Free MyHeritage LIVE 2018 Webinars Are Online

MyHeritage LIVE 2018 webinars

For everyone that has been waiting for the MyHeritage LIVE 2018 webinars, they are available free at Legacy Family Tree Webinars, here.

One really nice thing MyHeritage did was to include the actual speaker’s slides on the left side of the screen, with the speaker shown to the right. This means that you’re going to be able to see the slides better than many people attending the conference.

I spy several that I need to watch – like learning more about the MyHeritage Mobile App, Newspaper Research strategies and how to more effectively use SuperSearch.

I mostly attended the DNA sessions, so I need to watch the genealogy ones online.

I do have a recommendation for you though.

Gilad Japhet’s keynote was incredible. So inspirational, powerful and moving – in a way that all genealogists can relate to. Riveting is the word that comes to mind. You could have heard a pin drop.

The great thing is that Gilad is making the changes happen in how records are searched and indexed at MyHeritage that will benefit his own research – and ours too, right along with his. Not to mention leading edge genetic technology like extracting DNA from envelopes and stamps. The jury is still out on this, so stay tuned.

Happy Holidays to You

You can give yourself an early (free) holiday present by setting time aside to watch these information-filled sessions.

There are a total of 18 free sessions from the conference and another 27 free classes about how to use MyHeritage for a total of 45.

Make yourself a list of the sessions you’d like to watch and watch one a day – sort of a genealogical version of the 45 days of Christmas😊

Of course, genealogy research works much better if it includes DNA testing.

Upload Your DNA

Don’t forget that DNA uploads and tools are free at MyHeritage until December 1, but after that there will be a cost for their advanced tools. Anyone who tests there or uploads before December 1 will be grandfathered in for free. That’s just 2 more days so don’t wait!

Click here to upload your DNA for free.

I wrote step-by-step instructions here for downloading your DNA from other sites and uploading to MyHeritage.

Test Your DNA

If you haven’t tested your DNA, order a test now by clicking here while the holidays sales are in full force.

_____________________________________________________________________

Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles and make a purchase. 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, on the sidebar or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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

MyHeritage LIVE Conference Day 2 – The Science Behind DNA Matching    

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

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

Here are some stats:

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

I was blown away by the number of livestream attendees.

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

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

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

Improved DNA Matching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At right, fewer and larger segments through the father.

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

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

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

Here’s a quick example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Weissglas-Volkev then moved on to imputation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how are matches determined?

Matching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matching Versus Triangulation Thresholds

Confusion exists about matching thresholds versus triangulation thresholds.

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

I took a look at my lowest match at MyHeritage.

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

Triangulation Threshold

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

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

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

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

Closing Session

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

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

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

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

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

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Israel
  • Germany
  • Switzerland

What do you think?

MyHeritage LIVE 2018 Day 1 Photos, Details and Party

The MyHeritage parties are legendary. That in and of itself is a bit ironic, because Gilad Japhet, the founder and CEO is a rather reserved man. The words Gilad and party just don’t seem to fit together, but he certainly knows how to host an awesome party.

Know what? Genealogists will take time away from records to party, dress up and dance too. We aren’t serious all the time!

The article I wrote yesterday about the DNA announcements was quite hurried.

Now, it’s 4:30 AM, I’m terribly jet lagged so unexplainably awake, and since I can’t sleep, I’m writing this article to catch you up on Day 1 of the conference. Of course, this means that by about noon, I’ll be dying for a nap. You’ll have to watch my live panel discussion at 3:30 PM Oslo time today to see if you can tell I’m running on about 4 hours of sleep. (Don’t forget in the US some places changed to Daylight Savings time overnight.) Here’s the link to my article with the livestream link and the time zone calculator.

Day One in More Detail

MHLive Gilad opening crowd

Here’s Gilad just before he opened the conference. Everyone was excited. Don’t you love his shoes?

Before I go any further, I want to thank Gilad for the conference invitation and access to him and the team to be able to take these awesome photos and for the information provided.

Now, if you haven’t already done so, please go and read the day 1 announcement article, here.

I’d like to clarify a couple points and expand on that article.

I had dinner last night with Ran Snir, DNA Product Manager, along with fellow colleague Diahan Southard, and we discussed the new upcoming DNA related features. I’d like to clarify some terminology surrounding anticipated features.

Painting – The term “painting” was used yesterday, and in the context of what MyHeritage is doing, it does NOT mean the same thing as DNAPainter painting. I’ve written several articles about how I use DNAPainter, but the introductory article is here.

DNAPainter paints your own chromosomes only, identifying the segments of your ancestors. This is not what MyHeritage meant by painting. MyHeritage is referring to reconstructing your ancestors’ DNA.

Reconstructing Ancestral DNA – When MyHeritage referred to painting yesterday, they meant that several descendants’ DNA segments that they carry identically by descent (IBD) will be combined and “stitched together” to “create” a partial genome of that ancestor. No, they didn’t say exactly how this would be done, and no, they did not discuss how it would be managed. In other words, who controls the profile of the ancestor – and mitigates disputes about what segments should be, and should not be attributed to that ancestor.

For me, this raised several questions, but we’ll have to wait until the new feature is released to see how MyHeritage will deal with the inherent issues of:

  • Your most distant autosomal ancestor is actually a couple because you can’t yet divide the DNA into husband and wife.
  • The trees of the descendants need to be complete and accurate.
  • People descending from the same child of the ancestor will also carry the DNA of the wives in each generation, so they need to be compared to people descended from other children of the ancestor to ascertain that the DNA is of the ancestor – not of wives in downstream generations.
  • People tend to marry cousins, siblings, etc., especially when living in the same area. DNA from another line may be unknowingly introduced into two different children’s lines, appearing that the resulting segment comes from the ancestor (or ancestral couple) when in fact, it doesn’t.

These are challenges, not barriers, so let’s continue with Gilad’s presentation.

Extracting DNA from Old Envelopes and Stamps

In the next slides, Gilad discusses extracting DNA from old stamps and envelope seals – the goal being that the resulting file can be uploaded to MyHeritage so that your deceased relative’s DNA can be resurrected through the DNA held in the envelope stamp and seal – which they hopefully licked. This is something we’ve dreamed of (and attempted) since the beginning of DNA testing for genealogy. Apparently Gilad dreamed of it too, because several of his own items are being processed right now.

Gilad provided some examples of other types of stamps and seals that might contain the saliva of our ancestors. Think outside of the box, or in this case, outside of the envelope. No, hair and other items were not discussed. There was a sidebar discussion but at this point, only envelopes and stamps are being utilized.

Theory of Family Relativity

The last session of the day was presented by Maya Lerner, the VP of Product where she discussed, among other things, their new Theory of Family Relativity.

I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. I opted not to bring by larger camera to reduce travel weight, using my cell phone instead. I regret that choice.

The Theory of Family Relativity, currently under development will combine the DNA estimates of where a person is likely to fit into a tree with actual records from the MH database to show the most likely placement of a DNA match.

Today, when we have a match, based on the amount of shared DNA, MyHeritage estimates and illustrates the relationship position that this person holds in our tree, but does not show us on our actual tree itself where this person might fit. That’s up for us as genealogists to figure out.

As I understand the new feature, the relationship distance, shown above, will be combined with records such as phased DNA, census, birth, death, logical criteria (women don’t bear children at age 7 or 70) and other records which would exclude some relationships in our actual tree, while providing evidence for others.

New Features

Aside from the DNA announcements, MyHeritage is also introducing a lot of new non-DNA related features.

City Directories – For example, they are digitizing and indexing city directories. The great thing is that they aren’t just indexing names, but also addresses. As a genealogist, Gilad has personally discovered the usefulness of being able to search for an address in immigration records to view everyone, even with misspelled names, who claimed they were joining family at that specific address. It’s another clue.

European Newspapers – in multiple languages. Digitizing and indexing.

Other New Content – Czeck census, German registration records, Brazil records,

There are so many awesome new features coming, what should you be doing to prepare now?

What You Should Be Doing NOW

  • If you’ve tested elsewhere, upload your DNA raw data file to MyHeritage. The upload is FREE and so are all of the features, but ONLY until Dec. 1st. After that, there will be a fee associated with some advanced features. So upload your file and those of your family members (with permission of course) now. I wrote instructions about how to upload to MyHeritage here, to and from Family Tree DNA here, and from Ancestry here.
  • If you haven’t tested elsewhere, purchase a kit, or two. The more of your relatives such as parents, siblings (if your parents are gone,) aunts, uncles, cousins that you can test, the more information that can be learned about your genealogy and connections to others. Give DNA kits for the holidays. Take them to family reunions. Thanksgiving is coming. Kits are on sale right now for an amazing $49 each. Click here to purchase.
  • Be thinking about envelopes and stamps that your deceased family members have licked. Who else in your family, that you might be seeing over the holidays might have these types of items? The technology for extracting DNA from these prized genetic heirlooms may finally be ripe. We’re waiting for early samples submitted to see how successful this technology will be.

Party Time!!!

Ok, I know you’ve been patiently waiting for the party pictures.

MyHeritage is sponsoring the EuroVision Song Contest, so we were the lucky beneficiaries.

Two entertainments groups were featured. The first was a Norwegian folk group. The music was awesome, haunting and ethereal. Like nothing I’ve heard before. They actually make some of these sounds with their cheeks.

The second group was a contemporary band and they were amazing too. Did you know that genealogists love to dance? Must be in the genes!

For those of you wondering, yes, I really do have a halo, but it slips from time to time😊 Here’s living proof!

Thanks Gilad, for a great party to celebrate the MyHeritage wonderful new features😊

How exciting to be on the leading edge.

____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

Hot links are provided to companies with whom I have an affiliate relationship. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication free for everyone.

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

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

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

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through my affiliate link if you are interested in products from the following companies.

Affiliate links are limited to:

MyHeritage LIVE Livestreamed Sessions to be Recorded

If you are interested in the free livestreamed sessions from MyHeritage LIVE from Oslo, Norway, but the time difference is problematic for you – there’s great news.

Many of the sessions will be recorded for later replay. I’m very glad to hear this from MyHeritage, because I want to watch the sessions in the tracks that I can’t attend. There are three tracks total, Genealogy and DNA, which will be recorded, and the workshops, which will not be recorded.

A total of 14 sessions are listed in the Genealogy and DNA tracks. Seldom do we receive the contents of an entire conference free – so a big thank you to the MyHeritage team.

MyHeritage is finalizing the details about when and where the recorded sessions will be available, so stay tuned for details. I don’t think they will be online immediately, as some processing time is required.

Also, the sessions will be conducted in English, but (at least the handouts) will be translated to Norwegian.

Please keep in mind that session schedule changes are still occurring as final preparations take place in Oslo. Be sure to check for last minute schedule changes if you’re planning to watch live.

There is a time zone converter and other information in my article here.

The schedule as well as the link to tune in for free session livestreams during the conference is here.

I’m participating in panel discussions as follows:

  • 3:30 PM (Oslo time) on Saturday with Thomas MacEntee and Prof. Yaniv Erlich where we will be discussing DNA, Genealogy and Privacy
  • 3:30 PM (Oslo time) on Sunday with Dick Eastman and Prof. Yaniv Erlich where we will be discussing What’s Next for Genetic Genealogy

Hope to see you there live, livestreamed or later, in recordings!

T minus 4 days and counting!

Elizabeth Warren’s Native American DNA Results: What They Mean

Elizabeth Warren has released DNA testing results after being publicly challenged and derided as “Pochahontas” as a result of her claims of a family story indicating that her ancestors were Native America. If you’d like to read the specifics of the broo-haha, this Washington Post Article provides a good summary, along with additional links.

I personally find name-calling of any type unacceptable behavior, especially in a public forum, and while Elizabeth’s DNA test was taken, I presume, in an effort to settle the question and end the name-calling, what it has done is to put the science of genetic testing smack dab in the middle of the headlines.

This article is NOT about politics, it’s about science and DNA testing. I will tell you right up front that any comments that are political or hateful in nature will not be allowed to post, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. Unfortunately, these results are being interpreted in a variety of ways by different individuals, in some cases to support a particular political position. I’m presenting the science, without the politics.

This is the first of a series of two articles.

I’m dividing this first article into four sections, and I’d ask you to read all four, especially before commenting. A second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will follow shortly about how to get the most out of an ethnicity test when hunting for Native American (or other minority, for you) ethnicity.

Understanding how the science evolved and works is an important factor of comprehending the results and what they actually mean, especially since Elizabeth’s are presented in a different format than we are used to seeing. What a wonderful teaching opportunity.

  • Family History and DNA Science – How this works.
  • Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy
  • Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results
  • Questions and Answers – These are the questions I’m seeing, and my science-based answers.

My second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will include:

  • Potential – This isn’t all that can be done with ethnicity results. What more can you do to identify that Native ancestor?
  • Resources with Step by Step Instructions

Now, let’s look at Elizabeth’s results and how we got to this point.

Family Stories and DNA

Every person that grows up in their biological family hears family stories. We have no reason NOT to believe them until we learn something that potentially conflicts with the facts as represented in the story.

In terms of stories handed down for generations, all we have to go on, initially, are the stories themselves and our confidence in the person relating the story to us. The day that we begin to suspect that something might be amiss, we start digging, and for some people, that digging begins with a DNA test for ethnicity.

My family had that same Cherokee story. My great-grandmother on my father’s side who died in 1918 was reportedly “full blooded Cherokee” 60 years later when I discovered she had existed. Her brothers reportedly went to Oklahoma to claim headrights land. There were surely nuggets of truth in that narrative. Family members did indeed to go Oklahoma. One did own Cherokee land, BUT, he purchased that land from a tribal member who received an allotment. I discovered that tidbit later.

What wasn’t true? My great-grandmother was not 100% Cherokee. To the best of my knowledge now, a century after her death, she wasn’t Cherokee at all. She probably wasn’t Native at all. Why, then, did that story trickle down to my generation?

I surely don’t know. I can speculate that it might have been because various people were claiming Native ancestry in order to claim land when the government paid tribal members for land as reservations were dissolved between 1893 and 1914. You can read more about that in this article at the National Archives about the Dawes Rolls, compiled for the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole for that purpose.

I can also speculate that someone in the family was confused about the brother’s land ownership, especially since it was Cherokee land.

I could also speculate that the confusion might have resulted because her husband’s father actually did move to Oklahoma and lived on Choctaw land.

But here is what I do know. I believed that story because there wasn’t any reason NOT to believe it, and the entire family shared the same story. We all believed it…until we discovered evidence through DNA testing that contradicted the story.

Before we discuss Elizabeth Warren’s actual results, let’s take a brief look at the underlying science.

Enter DNA Testing

DNA testing for ethnicity was first introduced in a very rudimentary form in 2002 (not a typo) and has progressed exponentially since. The major vendors who offer tests that provide their customers with ethnicity estimates (please note the word estimates) have all refined their customer’s results several times. The reference populations improve, the vendor’s internal software algorithms improve and population genetics as a science moves forward with new discoveries.

Note that major vendors in this context mean Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, the Genographic Project and Ancestry. Two newer vendors include MyHeritage and LivingDNA although LivingDNA is focused on England and MyHeritage, who utilizes imputation is not yet quite up to snuff on their ethnicity estimates. Another entity, GedMatch isn’t a testing vendor, but does provide multiple ethnicity tools if you upload your results from the other vendors. To get an idea of how widely the results vary, you can see the results of my tests at the different vendors here and here.

My initial DNA ethnicity test, in 2002, reported that I was 25% Native American, but I’m clearly not. It’s evident to me now, but it wasn’t then. That early ethnicity test was the dinosaur ages in genetic genealogy, but it did send me on a quest through genealogical records to prove that my family member was indeed Native. My father clearly believed this, as did the rest of the family. One of my early memories when I was about four years old was attending a (then illegal) powwow with my Dad.

In order to prove that Elizabeth Vannoy, that great-grandmother, was Native I asked a cousin who descends from her matrilineally to take a mitochondrial DNA test that would unquestionably provide the ethnicity of her matrilineal line – that of her mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line. If she was Native, her haplogroup would be a derivative either A, B, C, D or X. Her mitochondrial DNA was European, haplogroup J, clearly not Native, so Elizabeth Vannoy was not Native on that line of her family. Ok, maybe through her dad’s line then. I was able to find a Vanoy male descendant of her father, Joel Vannoy, to test his Y DNA and he was not Native either. Rats!

Tracking Elizabeth Vannoy’s genealogy back in time provided no paper-trail link to any Native ancestors, but there were and are still females whose surnames and heritage we don’t know. Were they Native or part Native? Possibly. Nothing precludes it, but nothing (yet) confirms it either.

Unexpected Results

DNA testing is notorious for unveiling unexpected results. Adoptions, unknown parents, unexpected ethnicities, previously unknown siblings and half-siblings and more.

Ethnicity is often surprising and sometimes disappointing. People who expect Native American heritage in their DNA sometimes don’t find it. Why?

  • There is no Native ancestor
  • The Native DNA has “washed out” over the generations, but they did have a Native ancestor
  • We haven’t yet learned to recognize all of the segments that are Native
  • The testing company did not test the area that is Native

Not all vendors test the same areas of our DNA. Each major company tests about 700,000 locations, roughly, but not the same 700,000. If you’re interested in specifics, you can read more about that here.

50-50 Chance

Everyone receives half of their autosomal DNA from each parent.

That means that each parent contributes only HALF OF THEIR DNA to a child. The other half of their DNA is never passed on, at least not to that child.

Therefore, ancestral DNA passed on is literally cut in half in each generation. If your parent has a Native American DNA segment, there is a 50-50 chance you’ll inherit it too. You could inherit the entire segment, a portion of the segment, or none of the segment at all.

That means that if you have a Native ancestor 6 generations back in your tree, you share 1.56% of their DNA, on average. I wrote the article, Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? to explain how this works.

These calculations are estimates and use averages. Why? Because they tell us what to expect, on average. Every person’s results will vary. It’s entirely possible to carry a Native (or other ethnic) segment from 7 or 8 or 9 generations ago, or to have none in 5 generations. Of course, these calculations also presume that the “Native” ancestor we find in our tree was fully Native. If the Native ancestor was already admixed, then the percentages of Native DNA that you could inherit drop further.

Why Call Ethnicity an Estimate?

You’ve probably figured out by now that due to the way that DNA is inherited, your ethnicity as reported by the major testing companies isn’t an exact science. I discussed the methodology behind ethnicity results in the article, Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum.

It is, however, a specialized science known as Population Genetics. The quality of the results that are returned to you varies based on several factors:

  • World Region – Ethnicity estimates are quite accurate at the continental level, plus Jewish – meaning African, Indo-European, Asian, Native American and Jewish. These regions are more different than alike and better able to be separated.
  • Reference Population – The size of the population your results are being compared to is important. The larger the reference population, the more likely your results are to be accurate.
  • Vendor Algorithm – None of the vendors provide the exact nature of their internal algorithms that they use to determine your ethnicity percentages. Suffice it to say that each vendor’s staff includes population geneticists and they all have years of experience. These internal differences are why the estimates vary when compared to each other.
  • Size of the Segment – As with all genetic genealogy, bigger is better because larger segments stand a better chance of being accurate.
  • Academic Phasing – A methodology academics and vendors use in which segments of DNA that are known to travel together during inheritance are grouped together in your results. This methodology is not infallible, but in general, it helps to group your mother’s DNA together and your father’s DNA together, especially when parents are not available for testing.
  • Parental Phasing – If your parents test and they too have the same segment identified as Native, you know that the identification of that segment as Native is NOT a factor of chance, where the DNA of each of your parents just happens to fall together in a manner as to mimic a Native segment. Parental phasing is the ability to divide your DNA into two parts based on your parent’s DNA test(s).
  • Two Chromosomes – You have two chromosomes, one from your mother and one from your father. DNA testing can’t easily separate those chromosomes, so the exact same “address” on your mother’s and father’s chromosomes that you inherited may carry two different ethnicities. Unless your parents are both from the same ethnic population, of course.

All of these factors, together, create a confidence score. Consumers never see these scores as such, but the vendors return the highest confidence results to their customers. Some vendors include the capability, one way or another, to view or omit lower confidence results.

Parental Phasing – Identical by Descent

If you’re lucky enough to have your parents, or even one parent available to test, you can determine whether that segment thought to be Native came from one of your parents, or if the combination of both of your parent’s DNA just happened to combine to “look” Native.

Here’s an example where the “letters” (nucleotides) of Native DNA for an example segment are shown at left. If you received the As from one of your parents, your DNA is said to be phased to that parent’s DNA. That means that you in fact inherited that piece of your DNA from your mother, in the case shown below.

That’s known as Identical by Descent (IBD). The other possibility is what your DNA from both of your parents intermixed to mimic a Native segment, shown below.

This is known as Identical by Chance (IBC).

You don’t need to understand the underpinnings of this phenomenon, just remember that it can happen, and the smaller the segment, the more likely that a chance combination can randomly happen.

Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy

Elizabeth Warren’s genealogy, is reported to the 5th generation by WikiTree.

Elizabeth’s mother, Pauline Herring’s line is shown, at WikiTree, as follows:

Notice that of Elizabeth Warren’s 16 great-great-great grandparents on her mother’s side, 9 are missing.

Paper trail being unfruitful, Elizabeth Warren, like so many, sought to validate her family story through DNA testing.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results

Elizabeth Warren didn’t test with one of the major vendors. Instead, she went directly to a specialist. That’s the equivalent of skipping the family practice doctor and going to the Mayo Clinic.

Elizabeth Warren had test results interpreted by Dr. Carlos Bustamante at Stanford University. You can read the actual report here and I encourage you to do so.

From the report, here are Dr. Bustamante’s credentials:

Dr. Carlos D. Bustamante is an internationally recognized leader in the application of data science and genomics technology to problems in medicine, agriculture, and biology. He received his Ph.D. in Biology and MS in Statistics from Harvard University (2001), was on the faculty at Cornell University (2002-9), and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010. He is currently Professor of Biomedical Data Science, Genetics, and (by courtesy) Biology at Stanford University. Dr. Bustamante has a passion for building new academic units, non-profits, and companies to solve pressing scientific challenges. He is Founding Director of the Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics (CEHG) and Inaugural Chair of the Department of Biomedical Data Science. He is the Owner and President of CDB Consulting, LTD. and also a Director at Eden Roc Biotech, founder of Arc-Bio (formerly IdentifyGenomics and BigData Bio), and an SAB member of Imprimed, Etalon DX, and Digitalis Ventures among others.

He’s no lightweight in the study of Native American DNA. This 2012 paper, published in PLOS Genetics, Development of a Panel of Genome-Wide Ancestry Informative Markers to Study Admixture Throughout the Americas focused on teasing out Native American markers in admixed individuals.

From that paper:

Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) are commonly used to estimate overall admixture proportions efficiently and inexpensively. AIMs are polymorphisms that exhibit large allele frequency differences between populations and can be used to infer individuals’ geographic origins.

And:

Using a panel of AIMs distributed throughout the genome, it is possible to estimate the relative ancestral proportions in admixed individuals such as African Americans and Latin Americans, as well as to infer the time since the admixture process.

The methodology produced results of the type that we are used to seeing in terms of continental admixture, shown in the graphic below from the paper.

Matching test takers against the genetic locations that can be identified as either Native or African or European informs us that our own ancestors carried the DNA associated with that ethnicity.

Of course, the Native samples from this paper were focused south of the United States, but the process is the same regardless. The original Native American population of a few individuals arrived thousands of years ago in one or more groups from Asia and their descendants spread throughout both North and South America.

Elizabeth’s request, from the report:

To analyze genetic data from an individual of European descent and determine if there is reliable evidence of Native American and/or African ancestry. The identity of the sample donor, Elizabeth Warren, was not known to the analyst during the time the work was performed.

Elizabeth’s test included 764,958 genetic locations, of which 660,173 overlapped with locations used in ancestry analysis.

The Results section says after stating that Elizabeth’s DNA is primarily (95% or greater) European:

The analysis also identified 5 genetic segments as Native American in origin at high confidence, defined at the 99% posterior probability value. We performed several additional analyses to confirm the presence of Native American ancestry and to estimate the position of the ancestor in the individual’s pedigree.

The largest segment identified as having Native American ancestry is on chromosome 10. This segment is 13.4 centiMorgans in genetic length, and spans approximately 4,700,000 DNA bases. Based on a principal components analysis (Novembre et al., 2008), this segment is clearly distinct from segments of European ancestry (nominal p-value 7.4 x 10-7, corrected p-value of 2.6 x 10-4) and is strongly associated with Native American ancestry.

The total length of the 5 genetic segments identified as having Native American ancestry is 25.6 centiMorgans, and they span approximately 12,300,000 DNA bases. The average segment length is 5.8 centiMorgans. The total and average segment size suggest (via the method of moments) an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the pedigree at approximately 8 generations before the sample, although the actual number could be somewhat lower or higher (Gravel, 2012 and Huff et al., 2011).

Dr. Bustamante’s Conclusion:

While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European, the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.

I was very pleased to see that Dr. Bustamante had included the PCA (Principal Component Analysis) for Elizabeth’s sample as well.

PCA analysis is the scientific methodology utilized to group individuals to and within populations.

Figure one shows the section of chromosome 10 that showed the largest Native American haplotype, meaning DNA block, as compared to other populations.

Remember that since Elizabeth received a chromosome from BOTH parents, that she has two strands of DNA in that location.

Here’s our example again.

Given that Mom’s DNA is Native, and Dad’s is European in this example, the expected results when comparing this segment of DNA to other populations is that it would look half Native (Mom’s strand) and half European (Dad’s strand.)

The second graphic shows Elizabeth’s sample and where it falls in the comparison of First Nations (Canada) and Indigenous Mexican individuals. Given that Elizabeth’s Native ancestor would have been from the United States, her sample falls where expected, inbetween.

Let’s take a look at some of the questions being asked.

Questions and Answers

I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions and questions regarding these results. Let’s take them one by one:

Question – Can these results prove that Elizabeth is Cherokee?

Answer – No, there is no test, anyplace, from any lab or vendor, that can prove what tribe your ancestors were from. I wrote an article titled Finding Your American Indian Tribe Using DNA, but that process involves working with your matches, Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, and genealogy.

Q – Are these results absolutely positive?

A – The words “absolutely positive” are a difficult quantifier. Given the size of the largest segment, 13.4 cM, and that there are 5 Native segments totaling 25.6 cM, and that Dr. Bustamante’s lab performed the analysis – I’d say this is as close to “absolutely positive” as you can get without genealogical confirmation.

A 13.4 cM segment is a valid segment that phases to parents 98% of the time, according to Philip Gammon’s work, here, and 99% of the time in my own analysis here. That indicates that a 13.4 cM segment is very likely a legitimately ancestral segment, not a match by chance. The additional 4 segments simply increase the likelihood of a Native ancestor. In other words, for there NOT to be a Native ancestor, all 5 segments, including the large 13.4 cM segment would have to be misidentified by one of the premier scientists in the field.

Q – What did Dr. Bustamante mean by “evidence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor?”

A – Unadmixed means that the Native person was fully Native, meaning not admixed with European, Asian or African DNA. Admixture, in this context, means that the individual is a mixture of multiple ethnic groups. This is an important concept, because if you discover that your ancestor 4 generations ago was a Cherokee tribal member, but the reality was that they were only 25% Native, that means that the DNA was already in the process of being divided. If your 4th generation ancestor was fully Native, you would receive about 6.25% of their DNA which would be all Native. If they were only 25% Native, that means that while you will still receive about 6.25% of their DNA but only one fourth of that 6.25% is possibly Native – so 1.56%. You could also receive NONE of their Native DNA.

Q – Is this the same test that the major companies use?

A – Yes and no. The test itself was probably performed on the same Illumina chip platform, because the chips available cover the markers that Bustamante needed for analysis.

The major companies use the same reference data bases, plus their own internal or private data bases in addition. They do not create PCA models for each tester. They do use the same methodology described by Dr. Bustamante in terms of AIMs, along with proprietary algorithms to further define the results. Vendors may also use additional internal tools.

Q – Did Dr. Bustamante use more than one methodology in his analysis? What if one was wrong?

A – Yes, he utilized two different methodologies whose results agreed. The global ancestry method evaluates each location independently of any surrounding genetic locations, ignoring any correlation or relationship to neighboring DNA. The second methodology, known as the local ancestry method looks at each location in combination with its neighbors, given that DNA pieces are known to travel together. This second methodology allows comparisons to entire segments in reference populations and is what allows the identification of complete ancestral segments that are identified as Native or any other population.

Q – If Elizabeth’s DNA results hadn’t shown Native heritage, would that have proven that she didn’t have Native ancestry?

A – No, not definitively, although that is a possible reason for ethnicity results not showing Native admixture. It would have meant that either she didn’t have a Native ancestor, the DNA washed out, or we cannot yet detect those segments.

Q – Does this qualify Elizabeth to join a tribe?

A – No. Every tribe defines their own criteria for membership. Some tribes embrace DNA testing for paternity issues, but none, to the best of my knowledge, accept or rely entirely on DNA results for membership. DNA results alone cannot identify a specific tribe. Tribes are societal constructs and Native people genetically are more alike than different, especially in areas where tribes lived nearby, fought and captured other tribe’s members.

Q – Why does Dr. Bustamante use words like “strong probability” instead of absolutes, such as the percentages shown by commercial DNA testing companies?

A – Dr. Bustamante’s comments accurately reflect the state of our knowledge today. The vendors attempt to make the results understandable and attractive for the general population. Most vendors, if you read their statements closely and look at your various options indicate that ethnicity is only an estimate, and some provide the ability to view your ethnicity estimate results at high, medium and low confidence levels.

Q – Can we tell, precisely, when Elizabeth had a Native ancestor?

A – No, that’s why Dr. Bustamante states that Elizabeth’s ancestor was approximately 8 generations ago, and in the range of 6-10 generations ago. This analysis is a result of combined factors, including the total centiMorgans of Native DNA, the number of separate reasonably large segments, the size of the longest segment, and the confidence score for each segment. Those factors together predict most likely when a fully Native ancestor was present in the tree. Keep in mind that if Elizabeth had more than one Native ancestor, that too could affect the time prediction.

Q – Does Dr. Bustamante provide this type of analysis or tools for the general public?

A – Unfortunately, no. Dr. Bustamante’s lab is a research facility only.

Roberta’s Summary of the Analysis

I find no omissions or questionable methods and I agree with Dr. Bustamante’s analysis. In other words, yes, I believe, based on these results, that Elizabeth had a Native ancestor further back in her tree.

I would love for every tester to be able to receive PCA results like this.

However, an ethnicity confirmation isn’t all that can be done with Elizabeth’s results. Additional tools and opportunities are available outside of an academic setting, at the vendors where we test, using matching and other tools we have access to as the consuming public.

We will look at those possibilities in a second article, because Elizabeth’s results are really just a beginning and scratch the surface. There’s more available, much more. It won’t change Elizabeth’s ethnicity results, but it could lead to positively identifying the Native ancestor, or at least the ancestral Native line.

Join me in my next article for Possibilities, Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test.

In the mean time, you might want to read my article, Native American DNA Resources.

All About Family Tree DNA: Webinar at Family Tree University

I’ve been teaching through Family Tree University for some time now, and I love the opportunity to reach more people through both live webinars and recorded classes.

Family Tree University offers a wide variety of courses, not just about genetic genealogy. You can read about how those course work here.

One of the things I like is that you can watch or “attend” anytime, and the courses are downloadable. Their live webinars are also available after they take place for members and people that couldn’t make it in person. After all, it’s always 3AM someplace and genealogists DO have to sleep sometime!

My live presentation of All About Family Tree DNA is scheduled for August 15 at 6 PM Central Standard Time and will be held using GoToWebinar. I’ll be taking questions online after the presentation. If you can’t attend, the recorded version will be available within 2 business days, and generally very quickly.

The price is $49.99 and you can enroll here.

What’s in the Webinar?

Family Tree DNA is the only genealogy testing company offering Y-DNA and mtDNA testing and matching in addition to autosomal. Y DNA tests the direct paternal (surname) line for males and mitochondrial DNA tests the direct matrilineal line for everyone. You can read more about how these tests work in the short article, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

This webinar will familiarize attendees with the variety of test options at Family Tree DNA so you can create an informed testing strategy. You’ll also learn the tools Family Tree DNA offers for understanding and applying your DNA results to your genealogy research, from their matching tools to their surname studies.

The All About Family Tree DNA webinar is for you if:

  • you want to integrate different types of DNA testing into your genealogy research
  • you want to know what tools Family Tree DNA offers for working with your test results
  • you’re thinking about doing a mtDNA or y-DNA test, either for you or someone in your family

I’ll be stepping through all of the Y, mitochondrial and autosomal products, tools and how to use them for genealogy.

The timing of this webinar is great, because Family Tree DNA is in the middle of their summer sale. If you want to purchase a test or an upgrade, there’s no better time. You can view the prices and combo bundles here.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliate links are limited to:

You’re Invited to a Virtual DNA Conference

Great News! If you’ve ever wanted to attend a DNA Conference at your convenience and in your jammies – your wish has been granted.

Please join me, Shannon Combs-Bennett, Blaine Bettinger and Diahan Southard for a 4-day Virtual DNA Conference June 21-24th through Family Tree University.

The pre-recorded workshops are available anytime during the conference dates, and for a year afterwards for registrants, but I’m giving the keynote, What’s New and News live at 4:30 EST on Saturday, June 23rd. The keynote will be recorded and available afterwards for those enrolled in the conference, but you’ll miss the opportunity for live Q&A.

The 4-Day Virtual DNA Conference includes:

  • Live keynote and Q&A with Roberta Estes (30 minutes)
  • Phasing with Roberta Estes (30 minute video presentation)
  • Triangulation Tools with Roberta Estes (30 minute video presentation)
  • Deep DNA Analysis Tools with Shannon Combs-Bennett (60 minute recorded webinar)
  • DNA Solutions to Real Life Research Problems with Blaine Bettinger (30 minute presentation)
  • DNA Mismatch: Conflicts in Your Family Tree with Blaine Bettinger (30 minute presentation)
  • Plus, 4 PDF research guides by expert DNA consultant, Diahan Southard.
  • Discussion boards and more!

If possible, I would suggest that you listen to my two sessions on Phasing and Triangulation before the keynote, as it may make some parts of the keynote easier to understand if you’re already familiar with those concepts.

Here’s how the online courses work. The great news about online courses is that you can start and finish them anytime – based on your schedule. You can also listen, again, if you need to. And, there are no travel expenses or hassles!

Here’s the link to read more about the Virtual DNA Conference and sign up!

I hope you can join us. Looking forward to “seeing you” there!!!

Upcoming Speaking Events – In Person and Online – Ireland, Native Americans and More

Generally, I don’t travel to speak much, but clearly, I’ve lost my mind this fall and scheduled three back to back events. What was I thinking? I hope you can join me, in person, or online.

There are three fantastic opportunities!

Genetic Genealogy Ireland

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be both attending and presenting at Genetic Genealogy Ireland this upcoming week from October 20-22 in Dublin. I hope to meet many new friends and see where my Irish ancestors were from.

I’ll be presenting at the GGI conference on October 21 and 22, as well as participating in a roundtable on Saturday.

After the conference, Maurice Gleeson, wonderful man that he is,  puts (most of) the sessions online at YouTube on GGI’s own YouTube channel, so be sure to take a look. Past sessions are available too and all are free. It doesn’t get better than that, unless you can join in the festivities in person.

This is an incredible lineup and you won’t be sorry. When I’m not speaking, you’ll find me in the other sessions – that’s for sure.  Many of these speakers seldom appear and these are truly unique opportunities.

Family Tree University Workshop and Webinar on Native American Heritage

Can’t come to Ireland?

Have Native American ancestors, or think you might?

I’ve created a workshop duo for Family Tree University that includes both a video presentation and then on November 7th, a live webinar at 7 PM EST where we will step through working with various tools at each of the three main vendors, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry, plus GedMatch.

This series will help the novice, someone who thinks they might have family history and would like to confirm that story, or someone who knows they have Native heritage and is looking for more information.

You can sign up here for the package that includes both the pre-session webinar and the online workshop.

In the pre-session, I cover:
◾Native American history and how it affects DNA
◾Types of DNA
◾Formulating a DNA test strategy
◾Resources

In the live hour-long workshop, I’ll be reviewing the various unique tools you can use through the different DNA testing vendors, how each one can help you in order learn as much as possible about your Native ancestry and potentially find relatives. Finding relatives may be just the key to discovering more about your heritage, where your ancestor lived, or maybe even your tribe – although no DNA test alone can do that.

Are you using your DNA information to its fullest capacity?  Sign up to find out.

Family Tree DNA 13th Annual International Conference on Genetic Genealogy

I’ll be presenting sessions in Houston, Texas at the Family Tree DNA conference November 10-12. That conference registration is now full, so if you’re a project administrator and you’ve registered, I’ll see you there.

This conference is one I’ve literally never missed! It’s always wonderful.

In the Mean Time…

Yes, I do have articles scheduled for publication during this time. I’ll try to catch anything that comes up spontaneously as well.

The great news is that the two conferences, plus my rambling around Ireland will provide great blog fodder, so be sure to stay tuned!

Who knows, maybe I’ll be visiting where your ancestors were from too.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 850 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

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

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

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

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

A Career in Genetic Genealogy

One of the questions I’m asked regularly is how one might prepare for a career in genetic genealogy.  I can’t really answer that question very effectively, because there is no official path or course of study for this career.  My own entry point was through a strong science and computer background, although my degrees are “legacy” by today’s standards, combined with a 35+ year obsession with genealogy and what I thought was an early retirement from my first career.  Little did I know I’d be busier than ever.

In November 2016, I met Jessica Taylor and Paul Woodbury at the International Conference on Genetic Genealogy sponsored by Family Tree DNA and held annually in Houston, Texas.  I had corresponded with Paul several times previously, before he went to work with Legacy Tree Genealogists, owned and founded by Jessica Taylor.

It was wonderful to meet Paul in person, one of the benefits of attending conferences. As you can see, we were having a great time on a lab tour at Gene by Gene.

Paul is the first (and only, so far) person that I’ve met that actually proactively decided to become a genetic genealogist.  Everyone else gravitated to this field from elsewhere or fell into it one way or another.  That really isn’t surprising given that genetic genealogy is only 17 years old, and that there wasn’t enough interest, testing or tests to constitute a career or even a specialty in genetic genealogy for the first several years.

I began writing the Personalized DNA Reports, available through Family Tree DNA and my website, in about 2004.  At that time, autosomal DNA testing for genealogy didn’t yet exist and wouldn’t for several more years.

The advent of autosomal testing with cousin matching and ethnicity estimates has really brought genetics into the forefront of genealogy research.  So the question of how one becomes a genetic genealogist, whether by plan from the beginning or by reinventing or adding to an existing career is a question we’re going to hear more and more.

I’ve asked Paul to write a guest column about the career path to becoming a genetic genealogist.  I would like to thank Paul for this article and Legacy Tree Genealogists for the coupon for readers who might benefit from genealogy research (at the end of the article), and with that, I’ll turn it over to Paul.

Pursuing a Career in Genetic Genealogy by Paul Woodbury

Person I just met: “What do you do for work?”

Me: I’m a genetic genealogist.”

Person I just met: “Wow! I didn’t even know that job existed. How did you get into that?”

I probably have this same conversation or variations on the theme every other day. Since I was sixteen, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in genetic genealogy. My fascination with genealogy began when I was still very young. I can trace my interest to the family history binder I got from my grandparents on my eighth birthday. But, in 2006 during the Winter Olympics, a television special entitled “African American Lives” aired on PBS and it introduced me to my chosen career. In the show, they shared stories regarding the ancestry and origins of African American celebrities. They used traditional genealogical research but brought in DNA as part of their exploration. I decided then and there that I wanted to be a genetic genealogist. Along those lines, I attended Brigham Young University where I majored in genetics and minored in Family History. If I could do it over again, I might have switched my focus.

Throughout my undergraduate education, my professors had no idea what to do with me. Most of my peers were preparing for medical school or for work in research labs. Many of our professors had emphases in plant genetics. Since I had a very different aim, I struggled in my classes which had limited application to the field of genetics. When I approached my professors requesting advice or references, they were at a loss of where to direct me. While my genetics education provides a strong framework for understanding genetic inheritance and biological concepts, most of the skills I use as a genetic genealogist I learned through informal and on-the-job education.

Most of my education relating specifically to genetic genealogy came through attending conferences, networking with leaders in the field, reading blogs, online forums, and books dedicated to the topic and working under the guidance of skilled mentors. Because genetic genealogy is a fairly new field, I have also found that much of my genetic genealogy education comes through hands-on experience dealing with real situations. I learn most as I apply my knowledge towards the resolution of a research goal, and as I search for novel approaches to solve more advanced research problems.

When I first began attending conferences, I would ask those offering classes on genetic genealogy topics what they recommended for those preparing to enter the field. Every one of them told me that I should pursue a masters or Ph.D. in Genetics or Bioinformatics. I ignored their advice. While there is certainly a demand for expertise in those areas, I saw a need (and still see a need) for genealogists who are well-versed in applying genetics to traditional research rather than vice-versa. As discussed previously, most of what I use daily as a genetic genealogist, I learned outside of my genetics classes. To be a good genetic genealogist, you do not necessarily need to be a geneticist. Nevertheless, to be a good genetic genealogist, you do need to be a good genealogist.

Genetic testing is increasingly becoming part of reasonably exhaustive research as mandated by the genealogical proof standard. As DNA takes its place as one record among many, good genetic genealogists will need to be well-versed in at least the basics of traditional research, and traditional researchers will need to be well-versed in at least the basics of DNA evidence. Certainly there are specialists in different localities, languages or types of record, but they exist in relation to larger genealogical practice, evidence analysis and problem solving. Specialty in genetic genealogy is not a stand-alone emphasis. For any individual planning to pursue genetic genealogy research as a career, I recommend specializing in other traditional research fields as well. Personally, I specialize in French, Spanish and Scandinavian research in addition to my emphasis on genetic genealogy.

Even now, genetic genealogy education is mostly offered through conferences and institutes. Some conferences and institutes which I have attended and which regularly offer in-depth courses on genetic genealogy include the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree and DNA Day (SCGS), RootsTech, Institute for Genetic Genealogy (I4GG), and the Family Tree DNA Group Administrators Conference. A host of other conferences, institutes, workshops and seminars also provide instruction on genetic genealogy including national conferences like NGS and FGS and local society conferences. Online offerings are also on the rise and one fairly new resource is a 15-week online course dedicated to Genetic Genealogy at Excelsior College. (https://genealogy.excelsior.edu/genealogy/genetic-genealogy/)

Conferences are not only valuable for the classes and sessions they provide dedicated to genetic genealogy topics, but also for the opportunities they provide to network with other genealogists and genetic genealogy researchers. By attending RootsTech and other conferences while still a college student, I was able to collaborate and network with leaders in the field of genetic genealogy. Through my correspondence and collaboration with these individuals, I have benefited from wonderful relationships and important mentorship opportunities.

Even if you do not have the opportunity to participate in genealogy conferences and network with other professionals, you can still benefit from online communities, forums and blogs which provide in depth education regarding genetic genealogy:

Books I recommend for genetic genealogy education:

  • Genetic Genealogy in Practice by Blaine T. Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne
  • NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection by David Dowell
  • The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine T. Bettinger

Perhaps the most important challenge for preparing to enter the field of genetic genealogy is gaining experience in the field. As you work with prospective employers and clients it is important to have a portfolio of professional level reports and materials to help increase confidence in your ability. Consider starting work on your own family history. As you compile evidence and proof arguments, be sure to abide by standards of genealogical proof and the genetic genealogy standards. When collaborating with other genetic cousins and relatives, consider pursuing some pro-bono work in helping them with their research problems. When you share your portfolio with clients or prospective employers, don’t be shy. This is your opportunity to show off the full range of your ability, so don’t feel bad about sharing a 30 page report. Since there are currently no organizations offering credentials in genetic genealogy specialty, clients and employers have to depend upon your previous experience in the area. For any research you do, make sure to write it up in a clearly written report.

Even if you are a very good researcher, you cannot be a successful professional genealogist without strong writing and communication skills as well. Even the most brilliant research breakthroughs go unnoticed when they are not effectively communicated. In addition to improving your research skills, work on developing your time management, report writing, and communication skills.

As genealogy becomes a more popular field of inquiry and as more people participate in genetic genealogy testing, demand for DNA interpretation and genetic genealogy research will only increase. Demand for genetic genealogy research services is already high and is rapidly increasing. In my view, demand for genealogy research is driven by disconnect and displacement from cultural roots. Current trends in migration and family structures lend themselves to more frequent disconnect and displacement between families and communities. In many cases, the cultural and familial ties being broken today through refugee crises, adoption, and misattributed parentage have sparse record trails on which we can rely for future genealogy research. As a result, genetic genealogy will play an increasingly important role in genealogy research in the future. It is an exciting time to be involved in the field of genetic genealogy and a great many opportunities are on the horizon. If you plan to join the field, make sure to arm yourself with the education and experience you will need to succeed.

Paul Woodbury is a Senior Genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists, a genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in genetic genealogy and DNA analysis. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit the Legacy Tree website at https://www.legacytree.com 

Exclusive Offer for DNAexplain readers:

Receive $100 off a 20-hour research project from Legacy Tree Genealogists using code SAVE100. Valid through March 24th, 2017.  Click here for more information, or to redeem coupon.

800 Articles Strong

800-strong

Today is something of a red-letter day. This is the 801st article published on this blog.

This blog, DNA-Explained, was christened on July 11, 2012 and will soon be 5 years old, as hard as that is to believe. In some ways, it feels like this blog has been around “forever” and in other ways, it feels like it’s very new, because there is always some interesting topic to write about.

Truthfully, I can’t believe I’ve written 800 articles. No wonder some of the letters are worn off of my keyboard. And it’s my second keyboard!

My original goal was one article per week, which would have been about 235 articles by now. I wasn’t sure I could accomplish that. It’s amazing what inspiration can do! I love genetic genealogy every bit as much today as I did then, if not more. What an incredibly exciting time to be alive with an unbelievable opportunity to participate in an unfolding field with new discoveries being made on an almost daily basis.

I had been considering a DNA blog when Spencer Wells, then Scientist in Residence at the National Geographic Society, suggested that I SHOULD author a blog. That encouragement was all it took to motivate me. Thanks so much Spencer for that final nudge!!!

spencer and me

Just 12 days after DNA-Explained’s launch, the Genographic 2.0 product was introduced and I was privileged to participate in that announcement.

I started writing articles in self-defense, truthfully, because I was receiving the same questions over and over again. I figured if I could write the answer once, I could then just point the next person with that same question to an answer that included graphics and illustrations and was a much better answer than I could provide in an e-mail.

Plus, repetitively recreating the same answer was a time-waster – and blogging to share publicly with the goal of helping lots of people learn seemed the perfect solution.

I had no idea, and I mean none, that DNA testing in the direct to consumer marketplace would explode like it has. I’m glad I started writing when I did, because there are ever-more people asking questions. That’s a good thing, because it means people are testing and learning what messages their DNA has for them.

Our DNA is the most personal record of our ancestors that we’ll ever have – and today more and more tools exist to interpret what those ancestors are telling us. We are still panning for gold on the frontier of science although we know infinitely more than we did a decade or 5 years ago, and we know less than we will 5 or 10 years from now. We are still learning every single day. That’s what makes this field so exciting, and infinitely personal.

Here’s part of what I said in my introductory article:

Genetic genealogy is a world full of promise, but it changes rapidly and can be confusing. People need to understand how to use the numerous tools available to us to unravel our ancestral history.

People also love to share stories. We become inspired by the successes of others, and ideas are often forthcoming that we would not have otherwise thought of.

In light of that, I’ve tried to include a wide variety of articles at every level so that there is something for everyone. I hope I’ve managed to make genetics interesting and shared some of my enthusiasm with you over the years.

In Celebration

To celebrate this 800 article-versary, I’m going to share a few things.

  • Article organization and how to find what you want
  • The 10 most popular articles of those 800
  • Two things people can do to help themselves
  • Articles I wish people would read
  • Questions asked most frequently

Then, I’m going to ask you what you’d like for me to write about in the future.

Articles Organization aka How To Find What You Want

Blogs allow you to group articles by both categories and tags, two ways of organizing your articles so that people and search engines can find them.

Each article is identified by categories. You can click on any of the categories, below, to see which articles fall into that category. These are also some of the keywords for the blog search feature.

I’ve also grouped articles by tags as shown on the sidebar of the blog. The larger text indicates tags with more articles.

800-tags

You can click on any of those as well (on the actual blog page) to view all the articles that fall into that tag group.

For example, one of my 52 Ancestor Stories would be tagged with “52 Weeks of Ancestors” but if it discussed Y DNA, that would be one of the categories selected.

At the end of every blog article, you can see the category or categories the article is posted under, tags and other pertinent information about that article.

800-end-of-article

The Top 10 Articles

  1. Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA
  2. 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy
  3. Ethnicity Results – True or Not?
  4. Mythbusting – Women, Fathers and DNA
  5. Genealogy and Ethnicity DNA Testing – 3 Legitimate Companies
  6. How Much Indian Do I Have in Me???
  7. What is a Haplogroup?
  8. Thick Hair, Small Boobs, Shovel Shaped Teeth and More
  9. Ethnicity Testing and Results
  10. 23andMe, Ancestry and Selling Your DNA Information

The Two Things People Can Do To Help Themselves

  1. Search first.

Before asking a question, I wish people would try searching my blog for the answer. Using the search box in the upper right hand corner, the blog is fully key word searchable.

800-search

Furthermore, even if you can’t figure out the right key word to search, you can also find articles on my blog by searching for phrases using google.

2. Upload GEDCOM files.

Your DNA testing is only as good as the comparisons you can make, and the ancestors and ancestral links you can find. Please, please, PLEASE upload GEDCOM files to Family Tree DNA and GedMatch. If you don’t have a tree, you can create one at Family Tree DNA. Link your tree to your DNA results on Ancestry and share your results. 23andMe has no tree ability at this time.

The Articles I Wish People Would Read

In addition to some of the articles already listed in the top 10, I wish people would read:

Questions Asked Most Frequently

  • Questions relating to Native American heritage and testing.
  • Questions relating to ethnicity, especially when the results are unexpected or don’t seem to align with what is known or family oral history.
  • Overwhelmed newbies who receive results and don’t have any idea how to interpret what they’ve received, which is why I created the Help page.

The Future – What Articles Would You Like to See?

It’s your turn.

What topics would you like to see me cover in upcoming articles? Is there something in particular that you find confusing, or enticing, or exciting?

I’m not promising that I’ll write about every topic, and some may be combined, but articles are often prompted by questions and suggestions from readers.

And speaking of readers…

Thank You

A very big thank you to all of my subscribers and followers for making DNA-Explained so popular and such a success. You folks are amazing, infinitely giving and helpful. We really are a community!

thank-you