2016 Genetic Genealogy Retrospective

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

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

Vendors

Family Tree DNA

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

Both Buckets

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

Phased FF2

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

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

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

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

2016-ancient-origins

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

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

Ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

ancestry-common-ancestors

23andMe

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

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

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

New Kids on the Block

MyHeritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016-myheritage-matches

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

2016-myheritage-second-match

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

2016-myheritage-at-ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living DNA

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

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

2016-living-dna

Genos

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

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

Third Parties

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

I have covered these extensively over the years.

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

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

Roberta's ancestor map2

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

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

ADSA Crumley cluster

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

2016-gedmatch-triangulation-groups

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

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

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

One new tool of note this year is the Double Match Triangulator by Louis Kessler.

dmt Cheryl to Bill status

The Double Match Triangulator utilizes chromosome browser match lists from Family Tree DNA, so you must have access to the matches of cousins, for example. This tool shows you with whom you and your cousin(s) mathematically triangulate. Of course, it still takes genealogy to discover your common ancestor, but triangulation goes a long way in terms of labeling segments as to where they came from in your tree.

I must say, most of the third-party tools mentioned above are for seasoned genetic genealogists who are serious about wringing every piece of information available from their DNA and their matches from various vendors.

Others offer unique tools that are a bit different.

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

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

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

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

2016-wikitree-peter-roberts

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

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

What Defined 2016

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

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

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

The answer is simple…

Ethnicity.

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

Ethnicity

“Kim just wanted to know who she was.”

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

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

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

ESTIMATES.

Nothing more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

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

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

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

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

The Concepts Series

Concepts – How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical By Descent, State, Population and Chance

Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab

Concepts – Parental Phasing

Concepts – Y DNA Matching and Connecting With Your Paternal Ancestor

Concepts – Downloading Autosomal Data From Family Tree DNA

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

Concepts – Genetic Distance

Concepts – Relationship Predictions

Concepts – Match Groups and Triangulation

Concepts – Sorting Spreadsheets for Autosomal DNA

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

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

Concepts – Undocumented Adoptions Versus Untested Y Lines

My blog isn’t the only resource of course.

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

Other blogs I highly recommend include:

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

And of course, the ISOGG Wiki.

Online Conference Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!!!

Blogging – Ins and Outs, Dos and Don’ts

Lunenburg County, Virginia courthouse

As you know, I’m always encouraging everyone to commit those family stories to paper, and from that to electronic publication. Why?

  1. First, because if you don’t, who is going to? No one else has your perspective, your experiences or your voice.
  2. Second, think about how grateful you would be to have something like that from your grandmother, or great-grandmother, or great-great-grandmother. Or even her neighbor or fellow quilter or church member – because it would reflect day to day life at that time and place.  You would understand her life better through that window.
  3. Third, because you can utilize the information to inform people of DNA matches (within the bounds of privacy of course), as I do in each one of my 52 Ancestors stories. Every single of those stories has some sort of DNA aspect, even if it’s just begging for testers in that line.
  4. Fourth, it provides you with the opportunity to share new research, and correct old research that has perhaps become ingrained in your family stories, and needs to be weeded out.

The bottom line is that these stories function as cousin-bait – and those cousins may have more information, pictures, stories and DNA that you don’t have.

Given all of the encouraging I’ve been doing, I was pleased to receive a note from my cousin, Robin, asking about blogging. She wants to start an ancestor blog (yippee) and before doing so, asked me the following questions:

  • Five things we need to know to create a good blog?
  • The five biggest mistakes we need to avoid?

Now I have to tell you that one of the things I like best about Robin is that, being a (retired) lawyer, she knows exactly how to ask questions to get the information she needs. She also really knows how to research and sharing Estes research with her over the years has been a true joy, even though our lines diverge several generations ago, in the late 1700s, back in Lunenburg County.

Yep, that’s the Lunenburg Courthouse in the photo above, of significance to both Robin and me.

Can I tell you a little family secret?

I probably shouldn’t tell you that Robin’s ancestor’s lived on F***ing Creek. And yes, that’s exactly what you think it is – and it’s not Fishing Creek.  I didn’t believe that at first, being just sure it was someone’s bad handwriting in the deed records, or a bad transcription, but after seeing the original, that’s exactly what it says, in several deeds.  After seeing the original, I learned to trust Robin’s work – it’s impeccable – although she struggled with exactly how to record that name for posterity.  By the way, that creek has now been renamed Modest Creek if you’re looking for it on a current map – because I know you’re off Googling this right now.

But wouldn’t you just love to know HOW it came to have that name in the first place? Robin’s ancestor’s journal might have told us that – if they had written a journal.  Perhaps the neighbor’s journal would have said….if they had kept one. Today, that journal might just be a blog.

Maybe someone just referred to the creek by that very descriptive adjective so often that the name just stuck. For example, “yea, that f***ing creek is flooded again.”  Too bad no one recorded that oh-so-interesting tidbit.  You may not have that particular creek in your family history, but I guarantee, you have something every bit as intriguing!!!  So, record it!

Ok, back to Robin’s questions.

Blog Versus Website

One of my friends decided to do a website for her genealogy group. She selected Weebly as a free platform to create a website, and when she was finished, she e-mailed me to ask me how I “got that e-mail part” to work. I asked what she meant, and what she really wanted was a blog, not a website, because she wanted people to be able to subscribe to receive articles when they were written.

Blogs do that – meaning provide a platform and tools for automated e-mails to subscribers of articles. Websites don’t.  With WordPress, you can create both a blog AND a website, and a blog within a website, or just a blog – but with a website builder that is not blogging software, you can’t.  So don’t get confused before you even get started.

People subscribe to blogs either via e-mail or RSS feeds. Websites, people visit.  You can have both a website and a blog with WordPress, but you can’t have both without blogging software.

Creating A Good Blog

Blogging Platform – I’m a huge fan of WordPress. I chose WordPress in 2012 after comparing WordPress and Blogger, the two premier blogging sites to utilize. One of the ways I made my decision was that I looked for “how to” articles for converting “WordPress to Blogger” and “Blogger to WordPress.”  As it turns out, there were a lot of people looking and providing instructions for how to convert TO WordPress and very few wanting to convert FROM WordPress.  Another factor was that a couple of my friend bloggers could never get photos to work correctly utilizing Blogger.

I chose WordPress and I’ve never regretted that choice. Their product is great, their support, which I’ve needed very rarely has been responsive and accurate.  I couldn’t ask for a better experience.

Education – Anyone who knows me knows I hate to read the manual – generally because I have to slog through so much I don’t care about to get to the part I do care about. But in this case, it’s worth it.  I bought the WordPress for Dummies by Lisa Sabin-Wilson and I loved it. The great thing about the Dummies books is that they are arranged so that you don’t have to slog through things you don’t need to get to what you do need.

Don’t like books?  There are also lots of Youtube videos available. Just remember, anyone can produce a Youtube video and put it online, so the content may or may not be high quality, accurate, up to date, or what you need.

Free vs Paid – WordPress offers free blogs and paid blogs. What’s the difference?  The free sites have a few restrictions – but they may be perfect for you.

First, they will have ads on your site that you can’t control. You may not care, but then again, you might.  Your site might not have ads until it gets popular.

Second, you cannot have your own domain name – meaning a name that you pick yourself. This is an example of a genealogy site that I created for the Speak Family Association through WordPress that is a free site.  You can see that the url for the blog is through WordPress.

https://speakfamily.wordpress.com/

This blog is an example of a blog I created where I purchased the upgraded package for $99 per year that includes the ability to select a domain name of your own choosing, assuming no one else has already selected that name.

However, you can always move from a free to a paid site with a new domain name – BUT – any links to the old site name will no longer work.  If you think you may want your own domain name, it’s best to do it in the beginning.

Third, free sites are restricted in other ways. For example, you have a limit on the amount of space you can utilize for photos and such.

This blog provides a good description of the differences, including the chart below.

WordPress choices

In my case, the Speak Family Association site is the Beginner or free site. This blog is the Premium site and once I use my entire 13 GB of space, I’ll need to upgrade to the Business level – but I still have a long way to go.

One last point to ponder in favor of the free blog platform. If you have a paid blog, and you should suddenly meet your demise, unless you’ve left the important information with someone, like the signin ID and password, AND unless they contact WordPress and change the contact e-mail to their e-mail address, and they pay the yearly fee, your blog will become ancient history in less than a year after you do.  A free blog, on the other hand, will be out there “forever,” whatever that means in today’s technological world.

To Host or Not to Host – You can host your own website, meaning on your own server. If you don’t know what you are doing – don’t. I don’t. I utilize WordPress hosting and have never regretted that choice.  Translated, this means that you’ll want to select the WordPress.com and NOT the WordPress.org choice.

Experiment – I started a “test blog” that I could have fun with, not publicize, and delete if necessary. It also allowed me to experiment with themes, pictures and how to combine words and graphics.  Themes, in case you are wondering, are free “formats” for your blog that allows your header at the top, sidebars, etc.  Yes, there are themes that are available for purchase as well, but all of the ones I use are free.  You’ll need to experiment to see which one fits your needs the best.

I didn’t want to experiment on my “real blog,” appearing like the novice I was. Plus, I had always wanted to do this particular quirky little project – Things That Are Pink and Shouldn’t Be. And yes, please feel free to send me pictures.

Pitfalls

Lack of Focus – I have a total of 6 websites, blogs or a combination of both. Most of you don’t know that.  Why?  Because each blog should have its own focus and flavor.

Here are 5 of 6 of my blogs. The sixth blog is omitted because I have set it up as a private “family blog,” primarily for when we travel.  No, I’m not putting everything out on Facebook for the world to see – but I do want to share with my family so I created a private blog.

Speak Family Association – free – https://speakfamily.wordpress.com/

Native Heritage Project – premium – https://nativeheritageproject.com/

Things That Are Pink and Shouldn’t Be – free – https://toopink.wordpress.com/

Victory Garden, Day by Day – premium – https://victorygardendaybyday.com/

DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy – premium – https://dna-explained.com/

Rambling vs Composing – The good and bad news is that you have no editor.

When I wrote for a technology magazine, some years ago, I had an editor with whom I had a love-hate relationship. My work was proofread and dissected with a magnifying glass and tweezers.  Therefore, I rewrote a lot AND my column had to fit into a specific column space on the page, so I had a word range to hit.  So she made me stop using works like so, therefore, but and however. (Take that Judy.) But Judy was right, every one of those words could be omitted from this paragraph without changing the meaning one bit.

On your own blog, you can ramble all you want – but if your users can’t follow your logic or get bored, you’ll lose their attention. If you use poor grammar, incorrect (or no) punctuation, or misspell words, you’ll drive some of your readers insane – and you won’t appear very professional or accurate – calling into question the quality of the information you are providing.

Some of my articles on DNAeXplain are long, and I realize that, but for the reader who is engaged in that topic, they are necessary – because they are an educational sequence. My editor would probably disagree.  But certainly not all articles are lengthy and I break long articles apart with section headings, relatively short paragraphs, lists, charts and bullets.

My editor used to always ask me, “does it really need that” and “what does that word or sentence add?” “Is that really in the right place.”  Yep, I loved/hated her, especially since I hear her in my head now!

Photographs and Graphics – While it’s easy to compose in a word processor (I use MSWord), because you can just copy/paste, for the most part, into WordPress, that doesn’t work for pictures and graphics. It also doesn’t work for a lot of special characters, fonts, colors, etc.  Now, there may be a way to handle the special fonts and such, but it hasn’t been important enough for me to figure it out.

What I did need to figure out was how to deal with pictures. Here’s my secret to success.

I drop pictures into my word document where I want them to appear in the article, then label them underneath, like the courthouse picture above. I then save the picture to “my pictures” with that title (right click, save as).

When you copy/paste your article into a new blog posting, the words “Lunenburg County, Virginia courthouse” will copy over, but your photo won’t. You’ll need to click on the “add media” button to upload that photo from your system just above those words in your blog article – to make it look just like your Word document article.

Screenshots are another challenge. What’s a screenshot?  That’s when you want to take a picture of something on your computer screen.  Every picture in this article, except for the courthouse and the picture directly below, is a screen shot of my computer screen, after cropping and resizing a bit.

I simply take a screen shot (prnt scr button or alt+prnt scr button) and then (right click) paste the results into my document, just like a picture, using the same technique. Generally, after saving the image to your computer, you’ll need to do some sort of editing (generally cropping) before uploading the photo to WordPress.

I use MS Office or MS Paint for photo editing, depending on what type of editing I want to do. Both are free with the Microsoft Office platform and easy to use.  MAC people tell me it’s even easier on that platform, but I’ll have to take their word for that!  You’ll need to become familiar with some basic photo editing software so you can at least crop the ugly from the edges of photos, screen shots and old documents.

Spreadsheets are the last challenge. I use these a lot in the genetics arena.  You can copy/paste from a spreadsheet as a picture.  Check the paste options.  Once it’s a photograph in your word document, just treat it like any other photo.

paste as picture

Ok, now you see why I wanted a trial blog, right?

Really, it’s not difficult – but there is a bit of a learning curve. I’d say less than a day if you purchase the book.  It’s actually very easy and WordPress steps you through the process.

You can probably do it in less than an hour or two if you just want the basics, so I don’t want to discourage anyone.

Automated Spam Software – Do NOT, and I mean do NOT either disable or forget to enable the automated spam filter provided free by WordPress – Akismet. All blogs are targets for spammers.  There’s an entire industry out there built around this sleezy practice.  Akismet grabs most of them and you’ll never even have to look at the spam.

This is a screen shot from my DNAeXplain blog dashboard.

Akismet saves

I want you to notice that Akismet has intercepted almost a million spam comments.

My blog has been in existence almost 4 years (3 years 11 months) which means Akismet has saved me from over 21,000 spam comments per month, or over 700 per day. People post all kinds of website links that are certainly not in your best interest and often contain malware that is harmful to anyone who clicks on them.  Akismet grabs most of them, but can’t always tell, because some people are shifty.

Allowing Automatic Comment Posting

In light of what we were just discussing regarding spam comments, never, ever enable comments to post without your approval. There are generally three options.

  • Approve nothing, meaning let all comments post without approval (bad).
  • Let comments post once you have previously approved a comment from this poster (spammers know about this).
  • Approve all comments before they post. This is the option I use.

The good news is that WordPress e-mails you the comments so you can just click to approve, trash, or report as spam – and you can do it from your phone too.

How do you know if the comment is genuine if it just says something innocuous like “great article?”  Look to see if they have a domain name, which is reported to you by WordPress.  Now, I didn’t say to click on the domain name.  Often, just the name or location will tell you all you need to know.  So, my advice is to never click on the domain names.  If in doubt, don’t let the comment post – it’s that easy.  You’ll develop a sense of what is a valid comment and what isn’t.

post comment

Here’s an example of me replying to a commenter.  My comment is a comment as well. You can see my domain name and my e-mail address, plus the IP address is shown below the commenter’s e-mail address, so you have several tools to help make your decision.  Generally, you’ll know immediately from the content.  And let’s face it, there some comments that are from legitimate people that you may not want to let post through.

Summary

I hope you have found this useful, and that you will give blogging a shot. If you think it’s “just for young people,” it isn’t.  A lot of retirees use blogs as their online voice, and if they knew how easy it was, a lot more would be using this technology.  It’s truly not difficult, but like most things, a little preparation makes for a lot less frustration and a lot more enjoyable, and successful, experience.

And don’t forget, because it is online, it’s easy to fix an error or add something later. In my case, it’s a lot easier than finding the file in the file drawer where no one else can see or share the info.

I love blogging because I believe genealogy as well as genetic genealogy is about sharing and collaboration.  Robin’s blog is up and going already and she has published 5 new articles.  Isn’t there something you’ve been meaning to write about?

Children’s Book About Irish King Inspired by DNA Research

Ireland Map

I wish history had been taught differently when I was a child.

History was dry and boring and consisted of rote memorization of dates of disconnected events.  At least, those events were entirely disconnected from me.  It would only be years later that I understood their relevance and that many of those events were NOT disconnected from me.  My ancestors took part in or many times suffered from those events.

Some of those events directly affect the me I’ve become – where I was born – which was predicated on which ancestors immigrated, and when.  All of the circumstances of today were built on the decisions of our ancestors in the past, and their decisions revolved around those dry and boring events, like war, pestilence and famine…for starters…that were anything but dry and boring if you were living through them.

I needed a different perspective, so I am very glad to see that Lance McNeill has written a children’s book about Niall of the Nine Hostages, a man who is also my ancestor.

Lance sent me the following press release:

DNA Discovery Inspires Fully Illustrated Children’s Book about Irish King, Niall of the Nine Hostages

Austin, Texas March 7, 2016:

Niall and the Stone of Destiny is the first ever fully-illustrated children’s book about the journey of renowned Celtic High King, Niall of the Nine Hostages.

Inspired by his Family Tree DNA test results linking him to Niall, author Lance MacNeill embarked upon months of research to uncover the legend of King Niall. Combining the historical evidence with Celtic mythology and a bit of MacNeill’s own imagination, Niall and the Stone of Destiny was conceived. The book will be available in both e-book and hardcover formats. You can reserve your copy of Niall and the Stone of Destiny now on Kickstarter.

Niall Stone of Destiny

For more than 1,500 years, the story of King Niall was thought to be pure Celtic mythology. According to legend, Niall was born in the late fourth century AD and reigned as the High King of Ireland until sometime in the early fifth century. In 2006, an article was published by a research team at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Their research provided DNA evidence that a common lineage from the Irish Dynasty UÍ Néill, which translated literally means “descendants of Niall,” did in fact originate sometime during the fifth Century AD. They also estimate that nearly 3 million people worldwide are likely descended from Niall. Surnames commonly believed to be linked with the Niall’s family tree include the following: Donnelly, McLoughlin, McManus, Connor, Gormley, McMenamin, Flynn, O’Rourke, Devlin, Hynes, McCaul, McGovern, Molloy, O’Kane, Quinn, Cannon, Bradley, Egan, O’Reilly, Mc(Kee), Campbell, O’Gallagher, O’Boyle, O’Doherty, O’Donnell, O’Neill and MacNeill.

Niall Surnames

Figure 1: Surnames Commonly Believed to be Linked to Niall of the Nine Hostages

With this discovery, Niall is being propelled from the annals of folklore into the books of Irish history.

MacNeill says, “My hope is that this story captures the interest of the next young generation of Niall’s descendants and engages them in their Irish heritage and genealogy.” The book is great for all ages to enjoy, especially for children ages 6 – 10. To learn more, visit the book’s Facebook page or support the Kickstarter project.

Contact: Lance McNeill
LanceMcNeill@outlook.com

KickStarter

As you can see, Lance’s book has been written, but not yet published. Lance sent me a sample page.

Niall page

Lance is funding the publication of this book through Kickstarter.

I have never worked with Kickstarter before, so I needed to know how it works before pledging funds. According to Kickstarter, the credit cards of the people who pledge are not charged until the funding goal is reached. If the project goal is not reached, then no one is charged.  If the funding goal is reached, then Lance will publish the book.

Here’s what Lance has to say about risks and challenges:

This isn’t my first rodeo. I authored and self-published the Comprehensive Crowdfunding Guide on Amazon.com two years ago, so I understand the process of editing, printing and self-publishing.

I’m also mitigating risk with a lean approach to this project. The story of Niall is really 3 times longer than this first book, but by breaking the story up into an iterative series, I can keep overall costs down and receive much needed feedback from early adopters. I’m aiming for a limited printing run of 200 books for this launch, a realistic and achievable goal. I’ve done the research on printing and shipping costs and have certainty that if the funding goal is reached, I will have sufficient funding to deliver as promised.

To learn more about me and the successful projects I’ve been a part of, please visit my LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lancejmcneill

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

There are various options, and the e-version is as little as $3. I would personally want the hardcover version for $20.  In my family, this would be an heirloom item because we are descendants of Niall of the 9 Hostages, along with a couple of million other cousins!

The Rest of the Story  

Now, for the rest of the story – I descend from the Reverend George McNiel from Wilkes County, NC. One of my cousins has tested to represent my McNiel line.  I checked my cousins results as I was writing this article, and guess who appears in his match list.  None other than Lance McNeill, previously unknown to me, but who I now know is my 6th cousin once removed, also descending from the good Reverend.  So, you can bet that I’ll be ordering one of these books for my granddaughters and one for myself too!  I hope he’ll autograph them!

The world gets smaller every day with DNA!

A Fun DNA Experiment

Granddaughter DNA 2016

My granddaughter was fortunate enough to attend a special event at a local university over the weekend for middle school students.

One of their experiments was extracting DNA from mixed fruits.

Needless to say I’m extremely proud of this “chip off the old helix.”

You can do this experiment too, easily with just items you have at home in your kitchen. This wonderful video not only shows you how to do the experiment, the host explains what is happening.  Sooooo interesting – and easy.

Did you know that you can extract DNA from strawberries, bananas or kiwi fruit and can even extract your own DNA by swishing water in your mouth and using the same extraction process? Maybe you could do all three and compare the results!

Here are some additional references, questions, discussion items and tips for teachers:

http://www.apsnet.org/EDCENTER/K-12/TEACHERSGUIDE/PLANTBIOTECHNOLOGY/Pages/Activity1.aspx

http://www.livescience.com/37252-dna-science-experiment.html

http://www.funsci.com/fun3_en/dna/dnaen.htm

http://www.imb.uq.edu.au/strawberry-dna-extraction-experiment

Have fun!!!

Genealogy in Time Magazine’s Top 100 Genealogy Websites of 2016

top 100

2016 marks the fifth year in a row that Genealogy In Time Magazine has ranked genealogy websites worldwide.

This ranking is far more than a popularity contest, utilizing statistical information from Alexa, an internet analysis tool which measures not only traffic (clicks) but how long a visitor spent on a website and how many pages they visited. In other words, Alexa tries to measure not just if you went there, but if you found value and utilized the content.

You can see their Top 100 list here.  I suggest that you also take time to read the associated commentary – the article is 10 pages long – because they have some very insightful analysis and observations.  For example, DNA is moving up, fewer sites are run by individuals and one of 7 genealogy site visits is to Ancestry.com in one flavor or another.

I particularly like the fact that their ranking is worldwide, because genealogy is also becoming more international as records in other countries become increasingly accessible and as DNA connects us. Additionally, more international professional genealogists are becoming highly visible, like Yvette Hoitink with her very successful Dutch Genealogy blog.  No, she’s not in the 100 sites listed, but then again, her blog and focus is very specific – the Netherlands.  However, genealogy and genetic genealogy is becoming dramatically more accessible internationally due to the visibility generated on the web by the larger commercial genealogy sites combined with specialty sites and services such as Yvette’s.  It was only in 2012 that I made the fateful statement that my Dutch genealogy line was beyond my reach – which prompted Yvette to show me that it was not – which started an amazing journey.

The bad news is that because of the way ranking was done by international site, Ancestry takes up three slots of the top 10 which means that Family Tree DNA is ranked at #11.  I was thrilled to see a DNA testing company listed so high in the rankings though, which tells me how far we’ve come in the past few years.  GedMatch, my favorite genetic genealogy tool site is also listed at #20.

Another favorite of mine, Judy Russell’s The Legal Genealogist is listed at number 76 and is one of only three blogs on the list.  Not only is Judy’s blog amazing, but so is Judy in person, so if you ever get the opportunity to see her speak, take it, regardless of the topic.  Whoever thought I’d ever WANT to listen to an attorney.  (Sorry Judy.)

And yes, in case you were wondering, my blog, www.DNA-eXplained.com is there too, at number 92.  That really made me smile and was great news to wake up to this morning.  My blog wasn’t on the list last year, but the article indicated that it’s ranking has increased by 31 locations, so apparently last year I would have been at 123.

Thank you everyone who has visited this site and found useful information. Given that I provide my blog as a service to the genetic genealogy community, I have never sought or focused on “rankings” or viewed them as a measurement of success – but it does feel good to be recognized by virtue of visitor site usage as a valuable contributor, especially since most websites on the list are corporate – so the competition is stiff.

Speaking of blogs, although unfortunately not on this list, I subscribe to Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections, which is where I found out about the Genealogy in Time article.  John Reid provides a lot of great information and not just to Canadian genealogists.  Thanks John.

I want to thank Genealogy in Time Magazine for their efforts in gathering the information, doing the analysis and producing this list.  That undertaking is not trivial.

I found several sites I wasn’t aware of on the Top 100 list.  No, I don’ know how that happened.  I must have been sleeping under a rock with my double helix, because obviously a lot of other people knew about these sites.  So now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and visit some new websites!  There might be some ancestral tidbit waiting for me.  MooseRoots, here I come….

The Concepts Series

clock

Sometimes we get caught up in the details of how DNA testing for genetic genealogy works and what it means. Then someone asks a simple conceptual question, and I have to step back and figure out how to not tell them how to build a clock, but simply answer the question of what time it is.

pocketwatch

Someone sent me this query about autosomal DNA matching.

“I do not quite understand how the profiles can be identified specially to an ancestor since that person is not among us to provide DNA material for “testing” and comparison.”

That used to be a common question, but less so now, or so I thought. But maybe it’s just because people aren’t asking anymore, or I’m talking to a different audience.

So, I’m introducing a “Concepts” series of articles. These articles won’t explain the specifics of “how to,” but will explain the concepts of genetic genealogy – just the concepts.  For details, how to and exceptions – and you know there are always exceptions, you can dig deeper.

If you have a basic concept question about genetic genealogy or know of one you’d like to see addressed, drop me a note or attach it as a comment to this article. I’ve discovered that many times concepts questions begin with a phrase like, “Maybe I’ve missed something, but…..”

I’ll be adding the Concepts articles here as I publish them.  And yes, the first article will be “How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors.”

Concepts Articles

Concepts – How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical by…Descent, State, Population and Chance

Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab

Concepts – Parental Phasing

Concepts – Downloading Autosomal Data from Family Tree DNA

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

Concepts – Y DNA Matching and Connecting with your Paternal Ancestor

Concepts – Genetic Distance

 

 

SMGF Animations Reborn

SMGF Animations

For those of you who used to refer people to the Sorenson animations about how DNA works, before Ancestry “discontinued” the data base, the data base loss was a double whammy because the animations were gone, as well as the data.

These animations have resurfaced at the University of Utah Health Sciences page. I don’t know how they got there, but thank you and hurray!!!

Click here and take a tour!!!