Comparing DNA Results – Different Tests at the Same Testing Company

Several people have asked about different tests at the same DNA testing company. They wondered if matching is affected, meaning whether your matches are different if you have two different tests at the same company. Specifically, they asked if you are better off purchasing a test AT a DNA testing vendor that allows uploads, rather than uploading a test from a different vendor. Does it make a difference to the tester or their matches? Do they have the same matches?

These are great questions, and the answer isn’t conclusive. It varies based on several factors.

Having multiple tests at the same DNA testing company can occur in three ways:

  • The same person tests twice at the same DNA testing company.
  • The same person tests once at the DNA testing company and uploads a test from a different testing company. Only two of the primary four DNA testing companies accept uploads from other vendors – FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage.
  • The same person uploads two different files from other DNA testing companies to the DNA testing company in question. For example, the DNA company could be FamilyTreeDNA and the two uploaded DNA files could be from either MyHeritage, 23andMe or Ancestry.

All DNA testing companies allow users to download their raw DNA data files. This enables the tester to upload their DNA file to the vendors who accept uploaded files. Both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage provide matching for free, but advanced tools require a small unlock fee of $19 and $29, respectively.

Testing Company Accepts Uploads from Other Companies Download Upload Instructions
23andMe No Instructions here
Ancestry No Instructions here
FamilyTreeDNA Yes, some Instructions here
MyHeritage Yes, some Instructions here

I wrote about developing a DNA testing and transfer/upload strategy, here, and about which companies accept which tests, here.

Not all DNA files are created equal. Therefore, not all files from vendors are compatible with other vendors for various reasons.

Multiple Tests at the Same DNA Testing Company

I have at least two tests at each of the four major vendors. I did this for research purposes, meaning to write articles to share with you.

If you actually test twice at a vendor, meaning purchase two separate tests and take them yourself, you will have two test results at that testing company. At some companies, specifically 23andMe, if you purchase a new test through their “upgrade” procedure, you won’t have two tests, just the newer one.

However, if you’re testing at the DNA testing company, and also uploading, I generally don’t recommend more than one test at each vendor. All it really does is clog up people’s match lists with no or little additional benefit. At 23andMe, with their restrictions on the size of your match list, if everyone had two tests, the effective match limit would be half of their stated limit of about 1500 matches for earlier testers and about 5000 for current testers with subscriptions.

So, in essence, I’m telling you to “do as I say, not as I do.” We all have better things to do with our money rather pay for the same test twice. If you haven’t tested your Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA, that’s much more beneficial than two autosomal tests at one vendor.

Chips and Chip Evolution

Before we begin the side-by-side comparison, let’s briefly discuss DNA testing chips and how they work.

Each DNA testing company purchases DNA processing equipment. Illumina is the big dog in this arena. Illumina defines the capacity and structure of each chip. In part, how the testing companies use that capacity, or space on each chip, is up to each company. This means that the different testing companies test many of the same autosomal DNA SNP locations, but not all of the same locations.

Furthermore, the individual testing companies can specify a number of “other” locations to be included on their chip, up to the chip maximum size limit. The testing companies who offer Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA haplogroups from autosomal tests use part of their chip array space for selected known haplogroup-defining SNP locations. This does NOT mean that Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA is autosomal, just that the testing company used part of their chip array space to target these SNPs in your genome. Of course, for your most refined haplogroup and Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA matching, you have to take those specific tests at FamilyTreeDNA .

This means that each testing company includes and reports many of the same, but also some different SNP locations when they scan your DNA.

In the lab, after your DNA is extracted from either your saliva or the cheek swab, it’s placed on this array chip which is then placed in the processing equipment.

There are several steps in processing your DNA. Each DNA location specified on the chip is scanned and read multiple times, and the results are recorded. The final output is the raw DNA results file that you see if/when you download your raw DNA file.

Here’s an example from my file. The RSID is the reference SNP cluster ID which is the naming convention used for specific SNPs. It’s not relevant to you, but it is to the lab, along with the chromosome number and position, which is in essence the address on the chromosome.

In the Result column, your file reports one nucleotide (T, A, C or G) that you inherited from each parent at each tested position. They are not listed in “parent order” because your DNA is not organized in that fashion. There’s no way for the lab to know which nucleotide came from which parent, unless they are the same, of course. You can read about nucleotides, here.

When you upload your raw DNA file to a different DNA testing company (vendor), they have to work with a file that isn’t entirely compatible with the files they generate, or the other files uploaded from other DNA testing companies.

In addition to dealing with different file formats and contents from multiple DNA vendors, companies change their own chips and file structure from time to time. In some cases, it’s a forced change by the chip manufacturer. Other times, the vendors want to include different locations or make improvements. For example, with 23andMe’s focus on health, they probably add new medically related SNP locations regularly. Regardless of why, some DNA files include locations not included in other files and are not 100% compatible.

Looking at the first few entries in my example file above, let’s say that the testing vendor included the first ten positions, but an uploaded file from another company did not. Or perhaps the chip changed, and a different version of the company’s own file contains different positions.

DNA testing companies have to “fill in the blanks” for compatibility, and they do this using a technique called imputation. Illumina forced their customers to adopt imputation in 2017 when they dropped the capacity of their chip. I was initially quite skeptical, but imputation has worked surprisingly well. Some of the matching differences you will see when comparing the results of two different DNA files is a result of imputation.

I wrote about imputation in an early article here. Please note the companies have fixed many issues with imputation and improved matching greatly, but the concepts and imputation processes still apply. The downloaded raw data files are your results BEFORE imputation, meaning that it’s up to any company where you upload to process your raw file in the same way they would process a file that they generated. A lot goes on behind the scenes when you upload a file to a DNA testing company.

At both 23andMe and Ancestry, you know that all of your matches tested there, meaning they did not upload a file from another testing company. You don’t know and can’t tell what chip was utilized when your matches tested. The only way to determine a chip testing version, aside from knowing the date or remembering the chip version from when you tested, is to look at the beginning of the raw data download file, although not all files contain that information.

Ok, now that you understand the landscape, let’s look at my results at each company.

23andMe

I tested twice at 23andMe on two different chip versions, V3 and V4, which tested some different locations of my DNA. Neither of these chips is the current version. I originally tested twice to evaluate the differences between the two test versions which you can read about, here.

23andMe named their ethnicity results Ancestry Composition.

They last updated my V3 test’s Ancestry Composition results on July 28, 2021.

The percentages are shown at left, and the country locations are highlighted at right for my 23andMe V3 test.

Click to enlarge any graphic

The 23andMe V4 test was also updated for the last time on July 28, 2021.

The ethnicity results differ substantially between the two chip versions, even though they were both updated on the same date.

In October of 2020, in an effort to “encourage” their customers to pay for a new test on their V5 chip, 23andMe announced that there would be no ethnicity updates on older tests. So, I really don’t know for sure when my tests were actually updated. Just note how different the results are. It’s also worth mentioning that 23andMe does not show trace amounts on their map, so even though my Indigenous American results were found, they aren’t displayed on the map.

Indigenous is, however, shown in yellow on their DNA Chromosome Painting.

No other testing company restricts updates, penalizing their customers who purchased earlier versions of tests.

Matches at 23andMe

23andMe limits your matches to about 1500 unless you have purchased the current test, including health AND pay for an annual $69 subscription which buys you about 5000 matches. I have not purchased this test.

Your number of actual matches displayed/retained is also affected by how many people you have communicated with, or at least initiated communications with. 23andMe does not roll those people off of your match list.

I have 1803 matches on both of my tests, meaning I’ve reached out to about 300 people who would have otherwise been removed from my match list. 23andMe retains your highest matches, deleting lower matches after you reach the maximum match threshold.

I’ve randomly evaluated several of the same matches at each vendor, at least five maternal and five paternal, separated by a blank row. I wanted to determine whether they match me on the same number of centimorgans, meaning the same amount of DNA, on both tests, and the same number of segments.

Match 23and Me V3 23and Me V4
Patricia 292 cM – 12 segments Same as V3
Joe 148 cM, 8 segments Same
Emily 73 cM, 4 segs 72 cM, 4 seg
Roland 27 cM, 1 seg Same
Ian 62 cM, 4 seg Same
Stacy 469 cM, 16 segments 482 cM, 16 segments
Harold 134 cM, 6 segments Same
Dean 69 cM, 3 seg Same
Carl 95 cM, 4 seg Same
Debbie 83 cM, 4 seg 84 cM, 4 seg

As you can see, the matches are either exact or xclose.

Please note that bolded matches are also found at another company. I will include a summary table at the end comparing the same match across multiple vendors.

23and Me Summary

The 23andMe V3 and V4 match results are very close. Since the match limit is the same, and the results are so close between tests, they are essentially identical in terms of matching.

The ethnicity results are similar, but the V4 test reflects a broader region. Italian baffles me in both versions.

Ethnicity should never be taken at face value at any DNA testing company, especially with smaller percentages which could be noise or a combination of other regions which just happens to resemble Italy, in my case.

I don’t know what type of comparison the current chip would yield since I suspect it has more medical and less genealogical SNPs on board.

Reprocessing Tests

This is probably a good place to note that it’s very expensive for any company to update their customer’s ethnicity results because every single customer’s DNA results file must be completely rerun. Note that this does not mean their DNA itself is retested. The output raw data file is reprocessed using a new algorithm.

Rerunning means reprocessing that specific portion of every test, meaning the vendors must rent “time in the cloud.” We are talking millions of dollars for each run. I don’t know how much it costs per test, but think about the expense if it takes $1 to rerun each test in the vendor’s database. Ancestry has more than 20 million tests.

While we, as consumers, are always chomping at the bit for new and better ethnicity results – the testing companies need to be sure it really is “better,” not just different before they invest the money to reprocess and update results.

This is probably why 23andMe decided to cease updating older kits. The newer tests require a subscription which is recurring revenue.

The same is true when DNA testing companies need to rematch their entire user base. This happens when the criteria for matching changes. For example, Ancestry purged a large number of matches for all of their customers back in 2020. While match algorithm changes necessitate rematching, with associated costs, this change also provided Ancestry with the huge benefit of eliminating approximately half of their customer’s matches. This freed up storage space, either physically in their data center or space rented in the cloud, representing substantial cost-savings.

How long can a DNA testing company reasonably be expected to continue investing in a product which never generates additional revenue but for which the maintenance and reinvestment costs never end?

Ancestry and MyHeritage both hope to offset the expenses of maintaining their customer’s DNA tests and providing free updates by selling subscriptions to their record services. 23andMe wants you to purchase a new test and a yearly subscription. FamilyTreeDNA wants you to purchase a Big Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA test.

OK, now let’s look at my matches at Ancestry.

Ancestry

I’ve taken two Ancestry tests, V1 and V2. There were some differences, which I wrote about here and here. V2 is no longer the current chip.

Except for 23andMe who wants their customers to purchase their most current test, the other companies no longer routinely announce new chip versions. They just go about their business. The only way you know that a vendor actually changed something is when the other companies who accept uploads suddenly encounter an issue with file formats. It always takes a few weeks to sort that out.

My Ancestry V1 test’s ethnicity results don’t show my Native American ethnicity.

Ancestry results were updated in June 2022

However, my V2 results do include Native American ethnicity.

Matches at Ancestry

I have many more matches on my V1 test at Ancestry because I took steps to preserve my smaller matches when Ancestry initiated its massive purge in 2020. I wrote about that here and here.

Ancestry’s SideView breaks matches down into maternal, paternal, and unassigned based on your side selection. You tell Ancestry which side is which. You may be able to determine which “side” is maternal or paternal either by your ethnicity or shared matches. While SideView is not always accurate, it’s a good place to begin.

Match Category Ancestry V1 Test Ancestry V2 Test
Maternal 15,587 15,116
Paternal 42,247 41,870
Both 2 2
Unassigned 48,999 4,127
Total 106,835 61,115

Ancestry either displays all your matches or your matches by side, which I used to compile the table above. I suspect that Ancestry is not assigning any of the smaller preserved matches to “sides” based on the numbers above.

Ancestry implemented a process called Timber that removes DNA that they feel is “too matchy,” meaning you match enough people in this region that they think it’s a pileup region for you personally, and therefore not useful. In some cases, enough DNA is removed causing that person to no longer be considered a match because they fall beneath the match threshold. I am not a fan of Timber.

Your match amount shown is AFTER Timber has removed those segments. Unweighted shared DNA is your pre-Timber match amount.

You can view the Unweighted shared DNA by clicking on the amount of shared DNA on your match list.

You can read Ancestry’s Matching White Paper, here.

Let’s take a look at my matches. I’ve listed both weighted and unweighted where they are different.

Match Ancestry V1 Ancestry V2
Michael 755 cM, 35 seg 737 cM, 33 seg
Edward 66 cM, 4 seg (unweighted 86 cM) 65 cM, 4 seg (unweighted 86 cM)
Tom 59 cM, 3 seg (unweighted 63) Same
Jonathon 43 cM, 4 seg, (unweighted 52 cM) Same
Matthew 20 cM, 2 seg (unweighted 35 cM) Same
Harold 132 cM, 7 seg 135 cM, 6 seg
Dean 67 cM, 4 seg (unweighted 78 cM) 66 cM, 4 seg (unweighted 78 cM)
Debbie 93 cM, 5 seg Same
Valli 142 cM, 3 seg Same
Jared 20 cM, 1 seg (unweighted 22 cM) Same

Timber only removes DNA when the match is under 90 cM. Almost every match under 90 cM has some DNA removed.

Ancestry Summary

The results of the two Ancestry tests are very close.

In some circumstances, no DNA is removed by Timber, so the unweighted is the same as the weighted. However, in other cases, a significant amount is removed. 15 cM of Matthew’s 35 cM was removed by Timber, reducing his total to 20 cM.

Remember that Ancestry does not show shared matches unless they are greater than 20 cM, which is different than any other DNA testing company.

At one point, Ancestry was selling a health test that was also a genealogy test. That test utilized a different chip that is not accepted for uploads by other vendors. The results of that test might well be different that the “normal” Ancestry tests focused on genealogy. The Ancestry health test is no longer offered.

Companies that Accept Uploads

DNA testing companies that accept uploaded DNA files from other DNA testing companies need to process the uploaded file, just like a file that is generated in their own lab. Of course, they must deal with the differences between uploaded files and their own file format. The processing includes imputation and formulates the uploaded file so that it works with the tools that they provide for their customers, including ethnicity (by whatever name they use) matching, family matching (bucketing), advanced matching, the match matrix, triangulation, AutoClusters, Theories of Family Relativity, and other advanced tools.

Of course, the testing company accepting uploads can only work with the DNA locations provided by the original DNA testing company in the uploaded file.

Matching and some additional tools are free to uploaders, but advanced tools require an inexpensive unlock.

FamilyTreeDNA

I took a test at FamilyTreeDNA, plus uploaded a copy of both of my Ancestry DNA files.

FamilyTreeDNA named their population (ethnicity) test myOrigins and the current version is V3. I wrote about the rollout and comparison in September of 2020, here.

My DNA test taken at FamilyTreeDNA, above, reveals Native American segments that match reference populations found both in North and South America and the Caribbean Islands.

At FamilyTreeDNA, my Ancestry V1 uploaded file results show Native American population matches only in North America.

Interestingly, my Ancestry V1 file processed AT Ancestry did not reveal Native American ancestry, but the same file uploaded to and processed at FamilyTreeDNA did show Native American results, reflecting the difference between the vendors’ internal algorithms and reference populations utilized.

My myOrigins results from my Ancestry V2 uploaded file at FamilyTreeDNA also include my North American Native American segments. The V2 test also showed Native American ethnicity at Ancestry, so clearly something changed in Ancestry’s algorithm, locations tested, and/or reference populations between V1 and V2.

Fortunately, FamilyTreeDNA provides both chromosome painting and a population download file so I can match those Native segments with my autosomal matches to identify which of my ancestors contributed those specific segments.

One of my Native segments is shown in pink on Chromosome1. My mother has a Native segment in exactly the same location, so I know that this segment originated with my mother’s ancestors.

I downloaded the myOrigins population segment file and painted my results at DNAPainter, along with the matches where I can identify our common ancestor. This allowed me to pinpoint the ancestral line that contributed this Native segment in my maternal line. You can read about using DNAPainter, here.

FamilyTreeDNA Matches

I have significantly more matches at FamilyTreeDNA on their test than on either of my Ancestry tests that I uploaded. However, nearly the same number are maternally or paternally assigned through Family Matching, with the remainder unassigned. You can read about Family Matching here.

Match Category FamilyTreeDNA Test Ancestry V1 at FamilyTreeDNA Ancestry V2 at FamilyTreeDNA
Paternal 3,479 3,572 3,422
Maternal 1,549 1,536 1,477
Both 3 3 3
All 8,154 6,397 6,579

Family matching, aka bucketing, automatically assigns my matches as maternal and paternal by linking known relatives to their place in my tree.

I completed the following match chart using my original test taken at FamilyTreeDNA, plus the same match at FamilyTreeDNA for both of my Ancestry tests.

In other words, Cheryl matched me at 467 cM on 21 segments on the original test taken at FamilyTreeDNA. She matched me on 473 cM and 21 segments on my Ancestry V1 test uploaded to FamilyTreeDNA and on 483 cM and 22 segments on the Ancestry V2 test uploaded to FamilyTreeDNA.

Match FamilyTreeDNA Ancestry V1 at FTDNA Ancestry V2 at FTDNA
Cheryl 467 cM, 21 seg 473 cM, 21 seg 483 cM, 22 seg
Patricia 195 cM, 11 seg 189 cM, 11 seg 188 cM, 11 seg
Tom 77 cM, 4 seg 71 cM, 4 seg 76 cM, 4 seg
Thomas 72 cM, 3 seg 71 cM, 3 seg 74 cM, 3 seg
Roland 29 cM, 1 seg 35 cM, 2 seg 35 cM, 2 seg
Rex 62 cM, 4 seg 55 cM, 3 seg 57 cM, 3 seg
Don 395 cM, 18 seg 362 cM, 15 seg 398 cM, 18 seg
Ian 64 cM, 4 seg 56 cM, 4 seg 64 cM, 4 seg
Stacy 490 cM, 18 seg 494 cM, 15 seg 489 cM, 14 seg
Harold 127 cM, 5 cM 133 cM, 6 seg 143 cM, 6 seg
Dean 81 cM, 4 seg 75 cM, 3 seg 83 cM, 4 seg
Carl 103 cM, 4 seg 101 cM, 4 seg 102 cM, 4 seg
Debbie 99 cM, 5 seg 97 cM, 5 seg 99 cM, 5 seg
David 373 cM, 16 seg 435 cM, 19 seg 417 cM, 18 seg
Amos 176 cM, 7 seg 177 cM. 8 seg 177 cM, 7 seg
Buster 387 cM, 15 seg 396 cM, 16 seg 402 cM, 17 seg
Charlene 461 cM, 21 seg 450 cM, 21 seg 448 cM, 20 seg
Carol 65 cM, 6 seg 64 cM, 6 seg 65 cM, 6 seg

I have tested many of my cousins at FamilyTreeDNA and encouraged others to test or upload. I’ve attempted to include enough people so that I can have common matches at least at one other DNA testing company for comparison.

FamilyTreeDNA Summary

The matches are relatively close, with a few being exact.

Interestingly, some of the segment counts are different. In most cases, this results from one segment being broken into multiple segments by one or more of the tests, but not always. In the couple that I checked, the entire segment seems to descend from the same ancestral couple, so the break is likely a result of not all of the same DNA locations being tested, plus the limits of imputation.

MyHeritage

I have two tests at MyHeritage. One taken at MyHeritage, and an uploaded file from FamilyTreeDNA.

MyHeritage displays both ethnicity results and Genetic Groups which maps groups of people that you match. I left the Genetic Groups setting at the highest confidence level. Shifting it to lower displays additional Genetic Groups, some of which overlap with or are within ethnicity regions.

My test taken at MyHeritage, above, shows several ethnicities and Genetic Groups, but no Native American.

My FamilyTreeDNA kit processed at MyHeritage shows the same ethnicity regions, one additional Genetic Group, plus Native American heritage in the Amazon which is rather surprising given that I don’t show Native in North American regions where I’m positive my Native ancestors lived.

MyHeritage Matching

At MyHeritage, I compared the results of the test I took with MyHeritage, and a test I uploaded from FamilyTreeDNA. Fewer than half of my matches can be assigned to a parent via shared matching.

Matches MyHeritage Test FamilyTreeDNA at MyHeritage
Paternal 4,422 6,501
Maternal 2,660 3,655
Total 13,233 16,147

I have rounded my matches at MyHeritage to the closest cM.

Match MyHeritage Test FamilyTreeDNA at MyHeritage
Michael 801 cM, 32 seg 823 cM, 31 segments
Cheryl 467 cM, 23 seg 477 cM, 23 seg
Roland No match 28 cM, 1 seg
Patty 156 cM, 9 seg 151 cM, 9 seg
Rex 43 cM, 4 seg 53 cM, 3 seg
Don 369 cM, 16 seg 382 cM, 17 seg
 
David 449 cM, 17 seg 460 cM, 17 seg
Charlene 454 cM, 23 seg 477 cM, 24 seg
Buster 408 cM, 15 seg 410 cM, 16 seg
Amos 183 cM, 8 seg Same
Carol 78 cM, 6 seg 87 cM, 7 seg

MyHeritage Summary

I was surprised to discover that Roland had no match with the MyHeritage test, but did with the FamilyTreeDNA test. I wonder if this is a searching or matching glitch, especially since both companies use the same chip. 28 cM in one segment is a reasonably large match, and even if it was divided in two, it would still be over the matching threshold. I know this is a valid match because Roland triangulates with me and several cousins, I’m positive of our common ancestor, and he also matches me at both FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe.

Other than that, the matches are reasonably close, with one being exact.

Your Matches Aren’t Everyplace

I unsuccessfully searched for someone who was a match to me in all four databases. Ancestry does not permit match downloads, so I had to search manually. People don’t always use the same names in different databases.

Surprisingly, I was unable to find one match who is in all of the databases. Many people only suggest testing at Ancestry because they have the largest database, but if you look at the following comparison chart that I’ve created, you’ll see that 16 of 26 people, or 62% were not at Ancestry. Conversely, many people were at Ancestry and not elsewhere. I could not find five maternal and five paternal matches at Ancestry that I could identify as matches in another database. 40% were not elsewhere.

If you think for one minute that it doesn’t matter for genealogy if you’re in all four major databases, please reconsider. It surely does matter.

Every single vendor has matches that the others don’t. Substantial, important matches. I have found first and second-cousin matches in every database that weren’t elsewhere.

Many of the original testers have passed away and can’t test again. My mother can never test at either 23andMe or Ancestry, but she is at both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage because I could upgrade her kit at FamilyTreeDNA after she died. I uploaded her to MyHeritage. Of course, because she is a generation closer to our ancestors, she has many valuable matches that I don’t.

Each vendor provides either an email address or a messaging platform for you to contact your matches. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t answer. Just today, I received a reply that was years in the making.

Genealogists hope for immediate gratification, but we are actually in this for the long game. Play it with every tool at your disposal.

The Answer

Does it matter if you test at a DNA testing company, or upload a file?

I know this was a very long answer to what my readers hoped was a simple yes or no question.

There is no consistent answer at either FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage, the two DNA testing companies that accept uploads. Be sure you’re in both databases. My closest two matches that I did not test were found at MyHeritage. Here’s a direct link to upload at MyHeritage.

Of the vendors, those two should be the closest to each other because they are both processed in the GenebyGene lab, but again, the actual chip version, when the test was originally taken, and each vendor’s internal processing will result in differences. Neither the original test at the DNA testing company nor the uploaded files have consistently higher or lower matches. Neither type of test or upload appears to be universally more or less accurate. Differences in either direction seem to occur on a match-by-match basis. Many are so close as to be virtually equivalent, with a few seemingly random exceptions. Of course, we always have to consider Timber.

If you upload, unlock the advanced features at both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage.

If you upload to a DNA testing company, you may discover in the future that some features and functions will only be available to original testers.

Personally, if I had the option, I would test at the company directly simply because it eliminates or at least reduces the possibility of future incompatibilities – with the exception of 23andMe which has chosen to not provide consistent updates to older tests. I’m incredibly grateful I didn’t test my mother or now deceased family members at 23andMe, and only there. I would be heartsick, heartbroken, and furious.

Our DNA is an extremely valuable resource for our genealogy. It’s the gift that truly keeps on giving, day after day, even when other records don’t exist. Be sure you and your family members are in each database one way or another, and test your Y-DNA (for males) and mitochondrial DNA (for everyone) to have a complete arsenal at your disposal.

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So, You Want to Become a Professional Genetic Genealogist

I get asked quite often about what is required to become a professional genetic genealogist.

That’s actually two separate questions.

  • What is required to become a professional genealogist?
  • Then, what is required to specialize as a genetic genealogist?

What It’s Not

Before we have this discussion, I need to make sure that you understand that I’m NOT talking about forensics, meaning IGG, or investigative genetic genealogy in this article.

  • This is NOT forensics (IGG)
  • This is also not a specialty in finding missing parents for adoptees and others searching for unknown parents.

Both IGG and adoption searches utilize the same methodology, a subset of genetic genealogy. I wrote about that in Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching.

The difference between genetic genealogy more broadly and IGG is:

  • What you’re searching for
  • The perspective
  • The methods utilized.

Essentially, the functional difference is that genealogists know who they are and have some information about their ancestors. For example, they know who their parents are and probably at least their grandparents. Genealogists are using both DNA testing and traditional genealogical paper trail research methods to focus and make discoveries going backwards in time.

Both IGG and unknown parent research uses DNA and (sometimes some) paper trail genealogy to find ways to connect the closest matches to the DNA tester (or DNA sample) together to each other to identify either living or recently living people. For example, two people who are are first cousins to the tester should both have the same grandparents if they are related to the tester through the same parent.

If two people who are related to the tester as first cousins do not share the same grandparent(s), then they are related to the tester through different parents of the tester.

The commonality is that DNA testing and some types of records are used for:

  • IGG where you’re searching for the identity of the tester or DNA sample
  • Unknown parent(s) searches where you are searching for the identity of the parent(s)
  • Genetic genealogy

However, the search methodology is different for IGG and unknown parents than for genealogy.

With IGG and unknown parent searches, you’re looking for your closest matches, then attempting to connect them together to identify either currently living or recently living people.

This article focuses specifically on genealogy and genetic genealogy, meaning looking backwards in time to identify ancestors.

I wrote about the techniques used for both IGG and parental searching in the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching.

What Do Genealogists Do?

Genealogy is the study of family history and the descent of a person or a family. Genealogists use a variety of sources and methods to discover and show the ancestry of their subjects and in doing so, create the family trees that are familiar to all of us.

Genealogists use different sources and methods to find and show the descent and kinship of their subjects.

Traditional sources include but are not limited to the following record types:

  • Vital records (birth, marriage, and death certificates)
  • Census
  • Military
  • Immigration
  • Land and tax records
  • Wills and probate
  • Church records
  • Newspapers
  • Obituaries
  • Published and online books
  • Oral histories
  • Genealogy databases
  • And more

Of course, today the four types of DNA can be added to that list.

A professional genealogist needs to know how and where to find these types of records in the target area, any unique cultural or regional factors affecting those records, and how to interpret them both individually and together.

For example, in a deed record in colonial Virginia, why would, or wouldn’t a female release her dower right? What is dower right, and why is it important? How might that record, or lack thereof, affect future probate for that woman/couple? In what type of historical or court record book might one look for these types of records?

Genealogists also need to know how to weigh different types of information in terms of potential accuracy and how to interpret primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources are those that were created at or near the time of an event by someone who was present at the event or who had first-hand knowledge of it. Examples of primary sources include birth certificates, marriage licenses, and census records, although census records are far more likely to be inaccurate or incomplete than a birth certificate or marriage record. Genealogists need to understand why, and where to look for corroboration. Primary sources are considered to be most accurate.

Secondary sources are those that were created later by someone who did not have first-hand knowledge of the event. Examples of secondary sources include family histories and genealogies, published biographies, and sometimes, newspaper articles.

The genealogists “go to” source for understanding and interpreting evidence is Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, available here.

Of course, DNA understanding and analysis needs to be added to this list and has become an important resource in genealogy. Additionally, genetic genealogy has become a specialty within the broader field of genealogy, as has IGG.

Put another way, a genealogist should have expertise and a specialty in some area. Maybe Italian records, or Native American genealogy, or New England records, in addition to the basic skills. At one time, a genealogist didn’t necessarily HAVE TO have expertise in genetic genealogy as well, but that has changed in the past few years. A professional genealogist should MINIMALLY understand the basics of genetic genealogy and when/how it can be useful. They may or may not have ready access to a genetic genealogist within the company where they work.

Being an independent genealogist, unless you specialize only in a specific area, like Dutch genealogy, is much more challenging because you’ll need to be proficient in BOTH Dutch genealogy AND genetic genealogy. It’s tough keeping up with one specialty, let alone two, although in this case, Yvette does an amazing job. However, her primary specialty is Dutch genealogy, and genetic genealogy is the booster rocket when appropriate. Genetic genealogy is not always needed for traditional genealogy, which is why genetic genealogy is a specialty skill.

In addition to all that, you also need to be proficient and comfortable with technology and a good communicator. Walking on water is also helpful:)

Job Description

So, what does the job description for a genealogist look like?

I reached out to Legacy Tree Genealogists because they are one of the largest, if not the largest genealogy research company, and they partner with 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage. Legacy Tree has specialists in many regions and languages, in addition to six genetic genealogists on staff.

Fortunately, they have a job listing posted right now, here, with an excellent description of what is expected.

If you’re interested or wish to sign up for notifications, click here.

Understanding that this job description won’t be posted forever, I reached out to the owner, Jessica Dalley Taylor, and asked if she would send me a sample description to include in this article.

Here you go, courtesy of Jessica:

About You

It’s not easy to make each client’s experience the very best it can possibly be, and it means we can only hire an exceptional genealogist for this position. You will be a great fit if:

    • You are fluent in English and can explain your genealogy discoveries in a way that clients connect with and understand
    • You have taken at least one genetic genealogy test or administered the test of a relative
    • You have introductory genetic genealogy abilities
    • You have at least intermediate traditional genealogical research experience in any geographic locality
    • You are familiar with the repositories of the areas for which you claim expertise and have worked with them to obtain documents
    • You are passionate about genealogy and are a creative problem solver
    • You are great at working independently and hitting deadlines (please don’t overlook this line about deadlines)
    • You are comfortable with Microsoft Office suite
    • You’re familiar with genealogical technology such as pedigree software
    • You have a quiet place to work without distractions, a computer, and great internet
    • You have a strong desire to work as a professional genetic genealogist

Even better if:

    • You have a basic understanding of genetic inheritance and its application to genealogy
    • You have beginning experience with interpretation and use of genetic genealogy test results
    • You have intermediate-level genetic genealogy abilities

What you’ll be doing at Legacy Tree:

    • You’ll be learning how to use genetic testing in identifying family
    • You’ll be learning how to create high-quality research reports
    • You’ll be reading and formatting reports by professional researchers
    • You’ll be assisting with researching and writing genealogy reports
    • You’ll be performing genetic genealogy analysis under the direction of professional mentors
    • You’ll be developing advanced-level genetic genealogy skills and abilities
    • With your input, you’ll do other things as opportunities and needs arise

Please note that Legacy Tree offers both traditional genealogy services, combined with genetic genealogy, along with adoption and unknown parent searches.

As a measure of fundamental basic genetic genealogy skills, you should be able to create and teach a class like First Steps When Your DNA Results Are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water.

You should also be able to read and fully comprehend the articles on this blog, as well as explain the content to others. A very wise person once told me that if you can’t explain or teach a topic, you don’t understand it.

As luck would have it, Ancestry also posted a job opening for a genealogist as I was finishing this article. Here’s part of the job requirements.

Contractor or Employee

Please note that many companies have shifted their primary hiring strategy to utilizing contractors for not more than half time, especially now that working remotely has become the norm.

This may or may not be good news for you.

It allows the company to avoid paying benefits like insurance, vacation, leave, and retirement programs which reduces their costs. You may not need these benefits, and it may represent an opportunity for you. For others who need those benefits, it’s a deal-breaker.

Contracting may provide the ability to work part-time, but contracting probably means you need to have business management skills not required when you work for someone else. Let’s just say that I make quarterly estimated tax payments and my annual CPA bill is in the $2,000 range.

Compensation

Pay, either as an employee or contractor for a company, is a sticky wicket in this field.

First, there’s a consumer mindset, although not universal, that genealogy “should be” free. In part, this is due to search angels and a history of well-intentioned people making things free. I’m one of them – guilty as charged – this blog is free. My hourly work, however, when I accepted clients (which I DO NOT now,) was not free.

However, that “should be free” mindset makes it difficult to shift to a “pay to play” mentality when people can go on social media and get what they want for free.

Professional services are not and should not be free.

Professionals should be able to earn a respectable living. The full-time Ancestry job, posted above, with those credentials, nets out to $21.63 per hour for a 40-hour week, with a graduate degree preferred. For comparison, google other jobs and professions.

If you doubt for one second whether professional services should or should not be free, especially ones that require a bachelor’s degree or master’s, just think about what your CPA would do if you asked them to do your taxes because they have the ability, for free. Same for a doctor, lawyer, or any other professional.

People are often shocked at the rates paid to employees versus the rates charged to prospective customers. This discussion has recently gotten spicy on social media, so I’m not going to comment other than to say that when I did take private clients, which I DO NOT ANYMORE, I found it much more beneficial to operate independently than to work for a company.

However, I also had a readily recognizable specialty and an avenue to reach potential clients.

I also already had a business structure set up, and a CPA, and perhaps more important than either of those – I had medical insurance already in place.

The need for benefits is what drives many people to work for companies, which I fully understand. It’s also a big factor in why there are more female genealogists than male genealogists. Married women in the US are eligible to be covered by their spouse’s insurance, assuming the spouse has insurance through their employer.

My very strong recommendation to you is to weigh all of the factors and NEVER to find yourself without medical insurance or coverage.

If you’re going to be “self-employed,” set up a company. If you’re going to set up a company, do it properly, understand the tax ramifications of the various types of corporations and engage a competent CPA to shepherd you through the process from day 1 through taxes. They are worth every penny.

Look at various jobs in the market, review at the associated pay, get a quote for genealogy services of the type you would be providing from the various companies – and decide if this profession is really for you.

I don’t mean to be a wet blanket, just a realist.

Training and Certification

Now for the good news and the bad news.

  • There is professional training for genealogy
  • There are certifications for genealogy
  • There is no “one place” for either
  • There is no certification for genetic genealogy
  • There’s a LOT of misunderstanding and misinformation about genetic genealogy
  • Genetic genealogy changes often

You need to view your education for genealogy/genetic genealogy in the same way you’d view obtaining a college degree – plus continuing education to maintain your education and skills at a current and functional level.

And yes, all of that costs money. If you decide to work for a company, be sure to ask if continuing ed is on their dime and time, or yours.

Genealogy Training

The Board for Certification of Genealogists, BCG, allows graduates to append CG, for Certified Genealogist after their name. BCG is focused on certification of skills and is not a training platform, although they do provide some webinars, etc. It’s not a college curriculum though. Certification is the “end game” for many. Candidates must submit a portfolio for evaluation, complete in a specific timeframe, and must reapply every five years to maintain their certification.

Not all genealogists are certified by BCG, and BCG only lists references of BCG members.

In the field of Genetic Genealogy, that can be problematic because many competent and well-known people are not BCG certified. BCG does not have a genetic genealogy certification.

Lack of BCG certification does not mean that someone is not qualified, and BCG certification certainly does NOT mean or imply that the individual is competent in genetic genealogy, which has more and more become a part of almost every genealogical puzzle. If not for initial discovery, for confirmation.

There are many avenues for genealogical training, including, but not limited to:

  • Brigham Young University Family History Degree
  • NGS Home Study Course
  • Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG)
  • Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP)
  • Boston University Certificate program
  • Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed)
  • Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR)
  • University of Strathclyde
  • University of Dundee
  • Major Conferences, including RootsTech and NGS, among others
  • Specialty conferences such as the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (IAJGS)
  • Online conferences and conference proceedings such as Rootstech who maintains a free library of their virtual and recorded conference sessions.
  • Legacy Family Tree Webinars
  • Videos produced by major genealogy companies such as MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and Ancestry, often available through their website, Youtube or both
  • Blogs and learning/help centers of the major genealogy companies

Genetic Genealogy Training

Genetic genealogy training is more challenging because there is no specific program, curriculum, or certification.

Many genetic genealogists obtained their experience as a part of genealogy over 15 or 20 years and have focused on the genetic aspect of genealogy. Several of us had a scientific background that meshed well with this field and is part of why we discovered that our passion is here.

Before I provide this resource list, I need to emphatically state that probably 95% of answers that I see provided on social media platforms in response to questions asked by people are either entirely incorrect, partially incorrect in a way that makes me want to say, “well, not exactly,” or are incomplete in a way that makes a significant difference.

I chose and choose to focus on creating educational tools and making explanations available for everyone, in one place, not one question at a time.

I began publishing my blog in 2012 as an educational tool and I’m dumbstruck by how many people just want a yes or no answer instead of learning. If one doesn’t take the time to learn, they have no idea if the answers they receive are valid, or if there’s more to the story that they are missing.

Social media can mislead you badly if you don’t have the ability to discern between accurate answers, partially accurate answers, and incorrect answers. Furthermore, opinions differ widely on some topics.

Unfortunately, because there is no genetic genealogy credentialling, there is also no “post-nominal letters,” such as CG for certified genealogist. Therefore, a novice has absolutely no idea how to discern between an expert and another overly helpful novice who is unintentionally providing incorrect or partial information.

Many of us who at one time reliably answered questions have simply gotten burned out at the same question being asked over and over, and no longer regularly engage. Burnout is real. Another issue is that askers often don’t provide enough, or accurate, information, so a significant amount of time is spent in clarifying the information around a question. Furthermore, your CPA, lawyer, and physician don’t answer questions online for free, and neither do most people who are busy earning a living in this field.

DNA educational opportunities, some of which are contained within larger conference agendas, include:

There are other blogs, of course, some of which were launched by well-known genetic genealogists but are no longer maintained. Blogging is quite time-consuming.

I’ve covered all kinds of genetic genealogy topics in my blog articles. They are a good source of information, education and hands-on training. I attempt to publish two articles weekly, and there are over 1600 available for your enjoyment.

In addition to the initial learning period, you’ll need to make time to stay engaged and maintain your genealogy and genetic genealogy skills.

Apprenticeship

In addition to training, I think you’d need at least a year interning or working at a junior learning level, minimum. Think of it as your genealogy residency.

  • You could choose to work for a vendor in their help center.
  • You could choose to work for a genealogy company. I’ve mentioned the largest ones, but there are others as well.
  • You could choose to work on your own case studies and those of your friends and family, but if you do, be aware that you won’t have anyone reviewing your work. If you make a mistake or should have approached something differently, and you’re working alone, there’s no one to tell you.
  • You could work as a search angel for others. I have mixed emotions about this, in part due to the lack of review and oversight. But also, in part because “free search angels” perpetuate the idea that genealogy “should be” free.

If you want to work in IGG, after training, an internship under an established mentor is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL for a minimum of 100 or so successful closures.

Genealogists and genetic genealogists have the ethical responsibility to NOT MAKE MISTAKES when working on other people’s family. You need to know what you know, what you don’t know, when to get help, from where and with whom.

Networking Opportunity

A Facebook group named “Genealogy Jobs” has been established to discuss opportunities and all of the topics surrounding this subject.

There’s a Genealogy Career Day event on April 22nd where you can interact with professionals including authors, freelance genealogists, certified genealogists, business owners, and an investigative genetic genealogist. Take a look at the topics. If you’re considering whether or not you want to go pro, you’ll be interested. You can sign up here.

The sessions will be uploaded to their YouTube channel, here, after the event.

I hope you’ve found this article useful and helps you decide if this profession is for you. If so, create a plan and execute.

If you decide you do want to go pro, I wish you the best and welcome you to the fast-paced world of professional genealogy or its specialty, genetic genealogy.

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DNA: In Search Of…Your Grandparents

Are you searching for an unknown relative or trying to unravel and understand unexpected results? Maybe you discovered that one or both of your parents is not your biological parent. Maybe one of your siblings might be a half-sibling instead. Or maybe you suddenly have an unexpected match that looks to be an unknown close relative, possibly a half-sibling. Perhaps there’s a close match you can’t place.

Or, are you searching for the identity of your grandparent or grandparents? If you’re searching for your parent or parents, often identifying your grandparents is a necessary step to narrow the parent-candidates.

I’ve written an entire series of “In Search of Unknown Family” articles, permanently listed together, here. They will step you through the search process and help you understand how to unravel your results. If you’re new, reading these, in order, before proceeding, would be a good idea.

Identifying a Grandparent

I saved this “grandparents” article for later in the series because you will need the tools and techniques I’ve introduced in the earlier articles. Identifying grandparents is often the most challenging of any of the relationships we’ve covered so far. In part because each of those four individuals occupies a different place in your tree, meaning their X, Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA is carried by different, and not all, descendants. This means we sometimes have to utilize different tools and techniques.

If you’re trying to identify any of your four grandparents, females are sometimes more challenging than males.

Why?

Women don’t have a Y chromosome to test. This can be a double handicap. Female testers can’t test a Y chromosome, and maternal ancestors don’t have a Y chromosome to match.

Of course, every circumstance differs. You may not have a male to test for paternal lines either.

The maternal grandfather can be uniquely challenging, because two types of DNA, Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA matching are immediately eliminated for all testers.

While I’ve focused on the maternal grandfather in this example, these techniques can be utilized for all four grandparents as well as for parents. At the end, I’ll review other grandparent relationships and additional tools you might be able to utilize for each one.

In addition to autosomal DNA, we can also utilize mitochondrial DNA, Y-DNA and sometimes X DNA in certain situations.

Testing, Tests and Vendors

As you recall, only men have a Y chromosome (blue arrow), so only genetic males can take a Y-DNA test. Men pass their Y chromosome from father to son in each generation. Daughters don’t receive a Y chromosome.

Everyone has their mother’s mitochondrial DNA (pink arrow.) Women pass their mitochondrial DNA to both sexes of their children, but only females pass it on. In the current generation, represented by the son and daughter, above, the mother’s yellow heart-shaped mitochondrial DNA is inherited by both sexes of her children. In the current generation, males and females can both test for their mother’s mitochondrial DNA.

Of course, everyone has autosomal DNA, inherited from all of their ancestral lines through at least the 5th or 6th generation, and often further back in time. Autosomal DNA is divided in half in each generation, as children inherit half of each parents’ autosomal DNA (with the exception of the X chromosome, which males only inherit from their mother.)

The four major vendors, Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage sell autosomal DNA tests, but only FamilyTreeDNA sells Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests.

Only 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA report X matching.

All vendors except Ancestry provide segment location information along with a chromosome browser.

You can read about the vendor’s strengths and weaknesses in the third article, here.

Ordering Y and Mitochondrial DNA Tests

If you’re seeking the identities of grandparents, the children and parents, above, can test for the following types of DNA in addition to autosomal:

Person in Pedigree Y-DNA Mitochondrial
Son His father’s blue star His mother’s pink heart
Daughter None Her mother’s pink heart
Father His father’s blue star His mother’s gold heart
Mother None Her mother’s pink heart

Note that none of the people shown above in the direct pedigree line carry the Y-DNA of the green maternal grandfather. However, if the mother has a full sibling, the green “Male Child,” he will carry the Y-DNA of the maternal grandfather. Just be sure the mother and her brother are full siblings, because otherwise, the brother’s Y-DNA may not have been inherited from your mother’s father. I wrote about full vs half sibling determination, here.

Let’s view this from a slightly different perspective. For each grandparent in the tree, which of the two testers, son or daughter, if either, carry that ancestor’s DNA of the types listed in the columns.

Ancestor in Tree Y-DNA Mitochondrial DNA Autosomal DNA X DNA
Paternal Grandfather Son Neither Son, daughter Neither
Paternal Grandmother Has no Y chromosome None (father has it, doesn’t pass it on to son or daughter) Son, daughter Daughter (son does not receive father’s X chromosome)
Maternal Grandfather Neither Neither Son, daughter Son, daughter (potentially)
Maternal Grandmother Has no Y chromosome Son, daughter Son, daughter Son, daughter (potentially)

Obtaining the Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA of those grandparents from their descendants will provide hints and may be instrumental in identifying the grandparent.

FamilyTreeDNA

You’ll need to order Y-DNA (males only) and mitochondrial DNA tests separately from autosomal DNA tests. They are three completely different tests.

At FamilyTreeDNA, the autosomal DNA test is called Family Finder to differentiate it from their Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests.

Their autosomal test is called Family Finder whether you order a test from FamilyTreeDNA, or upload your results to their site from another vendor (instructions here.)

I recommend ordering the Big Y-700 Y-DNA test if possible, and if not, the highest resolution Y-DNA test you can afford. The Big Y-700 is the most refined Y-DNA test available, includes multiple tools and places Big Y-700 testers on the Time Tree through the Discover tool, providing relatively precise estimates of when those men shared a common ancestor. If you’ve already purchased a lower-precision Y-DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA, you can easily upgrade.

I wrote about using the Discover tool here. The recently added Group Time Tree draws a genetic Y-DNA tree of Big-Y testers in common projects, showing earliest known ancestors and the date of the most recent common ancestor.

You need to make sure your Family Finder, mitochondrial DNA and Y-DNA (if you’re a male) tests are ordered from the same account at FamilyTreeDNA.

You want all 3 of your tests on the same account (called a kit number) so that you can use the advanced search features that display people who match you on combinations of multiple kinds of tests. For example, if you’re a male, do your Y-DNA matches also match you on the autosomal Family Finder test, and if so, how closely? Advanced matching also provides X matching tools.

X DNA is included in autosomal tests. X DNA has a distinct matching pattern for males and females which makes it uniquely useful for genealogy. I wrote about X DNA matching here.

If you upload your autosomal results to FamilyTreeDNA from another company, you’re only uploading a raw DNA file, not the DNA itself, so FamilyTreeDNA will need to send you a swab kit to test your Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA. If you upload your autosomal DNA, simply sign in to your kit, purchase the Y-DNA and/or mitochondrial DNA tests and they will send you a swab kit.

If you test directly at FamilyTreeDNA, you can add any test easily by simply signing in and placing an order. They will use your archived DNA from your swab sample, as long as there’s enough left and it’s of sufficient quality.

Fish In All Ponds

The first important thing to do in your grandparent search is to be sure you’re fishing in all ponds. In other words, be sure you’ve tested at all 4 vendors, or uploaded files to FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage.

When you upload files to those vendors, be sure to purchase the unlock for their advanced tools, because you’re going to utilize everything possible.

If you have relatively close matches at other vendors, ask if they will upload their files too. The upload is free. Not only will they receive additional matches, and another set of ethnicity results, their results will help you by associating your matches with specific sides of your family.

Why Order Multiple Tests Now Instead of Waiting?

I encourage testers to order their tests at the beginning of their journey, not one at a time. Each new test from a vendor takes about 6-8 weeks from the time you initially order – they send the test, you swab or spit, return it, and they process your DNA. Of course, uploading takes far less time.

If you’re adding elapsed time, two autosomal tests (Ancestry and 23andMe), two uploads (FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage,) a Y-DNA and a mitochondrial DNA test, if all purchased serially, one after the other, means you’ll be waiting about 6-8 months.

Do you want to wait 6-8 months? Can you afford to?

Part of that answer has to do with what, exactly, you’re seeking.

A Name or Information?

Are you seeking the name of a person, or are you seeking information about that person? With grandparents, you may be hoping to meet them, and time may be of the essence. Time delayed may not be able to be recovered or regained.

Most people don’t just want to put a name to the person they are seeking – they want to learn about them. You will have different matches at each company. Even after you identify the person you seek, the people you match at each company may have information about them, their photos, know about their life, family, and their ancestors. They may be able and willing to facilitate an introduction if that’s what you seek.

One cousin that I assisted discovered that his father had died just 6 weeks before he made the connection. He was heartsick.

Having data from all vendors simultaneously will allow you to compile that data and work with it together as well as separately. Using your “best” matches at each company, augmented by both Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA can make MUCH shorter work of this search.

Your Y-DNA, if you’re a male will give you insights into your surname line, and the Big-Y test now comes with estimates of how far in the past you share a common ancestor with other men that have taken the Big-Y test. This can be a HUGE boon to a male trying to figure out his surname line.

Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, respectively, will eliminate many people from being your mother or father, or your direct paternal or direct maternal line ancestor. Both provide insights into which population and where that population originated as well. In other words, it provides you lineage-specific information not available elsewhere.

Your Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA can also provide critically important information about whether that direct line ancestor belonged to an endogamous population, and where they came from.

Strategies

You may be tempted to think that you only need to test at one vendor, or at the vendor with the largest database, but that’s not necessarily true.

Here’s a table of my closest matches at the 4 vendors.

Vendor Closest Maternal Closest Paternal Comments
Ancestry 1C, 1C1R Half 1C, 2C I recognized both of the maternal and neither of the paternal.
23andMe 2C, 2C 1C1R, half-gr-niece Recognized both maternal, one paternal
MyHeritage Mother uploaded, 1C Half-niece, half 1C Recognized both maternal, one paternal
FamilyTreeDNA Mother tested, 1C1R Parent/child, half-gr-niece Recognized all 4

To be clear, I tested my mother at FamilyTreeDNA before she passed away, but if I was an adoptee searching for my mother, that’s the first database she would be in. As her family, we were able to order the Family Finder test from her archived DNA after she had passed away. I then uploaded her DNA file to MyHeritage, but she’ll never be at either 23andMe or Ancestry because they don’t accept uploads and she clearly can’t test.

Additionally, being able to identify maternal matches by viewing shared matches with my mother separates out close matches from my paternal side.

Let’s put this another way, I stand a MUCH BETTER chance of unraveling this mystery with the combined closest matches of all 4 databases instead of the top ones from just one database.

I’m providing analysis methodologies for working with results from all of the vendors together, in case your answer is not immediately obvious. Taking multiple tests facilitates using all of these tools immediately, not months later. Solving the puzzle sooner means you may not miss valuable connection opportunities.

You may also discover that the door slams shut with some people, but another match may be unbelievably helpful. Don’t unnecessarily limit your possibilities.

Here’s the testing and upload strategy I recommend.

What When Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage FamilyTreeDNA GEDmatch
Order autosomal test Initially Yes Yes Upload Upload Upload
Order Big-Y DNA test if male Initially Yes
Order mitochondrial DNA test Initially Yes
Upload free autosomal file From Ancestry or 23andMe Yes Yes Yes
Unlock Advanced Tools When upload file $29 $19 $9.95 month
Includes X Matching No Yes No Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser, segment location information No Yes Yes Yes Yes

When you upload a DNA file to a vendor site, only upload one file per site, per tester. Otherwise, multiple tests simply glom up everyone’s match list with multiple matches to the same person and can be very confusing.

  • One person took an autosomal test at a company that accepts uploads, forgot about it, uploaded a file from another vendor later, and immediately thought she had found her parent. She had not. She “found” herself.
  • Another person though she had found two sisters, but one person had uploaded their own file from two different vendors.

Multiple vendor sites reveal multiple close matches to different people which increase your opportunity to discover INFORMATION about your family, not just the identity of the person.

Match Ranges

Given that we are searching for an unknown maternal grandfather, your mother may not have had any (known) full siblings. The “best” match would be to a full or half siblings to your parents, or their descendants, depending on how old your grandparents would be.

Let’s take the “worst case” scenario, meaning there are no full siblings AND there are many possible generations between you and the people you may match.

Now, let’s look at DNAPainter’s Shared cM tool.

You’re going to be looking for someone who is either your mother’s half sibling on her father’s side, or who is a full sibling.

If your mother is adopted, it’s possible that she has or had full siblings. If your mother was born circa 1920, it’s likely that you will be matching the next generation, or two, or three.

However, if your mother was born later, you could be matching her siblings directly.

I’m going to assume half siblings for this example, because they are more difficult than full siblings.

Full sibling relationships for your mother’s siblings are listed at right. Your full aunt or uncle at top, then their descendant generations below.

At left, in red, are the half-sibling relationships and the matching amounts.

You can see that if you’re dealing with half 1C3R (half first cousin three times removed,) you may not match.

Therefore, in order to isolate matches, it’s imperative to test every relevant relative possible.

Who’s Relevant for DNA Testing?

Who is relevant to test If you’re attempting to identify your maternal grandfather?

The goal is to be able to assign matches to the most refined ancestor possible. In other words, if you can assign someone to either your grandmother’s line, or your grandfather’s line, that’s better than assigning the person to your grandparents jointly.

Always utilize the tests of the people furthest up the tree, meaning the oldest generations. Their DNA is less-diluted, meaning it has been divided fewer times. Think about who is living and might be willing to test.

You need to be able to divide your matches between your parents, and then between your grandparents on your mother’s side.

  • Test your parents, of course, and any of their known siblings, half or full.
  • If those siblings have passed away, test as many of their children as you can.
  • If any of your grandparents are living, test them
  • If BOTH of your grandparents on the same side aren’t available to test, test any, preferably all, living aunts or uncles.
  • If your maternal grandmother had siblings, test them or their descendants if they are deceased.
  • If your parents are deceased, test your aunts, uncles, full siblings and half-siblings on your mother’s side. (Personally, I’d test all half-siblings, not just maternal.)
  • Half-siblings are particularly valuable because there is no question which “side” your shared DNA came from. They will match people you don’t because they received part of your parent’s DNA that you did not.

Furthermore, shared matches to half-siblings unquestionably identify which parent those matches are through.

Essentially, you’re trying to account for all matches that can be assigned to your grandparents whose identities you know – leaving only people who descend from your unknown maternal grandfather.

Testing your own descendants will not aid your quest. There is no need to test them for this purpose, given that they received half of your DNA.

I wrote about why testing close relatives is important in the article Superpower: Your Aunts’ and Uncles’ DNA is Your DNA Too – Maximize Those Matches!

Create or Upload a Tree

Three of the four major vendors, plus GEDMatch, support and utilize family trees.

You’ll want to either upload or create a tree at each of the vendor sites.

You can either upload a GEDCOM file from your home computer genealogy software, or you can create a tree at one of the vendors, download it, and upload to the others. I described that process at Ancestry, here.

Goal

Your goal is to work with your highest matches first to determine how they are related to you, thereby eliminating matches to known lineages.

Assuming you’re only searching for the identity of one grandparent, it’s beneficial to have done enough of your genealogy on your three known grandparents to be able to assign matches from those lines to those sides.

Step 1 is to check each vendor for close matches that might fall into that category.

The Top 15 at Each Vendor

Your closest several autosomal matches are the most important and insightful. I begin with the top 15 autosomal results at each vendor, initially, which provides me with the best chance of meaningful close relationship discoveries.

Create a Spreadsheet or Chart

I hate to use that S word (spreadsheet), because I don’t want non-technical people to be discouraged. So, I’m going to show you how I set up a spreadsheet and you can simply create a chart or even draw this out on paper if you wish.

I’ve color-coded columns for each of my 4 grandparents. The green column is the target Maternal Grandfather whose identity I’m seeking.

I match our first example; Erik, at 417 cM. Based on various pieces of information, taken together, I’ve determined that I’m Erik’s half 1C1R. His 8 great-grandparent surnames, or the ones he has provided, indicate that I’m related to Eric on my paternal grandfather’s line.

You’ll want to record your closest matches in this fashion.

Let’s look at how to find this information and work with the tools at the individual vendors.

23andMe

Let’s start at 23andMe, because they create a potential genetic tree for you, which may or may not be accurate.

I have two separate tests at 23andMe. One is a V3 and one is a V4 test. I keep one in its pristine state, and I work with the second one. You’ll see two of “me” in the tree, and that’s why.

23andMe makes it easy to see estimated relationships, although they are not always correct. Generally, they are close, and they can be quite valuable.

Click on any image to enlarge

The maternal and paternal “sides” may not be positioned where genealogists are used to seeing them. Remember, 23andMe has no genealogy trees, so they are attempting to construct a genetic tree based on how people are related to you and to each other, with no prior knowledge. They do sometimes have issues with half-relationships, so I’d encourage you to use this tree to isolate people to the three grandparents you know.

In my case, I was able to determine the maternal and paternal sides easily based on known cousins. This is the perfect example of why it’s important to test known relatives from both sides of your family.

My paternal side, at right, in blue, was easy because I recognized my half-sister’s family, and because of known cousins who I recognized from having tested elsewhere. I’ve worked with them for years. The blue stars show people I could identify, mostly second cousins.

My maternal side is at left, in red. Normally, for genealogists, the maternal side is at right, and the paternal at left, so don’t make assumptions, and don’t let this positioning throw you.

I’m pretending I don’t know who my maternal grandfather is. I was able to identify my maternal grandmother’s side based on a known second cousin.

That leaves my target – my maternal grandfather’s line.

All of the matches to the left of the red circle would, by process of elimination, be on my maternal grandfather’s side.

The next step would be to figure out how the 5 people descending from my maternal grandfather’s line are related to each other – through which of their ancestors.

On the DNA Relatives match list, here’s what needs to be checked:

  • Do your matches share surnames with you or your ancestors?
  • Do they show surnames in common with each other?
  • Is there a common location?
  • Birth year which helps you understand their potential generation.
  • Did they list their grandparents’ birthplaces?
  • Did they provide a family tree link?
  • Do they also match each other using the Relatives in Common feature?
  • Do they triangulate, indicated by “DNA Overlap” in Relatives in Common?
  • Who else is on the Relatives in Common list, and what do they have in common with each other?
  • Looking at your Ancestry Composition compared with theirs, what are your shared populations, and are they relevant? If you are both 100% European, then shared populations aren’t useful, but if both people share the same minority ancestry, especially on the same segments, it may indeed be relevant – especially if it can’t be accounted for on the known sides of the family.

Reach out to these people and see what they know about their genealogy, if they have tested elsewhere, and if they have a genealogy tree someplace that you can view.

If they can tell you their grandparents’ names, birth and death dates and locations, you can check public sources like WikiTree, FamilySearch and Geni, or build trees for them. You can also use Newspaper resources, like Newspapers.com, NewspaperArchive and the newspapers at MyHeritage.

I added the top 15 23andMe matches into the spreadsheet I created.

You’ll notice that not many people at 23andMe enter surnames. However, if you can identify individuals from your 3 known lines, you can piggyback the rest by using Relatives in Common in conjunction with the genetic tree placement.

Be sure to check all the people that are connected to the target line in your genetic tree.

You’ll want to harvest your DNA segments to paint at DNAPainter if you don’t solve this mystery with initial reviews at each vendor.

Ancestry

Let’s move to Ancestry next.

At Ancestry, you’ll want to start with your closest matches on your match list.

Ancestry classifies “Close Matches” as anyone 200 cM or greater, which probably won’t reach as far down as the matches we’ll want to include.

Some of the categories in the Shared cM Chart from DNAPainter, above, don’t work based on ages, so I’ve eliminated those. I also know, for example, that someone who could fall in the grandparent/grandchild category (blue star,) in my case, does not, so must be a different relationship.

Second cousins, who share great-grandparents, can be expected to share about 229 cM of DNA on average, or between 41 and 592 cM. First cousins share 866 cM, and half first cousins share 449 cM on average.

I have 13 close matches (over 200 cM), but I’m including my top 15 at each vendor, so I added two more. You can always go back and add more matches if necessary. Just keep in mind that the smaller the match, the greater the probability that it came from increasingly distant generations before your grandparents. Your sweet spot to identify grandparents is between 1C and 2C.

I need to divide my close matches into 4 groups, each one equating to a grandparent. Record this on your spreadsheet.

You can group your matches at Ancestry using colored dots, which means you can sort by those groups.

You can also select a “side” for a match by clicking on “Yes” under the question, “Do you recognize them?”

Initially, you want to determine if this person is related to you on your mother’s or father side, and hopefully, through which grandparent.

Recently, Ancestry added a feature called SideView which allows testers to indicate, based on ethnicity, which side is “parent 1” and which side is “parent 2.” I wrote about that, here.

Make your selection, assuming you can tell which “side” of you descends from which parent based on ethnicity and/or shared matches. How you label “parent 1,” meaning either maternal or paternal, determines how Ancestry assigns your matches, when possible.

Using these tools, which may not be completely accurate, plus shared matches with people you can identify, divide your matches among your three known grandparents, meaning that the people you cannot assign will be placed in the fourth “unknown” column.

On my spreadsheet, I assign all of my closest matches to one of my grandparents. Michael is my first cousin (1C) and we share both maternal grandparents, so he’s not helpful in the division because he can’t be assigned to only one grandparent.

The green maternal grandfather is who I’m attempting to identify.

There are 4 people, highlighted in yellow, who don’t fall into the other three grandparent lines, so they get added to the green column and will be my focus.

I would be inclined to continue adding matches using a process known as the Leeds Method, until I had several people in each category. Looking back at the DNAPainter cM chart, at this point, we don’t have anyone below 200 cM and the matches we need might be below that threshold. The more matches you have to work with, the better.

At Ancestry, you cannot download your matches into a spreadsheet, nor can you work with other clustering tools such as Genetic Affairs, so you’ll have to build out your spreadsheet manually.

Check for the same types of information that I reviewed at 23andMe:

  • Review trees, if your matches have them, minimally recording the surnames of their 8 great-grandparents.
  • Review shared matches, looking for common names in the trees in recent generations.
  • View shared matches with people with whom you have a “Common Ancestor” indication, which means a ThruLine. You won’t have Thrulines with your target grandparent, of course, but Thrulines will allow you to place the match in one of the other columns. I wrote about ThruLines here, here and here.
  • ThruLines sometimes suggests ancestors based on other people’s trees, so be EXCEEDINGLY careful with potential ancestor suggestions. That’s not to say you should discount those suggestions. Just treat them as tree hints that may have been copy/pasted hundreds of times, because that’s what they are.

I make notes on each match so I can easily see the connection by scanning without opening the match.

Now, I have a total of 30 entries on my spreadsheet, 15 from 23and Me and 15 from Ancestry.

Why Not Use Autosclusters?

Even with vendors who allow or provide cluster tools, I don’t use an automated autocluster tool at this point. Autocluster tools often omit your closest matches because your closest matches would be in nearly half of all your clusters, which isn’t exactly informative. However, for this purpose, those are the very matches we need to evaluate.

After identifying groups of people that represent the missing grandparent, using our spreadsheet methodology, autoclusters could be useful to identify common surnames and even to compare the trees of our matches using AutoTree, AutoPedigree and AutoKinship. AutoClusters cannot be utilized at Ancestry, but is available through MyHeritage and at GEDmatch, or through Genetic Affairs for 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA.

Next, let’s move to FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor that provides Family Matching, also known as “bucketing.” FamilyTreeDNA assigns your matches to either a paternal or maternal bucket, or both, based on triangulated matches with someone you’ve linked to a profile in your tree.

The key to Family Matching is to link known Family Finder matches to their profile cards in your tree.

Clicking on the Family Tree link at the top of your personal page allows you to link your matches to the profile cards of your matches.

FamilyTreeDNA utilizes these linked matches to assign those people, and matches who match you and those people, both, on at least one common segment, to the maternal or paternal tabs on your match list.

Always link as many known people as possible (red stars) which will result in more matches being bucketed and assigned to parents’ sides for you, even if neither parent is available to test.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at FamilyTreeDNA, here.

You can see at the top of my match list that I have a total of 8000 matches of which 3422 are paternal, 1517 are maternal and 3 match on both sides. Full siblings, their (and my) children and their descendants will always match on both sides. People with endogamy across both parents may have several matches on both sides.

If your relevant parent has tested, always work from their test.

Because we are searching for the maternal grandfather, in this case, we can ignore all tests that are bucketed as paternal matches.

Given that we are searching for my maternal grandfather, I probably have not been able to link as many maternal matches, other than possibly ones from my maternal grandmother. This means that the maternal grandfather’s matches are not bucketed because there are no identified matches to link on that side of my tree.

If you sort by maternal and paternal tabs, you’ll miss people who aren’t bucketed, meaning they have no maternal or paternal icon, so I recommend simply scanning down the list and processing maternal matches and non-bucketed matches.

By being able to confidently ignore paternally bucketed matches and only processing maternal and non-assigned matches, this is equivalent to processing the first 48 total matches. If I were to only look at the first 15 matches, 12 were paternal and only 3 are maternal.

Using bucketing at FamilyTreeDNA is very efficient and saves a lot of work.

Omitting paternal matches also means we are including smaller matches which could potentially be from common ancestors further back in the tree. Or, they could be younger testers. Or simply smaller by the randomness of recombination.

FamilyTreeDNA is a goldmine, with 16 of 20 maternal matches being from the unknown maternal grandfather.

Next, let’s see what’s waiting at MyHeritage.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage is particularly useful if your lineage happens to be from Europe. Of course, if you’re searching for an unknown person, you probably have no idea where they or their ancestors are from. Two of my best matches first appeared at MyHeritage.

Of course, your matches with people who descend from your unknown maternal grandfather won’t have any Theories of Family Relativity, as that tool is based on BOTH a DNA match plus a tree or document match. However, Theories is wonderful to group your matches to your other three grandparents.

MyHeritage provides a great deal of information for each match, including common surnames with your tree. If you recognize the surnames (and shared matches) as paternal or maternal, then you can assign the match. However, the matches you’re most interested in are the highest matches without any surnames in common with you – which likely point to the missing maternal grandfather.

However, those people may, and probably do, have surnames in common with each other.

Of the matches who aren’t attributed to the other three grandparents, the name Ferverda arises again and again. So does Miller, which suggests the grandparent or great-grandparent couple may well be Ferverda/Miller.

Let’s continue working through the process with our spreadsheet and see what we can discover about those surnames.

Our 60 Results

Of the 60 total results, 15 from each vendor, a total of 24 cannot be assigned to other columns through bucketing or shared matches, so are associated with the maternal grandfather. Of course, Michael who descends from both of my maternal grandparents won’t be helpful initially.

Cheryl, Donald and Michael are duplicates at different vendors, but the rest are not.

Of the relevant matches, the majority, 12 are from FamilyTreeDNA, four each are from Ancestry and MyHeritage, and three are from 23andMe.

Of the names provided in the surname fields of matches, in matches’ trees in the first few generations, and the testers’ surnames, Ferverda is repeated 12 times, for 50% of the time. Miller is repeated 9 times, so it’s likely that either of those are the missing grandfather’s surname. Of course, if we had Y-DNA, we’d know the answer to that immediately.

Comparing trees of my matches, we find John Ferverda as the common ancestor between two different matches. John is the son of Hiram Ferverda and Eva Miller who are found in several trees.

That’s a great hint. But is this the breakthrough I need?

What’s Next?

The next step is to look for connections between the maternal grandmother, Edith Lore, who is known in our example, and a Ferverda male. He is probably one of the sons of Hiram Ferverda and Eva Miller. Do they lived in the same area? In close proximity? Do they attend the same church or school? Are they neighbors or live close to the family or some of their relatives? Does she have connections with Ferverda family members? We are narrowing in.

Some of Hiram and Eva’s sons might be able to be eliminated based on age or other factors, or at least be less likely candidates. Any of their children who had moved out of state when the child was conceived would be less likely candidates. Age would be a factor, as would opportunity.

Target testing of the Ferverda sons’ children, or the descendants of their children would (probably) be able to pinpoint which of their sons is more closely related to me (or my mother) than the rest.

In our case, indeed, John Ferverda is the son we are searching for and his descendant, Michael is the highest match on the list. Cheryl and Donald descend from John’s brother, which eliminates him as a candidate. Another tester descends from a third Ferverda son, which eliminates that son as well.

Michael, my actual first cousin with a 755 cM match at one vendor, and 822 cM at a second vendor, is shown by the MyHeritage cM Explainer with an 88% probability that he is my first cousin.

However, when I’m trying to identify the maternal grandfather, which is half of that couple, I need to focus one generation further back in time to eliminate other candidates.

The second and third closest matches are both Donald at 395 cM and Cheryl at 467 cM who also share the same Ferverda/Miller lineage and are the children of my maternal grandfather’s brother.

On the spreadsheet, I need to look at the trees of people who have both Ferverda and Miller, which brought me to both Cheryl and Donald, then Michael, which allowed me to identify John Ferverda, unquestionably, as my grandfather based on the cM match amounts.

Cheryl and Donald, who are confirmed full siblings, and my mother either have to be first cousins, or half siblings. Their match with mother is NOT in the half-sibling range for one sibling, and on the lower edge with the other. Mother also matches Michael as a nephew, not more distantly as she would if he were a first cousin once removed (1C1R) instead of a nephew.

Evaluating these matches combined confirms that my maternal grandfather is indeed John Ferverda.

What About X DNA?

The X chromosome has a unique inheritance path which is sometimes helpful in this circumstance, especially to males.

Women inherit an X chromosome from both parents, but males inherit an X chromosome from ONLY their mother. A male inherits a Y chromosome from his father which is what makes him male. Women inherit two X chromosomes, one from each parent, and no Y, which is what makes them female.

Therefore, if you are a male and are struggling with which side of your tree matches are associated with, the X chromosome may be of help.

Your mother passed her X chromosome to you, which could be:

  • Her entire maternal X, meaning your maternal grandmother’s X chromosome
  • Her entire paternal X, meaning your maternal grandfather’s X chromosome (which descends from his mother)
  • Some combination of your maternal grandmother and maternal grandfather’s chromosomes

One thing we know positively is that a male’s X matches are ALWAYS from their maternal side only, so that should help when dividing a male’s matches maternally or paternally. Note – be aware of potential pedigree collapse, endogamy and identical-by-chance matches if it looks like a male has a X match on his father’s side.

Unfortunately, the X chromosome cannot assist females in the same way, because females inherit an X from both parents. Therefore, they can match people in the same was as a male, but also in additional ways.

  • Females will match their paternal grandmother on her entire X chromosome, and will match one or both of their maternal grandparents on the X chromosome.
  • Females will NEVER match their paternal grandfather’s X chromosome because their father did not inherit an X chromosome from his father.
  • Males will match one or both of their maternal grandparents on their X chromosome.
  • Males will NEVER match their paternal grandparents, because males do not receive an X chromosome from their father.

The usefulness of X DNA matching depends on the inheritance path of both the tester AND their match.

When Can Y-DNA or Mitochondrial DNA Help with Grandparent Identification?

If you recall, I selected the maternal grandfather as the person to seek because no tester carries either the Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA of their maternal grandfather. In other words, this was the most difficult identification, meaning that any of the other three grandparents would be, or at least could be, easier with the benefit of Y-DNA and/or mitochondrial DNA testing.

In addition to matching, both Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA will provide testers with location origins, both continental and often much more specific locations based on where other testers and matches are from.

Y-DNA often provides a surname.

Let’s see how these tests, matches and results can assist us.

  • Paternal grandfather – If I was a male descended from John Ferverda paternally, I could have tested both my autosomal DNA PLUS my Y-DNA, which would have immediately revealed the Ferverda surname via Y-DNA. Two Ferverda men are shown in the Ferverda surname DNA project, above.

That revelation would have confirmed the Ferverda surname when combined with the high frequency of Ferverda found among autosomal matches on the spreadsheet.

  • Maternal grandmother – If we were searching for a maternal grandmother, both the male and female sibling testers (as shown in the pedigree chart) would have her mitochondrial DNA which could provide matches to relevant descendants. Mitochondrial DNA at both FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe could also eliminate anyone who does not match on a common haplogroup, when comparing 23andMe results to 23andMe results, and FamilyTreeDNA to FamilyTreeDNA results at the same level.

At 23andMe, only base level haplogroups are provided, but they are enough to rule out a direct matrilineal line ancestor.

At FamilyTreeDNA, the earlier HVR1 and HVR2 tests provide base level haplogroups, while full sequence testing provides granular, specific haplogroups. Full sequence is the recommended testing level.

  • Paternal grandmother – If we were searching for a paternal grandmother, testers would, of course, need either their father to test his mitochondrial DNA, or for one of his siblings to test which could be used in the same way as described for maternal grandmother matching.

Summary

Successfully identifying a grandparent is dependent on many factors. Before you make that identification, it’s very difficult to know which are more or less important.

For example, if the grandparent is from a part of the world with few testers, you will have far fewer matches, potentially, than other lines from more highly tested regions. In my case, two of my four grandparents’ families, including Ferverda, immigrated in the 1850s, so they had fewer matches than families that have been producing large families in the US for generations.

Endogamy may be a factor.

Family size in past and current generations may be a factor.

Simple luck may be a factor.

Therefore, it’s always wise to test your DNA, and that of your parents and close relatives if possible, and upload to all of the autosomal databases. Then construct an analysis plan based on:

  • How you descend from the grandparent in question, meaning do you carry their X DNA, Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA.
  • Who else is available to test their autosomal DNA to assist with shared matches and the process of elimination.
  • Who else is available to test for Y-DNA and/or mitochondrial DNA of the ancestor in question.

If you don’t find the answer initially, schedule a revisit of your matches periodically and update your spreadsheet. Sometimes DNA and genealogy is a waiting same.

Just remember, luck always favors the prepared!

Resources

You may find the following resource articles beneficial in addition to the links provided throughout this article.

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X Chromosome Master Class

The X chromosome can be especially useful to genetic genealogists because it has a unique inheritance path. Thanks to that characteristic, some of the work of identifying your common ancestor is done just by simply HAVING an X match.

Unfortunately, X-DNA and X matching is both underutilized and somewhat misunderstood – in part because not all vendors utilize the X chromosome for matching.

The X chromosome has the capability of reaching further back in time and breaking down brick walls that might fall no other way.

Hopefully, you will read this article, follow along with your own DNA results and make important discoveries.

Let’s get started!

Who Uses the X Chromosome?

The X chromosome is autosomal in nature, meaning it recombines under some circumstances, but you only inherit your X chromosome from certain ancestors.

It’s important to understand why, and how to utilize the X chromosome for matching. In this article, I’ve presented this information in a variety of ways, including case studies, because people learn differently.

Of the four major testing vendors, only two provide X-DNA match results.

  • FamilyTreeDNA – provides X chromosome results and advanced matching capabilities including filtered X matching
  • 23andMe – provides X chromosome results, but not filtered X matching without downloading your results in spreadsheet format
  • Ancestry and MyHeritage do not provide X-DNA results but do include the X in your raw DNA file so you can upload to vendors who do provide X matching
  • GEDmatch – not a DNA testing vendor but a third-party matching database that provides X matching in addition to other tools

It’s worth noting at this point that X-DNA and mitochondrial DNA is not the same thing. I wrote about that, here. The source of this confusion is that the X chromosome and mitochondrial DNA are both associated in some way with descent from females – but they are very different and so is their inheritance path.

So, what is X-DNA and how does it work?

What is X-DNA?

Everyone inherits two copies of each of chromosomes 1-22, one copy of each chromosome from each of your parents.

That’s why DNA matching works and each match can be identified as “maternal” or “paternal,” depending on how your match is related to you. Each valid match (excluding identical by chance matches) will be related either maternally, or paternally, or sometimes, both.

Your 23rd chromosome is your sex determination chromosome and is inherited differently. Chromosome 23 is comprised of X and Y DNA.

Everyone inherits one copy of chromosome 23 from each parent.

  • Males inherit a Y chromosome from their father, which is what makes males male. They do not inherit an X chromosome from their father.
  • Males always inherit an X chromosome from their mother.
  • Females inherit an X chromosome from both parents, which is what makes them female. Females have two X chromosomes, and no Y chromosome.
Chromosome 23 Father Contributes Mother Contributes
Male Child Y chromosome X chromosome
Female Child X chromosome X chromosome

X-DNA and mitochondrial DNA are often confused, but they are not the same thing. In fact, they are completely different.

Mitochondrial DNA, in BOTH males and females is always inherited from only the mother and only descends from the direct matrilineal line, so only the mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line. X DNA can be inherited from a number of ancestors based on a specific inheritance path.

Everyone has both X-DNA AND mitochondrial DNA.

Because males don’t inherit an X chromosome from their father, X chromosome matching has a unique and specific pattern of descent which allows testers who match to immediately eliminate some potential common ancestors.

  • Males only inherit an X chromosome from their mother, which means they can only have legitimate X matches on their mother’s side of their tree.
  • Females, on the other hand, inherit an X chromosome from both their mother and father. Their father only has one X chromosome to contribute, so his daughter receives her paternal grandmother’s X chromosome intact.
  • Both males and females inherit their mother’s X chromosome just like any of the other 22 autosomes. I wrote about chromosomes, here.

However, the unique X chromosome inheritance path provides us with a fourth very useful type of DNA for genealogy, in addition to Y-DNA, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA.

For the vendors who provide X-matching, it’s included with your autosomal test and does not need to be purchased separately.

The Unique X Chromosome

The X chromosome, even though it is autosomal in nature, meaning it does recombine and divide in certain circumstances, is really its own distinct tool that is not equivalent to autosomal matching in the way we’re accustomed. We just need to learn about the message it’s delivering and how to interpret X matches.

FamilyTreeDNA is one of two vendors who utilizes X chromosome matching, along with 23andMe, which is another good reason to encourage your matches at other vendors to upload their DNA file to FamilyTreeDNA for free matching.

The four major vendors do include X-DNA results in their raw DNA download file, even if they don’t provide X-matching themselves. This means you can upload the results to either FamilyTreeDNA or GEDmatch where you can obtain X matches. I provided step-by-step download/upload instructions for each vendor here.

Let’s look how X matching is both different, and beneficial.

My X Chromosome Family Tree

We are going to build a simple case study. A case study truly is worth 1000 descriptions.

This fan chart of my family tree colorizes the X chromosome inheritance path. In this chart, males are colored blue and females pink, but the salient point is that I can inherit some portion of (or all of) a copy of my X chromosome from the colorized ancestors, and only those ancestors.

Because males don’t inherit an X chromosome from their father, they CANNOT inherit any portion of an X chromosome from their father’s ancestors.

Looking at my father’s half of the chart, at left, you see that I inherited an X chromosome from both of my parents, but my father only inherited an X chromosome from his mother, Ollie Bolton. His father’s portion of the tree is uncolored, so no X chromosome could have descended from his paternal ancestors to him. Therefore he could not pass any X chromosome segments to me from his paternal side – because he doesn’t have X DNA from his father.

Hence, I didn’t inherit an X chromosome from any of the people whose positions in the chart are uncolored, meaning I can only inherit an X chromosome from the pink or blue people.

Essentially any generational male to male, meaning father/son relationship is an X-DNA blocker.

I know positively that I inherited my paternal grandmother, Ollie Bolton’s entire X chromosome, because hers is the only X chromosome my father, in the fan chart above, had to give me. His entire paternal side of the fan chart is uncolored.

Men only ever inherit their X chromosome from their mother. The only exception to this is if a male has the rare genetic condition of Klinefelter Syndrome, also known as XXY. If you are an adult male, it’s likely that you’ll already know if you have Klinefelters, so that’s probably the last possibility you should consider if you appear to have paternal X matches, not the first.

Sometimes, men appear to have X matches on their father’s side, but (barring Klinefelter’s) this is impossible. Those matches must either be identical by chance, or somehow related in an unknown way on their mother’s side.

Everyone inherits an X chromosome from their mother that is some combination of the X from her father and mother. It’s possible to inherit all of your maternal grandmother or maternal grandfather’s X chromosome, meaning they did not recombine during meiosis.

Using DNA Painter as an X Tool

I use DNAPainter to track my matches and correlate segments with ancestors.

I paint my DNA segments for all my chromosomes at DNAPainter which provides me with a central tracking mechanism that is visual in nature and allows me to combine matches from multiple vendors who provide segment information. I provide step-by-step instructions for using DNAPainter, here.

This is my maternal X chromosome with my matches painted. I’ve omitted my matches’ names for privacy.

On the left side of the shaded grey column, those matches are from my maternal grandmother’s ancestors. On the right side, those matches are from my maternal grandfather’s ancestors.

The person in the grey column descends from unknown ancestors. In other words, I can tell that they descend from my maternal line, but I can’t (yet) determine through which of my two maternal grandparents.

There’s also an area to the right of the grey column where there are no matches painted, so I don’t know yet whether I inherited this portion of my X chromosome from my maternal grandmother or maternal grandfather.

The small darker pink columnar band is simply marking the centromere of the chromosome and does not concern us for this discussion.

Click on any image to enlarge

In this summary view of my paternal X chromosome, above, it appears that I may well have inherited my entire X chromosome from my paternal great-grandmother. We know, based on our inheritance rules that I clearly received my paternal grandmother’s X chromosome, because that’s all my father had to give me.

However, by painting my matches based on their ancestors, and selecting the summary view, you can see that most of my paternal X chromosome can be accounted for, with the exception of rather small regions with the red arrows.

It’s not terribly unusual for either a male or female to inherit their entire maternal X chromosome from one grandparent, or in this case, great-grandparent.

Of course, a male doesn’t inherit an X chromosome from their father, but a female can inherit her paternal X chromosome from either or both paternal grandparents.

Does Size Matter?

Generally speaking, an X match needs to be larger than a match on the other chromosomes to be considered genealogically equivalent in the same timeframe as other autosomal matches. This is due to:

  • The unique inheritance pattern, meaning fewer recombination events occurred.
  • The fact that X-DNA is NOT inherited from several lines.
  • The X chromosome has lower SNP density, meaning it contains fewer SNPs, so there are fewer possible locations to match when compared to the other chromosomes.

I know this equivalency requirement sounds negative, but it’s actually not. It means 7 cM (centimorgans) of DNA on the X chromosome will reach back further in time, so you may carry the DNA of an ancestor on the X chromosome that you no longer carry on other chromosomes. It may also mean that older segments remain larger. It’s actually a golden opportunity.

It sounds much more positive to say that a 16 cM X match for a female, or a 13 cM X match for a male is about the same as a 7 cM match for any other autosomal match in the same generation.

Of course, if the 7 cM match gets divided in the following generation, it has slipped below the matching threshold. If a 16 or 13 cM X match gets divided, it’s still a match. Plus, in some generations, if passed from father to daughter, it’s not divided or recombined. So a 7 cM X match may well be descended from ancestors further back in time.

X Chromosome Differences are Important!

Working with our great-great grandparent’s generation, we have 16 direct ancestors as illustrated in the earlier fan chart.

Given that females inherit from 8 X-chromosome ancestors in total, they are going to inherit an average of 45.25 cM of X-DNA from each of those ancestors. Females have two X chromosomes for a total length of 362 cM of X-DNA from both parents.

A male only has one X chromosome, 181 cM in length, so he will receive an average of 36.2 cM from each of 5 ancestors, and it’s all from his mother’s side.

In this chart, I’ve shown the total number of cMs for all of the autosomes, meaning chromosomes 1-22 and, separately, the X for males and females.

  • The average total cM for chromosomes 1-22 individually is 304 cM. (Yes, each chromosome is a different length, but that doesn’t matter for averages.)
  • That 304 cM can be inherited from any of 16 ancestors (in your great-grandparent’s generation)
  • The total number of cM on the X chromosomes for both parents for females totals 362
  • The total cM of X-DNA for males is 181 cM
  • The calculated average cM inherited for the X chromosome in the same generation is significantly different, shown in the bottom row.

The actual average for males and females for any ancestor on any random non-X chromosome (in the gg-grandparent generation) is still 19 cM. Due to the inheritance pattern of the X chromosome, the female X-chromosome average inheritance is 45.25 cM and the male average is 36.2 cM, significantly higher than the average of 19 cM that genetic genealogists have come to expect at this relationship distance on the other chromosomes, combined.

How Do I Interpret an X Match?

It’s important to remember when looking at X matching that you’re only looking at the amount of DNA from one chromosome. When you’re looking at any other matching amount, you’re looking at a total match across all chromosomes, as reported by that vendor. Vendors report total matching DNA differently.

  • The total amount of matching autosomal DNA does not include the X chromosome cMs at FamilyTreeDNA. X-DNA matching cMs are reported separately.
  • The total amount of matching autosomal DNA does include the X chromosome cMs in the total cM match at 23andMe
  • X-DNA is not used for matching or included in the match amount at either MyHeritage or Ancestry, but is included in the raw DNA data download files for all four vendors.
  • The total match amount shows the total for 22 (or 23) chromosomes, NOT just the X chromosome(s). That’s not apples to apples.

Therefore, an X match of 45 cM for a female or 36 for a male is NOT (necessarily) equivalent to a 19 cM non-X match. That 19 cM is the total for 22 chromosomes, while the X match amount is just for one chromosome.

You might consider a 20 cM match on the regular autosomes significant, but a 20 cM X-only match *could* be only roughly equivalent to a 10ish cM match on chromosomes 1-22 in the same generation. That’s the dog-leg inheritance pattern at work.

This is why FamilyTreeDNA does not report an X-only match if there is no other autosomal match. A 19 cM X match is not equivalent to a 19cM match on chromosomes 1-22. Not to mention, calculating relationships based on cM ranges becomes more difficult when the X is included.

However, the flip side is that because of the inheritance pattern of the X chromosome, that 19 cM match, if valid and not IBC, may well reach significantly further back in time than a regular autosomal matches. This can be particularly important for people seeking either Native or enslaved African ancestors for whom traditional records are elusive if they exist at all.

Critical Take-Away Messages

Here are the critical take-away messages:

  1. Because there are fewer ancestral lineages contributing to the tester’s X chromosome, the amount of X chromosomal DNA that a tester inherits from the ancestors who contribute to their X chromosome is increased substantially.
  2. The DNA of the contributing ancestors is more likely to be inherited, because there are fewer other possible contributing ancestors, meaning fewer recombination events or DNA divisions/recombinations.
  3. X-DNA is also more likely to be inherited because when passed from mother to son, it’s passed intact and not admixed with the DNA of the father.
  4. X matches cannot be compared equally to either percentages or cM amounts on any of the other chromosomes, or autosomal DNA in total, because X matching only reports the amount on one single chromosome, while your total cM match amount reports the amount of DNA that matches from all chromosomes (which includes the X at 23andMe).
  5. If you have X matches at 23andMe and/or FamilyTreeDNA, you can expect your total matching to be higher at 23andMe because they include the X matching cM in the total amount of shared DNA. FamilyTreeDNA provides the amount of X matching DNA separately, but not included in the total. MyHeritage and Ancestry do not include X matching DNA.

For clarity, at FamilyTreeDNA, you can see my shared DNA match with my mother. Of course, I match her on the total length of all my chromosomes, which is 3563 cM, the total Shared DNA for chromosomes 1-22. This includes all chromosomes except for the X chromosome which is reported separately at 181 cM. The longest contiguous block of shared DNA is 284 cM, the entire length of chromosome 1, the longest chromosome.

Because I’m a female, I match both parents on the full length of all 23 chromosomes, including 181 cM on both X chromosomes, respectively. Males will only match their mother on their X chromosome, meaning their total autosomal DNA match to their father, because the X is excluded, is 181 cM less than to their mother.

This difference in the amount of shared DNA with each parent, plus the differences in how DNA totals are reported by various vendors is also challenging for tools like DNAPainter’s Shared cM Tool which is based on the crowd sourced Shared cM Project that averages shared DNA numbers for known relationships at various vendors and translates those numbers into possible relationships for unknown matches.

Not all vendors report their total amount of shared DNA the same way. This is true for both X-DNA and half identical (HIR) versus fully identical (FIR) segments at 23andMe. This isn’t to say either approach is right or wrong, just to alert you to the differences.

Said Another Way

Let’s look at this another way.

If the average on any individual chromosome is 19 cMs for a relationship that’s 5 generations back in time. The average X-DNA for the same distance relationship is substantially more, which means that:

  • The X-DNA probably reaches further back in time than an equivalent relationship on any other autosome.
  • The X-DNA will have (probably) divided fewer times, and more DNA will descend from individual ancestors.
  • The inheritance path, meaning potential ancestors who contributed the X chromosomal DNA, is reduced significantly.

It’s challenging to draw equivalences when comparing X-DNA matching to the other chromosomes due to several variables that make interpretation difficult.

Based on the X-match size in comparison to the expected 19 cM single chromosome match at this genealogical distance, what is the comparable X-DNA segment size to the minimum 7 cM size generally accepted as valid on other chromosomes? What would be equal to a 7 cM segment on any other single random autosomal match, even though we know the inheritance probabilities are different and this isn’t apples to apples? Let’s pretend that it is.

This calculation presumes at the great-great-grandparent level that the 19 cM is in one single segment on a single chromosome. Now let’s divide 19 cM by 7 cM, which is 2.7, then divide the X amounts by the same number for the 7 cM equivalent of 16.75 cM for a female and 13.4 cM for a male.

When people say that you need a “larger X match to be equivalent to a regular autosomal match,” this is the phenomenon being referenced. Clearly a 7 cM X match is less relevant, meaning not equivalent, in the same generation as a 7 cM regular autosomal match.

Still, X matching compared to match amounts shown on the other chromosomes is never exact;u apples to apples because:

  • You’re comparing one X chromosome to the combined DNA amounts of many chromosomes.
  • The limited recombination path.
  • DNA from the other autosomes is less likely to be inherited from a specific ancestor.
  • The X chromosome has a lower SNP density than the other chromosomes, meaning fewer SNPs per cM.
  • The X-DNA may well reach further back in time because it has been divided less frequently.

Bottom Line

The X chromosome is different and holds clues that the other autosomes can’t provide.

Don’t dismiss X matches even if you can’t identify a common ancestor. Given the inheritance path, and the reduced number of divisions, your X-DNA may descend from an ancestor further back in time. I certainly would NOT dismiss X matches with smaller cMs than the 13 and 16 shown above, even though they are considered “equivalent” in the same generation.

X chromosome matching can’t really be equated to matching on the other chromosomes. They are two distinct tools, so they can’t be interpreted identically.

Different vendors treat the X chromosome differently, making comparison challenging.

  • 23andMe includes not only the X chromosome in their cM total, but doubles the Fully Identical Regions (FIR) when people, such as full siblings, share the same DNA from both parents. I wrote about that here.
  • Ancestry does not include the X in their cM match calculations.
  • Neither does MyHeritage.
  • FamilyTreeDNA shows an X match only when it’s accompanied by a match on another chromosome.

The Shared cM Project provides an average of all of the data input by crowdsourcing from all vendors, by relationship, which means that the cM values for some relationships are elevated when compared to the same relationship or even same match were it to be reported from a different vendor.

The Best Part!

The X chromosome inheritance pattern means that you’re much more likely to carry some amount of a contributing ancestor’s X-DNA than on any other chromosome.

  • X-DNA may well be “older” because it’s not nearly as likely to be divided, given that there are fewer opportunities for recombination.
  • When you’re tracking your X-DNA back in your tree, whenever you hit a male, you get an automatic “bump” back a generation to his mother. It’s like the free bingo X-DNA square!
  • You can immediately eliminate many ancestors as your most recent common ancestor (MRCA) with an X-DNA match.
  • Because X-DNA reaches further back in time, sometimes you match people who descend from common ancestors further back in time as well.

If you match someone on multiple segments, if one of those matching segments is X-DNA, that segment is more likely to descend from a different ancestor than the segments on chromosomes 1-22. I’ve found many instances where an X match descends from a different ancestor than matching DNA segments on the autosomes. Always evaluate X matches carefully.

Sometimes X-DNA is exactly what you need to solve a mystery.

Ok, now let’s step through how to use X-DNA in a real-life example.

Using X DNA to Solve a Mystery

Let’s say that I have a 30 cM X match with a male.

  • I know immediately that our most recent common ancestor (MRCA) is on HIS mother’s side.
  • I know, based on my fan chart, which ancestral lines are eliminated in my tree. I’ve immediately narrowed the ancestors from 16 to 5 on his side and 16 to 8 on my side.
  • Two matching males is even easier, because you know immediately that the common ancestor must be on both of their mother’s sides, with only 5 candidate lines each at the great-great-grandparent generation.

Female to female matches are slightly more complex, but there are still several immediately eliminated lines each. That means you’ve already eliminated roughly half of the possible relationships by matching another female on their X chromosome.

In this match with a female second cousin, I was able to identify who she was via our common ancestor based on the X chromosome path. In this chart, I’m showing the relevant halves of her chart at left (paternal), and mine (maternal), side by side.

I added blockers on her chart and mine too.

As it turns out, we both inherited most of our X chromosome from our great-grandparents, marked above with the black stars.

Several lines are blocked, and my grandfather’s X chromosome is not a possibility because the common ancestor is my maternal grandmother’s parents. My grandfather is not one of her ancestors.

Having identified this match as my closest relative (other than my mother) to descend on my mother’s maternal side, I was able to map that portion of my X chromosome to my great-grandparents Nora Kirsch and Curtis Benjamin Lore.

My X Chromosome at DNA Painter

Here’s my maternal X chromosome at DNAPainter and how I utilized chromosome painting to push the identification of the ancestors whose X chromosome I inherited back an additional two generations.

Using that initial X chromosome match with my second cousin, shown by the arrow at bottom of the graphic, I mapped a large segment of my maternal X chromosome to my maternal great-grandparents.

By viewing the trees of subsequent X maternal matches, I was then able to push those common segments, shown painted directly above that match with the same color, back another two generations, to Joseph Hill, born in 1790, and Nabby Hall. I was able to do that based on the fact that other matches descend from Joseph and Nabby through different children, meaning we all triangulate on that common segment. I wrote about triangulation at DNAPainter, here.

I received no known X-DNA from my great-grandmother, Nora Kirsch, although a small portion of my X chromosome is still unassigned in yellow as “Uncertain.”

I received a small portion of my maternal X chromosome, in magenta, at left, from my maternal great-great-grandparents, John David Miller and Margaret Lentz.

The X chromosome is a powerful tool and can reach far back in time.

In some cases, the X, and other chromosomes can be inherited intact from one grandparent. I could have inherited my mother’s entire copy of her mother’s, or her father’s X chromosome based on random recombination, or not. As it turns out, I didn’t, and I know that because I’ve mapped my chromosomes to identify my ancestors based on common ancestors with my matches.

X-DNA Advanced Matches at FamilyTreeDNA

At FamilyTreeDNA, the Advanced Matches tab includes the ability to search for X matches, either within the entire database, or within specific projects. I find the project selection to be particularly useful.

For example, within the Claxton project, my father’s maternal grandmother’s line, I recognize my match, Joy, which provides me an important clue as to the possible common ancestor(s) of our shared segments.

Joy’s tree shows that her 4-times great-grandparents are my 3-times great-grandparents, meaning we are 4th cousins once removed and share 17 cM of DNA on our X chromosome across two segments.

Don’t be deceived by the physical appearance of “size” on your chromosomes. The first segment that spans the centromere, or “waist” of the chromosome, above, is 10.29 cM, and the smaller segment at right is 7.02 cM. SNPs are not necessarily evenly distributed along chromosomes.

Remember, an X or other autosomal match doesn’t necessarily mean the entire match is contained in one segment so long as it’s large enough to be divided in two parts and survive the match threshold.

It’s worth noting that Joy and I actually share at least two different, unrelated ancestral lines, so I need to look at Joy’s blocked lines to see if one of those common ancestral lines is not a possibility for our X match. It’s important to evaluate all possible ancestors, plus the inheritance path to eliminate any lineage that involves a father to son inheritance on the X chromosome.

Last but not least, you may match on your X chromosome through a different ancestor than on other chromosomes. Every matching segment has its own individual history. It’s not safe to assume.

Now, take a look at your X chromosome matches at FamilyTreeDNA, 23andMe, and GedMatch. What will you discover?

_____________________________________________________________

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DNAExplain Blog to be Preserved for Future Generations in the Library of Congress

Yes, indeed, this is definitely a red-letter event!!!

Not only is having my blog archived in the Library of Congress an incredible honor, but it solves a long-standing problem. Let’s start at the beginning.

In the Beginning…

I started this blog, www.dna-explained.com, also www.dnaexplain.com, for three primary reasons:

  • To educate the public, specifically genetic genealogists, about effectively using DNA for genealogy.
  • To share my own and other relevant vendor and non-vendor research and advancements in the field.
  • To provide a timeline and cumulative progressive history of this emerging field, recorded as it occurred. Essentially an industry diary.

My first blog article was published in July of 2012. The direct-to-consumer genetics industry was about 12 years old at that time. Today, the industry is roughly 23 years old and my blog is approaching its 11th anniversary. I’ve covered nearly half of the life of the genetic genealogy industry.

I recently crossed the threshold of 1600 published articles which equates to about 2.5 articles each week. Those articles total over 4 million words, or more than 15,000 pages of text, plus 20,000 images. That’s about half the size of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. That level of writing and publishing is almost a full-time job, alone, without anything else. Yet, I need to perform the research and do the work to create the content of each article. Not to mention the rest of my activities that pay the bills.

Anyone who writes, specifically, those who write to publish regularly, such as a blog, know that blogging isn’t exactly easy and requires an incredible amount of investmented time. The majority of blogs are abandoned shortly after creation. I fully understand why. You have to love both the process of writing and the subject – and be willing to contribute. Not to mention monitoring and approving the more than 50,000 comments and such.

As you know, this blog is free. I don’t charge for a subscription. I don’t accept paid content, guest articles or write articles for pay. I do have affiliate links at the bottom, but consider those cumulative purchases equivalent to buying me a cup of coffee. (Thank you to those who purchase through those links.)

There is some recurring financial investment in blogging too, but the biggest commitment, by far, is time. Hours and days that can’t be spent elsewhere, like on genealogy, for example – which leads me to my 52 Ancestors articles.

52 Ancestors

Of those slightly more than 1600 articles, 465 are in my 52 Ancestors series. I’m “blaming,” or crediting, Amy Johnson Crow for this, because in January of 2014, she challenged genealogists to write something about one ancestor a week and share or publish it someplace, somehow. I really liked that idea, and came to discover that focusing on one ancestor at a time, not a couple, and not their parents or children, allowed me to live with them for a bit and view their life through their eyes alone. So many times we know very little about our ancestor’s lives, and even less about the women. Interweaving Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA results and matches, relationships and the history of what was happening around them provides an invaluable tool to connect with their lives.

I wasn’t sure I could maintain that one article per week pace, but I wanted to try. The 52 Ancestors challenge was just for one year, right? I could stop anytime, right? But how would I share? I didn’t really think any of you would be interested in MY ancestors, so I very nearly didn’t publish these stories on my blog. I’m INCREDIBLY glad that I did, because I use both genealogy and genetic tools at multiple vendors to confirm those ancestors, to find and identify their descendants, and to break though next-generation brick walls. Plus, I’ve discovered innumerable wonderful cousins!

Having committed, I jumped into 52 Ancestors with both feet and immediately addressed a very long-standing mystery about my father’s missing son. What I didn’t expect to happen was for you, my readers, to help solve it, but you did!!! Two weeks later, Lee was identified, had a name and a history! Wow we were off and running at breakneck speed. To this day, the 52 Ancestors articles remain some of my favorites, along with the process of bringing those ancestors back to life, even if just through words.

Sometimes I don’t write about ancestors specifically, but memorable events in our lifetimes that we’ve shared, like the 1969 moon landing, Y2K and more recently, the anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger explosion. Don’t you wish someone had written or journaled about contemporary milestones in our ancestor’s lives? What I wouldn’t give for that!

Preservation and Perpetuity

One of the reasons I write about my ancestors and genetic genealogy more broadly is because I very much want to share with other researchers, now and in the future.

In some cases, I’m the contributor, but often others contribute invaluable information to me. I firmly believe that a rising tide lifts all ships.

My goal is twofold:

  • To educate others and share methodologies so they can find and confirm their ancestors.
  • To complete the painting of my ancestor’s lives, or as much as I can in my lifetime.

Both of these are foundations upon which others can build.

A few years ago, I began to be concerned with preservation in perpetuity. How might I preserve those stories and the rest of my blog? I realize that in time, the technical aspects of my blog articles will be dated, but the educational basics remain firm. Better research methodologies will be developed. New information, both paper trail and genetic, will, hopefully, be unearthed about my ancestors, but I want the information I’ve provided to remain accessible over time.

I’ve been a technologist long enough to know that nothing is forever. Web sites disappear every day. The Internet Archive is wonderful, but it too may go poof, not to mention that you need to know the website url to access the archived website.

I reached out to WordPress, my blogging platform a few years ago. I asked if I could pay in advance for a “permanent” website, but they said that after payment stopped for the domain name and my subscription for the “non-free” platform, that my articles would revert to a free WordPress site “forever.” That means the url would change. Of course, none of the original links would work, and its value would be much dimished given that the articles would not appear in search engines. Furthermore, “forever” in technology days could be very short indeed.

Resources like FamilySearch aren’t meant for publications like my blog, and neither is WikiTree, especially “someday” after the blog link is no longer valid. I’ve posted links to articles on my blog on the ancestors’ profiles at WikiTree and in my personal trees at MyHeritage and Ancestry, but once the link is gone, effectively, so is the information.

I could copy the articles to word/pdf documents and attach those files to the trees, but we really don’t know what will and will not have longevity in today’s technical genealogical environment. Plus, I don’t want my articles behind a paywall anyplace, especially since I’ve made them available for free.

However, the Library of Congress has now solved that quandary for me and I’m both elated and honored.

The Invitation  

In the crazy days leading up to RootsTech, a gem of an email landed in my inbox. It was supposedly the Library of Congress (LOC) requesting to archive this blog and make this website available for all perpetuity as part of a collection of historically and culturally significant websites designated for preservation.

That’s quite a compliment.

I wasn’t quite sure I believed it. In fact, I was pretty sure that I didn’t.

Of course, the first thing I thought was that these were really brilliant scammers.

I contacted the LOC and discovered that this email was, indeed, genuine. I was both shocked and humbled.

To Whom It May Concern:

The United States Library of Congress requests permission to include your website in the Local History and Genealogy Web Archive, which is part of a larger collection of historically and culturally significant websites that have been designated for preservation. The following URL has been selected for archiving: https://dna-explained.com/.

The Library hopes that you share its vision of preserving digital content and making it available to current and future generations of researchers. As the internet has become an increasingly important and influential part of our lives, we believe the historical record would be incomplete if websites like yours are not preserved and made a part of it. We also believe that expanding access to the Library’s collections is one of the best ways we can increase opportunities for education and scholarship around the world. Please provide the Library with permission to archive your website and provide public access to archived versions of your website by filling out the form available here: <link redacted.>

With your permission, the Library of Congress or its agent will engage in the collection of content from your website at regular intervals over time. In order to properly archive the above URL, we may archive other portions of the website and public content that your page links to on third party sites such as social media platforms. In addition to the aforementioned collection, archived content from your website may be added to other relevant collections in the future. This content would be available to researchers only at Library facilities or by special arrangement, unless you additionally grant the Library permission for the content to become more broadly available through hosting on the Library’s public website, which would be done no sooner than one year after it was collected. For more information on the web archiving process, please read our frequently asked questions.

We encourage you to learn more about the Library’s Web Archiving program and explore our collections to see examples of how we archive websites. If you have any questions, comments, or recommendations concerning the archiving of your website, please email the Library’s Web Archiving Team at webcapture@loc.gov.

Thank you.

Library of Congress Web Archiving Team

It would be an understatement to say I was incredibly excited. There were no balloons or jubilant noisemakers though, and the cats were unimpressed as I clicked and agreed for my collective body of work to succeed me “forever.” Who knew milestones like this were so quiet, with only me winking to Mom and Dad who I’m positive were watching and silently cheering!

Here’s the confirmation of my acceptance.

So, in another hundred years, just like I can search for, say, Estes photos from a century or more ago at the Library of Congress, people living four or five generations in the future will be able to search for and read about the very early days of genetic genealogy and find those ancestor stories. They will also be able to learn something about the time in which we live today.

I can stop worrying about more than a decade’s worth of work disappearing after I join my ancestors, hopefully to obtain the answers that have eluded me here.

I’m incredibly, incredibly humbled and grateful to the Library of Congress for this amazing opportunity to contribute to our collective heritage. Thanks to each and every one of you for joining me on our journey into the history books.

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

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You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

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Preparing for Research at the FamilySearch Library

One of my readers asked about what type of research facilities are available in Salt Lake City (SLC). They are attending RootsTech for the first time.

I’m so glad they asked. This article will answer their question but is also a broader article about how I research specific lineages and locations. Please note that I’ll be including lots of links where you can find additional information.

The FamilySearch Library is extremely useful to genealogists, even if you can’t visit in person. This article isn’t just for in-person visitors, although that’s where I’m focused today. It’s really for everyone and will help you understand how to access the various types of research tools available, and where.

When in Salt Lake City, the Family History Library, now called the FamilySearch Library is THE place to go for research. It’s world-class and equivalent to Mecca for genealogists.

The FamilySearch Library is pictured above. Just a block away, with the red arrow, you’ll find the Salt Palace Convention Center where RootsTech is held. The large silver tower behind the red arrow is the brand-new Hyatt Hotel.

First, we’re going to discuss logistics, then how to prepare for utilizing resources at the library.

Family History Library Renamed FamilySearch Library

Just a few weeks ago, the Family History Library (FHL) rebranded itself as the FamilySearch Library, so you’ll hear both terms. Just know that by whatever name, this is the most comprehensive genealogy library in the US, as well as in the world.

The library is funded and sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormons. Genealogy is a part of their religion, so whether you are of the LDS faith or not, the library is beneficial, welcoming and does not attempt to recruit non-LDS visitors to the LDS faith. The staff and volunteers there are super-friendly and helpful. I am not LDS and I love this library.

The library hosts special hours, here, during RootsTech week, staying open 12 hours per day.

You can see lots of pictures, here and a map to the library, here.

If you haven’t visited in the past couple of years, the library has taken the opportunity to remodel and upgrade during the Covid down-time. I really look forward to visting the new facility.

Help

If you need help or direction, there are multiple ways to receive that, both virtually and in-person. Consultations are free and can be arranged, here.

On the library website, be sure to click on each of these helpful buttons to plan and get the most out of your visit.

Media

Within the FamilySearch Library, there are different types of resources you can access, including traditional books and microfilmed records through their complimentary workstations. The library is divided into sections, and you’ll find an information desk when entering.

Here’s a layout and a site map with additional information.

Food

Please note that while the library does have a breakroom where guests can eat, they don’t have food service. Many library patrons bring something in their bag and simply visit the breakroom quickly to eat. Peanut butter cheese crackers are a favorite of mine, along with protein bars. I refill a water bottle.

The closest restaurant is around the corner in the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel, and the next closest is the Blue Lemon.

However, most genealogists don’t want to pack everything up and then unpack after lunch, so they simply bring something to eat in the breakroom.

I strongly recommend a small rolling suitcase for your research, laptop, notebooks, pencils (I use mechanical pencils) and snacks. You’ll be carrying or pulling everything, all day long.

You may well leave with more than you arrived with, meaning copies.

Also, don’t neglect to bring phone charging cords (with electrical plug-in) in your library bag, along with a spare thumb drive or two. Voice of experience here. Your phone will double as your camera and prevent you from having to make copies. You can stand right at your table and photograph what you need.

Close to the RootsTech Conference

The FamilySearch Library is literally a block away from the Salt Palace Convention Center where RootsTech is held, directly across the street from the Marriott hotel. The Marriott has a Starbucks in the lobby.

The library is within easy walking distance and Salt Lake City keeps the sidewalks shoveled and clear of ice and snow, for the most part. Bring warm clothes that you can layer though, because it is the dead of winter.

There’s a coat check at RootsTech, but I don’t use it. I just wear a thin thermal-lined coat and stuff it in my rolling bag.

A word about parking. Don’t. I use Uber or Lyft. There is also public bus transportation from the airport. I’ve never used that. However, parking is very limited and if you’re going to drive or rent a car, you’ll probably want to park it at the Marriott, the conference center, or other paid parking and walk when you are downtown. Parking is quite expensive, especially given that you’re probably not going to use that car for days. Uber/Lyft is MUCH easier and if you need to Uber/Lyft to a restaurant downtown, it’s just a couple of dollars.

Most of us are so tired we just grab something quick at the end of the day and then just die in our beds. There are food vendors at RootsTech.

Research Prep

Ok, now that we have location and logistics out of the way, let’s talk about how to actually prepare to research.

Go to www.familysearch.org where you’ll be prompted to either sign in or create an account.

Click on images to enlarge

If you don’t have an account, create one. They are free and there are things you can’t see and do without an account.

Also, you can scroll down to view different kinds of assistance available, including at local Family History Centers and library affiliates across the world. However, this article is about preparing to research at the main FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City.

Having said that, I do suggest you take a look to see where your closest facility is located, because items in the FamilySearch catalog are available:

  • Online plus at the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City and in local Family History Centers
  • At the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City ONLY
  • At the local Family History Centers in addition to the library in Salt Lake City

When in Salt Lake City, you’ll want to focus your efforts on items that are available only at FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City. You can utilize online resources at your convenience, and you can visit your local Family History Center or affiliate library easier than visiting SLC. In my case, I don’t have a local center or affiliated library anyplace even remotely close, so I’ll be accessing everything in SLC. Some local Family History Centers have very limited hours or aren’t active anymore, so check before you assume you can access something locally.

Family Tree

The FamilySearch Family Tree is a collaborate effort. Some people love it, some don’t. I use it judiciously to see if someone has found a record for an ancestor that I have not and attached it to that ancestor’s profile. You can access this tree from home, so I’m not covering it in this article.

Search

What you’re going to do is Search and make a list of items to reference when in Salt Lake City.

I prepare either a spreadsheet or Word document as I search.

Of course, experiment with each search category, including images.

For all county searches, you don’t type the word “county.” Just “Just Hancock, Tennessee” for Hancock County, Tennessee.

Book Search

In the Book search, you’ll generally want to enter one word, such as “Estes” or experiment with the Advanced Search Options.

Click images to enlarge

I was prompted to sign in before I could view this book. Because I can view it online, I’m not going to waste time viewing this book in SLC, but I might use it to prep, or view it later, so I’m adding it to my spreadsheet but not for SLC.

However, there will be books that you cannot view online.

This book is copyright restricted. You will be able to see some highlights, often including the index, but not the entire book. Click on the title to see additional information.

This book is physically located at the FamilySearch Library, so put it on your list for SLC using the:

  • Title
  • Author’s name
  • Title number
  • Call number

If you see a book that is ONLY available in off-site storage, contact the library before your visit to see if they can retrieve it for you. Be sure to record all call numbers on your spreadsheet. If you can’t find a call number, call the library.

Some locations of availability will be local Family History Centers, so be sure to read carefully. Additional books are available through the Catalog Search.

Catalog Search

My favorite search is the Catalog Search.

You can search in a wide variety of ways and combinations. Sometimes one search will pick something up that another won’t, so I use all of the searches.

In this case, I’m searching for items from Hancock County, TN. Sometimes I limit the search to “Online”, then search for “Any” because it’s easy to quickly tell if there is anything in a category that is not available online. For example, there are three items in the Cemeteries category, but only one item available online, I know to look in that category for two things that aren’t available online.

You can expand any of these categories to view the items listed.

By clicking on the title, you can easily see additional information.

The first book (series) is available in a number of ways.

The book volumes are available at the library in SLC, and also on microfiche at the library.

If these little film roll icons were the only availability, then YES, I would want to view these in SLC

The reel means microfilm only, and must be viewed in Salt Lake.

However, at the very bottom, the little camera tells you that some are available online with unrestricted images so long as you are signed into your FamilySearch account. This is why you need a FamilySearch account.

By unrestricted, I mean that you don’t have to be physically IN Sale Lake City to view the images.

This little magnifying glass icon means that the images are available, have been indexed and are searchable. Glory hallelujah.

So, if this is a group of marriage records, you can browse the records themselves, but if you search for a surname in record search with location, you’ll find people of that surname from these records.

Many records are not indexed or searchable, but some indexes have been filmed so you can cross-reference that way.

If you see the image of a camera with a key, that means that the image is ONLY available to view at either a Family History Center or affiliate, or the FamilySearch Library. Generally, that has to do with the license FamilySearch was able to obtain from the owning entity.

You can read more about the availability of catalog items here.

Additionally, sometimes notes are provided that direct you to other viewing opportunities.

Clearly, I don’t need to view this item in SLC.

You may see this note which means you should definitely put this item on your SLC list.

Here’s another article about research methodologies.

FamilySearch Wiki

Additionally, I use the FamilySearch Wiki often. I just type my desired search into Google. “Hancock County, Tennessee FamilySearch wiki”

The FamilySearch wiki not only tells you what’s available specifically for Hancock County, but other relevant record collections not at FamilySearch, and where you can access them.

Additionally, these pages explain about formation, boundary changes, record loss, cities, towns and villages within the county, and neighboring counties. The information is updated regularly, so check back from time to time.

Prep Summary

I find these pages and tools invaluable. I hope you do too and will find goldmines of information just waiting for you that will provide those missing pieces to your ancestor puzzles.

Preparing wisely is the key to getting the most out of your limited research time in Salt Lake City.

Have fun!!!

____________________________________________________________

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Thank you so much.

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RootsTech Update, Class Navigation Aids & the Pass Winner

I have several updates for you today.

Let’s start with RootsTech pricing.

Early Bird Special

The in-person price for RootsTech is currently $98 which is the early-bird special pricing. Sometime in February, the price will increase. If you’re planning to attend, I encourage you to sign up sooner rather than later at this link.

Locating Speakers, Schedules and Sessions for In-Person and Virtual

The blended combination of virtual and in-person sessions, some of which are being live-streamed, has caused some confusion. Specifically, the in-person sessions are not listed with the virtual sessions and are difficult to find. I’ve had several people ask me why none of my sessions are listed. They are, just not in the class list they were viewing.

I think it’s sorted out now, so I’m going to step you through how to find your favorite speakers and both types of sessions.

On the main RootsTech page, below where you register, you’ll see the two options, above.

In-Person Classes

You can click on “Browse In-person Classes” to view everything happening at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.

You can click on Classes or Speakers or any of the other tiles.

There’s no direct way to obtain a filtered list of the in-person sessions being live-streamed, but if you look at a specific class, you can see if it’s being live-streamed. Live-streamed classes will be available for viewing later and are also listed in the “virtual” portion of the conference.

My classes are not being live-streamed, but this class by my friend Amy Johnson Crow is being live-streamed in addition to being available in person, of course. Every class that is live-streamed will include the announcement, above, which is also where you click to view the live-streamed session.

RootsTech has provided a conference planner so you can add both in-person and live-streamed classes to your conference schedule.

Classes By Date

You can view all of the in-person classes in list or grid format, by date, here.

RootsTech Virtual Classes

By clicking on the “Browse NEW Virtual Classes” button on the main page, you can view the virtual classes.

You can also click on the “Classes” link, above, in the header of the “Browse In-Person Classes” page.

Regardless of how you get there, you can filter the virtual classes by year (be sure it’s 2023,) or by speaker. Remember, most of the earlier virtual classes are still available too, which is why you need to filter by 2023 to view this year’s new sessions.

Roberta’s Sessions

My three sessions are in-person-only this year. You can view them here and by clicking on any session, you can see more, including the room number.

Regarding room numbers, if you’re attending in person, the day of your sessions, verify that the room number has not changed.

Exhibitors Booth Mini-Sessions

In addition to the RootsTech-sponsored classes, many of the exhibitors will be providing mini-sessions and classes in their booths.

Those sessions are often published in their physical or virtual booths, so be sure to check the exhibitors in the Expo Hall either in person or the virtual Expo Hall after it goes live.

I’m planning to give mini-sessions in select vendors’ booths. I’ll let you know as soon as my schedule is finalized, closer to the conference dates. There’s a lot still up in the air!

Planning is Essential

For those who have never attended RootsTech in person, the Salt Palace conference center is massive and some of the classrooms are widely separated. Planning your class schedule is essential.

Also note that some of the rooms are relatively small and you may not be able to get into a class of your choice if you don’t arrive early.

How early? I don’t know, but I’d suggest having pre-selected a second choice or perhaps not scheduling every slot.

I do know that there is half an hour between the end of one class and the beginning of the next class, so you will have time to move from room to room.

Be sure to understand the layout of the convention center in advance so you can find your room. The Salt Palace map is here, including classrooms. On this map, halls A-D are opened up to be the RootsTech Expo Hall. The RootsTech exhibitor map in the Expo Hall is here.

Free Pass Winner

I offered a free RootsTech pass for one lucky person, here, and recruited Jim to pull the name of an entrant out of a hat. (Ok, it’s a bowl-buddy, but I digress.)

I’m very pleased to announce that blog subscriber, Barbara, is attending RootsTech for the first time as the winner of the free RootsTech pass.

Congratulations Barbara! Wear really comfy shoes, dress warm, and prepare to have an amazing time!

_____________________________________________________________

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Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

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Genealogy Books

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RootsTech 2023 Theme is “Uniting” – Registration is Open – Free Pass Giveaway

The RootsTech theme for this year is “Uniting,” and RootsTech registration is now open. The dates this year are March 2-4 in Salt Lake City, but of course you could always arrive early or stay late and visit the Family History Library for some intensive genealogy therapy – ummm – I mean research.

That’s what I’m hoping to do.

FamilySearch has combined the super-successful virtual RootsTech format of 2021 and 2022 with the tried and true in-person conference loved by so many.

I don’t know about you, but I was extremely grateful for virtual RootsTech in 2021 and 2022, but I’m also VERY MUCH looking forward to gathering with my genea-friends and family again.

I’m glad to see this hybrid event because it makes RootsTech more widely available to a larger audience.

You can read about RootsTech 2023 in the press release here.

Classes

Classes and speakers will be announced shortly, but we know there are over 200 sessions that will be available for free, virtually. That means you could watch one a day, everyday, from the beginning of RootsTech through the middle of September. Sounds like genealogy-Heaven to me.

Classes will be announced soon, but let me give you a sneak-peek about my classes.

  • Big Y for the Win – When, where and how to use the BIG Y test to unravel or at least make sense of your genealogy.
  • DNA for Native American Genealogy – 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor (even if they don’t show up in your ethnicity.)
  • DNA Journey – Follow Your Ancestor’s Path – Let your ancestor’s DNA guide you home. Literally! Y-DNA, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA all play roles in this journey.

In addition, I’m finalizing multiple sessions in two different vendors’ booths. More about this as it firms up.

Book Signing

I’m also attempting to organize a book-signing for my book, DNA for Native American Genealogy.

More on this later too.

Registration

The in-person pass is $98 for three full days, but the Expo Hall is open and free for everyone during that time.

In addition to the virtual classes, there will be about 210 in-person classes as well. According to the RootsTech team, there will be 16 classes taking place simultaneously, with 2 or 3 being live-streamed.

There will be 5 blocks of session-time on Thursday and Friday, and 4 blocks on Saturday. Each of those blocks will have 16 class slots available, so you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy. Of course, many of the vendors host mini-sessions in their booths too, so there’s a lot going on and educational opportunities everyplace you look.

You can view registration details, here.

Free Pass Giveaway

I’m giving one free three-day pass to a lucky blog reader. Of course, you’ll need to get yourself there and such, but a $98 value is nothing to sneeze at.

Already purchased your pass? Don’t despair. If you win and you’ve already purchased a pass, just let me know and RootsTech will reimburse you.

How Do You Enter?

Just make a comment on this article – something about an ancestor. Maybe the Uniting theme. To prevent dustups, please DO NOT make any type of political comment, nor include a link, nor reference a vendor.

On January 25th, I will literally pull a name out of some type of old-fashioned “hat” and notify the winner by email. The winner will need to provide their registration information to RootsTech.

How fun is this!

Ok, for those who would like to attend RootsTech in person: ready – set – go.

Tell me something interesting about one of your ancestors in the comments.

_____________________________________________________________

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You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

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The Best of 2022

It’s that time of year where we look both backward and forward.

Thank you for your continued readership! Another year under our belts!

I always find it interesting to review the articles you found most interesting this past year.

In total, I published 97 articles in 2022, of which 56 were directly instructional about genetic genealogy. I say “directly instructional,” because, as you know, the 52 Ancestors series of articles are instructional too, but told through the lives of my ancestors. That leaves 41 articles that were either 52 Ancestors articles, or general in nature.

It has been quite a year.

2022 Highlights

In a way, writing these articles serves as a journal for the genetic genealogy community. I never realized that until I began scanning titles a year at a time.

Highlights of 2022 include:

Which articles were your favorites that were published in 2022, and why?

Your Favorites

Often, the topics I select for articles are directly related to your comments, questions and suggestions, especially if I haven’t covered the topic previously, or it needs to be featured again. Things change in this industry, often. That’s a good thing!

However, some articles become forever favorites. Current articles don’t have enough time to amass the number of views accumulated over years for articles published earlier, so recently published articles are often NOT found in the all-time favorites list.

Based on views, what are my readers’ favorites and what do they find most useful?

In the chart below, the 2022 ranking is not just the ranking of articles published in 2022, but the ranking of all articles based on 2022 views alone. Not surprisingly, six of the 15 favorite 2022 articles were published in 2022.

The All-Time Ranking is the ranking for those 2022 favorites IF they fell within the top 15 in the forever ranking, over the entire decade+ that this blog has existed.

Drum roll please!!!

Article Title Publication Date 2022 Ranking All-Time Ranking
Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages January 2017 1 2
Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA December 2012 2 1
Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them in in You? June 2017 3 5
AutoKinship at GEDmatch by Genetic Affairs February 2022 4
442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match? Daily Updates Here September 2020 5
The Origins of Zana of Abkhazia July 2021 6
Full or Half Siblings April 2019 7 15
Ancestry Rearranged the Furniture January 2022 8
DNA from 459 Ancient British Isles Burials Reveals Relationships – Does Yours Match? February 2022 9
DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents January 2020 10
Ancestry Only Shows Shared Matches of 20 cM and Greater – What That Means & Why It Matters May 2022 11
How Much Indian Do I Have in Me??? June 2015 12 8
Top Ten RootsTech 2022 DNA Sessions + All DNA Session Links March 2022 13
FamilyTreeDNA DISCOVER Launches – Including Y DNA Haplogroup Ages June 2022 14
Ancient Ireland’s Y and Mitochondrial DNA – Do You Match??? November 2020 15

2023 Suggestions

I have a few articles already in the works for 2023, including some surprises. I’ll unveil one very soon.

We will be starting out with:

  • Information about RootsTech where I’ll be giving at least 7 presentations, in person, and probably doing a book signing too. Yes, I know, 7 sessions – what was I thinking? I’ve just missed everyone so very much.
  • An article about how accurately Ancestry’s ThruLines predicts Potential Ancestors and a few ways to prove, or disprove, accuracy.
  • The continuation of the “In Search Of” series.

As always, I’m open for 2023 suggestions.

In the comments, let me know what topics you’d like to see.

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

In Search of…How Am I Related to That Close Match?

My friend recently reached out to me for some help with a close match at Ancestry. Which vendor doesn’t matter – the process for figuring out who my friend is related to her match would be essentially the same at any vendor.

My friend has no idea who the match is, nor how they are related. That match has not replied, nor is any of her information recognizable, such as an account name or photo. She has no tree, so there are literally no clues provided by the match.

We need to turn to science and old-fashioned sleuthing.

This eighth article in the “In Search of…” series steps you through the process I’m stepping my friend through.

This process isn’t difficult, per se, but there are several logical, sequential steps. I strongly recommend you read through this (at least) once, then come back and work through the process if you’re trying to solve a similar mystery.

The “In Search of…” Series

Please note that I’ve written an entire series of “In Search of…” articles that will step you through the search process and help you understand how to unravel your results. If you’re new, reading these, in order, before proceeding, would be a good idea.

  • I introduced the “In Search of” series in the article, DNA: In Search of…New Series Launches.
  • In the second article, DNA: In Search of…What Do You Mean I’m Not Related to My Family? – and What Comes Next? we discussed the discovery that something was amiss when you don’t match a family member that you expect to match, then how to make sure a vial or upload mix-up didn’t happen. Next, I covered the basics of the four kinds of DNA tests you’ll be able to use to solve your mystery.
  • In the third article, In Search of…Vendor Features, Strengths, and Testing Strategies, we discussed testing goals and strategies, including testing with and uploading to multiple autosomal DNA vendors, Y DNA, and mitochondrial DNA testing. We reviewed the vendor’s strengths and the benefits of combining vendor information and resources.
  • In the fourth article, DNA: In Search of…Signs of Endogamy, we discussed the signs of endogamy and various ways to determine if you or your recent ancestors descend from an endogamous population.
  • In the fifth article, DNA: In Search of…Full and Half-Siblings we discussed how to determine if you have a sibling match, if they are a half or full sibling, and how to discern the difference.
  • In the sixth article, Connect Your DNA test, and Others, to Your Tree, I explained how to optimize your DNA tests in order to take advantage of the features offered by each our primary DNA testing vendors.
  • In the seventh article, How to Share DNA Results and Tree Access at Ancestry, I wrote step-by-step instructions for providing access to another person to allow them to view your DNA results, AND to share your tree – which are two different things. If you have a mystery match, and they are willing to allow you access, in essence “to drive,” you can just send them the link to this article that provides detailed instructions. Note that Ancestry has changed the user interface slightly with the rollout of their new “sides” matches, but I can’t provide the new interface screenshots yet because my account has not been upgraded.

Sarah – The Mystery Match

My friend, who I’ll be calling the Tester, matches Sarah (not her name) at 554 cM. At that close level, you don’t have to worry about segments being removed by Timber at Ancestry, so that is an actual cM match level. Timber only removes segments when the match is under 90 cM. Other vendors don’t remove cMs at all.

Ancestry shows the possible relationships at that level as follows:

Some of these relationships can be immediately dismissed in this situation. For example, the Tester knows that Sarah is not her grandchild or great-grandchild.

Our tester does not have any full siblings, or any known half-siblings, but like many genealogists, she is always open-minded. Both of her parents are living, and her father has already tested. Sarah does not match her father. So, this match is on her mother’s side.

It’s obvious that Sarah is not a full sibling, nor is she a half-sibling, based on the cM values, but she might be a child, or grandchild of a maternal half-sibling.

Let’s begin with observations and questions that will help our Tester determine how she and Sarah are related.

  1. It’s clear that IF this is a half-sibling descendant match, it’s on her mother’s side, because Sarah does not match our Tester’s father.
  2. The tester’s mother has six siblings, none of whom have tested directly, but three of whom have children or grandchildren who have tested.
  3. By viewing shared matches, Sarah matches known relatives of BOTH the maternal grandmother AND maternal grandfather of our tester, which means Sarah is NOT the product of an unknown half-sibling of her mother. Remember, Ancestry does not display shared matches of less than 20 cM. Other vendors do not restrict your shared matches.
  4. Ancestry does not provide mitochondrial DNA information, so that cannot be utilized, but could be utilized if this match was at FamilyTreeDNA, and partially utilized in an exclusionary manner if the match was at 23andMe.

DNAPainter

DNAPainter’s Shared cM Tool provides a nice visual display of possible relationships, so I entered the matching cM amount

The returned relationships are similar to Ancestry’s possible relationships.

The grid display shows the possible relationships. Relationships that fall outside of this probability range are muted.

The color shading is by generation, meaning dark grey is through great-great-grandparents, apricot is through great-grandparents, green is through grandparents, grey is through one or both parents, and blue are your own descendants.

Based on known factors, I put a red X in the boxes that can’t apply to Sarah and our Tester after evaluating each relationship. I bracketed the statistically most likely relationships in red, although I must loudly say, “do not ignore those other possibilities.”

Let’s step through the logic which will be different for everyone’s own situation, of course.

  • Age alone eliminates the great and half-great grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They are all deceased and would be well over 100 years old if they were living.
  • The green half relationships are eliminated because we know via shared matches that Sarah matches BOTH of the Tester’s maternal grandparent’s sides.
  • We know that Sarah is not a second cousin because second cousins match only ONE maternal grandparent’s ancestor’s descendants, and Sarah matches both of the tester’s maternal grandparents through their descendants. In other words, Sarah and our Tester both match people who descend from both of the Tester’s maternal grandmother AND grandfather’s lines, which, unless they are related, means Sarah’s closest common ancestor (MCRA – most recent common ancestor) with our Tester are either her maternal grandparents, or her mother.
  • Therefore, we know that Sarah cannot be any of the apricot-colored relationships because she matches BOTH of our Tester’s maternal grandparents. She would only be related through one of the Tester’s maternal grandparents to be related on the apricot level.
  • Sarah cannot be a full great-niece or nephew, or great or great-great niece or nephew because the Tester has no full siblings, confirmed by the fact that Sarah does not match the Tester’s father.
  • We know that Sarah is not the great-grandchild of the Tester, in part due to age, but the definitive scientific ax to that possibility is that Sarah does not match our Tester’s father. (Yes, our Tester does match her father at the appropriate level.)

We know that Sarah is somehow a descendant of BOTH of Tester’s maternal grandparents, so must be in either the green band of relationships, the grey half-relationships, or the blue direct relationships. All of these relationships would be descended from the Tester’s maternal grandparents (plural.)

We’ve eliminated the blue direct relationship because Sarah does not match the Tester’s father. This removes the possibility that the Tester’s children have an unknown great-grandchild, although in this case, age removes that possibility anyway.

This process-of-elimination leaves as possible relationships:

  • Grey band half niece/nephew and half great-niece/nephew, meaning that the Tester has an unknown half-sibling on their mother’s side whose child or grandchild has tested.
  • Green band first cousin which means that the tester descends from one of the Tester’s maternal aunts or uncles. Given that Sarah is not a known child of any of the Tester’s six aunts and uncles, that opens the possibility that her mother’s sibling has a previously unknown child. Three of the Tester’s mother’s siblings are females, and three are males.
  • Green band first cousin once removed is one generation further down the tree, meaning a child of a first cousin.

Using facts we know, we’ve already restricted the possible relationships to four.

Hypothesis and Shared Matches

In situations like this, I use a spreadsheet, create hypothesis scenarios and look for eliminators.

I worked with the Tester to assemble an easy spreadsheet with each of her mother’s siblings in a column, along with their year of birth. All names have been changed.

The hypothesis we are working with is that the Tester’s mother has a previously unknown child and that Sarah is that person’s child or grandchild.

Across the top of our spreadsheet, which you could also simply create as a chart, I’ve written the names of the maternal grandparents.

The Tester’s mother, Susie, is shown in the boxes that are colored red, and her siblings are listed in their birth order. Siblings who have anyone in their line who has tested are shown by colored boxes.

The Tester is shown in red beneath her mother, Susie, and a potential mystery half-sibling is shown beneath Susie.

This is importantthe relationships shown are FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE TESTER.

This means, at far left, with the red arrow, these people at the top, meaning the mother’s siblings are the Tester’s aunts and uncles.

The next generation down are the Tester’s first cousins, followed by the next row, with 1C1R. The cell colors in that column correspond to the DNAPainter generation columns.

In the red “Mother” group, you’ll see that I’ve included that mystery half-sibling and beneath, the relationships that could exist at that same generation level. So, if the mystery half-sibling had a child, that person would be the half-niece/nephew of the Tester.

The cM value pointed to by the arrows, is the cM value at which the TESTER matches that person.

In this case, Ginger’s son, Jacob matches our Tester at 946 cM, which is exactly normal for a first cousin. Ginger’s son, Aaron, has not tested, but his daughter, Crystal, has and matches our Tester at 445 cM.

Three of the Tester’s aunts/uncles, John, Jim, and Elsie are not represented in this matrix, because no one from their line has yet tested. The Tester has contacted members of those families asking if they will accept a testing scholarship.

Analysis Grids

Some of the children of our Tester’s aunts/uncles have tested, and their matches to Sarah are shown in the bottom row in yellow, on the chart below.

Of course, obtaining Sarah’s matching cM information required the Tester to contact her aunts/uncles and cousins to ask them to look at their match to Sarah at Ancestry.

For each set of relationships with Sarah, I’ve prepared a mini-relationship grid below Sarah’s matches with one of the Tester’s aunts/uncles’ descendants.

  • If Sarah is related to the Tester through an unknown half-sibling, Sarah will match the tester more closely than she will match any of the children of the Tester’s aunts and uncles.
  • If Sarah descends through one of the Tester’s aunts’ or uncles’ lines, Sarah will match someone in those lines more closely than our Tester, but we may need to compensate for generations in our analysis.

I pasted the DNAPainter image in the spreadsheet in a convenient place to remind myself of which relationships are possible between our Tester and Sarah, then I created a small grid beneath the Tester’s match to Sarah, who is the yellow row.

Let me explain, beginning with our Tester’s match to Sarah.

Tester’s Match to Sarah

The Tester matches Sarah at 554 cM, which can potentially be a number of different relationships. I’ve listed the possible relationships with the most likely, at 87%, at the top. I have not listed any relationships we’ve positively eliminated, even though they would be scientifically possible.

I can’t do this for our Tester’s Uncle David, because the Tester has not yet heard back from David’s son, Gary, as to how many cMs he shares with Sarah.

Our tester’s aunts, Ginger and Barbara do have descendants who have tested, so let’s evaluate those relationships.

Ginger and Sarah

We know less about Ginger and Sarah than we do about our Tester and Sarah. However, many of the same relationship constraints remain constant.

  • For example, we know that Sarah matches both of Ginger’s grandparents, because Ginger is our tester’s aunt, Susie’s full sibling.
  • Our tester and all of the other family members who have tested match on both maternal grandparents’ sides.
  • Therefore, we also know that the 2C relationships won’t work either because Sarah matches both maternal grandparents.
  • Based on ages, it’s very unlikely that Sarah is a great-grandchild of Ginger’s children, in part, because I’m operating under the assumption that Sarah is old enough to purchase her own test, so not a child. Ancestry’s terms of service require testers to be 18 years of age to purchase or activate a DNA test. Also, Sarah’s test is not managed by someone else.
  • We don’t know about great-nieces and nephews though, because if one of Ginger’s sibling’s children had an unknown child, that person could be Sarah or Sarah’s parent.

Ginger’s son Jacob

Using the closest match in Ginger’s line, her son Jacob, we find the following possibilities using Jacob’s match to Sarah of 284cM.

The DNAPainter grid shows the more distant relationship clearly.

You can quickly determine that Sarah probably does not descend from Ginger’s line, but let’s add this to our spreadsheet for completeness.

You can see that the MOST likely relationship, of the possible relationships based on our known factors, is 1C2R, which is the least likely relationship between our Tester and Sarah. It’s important to note that our Tester and Jacob are in the same generation, so we don’t need to do any compensating for a generational difference.

Comparing those relationships, you can see that the least likely relationship between Sarah and Jacob is much more likely between Sarah and our Tester.

Therefore, we can rule out Ginger’s line as a candidate. Sarah is not a descendant of Ginger.

Let’s move on to Barbara’s line.

Barbara’s Daughter Cindy

This time, we’re going to do a bit of inferring because we do have a generational difference.

Barbara’s granddaughter, Mary, has tested and matches Sarah at 230 cM. While we know that Sarah probably wouldn’t match Mary’s mother, Cindy, at exactly double that, 460 cM, it would certainly be close.

So, for purposes of this comparison, I’m using 460 cM for Sarah to match Cindy.

That makes this comparison in the same generation as Ginger and our Tester to Sarah. We are comparing apples to apples and not apples to half an apple (an apple once removed, technically, but I digress.) 😊

You can see that this analysis is MUCH closer to the cM amounts and relationship possibilities of Sarah and our Tester.

Here are the possible relationships of Sarah and Cindy, with the most likely being boxed in red.

Where Are We?

Here is my completed spreadsheet, so far, less the two DNAPainter graphs for Ginger and Barbara’s lines.

To date, we’ve eliminated Ginger as Sarah’s ancestor.

Both Susie, the mother of our Tester, and Susie’s sister Barbara are still candidates to have an unknown child based on DNA, or one of their children possibly having an unknown child.

Of course, we still have one more sister, Elsie, and those three silent brothers sitting over there. It’s much easier for a male to have an unknown child than a female. By unknown, in this situation, I mean truly unknown, not hidden.

What’s Needed?

Of course, what we really need is tests from each of Susie’s siblings, but that’s not going to happen. What can we potentially do with what we have, how, and why?

Our Tester can refine these results in a number of ways.

  • Talk to living siblings or other family members and tactfully ask what they know about the four women during their reproductive years. Were they missing, off at school, visiting “aunts” in another location, separated from a spouse, etc.?
  • Check to see if Sarah shared her ethnicity results (View match, then click on “Ethnicity.”) If Sarah has a significant ethnicity that is impossible to confuse, this might be significant. For example, if Sarah is 50% Korean, and one of Susie’s brothers served in Korea, that makes him a prime candidate.
  • If possible, ask John, David, Jim, Ginger, Barbara, and Elsie to take DNA tests themselves. The best test is ALWAYS the oldest generation because their DNA is not yet divided in subsequent generations.
  • If that’s not possible, find a child or grandchild of Elsie, Jim, and John to test.
  • The Tester needs to find out how closely David’s son, Gary matches Sarah, then perform the same analysis that we stepped through above.
  • Ask Ginger’s son, Jacob to see if Sarah also shares matches with the closest family members of the known father of Ginger’s children. One of Ginger’s children could have had an unknown child. This is unlikely, based on what we’ve already determined about Sarah’s match level to Jacob, but it’s worth asking.
  • Ask Barbara’s granddaughter, Mary, to see if she and Sarah share matches with the closest family members of the known father of Barbara’s children. This scenario is much more likely.
  • If the answer is yes to either of the last two questions, we have identified which line Sarah descends from, because she can only descend from both Barbara AND the father of her children if Sarah descends from that couple.
  • If the answer is no, we’ve only eliminated full siblings to Ginger and Barbara’s children, not half-siblings.
  • If our Tester can make contact with Gary, ask him if he and Sarah share matches with David’s wife’s line. One of David’s children could have an unknown child.
  • If our Tester can actually make contact with Sarah, and if Sarah is willing and interested, our Tester can create a list of people to look for in her matches – for example, the spouses’ lines of all of Susie’s siblings. If Sarah matches NONE of the spouses’ lines, then one of Susie’s siblings (our Tester’s aunts/uncles,) or Susie’s mother, has an unknown child. However, if Sarah is a novice tester or genealogist, she might well be quite overwhelmed with understanding how to perform these searches. She may already be overwhelmed by discovering that she doesn’t match who she expected to match. Or, she may already know the answer to this question.
  • It would be easier if Sarah granted our Tester access to her DNA results to sort through all of these possibilities, but that’s not something I would expect a stranger to do, especially if this result is something Sarah wasn’t expecting.

I wrote instructions for providing access to DNA results in the article, How to Share DNA Results and Tree Access at Ancestry.

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