Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going and What’s Important?

Not only have we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, thankfully, we’re at the 20-year, two-decade milestone. The point at which genetics was first added to the toolbox of genealogists.

It seems both like yesterday and forever ago. And yes, I’ve been here the whole time,  as a spectator, researcher, and active participant.

Let’s put this in perspective. On New Year’s Eve, right at midnight, in 2005, I was able to score kit number 50,000 at Family Tree DNA. I remember this because it seemed like such a bizarre thing to be doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But hey, we genealogists are what we are.

I knew that momentous kit number which seemed just HUGE at the time was on the threshold of being sold, because I had inadvertently purchased kit 49,997 a few minutes earlier.

Somehow kit 50,000 seemed like such a huge milestone, a landmark – so I quickly bought kits, 49,998, 49,999, and then…would I get it…YES…kit 50,000. Score!

That meant that in the 5 years FamilyTreeDNA had been in business, they had sold on an average of 10,000 kits per year, or 27 kits a day. Today, that’s a rounding error. Then it was momentous!

In reality, the sales were ramping up quickly, because very few kits were sold in 2000, and roughly 20,000 kits had been sold in 2005 alone. I know this because I purchased kit 28,429 during the holiday sale a year earlier.

Of course, I had no idea who I’d test with that momentous New Year’s Eve Y DNA kit, but I assuredly would find someone. A few months later, I embarked on a road trip to visit an elderly family member with that kit in tow. Thank goodness I did, and they agreed and swabbed on the spot, because they are gone today and with them, the story of the Y line and autosomal DNA of their branch.

In the past two decades, almost an entire generation has slipped away, and with them, an entire genealogical library held in their DNA.

Today, more than 40 million people have tested with the four major DNA testing companies, although we don’t know exactly how many.

Lots of people have had more time to focus on genealogy in 2020, so let’s take a look at what’s important? What’s going on and what matters beyond this month or year?

How has this industry changed in the last two decades, and where it is going?

Reflection

This seems like a good point to reflect a bit.

Professor Dan Bradley reflecting on early genetic research techniques in his lab at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College in Dublin. Photo by Roberta Estes

In the beginning – twenty years ago, there were two companies who stuck their toes in the consumer DNA testing water – Oxford Ancestors and Family Tree DNA. About the same time, Sorenson Genomics and GeneTree were also entering that space, although Sorenson was a nonprofit. Today, of those, only FamilyTreeDNA remains, having adapted with the changing times – adding more products, testing, and sophistication.

Bryan Sykes who founded Oxford Ancestors announced in 2018 that he was retiring to live abroad and subsequently passed away in 2020. The website still exists, but the company has announced that they have ceased sales and the database will remain open until Sept 30, 2021.

James Sorenson died in 2008 and the assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, including the Sorenson database, were sold to Ancestry in 2012. Eventually, Ancestry removed the public database in 2015.

Ancestry dabbled in Y and mtDNA for a while, too, destroying that database in 2014.

Other companies, too many to remember or mention, have come and gone as well. Some of the various company names have been recycled or purchased, but aren’t the same companies today.

In the DNA space, it was keep up, change, die or be sold. Of course, there was the small matter of being able to sell enough DNA kits to make enough money to stay in business at all. DNA processing equipment and a lab are expensive. Not just the equipment, but also the expertise.

The Next Wave

As time moved forward, new players entered the landscape, comprising the “Big 4” testing companies that constitute the ponds where genealogists fish today.

23andMe was the first to introduce autosomal DNA testing and matching. Their goal and focus was always medical genetics, but they recognized the potential in genealogists before anyone else, and we flocked to purchase tests.

Ancestry settled on autosomal only and relies on the size of their database, a large body of genealogy subscribers, and a widespread “feel-good” marketing campaign to sell DNA kits as the gateway to “discover who you are.”

FamilyTreeDNA did and still does offer all 3 kinds of tests. Over the years, they have enhanced both the Y DNA and mitochondrial product offerings significantly and are still known as “the science company.” They are the only company to offer the full range of Y DNA tests, including their flagship Big Y-700, full sequence mitochondrial testing along with matching for both products. Their autosomal product is called Family Finder.

MyHeritage entered the DNA testing space a few years after the others as the dark horse that few expected to be successful – but they fooled everyone. They have acquired companies and partnered along the way which allowed them to add customers (Promethease) and tools (such as AutoCluster by Genetic Affairs), boosting their number of users. Of course, MyHeritage also offers users a records research subscription service that you can try for free.

In summary:

One of the wonderful things that happened was that some vendors began to accept compatible raw DNA autosomal data transfer files from other vendors. Today, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch DO accept transfer files, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

The transfers and matching are free, but there are either minimal unlock or subscription plans for advanced features.

There are other testing companies, some with niche markets and others not so reputable. For this article, I’m focusing on the primary DNA testing companies that are useful for genealogy and mainstream companion third-party tools that complement and enhance those services.

The Single Biggest Change

As I look back, the single biggest change is that genetic genealogy evolved from the pariah of genealogy where DNA discussion was banned from the (now defunct) Rootsweb lists and summarily deleted for the first few years after introduction. I know, that’s hard to believe today.

Why, you ask?

Reasons varied from “just because” to “DNA is cheating” and then morphed into “because DNA might do terrible things like, maybe, suggest that a person really wasn’t related to an ancestor in a lineage society.”

Bottom line – fear and misunderstanding. Change is exceedingly difficult for humans, and DNA definitely moved the genealogy cheese.

From that awkward beginning, genetic genealogy organically became a “thing,” a specific application of genealogy. There was paper-trail traditional genealogy and then the genetic aspect. Today, for almost everyone, genealogy is “just another tool” in the genealogist’s toolbox, although it does require focused learning, just like any other tool.

DNA isn’t separate anymore, but is now an integral part of the genealogical whole. Having said that, DNA can’t solve all problems or answer all questions, but neither can traditional paper-trail genealogy. Together, each makes the other stronger and solves mysteries that neither can resolve alone.

Synergy.

I fully believe that we have still only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Inheritance

As we talk about the various types of DNA testing and tools, here’s a quick graphic to remind you of how the different types of DNA are inherited.

  • Y DNA is inherited paternally for males only and informs us of the direct patrilineal (surname) line.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by everyone from their mothers and informs us of the mother’s matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line.
  • Autosomal DNA can be inherited from potentially any ancestor in random but somewhat predictable amounts through both parents. The further back in time, the less identifiable DNA you’ll inherit from any specific ancestor. I wrote about that, here.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

Where should we be focused today and where is this industry going? What tools and articles popped up in 2020 to help further our genealogy addiction? I already published the most popular articles of 2020, here.

This industry started two decades ago with testing a few Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA markers, and we were utterly thrilled at the time. Both tests have advanced significantly and the prices have dropped like a stone. My first mitochondrial DNA test that tested only 400 locations cost more than $800 – back then.

Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA are still critically important to genetic genealogy. Both play unique roles and provide information that cannot be obtained through autosomal DNA testing. Today, relative to Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, the biggest challenge, ironically, is educating newer genealogists about their potential who have never heard about anything other than autosomal, often ethnicity, testing.

We have to educate in order to overcome the cacophony of “don’t bother because you don’t get as many matches.”

That’s like saying “don’t use the right size wrench because the last one didn’t fit and it’s a bother to reach into the toolbox.” Not to mention that if everyone tested, there would be a lot more matches, but I digress.

If you don’t use the right tool, and all of the tools at your disposal, you’re not going to get the best result possible.

The genealogical proof standard, the gold standard for genealogy research, calls for “a reasonably exhaustive search,” and if you haven’t at least considered if or how Y
DNA
and mitochondrial DNA along with autosomal testing can or might help, then your search is not yet exhaustive.

I attempt to obtain the Y and mitochondrial DNA of every ancestral line. In the article, Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates, I described several methodologies to find appropriate testing candidates.

Y DNA – 20 Years and Still Critically Important

Y DNA tracks the Y chromosome for males via the patrilineal (surname) line, providing matching and historical migration information.

We started 20 years ago testing 10 STR markers. Today, we begin at 37 markers, can upgrade to 67 or 111, but the preferred test is the Big Y which provides results for 700+ STR markers plus results from the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome in order to provide the most refined results. This allows genealogists to use STR markers and SNP results together for various aspects of genealogy.

I created a Y DNA resource page, here, in order to provide a repository for Y DNA information and updates in one place. I would encourage anyone who can to order or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test which provides critical lineage information in addition to and beyond traditional STR testing. Additionally, the Big Y-700 test helps build the Y DNA haplotree which is growing by leaps and bounds.

More new SNPs are found and named EVERY SINGLE DAY today at FamilyTreeDNA than were named in the first several years combined. The 2006 SNP tree listed a grand total of 459 SNPs that defined the Y DNA tree at that time, according to the ISOGG Y DNA SNP tree. Goran Rundfeldt, head of R&D at FamilyTreeDNA posted this today:

2020 was an awful year in so many ways, but it was an unprecedented year for human paternal phylogenetic tree reconstruction. The FTDNA Haplotree or Great Tree of Mankind now includes:

37,534 branches with 12,696 added since 2019 – 51% growth!
defined by
349,097 SNPs with 131,820 added since 2019 – 61% growth!

In just one year, 207,536 SNPs were discovered and assigned FT SNP names. These SNPs will help define new branches and refine existing ones in the future.

The tree is constructed based on high coverage chromosome Y sequences from:
– More than 52,500 Big Y results
– Almost 4,000 NGS results from present-day anonymous men that participated in academic studies

Plus an additional 3,000 ancient DNA results from archaeological remains, of mixed quality and Y chromosome coverage at FamilyTreeDNA.

Wow, just wow.

These three new articles in 2020 will get you started on your Y DNA journey!

Mitochondrial DNA – Matrilineal Line of Humankind is Being Rewritten

The original Oxford Ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA test tested 400 locations. The original Family Tree DNA test tested around 1000 locations. Today, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is standard, testing the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria.

Mitochondrial DNA tracks your mother’s direct maternal, or matrilineal line. I’ve created a mitochondrial DNA resource page, here that includes easy step-by-step instructions for after you receive your results.

New articles in 2020 included the introduction of The Million Mito Project. 2021 should see the first results – including a paper currently in the works.

The Million Mito Project is rewriting the haplotree of womankind. The current haplotree has expanded substantially since the first handful of haplogroups thanks to thousands upon thousands of testers, but there is so much more information that can be extracted today.

Y and Mitochondrial Resources

If you don’t know of someone in your family to test for Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA for a specific ancestral line, you can always turn to the Y DNA projects at Family Tree DNA by searching here.

The search provides you with a list of projects available for a specific surname along with how many customers with that surname have tested. Looking at the individual Y DNA projects will show the earliest known ancestor of the surname line.

Another resource, WikiTree lists people who have tested for the Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA lines of specific ancestors.

Click on images to enlarge

On the left side, my maternal great-grandmother’s profile card, and on the right, my paternal great-great-grandfather. You can see that someone has tested for the mitochondrial DNA of Nora (OK, so it’s me) and the Y DNA of John Estes (definitely not me.)

MitoYDNA, a nonprofit volunteer organization created a comparison tool to replace Ysearch and Mitosearch when they bit the dust thanks to GDPR.

MitoYDNA accepts uploads from different sources and allows uploaders to not only match to each other, but to view the STR values for Y DNA and the mutation locations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions of mitochondrial DNA. Mags Gaulden, one of the founders, explains in her article, What sets mitoYDNA apart from other DNA Databases?.

If you’ve tested at nonstandard companies, not realizing that they didn’t provide matching, or if you’ve tested at a company like Sorenson, Ancestry, and now Oxford Ancestors that is going out of business, uploading your results to mitoYDNA is a way to preserve your investment. PS – I still recommend testing at FamilyTreeDNA in order to receive detailed results and compare in their large database.

CentiMorgans – The Word of Two Decades

The world of autosomal DNA turns on the centimorgan (cM) measure. What is a centimorgan, exactly? I wrote about that unit of measure in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab.

Fortunately, new tools and techniques make using cMs much easier. The Shared cM Project was updated this year, and the results incorporated into a wonderfully easy tool used to determine potential relationships at DNAPainter based on the number of shared centiMorgans.

Match quality and potential relationships are determined by the number of shared cMs, and the chromosome browser is the best tool to use for those comparisons.

Chromosome Browser – Genetics Tool to View Chromosome Matches

Chromosome browsers allow testers to view their matching cMs of DNA with other testers positioned on their own chromosomes.

My two cousins’ DNA where they match me on chromosomes 1-4, is shown above in blue and red at Family Tree DNA. It’s important to know where you match cousins, because if you match multiple cousins on the same segment, from the same side of your family (maternal or paternal), that’s suggestive of a common ancestor, with a few caveats.

Some people feel that a chromosome browser is an advanced tool, but I think it’s simply standard fare – kind of like driving a car. You need to learn how to drive initially, but after that, you don’t even think about it – you just get in and go. Here’s help learning how to drive that chromosome browser.

Triangulation – Science Plus Group DNA Matching Confirms Genealogy

The next logical step after learning to use a chromosome browser is triangulation. If fact, you’re seeing triangulation above, but don’t even realize it.

The purpose of genetic genealogy is to gather evidence to “prove” ancestral connections to either people or specific ancestors. In autosomal DNA, triangulation occurs when:

  • You match at least two other people (not close relatives)
  • On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA (generally 7 cM or greater)
  • And you can assign that segment to a common ancestor

The same two cousins are shown above, with triangulated segments bracketed at MyHeritage. I’ve identified the common ancestor with those cousins that those matching DNA segments descend from.

MyHeritage’s triangulation tool confirms by bracketing that these cousins also match each other on the same segment, which is the definition of triangulation.

I’ve written a lot about triangulation recently.

If you’d prefer a video, I recorded a “Top Tips” Facebook LIVE with MyHeritage.

Why is Ancestry missing from this list of triangulation articles? Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or segment information. Therefore, you can’t triangulate at Ancestry. You can, however, transfer your Ancestry DNA raw data file to either FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch, all three of which offer triangulation.

Step by step download/upload transfer instructions are found in this article:

Clustering Matches and Correlating Trees

Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, we can no longer depend on the major vendors to provide all of the tools that genealogists want and need.

Of course, I would encourage you to stay with mainstream products being used by a significant number of community power users. As with anything, there is always someone out there that’s less than honorable.

2020 saw a lot of innovation and new tools introduced. Maybe that’s one good thing resulting from people being cooped up at home.

Third-party tools are making a huge difference in the world of genetic genealogy. My favorites are Genetic Affairs, their AutoCluster tool shown above, DNAPainter and DNAGedcom.

These articles should get you started with clustering.

If you like video resources, here’s a MyHeritage Facebook LIVE that I recorded about how to use AutoClusters:

I created a compiled resource article for your convenience, here:

I have not tried a newer tool, YourDNAFamily, that focuses only on 23andMe results although the creator has been a member of the genetic genealogy community for a long time.

Painting DNA Makes Chromosome Browsers and Triangulation Easy

DNAPainter takes the next step, providing a repository for all of your painted segments. In other words, DNAPainter is both a solution and a methodology for mass triangulation across all of your chromosomes.

Here’s a small group of people who match me on the same maternal segment of chromosome 1, including those two cousins in the chromosome browser and triangulation sections, above. We know that this segment descends from Philip Jacob Miller and his wife because we’ve been able to identify that couple as the most distant ancestor intersection in all of our trees.

It’s very helpful that DNAPainter has added the functionality of painting all of the maternal and paternal bucketed matches from Family Tree DNA.

All you need to do is to link your known matches to your tree in the proper place at FamilyTreeDNA, then they do the rest by using those DNA matches to indicate which of the rest of your matches are maternal and paternal. Instructions, here. You can then export the file and use it at DNAPainter to paint all of those matches on the correct maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an article providing all of the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources.

DNA Matches Plus Trees Enhance Genealogy

Of course, utilizing DNA matching plus finding common ancestors in trees is one of the primary purposes of genetic genealogy – right?

Vendors have linked the steps of matching DNA with matching ancestors in trees.

Genetic Affairs take this a step further. If you don’t have an ancestor in your tree, but your matches have common ancestors with each other, Genetic Affairs assembles those trees to provide you with those hints. Of course, that common ancestor might not be relevant to your genealogy, but it just might be too!

click to enlarge

This tree does not include me, but two of my matches descend from a common ancestor and that common ancestor between them might be a clue as to why I match both of them.

Ethnicity Continues to be Popular – But Is No Shortcut to Genealogy

Ethnicity is always popular. People want to “do their DNA” and find out where they come from. I understand. I really do. Who doesn’t just want an answer?

Of course, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to people who test for that purpose with high expectations. Hopefully, ethnicity will pique their curiosity and encourage engagement.

All four major vendors rolled out updated ethnicity results or related tools in 2020.

The future for ethnicity, I believe, will be held in integrated tools that allow us to use ethnicity results for genealogy, including being able to paint our ethnicity on our chromosomes as well as perform segment matching by ethnicity.

For example, if I carry an African segment on chromosome 1 from my father, and I match one person from my mother’s side and one from my father’s side on that same segment – one or the other of those people should also have that segment identified as African. That information would inform me as to which match is paternal and which is maternal

Not only that, this feature would help immensely tracking ancestors back in time and identifying their origins.

Will we ever get there? I don’t know. I’m not sure ethnicity is or can be accurate enough. We’ll see.

Transition to Digital and Online

Sometimes the future drags us kicking and screaming from the present.

With the imposed isolation of 2020, conferences quickly moved to an online presence. The genealogy community has all pulled together to make this work. The joke is that 2020’s most used phrase is “can you hear me?” I can vouch for that.

Of course while the year 2020 is over, the problem isn’t and is extending at least through the first half of 2021 and possibly longer. Conferences are planned months, up to a year, in advance and they can’t turn on a dime, so don’t even begin to expect in-person conferences until either late in 2021 or more likely, 2022 if all goes well this year.

I expect the future will eventually return to in-person conferences, but not entirely.

Finding ways to be more inclusive allows people who don’t want to or can’t travel or join in-person to participate.

I’ve recorded several sessions this year, mostly for 2021. Trust me, these could be a comedy, mostly of errors😊

I participated in four MyHeritage Facebook LIVE sessions in 2020 along with some other amazing speakers. This is what “live” events look like today!

Screenshot courtesy MyHeritage

A few days ago, I asked MyHeritage for a list of their LIVE sessions in 2020 and was shocked to learn that there were more than 90 in English, all free, and you can watch them anytime. Here’s the MyHeritage list.

By the way, every single one of the speakers is a volunteer, so say a big thank you to the speakers who make this possible, and to MyHeritage for the resources to make this free for everyone. If you’ve ever tried to coordinate anything like this, it’s anything but easy.

Additonally, I’ve created two Webinars this year for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Geoff Rasmussen put together the list of their top webinars for 2020, and I was pleased to see that I made the top 10! I’m sure there are MANY MORE you’d be interested in watching. Personally, I’m going to watch #6 yet today! Also, #9 and #22. You can always watch new webinars for free for a few days, and you can subscribe to watch all webinars, here.

The 2021 list of webinar speakers has been announced here, and while I’m not allowed to talk about something really fun that’s upcoming, let’s just say you definitely have something to look forward to in the springtime!

Also, don’t forget to register for RootsTech Connect which is entirely online and completely free, February 25-27, here.

Thank you to Penny Walters for creating this lovely graphic.

There are literally hundreds of speakers providing sessions in many languages for viewers around the world. I’ve heard the stats, but we can’t share them yet. Let me just say that you will be SHOCKED at the magnitude and reach of this conference. I’m talking dumbstruck!

During one of our zoom calls, one of the organizers says it feels like we’re constructing the plane as we’re flying, and I can confirm his observation – but we are getting it done – together! All hands on deck.

I’ll be presenting an advanced session about triangulation as well as a mini-session in the FamilySearch DNA Resource Center about finding your mother’s ancestors. I’ll share more information as it’s released and I can.

Companies and Owners Come & Go

You probably didn’t even notice some of these 2020 changes. Aside from the death of Bryan Sykes (RIP Bryan,) the big news and the even bigger unknown is the acquisition of Ancestry by Blackstone. Recently the CEO, Margo Georgiadis announced that she was stepping down. The Ancestry Board of Directors has announced an external search for a new CEO. All I can say is that very high on the priority list should be someone who IS a genealogist and who understands how DNA applies to genealogy.

Other changes included:

In the future, as genealogy and DNA testing becomes ever more popular and even more of a commodity, company sales and acquisitions will become more commonplace.

Some Companies Reduced Services and Cut Staff

I understand this too, but it’s painful. The layoffs occurred before Covid, so they didn’t result from Covid-related sales reductions. Let’s hope we see renewed investment after the Covid mess is over.

In a move that may or may not be related to an attempt to cut costs, Ancestry removed 6 and 7 cM matches from their users, freeing up processing resources, hardware, and storage requirements and thereby reducing costs.

I’m not going to beat this dead horse, because Ancestry is clearly not going to move on this issue, nor on that of the much-requested chromosome browser.

Later in the year, 23andMe also removed matches and other features, although, to their credit, they have restored at least part of this functionality and have provided ethnicity updates to V3 and V4 kits which wasn’t initially planned.

It’s also worth noting that early in 2020, 23andMe laid off 100 people as sales declined. Since that time, 23andMe has increasingly pushed consumers to pay to retest on their V5 chip.

About the same time, Ancestry also cut their workforce by about 6%, or about 100 people, also citing a slowdown in the consumer testing market. Ancestry also added a health product.

I’m not sure if we’ve reached market saturation or are simply seeing a leveling off. I wrote about that in DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons.

Of course, the pandemic economy where many people are either unemployed or insecure about their future isn’t helping.

The various companies need some product diversity to survive downturns. 23andMe is focused on medical research with partners who pay 23andMe for the DNA data of customers who opt-in, as does Ancestry.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage provide subscription services for genealogy records.

FamilyTreeDNA is part of a larger company, GenebyGene whose genetics labs do processing for other companies and medical facilities.

A huge thank you to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA for NOT reducing services to customers in 2020.

Scientific Research Still Critical & Pushes Frontiers

Now that DNA testing has become a commodity, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that DNA testing is still a scientific endeavor that requires research to continue to move forward.

I’m still passionate about research after 20 years – maybe even more so now because there’s so much promise.

Research bleeds over into the consumer marketplace where products are improved and new features created allowing us to better track and understand our ancestors through their DNA that we and our family members inherit.

Here are a few of the research articles I published in 2020. You might notice a theme here – ancient DNA. What we can learn now due to new processing techniques is absolutely amazing. Labs can share files and information, providing the ability to “reprocess” the data, not the DNA itself, as more information and expertise becomes available.

Of course, in addition to this research, the Million Mito Project team is hard at work rewriting the tree of womankind.

If you’d like to participate, all you need to do is to either purchase a full sequence mitochondrial DNA kit at FamilyTreeDNA, or upgrade to the full sequence if you tested at a lower level previously.

Predictions

Predictions are risky business, but let me give it a shot.

Looking back a year, Covid wasn’t on the radar.

Looking back 5 years, neither Genetic Affairs nor DNAPainter were yet on the scene. DNAAdoption had just been formed in 2014 and DNAGedcom which was born out of DNAAdoption didn’t yet exist.

In other words, the most popular tools today didn’t exist yet.

GEDmatch, founded in 2010 by genealogists for genealogists was 5 years old, but was sold in December 2019 to Verogen.

We were begging Ancestry for a chromosome browser, and while we’ve pretty much given up beating them, because the horse is dead and they can sell DNA kits through ads focused elsewhere, that doesn’t mean genealogists still don’t need/want chromosome and segment based tools. Why, you’d think that Ancestry really doesn’t want us to break through those brick walls. That would be very bizarre, because every brick wall that falls reveals two more ancestors that need to be researched and spurs a frantic flurry of midnight searching. If you’re laughing right now, you know exactly what I mean!

Of course, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser, it would cost development money for no additional revenue and their customer service reps would have to be able to support it. So from Ancestry’s perspective, there’s no good reason to provide us with that tool when they can sell kits without it. (Sigh.)

I’m not surprised by the management shift at Ancestry, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see several big players go public in the next decade, if not the next five years.

As companies increase in value, the number of private individuals who could afford to purchase the company decreases quickly, leaving private corporations as the only potential buyers, or becoming publicly held. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because investment dollars are infused into new product development.

What we desperately need, and I predict will happen one way or another is a marriage of individual tools and functions that exist separately today, with a dash of innovation. We need tools that will move beyond confirming existing ancestors – and will be able to identify ancestors through our DNA – out beyond each and every brick wall.

If a tester’s DNA matches to multiple people in a group descended from a particular previously unknown couple, and the timing and geography fits as well, that provides genealogical researchers with the hint they need to begin excavating the traditional records, looking for a connection.

In fact, this is exactly what happened with mitochondrial DNA – twice now. A match and a great deal of digging by one extremely persistent cousin resulting in identifying potential parents for a brick-wall ancestor. Autosomal DNA then confirmed that my DNA matched with 59 other individuals who descend from that couple through multiple children.

BUT, we couldn’t confirm those ancestors using autosomal DNA UNTIL WE HAD THE NAMES of the couple. DNA has the potential to reveal those names!

I wrote about that in Mitochondrial DNA Bulldozes Brick Wall and will be discussing it further in my RootsTech presentation.

The Challenge

We have most of the individual technology pieces today to get this done. Of course, the combined technological solution would require significant computing resources and processing power – just at the same time that vendors are desperately trying to pare costs to a minimum.

Some vendors simply aren’t interested, as I’ve already noted.

However, the winner, other than us genealogists, of course, will be the vendor who can either devise solutions or partner with others to create the right mix of tools that will combine matching, triangulation, and trees of your matches to each other, even if you don’t’ share a common ancestor.

We need to follow the DNA past the current end of the branch of our tree.

Each triangulated segment has an individual history that will lead not just to known ancestors, but to their unknown ancestors as well. We have reached critical mass in terms of how many people have tested – and more success would encourage more and more people to test.

There is a genetic path over every single brick wall in our genealogy.

Yes, I know that’s a bold statement. It’s not future Jetson’s flying-cars stuff. It’s doable – but it’s a matter of commitment, investment money, and finding a way to recoup that investment.

I don’t think it’s possible for the one-time purchase of a $39-$99 DNA test, especially when it’s not a loss-leader for something else like a records or data subscription (MyHeritage and Ancestry) or a medical research partnership (Ancestry and 23andMe.)

We’re performing these analysis processes manually and piecemeal today. It’s extremely inefficient and labor-intensive – which is why it often fails. People give up. And the process is painful, even when it does succeed.

This process has also been made increasingly difficult when some vendors block tools that help genealogists by downloading match and ancestral tree information. Before Ancestry closed access, I was creating theories based on common ancestors in my matches trees that weren’t in mine – then testing those theories both genetically (clusters, AutoTrees and ThruLines) and also by digging into traditional records to search for the genetic connection.

For example, I’m desperate to identify the parents of my James Lee Clarkson/Claxton, so I sorted my spreadsheet by surname and began evaluating everyone who had a Clarkson/Claxton in their tree in the 1700s in Virginia or North Carolina. But I can’t do that anymore now, either with a third-party tool or directly at Ancestry. Twenty million DNA kits sold for a minimum of $79 equals more than 1.5 billion dollars. Obviously, the issue here is not a lack of funds.

Including Y and mitochondrial DNA resources in our genetic toolbox not only confirms accuracy but also provides additional hints and clues.

Sometimes we start with Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA, and wind up using autosomal and sometimes the reverse. These are not competing products. It’s not either/or – it’s *and*.

Personally, I don’t expect the vendors to provide this game-changing complex functionality for free. I would be glad to pay for a subscription for top-of-the-line innovation and tools. In what other industry do consumers expect to pay for an item once and receive constant life-long innovations and upgrades? That doesn’t happen with software, phones nor with automobiles. I want vendors to be profitable so that they can invest in new tools that leverage the power of computing for genealogists to solve currently unsolvable problems.

Every single end-of-line ancestor in your tree represents a brick wall you need to overcome.

If you compare the cost of books, library visits, courthouse trips, and other research endeavors that often produce exactly nothing, these types of genetic tools would be both a godsend and an incredible value.

That’s it.

That’s the challenge, a gauntlet of sorts.

Who’s going to pick it up?

I can’t answer that question, but I can say that 23andMe can’t do this without supporting extensive trees, and Ancestry has shown absolutely no inclination to support segment data. You can’t achieve this goal without segment information or without trees.

Among the current players, that leaves two DNA testing companies and a few top-notch third parties as candidates – although – as the past has proven, the future is uncertain, fluid, and everchanging.

It will be interesting to see what I’m writing at the end of 2025, or maybe even at the end of 2021.

Stay tuned.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Y DNA Resources and Repository

I’ve created a Y DNA resource page with the information in this article, here, as a permanent location where you can find Y DNA information in one place – including:

  • Step-by-step guides about how to utilize Y DNA for your genealogy
  • Educational articles and links to the latest webinars
  • Articles about the science behind Y DNA
  • Ancient DNA
  • Success stories

Please feel free to share this resource or any of the links to individual articles with friends, genealogy groups, or on social media.

If you haven’t already taken a Y DNA test, and you’re a male (only males have a Y chromosome,) you can order one here. If you also purchase the Family Finder, autosomal test, those results can be used to search together.

What is Y DNA?

Y DNA is passed directly from fathers to their sons, as illustrated by the blue arrow, above. Daughters do not inherit the Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is what makes males, male.

Every son receives a Y chromosome from his father, who received it from his father, and so forth, on up the direct patrilineal line.

Comparatively, mitochondrial DNA, the pink arrow, is received by both sexes of children from the mother through the direct matrilineal line.

Autosomal DNA, the green arrow, is a combination of randomly inherited DNA from many ancestors that is inherited by both sexes of children from both parents. This article explains a bit more.

Y DNA has Unique Properties

The Y chromosome is never admixed with DNA from the mother, so the Y chromosome that the son receives is identical to the father’s Y chromosome except for occasional minor mutations that take place every few generations.

This lack of mixture with the mother’s DNA plus the occasional mutation is what makes the Y chromosome similar enough to match against other men from the same ancestors for hundreds or thousands of years back in time, and different enough to be useful for genealogy. The mutations can be tracked within extended families.

In western cultures, the Y chromosome path of inheritance is usually the same as the surname, which means that the Y chromosome is uniquely positioned to identify the direct biological patrilineal lineage of males.

Two different types of Y DNA tests can be ordered that work together to refine Y DNA results and connect testers to other men with common ancestors.

FamilyTreeDNA provides STR tests with their 37, 67 and 111 marker test panels, and comprehensive STR plus SNP testing with their Big Y-700 test.

click to enlarge

STR markers are used for genealogy matching, while SNP markers work with STR markers to refine genealogy further, plus provide a detailed haplogroup.

Think of a haplogroup as a genetic clan that tells you which genetic family group you belong to – both today and historically, before the advent of surnames.

This article, What is a Haplogroup? explains the basic concept of how haplogroups are determined.

In addition to the Y DNA test itself, Family Tree DNA provides matching to other testers in their database plus a group of comprehensive tools, shown on the dashboard above, to help testers utilize their results to their fullest potential.

You can order or upgrade a Y DNA test, here. If you also purchase the Family Finder, autosomal test, those results can be used to search together.

Step-by-Step – Using Your Y DNA Results

Let’s take a look at all of the features, functions, and tools that are available on your FamilyTreeDNA personal page.

What do those words mean? Here you go!

Come along while I step through evaluating Big Y test results.

Big Y Testing and Results

Why would you want to take a Big Y test and how can it help you?

While the Big Y-500 has been superseded by the Big Y-700 test today, you will still be interested in some of the underlying technology. STR matching still works the same way.

The Big Y-500 provided more than 500 STR markers and the Big Y-700 provides more than 700 – both significantly more than the 111 panel. The only way to receive these additional markers is by purchasing the Big Y test.

I have to tell you – I was skeptical when the Big Y-700 was introduced as the next step above the Big Y-500. I almost didn’t upgrade any kits – but I’m so very glad that I did. I’m not skeptical anymore.

This Y DNA tree rocks. A new visual format with your matches listed on their branches. Take a look!

Educational Articles

I’ve been writing about DNA for years and have selected several articles that you may find useful.

What kinds of information are available if you take a Y DNA test, and how can you use it for genealogy?

What if your father isn’t available to take a DNA test? How can you determine who else to test that will reveal your father’s Y DNA information?

Family Tree DNA shows the difference in the number of mutations between two men as “genetic distance.” Learn what that means and how it’s figured in this article.

Of course, there were changes right after I published the original Genetic Distance article. The only guarantees in life are death, taxes, and that something will change immediately after you publish.

Sometimes when we take DNA tests, or others do, we discover the unexpected. That’s always a possibility. Here’s the story of my brother who wasn’t my biological brother. If you’d like to read more about Dave’s story, type “Dear Dave” into the search box on my blog. Read the articles in publication order, and not without a box of Kleenex.

Often, what surprise matches mean is that you need to dig further.

The words paternal and patrilineal aren’t the same thing. Paternal refers to the paternal half of your family, where patrilineal is the direct father to father line.

Just because you don’t have any surname matches doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of what you’re thinking.

Short tandem repeats (STRs) and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) aren’t the same thing and are used differently in genealogy.

Piecing together your ancestor’s Y DNA from descendants.

Haplogroups are something like our pedigree charts.

What does it mean when you have a zero for a marker value?

There’s more than one way to break down that brick wall. Here’s how I figured out which of 4 sons was my ancestor.

Just because you match the right line autosomally doesn’t mean it’s because you descend from the male child you think is your ancestor. Females gave their surnames to children born outside of a legal marriage which can lead to massive confusion. This is absolutely why you need to test the Y DNA of every single ancestral line.

When the direct patrilineal line isn’t the line you’re expecting.

You can now tell by looking at the flags on the haplotree where other people’s ancestral lines on your branch are from. This is especially useful if you’ve taken the Big Y test and can tell you if you’re hunting in the right location.

If you’re just now testing or tested in 2018 or after, you don’t need to read this article unless you’re interested in the improvements to the Big Y test over the years.

2019 was a banner year for discovery. 2020 was even more so, keeping up an amazing pace. I need to write a 2020 update article.

What is a terminal SNP? Hint – it’s not fatal😊

How the TIP calculator works and how to best interpret the results. Note that this tool is due for an update that incorporates more markers and SNP results too.

You can view the location of the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA ancestors of people whose ethnicity you match.

Tools and Techniques

This free public tree is amazing, showing locations of each haplogroup and totals by haplogroup and country, including downstream branches.

Need to search for and find Y DNA candidates when you don’t know anyone from that line? Here’s how.

Yes, it’s still possible to resolve this issue using autosomal DNA. Non-matching Y DNA isn’t the end of the road, just a fork.

Science Meets Genealogy – Including Ancient DNA

Haplogroup C was an unexpected find in the Americas and reaches into South America.

Haplogroup C is found in several North American tribes.

Haplogroup C is found as far east as Nova Scotia.

Test by test, we made progress.

New testers, new branches. The research continues.

The discovery of haplogroup A00 was truly amazing when it occurred – the base of the phylotree in Africa.

The press release about the discovery of haplogroup A00.

In 2018, a living branch of A00 was discovered in Africa, and in 2020, an ancient DNA branch.

Did you know that haplogroups weren’t always known by their SNP names?

This brought the total of SNPs discovered by Family Tree DNA in mid-2018 to 153,000. I should contact the Research Center to see how many they have named at the end of 2020.

An academic paper split ancient haplogroup D, but then the phylogenetic research team at FamilyTreeDNA split it twice more! This might not sound exciting until you realize this redefines what we know about early man, in Africa and as he emerged from Africa.

Ancient DNA splits haplogroup P after analyzing the remains of two Jehai people from West Malaysia.

For years I doubted Kennewick Man’s DNA would ever be sequenced, but it finally was. Kennewick Man’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is X2a and his Y DNA was confirmed to Q-M3 in 2015.

Compare your own DNA to Vikings!

Twenty-seven Icelandic Viking skeletons tell a very interesting story.

Irish ancestors? Check your DNA and see if you match.

Ancestors from Hungary or Italy? Take a look. These remains have matches to people in various places throughout Europe.

The Y DNA story is no place near finished. Dr. Miguel Vilar, former Lead Scientist for National Geographic’s Genographic Project provides additional analysis and adds a theory.

Webinars

Y DNA Webinar at Legacy Family Tree Webinars – a 90-minute webinar for those who prefer watching to learn! It’s not free, but you can subscribe here.

Success Stories and Genealogy Discoveries

Almost everyone has their own Y DNA story of discovery. Because the Y DNA follows the surname line, Y DNA testing often helps push those lines back a generation, or two, or four. When STR markers fail to be enough, we can turn to the Big Y-700 test which provides SNP markers down to the very tip of the leaves in the Y DNA tree. Often, but not always, family-defining SNP branches will occur which are much more stable and reliable than STR mutations – although SNPs and STRs should be used together.

Methodologies to find ancestral lines to test, or maybe descendants who have already tested.

DNA testing reveals an unexpected mystery several hundred years old.

When I write each of my “52 Ancestor” stories, I include genetic information, for the ancestor and their descendants, when I can. Jacob was special because, in addition to being able to identify his autosomal DNA, his Y DNA matches the ancient DNA of the Yamnaya people. You can read about his Y DNA story in Jakob Lenz (1748-1821), Vinedresser.

Please feel free to add your success stories in the comments.

What About You?

You never know what you’re going to discover when you test your Y DNA. If you’re a female, you’ll need to find a male that descends from the line you want to test via all males to take the Y DNA test on your behalf. Of course, if you want to test your father’s line, your father, or a brother through that father, or your uncle, your father’s brother, would be good candidates.

What will you be able to discover? Who will the earliest known ancestor with that same surname be among your matches? Will you be able to break down a long-standing brick wall? You’ll never know if you don’t test.

You can click here to upgrade an existing test or order a Y DNA test.

Share the Love

You can always forward these articles to friends or share by posting links on social media. Who do you know that might be interested?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

2018 – The Year of the Segment

Looking in the rear view mirror, what a year! Some days it’s been hard to catch your breath things have been moving so fast.

What were the major happenings, how did they affect genetic genealogy and what’s coming in 2019?

The SNiPPY Award

First of all, I’m giving an award this year. The SNiPPY.

Yea, I know it’s kinda hokey, but it’s my way of saying a huge thank you to someone in this field who has made a remarkable contribution and that deserves special recognition.

Who will it be this year?

Drum roll…….

The 2018 SNiPPY goes to…

DNAPainter – The 2018 SNiPPY award goes to DNAPainter, without question. Applause, everyone, applause! And congratulations to Jonny Perl, pictured below at Rootstech!

Jonny Perl created this wonderful, visual tool that allows you to paint your matches with people on your chromosomes, assigning the match to specific ancestors.

I’ve written about how to use the tool  with different vendors results and have discovered many different ways to utilize the painted segments. The DNA Painter User Group is here on Facebook. I use DNAPainter EVERY SINGLE DAY to solve a wide variety of challenges.

What else has happened this year? A lot!

Ancient DNA – Academic research seldom reports on Y and mitochondrial DNA today and is firmly focused on sequencing ancient DNA. Ancient genome sequencing has only recently been developed to a state where at least some remains can be successfully sequenced, but it’s going great guns now. Take a look at Jennifer Raff’s article in Forbes that discusses ancient DNA findings in the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia and perhaps most surprising, a first generation descendant of a Neanderthal and a Denisovan.

From Early human dispersals within the Americas by Moreno-Mayer et al, Science 07 Dec 2018

Inroads were made into deeper understanding of human migration in the Americas as well in the paper Early human dispersals within the Americas by Moreno-Mayer et al.

I look for 2019 and on into the future to hold many more revelations thanks to ancient DNA sequencing as well as using those sequences to assist in understanding the migration patterns of ancient people that eventually became us.

Barbara Rae-Venter and the Golden State Killer Case

Using techniques that adoptees use to identify their close relatives and eventually, their parents, Barbara Rae-Venter assisted law enforcement with identifying the man, Joseph DeAngelo, accused (not yet convicted) of being the Golden State Killer (GSK).

A very large congratulations to Barbara, a retired patent attorney who is also a genealogist. Nature recognized Ms. Rae-Venter as one of 2018’s 10 People Who Mattered in Science.

DNA in the News

DNA is also represented on the 2018 Nature list by Viviane Slon, a palaeogeneticist who discovered an ancient half Neanderthal, half Denisovan individual and sequenced their DNA and He JianKui, a Chinese scientist who claims to have created a gene-edited baby which has sparked widespread controversy. As of the end of the year, He Jiankui’s research activities have been suspended and he is reportedly sequestered in his apartment, under guard, although the details are far from clear.

In 2013, 23andMe patented the technology for designer babies and I removed my kit from their research program. I was concerned at the time that this technology knife could cut two ways, both for good, eliminating fatal disease-causing mutations and also for ethically questionable practices, such as eugenics. I was told at the time that my fears were unfounded, because that “couldn’t be done.” Well, 5 years later, here we are. I expect the debate about the ethics and eventual regulation of gene-editing will rage globally for years to come.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA was also in the news when she took a DNA test in response to political challenges. I wrote about what those results meant scientifically, here. This topic became highly volatile and politicized, with everyone seeming to have a very strongly held opinion. Regardless of where you fall on that opinion spectrum (and no, please do not post political comments as they will not be approved), the topic is likely to surface again in 2019 due to the fact that Elizabeth Warren has just today announced her intention to run for President. The good news is that DNA testing will likely be discussed, sparking curiosity in some people, perhaps encouraging them to test. The bad news is that some of the discussion may be unpleasant at best, and incorrect click-bait at worst. We’ve already had a rather unpleasant sampling of this.

Law Enforcement and Genetic Genealogy

The Golden State Killer case sparked widespread controversy about using GedMatch and potentially other genetic genealogy data bases to assist in catching people who have committed violent crimes, such as rape and murder.

GedMatch, the database used for the GSK case has made it very clear in their terms and conditions that DNA matches may be used for both adoptees seeking their families and for other uses, such as law enforcement seeking matches to DNA sequenced during a criminal investigation. Since April 2018, more than 15 cold case investigations have been solved using the same technique and results at GedMatch. Initially some people removed their DNA from GedMatch, but it appears that the overwhelming sentiment, based on uploads, is that people either aren’t concerned or welcome the opportunity for their DNA matches to assist apprehending criminals.

Parabon Nanolabs in May established a genetic genealogy division headed by CeCe Moore who has worked in the adoptee community for the past several years. The division specializes in DNA testing forensic samples and then assisting law enforcement with the associated genetic genealogy.

Currently, GedMatch is the only vendor supporting the use of forensic sample matching. Neither 23anMe nor Ancestry allow uploaded data, and MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA’s terms of service currently preclude this type of use.

MyHeritage

Wow talk about coming onto the DNA world stage with a boom.

MyHeritage went from a somewhat wobbly DNA start about 2 years ago to rolling out a chromosome browser at the end of January and adding important features such as SmartMatching which matches your DNA and your family trees. Add triangulation to this mixture, along with record matching, and you’re got a #1 winning combination.

It was Gilad Japhet, the MyHeritage CEO who at Rootstech who christened 2018 “The Year of the Segment,” and I do believe he was right. Additionally, he announced that MyHeritage partnered with the adoption community by offering 15,000 free kits to adoptees.

In November, MyHeritage hosted MyHeritage LIVE, their first user conference in Oslo, Norway which focused on both their genealogical records offerings as well as DNA. This was a resounding success and I hope MyHeritage will continue to sponsor conferences and invest in DNA. You can test your DNA at MyHeritage or upload your results from other vendors (instructions here). You can follow my journey and the conference in Olso here, here, here, here and here.

GDPR

GDPR caused a lot of misery, and I’m glad the implementation is behind us, but the the ripples will be affecting everyone for years to come.

GDPR, the European Data Protection Regulation which went into effect on May 25,  2018 has been a mixed and confusing bag for genetic genealogy. I think the concept of users being in charge and understanding what is happened with their data, and in this case, their data plus their DNA, is absolutely sound. The requirements however, were created without any consideration to this industry – which is small by comparison to the Googles and Facebooks of the world. However, the Googles and Facebooks of the world along with many larger vendors seem to have skated, at least somewhat.

Other companies shut their doors or restricted their offerings in other ways, such as World Families Network and Oxford Ancestors. Vendors such as Ancestry and Family Tree DNA had to make unpopular changes in how their users interface with their software – in essence making genetic genealogy more difficult without any corresponding positive return. The potential fines, 20 million plus Euro for any company holding data for EU residents made it unwise to ignore the mandates.

In the genetic genealogy space, the shuttering of both YSearch and MitoSearch was heartbreaking, because that was the only location where you could actually compare Y STR and mitochondrial HVR1/2 results. Not everyone uploaded their results, and the sites had not been updated in a number of years, but the closure due to GDPR was still a community loss.

Today, mitoydna.org, a nonprofit comprised of genetic genealogists, is making strides in replacing that lost functionality, plus, hopefully more.

On to more positive events.

Family Tree DNA

In April, Family Tree DNA announced a new version of the Big Y test, the Big Y-500 in which at least 389 additional STR markers are included with the Big Y test, for free. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive between 389 and 439 new markers, depending on how many STR markers above 111 have quality reads. All customers are guaranteed a minimum of 500 STR markers in total. Matching was implemented in December.

These additional STR markers allow genealogists to assemble additional line marker mutations to more granularly identify specific male lineages. In other words, maybe I can finally figure out a line marker mutation that will differentiate my ancestor’s line from other sons of my founding ancestor😊

In June, Family Tree DNA announced that they had named more than 100,000 SNPs which means many haplogroup additions to the Y tree. Then, in September, Family Tree DNA published their Y haplotree, with locations, publicly for all to reference.

I was very pleased to see this development, because Family Tree DNA clearly has the largest Y database in the industry, by far, and now everyone can reap the benefits.

In October, Family Tree DNA published their mitochondrial tree publicly as well, with corresponding haplogroup locations. It’s nice that Family Tree DNA continues to be the science company.

You can test your Y DNA, mitochondrial or autosomal (Family Finder) at Family Tree DNA. They are the only vendor offering full Y and mitochondrial services complete with matching.

2018 Conferences

Of course, there are always the national conferences we’re familiar with, but more and more, online conferences are becoming available, as well as some sessions from the more traditional conferences.

I attended Rootstech in Salt Lake City in February (brrrr), which was lots of fun because I got to meet and visit with so many people including Mags Gaulden, above, who is a WikiTree volunteer and writes at Grandma’s Genes, but as a relatively expensive conference to attend, Rootstech was pretty miserable. Rootstech has reportedly made changes and I hope it’s much better for attendees in 2019. My attendance is very doubtful, although I vacillate back and forth.

On the other hand, the MyHeritage LIVE conference was amazing with both livestreamed and recorded sessions which are now available free here along with many others at Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Family Tree University held a Virtual DNA Conference in June and those sessions, along with others, are available for subscribers to view.

The Virtual Genealogical Association was formed for those who find it difficult or impossible to participate in local associations. They too are focused on education via webinars.

Genetic Genealogy Ireland continues to provide their yearly conference sessions both livestreamed and recorded for free. These aren’t just for people with Irish genealogy. Everyone can benefit and I enjoy them immensely.

Bottom line, you can sit at home and educate yourself now. Technology is wonderful!

2019 Conferences

In 2019, I’ll be speaking at the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, Journey of Discovery, in St. Charles, providing the Special Thursday Session titled “DNA: King Arthur’s Mighty Genetic Lightsaber” about how to use DNA to break through brick walls. I’ll also see attendees at Saturday lunch when I’ll be providing a fun session titled “Twists and Turns in the Genetic Road.” This is going to be a great conference with a wonderful lineup of speakers. Hope to see you there.

There may be more speaking engagements at conferences on my 2019 schedule, so stay tuned!

The Leeds Method

In September, Dana Leeds publicized The Leeds Method, another way of grouping your matches that clusters matches in a way that indicates your four grandparents.

I combine the Leeds method with DNAPainter. Great job Dana!

Genetic Affairs

In December, Genetic Affairs introduced an inexpensive subscription reporting and visual clustering methodology, but you can try it for free.

I love this grouping tool. I have already found connections I didn’t know existed previously. I suggest joining the Genetic Affairs User Group on Facebook.

DNAGedcom.com

I wrote an article in January about how to use the DNAGedcom.com client to download the trees of all of your matches and sort to find specific surnames or locations of their ancestors.

However, in December, DNAGedcom.com added another feature with their new DNAGedcom client just released that downloads your match information from all vendors, compiles it and then forms clusters. They have worked with Dana Leeds on this, so it’s a combination of the various methodologies discussed above. I have not worked with the new tool yet, as it has just been released, but Kitty Cooper has and writes about it here.  If you are interested in this approach, I would suggest joining the Facebook DNAGedcom User Group.

Rootsfinder

I have not had a chance to work with Rootsfinder beyond the very basics, but Rootsfinder provides genetic network displays for people that you match, as well as triangulated views. Genetic networks visualizations are great ways to discern patterns. The tool creates match or triangulation groups automatically for you.

Training videos are available at the website and you can join the Rootsfinder DNA Tools group at Facebook.

Chips and Imputation

Illumina, the chip maker that provides the DNA chips that most vendors use to test changed from the OmniExpress to the GSA chip during the past year. Older chips have been available, but won’t be forever.

The newer GSA chip is only partially compatible with the OmniExpress chip, providing limited overlap between the older and the new results. This has forced the vendors to use imputation to equalize the playing field between the chips, so to speak.

This has also caused a significant hardship for GedMatch who is now in the position of trying to match reasonably between many different chips that sometimes overlap minimally. GedMatch introduced Genesis as a sandbox beta version previously, but are now in the process of combining regular GedMatch and Genesis into one. Yes, there are problems and matching challenges. Patience is the key word as the various vendors and GedMatch adapt and improve their required migration to imputation.

DNA Central

In June Blaine Bettinger announced DNACentral, an online monthly or yearly subscription site as well as a monthly newsletter that covers news in the genetic genealogy industry.

Many educators in the industry have created seminars for DNACentral. I just finished recording “Getting the Most out of Y DNA” for Blaine.

Even though I work in this industry, I still subscribed – initially to show support for Blaine, thinking I might not get much out of the newsletter. I’m pleased to say that I was wrong. I enjoy the newsletter and will be watching sessions in the Course Library and the Monthly Webinars soon.

If you or someone you know is looking for “how to” videos for each vendor, DNACentral offers “Now What” courses for Ancestry, MyHeritage, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Living DNA in addition to topic specific sessions like the X chromosome, for example.

Social Media

2018 has seen a huge jump in social media usage which is both bad and good. The good news is that many new people are engaged. The bad news is that people often given faulty advice and for new people, it’s very difficult (nigh on impossible) to tell who is credible and who isn’t. I created a Help page for just this reason.

You can help with this issue by recommending subscribing to these three blogs, not just reading an article, to newbies or people seeking answers.

Always feel free to post links to my articles on any social media platform. Share, retweet, whatever it takes to get the words out!

The general genetic genealogy social media group I would recommend if I were to select only one would be Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques. It’s quite large but well-managed and remains positive.

I’m a member of many additional groups, several of which are vendor or interest specific.

Genetic Snakeoil

Now the bad news. Everyone had noticed the popularity of DNA testing – including shady characters.

Be careful, very VERY careful who you purchase products from and where you upload your DNA data.

If something is free, and you’re not within a well-known community, then YOU ARE THE PRODUCT. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it sounds shady or questionable, it’s probably that and more, or less.

If reputable people and vendors tell you that no, they really can’t determine your Native American tribe, for example, no other vendor can either. Just yesterday, a cousin sent me a link to a “tribe” in Canada that will, “for $50, we find one of your aboriginal ancestors and the nation stamps it.” On their list of aboriginal people we find one of my ancestors who, based on mitochondrial DNA tests, is clearly NOT aboriginal. Snake oil comes in lots of flavors with snake oil salesmen looking to prey on other people’s desires.

When considering DNA testing or transfers, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions, where your DNA is going, who is doing what with it, and your recourse. Yes, read every single word of those terms and conditions. For more about legalities, check out Judy Russell’s blog.

Recommended Vendors

All those DNA tests look yummy-good, but in terms of vendors, I heartily recommend staying within the known credible vendors, as follows (in alphabetical order).

For genetic genealogy for ethnicity AND matching:

  • 23andMe
  • Ancestry
  • Family Tree DNA
  • GedMatch (not a vendor because they don’t test DNA, but a reputable third party)
  • MyHeritage

You can read about Which DNA Test is Best here although I need to update this article to reflect the 2018 additions by MyHeritage.

Understand that both 23andMe and Ancestry will sell your DNA if you consent and if you consent, you will not know who is using your DNA, where, or for what purposes. Neither Family Tree DNA, GedMatch, MyHeritage, Genographic Project, Insitome, Promethease nor LivingDNA sell your DNA.

The next group of vendors offers ethnicity without matching:

  • Genographic Project by National Geographic Society
  • Insitome
  • LivingDNA (currently working on matching, but not released yet)

Health (as a consumer, meaning you receive the results)

Medical (as a contributor, meaning you are contributing your DNA for research)

  • 23andMe
  • Ancestry
  • DNA.Land (not a testing vendor, doesn’t test DNA)

There are a few other niche vendors known for specific things within the genetic genealogy community, many of whom are mentioned in this article, but other than known vendors, buyer beware. If you don’t see them listed or discussed on my blog, there’s probably a reason.

What’s Coming in 2019

Just like we couldn’t have foreseen much of what happened in 2018, we don’t have access to a 2019 crystal ball, but it looks like 2019 is taking off like a rocket. We do know about a few things to look for:

  • MyHeritage is waiting to see if envelope and stamp DNA extractions are successful so that they can be added to their database.
  • www.totheletterDNA.com is extracting (attempting to) and processing DNA from stamps and envelopes for several people in the community. Hopefully they will be successful.
  • LivingDNA has been working on matching since before I met with their representative in October of 2017 in Dublin. They are now in Beta testing for a few individuals, but they have also just changed their DNA processing chip – so how that will affect things and how soon they will have matching ready to roll out the door is unknown.
  • Ancestry did a 2018 ethnicity update, integrating ethnicity more tightly with Genetic Communities, offered genetic traits and made some minor improvements this year, along with adding one questionable feature – showing your matches the location where you live as recorded in your profile. (23andMe subsequently added the same feature.) Ancestry recently said that they are promising exciting new tools for 2019, but somehow I doubt that the chromosome browser that’s been on my Christmas list for years will be forthcoming. Fingers crossed for something new and really useful. In the mean time, we can download our DNA results and upload to MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch for segment matching, as well as utilize Ancestry’s internal matching tools. DNA+tree matching, those green leaf shared ancestor hints, is still their strongest feature.
  • The Family Tree DNA Conference for Project Administrators will be held March 22-24 in Houston this year, and I’m hopeful that they will have new tools and announcements at that event. I’m looking forward to seeing many old friends in Houston in March.

Here’s what I know for sure about 2019 – it’s going to be an amazing year. We as a community and also as individual genealogists will be making incredible discoveries and moving the ball forward. I can hardly wait to see what quandaries I’ve solved a year from now.

What mysteries do you want to unravel?

I’d like to offer a big thank you to everyone who made 2018 wonderful and a big toast to finding lots of new ancestors and breaking down those brick walls in 2019.

Happy New Year!!!

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James Watson TED Talk on How He Discovered DNA

Did you know that James Watson wanted to be an ornithologist?  I didn’t know that.  There are other surprises as well in Watson’s TED talk including his focus on cancer, autism and schizophrenia research.

His TED talk is interesting, and believe it or not, humorous.  Enjoy!

watson and crick

Above, a picture of Watson and Crick at Cambridge.

Below, Watson as a member of the RNA Tie Club.

RNA tie club

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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Homo Naledi – A New Species Discovered

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Johannesburg, South Africa has once again produced bones.  Previous finds, nearly one third of all ancient hominin fossils found, date to 3.5 million years of age.  This new find may be the bones of our ancestor, but regardless, they certainly are the bones of a new, previously unknown, species.

The announcement came this week and articles can be seen online in several locations.  The National Geographic Society is a partner in the excavation and retrieval of the bones from a very difficult cave, Rising Star, through only a very small opening following a precipitous decline.  Stated bluntly – this is a “scare the hell out of you” cave.  Not exactly convenient or inviting.

Rising Star Cave

“Dinaledi Chamber illustration” by Paul H. G. M. Dirks et al – http://elifesciences.org/content/4/e09561. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dinaledi_Chamber_illustration.jpg#/media/File:Dinaledi_Chamber_illustration.jpg

There was more than one skeleton present.  In this article and video from the New York Times, you can see that many bones were recovered, quite obviously from multiple individuals.  More than 1550 in total – representing at least 15 different individuals.  How did they get in this extremely remote cave with very limited access in the first place? And why?

Is this a separate species from ours, or our ancestors?  How long ago did they live, and where do they fit on the family tree?  The scientists are now referring to the ancient family tree as a braided stream – a river that divides into channels only to converge again later.

These announcements are being followed by a special on Nova/National Geographic Special titled the “Dawn of Humanity” which premieres on Sept. 16, 2015 at 9 PM ET/8 Central on PBS and is streaming online now.  This documentary details the discovery and excavation of the fossils in the cave including Homo Naledi.

In the mean time, take a look at this wonderful article, chock full of pictures of course, by National Geographic.  If you subscribe to the National Geographic magazine, guess what will be on the cover of the October issue???

This article in New Scientist has a great reconstruction of the Homo Naledi skull, and states that no attempt has yet been made to extract DNA.  I continue to remind myself that patience is a virtue.

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

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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.

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

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

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

More ancient DNA samples for comparison:

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

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

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

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

http://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.

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

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

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

http://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.

http://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.

http://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.

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

http://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!

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

Thank you so much.

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Kostenki14 – A New Ancient Siberian DNA Sample

k14 skeleton

This week, published in Science, we find another ancient DNA full genome sequence from Siberia in an article titled “Genomic structure in Europeans dating back at least 36,200 years” by Seguin-Orlando et al.. This sample, partially shown above, is quite old and closely related to the Mal’ta child, also found in Siberia from about 24,000 years ago. Interestingly enough, K14 carries more Neanderthal DNA than current Europeans. This skeleton was actually excavated in 1954, but was only recently genetically analyzed.

k14 mapFrom the paper, this map above shows the locations of recently analyzed ancient DNA samples.  Note that even though K14 and Mal’ta child are similar, they are not located in close geographic proximity.

k14 population clusterAlso from the paper, this chart of population clusters is quite interesting, because we can see which of these ancient samples share some heritage with today’s indigenous American populations, shown in grey. UPGH=Upper Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherer, MHG=Mesolithic Hunter Gatherer, which is later in time that Paleolithic, and NEOL=Neolithic indicating the farming population that arrived in Europe approximately 7,000-10,000 years ago from the Middle East

You can see that the Neolithic samples show no trace of ancestry with today’s Native people, but both pre-Neolithic Hunter-Gatherer cultures show some amount of shared ancestry with Native people. However, to date, MA1, the Malta child is the most closely related and carries the most DNA in common with today’s Native people.

Felix Chandrakumar is currently preparing the K14 genome for addition to the ancient DNA kits at GedMatch.  It will be interesting to see if this sample also matches currently living individuals.

Also from the K14 paper, you can see on the map below where K14 matches current worldwide and European populations, where the warmer colors, i.e. red, indicated a closer match.

K14 population matches

Of interest to genealogists and population geneticists, K14’s mitochondrial haplogroup is U2 and his Y haplogroup is C-M130, the same as LaBrana, a late Mesolithic hunter-gatherer found in northern Spain. Haplogroup C is, of course, one of the base haplogroups for the Native people of the Americas.

The K14 paper further fleshes out the new peopling of Europe diagram discussed in my Peopling of Europe article.

This map, from the Lazardis “Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans” paper published in September 2014, shows the newly defined map including Ancient North Eurasian in this diagram.

Lazaridis tree

K14 adds to this diagram in the following manner, although the paths are flipped right to left.

K14 tree

Blue represent current populations, red are ancient remains and green are ancestral populations.

Dienekes wrote about this find as well, here.

Paper Abstract:

The origin of contemporary Europeans remains contentious. We obtain a genome sequence from Kostenki 14 in European Russia dating to 38,700 to 36,200 years ago, one of the oldest fossils of Anatomically Modern Humans from Europe. We find that K14 shares a close ancestry with the 24,000-year-old Mal’ta boy from central Siberia, European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, some contemporary western Siberians, and many Europeans, but not eastern Asians. Additionally, the Kostenki 14 genome shows evidence of shared ancestry with a population basal to all Eurasians that also relates to later European Neolithic farmers. We find that Kostenki 14 contains more Neandertal DNA that is contained in longer tracts than present Europeans. Our findings reveal the timing of divergence of western Eurasians and East Asians to be more than 36,200 years ago and that European genomic structure today dates back to the Upper Paleolithic and derives from a meta-population that at times stretched from Europe to central Asia.

You can read the full paper at the two links below.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2014/11/05/science.aaa0114

http://www2.zoo.cam.ac.uk/manica/ms/2014_Seguin_Orlando_et_al_Science.pdf

It’s been a great year for ancient DNA analysis and learning about our ancestral human populations.

However, I have one observation I just have to make about this particular find.

What amazing teeth. Obviously, this culture did not consume sugar!

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

Thank you so much.

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Big Y DNA Results Divide and Unite Haplogroup Q Native Americans

featherOne of my long standing goals has been to resurrect the lost heritage of the Native American people.  By this I mean, primarily, for genealogists who search for and can’t find  their Native ancestors.  My blog, www.nativeheritageproject.com, is one of the ways that I contribute towards that end.  Many times, records are buried, don’t exist at all, or don’t reflect anything about Native heritage.  While documents can be somewhat evasive and frustratingly vague, the Y DNA of the male descendants is not.  It’s rock solid.

The Native communities became admixed beginning with the first visits of Europeans to what would become the Americas.  Native people accepted mixed race individuals as full tribal members, based on the ethnicity of the mother.  Adoption also played a key role.  If a female, the mother, was an adopted white child, the mother was considered to be fully Native, as was her child, regardless of the ethnicity of the father.

Therefore, some people who test their DNA expecting to find Native genetics do not – they instead find European or African – but that alone does not mean that their ancestors were not tribal members.  It means that these individuals have to rely on non-genetic records to prove their ancestors Native heritage – or they need to test a different line – like the descendants of the mother, through all females, for example, for mitochondrial DNA.

On the other hand, some people are quite surprised when their DNA results come back as Native.  Many have heard a vague story, but often, they don’t have a clue as to which genealogical line, if any, the Native ancestry originated.  Native ancestry was often hidden because the laws that prevailed at the time sanctioned discrimination of many kinds against people “of color,” and if you weren’t entirely of European origin, you were “of color.”  Many admixed people, as soon as they could, “became” white socially and never looked back. Not until recently, the late 20th century, when discrimination had for the most part become a thing of the past and one could embrace their Native or African heritage without fear of legal or social reprisal.

Back in December of 2010, we found the defining SNP that divided haplogroup Q between Europeans and Native Americans.  At the time, this was a huge step forward, a collaboration between testing participants, haplogroup administrators, citizen scientists and Family Tree DNA.

This allowed us to determine who was, and was not included in Native American haplogroups, but it was also the tip of the iceberg.  You can see below just how much the tree has expanded and its branches have been shuffled.  This is a big part of the reason for the change from haplogroup names like Q1a3 to Q-M346.  For example, at one time or another the SNP M3 was associated with haplogroup names Q1a3a, Q1a3a1 and Q1a3a1a.  On the ISOGG tree below, today M3 is associated with Q1a2a1a1.

isogg q tree

The new Family Tree DNA 2014 tree is shown below for one of the Big Y participants whose terminal SNP is L568, found beneath SNP CTS1780 which is found beneath L4, which is beneath L213 which is beneath L474 which is beneath MEH2 which is beneath L232 which is, finally, beneath M242.

ftdna 2014 q tree

The introduction of the Big Y product from Family Tree DNA, which sequences a large portion of the Y chromosome, provided us with the opportunity to make huge strides in unraveling and deciphering the haplogroup Q (and C, the other male Native haplogroup in the Americas) tree.  I am hopeful that in time, and with enough people taking the Big Y test, that we will one day be able to at least sort participants into language and perhaps migration groups.

In November, 2013, we asked for the public and testers to support our call for funds to be able to order several Big Y tests.  The project administrators intentionally did not order tests in family groups, but attempted to scatter the tests to the far corners, so to speak, and to include at least one person from each disparate group we have in the haplogroup Q project, based on STR matches, or lack thereof, and previous SNP testing.

Thanks to the generosity of contributors, we were able to order several tests.  In addition, some participants were able to order their own tests, and did.  Thank you one and all.

The tests are back now, and with the new Big Y SNP matching, recently introduced by Family Tree DNA, comparisons are a LOT easier.

So, of course, I had to see what I could find by comparing the SNP results of the several gentlemen who tested.

To protect the privacy of everyone involved, I have reduced their names to initials.  I have included their terminal SNP as identified at Family Tree DNA as well as any tribal, ethnic or location information we have available for their most distant paternal ancestor.

There are two individuals who believe their ancestors are from Europe, and there is a very large group of European haplogroup Q members, but I’m not convinced that the actual biological ancestors of these two gentlemen are from Europe.  I have included both of these individuals as well. Let’s just say the jury is still out. As a control, I have also included a gentleman who actually lives in Poland.

native match clusters

Of the individuals above, SD, CT and CM are SNP matches.

CD, WJS and WBS are SNP matches with each other.

BG and ETW are also SNP matches to each other.

None of the rest of these individuals have SNP matches.  (Note, you can click to enlarge the chart.)

native snp matches

In the table above, the Non-Matching Known SNPs are shown with the number of Shared Novel Variants.  For example, SD and CT have 4 non-matching SNPS and share 161 Novel Variants and are noted as 4/161.

We can easily tell which of the known SNPs are nonmatching, because they are shown on the participants match page.

snp matches page

What we don’t know, and can’t tell, is how many Novel Variants these people share with each other, and how many they might share with the individuals that aren’t shown as matches.

Keep in mind that there may be individuals here that are not shown as matches to due no-calls.  Only people with up to and including 4 non-matching Known SNPs are counted as matches.  If you have the wrong combination of no-calls, or, aren’t in the same terminal haplogroup, you may not be shown as a match when you otherwise would be.

The other reason for my intense interest in the Novel Variants is to see if they are actually Novel, as in found only in a few people, or if they are more widespread.

I downloaded each person’s Novel Variants through the Export Utility (blue button to the right at the top of your personal page,) and combined the Novel Variants into a single spreadsheet.  I colorized each person’s result rows so that they would be easy to track.  I have redacted their names. The white row, below, is the individual who lives in Poland.

novel variant 1

There are a total of 3506 Novel Variants between these men.  When sorting, many clustered as you would expect.  There is the Algonguian group and what I’ve taken to calling the Borderlands group.  This group has someone whose ancestor was born in VA and two in SC.  I have documentation for the Virginia family having descendants in SC, so that makes sense.  The third group is an unusual combination of the gentleman who believes his ancestors are from Germany and the gentleman whose ancestors are found in a New Mexico Pueblo tribe, but whose ancestor was, likely, based on church records, a detribalized Plains Indian who had been kidnapped and sold.

Clusters that I felt needed some scrutiny, for one reason or another, I highlighted in yellow in the Terminal SNP column.  Obviously the Polish/Pueblo matching needs some attention.

Another very interesting type of match are several where either all or nearly all of the individuals share a Novel Variant – 15 or 16 of 16 total participants.  I don’t think these will remain Novel Variants very long.  They clearly need to be classified as SNPs.  I’m not sure about the process that Family Tree DNA will use to do this, but I’ll be finding out shortly.

Here’s an example where everyone shares this Novel Variant at location 7688075,except the gentleman who lives in Poland, the man who believes his ancestor is from Germany, and the Creek descendant.

novel variant 2

I was very surprised at how many Novel Variants appear in all 16 results of the participants, including the gentleman who lives in Poland – represented by the white row below.

novel variant 3

So, how were the Novel Variants distributed?

Category # of Variants Comments
Algonquian Group 140 This is to be expected since it’s within a specific group.  Any matches that include people outside the 3 Algonquian individuals are counted in a separate category.  These matches give us the ability to classify anyone who tests with these marker results as provisionally Algonquian.
Borderlands 83 This confirms that these three individuals are indeed a “group” of some sort.  This also gives us the ability to classify future participants using these mutations.
All or Nearly All – 15 or 16 Participants 80 These are clearly candidates for SNPs, and, given that they are found in the Native and the European groups, they appear to predate the division of haplogroup Q.
Several Native and European, Combined 45 This may or may not include the person who lives in Poland.  This group needs additional scrutiny to determine if it actually does exist in Europe, but given that there are more than 3 individuals with each of these Novel Variants, they need to be considered for SNPhood.
Pueblo/NC 1
Poland/Borderlands 2
Mexico/Algonquian 2
German/Pueblo 9 I wonder if this person is actually German.
Poland/Mexico 20 I wonder if this person’s ancestors are actually from Poland.
Algonquian, NC, Creek 1
Borderland, Mexico, Creek 1
Algonquian/Cherokee 1
All Native, no Euro 2
Algonquian, Borderlands, Mexico, NC 1
Algonquian, Mexico, Borderlands 1
Borderlands, Pueblo 1
Borderlands, Creek, NC 1
Algonquian, Cherokee, Mexico 3
Algonquian, Pueblo, Creek, Borderlands 1
Cherokee, NC 2
Algonquian, Borderlands 2
Borderlands, NC 1
Algonquian, NC 1
Polish/NC 10

Some of this distribution makes me question if these SNP mutations truly are a “once in the history of mankind” kind of thing.  For example, how did the same SNP appear in the Polish person and the NC person, or the Pueblo person, and not in the rest of the Native people?

New SNPs?

So, are you sitting down?

Based on these numbers, it looks like we have at least 125 new SNP candidates for  haplogroup Q.  If we count the Algonquian and the Borderlands groups of matches, that number rises to about 250.  This is very exciting.  Far, far more than I ever expected.  of these SNPS, about half will identify Native people, even Native groupings of people.  This is a huge step forward, a red letter day for Native American ancestry!

SNPs and STRs

Lastly, I wanted to see how the SNP matching compared to STR matching, or if it did at all, for these men.

Only two men match each other on any STR markers.  CD and WJS matched on 12 markers, but not on higher panels.  The TIP calculator estimated their common ancestor at the 50th percentile to be 17 generations, or between 425 and 510 years ago.  We all know how unrealistic it is to depend on the TIP calculator, but it’s the only tool we have in situations like this.

Given that these are the only two men who do match on STR markers, albeit distantly, in a genealogical timeframe, let’s see what the estimates using the 150 years per SNP mutation comes up with.  This estimate is just that, devised by the haplogroup R-U106 project administrators, and others, based on their project findings.  150 years is actually the high end of the estimate, 98 being the lower end.  Of course, different haplogroups may vary and these results are very early.  Just saying.

CD has 207 high quality Novel Variants.  He shares 188 of those with WJS, leaving 19 unshared Novel Variants.  Utilizing this number, and multiplying by 150, this suggests that, if the 150 years per SNP is anyplace close to accurate, their common ancestor lived about 2850 years ago.  If you presume that both men are incurring mutations at the same rate in their independent lines, then you would divide the number of years in half, so the common ancestor would be more likely 1425 years ago.  If you use 100 years instead of 150, the higher number of years is 1900 and the half number is about 950 years.

It’s fun to speculate a bit, but until a lot more study has occurred, we won’t be able to reasonably estimate SNP age or age to common ancestor from this information.   Having said all of that, it’s not a long stretch from 710 years to 950 years.

It looks like STR markers are still the way to go for genealogical matching and that SNPS may help to pull together the deeper ancestry, migration patterns and perhaps define family lines.  I hope the day comes soon that I can order the Big Y for lots more project members.  Most of these men do have STR marker matches, and to men with both the same and different surnames.  I’d love to see the Big Y results for those individuals who match more closely in time.

This is still the tip of the iceberg.  There is a lot left to discover!  If you or a family member have haplogroup Q results, please consider ordering the Big Y.  It would make a wonderful gift and a great way to honor your ancestors!

You can also contribute to the American Indian project at this link:

https://www.familytreedna.com/group-general-fund-contribution.aspx?g=AIP

In order to donate to the haplogroup C-P39 project which also includes Native Americans, please click this link:

http://www.familytreedna.com/group-general-fund-contribution.aspx?g=Y-DNAC-P39

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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That Unruly X….Chromosome That Is

Iceberg

Something is wrong with the X chromosome.  More specifically, something is amiss with trying to use it, the way we normally use recombinant chromosomes for genealogy.  In short, there’s a problem.

If you don’t understand how the X chromosome recombines and is passed from generation to generation, now would be a good time to read my article, “X Marks the Spot” about how this works.  You’ll need this basic information to understand what I’m about to discuss.

The first hint of this “problem” is apparent in Jim Owston’s “Phasing the X Chromosome” article.  Jim’s interest in phasing his X, or figuring out where it came from genealogically, was spurred by his lack of X matches with his brothers.  This is noteworthy, because men don’t inherit any X from their father, so Jim’s failure to share much of his X with his brothers meant that he had inherited most of his X from just one of his mother’s parents, and his brothers inherited theirs from the other parent.  Utilizing cousins, Jim was able to further phase his X, meaning to attribute portions to the various grandparents from whence it came.  After doing this work, Jim said the following”

“Since I can only confirm the originating grandparent of 51% my X-DNA, I tend to believe (but cannot confirm at the present) that my X-chromosome may be an exact copy of my mother’s inherited X from her mother. If this is the case, I would not have inherited any X-DNA from my grandfather. This would also indicate that my brother Chuck’s X-DNA is 97% from our grandfather and only 3% from our grandmother. My brother John would then have 77% of his X-DNA from our grandfather and 23% from our grandmother.”

As a genetic genealogist, at the time Jim wrote this piece, I was most interested in the fact that he had phased or attributed the pieces of the X to specific ancestors and the process he used to do that.  I found the very skewed inheritance “interesting” but basically attributed it to an anomaly.  It now appears that this is not an anomaly.  It was, instead the tip of the iceberg and we didn’t recognize it as such.  Let’s look at what we would normally expect.

Recombination

The X chromosome does recombine when it can, or at least has the capacity to do so.  This means that a female who receives an X from both her father and mother receives a recombined X from her mother, but receives an X that is not recombined from her father.  That is because her father only receives one X, from his mother, so he has nothing to recombine with.  In the mother, the X recombines “in the normal way” meaning that parts of both her mother’s and her father’s X are given to her children, or at least that opportunity exists.  If you’re beginning to see some “weasel words” here or “hedge betting,” that’s because we’ve discovered that things aren’t always what they seem or could be.

The 50% Rule

In the statistical world of DNA, on the average, we believe that each generation receives roughly half of the DNA of the generations before them.  We know that each child absolutely receives 50% of the DNA of both parents, but how the grandparents DNA is divided up into that 50% that goes to each offspring differs.  It may not be 50%.  I am in the process of doing a generational inheritance study, which I will publish soon, which discusses this as a whole.

However, let’s use the 50% rule here, because it’s all we have and it’s what we’ve been working with forever.

In a normal autosomal, meaning non-X, situation, every generation provides to the current generation the following approximate % of DNA:

Autosomal % chart

Please note Blaine Bettinger’s X maternal inheritance chart percentages from his “More X-Chromosome Charts” article, and used with his kind permission in the X Marks the Spot article.

Blaine's maternal X %

I’m enlarging the inheritance percentage portion so you can see it better.

Blaine's maternal X % cropped

Taking a look at these percentages, it becomes evident that we cannot utilize the normal predictive methods of saying that if we share a certain percentage of DNA with an individual, then we are most likely a specific relationship.  This is because the percentage of X chromosome inherited varies based on the inheritance path, since men don’t receive an X from their fathers.  Not only does this mean that you receive no X from many ancestors, you receive a different percentage of the X from your maternal grandmother, 25%, because your mother inherited an X from both of her parents, versus from your paternal grandmother, 50%, because your father inherited an X from only his mother.

The Genetic Kinship chart, below, from the ISOGG wiki, is the “Bible” that we use in terms of estimating relationships.  It doesn’t work for the X.

Mapping cousin chart

Let’s look at the normal autosomal inheritance model as compared to the maternal X chart fan chart percentages, above, and similar calculations for the paternal side.  Remember, the Maternal Only column applies only to men, because in the very first generation, men’s and women’s inheritance percentages diverge.  Men receive 100% of their X from their mothers, while women receive 50% from each parent.

Generational X %s

Recombination – The Next Problem

The genetic genealogy community has been hounding Family Tree DNA incessantly to add the X chromosome matching into their Family Finder matching calculations.

On January 2, 2014, they did exactly that.  What’s that old saying, “Be careful what you ask for….”  Well, we got it, but “it” doesn’t seem to be providing us with exactly what we expected.

First, there were many reports of women having many more matches than men.  That’s to be expected at some level because women have so many more ancestors in the “mix,” especially when matching other women.

23andMe takes this unique mixture into consideration, or at least attempts to compensate for it at some level.  I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing or if it’s useful, truthfully.  While their normal autosomal SNP matching threshold is 7cM and 700 matching SNPs within that segment, for X, their thresholds are:

  • Male matched to male – 1cM/200 SNPs
  • Male matched to female – 6cM/600 SNPs
  • Female matched to female – 6cM/1200 SNPs

Family Tree DNA does not use the X exclusively for matching.  This means that if you match someone utilizing their normal autosomal matching criteria of approximately 7.7cM and 500 SNPs, and you match them on the X chromosome, they will report your X as matching.  If you don’t match someone on any chromosome except the X, you will not be reported as a match.

The X matching criteria at Family Tree DNA is:

  • 1cM/500 SNPs

However, matching isn’t all of the story.

The X appears to not recombine normally.  By normally, I don’t mean something is medically wrong, I mean that it’s not what we are expecting to see in terms of the 50% rule.  In essence, we would expect to see approximately half of the X of each parent, grandfather and grandmother, passed on to the child from the mother in the maternal line where recombination is a possibility.  That appears to not be happening reliably.  Not only is this not happening in the nice neat 50% number, the X chromosome seems to be often not recombining at all.  If you think the percentages in the chart above threw a monkey wrench into genetic genealogy predictions, this information, if it holds up in a much larger test, in essence throws our predictive capability, at least as we know it today, out the window.

The X Doesn’t Recombine as Expected

In my generational study, I noticed that the X seemed not to be recombining.  Then I remembered something that Matt Dexter said at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November 2013 in Houston.  Matt has the benefit of having a full 3 generation pedigree chart where everyone has been tested, and he has 5 children, so he can clearly see who got the DNA from which of their grandparents.

I contacted Matt, and he provided me with his X chromosomal information about his family, giving me permission to share it with you.  I have taken the liberty of reformatting it in a spreadsheet so that we can view various aspects of this data.

Dexter table

First, note that I have sorted these by grandchild.  There are two females, who have the opportunity to inherit from 3 grandparents.  The females inherited one copy of the X from their mother, who had two copies herself, and one copy of the X from her father who only had his mother’s copy.  Therefore, the paternal grandfather is listed above, but with the note “cannot inherit.”  This distinguishes this event from the circumstance with Grandson 1 where he could inherit some part of his maternal grandfather’s X, but did not.

For the three grandsons, I have listed all 4 grandparents and noted the paternal grandmother and grandfather as “cannot inherit.”  This is of course because the grandsons don’t inherit an X from their father.  Instead they inherit the Y, which is what makes them male.

According to the Rule of 50%, each child should receive approximately half of the DNA of each maternal grandparent that they can inherit from.  I added the columns, % Inherited cM and % Inherited SNP to illustrate whether or not this number comes close to the 50% we would expect.  The child MUST have a complete X chromosome which is comprised of 18092 SNPs and is 195.93cM in length, barring anomalies like read errors and such, which do periodically occur.  In these columns, 1=100%, so in the Granddaughter 1 column of % Inherited cM, we see 85% for the maternal grandfather and about 15% for the maternal grandmother.  That is hardly 50-50, and worse yet, it’s no place close to 50%.

Granddaughter 1 and 2 must inherit their paternal grandmother’s X intact, because there is nothing to recombine with.

Granddaughter 2 inherited even more unevenly, with about 90% and 10%, but in favor of the other grandparent.  So, statistically speaking, it’s about 50% for each grandparent between the two grandchildren, but it is widely variant when looking at them individually.

Grandson 1, as mentioned, inherited his entire X from his maternal grandmother with absolutely no recombination.

Grandsons 2 and 3 fall much closer to the expected 50%.

The problem for most of us is that you need 3 or 4 consecutive generations to really see this happening, and most of us simply don’t have data that deep or robust.

A recent discussion on the DNA Genealogy Rootsweb mailing list revealed several more of these documented occurrences, among them, two separate examples where the X chromosome was unrecombined for 4 generations.

Robert Paine, a long-time genetic genealogy contributor and project administrator reported that in his family medical/history project, at 23andMe, 25% of his participants show no recombination on the X chromosome.  That’s a staggering percentage.  His project consists of  21 people in with 2 blood lines tested 5 generations deep and 2 bloodlines tested at 4 generations

One woman’s X matches her great-great-grandmother’s X exactly.  That’s 4 separate inheritance events in a row where the X was not recombined at all.

The graphic below, provided by Robert,  shows the chromosome browser at 23andMe where you can see the X matches exactly for all three participants being compared.

The screen shot is of the gg-granddaughter Evelyn being compared to her gg-grandmother, Shevy, Evelyn’s g-grandfather Rich and Evelyn’s grandmother Cyndi. 23andme only lets you compare 3 individuals at a time so Robert did not include Evelyn’s mother Shay, who is an exact match with Evelyn.

Paine X

Where Are We?

So what does this mean to genetic genealogy?  It certainly does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water.  What it is, is an iceberg warning that there is more lurking beneath the surface.  What and how big?  I can’t tell you.  I simply don’t know.

Here’s what I can tell you.

  • The X chromosome matching can tell you that you do share a common ancestor someplace back in time.
  • The amount of DNA shared is not a reliable predictor of how long ago you shared that ancestor.
  • The amount of DNA shared cannot predict your relationship with your match.  In fact, even a very large match can be many generations removed.
  • The absence of an X match, even with someone closely related whom you should match does not disprove a descendant relationship/common ancestor.
  • The X appears to not recombine at a higher rate than previously thought, the previous expectation being that this would almost never happen.
  • The X, when it does recombine appears to do so in a manner not governed by the 50% rule.  In fact, the 50% rule may not apply at all except as an average in large population studies, but may well be entirely irrelevant or even misleading to the understanding of X chromosome inheritance in genetic genealogy.

The X is still useful to genetic genealogists, just not in the same way that other autosomal data is utilized.  The X is more of an auxiliary chromosome that can provide information in addition to your other matches because of its unique inheritance pattern.

Unfortunately, this discovery leaves us with more questions than answers.  I found it incomprehensible that this phenomenon has never been studied in humans, or in animals, for that matter, at least not that I could find.  What few references I did find indicated that the X seems to recombine with the same frequency as the other autosomes, which we are finding to be untrue.

What is needed is a comprehensive study of hundreds of X transmission events at least 3 generations deep.

As it turns out, we’re not the only ones confused by the behavior of the X chromosome.  Just yesterday, the New York Times had an article about Seeing the X Chromosome in a New Light.  It seems that either one copy of the X, or the other, is disabled cell by cell in the human body.  If you are interested in this aspect of science, it’s a very interesting read.  Indeed, our DNA continues to both amaze and amuse us.

A special thank you to Jim Owston, Matt Dexter, Blaine Bettinger and Robert Paine for sharing their information.

Additional sources:

Polymorphic Variation in Human Meiotic
Recombination (2007)
Vivian G. Cheung
University of Pennsylvania
http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1102&context=be_papers

A Fine-Scale Map of Recombination Rates and Hotspots Across the Human Genome, Science October 2005, Myers et al
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/310/5746/321.full.pdf
Supplemental Material
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/suppl/2005/10/11/310.5746.321.DC1

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

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Finding Family the New-Fashioned Way

When I first started doing genealogy, I didn’t even realize “it” had a name, or that I was doing “it.”  I am truly the accidental genealogist.  I simply wanted to find out something about my father’s family.  He died in a car accident when I was in grade school and we didn’t live anyplace close to his family.  I think the nesting instinct had set in.  I was pregnant for my second child.

I did discover some information, but that ended with the memory of older family members.  And then, my genealogy endeavors took a decade long holiday while I finished my master’s degree and other life events happened.

One day, I saw an announcement in the newspaper that the local Mormon Church was having a genealogy workshop.  They invited you to bring your sticky problem and come on by.  I took that same child with me that evening, somewhat apprehensive about the session being a “trap” to get folks into the church.  The Mormon people never use genealogy as a way to entrap non-Mormons – so no worry there.

As genealogists have discovered, one discovery leads to two at least more questions. I was hooked that night at the Mormon church.  We found the marriage record of my Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy on microfiche.  I still remember the awe and thrill of that moment, looking at that scratchy old record.  Anyone who asks when you’re going to be finished with your genealogy just doesn’t understand the blank noncomprehending stare they receive in reply.

What I expected to find, after my initial foray to find some living relatives, was history.  I didn’t expect to find a lifelong obsession.   And I had no idea I’d find other, more distant family, that I would become very close to.

My cousin Daryl comes to mind.  We met over the internet researching a common family line a decade ago.  She has become my sister-of-heart and my travel companion.  In fact, here’s a photo we took, trapped inside a cemetery in Tennessee.  Thankfully, it WAS fenced and the fence was between us and the bull, even if we were trapped inside.  I’m still not sure if that bull was unhappy with our presence in HIS field or hopeful of adding us to his harem.  Yep, these are things you only do with very close friends or family!  And what great memories we’ve made.

Angry Bull

I was thinking this morning about how genealogy has changed.  For years, we wrote letters.  Remember watching for the mailman to arrive and running to the mailbox?  I surely do, especially when you had written someplace for a record and were expecting its arrival.  All genealogists knew exactly what time the mail was supposed to arrive!

As time evolved, the advent of e-mail has been a huge boon to genealogy.  Now, we very seldom write letters and we interact in the space of minutes or hours with new and old cousins.

I’ve also stopped trying to quantify “cousin.”  If we’re related and not a parent/sibling aunt/uncle niece/nephew, then we’re “cousins,” kin, and that’s all that matters.  With the advent of DNA testing, I’ve discovered I’m “cousin” to more people than I’m not!  My, how the world has both grown and shrank in one fell swoop.  I am so very blessed to have so many genealogically discovered cousins, here, as well as many who live in other countries – Marja in Finland who I met in November, David in Australia, Doug in New Zealand who I met up with in England, John in Japan, Yvette in the Netherlands who I’ll meet this year, and the list goes on.

The next big connector was and is Facebook.  Now, the first question you ask a new cousin is “are you on Facebook.”  While e-mails are personal, directed to you individually, you can get to know your cousins on Facebook in another way, by watching what they do and say.  I have a new cousin Loujean, discovered just before Thanksgiving.  We are Facebook friends, and I think I know her better than I know my nieces and nephews who are not on Facebook.  And yes, I’m dead serious.  I have no idea what those nieces and nephews are doing, but I can tell you all about Loujean:)

So, now I’m curious about your experiences with both genealogy and genetic genealogy.  Aside from the answers to historical questions, has genealogy or genetic genealogy enhanced your life by adding people to your list of family that you care about?  Has it changed your life?  If so, how?  You can answer the polls below, or leave comments, or both.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research