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

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

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

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

This is the first of a series of two articles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Stories and DNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter DNA Testing

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

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

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

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

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

Unexpected Results

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

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

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

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

50-50 Chance

Everyone receives half of their autosomal DNA from each parent.

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

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

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

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

Why Call Ethnicity an Estimate?

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

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

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

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

Parental Phasing – Identical by Descent

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

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

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

This is known as Identical by Chance (IBC).

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

Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results

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

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

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

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

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

From that paper:

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

And:

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth’s request, from the report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Bustamante’s Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s our example again.

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

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

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

Questions and Answers

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

Question – Can these results prove that Elizabeth is Cherokee?

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

Q – Are these results absolutely positive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q – Does this qualify Elizabeth to join a tribe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roberta’s Summary of the Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

All About Family Tree DNA: Webinar at Family Tree University

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

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

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

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

The price is $49.99 and you can enroll here.

What’s in the Webinar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you on Wednesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliate links are limited to:

You’re Invited to a Virtual DNA Conference

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

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

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

The 4-Day Virtual DNA Conference includes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are three fantastic opportunities!

Genetic Genealogy Ireland

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

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

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

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

Family Tree University Workshop and Webinar on Native American Heritage

Can’t come to Ireland?

Have Native American ancestors, or think you might?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Tree DNA 13th Annual International Conference on Genetic Genealogy

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

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

In the Mean Time…

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

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

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

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Standard Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Career in Genetic Genealogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pursuing a Career in Genetic Genealogy by Paul Woodbury

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

Me: I’m a genetic genealogist.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books I recommend for genetic genealogy education:

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

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

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

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

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

Exclusive Offer for DNAexplain readers:

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

800 Articles Strong

800-strong

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

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

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

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

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

spencer and me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Celebration

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

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

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

Articles Organization aka How To Find What You Want

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

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

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

800-tags

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

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

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

800-end-of-article

The Top 10 Articles

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

The Two Things People Can Do To Help Themselves

  1. Search first.

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

800-search

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

2. Upload GEDCOM files.

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

The Articles I Wish People Would Read

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

Questions Asked Most Frequently

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

The Future – What Articles Would You Like to See?

It’s your turn.

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

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

And speaking of readers…

Thank You

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

thank-you

 

2016 Genetic Genealogy Retrospective

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

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

Vendors

Family Tree DNA

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

Both Buckets

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

Phased FF2

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

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

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

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

2016-ancient-origins

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

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

Ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

ancestry-common-ancestors

23andMe

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

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

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

New Kids on the Block

MyHeritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016-myheritage-matches

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

2016-myheritage-second-match

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

2016-myheritage-at-ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living DNA

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

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

2016-living-dna

Genos

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

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

Third Parties

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

I have covered these extensively over the years.

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

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

Roberta's ancestor map2

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

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

ADSA Crumley cluster

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

2016-gedmatch-triangulation-groups

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

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

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

Others offer unique tools that are a bit different.

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

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

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

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

2016-wikitree-peter-roberts

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

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

What Defined 2016

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

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

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

The answer is simple…

Ethnicity.

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

Ethnicity

“Kim just wanted to know who she was.”

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

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

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

ESTIMATES.

Nothing more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

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

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

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

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

The Concepts Series

Concepts – How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical By Descent, State, Population and Chance

Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab

Concepts – Parental Phasing

Concepts – Y DNA Matching and Connecting With Your Paternal Ancestor

Concepts – Downloading Autosomal Data From Family Tree DNA

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

Concepts – Genetic Distance

Concepts – Relationship Predictions

Concepts – Match Groups and Triangulation

Concepts – Sorting Spreadsheets for Autosomal DNA

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

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

Concepts – Undocumented Adoptions Versus Untested Y Lines

My blog isn’t the only resource of course.

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

Other blogs I highly recommend include:

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

And of course, the ISOGG Wiki.

Online Conference Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!!!