DNA Results – First Glances at Ethnicity and Matching!

People who have worked with genetic genealogy for a long time often forget what it’s like to be a new person taking a DNA test.

Recently, someone asked me what a tester actually sees after they take a DNA test and their results are ready. Good question, especially for someone trying to decide what might work for them.

I’m going to make this answer very simple. For each of the 4 major vendors, I’m going to show what a customer sees when they first sign in and view their results. Not everything or every tool, just their main page along with the initial matching and ethnicity pages.

Please feel free to share this article with people who are new and might be interested. It’s easy to follow along.

I do want to stress that this is just the beginning, not the end game and that every vendor has much more to offer if you take advantage of their tools.

Best of all, it’s so much FUN to learn about your heritage and your ancestry, plus meeting cousins and family members you may not have known that you had.

I’ve been gifted with photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents that I had no idea existed before meeting new family members.

I hope that all the new testers will become excited and that their results are just a tiny first step!

The Vendors

I’m going to take a look at:

Each vendor offers DNA matching to others in their database, plus ethnicity estimates. Yes, ethnicity is only an estimate.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA was the first and still the only genetic genealogy testing company to offer a full range of DNA testing products, launching in the year 2000. Today they stand out as the “science company,” offering both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing in addition to their Family Finder test which is comparable with the tests offered by Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage.

Your personal page at Family Tree DNA shows the following tools for the Family Finder test.

Glances Family Tree DNA home

The two options we’ll look at today are your Matches and myOrigins, which is your ethnicity estimate.

Click on Matches to view whose DNA matches you. In my case, on the page below, you can see that I have a total of 4610 matches, of which 986 have been assigned to my paternal side, 842 to my maternal side, and 4 to both sides. In my case, the 4 assigned to both sides are my children and grandchildren, which makes perfect sense,

Glances Family Tree DNA matches

You can click to enlarge this graphic.

The green box above the matches indicates additional tools which provide information such as who I match in common with another person. I can see, for example, who I match in common with a first cousin which is very helpful in determining which ancestor those matches are related through.

The red box and circle show information provided to me about each match.

Family Tree DNA is able to divide my matches into “Maternal,” “Paternal” and “Both” buckets because they encourage me to link DNA matches on my tree. This means that I connect my mother to her location on my tree so that Family Tree DNA knows that people that match Mother and me both are related on my mother’s side of the tree.

Your matches don’t have to be your parents for linking to work. The more people you link, the more matches Family Tree DNA can put into buckets for you, especially if your parents aren’t available to test. Plus, your aunts and uncles inherited parts of your grandparent’s DNA that your parents didn’t, so they are super important!

Figuring out which side your matches come from, and which ancestor is first step in genetic genealogy!

You can see, above, that my mother is “assigned” on my maternal side and my son matches me on both.

“Bucketing” is a great, innovative feature. But there’s more.

The tan rounded rectangle includes ancestral surnames, with the ones that you and your match have in common shown in bold.

Based on the amount of DNA that I share with a match, and other scientific calculations, a relationship range is calculated, with the linked relationship reflecting where I’ve put that person on my tree.

If your match has uploaded or created a tree, you can view their tree (if they share) by clicking on the little blue pedigree icon, above, circled in tan between the two arrows.

Glances Family Tree DNA tree

Here’s my tree with my family members who have DNA tested attached in the proper places in my tree. Of course, there are a lot more connected people that I’m not showing in this view.

Advanced features include tools like a matching matrix and a chromosome browser where you can view the segments that actually match.

Family Tree DNA Ethnicity

To view your ethnicity estimate, click on myOrigins and you’ll see the following, along with people you match in the various regions if they have given permission for that information to be shared with their matches:

Glances Family Tree DNA myOrigins

MyHeritage

MyHeritage has penetrated the European market quite well, so if your ancestors are from the US or Europe, MyHeritage is a wonderful resource. They offer both DNA testing and records via subscription, combining genetic matches and genealogical records into a powerful tool.

Glances MyHeritage home

At MyHeritage, when you sign in, the DNA tab is at the top.

Clicking on DNA Matches shows you the following match list:

Glances MyHeritage matches

To review all of the information provided for each match, meaning who they match in common with you, their ancestral surnames, their tree and matching details, you’ll click on “Review DNA Match.”

MyHeritage provides a special tool called Theories of Family Relativity which connects you with others and your common ancestors. In essence, MyHeritage uses DNA, trees and records to weave together at least some of your family lines, quite accurately.

Here’s a simple example where MyHeritage has figured out that one of the testers is my niece and has drawn our connection for us.

Theory match 2

Theories of Family Relativity is a recently released world-class tool, easy to use but can solve very complex problems. I wrote about it here.

Advanced DNA tools include a chromosome browser and triangulation, a feature which shows you when three people match on a common segment, indicating genetically that you all 3 share a common ancestor from whom you inherited that common piece of DNA.

MyHeritage Ethnicity

To view your ethnicity estimate at MyHeritage, simply click on Ethnicity Estimate on the menu.

Glances MyHeritage ethnicity.png

23andMe

23andMe is better known for their health offering, although they were the first commercial company to offer autosomal commercial testing. However, they don’t support trees, which for genealogists are essential. Furthermore, they limit the number of your matches to your 2000 closest matches, but if some of those people don’t choose to be included in matching, they are subtracted from your 2000 total allowed. Due to this, I have only 1501 matches, far fewer matches at 23andMe than at any of the other vendors.

Glances 23andMe home

At 23andMe when you sign on, under the Ancestry tab you’ll see DNA Relatives which are your matches and Ancestry Composition which is your ethnicity estimate.

Glances 23andMe matches

While you don’t see all of the information on this primary DNA page that you do with the other vendors, with the unfortunate exception of trees, it’s there, just not on the initial display.

23andMe also provides some advanced tools such as a chromosome browser and triangulation.

23andMe Ethnicity

What 23andMe does exceptionally well is ethnicity estimates.

To view your ethnicity at 23andMe, click on Ancestry Composition.

Glances 23andMe ethnicity

23andMe refines your ethnicity estimates if your parents have tested and shows you a composite of your ethnicity with your matches. However, I consider their ethnicity painting of your chromosomes to be their best feature.

Glances 23andMe chromosome painting

You can see, in my case, the two Native American segments on chromosomes 1 and 2, subsequently proven to be accurate via documentation along with Y and mitochondrial DNA tests at Family Tree DNA. The two chromosomes shown don’t equate necessarily to maternal and paternal.

I can download this information into a spreadsheet, meaning that I can then compare matches at other companies to these ethnicity segments on my mother’s side. If my matches share these segments, they too descend from our common Native American ancestor. How cool is that!!!

Ancestry

Ancestry’s claim to fame is that they have the largest DNA database for autosomal results. Because of that, you’ll have more matches at Ancestry, but if you’re a genealogist or someone seeking an unknown family member, the match you NEED might just be found in one of the other databases, so don’t assume you can simply test at one company and find everything you need.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Glances Ancestry home

At Ancestry, when you sign on, you’ll see the DNA tab. Click on DNA Story.

Glances Ancestry DNA tab

Scrolling past some advertising, you’ll see DNA Story, which is your Ethnicity Estimate and DNA Matches.

ThruLines, at right, is a tool similar to MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity, but not nearly as accurate. However, Thrulines are better than they were when first released in February. I wrote about ThruLines here.

Glances Ancestry matches

Clicking on DNA Matches shows me information about my matches, in red, their trees or lack thereof in green, and information I can enter including ways to group my matches, in tan.

One of Ancestry’s best features is the green leaf, at the bottom in the green box, accompanied by the smiley face (that I added.) That means that this match’s tree indicates that we have a common ancestor. However, the smiley face is immediately followed by the sad face when I noticed the little lock, which means their tree is private and they aren’t sharing it with me.

If DNA testers forget and don’t connect their tree to their DNA results, you’ll see “unlinked tree.”

Like other vendors, Ancestry offers other tools as well, including the ability to define your own colored tags. You can see that I’ve tagged the matches at far right in the gold box with the little colored dots. I was able to define those dots and they have meanings such as common ancestor identified, messaged, etc.

Ancestry Ethnicity

To view your ethnicity estimate, click on “View Your DNA Story.”

Glances Ancestry ethnicity

You’ll see your ethnicity estimate and communities of matches that Ancestry has defined. By clicking on the community, you can see the ancestors in your tree that plot on the map into that community, along with a timeline. Seeing a community doesn’t necessarily mean your ancestor lived there, but that you match a group of people who are from that community.

Sharing Information

You might be thinking to yourself that it would be a lot easier if you could just test at one vendor and share the results in the other databases. Sometimes you can.

There is a central open repository at GedMatch, but clearly not everyone uploads there, so you still need to be in the various vendors’ data bases. GedMatch doesn’t offer testing, but offers additional tools, flexibility and open access not provided by the testing vendors.

Of these four vendors, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage accept transferred files from other vendors, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

Transferring

If you’re interested in transferring, meaning downloading your results from one vendor and uploading to another, I wrote a series of how-to transfer articles here:

Enjoy your new matches and have fun!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Don’t Like Your Ethnicity? Wait 5 Minutes

In the past, customers waited with bated breath for ethnicity updates which were labeled with version numbers. Not anymore.

That old weather saying applies – “if you don’t like the weather in <insert location here,> wait 5 minutes.”

Today, there are a lot more vendors today offering ethnicity (who doesn’t?) and the updates often don’t come in a sweeping change, but gradually with smaller partial updates – so it seems like some vendor is always updating something. That’s a good thing and keeps us checking back, which means we can check on new matches too.

Recently, 23andMe made ethnicity changes and today, it’s Ancestry’s turn.

Ancestry now divides their ethnicity results into 500 regions which combined with your matches and where your ancestors were found comprise Genetic Communities.

Genetic Communities

Obviously, Genetic Communities are most accurate if you know where your ancestors were from and lived at any given point in time – but even if you don’t, Genetic Communities are useful, nonetheless, providing hints.

Ancestry ethnicity 1

My overview is shown at right, with the regions and communities shown on the map. A timeline shows below.

Ancestry ethnicity 2

Clicking on 1750 shows the migration pattern from Europe to the US and the communities in the US where the people from Germany settled, for example.

At right, you can see the region stories, but of more interest is the list of my ancestors who were alive in those locations at that time.

Ancestry ethnicity 3

Enlarging the map continues to show my ancestors more granularly. Clicking on a pin shows that or those ancestors in the pane at right.

Ancestry ethnicity 4

Probably not useful for breaking down brick walls, but quite interesting.

Increased African American and Afro-Caribbean Communities

Today’s ethnicity update from Ancestry includes 94 new and updated communities for people of African American and Afro-Caribbean descent.

If this means you, check out your ethnicity results and see what or who might be waiting – at Ancestry and the other vendors too.

2018 – The Year of the Segment

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

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

The SNiPPY Award

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

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

Who will it be this year?

Drum roll…….

The 2018 SNiPPY goes to…

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

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

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

What else has happened this year? A lot!

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

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

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

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

Barbara Rae-Venter and the Golden State Killer Case

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

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

DNA in the News

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

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

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

Law Enforcement and Genetic Genealogy

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

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

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

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

MyHeritage

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

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

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

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

GDPR

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

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

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

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

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

On to more positive events.

Family Tree DNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Conferences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Conferences

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

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

The Leeds Method

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

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

Genetic Affairs

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

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

DNAGedcom.com

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

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

Rootsfinder

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

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

Chips and Imputation

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

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

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

DNA Central

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

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

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

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

Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

Genetic Snakeoil

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended Vendors

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

For genetic genealogy for ethnicity AND matching:

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

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

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

The next group of vendors offers ethnicity without matching:

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Coming in 2019

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

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

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

What mysteries do you want to unravel?

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

Happy New Year!!!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the 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.

Ethnicity is Just an Estimate – Yes, Really!

Lots of people will have received DNA tests as gifts over the holidays. This pleases me to no end, because I know I’ll match any number of them and maybe, just maybe, those matches will help me fill in those pesky blanks in my tree or break down brick walls.

However, for the most part, those testers probably aren’t genealogists, at least not yet. They are most likely curious about “who they are” or didn’t even realize they might be curious about anything until they unwrapped that gift and discovered a DNA test inside.

Let’s hope they test with one of the major 4 companies, being Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry or 23andMe. (Sale prices are still in effect.) Some additional firms are certainly reputable and provide ethnicity only tests (meaning no matching), such as the Genographic Project, LivingDNA and Insitome, but then there are also a growing number of questionable pop-up DNA testing, upload sites and interpretation “services.” And yes, I’m using that word loosely. Buyer beware.

For genealogists, the gold is in the cousin matching. We already know that DNA is more than ethnicity, and ethnicity is far more than percentages.

Ethnicity, for the most part, is a shiny red bauble that the magic wand of advertising transforms from a diamond in the rough into the glittery Hope diamond with a free kilt to lederhosen conversion (or vice versa) thrown in to boot.

Ethnicity bauble

Yay – Results are Back

Everyone who received DNA test kits during the holiday season has hopefully spit or swabbed and mailed and is now waiting excitedly. Waiting is always the hardest part!

Soon, they will be discussing their ethnicity results. Reactions will vary, swinging like a pendulum – and you may well get to help interpret.

  • Some people will be thrilled because their results will confirm what they see or believe and their family stories. For example, if their family carries oral history of a Native American ancestor and their DNA ethnicity results show Native American heritage, they’ll be thrilled.
  • Some people will be pleasantly surprised with whatever information they receive – treating their ethnicity results as a nice package to unwrap, regardless of what’s inside.
  • Another large group will be confused? My mother said her grandmother was French! Why don’t I see France? Substitute <country of your choice> for French/France.
  • And then we have the truly upset. The distraught. The entirely disbelieving. “My great-grandmother was a full-blood Cherokee. Why don’t I show Native American? These tests are wrong!”
  • Some people will doubt their parentage based on ethnicity results alone. This is NOT under any circumstances appropriate. Please have them read Ethnicity and Physical Features are NOT Accurate Predictors of Parentage or Heritage.

Explanations

To help people understand, you may need to explain about how Native Americans, especially east of the Mississippi were admixed very early in our national history, so their “fully Native” ancestor probably wasn’t.

You can explain about how autosomal DNA is diluted in each generation since their Native (or French, or Italian, etc.) ancestor lived – to the point that the Native DNA might not show today.

You can talk about reference populations, or the lack thereof, and that people in France and Israel can’t legally take DNA tests for recreational purposes.

You can educate people about how we all need to research our genealogy, and how, as Blaine Bettinger writes in this classic article, we have both a genetic and genealogical tree. The ancestors are always there in our tree, but we may not have inherited measurable DNA from a particular individual if they are several generations back in time.

If that coveted Native ancestor doesn’t appear in their DNA, then they need to look in their family tree. She or he might be waiting there, AND, they may still be able to prove their Native heritage using either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing at Family Tree DNA.

There’s more than one kind of DNA and more than one way to prove Native heritage.

The Underlying Truth

But the truth of the matter is, while each and every one of those statements above is entirely valid, the fundamental truth about ethnicity testing is that…

Ethnicity percentages.png

Yes, really.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why.

Size Matters

Everyone in the Americas (except for Native American, First Nations or aboriginal peoples) wants to know where their ancestors “came from.” As genealogists, we deal with no records, damaged records, misplaced records, burned records, rapid westward migration with no links “back home” and at least three wars on our soil. It’s no wonder that we often can’t track those ancestors back across the pond or even to the shore.

Therefore, we hope that DNA testing can help us bridge that gap. And indeed, both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing is wonderful for doing just that for matrilineal and patrilineal lines.

But ethnicity results, in most cases, are really only useful for making continental-level discoveries. What we really want, refinement and granularity to the country level within Europe, for example, isn’t really feasible.

Size is part of the reason why. Look at the size of the contiguous 48 US states as compared to Europe, courtesy thetruesize.com.

Ethnicity US over Europe.png

Would you expect to be able to tell the genetic difference between people that live in Washington State from people that live in Idaho? That’s roughly the same distance as from the UK to Germany. France is located down in California and Nevada.

Can you tell the difference genetically between people who live in Washington State from California or Nevada? That idea sounds rather preposterous when you look at it that way. Now, is it any wonder that your ancestor’s “French” doesn’t show up, but German does?

Ethnicity Texas over Europe

Here’s Texas compared to Europe. Can you tell the people in Dallas from the people who live in San Antonio from the people who live in Houston, genetically? That’s the same difference as Germany, Italy and Austria. The Czech Republic is over near Shreveport. You get the drift.

Western European Countries are the Size of US States

Western European countries are even more difficult.

Ethnicity states over Europe

How about discerning the difference between Indiana and Illinois residents, or Illinois and Missouri? European countries are the size of medium sized US states. Larger states, like Texas cover most of the Iberian Peninsula including Spain and Portugal and reach over into Morocco.

To make this relatively small region even more complex, people have moved freely across these areas for thousands of years. The people from the Russian Steppes moved into Eastern Europe displacing and assimilating with the hunter-gatherer population that had resided there for millennia.

The Germanic tribes moved towards the coast and into the British Isles. The people from “Indiana and Ohio” moved into “Illinois” and then that entire group populated parts of Scandinavia. According to a recent genetic paper, some of those “New Yorkers” and on east moved into Scandinavia too.

Oh, and the Sephardic Jewish people moved from the Middle East into “Texas” aka Spain and then on up to “Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania” some 500 years ago to join their Ashkenazi brethren. Fortunately, Jewish people generally stayed together and didn’t intermarry or assimilate much into the local population, so we can still identify them genetically.

Europe is indeed a great melting pot.

Ethnicity Alaska and states over Europe and Asia

Adding the largest US state, Alaska onto the map makes the rest of the states and their corresponding European countries look really tiny.

Ethnicity is Really Only Reliable at a Continental Level

Ethnicity really is only reliable at a continental level, plus Jewish and in particular, Ashkenazi. Very small or trace percentages may not be reliable at all. We’ll discuss ways to prove or disprove minority admixture in my next article, Minority Ethnicity Percentages – True or False?.

This continental-level-only phenomenon is more understandable if you look at a world map.

Ethnicity continents

It’s extremely difficult to discern any reliable level of granularity between regions as tiny as US states in Europe, no matter how badly testers want to know. Of course, that doesn’t keep the testing companies from trying, and kudos to them. As they make improvements, your intra-continental estimates will change over time – so don’t fall in love with them. And don’t trade that lederhosen for a kilt or vice versa – or get that Viking tattoo just yet.

It’s much more reasonable to rely on ethnicity estimates based on much larger regions, where people after migration have been separated from people in the other regions for a much longer period of time, allowing time for unique mutations to develop.

Less admixture happens with greater geographic distance. People who aren’t neighborly don’t produce offspring because begetting requires proximity. Mutations that occurred after the populations split into different regions are found only in the new or the old populations, but not both – at least not in high frequencies. Of course, population boundaries are fluid and people (continue to) move from place to place, back and forth.

What You Can Do!

When your family and friends begin to discuss their confusion or disappointment with their ethnicity results, you’ll have this article to explain the situation visually. Please feel free to share and encourage them to learn more.

Sometimes it’s difficult to be the cold voice of reason in a positive way, but there is so much more to learn. I always hope to spark curiosity about why, and then provide ways that the person can fall in love with discovering their ancestors and ancestry.

Another good resource is the article, Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum which explains how DNA ethnicity testing actually works – in terms that everyone can understand.

If your family is wondering what happened to their Native American DNA, you’re not alone. I’ve put together a page of Native American Resources to help everyone!

Have fun, enjoy and let’s hope that newly baptized ethnicity testers will like the water enough to engage in a bit of genealogy. You can encourage them by helping construct their first tree by recording what they know about their parents and grandparents. Maybe give them a taste of success by helping them find a record or two. Give them a taste of genealogy crack.

You never know, it just might be habit forming!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the 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.

Ethnicity – Far More than Percentages!

Since ethnicity results have been in the news recently, I thought this might be a good time to talk about how to squeeze more out of your ethnicity results than just percentages.

You do know there’s more, right? You can tell a lot more about where your ethnicity came from by who you match, and how. Vendors provide that information too, but you need to know where to look. Plus, I have some tips about how to use this information effectively.

Genealogists are always trying to squeeze every last drop of information out of every DNA test, so I’d like to illustrate how I use ethnicity in combination with shared matches at Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and 23andMe. Each vendor has a few unique features and tools as well, plus people in their databases that other vendors don’t have.

Come along and see what you might discover!

Ancestry

Ancestry recently introduced a new ethnicity comparison feature so let’s start there. Ancestry’s new tool:

  • Compares the ethnicity of you and a match side by side.
  • Shows Shared Migrations
  • Shows you common matches with that person.

At Ancestry, I have a V1 (older) and a V2 (newer) test, so I’m comparing my own V1 to my own V2 test for purposes of illustration.

To start, click on DNA Matches. You’ll see a new blue compare button, beneath the green View Match button, at right.

Clink on any image to enlarge

Click on the blue Compare button. You’ll see a side by side display, shown below.

My V1, at left, compared to my V2 test, at right. My V2 test results do not have a photo uploaded, so you just see my initials. It’s interesting to note that even though these are both me, just tested on different chips, that my ethnicity doesn’t match exactly, although it’s mighty close.

Next, you’ll see the shared migrations between the two people being compared. This helps determine where your common ancestor might be found.

Last, you’ll see the shared matches between you and the other person. This means that those people match both you and the person you’re comparing against, suggesting a potential common ancestor.

On your matches page, you can also sort your matches by your regions.

Where Did Your Ethnicity Come From?

Ethnicity comparisons can be helpful, especially if you’re a person who carries DNA from different continents. I do not suggest trying to compare intra-continental estimates in the same way. It’s simply too difficult for vendors to separate DNA from locations that all border each other where countries are the size of states in the US, such as the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland for example.

As I’ve said before, ethnicity results are only estimates, but they are relatively accurate at the continental level, plus Jewish, as illustrated below.

To be specific, these regions are the easiest for vendors to tell apart from the other regions:

  • European
  • African
  • Native American (North American, South American, Central American and Siberian in conjunction with the Americas)
  • Asian
  • Jewish

For example, if you are 30% African, 35% Native American and 35% European, you could use this information to form a hypothesis about how you match a particular individual or group of individuals.

If the person you match is 50% Asian and 50% African, it’s most likely that the region you match them on is the common African side.

Of course, the next step would be to look at the shared matches to see if those matches include your known relatives with African heritage. This is one reason I always encourage testing of relatives. Who you and your known relative both match tells you a lot about where the common ancestor of a matching group of individuals is found in your tree. For example, if someone matches you and a first cousin, then the common ancestor of the three people is on the side of your tree that you share with the first cousin.

Not exactly sure, or dealing with smaller amounts of continental ethnicity? There’s another way to work with ethnicity.

Ethnicity Match Chart

Make an Ethnicity Match Chart that includes the ethnicity of each person in the match group, as follows.

In this example, the only category in which all people fall is African, so that’s where I’d look in my tree first for a family connection.

Keep in mind that you match person 1, and people 2-4 match both you and person 1.

That does NOT mean that:

  • Person 2, 3 or 4 match each other.
  • Any of those people share the same ancestor with each other. Yes, you can match due to different ancestors that might not have anything to do with each other.
  • These people match on any of the same segments. You can’t view segments at Ancestry. You’ll have to transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage or GedMatch to do that.

Next, look at the trees for each person in the common match group and see if you can discern any common genealogy or even common geography. The best hints of course, at Ancestry, are those green leaf Shared Ancestor Hints. If you find a common ancestor or line, you’re well on your way to identifying how those people are related to you and potentially your match as well.

You could also use this methodology as an adaptation of or in tandem with the Leeds Method that I wrote about here.

Comparing Segments – Yes, You’ll Need To

Ancestry doesn’t offer a chromosome browser, but Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch all do, allowing you to view segments and triangulate. I always suggest uploading Ancestry results to GedMatch, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage. 23andMe does not accept uploads.

You’ll find instructions for downloading from Ancestry here, uploading to Family Tree DNA here, and to MyHeritage here.

Other Vendors

Each vendor offers their own version of ethnicity comparison. All vendors offer in common with (ICW) and shared match tools too, so you can create your Ethnicity Match Chart for a specific group of people from any vendor’s results – although I don’t mix vendor results on one chart. Plus, every vendor has people in their matching database that no other vendor has, so fish in every pond.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA offers shared ethnicity information on the myOrigins map. To view, click on MyOrigins, then on View MyOrigins Map.

Testers who opt in can view their ethnicity as compared to their matches’ ethnicity. You can also sort by ethnicity as well as use the pin function at bottom right to drop Y and mtDNA most distant ancestor pins on the map.

Please note that this is NOT where your match lives, but is the location of their most distant matrilineal (mtDNA) or patrilineal (surname) known individual.

If you’re looking for Native American matches, for example, you might look for someone with some percentage of Native American autosomal DNA and/or Native American Y or mitochondrial haplogroups. Click on any pin to view that person and their ethnicity that matches yours. You can also search for a specific individual to see how your ethnicity lines up.

On your match list, look for common surnames with those matches, see who you match in common and check your matches’ trees.

Linking your DNA matches to their location in your tree enables you to participate in Phased Family Matching, meaning you can then select people that are assigned to your maternal or paternal sides to view in the chromosome browser.

When viewing all maternal (red icon) or all paternal (blue icon) matches together on the chromosome browser, the segments are automatically mathematically triangulated. All you need to do is identify the common ancestor!

I love Phased Family Matches. Family Tree DNA is the only vendor to offer this feature and to incorporate Y and mitochondrial DNA.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage provides multiple avenues for comparison, allowing users to select matches by their ethnicity, country or to simply compare their ethnicity to each other. To view matches by ethnicity, click on the Filter button, but note that not all ethnicity locations are included. You can also combine options, such as looking for anyone from the Netherlands with Nigerian DNA.

To view your matches ethnicity as compared to yours, click on the match and scroll down.

Look for people you match in common as well as the triangulation icon, shown at right, below. Another feature, SmartMatches (a filter option) sort for people who have common ancestors with you in trees.

I love triangulation and DNA SmartMatches and MyHeritage is the only vendor to offer this combination of tools!

23andMe

At 23andMe, you can see your ethnicity beside that of your match by clicking on DNA Relatives, on the Ancestry tab, then click on the person you wish to compare to. In my case, I’ve also taken the V3 and V4 test at 23andMe, so I’m comparing to myself.

At 23andMe, you can view which portions of your segments are attributed to which ethnicity. Under the Ancestry tab, click Ancestry Composition and scroll down to view your Ancestry Composition Chromosome Painting.

You can see my Native American segments on chromosomes 1 and 2.

Click on Scientific Details, then scroll to the bottom to download your ethnicity raw data that includes the segment detail for the location of those specific segments.

Utilizing these chromosome and segment locations with any other vendor who supports a chromosome browser, and determining which side that ethnicity descends through allows you to identify matches who should also carry segments of that same ethnicity at that same location.

Here’s my Native segment on chromosome 2 from the download file. Remember, you have two copies of every chromosome – and in my case, only one of those copies on Chromosome 2 is Native. I know it’s from my mother, so anyone matching me on my maternal side at this location on chromosome 2 should also have a Native segment, and our common ancestor is the source of our common Native American heritage.

23andMe is the only vendor to identify ethnicity segments.

23andMe does show matches in common and common matching segments on the chromosome browser, but they don’t support trees.

Your Turn!

If you carry ethnicity from multiple continents (plus Jewish), what hints can you derive from using your ethnicity as a match tool?

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Standard Disclosure

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

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

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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.

Ancestry 2018 Ethnicity Update

When ethnicity estimates were first produced by vendors, they tended to resemble the wild west.

Today, results are becoming more refined and hopefully, more accurate as reference populations grow and become more reliable.

The Ancestry ethnicity update has been in beta for several months, but this week, Ancestry rolled out the ethnicity update for everyone.

Checking Your New Results

To see your updated results, sign on and click on the DNA Story to the left with Ethnicity Estimates.

Ancestry then explains that while your DNA doesn’t change, the estimates (pay attention to that word) do as the science improves.

Ethnicity Estimate Aren’t Precise

I’ve said this before, and I want to say it again. Ethnicity is the least precise and the least accurate of DNA tools for genetic genealogy. Ethnicity estimates are the most accurate at a continental level. Within continents, like Europe, Asia and Africa, there has been a lot of population movement and intermixing over time making the term “ethnicity” almost meaningless.

I know, I know – ethnicity estimates are also the simplest because there isn’t much learning curve and they’re easy to understand at a glance. This deceptive “ease of use” also makes them interesting to people who have only a passing curiosity. That’s why they attract so many test takers who either love of hate their results, but never fully understand the true message or utilize any other genetic genealogy tools.

Let’s take a look at how ethnicity estimates have changed over time and if they have improved with the latest version.

Ethnicity Estimate Changes

In my case, my original Ancestry ethnicity estimate in 2012 was:

  • British Isles 80%
  • Scandinavia 12%
  • Uncertain 8%

To say it was really bad is an understatement.

In 2013, Ancestry introduced their ethnicity V2 version which provided a lot more granularity.

Version 2 was dramatically different, with the British Isles moving from 80% to a total of 6%. Like a pendulum swinging, neither was accurate.

Ancestry introduced new features and combined their Genetic Communities with their ethnicity estimates in 2017.

In this new 2018 version, Ancestry has divided and recombined the British Isles and Western Europe differently and the resulting differences are significant.

My mystery Scandinavian is entirely gone now, but sadly, so is my Native American.

The New Results

I just got really boring – but the question is whether or not the new results are more accurate as compared to my proven genealogy. Boring doesn’t matter. Accuracy does.

Various Ancestry Ethnicity Versions Compared to Proven Genealogy

I created a chart that reflects the three Ancestry ethnicity versions as compared to my proven genealogy.

For the current version, I also included the ranges as provided by Ancestry.

As you can see, generally, the results are much more accurate, but the regions are also fairly broad which makes accuracy easier to achieve.

Until this current version, Ancestry didn’t show any Germanic, but now the Germanic estimate is exact at 25%.  The Germanic range is also very tight at 24-26%, right where it should be.

The England, Wales & Northeast Europe category is somewhat high, but that could be accurate because I do have some ancestry that is unknown.

Unfortunately, my Native is proven, both through Y and mtDNA and by triangulating the Native segments to others descending from the same Native ancestors. That portion is now missing in my Ancestry ethnicity.

Ancestry V1 Test Versus the V2 Test

For the record, I’m using my Ancestry V1 test because I’ve used that test version for all previous ethnicity comparisons.  My Ancestry V2 test ethnicity results are approximately the same, as follows:

  • England, Wales and Northeast Europe – 76%
  • Germanic – 22%
  • Ireland and Scotland – 2%

The same tree is attached to both tests.

On my V2 test, which I seldom use, I had to answer a couple of question regarding my expectations about ethnicity testing changes and how accurate my previous results were perceived to be before I could access my updated results.

Regions Changed

In Ancestry’s FAQ, they provided this list of how the regions were and are defined.

Previous Region New Regions
Scandinavia Norway, Sweden
Iberian Peninsula Spain, Portugal, Basque
Europe South Italy, Greece and the Balkans, Sardinia
Europe East Baltic States, Eastern Europe and Russia
Caucasus Turkey and the Caucasus, Iran/Persia
Europe West Germanic Europe, France
Native American Native America—North, Central, South; Native America—Andean
Asia South Southern Asia, Western and Central India, Balochistan, Burusho
Asia East Japan, Korea and Northern China, China, Southeast Asia—Dai (Tai), Southeast Asia—Vietnam, Philippines

Ancestry has addressed lots of other questions in their FAQ as well, and I suggest taking a look. I particularly like their comment, “Some places are complicated.” Indeed, that’s true with population churn both in historical times along with unknown pre-history and that complexity is exactly what makes intra-continental ethnicity estimates so difficult. Of course, people whose ancestors are from Europe, for example, want as much granularity as possible.

Previous Ethnicity Versions

For the first time, Ancestry explains what happened between versions, at least at a high level.

Click on the little “i” in the upper right hand corner of your ethnicity estimate box.

You’ll see more information.

Click on “View Previous Estimate” at the bottom.

Your previous ethnicity estimate is shown.

To see how your estimate changed, click on “Compare these results to your most recent Ancestry DNA estimate.”

This display shows you the differences compared to the previous version. In my case, England, Wales and NE Europe increased by 69%, but that’s because Ancestry redefined the regions. Note the little slide box underneath the regions on the map. You can slide back and forth from previous to current (update.).

I do wish Ancestry had told us where the “Scandinavian” went, what category it fell into. Are those segments, as a group, included in another region? Was the previous estimate simply flat out wrong? Was Scandinavian a vestige of Vikings who invaded much of Europe? What happened?

New Regions and Reference Samples

By clicking on “See other regions tested” at the bottom of your Ethnicity Estimate box, you can view the locations of Ancestry’s current reference populations.

The regions tested in which you have results are colored, and the regions where you aren’t showing results are shades of grey. This is an improvement over the previous version which people routinely misinterpreted to mean that they had results in those tested regions.

Best Features

In my opinion, the best feature of the combined ethnicity and Genetic Communities is the combined mapping. For example, the screenshot below combines the ethnicity regions with the ancestors from my tree who immigrated from that region in that timeframe.

By clicking on the 1700 box, the people from that time period in my tree are displayed. I can enlarge the map to make the display larger, until finally individual “people” icons are displayed, as shown with Johann Peter Koehler, below. Clicking on the individual person pin shows that individual in the box at right.

By clicking on the “Lower Midwest and Virginia Settlers,” I see this region and Ancestry tells me where those settlers likely originated.

You can then scroll down to the bottom of the information box where you see “Ancestry DNA Members.”

Click on the 1000+ link and you will then see the people who match you in a specific region or migration.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t always accurate. My 2nd cousin match is showing as a “Lower Midwest and Virginia” match and our ancestors came from the Netherlands directly to Northern Indiana. Ironically, she shows up in three of the 4 regions I can select from. This feature is not 100%, but it’s still nice to be able to see where that match is grouped in terms of ethnicity and Genetic Communities, according to Ancestry.

Given this combined functionality, I do wonder if Ancestry’s new ethnicity isn’t simply population genetics, but a combination of population genetics, ancestors in my tree, my matches and corresponding DNA Circles with their associated history. If so, that would make sense, both in terms of what I’m seeing as my new ethnicity results and the map functionality as well. Could that be where my Germanic came from, and why it’s so precise at 25% which matches by tree exactly?

In Summary

For me, Ancestry’s ethnicity estimates are significantly improved with the exception that my Native disappeared. I’ve worked long and hard on the Native aspect of my genealogy, and I know that part of my ethnicity mix is valid. However, that is a very small percentage overall (about 2%), and the combined improvements certainly outshine that one negative.

Of course, your mileage may vary. What are you seeing in terms of your new ethnicity estimates as compared to your known genealogy? Better? Worse? Did you lose any categories that you know are valid? What about small amounts of minority heritage?

DNA Painter – Touring the Chromosome Garden

This is the third article in a series about DNA Painter. To know DNA Painter is to love DNA Painter! Trust me!

The first two articles are:

The Chromosome Sudoku article introduces you to DNA Painter, it’s purpose and how to use the tool. The Mining Vendor Data article illustrates exactly how to find the segments you can paint from each of the main autosomal testing vendors and GedMatch.

This article is a leisurely tour through my colorful chromosome garden so that, together, we can see examples of how to utilize the information that chromosome painting unveils.

Chromosome painting can do amazing things: walk you back generations, show visual phasing…and reveal that there’s a mistake someplace, too.

If you’re not willing to be wrong and reconsider, this might not be the field for you😊

Automatic Triangulation

Chromosome painting automatically mathematically triangulates your DNA and in a much easier way than the old spreadsheet method. In fact, triangulation just happens, effortlessly IF you can determine which side is maternal and which side is paternal. Of course, you’ll always want to check to be sure that your matches also match each other. if not, then that’s an indication that maybe one or both are identical by chance.

The definition of triangulation in this context means:

  • To find a common segment
  • Of reasonable size (generally 7cM or over)
  • That is confirmed to a common ancestor with at least two other individuals
  • Who are not close family

Close family generally means parents, siblings, sometimes grandparents, although parents and grandparents can certainly be used to verify that the match is valid. The best triangulation situation is when you match those two other people through a second child, meaning siblings of your ancestor.

Different matches, depending on the circumstances, have a different level of value to you as a genealogist. In other words, some are more solid than others.

The X chromosome has special matching and triangulation rules, so we’ll talk about that when we get to that section.

Don’t think of chromosome painting as “doing” triangulation, because triangulation is a bonus of chromosome painting, and it just happens, automatically, so long as you can confirm that the segment is from either your maternal or paternal line.

What does triangulation look like in DNA Painter?

Here’s what my painted chromosome 15 looks like.

Here, I’ve drawn boxes around the areas that are triangulated. Actually, I made a small mistake and omitted one grey bar that’s also part of a second triangulation group. Can you spot it? Hint – look at the grey bars at far right in the overlapping triangulation group boxes where the red arrow is pointing. The box below should extend upwards to incorporate part of that top grey bar too.

Triangulation are those several segments piled up on top of each other. It means they match you at the same address on either the maternal or paternal chromosome. That’s good, but it’s not the same as an official “pileup area.”

Ok, so what’s a pileup area?

Pileup Areas

Certain locations in the human genome have been designated as pileup regions based on the fact that many people will match on these segments, not necessarily because they share a common relatively recent ancestor, but instead because a particular segment has a very high frequency in the general human population, or in the population of a specific region. Translated, this means that the segment might not be relevant to genealogy.

But before going too far with this discussion, it doesn’t mean that matches in pileup regions aren’t relevant to genealogy – just consider it a caution sign.

Aside from chromosome 6, which includes the HLA region, I’ve always been rather suspicious of pileup regions, because they don’t seem to hold true for me. You can view a chart that I assembled of the known pileup regions here.

DNA Painter generously includes pileup region warnings, in essence, along a chromosome bar at the top indicating “shared” or “both.”

Please note that you can click to enlarge any image.

Pileups regions are indicated by the grey hashed region at right. In my case, on chromosome 1, the pileup region isn’t piled up at all, on either the paternal (blue) chromosome or the maternal (pink) chromosome.

As you can see, I have exactly one match on the maternal side (green) and one (gold) on the paternal side (with a smidgen of a second grey match) as well, with both extending significantly beyond the pileup region. There is no reason to suspect that these gold and green matches aren’t valid.

If I saw many more matches in a pileup region than elsewhere, or many small matches, or DNA that was supposed to be from multiple ancestors not in the same line, then I’d have to question whether a pileup region was responsible.

Stacked Segments

DNA Painter provides you with the opportunity to see which of your ancestors’ segments stack. Stacking is a very important concept of DNA painting.

Before we talk about stacking, notice that the legend for which segments are color coded to specific ancestors is located at right. You can also click on the little grey box beside “Shared or Both,” at left, to show the match names beside the segments.  This is very useful when trying to analyze the accuracy of the match.

I wish DNA Painter offered an option to paint the ancestor’s names beside the segments. Maybe in V2. It’s really difficult to complain about anything because this tool is both free and awesome.

I’m using Powerpoint to label this group of stacked matches for this example.

This is a situation where I know my pedigree chart really well, so I know immediately upon looking at this stacked segment group who this piece of DNA descends from.

Here’s my pedigree chart that corresponds to the stacked segment.

We attribute each DNA segment to a couple initially based on who we match. In this case, that’s William George Estes and Ollie Bolton, my grandparents. The DNA remains attributed to them until we have evidence of which individual person in the couple received that DNA from their ancestors and passed it on to their descendant.

Therefore, the pink people are the half of the couple who we now know (thanks to DNA Painter) did NOT contribute that DNA segment, because we can track the DNA directly through the yellow line until we’re once again to another genetic brick wall couple.

My father is listed at left, and the DNA path runs back to William Crumley the second and his unknown wife who is haplogroup H2a1, the yellow couple at far right. How cool is this? One of those ancestors (or a combined segment from both) has been passed intact to me today. This is not a trivial segment either at 23.3 cM. I would not expect a segment passed to 5th cousins to be that large, but it is!

Also, note that the grey segment of DNA from Lazarus Estes (1848-1918) and Elizabeth Vannoy (1847-1918) is sitting slightly to the left of the dark blue segment from William Crumley III, so part or all of the grey or blue segment may originate with a different ancestor. Perhaps we’ll know more when additional people test and match on this same segment.

Double Related

I have one person who is related to me through two different lines. I need a way to determine which line (or both) our common DNA segment descends from.

I painted the segment for both of our common ancestor couples. The pink is George Dodson (1702-1770) & Margaret Dagord. The bright blue segment is William Crumley III (1788-1859) & Lydia Brown.

Those two lines don’t converge, at least not that we know of.

Now, as I map additional people, I’ll watch this segment for a tie breaker match between the two ancestors. The gold is not a tie breaker because that’s my grandparents who are downstream of both the pink and blue ancestors.

Painted Ethnicity

23andMe does us the favor of painting our ethnicity segments and allowing us to download a file with those segments. Conversely, DNA Painter does us the favor of allowing us to paint that entire file at once.

I already know my two Native segments on chromosome 1 and 2 descend through my mother, because her DNA is Native in exactly the same location. In other words, in this case, my ethnicity segment does in fact phase to my mother, although that’s not always the case with ethnicity.

Multiple Acadian ancestors are also proven to be Native by both genealogical records and maternal and/or paternal haplogroups.

Therefore, I’ve painted my Native segments on my mother’s side in order to determine exactly from which ancestor(s) those Native segment descend.

Confirming Questionable Ancestors

One very long-standing mystery that seemed almost unsolvable was the identity of the parents of Elijah Vannoy (1784->1850). We know he was the son of one of 4 Vannoy brothers living in Wilkes County, NC. Two were eliminated by existing Bibles and other records, but the other two remained candidates in spite of sifting through every available record and resource. We were out of luck unless DNA came to the rescue. Y DNA confirmed that Elijah was descended from one of the Vannoy males, but didn’t shed light on which one.

I decided that the wives would be the key, since we knew the identity of all four wives, thankfully. Of course, that means we’d be using autosomal DNA to attempt to gather more information.

I entered one candidate couple at Ancestry as Elijah’s parents – the one I felt most likely based on tax records and other criteria – Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.  I also entered Sarah’s parents, Charles Hickerson (c 1725-<1793) and Mary Lytle.

I began getting matches to people who descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle through children other than Sarah.

The grey segment is from a descendant of Lazarus Estes & Elizabeth Vannoy. The salmon segments are from descendants of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.

These segments aren’t small, 12.8 and 16.1 cM, so I’m fairly confident that these multiple segments in combination with the Elizabeth Vannoy segment do indeed descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.

At Ancestry, I have 5 matches to Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle through three of their children. However, only two of the individuals has transferred their results to either Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage or GedMatch where segment information is available to customers.

Finally, the thirty year old mystery is solved!

Shifting, Sliding, Offset or Staggered Segment Groups

Occasionally, you can prove an entire large segment by groups of shifting or sliding segments, sometimes referred as offset or staggered segments.

The entire bright pink region is inherited from Jacob Lentz (1783-1870) and Fredericka Reuhl (1788-1863.) However, it’s not proven by one individual but by a combination of 6 people whose segments don’t all overlap with each other.  The top two do match very closely with me and each other, then the third spans the two groups. The bottom 3 and part of the middle segment match very closely as well.

I can conclude that the entire dark pink region from left to right descends from Jacob and Fredericka.

Two Matches – 7 Generations

Two matches is all it took to identify this segment back to George Dodson and Margaret Dagord.

The mustard match is to my grandparents (22cM), and the pink match is to George Dodson (1702-1770) and his wife (22cM) – 7 generations. These people also match each other.

Additional matches would make this evidence stronger, although a 22cM triangulated match is very significant alone. Future might also suggest ancestors further back in time.

First Chromosome Fully Mapped

I actually have chromosome 5 entirely mapped to confirmed ancestors. I’m so excited.

Uh Oh – Something’s Wrong

I found a stack that clearly indicates something is wrong.  The question is, what?

The mustard represents my paternal grandparents, so these segments could have come through either of them, although on the pedigree chart below, we can see that this came through my grandfathers line..

There is only a small overlap with the magenta (Nicholas Speak 1782-1852 and Sarah Faires 1786-1865) and green (James Crumley 1711-1764 and Catherine c1712-c1790,) which could be by chance given that the Nicholas segment is 7.5 cM, so I’m leaving the magenta out of the analysis.

However, the rest of these segments overlap each other significantly, even though they are stepped or staggered.

As you can see from the colors on the pedigree chat, it’s impossible for the green segment to descend from the same ancestor as the purple segment. The purple and orange confirm that branch of the tree, but the red cannot be from the same ancestor or the same line as the green ancestor.

I suspect that the purple and orange line is correct, because there are 4 segments from different people with the same ancestral line.

This means that we have one of the following situations with the red and green segments:

  • The smaller segments are incorrect, false positives, meaning matching by chance. The green segment is 14 cM, so quite large to match by chance. The red segment is 10 cM. Possible, but not probable.
  • The segments are population-based matches, so appear in all 3 lines. Possible, technically, but also not probable due to the segment size.
  • The segments are genuine matches, and one of the lines is also found in one of the other lines, upstream. This is possible, but this would have to be the case with both the red and green lines. To continue to weigh this possibility, I’ll be watching for similar situations with these same ancestors.
  • Some combination of the above.

I need more matches on this segment for further clarity.

Visual Phasing – Crossovers

A crossover point is where the DNA on one side of a demarcation line is descended from one ancestor and the DNA on the other side is descended from another ancestor, represented by the pink and blue halves of the segment, below.

Crossovers occur when the DNA is combined from two different ancestors when it is passed to the child. In other words, a chunk of mom’s ancestors’ DNA is contributed by mom and a chunk of dad’s ancestors’ DNA is contributed as well. The seam between different ancestor’s DNA pieces is called a crossover.

In this example, the brown lines confirmed by several testers to be from Henry Bolton (c1759-1846) and Nancy Mann (c1780-1841) is shown with a very specific left starting point, all in a vertical line. It looks for all the world like this is a crossover point. The DNA to the left would have been contributed by another, as yet unidentified, ancestor.

The gold lines above are matches from more recent generations.

Naming Those Unnamed Acadians

My Acadian ancestry is hopelessly intertwined, but chromosome painting may in fact provide me with some prayer of unraveling this ball of twine. Eventually.

When I know that someone is Acadian, but I can’t tell which of many lines I connect through, I add them as “Acadian Undetermined.”

There’s a lot of Acadian DNA, because it’s an endogamous population and they just keep passing the same segments around and around in a very limited population.

On my maternal chromosome, all of the olive green is “Acadian Undetermined.”  However, that blue segment in the stack is Rene de Forest (1670-1751) and Francoise Dugas (1678->1751).

In essence, this one match identified all of the DNA of the other people who are now simply a row in the Acadian Undetermined stack. Now I need to go back and peruse the trees of these individuals to determine if they descend form this line, or a common ancestor of this line, or if (some of) these matches are a matter of endogamy.

Endogamous matches can be population based, meaning that you do match each other, but it’s because you share so much of the same DNA because you have small pieces of many common ancestors – not because a particular segment comes from one specific ancestor. You can also share part of your DNA from Mom’s side and part from Dad’s side, because both of your parents descend from a common population and not because the entire segment comes from any particular ancestor.

On some long cold winter weekend, I’ll go through and map all of the trees of my Acadian matches to see what I can unravel. I just love matches with trees. You just can’t do something like this otherwise.

Of course, those Acadians (and other endogamous populations) can be tricky, no matter what, one click up from a needle in a haystack.

Acadian Endogamy Haystack on Steroids

At first, our haystack looks like we’ve solved the mystery of the identity of the stack.  However, we soon discover that maybe things aren’t as neat and tidy as we think.

Of course, the olive green is Acadian Undetermined, but the three other colored segments are:

  • Pink – Guillaume Blanchard (1650-1715/17) & Huguette Goujon (c1647-1717)
  • Brown/Pink – Francois Broussard (c1653-1716) & Catherine Richard (c1663-1748)
  • Coffee – Daniel Garceau (1707-1772) & Anne Doucet (1713-1791)

Looking at the pedigree chart, we find two of these couples in the same lineage, so all is good, until we find the third, pink, couple, at the bottom.

Clearly, this segment can’t be in two different lines at once, so we have a problem.  Or do we?

Working the pink troublesome lines on back, we make a discovery.

We find a Blanchard line consisting of Guilluame Blanchard born circa 1590 and Huguette Poirier also born circa 1690.

Interesting. Let’s compare the Guillaume Blanchard and Huguette Goujon line. Is this the same couple, but with a different surname for her?

No, as it turns out, Guillaume Blanchard that married Huguette Goujon was the grandson of Guilluame Blanchard and Huguette Poirier. That haystack segment of DNA was passed down through two different lines, it appears, to converge in three descendants – me, the descendant of the pink segment couple and the descendant of the brown/burgundy segment couple. This segment reaches back in time to the birth of either Guilluame Blanchard or Huguette Poirier in 1590, someplace in France, rode over on the ship to Port Royal in the very early 1600s, probably before Jamestown was settled, and has been kicking around in my ancestors and their descendants ever since.

This 18 or so cM ancestral segment is buried someplace at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, but lives on in me and several other people through at least two divergent lines.

The X Chromsome

Several vendors don’t report the X chromosome segments. I do use X segments from those who do, but I utilize a different threshold because the SNP density is about half of that on the other chromosomes. In essence, you need a match twice as large to be equivalent to a match on another chromosome..

Generally, I don’t rely on segments below 10 for anyone, and I generally only use segments over 14cM and no less than 500 SNPs.

Having just said that, I have painted a few smaller segments, because I know that if they are inaccurate, they are very easy to delete. They can remain in speculative mode. The default for DNAPainter and that’s what I use.

The great thing about the X chromosome is that because of it’s special inheritance path, you can sometimes push these segments another 2 generations back in time.

Let’s use an X chromosome match in conjunction with my X fan chart printed through Charting Companion.

On the paternal X, I inherited the gold segment from the couple, William George Estes (1873-1971) & Ollie Bolton (1874-1955.) However, since my father didn’t inherit an X from William George Estes (because my father inherited the Y from his father,) that X segment has to be from Ollie Bolton, and therefore from her parents Joseph Bolton (1853-1920) and Margaret Claxton (1851-1920.)

The segment from Lazarus Estes (1848-1918) and Elizabeth Vannoy (1847-1918) that’s 14 cM is false. It can’t descend from that couple. Same for the 7.5 cM from Jotham Brown (c1740-c1799) & Phoebe unk (c1747-c1803.) That segment’s false too. The green 48 cM segment from Samuel Claxton (1827-1876) and Elizabeth Speak (1832-1907)?  That segment’s good to go!

On my mother’s side, there’s a 7.8 cM Acadian Undetermined, which must be false, because Curtis Benjamin Lore (1856-1909) did not inherit an X chromosome from his Acadian father, Antoine Lore (1805-1862/67.)  Therefore, my X chromosome has no Acadian at all. I never realized that before, and it makes my X chromosome MUCH easier.

How about that light green 33cM segment from Antoine Lore (1805-1862/67) & Rachel Hill (1814/15-1870/80)? That segment must come from Rachel Hill, so it’s pushed back another generation to Joseph Hill (1790-1871) and Nabby Hall (1792-1874.)

I love the X chromosome because when you find a male in the line, you automatically get bumped two more generations back to his mother’s parents. It’s like the X prize for genetic genealogy, pardon the pun!

Adoptees

Some adoptees are lucky and receive close matches immediately. Others, not so much and the search is a long process.

If you’re an adoptee trying to figure out how your matches connect together, use in-common-match groupings to cluster matches together, then paint them in groups.  Utilize the overlapping segments in order to view their trees, looking for common surnames. Always start with the groups with the longest segments and the most matches. The larger the match, the more likely you are to be able to find a connection in a more recent generation. The more matches, the more likely you are to be able to spot a common surname (or two.)

Painting can speed this process significantly.

Much More Than Painting

I hope this tour through my colorful chromosomes has illustrated how much fun analysis can be. You’ll have so much fun that you won’t even realize you’re triangulating, phasing and all of those other difficult words.

If you have something you absolutely have to do, set an alarm – or you’ll forget all about it. Voice of experience here!

So, go and find some segments to paint so all of these exciting things can happen to you too!

How far back will you be able to identity a segment to a specific ancestor?  How about a triangulated segment? An X segment?

Have fun!!! Don’t forget to eat!

PS – If you’d like to learn more about Phasing, Triangulation or hear my keynote speech, consider signing up for the Virtual DNA Conference June 21-24. I’ll be presenting on both of those topics. You can sign in anytime for the next year to listen to the sessions, not just during the conference days. The keynote will be recorded and available afterwards as well.

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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 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:

Milestone! 1000 Articles About Genetic Genealogy

Today is a big day for DNA-eXplained. I christened this blog on July 11, 2012 with an invitation for the world of genetic genealogy to follow along. Wow, what a ride!

Today, about 5 weeks shy of the blog’s 6th birthday, I’m publishing my 1000th article – this one. I don’t even want to know how many words or pages, but I do know I’ve gone through two keyboards – worn the letters right off the keys.

My original goal in 2012 was to publish one article per week. That would have been 307 articles this week. I’ve averaged 3.25 articles a week. That’s almost an article every other day, which even surprises me!

That’s wonderful news for my readers because it means that there is so much potential in the genetic genealogy world that I need to write often. Even so, I always feel like there is so much to say – so much that needs to be taught and that I’ll never catch up.

I wonder, which have been the most popular articles?

Most Popular Articles

The most popular article has received almost a million views.

I’m not surprised that the article about Native American heritage and DNA testing is number one. Many people want to verify their family stories of Native American ancestry. It was and remains a very large motivation for DNA testing.

One link I expected to see on this list, but didn’t, is my Help page. Maybe because it’s a page and not an article? Maybe I should publish it as an article too. Hmmm….

What Do These Articles Have In Common?

Four are about ethnicity, which doesn’t surprise me. In the past couple of years, one of the major testing companies has pushed ethnicity testing as a “shortcut” to genealogy. That’s both a blessing and a curse.

Unfortunately, it encourages a misperception of DNA testing and what it can reasonably do, causing dissatisfaction and kit abandonment. Fortunately, advertising encourages people to test and some will go on to get hooked, upload trees and engage.

The good news is that judging from the popular articles, at least some people are researching ethnicity testing – although I have to wonder if it’s before or after they receive their test results.😊

Three articles are specifically about Native American heritage, although I suspect people who discover that they don’t carry as much Native as they expected are also reading ethnicity articles.

Two articles are specifically not about autosomal results, which pleases me because many autosomal testers don’t know about Y and mitochondrial DNA, or if they do, they don’t understand what it can do for them or how to utilize results.

Several articles fall into the research category – meaning an article someone might read to decide what tests to purchase or how to understand results.

Key Word Searchable

One of the things I love about WordPress, my blogging platform, is that DNA-eXplained is fully keyword searchable. This means that you can enter any term you want to find in the search box in the upper right-hand corner and you’ll be presented with a list of articles to select from.

For example, if you enter the phrase “Big Y,” you’ll find every article, beginning with the most recent that either has those words in the title, the text or as a tag or category.

Go ahead, give it a try. What would you like to learn about?

More Tools – Tags and Categories

Tags and categories help you find relevant information and help search engines find relevant articles when you “Google” for something.

If you scroll down the right-hand sidebar of the blog, you’ll see, in order:

  • Subscription Information
  • Family Tree DNA ad
  • Award Received
  • Recent Posts
  • Archives by date
  • Categories
  • Tags
  • Top Posts and Pages

Bloggers categorize their articles, so if you want to view the articles I’ve categorized as “Acadians” or “Art,” for example, just click on that link.

I use Tags as a more general article categorization. Tags are displayed in alphabetical order with the largest font indicating the tags with the most tagged articles.

You can see that I categorize a lot of articles as Basic Education and General Information. You can click on any tag to read those articles.

My Biggest Surprise

I’ve been asked what’s the most surprising thing that I’ve learned.

I very nearly didn’t publish my 52 Ancestors series because I didn’t think people would be interested in my own family stories about my ancestors and the search that uncovered their history.

Was I ever wrong. Those stories, especially the research techniques, including DNA of course, have been extremely well received. I’ve learned that people love stories.

Thank you for the encouragement. This next week will be the 197th article in that series.

I encourage everyone to find a way to tell the story of your ancestors too. If you don’t, who will?

My Biggest Disappointment

I think my biggest disappointment has been that not enough people utilize the information readily available on the blog. By this, I mean that I see questions on Facebook in multiple groups every day that I’ve already written about and answered – sometimes multiple times in different ways.

This is where you can help. If you see questions like that, please feel free to share the love and post links to any articles. With roughly 12 million testers today and more before year end – there are going to be lots of questions.

Let’s make sure they receive accurate answers.

Sharing

Please feel free to share and post links to any of my articles. That’s the purpose. You don’t need to ask permission.

If you would like to reproduce an article for any reason, please contact me directly.

Most of all, read, enjoy and learn. Encourage others to do so as well. The blog is free for everyone, but any support you choose to give by way of purchasing through affiliate links is greatly appreciated. It doesn’t cost you more, but a few cents comes my way from each purchase through an affiliate link to help support the blog.

What’s Coming?

I have a few articles in process, but I’d like to know what you’d like to see.

Do you have suggestions? Please leave them in the comments.

I’ve love to hear from you and I often write articles inspired by questions I receive.

Subscribe

Don’t miss any articles. If you haven’t already, you can subscribe by entering your e-mail just above the Follow button on the upper right-hand side of the right sidebar.

You can also subscribe via an RSS feed, or follow me on Twitter. You can follow DNAexplain on Facebook, but be aware that Facebook doesn’t show you all of the postings, and you won’t want to miss anything. Subscribing via e-mail is the most reliable option.

Thank You

There’s so much available today – it’s a wonderful time to be a genealogist that’s using DNA. There used to be a difference between a genealogist and a genetic genealogist – but I think we’ve moved past that stage and every genealogist should be utilizing all aspects of DNA (Y, mitochondrial, autosomal and X) as tools.

Thank you for subscribing, following or however you read these articles. You’re an amazing audience. I’ve made the unexpected wonderful discovery that many of you are my cousins as well.

Thanks to you, I’ve unraveled mysteries I never thought would be solved. I’ve visited ancestral homelands as a result of your comments and assistance. I’ve met amazing people. Yes, that means YOU!

I’m extremely grateful. I started this blog to help other people, never imagining how much it would help me too.

I love writing for you, my extended family.

Enjoy and Happy Ancestor Hunting!

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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 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:

Cherokee Ancestry – The Most Persistent Native American Family Legend

Cól-lee, a Band Chief, painted at Fort Gibson in 1834 by George Catlin who refers to the subject as Jol-lee in Letters and Notes. Also known as John Jolly who died in 1838.

“An aged and dignified chief. … This man … as well as a very great proportion of the Cherokee population, has a mixture of red and white blood in his veins, of which, in this instance, the first seems decidedly to predominate” (Letters and Notes, vol. 2, p. 119, pl. 217).

Does Your Family Have a Cherokee Story?

It seems that just about every family with a lineage east of the Mississippi before about 1800 has a Cherokee Indian ancestor – at least according to oral history passed down in the family. I certainly did, even though the person in my tree who was supposed to be Native was subsequently proven to have no Native ancestry. In that process, I did, however, find different lines that have been proven to be Native using genealogical records along with mitochondrial and Y DNA testing.

Does your family have a “Cherokee story”? Has DNA testing proven or disproven your family lore? Have you been disappointed by an ethnicity test? Have you had any luck proving that lineage with traditional genealogical research? Many people are disappointed that their family has claimed Cherokee heritage, sometimes for generations, but they have been unable to corroborate that information by either genetic or traditional research methods.

There are lots of reasons this might happen, including the possibility that your ancestors weren’t Native. But that’s not the only reason. A recent article in Slate is one of the best I’ve read that presents the reasons without undue drama or prejudice.

Before you read the article, I want to make four things crystal clear:

  • Having no discernable Native DNA in ethnicity tests does NOT mean you DON’T have a Native ancestor. It only means that you need to do traditional genealogy to find that ancestor, combined with Y and mtDNA testing of relevant family lineages. Y and mtDNA is the only way to prove or disprove who in your tree was Native other than through genealogy research, unless that Native ancestor was in a very recent generation.
  • Showing small percentages of Native DNA in ethnicity tests does NOT mean you DO have a Native ancestor. Small amounts can be noise or can be residual from a common Asian population source. For example, I have seen German people with as much as 3% Native American DNA, which clearly isn’t. You need more evidence before confirming Native ancestry.
  • Without additional research, you cannot prove your lineage to a tribe using DNA – no matter what any company tells you, although Y and mitochondrial DNA matching may lend important clues. Family Tree DNA is the only testing company that combines Y and mitochondrial testing, matching and maps.
  • No matter how much Native DNA you have, only a tribe can tell you how to qualify for their membership – and each tribe’s rules differ. You’ll need to contact the tribe directly for that information. DNA identified as Native through DNA testing for genealogy (alone) will not qualify you for tribal membership in any federally US recognized tribe.

For a comprehensive list of resources, please refer to Native American DNA Resources.

Now, for the Slate article:
Why Do So Many Americans Think They Have Cherokee Blood?

Enjoy.

_____________________________________________________________________

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 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: