Y instead of autosomal where you get lots and lots of matches.  Of course, she didn’t understand the difference in the tests or the goals of the tests – but I think as more and more people enter the playground – percentagewise – fewer and fewer do understand the differences.

Case in point is that someone contacted me about DNA and genealogy.  I asked them which tests they had taken and where and their answer was “the regular one.”  With a little more probing, I discovered that they took Ancestry’s autosomal test and had no clue there were any other types of tests available, what they could tell him about his ancestors or genetic history or that there were other vendors and pools to swim in as well.

A few years ago, we not only had to explain about DNA tests, but why the Y and mtDNA is important.  Today, we’ve come full circle in a sense – because now we don’t have to explain about DNA testing for genealogy in general but we still have to explain about those “unknown” tests, the Y and mtDNA.  One person recently asked me, “oh, are those new?”

Ancient DNA

This year has seen many ancient DNA specimens analyzed and sequenced at the full genomic level.

The year began with a paper titled, “When Populations Collide” which revealed that contemporary Europeans carry between 1-4% of Neanderthal DNA most often associated with hair and skin color, or keratin.  Africans, on the other hand, carry none or very little Neanderthal DNA.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/01/30/neanderthal-genome-further-defined-in-contemporary-eurasians/

A month later, a monumental paper was published that detailed the results of sequencing a 12,500 Clovis child, subsequently named Anzick or referred to as the Anzick Clovis child, in Montana.  That child is closely related to Native American people of today.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/02/13/clovis-people-are-native-americans-and-from-asia-not-europe/

In June, another paper emerged where the authors had analyzed 8000 year old bones from the Fertile Crescent that shed light on the Neolithic area before the expansion from the Fertile Crescent into Europe.  These would be the farmers that assimilated with or replaced the hunter-gatherers already living in Europe.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/06/09/dna-analysis-of-8000-year-old-bones-allows-peek-into-the-neolithic/

Svante Paabo is the scientist who first sequenced the Neanderthal genome.  Here is a neanderthal mangreat interview and speech.  This man is so interesting.  If you have not read his book, “Neanderthal Man, In Search of Lost Genomes,” I strongly recommend it.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/07/22/finding-your-inner-neanderthal-with-evolutionary-geneticist-svante-paabo/

In the fall, yet another paper was released that contained extremely interesting information about the peopling and migration of humans across Europe and Asia.  This was just before Michael Hammer’s presentation at the Family Tree DNA conference, so I covered the paper along with Michael’s information about European ancestral populations in one article.  The take away messages from this are two-fold.  First, there was a previously undefined “ghost population” called Ancient North Eurasian (ANE) that is found in the northern portion of Asia that contributed to both Asian populations, including those that would become the Native Americans and European populations as well.  Secondarily, the people we thought were in Europe early may not have been, based on the ancient DNA remains we have to date.  Of course, that may change when more ancient DNA is fully sequenced which seems to be happening at an ever-increasing rate.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/21/peopling-of-europe-2014-identifying-the-ghost-population/

Lazaridis tree

Ancient DNA Available for Citizen Scientists

If I were to give a Citizen Scientist of the Year award, this year’s award would go unquestionably to Felix Chandrakumar for his work with the ancient genome files and making them accessible to the genetic genealogy world.  Felix obtained the full genome files from the scientists involved in full genome analysis of ancient remains, reduced the files to the SNPs utilized by the autosomal testing companies in the genetic genealogy community, and has made them available at GedMatch.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/09/22/utilizing-ancient-dna-at-gedmatch/

If this topic is of interest to you, I encourage you to visit his blog and read his many posts over the past several months.

https://plus.google.com/+FelixChandrakumar/posts

The availability of these ancient results set off a sea of comparisons.  Many people with Native heritage matched Anzick’s file at some level, and many who are heavily Native American, particularly from Central and South America where there is less admixture match Anzick at what would statistically be considered within a genealogical timeframe.  Clearly, this isn’t possible, but it does speak to how endogamous populations affect DNA, even across thousands of years.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/09/23/analyzing-the-native-american-clovis-anzick-ancient-results/

Because Anzick is matching so heavily with the Mexican, Central and South American populations, it gives us the opportunity to extract mitochondrial DNA haplogroups from the matches that either are or may be Native, if they have not been recorded before.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/09/23/analyzing-the-native-american-clovis-anzick-ancient-results/

Needless to say, the matches of these ancient kits with contemporary people has left many people questioning how to interpret the results.  The answer is that we don’t really know yet, but there is a lot of study as well as speculation occurring.  In the citizen science community, this is how forward progress is made…eventually.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/09/25/ancient-dna-matches-what-do-they-mean/

https://dna-explained.com/2014/09/30/ancient-dna-matching-a-cautionary-tale/

More ancient DNA samples for comparison:

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/04/more-ancient-dna-samples-for-comparison/

A Siberian sample that also matches the Malta Child whose remains were analyzed in late 2013.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/11/12/kostenki14-a-new-ancient-siberian-dna-sample/

Felix has prepared a list of kits that he has processed, along with their GedMatch numbers and other relevant information, like gender, haplogroup(s), age and location of sample.

http://www.y-str.org/p/ancient-dna.html

Furthermore, in a collaborative effort with Family Tree DNA, Felix formed an Ancient DNA project and uploaded the ancient autosomal files.  This is the first time that consumers can match with Ancient kits within the vendor’s data bases.

https://www.familytreedna.com/public/Ancient_DNA

Recently, GedMatch added a composite Archaic DNA Match comparison tool where your kit number is compared against all of the ancient DNA kits available.  The output is a heat map showing which samples you match most closely.

gedmatch ancient heat map

Indeed, it has been a banner year for ancient DNA and making additional discoveries about DNA and our ancestors.  Thank you Felix.

Haplogroup Definition

That SNP tsunami that we discussed last year…well, it made landfall this year and it has been storming all year long…in a good way.  At least, ultimately, it will be a good thing.  If you asked the haplogroup administrators today about that, they would probably be too tired to answer – as they’ve been quite overwhelmed with results.

The Big Y testing has been fantastically successful.  This is not from a Family Tree DNA perspective, but from a genetic genealogy perspective.  Branches have been being added to and sawed off of the haplotree on a daily basis.  This forced the renaming of the haplogroups from the old traditional R1b1a2 to R-M269 in 2012.  While there was some whimpering then, it would be nothing like the outright wailing now that would be occurring as haplogroup named reached 20 or so digits.

Alice Fairhurst discussed the SNP tsunami at the DNA Conference in Houston in October and I’m sure that the pace hasn’t slowed any between now and then.  According to Alice, in early 2014, there were 4115 individual SNPs on the ISOGG Tree, and as of the conference, there were 14,238 SNPs, with the 2014 addition total at that time standing at 10,213.  That is over 1000 per month or about 35 per day, every day.

Yes, indeed, that is the definition of a tsunami.  Every one of those additions requires one of a number of volunteers, generally haplogroup project administrators to evaluate the various Big Y results, the SNPs and novel variants included, where they need to be inserted in the tree and if branches need to be rearranged.  In some cases, naming request for previously unknown SNPs also need to be submitted.  This is all done behind the scenes and it’s not trivial.

The project I’m closest to is the R1b L-21 project because my Estes males fall into that group.  We’ve tested several, and I’ll be writing an article as soon as the final test is back.

The tree has grown unbelievably in this past year just within the L21 group.  This project includes over 700 individuals who have taken the Big Y test and shared their results which has defined about 440 branches of the L21 tree.  Currently there are almost 800 kits available if you count the ones on order and the 20 or so from another vendor.

Here is the L21 tree in January of 2014

L21 Jan 2014 crop

Compare this with today’s tree, below.

L21 dec 2014

Michael Walsh, Richard Stevens, David Stedman need to be commended for their incredible work in the R-L21 project.  Other administrators are doing equivalent work in other haplogroup projects as well.  I big thank you to everyone.  We’d be lost without you!

One of the results of this onslaught of information is that there have been fewer and fewer academic papers about haplogroups in the past few years.  In essence, by the time a paper can make it through the peer review cycle and into publication, the data in the paper is often already outdated relative to the Y chromosome.  Recently a new paper was released about haplogroup C3*.  While the data is quite valid, the authors didn’t utilize the new SNP naming nomenclature.  Before writing about the topic, I had to translate into SNPese.  Fortunately, C3* has been relatively stable.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/12/23/haplogroup-c3-previously-believed-east-asian-haplogroup-is-proven-native-american/

10th Annual International Conference on Genetic Genealogy

The Family Tree DNA International Conference on Genetic Genealogy for project administrators is always wonderful, but this year was special because it was the 10th annual.  And yes, it was my 10th year attending as well.  In all these years, I had never had a photo with both Max and Bennett.  Everyone is always so busy at the conferences.  Getting any 3 people, especially those two, in the same place at the same time takes something just short of a miracle.

roberta, max and bennett

Ten years ago, it was the first genetic genealogy conference ever held, and was the only place to obtain genetic genealogy education outside of the rootsweb genealogy DNA list, which is still in existence today.  Family Tree DNA always has a nice blend of sessions.  I always particularly appreciate the scientific sessions because those topics generally aren’t covered elsewhere.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/11/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-opening-reception/

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/12/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-day-2/

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/13/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-day-3/

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/15/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-wrapup/

Jennifer Zinck wrote great recaps of each session and the ISOGG meeting.

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy/

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy-isogg-meeting/

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy-sunday/

I thank Family Tree DNA for sponsoring all 10 conferences and continuing the tradition.  It’s really an amazing feat when you consider that 15 years ago, this industry didn’t exist at all and wouldn’t exist today if not for Max and Bennett.

Education

Two educational venues offered classes for genetic genealogists and have made their presentations available either for free or very reasonably.  One of the problems with genetic genealogy is that the field is so fast moving that last year’s session, unless it’s the very basics, is probably out of date today.  That’s the good news and the bad news.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/11/12/genetic-genealogy-ireland-2014-presentations 

https://dna-explained.com/2014/09/26/educational-videos-from-international-genetic-genealogy-conference-now-available/

In addition, three books have been released in 2014.emily book

In January, Emily Aulicino released Genetic Genealogy, The Basics and Beyond.

richard hill book

In October, Richard Hill released “Guide to DNA Testing: How to Identify Ancestors, Confirm Relationships and Measure Ethnicity through DNA Testing.”

david dowell book

Most recently, David Dowell’s new book, NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection was released right after Thanksgiving.

 

Ancestor Reconstruction – Raising the Dead

This seems to be the year that genetic genealogists are beginning to reconstruct their ancestors (on paper, not in the flesh) based on the DNA that the ancestors passed on to various descendants.  Those segments are “gathered up” and reassembled in a virtual ancestor.

I utilized Kitty Cooper’s tool to do just that.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/03/ancestor-reconstruction/

henry bolton probablyI know it doesn’t look like much yet but this is what I’ve been able to gather of Henry Bolton, my great-great-great-grandfather.

Kitty did it herself too.

http://blog.kittycooper.com/2014/08/mapping-an-ancestral-couple-a-backwards-use-of-my-segment-mapper/

http://blog.kittycooper.com/2014/09/segment-mapper-tool-improvements-another-wold-dna-map/

Ancestry.com wrote a paper about the fact that they have figured out how to do this as well in a research environment.

http://corporate.ancestry.com/press/press-releases/2014/12/ancestrydna-reconstructs-partial-genome-of-person-living-200-years-ago/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2014/12/16/ancestrydna-recreates-portions-genome-david-speegle-two-wives/

GedMatch has created a tool called, appropriately, Lazarus that does the same thing, gathers up the DNA of your ancestor from their descendants and reassembles it into a DNA kit.

Blaine Bettinger has been working with and writing about his experiences with Lazarus.

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2014/10/20/finally-gedmatch-announces-monetization-strategy-way-raise-dead/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2014/12/09/recreating-grandmothers-genome-part-1/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2014/12/14/recreating-grandmothers-genome-part-2/

Tools

Speaking of tools, we have some new tools that have been introduced this year as well.

Genome Mate is a desktop tool used to organize data collected by researching DNA comparsions and aids in identifying common ancestors.  I have not used this tool, but there are others who are quite satisfied.  It does require Microsoft Silverlight be installed on your desktop.

The Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer is available through www.dnagedcom.com and is a tool that I have used and found very helpful.  It assists you by visually grouping your matches, by chromosome, and who you match in common with.

adsa cluster 1

Charting Companion from Progeny Software, another tool I use, allows you to colorize and print or create pdf files that includes X chromosome groupings.  This greatly facilitates seeing how the X is passed through your ancestors to you and your parents.

x fan

WikiTree is a free resource for genealogists to be able to sort through relationships involving pedigree charts.  In November, they announced Relationship Finder.

Probably the best example I can show of how WikiTree has utilized DNA is using the results of King Richard III.

wiki richard

By clicking on the DNA icon, you see the following:

wiki richard 2

And then Richard’s Y, mitochondrial and X chromosome paths.

wiki richard 3

Since Richard had no descendants, to see how descendants work, click on his mother, Cecily of York’s DNA descendants and you’re shown up to 10 generations.

wiki richard 4

While this isn’t terribly useful for Cecily of York who lived and died in the 1400s, it would be incredibly useful for finding mitochondrial descendants of my ancestor born in 1802 in Virginia.  I’d love to prove she is the daughter of a specific set of parents by comparing her DNA with that of a proven daughter of those parents!  Maybe I’ll see if I can find her parents at WikiTree.

Kitty Cooper’s blog talks about additional tools.  I have used Kitty’s Chromosome mapping tools as discussed in ancestor reconstruction.

Felix Chandrakumar has created a number of fun tools as well.  Take a look.  I have not used most of these tools, but there are several I’ll be playing with shortly.

Exits and Entrances

With very little fanfare, deCODEme discontinued their consumer testing and reminded people to download their date before year end.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/09/30/decodeme-consumer-tests-discontinued/

I find this unfortunate because at one time, deCODEme seemed like a company full of promise for genetic genealogy.  They failed to take the rope and run.

On a sad note, Lucas Martin who founded DNA Tribes unexpectedly passed away in the fall.  DNA Tribes has been a long-time player in the ethnicity field of genetic genealogy.  I have often wondered if Lucas Martin was a pseudonym, as very little information about Lucas was available, even from Lucas himself.  Neither did I find an obituary.  Regardless, it’s sad to see someone with whom the community has worked for years pass away.  The website says that they expect to resume offering services in January 2015. I would be cautious about ordering until the structure of the new company is understood.

http://www.dnatribes.com/

In the last month, a new offering has become available that may be trying to piggyback on the name and feel of DNA Tribes, but I’m very hesitant to provide a link until it can be determined if this is legitimate or bogus.  If it’s legitimate, I’ll be writing about it in the future.

However, the big news exit was Ancestry’s exit from the Y and mtDNA testing arena.  We suspected this would happen when they stopped selling kits, but we NEVER expected that they would destroy the existing data bases, especially since they maintain the Sorenson data base as part of their agreement when they obtained the Sorenson data.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/02/ancestry-destroys-irreplaceable-dna-database/

The community is still hopeful that Ancestry may reverse that decision.

Ancestry – The Chromosome Browser War and DNA Circles

There has been an ongoing battle between Ancestry and the more seasoned or “hard-core” genetic genealogists for some time – actually for a long time.

The current and most long-standing issue is the lack of a chromosome browser, or any similar tools, that will allow genealogists to actually compare and confirm that their DNA match is genuine.  Ancestry maintains that we don’t need it, wouldn’t know how to use it, and that they have privacy concerns.

Other than their sessions and presentations, they had remained very quiet about this and not addressed it to the community as a whole, simply saying that they were building something better, a better mousetrap.

In the fall, Ancestry invited a small group of bloggers and educators to visit with them in an all-day meeting, which came to be called DNA Day.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/08/dna-day-with-ancestry/

In retrospect, I think that Ancestry perceived that they were going to have a huge public relations issue on their hands when they introduced their new feature called DNA Circles and in the process, people would lose approximately 80% of their current matches.  I think they were hopeful that if they could educate, or convince us, of the utility of their new phasing techniques and resulting DNA Circles feature that it would ease the pain of people’s loss in matches.

I am grateful that they reached out to the community.  Some very useful dialogue did occur between all participants.  However, to date, nothing more has happened nor have we received any additional updates after the release of Circles.

Time will tell.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/11/18/in-anticipation-of-ancestrys-better-mousetrap/

https://dna-explained.com/2014/11/19/ancestrys-better-mousetrap-dna-circles/

DNA Circles 12-29-2014

DNA Circles, while interesting and somewhat useful, is certainly NOT a replacement for a chromosome browser, nor is it a better mousetrap.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/11/30/chromosome-browser-war/

In fact, the first thing you have to do when you find a DNA Circle that you have not verified utilizing raw data and/or chromosome browser tools from either 23andMe, Family Tree DNA or Gedmatch, is to talk your matches into transferring their DNA to Family Tree DNA or download to Gedmatch, or both.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/11/27/sarah-hickerson-c1752-lost-ancestor-found-52-ancestors-48/

I might add that the great irony of finding the Hickerson DNA Circle that led me to confirm that ancestry utilizing both Family Tree DNA and GedMatch is that today, when I checked at Ancestry, the Hickerson DNA Circle is no longer listed.  So, I guess I’ve been somehow pruned from the circle.  I wonder if that is the same as being voted off of the island.  So, word to the wise…check your circles often…they change and not always in the upwards direction.

The Seamy Side – Lies, Snake Oil Salesmen and Bullys

Unfortunately a seamy side, an underbelly that’s rather ugly has developed in and around the genetic genealogy industry.  I guess this was to be expected with the rapid acceptance and increasing popularity of DNA testing, but it’s still very unfortunate.

Some of this I expected, but I didn’t expect it to be so…well…blatant.

I don’t watch late night TV, but I’m sure there are now DNA diets and DNA dating and just about anything else that could be sold with the allure of DNA attached to the title.

I googled to see if this was true, and it is, although I’m not about to click on any of those links.

google dna dating

google dna diet

Unfortunately, within the ever-growing genetic genealogy community a rather large rift has developed over the past couple of years.  Obviously everyone can’t get along, but this goes beyond that.  When someone disagrees, a group actively “stalks” the person, trying to cost them their employment, saying hate filled and untrue things and even going so far as to create a Facebook page titled “Against<personname>.”  That page has now been removed, but the fact that a group in the community found it acceptable to create something like that, and their friends joined, is remarkable, to say the least.  That was accompanied by death threats.

Bullying behavior like this does not make others feel particularly safe in expressing their opinions either and is not conducive to free and open discussion. As one of the law enforcement officers said, relative to the events, “This is not about genealogy.  I don’t know what it is about, yet, probably money, but it’s not about genealogy.”

Another phenomenon is that DNA is now a hot topic and is obviously “selling.”  Just this week, this report was published, and it is, as best we can tell, entirely untrue.

http://worldnewsdailyreport.com/usa-archaeologists-discover-remains-of-first-british-settlers-in-north-america/

There were several tip offs, like the city (Lanford) and county (Laurens County) is not in the state where it is attributed (it’s in SC not NC), and the name of the institution is incorrect (Johns Hopkins, not John Hopkins).  Additionally, if you google the name of the magazine, you’ll see that they specialize in tabloid “faux reporting.”  It also reads a lot like the King Richard genuine press release.

http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/Fake-News/tp/A-Guide-to-Fake-News-Websites.01.htm

Earlier this year, there was a bogus institutional site created as well.

On one of the DNA forums that I frequent, people often post links to articles they find that are relevant to DNA.  There was an interesting article, which has now been removed, correlating DNA results with latitude and altitude.  I thought to myself, I’ve never heard of that…how interesting.   Here’s part of what the article said:

Researchers at Aberdeen College’s Havering Centre for Genetic Research have discovered an important connection between our DNA and where our ancestors used to live.

Tiny sequence variations in the human genome sometimes called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) occur with varying frequency in our DNA.  These have been studied for decades to understand the major migrations of large human populations.  Now Aberdeen College’s Dr. Miko Laerton and a team of scientists have developed pioneering research that shows that these differences in our DNA also reveal a detailed map of where our own ancestors lived going back thousands of years.

Dr. Laerton explains:  “Certain DNA sequence variations have always been important signposts in our understanding of human evolution because their ages can be estimated.  We’ve known for years that they occur most frequently in certain regions [of DNA], and that some alleles are more common to certain geographic or ethnic groups, but we have never fully understood the underlying reasons.  What our team found is that the variations in an individual’s DNA correlate with the latitudes and altitudes where their ancestors were living at the time that those genetic variations occurred.  We’re still working towards a complete understanding, but the knowledge that sequence variations are connected to latitude and altitude is a huge breakthrough by itself because those are enough to pinpoint where our ancestors lived at critical moments in history.”

The story goes on, but at the bottom, the traditional link to the publication journal is found.

The full study by Dr. Laerton and her team was published in the September issue of the Journal of Genetic Science.

I thought to myself, that’s odd, I’ve never heard of any of these people or this journal, and then I clicked to find this.

Aberdeen College bogus site

About that time, Debbie Kennett, DNA watchdog of the UK, posted this:

April Fools Day appears to have arrived early! There is no such institution as Aberdeen College founded in 1394. The University of Aberdeen in Scotland was founded in 1495 and is divided into three colleges: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/about/colleges-schools-institutes/colleges-53.php

The picture on the masthead of the “Aberdeen College” website looks very much like a photo of Aberdeen University. This fake news item seems to be the only live page on the Aberdeen College website. If you click on any other links, including the link to the so-called “Journal of Genetic Science”, you get a message that the website is experienced “unusually high traffic”. There appears to be no such journal anyway.

We also realized that Dr. Laerton, reversed, is “not real.”

I still have no idea why someone would invest the time and effort into the fake website emulating the University of Aberdeen, but I’m absolutely positive that their motives were not beneficial to any of us.

What is the take-away of all of this?  Be aware, very aware, skeptical and vigilant.  Stick with the mainstream vendors unless you realize you’re experimenting.

King Richard

King Richard III

The much anticipated and long-awaited DNA results on the remains of King Richard III became available with a very unexpected twist.  While the science team feels that they have positively identified the remains as those of Richard, the Y DNA of Richard and another group of men supposed to have been descended from a common ancestor with Richard carry DNA that does not match.

https://dna-explained.com/2014/12/09/henry-iii-king-of-england-fox-in-the-henhouse-52-ancestors-49/

https://dna-explained.com/2014/12/05/mitochondrial-dna-mutation-rates-and-common-ancestors/

Debbie Kennett wrote a great summary article.

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2014/12/richard-iii-and-use-of-dna-as-evidence.html

More Alike than Different

One of the life lessons that genetic genealogy has held for me is that we are more closely related that we ever knew, to more people than we ever expected, and we are far more alike than different.  A recent paper recently published by 23andMe scientists documents that people’s ethnicity reflect the historic events that took place in the part of the country where their ancestors lived, such as slavery, the Trail of Tears and immigration from various worldwide locations.

23andMe European African map

From the 23andMe blog:

The study leverages samples of unprecedented size and precise estimates of ancestry to reveal the rate of ancestry mixing among American populations, and where it has occurred geographically:

  • All three groups – African Americans, European Americans and Latinos – have ancestry from Africa, Europe and the Americas.
  • Approximately 3.5 percent of European Americans have 1 percent or more African ancestry. Many of these European Americans who describe themselves as “white” may be unaware of their African ancestry since the African ancestor may be 5-10 generations in the past.
  • European Americans with African ancestry are found at much higher frequencies in southern states than in other parts of the US.

The ancestry proportions point to the different regional impacts of slavery, immigration, migration and colonization within the United States:

  • The highest levels of African ancestry among self-reported African Americans are found in southern states, especially South Carolina and Georgia.
  • One in every 20 African Americans carries Native American ancestry.
  • More than 14 percent of African Americans from Oklahoma carry at least 2 percent Native American ancestry, likely reflecting the Trail of Tears migration following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
  • Among self-reported Latinos in the US, those from states in the southwest, especially from states bordering Mexico, have the highest levels of Native American ancestry.

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/12/genetic-study-reveals-surprising-ancestry-many-americans?utm_campaign=email-news-weekly&utm_source=eloqua

23andMe provides a very nice summary of the graphics in the article at this link:

http://blog.23andme.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Bryc_ASHG2014_textboxes.pdf

The academic article can be found here:

http://www.cell.com/ajhg/home

2015

So what does 2015 hold? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. Hopefully, it holds more ancestors, whether discovered through plain old paper research, cousin DNA testing or virtually raised from the dead!

What would my wish list look like?

  • More ancient genomes sequenced, including ones from North and South America.
  • Ancestor reconstruction on a large scale.
  • The haplotree becoming fleshed out and stable.
  • Big Y sequencing combined with STR panels for enhanced genealogical research.
  • Improved ethnicity reporting.
  • Mitochondrial DNA search by ancestor for descendants who have tested.
  • More tools, always more tools….
  • More time to use the tools!

Here’s wishing you an ancestor filled 2015!

 

Peopling of Europe 2014 – Identifying the Ghost Population

Beginning with the full sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, first published in May 2010 by the Max Planck Institute with Svante Paabo at the helm, and followed shortly thereafter with a Denisovan specimen, we began to unravel our ancient history.

neanderthal reconstructed

Neanderthal man, reconstructed at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo

The photo below shows a step in the process of extracting DNA from ancient bones at Max Planck.

planck extraction

Our Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups take us back thousands of years in time, but at some point, where and how people were settling and intermixing becomes fuzzy. Ancient DNA can put the people of that time and place in context.  We have discovered that current populations do not necessarily represent the ancient populations of a particular locale.

Recent information discovered from ancient burials tells us that the people of Europe descend from a 3 pronged model. Until recently, it was believed that Europeans descended from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers, a two-pronged model.

Previously, it was believed that Europe was peopled by the ancient hunter-gatherers, the Paleolithic, who originally settled in Europe beginning about 45,000 years ago. At this time, the Neanderthal were already settled in Europe but weren’t considered to be anatomically modern humans, and it was believed, incorrectly, that the two groups did not interbreed.  These hunter-gatherers were the people who settled in Europe before the last major ice age, the Younger Dryas, taking refuge in the southern portions of Europe and Eurasia, and repeopling the continent after the ice receded, about 12,000 years ago.  By that time, the Neanderthals were gone, or as we now know, at least partially assimilated.

This graphic shows Europe during the last ice age.

ice age euripe

The second settlement wave, the agriculturalist farmers from the Near East either overran or integrated with the hunter-gatherers in the Neolithic period, depending on which theory you subscribe to, about 8000-10,000 years ago.

2012 – Ancient Northern European (ANE) Hints

Beginning in 2012, we began to see hints of a third lineage that contributed to the peopling of Europe as well, from the north. Buried in the 2012 paper, Estimating admixture proportions and dates with ADMIXTOOLS by Patterson et al, was a very interesting tidbit.  This new technique showed a third population, referred to by many as a “ghost population”, because no one knew who they were, that contributed to the European population.

patterson ane

The new population was termed Ancient North Eurasian, or ANE.

Dienekes covered this paper in his blog, but without additional information, in the community in general, there wasn’t much more than a yawn.

2013 – Mal’ta Child Stirs Excitement

The first real hint of meat on the bones of ANE came in the form of ancient DNA analysis of a 24,000 year old Siberian boy that has come to be named Mal’ta (Malta) Child. In the original paper, by Raghaven et al, Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans, he was referred to as MA-1.  I wrote about this in my article titled Native American Gene Flow – Europe?, Asia and the Americas.   Dienekes wrote about this paper as well.

This revelation caused quite a stir, because it was reported that the Ancestor of Native Americans in Asia was 30% Western Eurasian.  Unfortunately, in some cases, this was immediately interpreted to mean that Native Americans had come directly from Europe which is not what this paper said, nor inferred.  It was also inferred that the haplogroups of this child, R* (Y) and U (mtDNA) were Native American, which is also incorrect.  To date, there is no evidence for migration to the New World from Europe in ancient times, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still looking for that evidence in early burials.

What this paper did show was that Europeans and Native Americans shared a common ancestor, and that the Siberian population had contributed to the European population as well as the Native American population.  In other words, descendants settled in both directions, east and west.

The most fascinating aspect of this paper was the match distribution map, below, showing which populations Malta child matched most closely.

malta child map

As you can see, MA-1, Malta Child, matches the Native American population most closely, followed by the northern European and Greenland populations. The further south in Europe and Asia, the more distant the matches and the darker the blue.

2013 – Michael Hammer and Haplogroup R

Last fall at the Family Tree DNA conference, Dr. Michael Hammer, from the Hammer Lab at the University of Arizona discussed new findings relative to ancient burials, specifically in relation to haplogroup R, or more specifically, the absence of haplogroup R in those early burials.

hammer 2013

hammer 2013-1

hammer 2013-2

hammer 2013-3

Based on the various theories and questions, ancient burials were enlightening.

hammer 2013-4

hammer 2013-5

In 2013, there were a total of 32 burials from the Neolithic period, after farmers arrived from the Near East, and haplogroup R did not appear. Instead, haplogroups G, I and E were found.

hammer 2013-7

What this tells us is that haplogroup R, as well as other haplogroup, weren’t present in Europe at this time. Having said this, these burials were in only 4 locations and, although unlikely, R could be found in other locations.

hammer 2-13-8

hammer 2013-9

hammer 2013-10

hammer 2013-11

Last year, Dr. Hammer concluded that haplogroup R was not found in the Paleolithic and likely arrived with the Neolithic farmers. That shook the community, as it had been widely believed that haplogroup R was one of the founding European haplogroups.

hammer 2013-12

While this provided tantalizing information, we still needed additional evidence. No paper has yet been published that addresses these findings.  The mass full sequencing of the Y chromosome over this past year with the introduction of the Big Y will provide extremely valuable information about the Y chromosome and eventually, the migration path into and across Europe.

2014 – Europe’s Three Ancient Tribes

In September 2014, another paper was published by Lazaridis et al that more fully defined this new ANE branch of the European human family tree.  An article in BBC News titled Europeans drawn from three ancient ‘tribes’ describes it well for the non-scientist.  Of particular interest in this article is the artistic rendering of the ancient individual, based on their genetic markers.  You’ll note that they had dark skin, dark hair and blue eyes, a rather unexpected finding.

In discussing the paper, David Reich from Harvard, one of the co-authors, said, “Prior to this paper, the models we had for European ancestry were two-way mixtures. We show that there are three groups. This also explains the recently discovered genetic connection between Europeans and Native Americans.  The same Ancient North Eurasian group contributed to both of them.”

The paper, Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans, appeared as a letter in Nature and is behind a paywall, but the supplemental information is free.

The article summary states the following:

We sequenced the genomes of a ~7,000-year-old farmer from Germany and eight ~8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers from Luxembourg and Sweden. We analysed these and other ancient genomes1, 2, 3, 4 with 2,345 contemporary humans to show that most present-day Europeans derive from at least three highly differentiated populations: west European hunter-gatherers, who contributed ancestry to all Europeans but not to Near Easterners; ancient north Eurasians related to Upper Palaeolithic Siberians3, who contributed to both Europeans and Near Easterners; and early European farmers, who were mainly of Near Eastern origin but also harboured west European hunter-gatherer related ancestry. We model these populations’ deep relationships and show that early European farmers had ~44% ancestry from a ‘basal Eurasian’ population that split before the diversification of other non-African lineages.

This paper utilized ancient DNA from several sites and composed the following genetic contribution diagram that models the relationship of European to non-European populations.

Lazaridis tree

Present day samples are colored purple, ancient in red and reconstructed ancestral populations in green. Solid lines represent descent without admixture and dashed lines represent admixture.  WHG=western European hunter-gatherer, EEF=early European farmer and ANE=ancient north Eurasian

2014 – Michael Hammer on Europe’s Ancestral Population

For anyone interested in ancient DNA, 2014 has been a banner years. At the Family Tree DNA conference in Houston, Texas, Dr. Michael Hammer brought the audience up to date on Europe’s ancestral population, including the newly sequenced ancient burials and the information they are providing.

hammer 2014

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Dr. Hammer said that ancient DNA is the key to understanding the historical processes that led up to the modern. He stressed that we need to be careful inferring that the current DNA pattern is reflective of the past because so many layers of culture have occurred between then and now.

hammer 2014-2

Until recently, it was assumed that the genes of the Neolithic farmers replaced those of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. Ancient DNA is suggesting that this is not true, at least not on a wholesale level.

hammer 2014-3

The theory, of course, is that we should be able to see them today if they still exist. The migration and settlement pattern in the slide below was from the theory set forth in the 1990s.

hammer 2014-4

In 2013, Dr. Hammer discussed the theory that haplogroup R1b spread into Europe with the farmers from the Near East in the Neolithic. This year, he expanded upon that topic that based on the new findings from ancient burials.

hammer 2014-5

Last year, Dr. Hammer discussed 32 burials from 4 sites. Today, we have information from 15 ancient DNA sites and many of those remains have been full genome sequenced.

hammer 2014-6

Information from papers and recent research suggests that Europeans also have genes from a third source lineage, nicknamed the “ghost population of North Eurasia.”

hammer 2014-7

Scientists are finding a signal of northeast Asian related admixture in northern Europeans, first suggested in 2012.  This was confirmed with the sequencing of Malta child and then in a second sequencing of Afontova Gora2 in south central Siberia.

hammer 2014-8

We have complete genomes from nine ancient Europeans – Mesolithic hunter gatherers and Neothilic farmers. Hammer refers to the Mesolithic here, which is a time period between the Paleolithic (hunter gatherers with stone tools) and the Neolithic (farmers).

hammer 2014-9

In the PCA charts, shown above, you can see that Europeans and people from the Near East cluster separately, except for a bridge formed by a few Mediterranean and Jewish populations. On the slide below, the hunter-gatherers (WHG) and early farmers (EEF) have been overlayed onto the contemporary populations along with the MA-1 (Malta Child) and AG2 (Afontova Gora2) representing the ANE.

hammer 2014-10

When sequenced, separate groups formed including western hunter gathers and early european farmers include Otzi, the iceman.  A third group is the north south clinal variation with ANE contributing to northern European ancestry.  The groups are represented by the circles, above.

hammer 2014-11

hammer 2014-12

Dr. Hammer said that the team who wrote the “Ancient Human Genomes” paper just recently published used an F3 test, results shown above, which shows whether populations are an admixture of a reference population based on their entire genome. He mentioned that this technique goes well beyond PCA.

hammer 2014-13

Mapped onto populations today, most European populations are a combination of the three early groups. However, the ANE is not found in the ancient Paleolithic or Neolithic burials.  It doesn’t arrive until later.

hammer 2014-14

This tells us that there was a migration event 45,000 years ago from the Levant, followed about 7000 years ago by farmers from the Near East, and that ANE entered the population some time after that. All Europeans today carry some amount of ANE, but ancient burials do not.

These burials also show that southern Europe has more Neolithic farmer genes and northern Europe has more Paleolithic/Mesolithic hunter-gatherer genes.

hammer 2014-15

Pigmentation for light skin came with farmers – blue eyes existed in hunter gatherers even though their skin was dark.

hammer 2014-16

Dr. Hammer created these pie charts of the Y and mitochondrial haplogroups found in the ancient burials as compared to contemporary European haplogroups.

hammer 2014-17

The pie chart on the left shows the haplogroups of the Mesolithic burials, all haplogroup I2 and subclades. Note that in the current German population today, no I2a1b and no I1 was found.  The chart on the right shows current Germans where haplogroup I is a minority.

hammer 2014-18

Therefore, we can conclude that haplogroup I is a good candidate to be identified as a Paleolithic/Mesolithic haplogroup.

This information shows that the past is very different from today.

hammer 2014-19

In 2014 we have many more burials that have been sequenced than last year, as shown on the map above.

Green represents Neolithic farmers, red are Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, brown at bottom right represents more recent samples from the Metallic age.

hammer 2014-20

There are a total of 48 Neolithic burials where haplogroup G dominates. In the Mesolithic, there are a total of six haplogroup I.

This suggests that haplogroup I is a good candidate to be the father of the Paleolithic/Mesolithic and haplogroup G, the founding father of the Neolithic.

In addition to haplogroup G in the Neolithic, one sample of both E1b1b1 (M35) and C were also found in Spain.  E1b1b1 isn’t surprising given it’s north African genesis, but C was quite interesting.

The Metal ages, which according to wiki begin about 3300BC in Europe, is where haplogroup R, along with I1, first appear.

diffusion of metallurgy

Please note that the diffusion of melallurgy map above is not part of Dr. Hammer’s presentation. I have added it for clarification.

hammer 2014-21

Nothing is constant in Europe. The Y DNA was very upheaved, as indicated on the graphic above.  Mitochondrial DNA shifted from pre-Neolithic to Neolithic which isn’t terribly different from the present day.

Dr. Hammer did not say this, but looking at the Y versus the mtDNA haplogroups, I wonder if this suggests that indeed there was more of a replacement of the males in the population, but that the females were more widely assimilated. This would certainly make sense, especially if the invaders were warriors and didn’t have females with them.  They would have taken partners from the invaded population.

Haplogroup G represents the spread of farming into Europe.

hammer 2014-22

The most surprising revelation is that haplogroup R1b appears to have emerged after the Neolithic agriculture transition. Given that just three years ago we thought that haplogroup R1b was one of the original European settlers thousands of years ago, based on the prevalence of haplogroup R in Europe today, at about 50%, this is a surprising turn of events.  Last year’s revelation that R was maybe only 7000-8000 years old in Europe was a bit of a whammy, but the age of R in Europe in essence just got halved again and the source of R1b changed from the Near East to the Asian steppes.

Obviously, something conferred an advantage to these R1b men. Given that they arrived in the early Metalic age, was it weapons and chariots that enabled the R1b men who arrived to quickly become more than half of the population?

hammer 2014-23

The Bronze Age saw the first use of metal to create weapons. Warrior identity became a standard part of daily life.  Celts ranged over Europe and were the most dominant iron age warriors.  Indo-European languages and chariots arrived from Asia about this time.

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The map above shows the Hallstadt and LaTene Celtic cultures in Europe, about 600BC. This was not a slide presented by Dr. Hammer.

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Haplogroup R1b was not found in an ancient European context prior to a Bell Beaker period burial in Germany 4.8-4.0 kya (thousand years ago, i.e. 4,800-4,000 years ago).  R1b arrives about 4.6 kya and is also found in a Corded Ware culture burial in Germany.  A late introduction of these lineages which now predominate in Europe corresponds to the autosomal signal of the entry of Asian and Eastern European steppe invaders into western Europe.

hammer 2014-28

Local expansion occurred in Europe of R1b subgroups U106, L21 and U152.

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A current haplogroup R distribution map that reflects the findings of this past year is shown above.

Haplogroup I is interesting for another reason. It looks like haplogroup I2a1b (M423) may have been replaced by I1 which expanded after the Mesolithic.

hammer 2014-31

On the slide above, the Loschbour sample from Luxembourg was mapped onto a current haplogroup I SNP map where his closest match is a current day Russian.

One of the benefits of ancient DNA genome processing is that we will be able to map current trees into maps of old SNPs and be able to tell who we match most closely.

Autosomal DNA can also be mapped to see how much of our DNA is from which ancient population.

hammer 2014-32

Dr. Hammer mapped the percentages of European Mesolithic/Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in blue, Neolithic Farmers from the Near East in magenta and Asian Steppe Invaders representing ANE in yellow, over current populations. Note the ancient DNA samples at the top of the list.  None of the burials except for Malta Child carry any yellow, indicating that the ANE entered the European population with the steppe invaders; the same group that brought us haplogroup R and possibly I1.

Dr. Hammer says that ANE was introduced to and assimilated into the European population by one or more incursions. We don’t know today if ANE in Europeans is a result of a single blast event or multiple events.  He would like to do some model simulations and see if it is related to timing and arrival of swords and chariots.

We know too that there are more recent incursions, because we’re still missing major haplogroups like J.

The further east you go, meaning the closer to the steppes and Volga region, the less well this fits the known models. In other words, we still don’t have the whole story.

At the end of the presentation, Michael was asked if the whole genomes sequenced are also obtaining Y STR data, which would allow us to compare our results on an individual versus a haplogroup level. He said he didn’t know, but he would check.

Family Tree DNA was asked if they could show a personal ancient DNA map in myOrigins, perhaps as an alternate view. Bennett took a vote and that seemed pretty popular, which he interpreted as a yes, we’d like to see that.

In Summary

The advent of and subsequent drop in the price of whole genome sequencing combined with the ability to extract ancient DNA and piece it back together have provided us with wonderful opportunities.  I think this is jut the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and I can’t wait to learn more.

If you are interested in other articles I’ve written about ancient DNA, check out these links:

Tenth Annual Family Tree DNA Conference Wrapup

baber summary

This slide, by Robert Baber, pretty well sums up our group obsession and what we focus on every year at the Family Tree DNA administrator’s conference in Houston, Texas.

Getting to Houston, this year, was a whole lot easier than getting out of Houston. They had storms yesterday and many of us spent the entire day becoming intimately familiar with the airport.  Jennifer Zinck, of Ancestor Central, is still there today and doesn’t have a flight until late.

And this is how my day ended, after I finally got out of Houston and into my home airport. This isn’t at the airport, by the way.  Everything was fine there, but I made the apparent error of stopping at a Starbucks on the way home.  This is the parking lot outside an hour or so later.  What can I say?  At least I had my coffee, and AAA rocks, as did the tow truck driver and my daughter for getting out of bed to come and rescue me!!!  Hmmm, I think maybe things have gone full circle.  I remember when I used to go and rescue her:)

jeep tow

So far, today hasn’t improved any, so let’s talk about something much more pleasant…the conference itself.

Resources

One of the reasons I mentioned Jennifer Zinck, aside from the fact that she’s still stuck in the airport, is because she did a great job actually covering the conference as it happened. Since I had some time yesterday to visit with her since our gates weren’t terribly far apart, I asked her how she got that done.  I took notes too, and photos, but she turned out a prodigious amount of work in a very short time.  While I took a lightweight MacBook Air, she took her regular PC that she is used to typing on, and she literally transcribed as the sessions were occurring.  She just added her photos later, and since she was working on a platform that she was familiar with, she could crop and make the other adjustments you never see but we perform behind the scenes before publishing a photo.

On the other hand, I struggled with a keyboard that works differently and is a different size than I’m used to as well as not being familiar with the photo tools to reduce the size of pictures, so I just took rough notes and wrote the balance later.  Having familiar tools make such a difference.  I think I’ll carry my laptop from now on, even though it is much heavier.  Kudos to Jennifer!

I was initially going to summarize each session, but since Jen did such a good job, I’m posting her links. No need to recreate a wheel that doesn’t need to be recreated.

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy/

ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy is not affiliated with Family Tree DNA or any testing company, but Family Tree DNA is generous enough to allow an ISOGG meeting on Sunday before the first conference session.

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy-isogg-meeting/

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy-sunday/

You can find my conference postings here:

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/11/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-opening-reception/

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/12/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-day-2/

https://dna-explained.com/2014/10/13/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-day-3/

Several people were also posting on a twitter feed as well.

https://twitter.com/search?q=%23FTDNA2014&src=tyah

Those of you where are members of the ISOGG Yahoo group for project administrators can view photos posted by Katherine Borges in that group and there are also some postings on the Facebook ISOGG group as well.

Now that you have the links for the summaries, what I’d like to do is to discuss some of the aspects I found the most interesting.

The Mix

When I attended my first conference 10 years ago, I somehow thought that for the most part, the same group of people would be at the conferences every year. Some were, and in fact, a handful of the 160+ people attending this conference have attended all 10 conferences.  I know of two others for certain, but there were maybe another 3 or so who stood up when Bennett asked for everyone who had been present at all 10 conferences to stand.

Doug Mumma, the very first project administrator was with us this weekend, and still going strong. Now, if Doug and I could just figure out how we’re related…

Some of the original conference group has passed on to the other side where I’m firmly convinced that one of your rewards is that you get to see all of those dead ends of your tree. If we’re lucky, we get to meet them as well and ask all of those questions we have on this side.  We remember our friends fondly, and their departure sadly, but they enriched us while they were here and their memories make us smile.  I’m thinking specifically of Kenny Hedgepath and Leon Little as I write this, but there have been others as well.

The definition of a community is that people come and go, births, deaths and moves.

This year, about half of the attendees had never attended a conference before. I was very pleased to see this turn of events – because in order to survive, we do need new people who are as crazy as we are…er….I mean as dedicated as we are.

isogg reception

ISOGG traditionally hosts a potluck reception on Saturday evening. Lots of putting names with faces going on here.

Collaboration

I asked people about their favorite part of the conference or their favorite session. I was surprised at the number of people who said lunches and dinners.  Trust me, the food wasn’t that wonderful, so I asked them to elaborate.  In essence, the most valuable aspect of the conference was working with and talking to other administrators.

bar talk

It’s not like we don’t talk online, but there is somehow a difference between online communications and having a group discussion, or a one-on-one discussion. Laptops were out and in use everyplace, along with iPads and other tools.  It was so much fun to walk by tables and hear snippets of conversations like “the mutation at location 309.1….” and “null marker at 425” and “I ordered a kit for my great uncle…..”

I agree, as well. I had pre-arranged two dinners before arriving in order to talk with people with whom I share specific interests.  At lunches, I either tried to sit with someone I specifically needed to talk to, or I tried to meet someone new.

I also asked people about their specific goals for the next year. Some people had a particular goal in mind, such as a specific brick wall that needs focus.  Some, given that we are administrators, had wider-ranging project based goals, like Big Y testing certain family groups, and a surprising number had the goal of better utilizing the autosomal results.

Perhaps that’s why there were two autosomal sessions, an introduction by Jim Bartlett and then Tim Janzen’s more advanced session.

Autosomal DNA Results

jim bartlett

Note the cool double helix light fixture behind the speakers.

tim janzen

Tim specifically mentioned two misconceptions which I run across constantly.

Misconception 1 – A common surname means that’s how you match.  Just because you find a common surname doesn’t mean that’s your DNA match.  This belief is particularly prevalent in the group of people who test at Ancestry.com.

Misconception 2 – Your common ancestor has to be within the past 6 generations.  Not true, many matches can be 6-10th cousins because there are so many descendants of those early ancestors, even as many as 15 generations back.

Tim also mentioned that endogamous relationships are a tough problem with no easy answer. Polynesians, Ashkenazi Jews, Low German Mennonites, Acadians, Amish, and island populations.  Do I ever agree with him!  I have Brethren, Mennonite and Acadian in the same parent’s line.

Tim has been working with the Mennonite DNA project now for many years.

Tim included a great resource slide.

tim slide1

Tim has graciously made his entire presentation available for download.

tim slide2

There are probably a dozen or so of us that are actively mapping our ancestors, and a huge backlog of people who would like to. As Tim pointed out with one of his slides, this is not an easy task nor is it for the people who simply want to receive “an answer.”

tim slide3

I will also add that we “mappers” are working with and actively encouraging Family Tree DNA to develop tools so that the mapping is less spreadsheet manual work and more automated, because it certainly can be.

Upload GEDCOM Files

If you haven’t already, upload your GEDCOM to Family Tree DNA.  This is becoming an essential part of autosomal matching.  Furthermore, Family Tree DNA will utilize this file to construct your surname list and that will help immensely determining common surnames and your common ancestor with your Family Finder matches.  If you have sponsored tests for cousins, then upload a GEDCOM file for them or at least construct a basic tree on their Family Tree DNA page.

Ethics

Family Tree DNA always tries to provide a speaker about ethics, and the only speakers I’ve ever felt understood anything about what we want to do are Judy Russell and Blaine Bettinger.  I was glad to see Blaine presenting this year.

blaine bettinger

The essence of Blaine’s speech is that ethics isn’t about law. Law is cut and dried.  Ethics isn’t, and there are no ethics police.

Sometimes our decisions are colored necessarily by right and wrong.  Sometimes those decisions are more about the difference between a better and a worse way.

As a community, we want to reduce negative press coverage and increase positive coverage. We want to be proactive, not reactive.

Blaine stresses that while informed consent is crucial, that DNA doesn’t reveal secrets that aren’t also revealed by other genealogical forms of research. DNA often reveals more recent secrets, such as adoptions and NPEs, so it’s possibly more sensitive.

Two things need to govern our behavior. First, we need to do only things that we would be comfortable seeing above the fold in the New York Times.  Second, understand that we can’t make promises about topics like anonymity or about the absence of medical information, because we don’t know what we don’t know.

The SNP Tsunami

One of my concerns has been and remains the huge number of new SNPs that have been discovered over the past year or so with the Big Y by Family Tree DNA and  corresponding tests from other vendors.

When I say concern, I’m thrilled about this new technology and the advances it is allowing us to make as a community to discover and define the evolution of haplogroups. My concern is that the amount of data is overwhelming.  However, we are working through that, thanks to the hours and hours of volunteer work by haplogroup administrators and others.

Alice Fairhurst, who volunteers to maintain the ISOGG haplotree, mentioned that she has added over 10,000 SNPs to the Y tree this year alone, bringing the total to over 14,000. Those SNPs are fully vetted and placed.  There are many more in process and yet more still being discovered.  On the first page of the Y SNP tree, the list of SNP sources and other critical information, such as the criteria for a SNP to be listed, is provided.

isogg tree3

isogg snps

isogg snps 2014

So, if you’re waiting for that next haplotree poster, give it up because there isn’t a printing press that big, unless you want wallpaper.

isogg new development 2014

These slides are from Alice’s presentation. The ISOGG tree provides an invaluable resource for not only the genetic genealogy community, but also researchers world-wide.

As one example of how the SNP tsunami has affected the Y tree, Alice provided the following summary of R-U106, one of the two major branches of haplogroup R.

From the ISOGG 2006 Y tree, this was the entire haplogroup R Y tree. You can see U106 near the bottom with 3 sub-branches.  While this probably makes you chuckle today, remember that 2006 was only 8 years ago and that this tree didn’t change much for several years.

2006 entire tree

2007 was the same.

2008 u106 tree

2008 shows 5 subclades and one of the subclades had 2 subclades.

2009 u106 tree

2009 showed a total of 12 sub-branches and 2010 added one more.

2011 however, showed a large change. U106 in 2011 had 44 subgroups total and became too large to show on one screen shot.  2012 shows 99 subclades, if I counted accurately.  The 2014 U106 tree is shown below.

before big y

after big y

u106 now

u106 now2

There’s another slide too, but I didn’t manage to get the picture.  You get the idea though…

As you can imagine, for Family Tree DNA, trying to keep up with all of the haplogroups, not just one subgroup like U106 is a gargantuan task that is constantly changing, like hourly. Their Y tree is currently the National Geographic tree, and while they would like to update it, I’m sure, the definition of “current tree” is in a constant state of flux.  Literally, Mike Walsh, one of the admins in the R-L21 group uploads a new tree spreadsheet several times every day.

In order to deal attempt to deal with this, and to encourage people who don’t want to do a Big Y discovery type test, but do want to ferret out their location on their assigned portion of the tree, Family Tree DNA is reintroducing the Backbone tests.

They are starting with M222, also known as the Niall of the 9 Hostages haplogroup which is their beta for the new product and new process. You can see the provisional tree and results in the two slides they provided, below.  I apologize for the quality, but it was the best I could do.

M222

m222 pie

Haplogroup administrators are going to be heavily involved in this process. Family Tree DNA is putting SNP panels together that will help further define the tree and where various SNPs that have been recently discovered, and continue to be discovered, will fall on the tree.

As Big Y tests arrive, haplogroup project administrators typically assemble a spreadsheet of the SNPS and provisionally where they fall on the tree, based on the Big Y results.

What Bennett asked is for the admins to work with Family Tree DNA to assemble a testing panel based on those results. The goal is for the cost to be between $1.50 and $2 (US) for each SNP in the panel, which will reduce the one-off SNP testing and provide a much more complete and productive result at a far reduced price as compared to the current $29 or $39 per individual SNP.

If you are a haplogroup administrator, get in touch with Family Tree DNA to discuss your desired backbone panels. New panels, when it’s your turn, will take about 2 weeks to develop.

Keep in mind that the following SNPs, according to Bennett, are not optimal for panels:

  • Palindromic regions
  • Often mutating regions designated as .1, .2, etc.
  • SNPs in STRs

Nir Leibovich, the Chief Business Officer, also addressed the future and the Big Y to some extent in his presentation.

nir leibovich

ftdna future 2014

Utilizing the Big Y for Genealogy

In my case, during the last sale, I ordered several Big Y tests for my Estes family line because I have several genealogically documented lines from the original Estes family in Kent, England through our common ancestor, Robert Estes born in 1555 and his wife Anne Woodward. The participants also agreed to extend their markers to 111 markers as well.  When the results are back, we’ll be able to compare them on a full STR marker set, and also their SNPs.  Hopefully, they will match on their known SNPs and there will be some new novel variants that will be able to suffice as line marker mutations.

We need more BIG Y tests of these types of genealogically confirmed trees that have different sons’ lines from a distant common ancestor to test descendant lines. This will help immensely to determine the actual, not imputed, SNP mutation rate and allow us to extrapolate the ages of haplogroups more accurately.  Of course, it also goes without saying that it helps to flesh out the trees.

I personally expect the next couple of years will be major years of discovery. Yes, the SNP tsumani has hit land, but it’s far from over.

Research and Development

David Mittleman, Chief Scientific Officer, mentioned that Family Tree DNA now has their own R&D division where they are focused on how to best analyze data. They have been collaborating with other scientists.  A haplogroup G1 paper will be published shortly which states that SNP mutation rates equate to Sanger data.

FTDNA wants to get Big Y data into the public domain. They have set up consent for this to be done by uploading into NCBI.  Initially they sent a survey to a few people that  sampled the interest level.  Those who were interested received a release document.  If you are interested in allowing FTDNA to utilize your DNA for research, be it mitochondrial, Y or autosomal, please send them an e-mail stating such.

Don’t Forget About Y Genealogy Research

It’s very easy for us to get excited about the research and discovery aspect of DNA – and the new SNPs and extending haplotrees back in time as far as possible, but sometimes I get concerned that we are forgetting about the reason we began doing genetic genealogy in the first place.

Robert Baber’s presentation discussed the process of how to reconstruct a tree utilizing both genealogy and DNA results. It’s important to remember that the reason most of our participants test is to find their ancestors, not, primarily, to participate in the scientific process.

Robert baber

edward baber

Robert has succeeded in reconstructing 110 or 111 markers of the oldest known Baber ancestor, shown above. I wrote about how to do this in my article titled, Triangulation for Y DNA.

Not only does this allow us to compare everyone with the ancestor’s DNA, it also provides us with a tool to fit individuals who don’t know specific genealogical line into the tree relatively accurately. When I say relatively, the accuracy is based on line marker mutations that have, or haven’t, happened within that particular family.

Jim illustrated how to do this as well, and his methodology is available at the link on his slide, below.

baber method

I had to laugh. I’ve often wondered what our ancestors would think of us today.  Robert said that that 11 generations after Edward Baber died, he flew over church where Edward was buried and wondered what Edward would have thought about what we know and do today – cars, airplanes, DNA, radio, TV etc..  If someone looked in a crystal ball and told Edward what the future held 11 generations later, he would have thought that they were stark raving mad.

Eleven generations from my birth is roughly the year 2280. I’m betting we won’t be trying to figure out who our ancestors were through this type of DNA analysis then.  This is only a tiny stepping stone to an unknown world, as different to us as our world is to Edward Baber and all of our ancestors who lived in a time where we know their names but their lives and culture are entirely foreign to ours.

Publications

When the Journal of Genetic Genealogy was active, I, along with other citizen scientists published regularly.  The benefit of the journal was that it was peer reviewed and that assured some level of accuracy and because of that, credibility, and it was viewed by the scientific community as such.  My co-authored works published in JOGG as well as others have been cited by experts in the academic community.  It other words, it was a very valuable journal.  Sadly, it has fallen by the wayside and nothing has been published since 2011.  A new editor was recruited, but given their academic load, they have not stepped up to the plate.  For the record, I am still hopeful for a resurrection, but in the mean time, another opportunity has become available for genetic genealogists.

Brad Larkin has founded the Surname DNA Journal, which, like JOGG, is free to both authors and subscribers. In case you weren’t aware, most academic journal’s aren’t.  While this isn’t a large burden for a university, fees ranging from just over $1000 to $5000 are beyond the budget of genetic genealogists.  Just think of how many DNA tests one could purchase with that money.

brad larkin

surname dna journal

Brad has issued a call for papers. These papers will be peer reviewed, similarly to how they were reviewed for JOGG.

call for papers

Take a look at the articles published in this past year, since the founding of Surname DNA Journal.

The citizen science community needs an avenue to publish and share. Peer reviewed journals provide us with another level of credibility for our work. Sharing is clearly the lynchpin of genetic genealogy, as it is with traditional genealogy. Give some thought about what you might be able to contribute.

Brad Larkin solicited nominations prior to the conference and awarded a Genetic Genealogist of the Year award. This year’s award was dually presented to Ian Kennedy in Australia, who, unfortunately, was not present, and to CeCe Moore, who just happened to follow Brad’s presentation with her own.

Don’t Forget about Mitochondrial DNA Either

I believe that mitochondrial DNA the most underutilized DNA tool that we have, often because how to use mitochondrial DNA, and what it can tell you, is poorly understood. I wrote about this in an article titled, Mitochondrial, The Maligned DNA.

Given that I work with mitochondrial DNA daily when I’m preparing client’s Personalized DNA Reports (orderable from your personal page at Family Tree DNA or directly from my website), I know just how useful mitochondrial can be and see those examples regularly. Unfortunately, because these are client reports, I can’t write about them publicly.

CeCe Moore, however, isn’t constrained by this problem, because one of the ways she contributes to genetic genealogy is by working with the television community, in particular Genealogy Roadshow and the PBS series, Finding Your Roots. Now, I must admit, I was very surprised to see CeCe scheduled to speak about mitochondrial DNA, because the area of expertise where she is best known is autosomal DNA, especially in conjunction with adoptee research.

cece moore

cece mtdna

During the research for the production of these shows, CeCe has utilized mitochondrial DNA with multiple celebrities to provide information such as the ethnic identification of the ancestor who provided the mitochondrial DNA as Native American.

Autosomal DNA testing has a broad but shallow reach, across all of your lines, but just back a few generations.  Both Y and mitochondrial DNA have a very deep reach, but only on one specific line, which makes them excellent for identifying a common ancestor on that line, as well as the ethnicity of that individual.

I have seen other cases, where researchers connected the dots between people where no paper trail existed, but a relationship between women was suspected.

CeCe mentioned that currently there are only 44,000 full sequence results in the Family Tree DNA data base and and 185K total HVR1, HVR2 and full sequence tests. Y has half a million.  We need to increase the data base, which, of course increases matches and makes everyone happier.  If you haven’t tested your mitochondrial DNA to the full sequence level, this would be a great time!

There are several lessons on how to utilize mitochondrial DNA at this ISOGG link.

I’m very hopeful that CeCe’s presentation will be made available as I think her examples are quite powerful and will serve to inspire people.  Actually, since CeCe is in the “movie business,” perhaps a short video clip could be made available on the FTDNA website for anyone who hasn’t tested their mitochondrial DNA so they can see an example of why they should!

myOrigins

I would be fibbing to you if I told you I am happy with myOrigins. I don’t feel that it is as sensitive as other methods for picking up minority admixture, in particular, Native American, especially in small amounts.  Unfortunately, those small amounts are exactly what many people are looking for.

If someone has a great-great-great-great grandparent that is Native, they carry about 1%, more or less, of the Native ancestor’s DNA today. A 4X great grandparent puts their birth year in the range of 1800-1825 – or just before the Trail of Tears.  People whose colonial American families intermarried with Native families did so, generally, before the Trail of Tears.  By that time, many tribes were already culturally extinct and those east of the Mississippi that weren’t extinct were fighting for their lives, both literally and figuratively.

We really need the ability to develop the most sensitive testing to report even the smallest amounts of Native DNA and map those segments to our chromosomes so that we can determine who, and what line in our family, was Native.

I know that Family Tree DNA is looking to improve their products, and I provided this feedback to them. Many people test autosomally only for their ethnicity results and I surely would love to have those people’s results available as matches in the FTDNA data base.

Razib Khan has been working with Family Tree DNA on their myOrigins product and spoke about how the myOrigins data is obtained.

razib kahn

my origins pieces

Given that all humans are related, one way or another, far enough back in time, myOrigins has to be able to differentiate between groups that may not be terribly different. Furthermore, even groups that appear different today may not have been historically.  His own family, from India, has no oral history of coming from the East, but the genetic data clearly indicates that they did, along with a larger group, about 1000 years ago.  This may well be a result of the adage that history is written by the victors, or maybe whatever happened was simply too long ago or unremarkable to be recorded.

Razib mentioned that depending on the cluster and the reference samples, that these clusters and groups that we see on our myOrigins maps can range from 1000-10,000 years in age.

relatedness of clusters

The good news is that genetics is blind to any preconceived notions. The bad news is that the software has to fit your results to the best population, even though it may not be directly a fit.  Hopefully, as we have more and better reference populations, the results will improve as well.

my origin components

pca chart

Razib showed a PCA (principal components analysis) graph, above. These graphs chart reference populations in different quadrants.  Where the different populations overlap is where they share common historic ancestors.  As you can see, on this graph with these reference populations, there is a lot of overlap in some cases, and none in others.

Your personal results would then be plotted on top of the reference populations. The graph below shows me, as the white “target” on a PCA graph created by Doug McDonald.

my pca chart

The Changing Landscape

A topic discussed privately among the group, and primarily among the bloggers, is the changing landscape of genetic genealogy over the past year or so.  In many ways I think the bloggers are the canaries in the mine.

One thing that clearly happened is that the proverbial tipping point occurred, and we’re past it. DNA someplace along the line became mainstream.  Today, DNA is a household word.  At gatherings, at least someone has tested, and most people have heard about DNA testing for genealogy or at least consumer based DNA testing.

The good news in all of this is that more and more people are testing. The bad news is that they are typically less informed and are often impulse purchasers.  This gives us the opportunity for many more matches and to work with new people.  It also means there is a steep learning curve and those new testers often know little about their genealogy.  Those of us in the “public eye,” so to speak, have seen an exponential spike in questions and communications in the past several months.  Unfortunately, many of the new people don’t even attempt to help themselves before asking questions.

Sometimes opportunity comes with work clothes – for them and us both.

I was talking with Spencer about this at the reception and he told me I was stealing his presentation.  He didn’t seem too upset by this:)

spencer and me

I had to laugh, because this falls clearly into the “be careful what you wish for, you may get it” category. The Genographic project through National Geographic is clearly, very clearly, a critical component of the tipping point, and this was reflected in Spencer’s presentation.  Although I covered quite a bit of Spencer’s presentation in my day 2 summary, I want to close with Spencer here.  I also want to say that if you ever have the opportunity to hear Spencer speak, please do yourself the favor and be sure to take that opportunity.  Not only is he brilliant, he’s interesting, likeable and very approachable.  Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve know him now for 9 years!  I’ve never thought to have my picture taken with Spencer before, but this time, one of my friends did me the favor.

I have to admit, I love talking to Spencer, and listening to him. He is the adventurer through whom we all live vicariously.  In the photo below, Spencer along with his crew, drove from London to Mongolia.  Not sure why he is standing on the top of the Land Rover, but I’m sure he will tell us in his upcoming book about that journey,

spencer on roof

I’m warning you all now, if I win the lottery, I’m going on the world tour that he hosts with National Geographic, and of course, you’ll all be coming with me via the blog!

Spencer talked about the consumer genomics market and where we are today.

spencer genomics

Spencer mentioned that genetic genealogy was a cottage industry originally. It was, and it was even smaller than that, if possible.  It actually was started by Bennett and his cell phone.  I managed to snap a picture of Bennett this weekend on the stage looking at his cell, and I thought to myself, “this is how it all started 14 years ago.”  Just look where we are today.  Thank you Michael Hammer for telling Bennett that you received “lots of phone calls from crazy genealogists like you.”

bennett first office

So, where exactly are we today?  In 2013, the industry crossed the millionth kit line.  The second millionth kit was sold in early summer 2014 and the third million will be sold in 2015.  No wonder we feel like a tidal wave has hit.  It has.

Why now?

DNA has become part of national consciousness.  Businesses advertise that “it’s in our DNA.”  People are now comfortable sharing via social media like facebook and twitter.  What DNA can do and show you, the secrets it can unlock is spreading by word of mouth.  Spencer termed this the “viral spread threshold” and we’ve crossed that invisible line in the sand.  He terms 2013 as the year of infection and based on my blog postings, subscriptions, hits, reach and the number of e-mails I receive, I would completely agree.  Hold on tight for the ride!

Spencer talked about predictions for near term future and said a 5 year plan is impossible and that an 18 month plan is more realistic. He predicts that we will continue to see exponential growth over the next several years.  He feels that genetic genealogy testing will be primary driver of growth because medical or health testing is subject to the clinical utility trap being experienced currently by 23andMe.  The Big 4 testing companies control 99% of consumer market in US (Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and National Geographic.)

Spencer sees a huge international market potential that is not currently being tapped. I do agree with him, but many in European countries are hesitant, and in some places, like France, DNA testing that might expose paternity is illegal.  When Europeans see DNA testing as a genealogical tool, he feels they will become more interested.  Most Europeans know where their ancestral village is, or they think they do, so it doesn’t have the draw for them that it does for some of us.

Ancestry testing (aka genetic genealogy as opposed to health testing) is now a mature industry with 100% growth rate.

Spencer also mentioned that while the Genographic data base is not open access, that affiliate researchers can send Nat Geo a proposal and thereby gain research access to the data base if their proposal is approved. This extends to citizen scientists as well.

spencer near term

Michael Hammer

You’ll notice that Michael Hammer’s presentation, “Ancient and Modern DNA Update, How Many Ancestral Populations for Europe,” is missing from this wrapup. It was absolutely outstanding, and fascinating, which is why I’m writing a separate article about his presentation in conjunction with some additional information.  So, stay tuned.

Testing, More Testing

It’s becoming quite obvious that the people who are doing the best with genetic genealogy are the ones who are testing the most family members, both close and distant. That provides them with a solid foundation for comparison and better ways to “drop matches” into the right ancestor box.  For example, if someone matches you and your mother’s sister, Aunt Margaret, especially if your mother is not available to test, that’s a very important hint that your match is likely from your mother’s line.

So, in essence, while initially we would advise people to test the oldest person in a generational line, now we’ve moved to the “test everyone” mentality.  Instead of a survey, now we need a census.  The exception might be that the “child” does not necessarily need to be tested because both parents have tested.  However, having said that, I would perhaps not make that child’s test a priority, but I would eventually test that child anyway.  Why?  Because that’s how we learn.  Let me give you an example.

I was sitting at lunch with David Pike. were discussing autosomal DNA generational transmission and inheritance.  He pulled out his iPad, passed it to me, and showed me a chromosome (not the X) that has been passed entirely intact from one generation to the next.  Had the child not been tested, we would never have known that.  Now, of course, if you’ll remember the 50% rule, by statistical prediction, the child should get half of the mother’s chromosome and half of the father’s, but that’s not how it worked.  So, because we don’t know what we don’t know, I’m now testing everyone I can find and convince in my family.  Unfortunately, my family is small.

Full genome testing is in the future, but we’re not ready yet. Several presenters mentioned full genome testing in some context.  Here’s the bottom line.  It’s not truly full genome testing today, only 95-96%.  The technology isn’t there yet, and we’re still learning.  In a couple of years, we will have the entire genome available for testing, and over time, the prices will fall.  Keep in mind that most of our genome is identical to that of all humans, and the autosomal tests today have been developed in order to measure what is different and therefore useful genealogially.  I don’t expect big breakthroughs due to full genome testing for genetic genealogy, although I could be wrong.  You can, however, count me in, because I’m a DNA junkie.  When the full genome test is below $1000, when we have comparison tools and when the coverage won’t necessitate doing a second or upgrade test a few years later, I’ll be there.

Thank you

I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to Max Blankfeld and Bennett Grenspan, founders of Family Tree DNA, shown with me in the photo below, for hosting and subsidizing the administrator’s conference – now for a decade. I look forward to seeing them, and all of the other attendees, next year.

I anticipate that this next decade will see many new discoveries resulting in tools that make our genealogy walls fall.  I can’t help but wonder what the article I’ll be writing on the 20th anniversary looking back at nearly a quarter century of genetic genealogy will say!

roberta, max and bennett