2016 Genetic Genealogy Retrospective

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

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

Vendors

Family Tree DNA

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

Both Buckets

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

Phased FF2

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

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

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

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

2016-ancient-origins

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

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

Ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

ancestry-common-ancestors

23andMe

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

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

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

New Kids on the Block

MyHeritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016-myheritage-matches

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

2016-myheritage-second-match

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

2016-myheritage-at-ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living DNA

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

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

2016-living-dna

Genos

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

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

Third Parties

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

I have covered these extensively over the years.

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

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

Roberta's ancestor map2

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

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

ADSA Crumley cluster

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

2016-gedmatch-triangulation-groups

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

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

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

Others offer unique tools that are a bit different.

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

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

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

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

2016-wikitree-peter-roberts

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

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

What Defined 2016

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

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

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

The answer is simple…

Ethnicity.

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

Ethnicity

“Kim just wanted to know who she was.”

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

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

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

ESTIMATES.

Nothing more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

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

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

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

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

The Concepts Series

Concepts – How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical By Descent, State, Population and Chance

Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab

Concepts – Parental Phasing

Concepts – Y DNA Matching and Connecting With Your Paternal Ancestor

Concepts – Downloading Autosomal Data From Family Tree DNA

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

Concepts – Genetic Distance

Concepts – Relationship Predictions

Concepts – Match Groups and Triangulation

Concepts – Sorting Spreadsheets for Autosomal DNA

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

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

Concepts – Undocumented Adoptions Versus Untested Y Lines

My blog isn’t the only resource of course.

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

Other blogs I highly recommend include:

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

And of course, the ISOGG Wiki.

Online Conference Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!!!

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Your family is your very best genealogy resource, in many ways.

comet

With the holidays approaching, this is the perfect time to talk to your family about family history. Often, we think about family history in the sense of genealogy, meaning names, birth dates and death dates. But there is more to the story – a lot more. Or maybe better said, there are many stories to flesh out your genealogy.

It’s those stories that you want to hear and the holidays when family is gathered provide perfect opportunities. You just have to get the ball rolling!

I discovered over the years that people react better to questions that are open ended and encourage them, and others in the room, to talk and reminisce.

Questions I asked my mother that produced very interesting answers were questions like:

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your lifetime?

For mother, it was electricity in her home. It had never occurred to me that she had lived in a home without electricity before that conversation. The discussion then progressed to things like, “how did you preserve food without electricity,” “how did you have light in the evenings,” and “how did your parents heat the house,” especially since I don’t remember a fireplace in my grandmother’s home. The discussions that followed were very interesting and would never have happened without that single topic-opening question.

For example, I learned that the bedrooms weren’t heated, and the “bathroom” didn’t need to be heated since it was the outhouse.  That means bathing was with a cloth out of a wash basin or tub with water heated on the wood stove.

Another question that might produce some wonderful stories is to ask about “once in a lifetime events.”

My mother recalled a family trip to the 1933 World’s Fair in an old Model T Ford to see her grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore McCormick’s quilt displayed in the Sears Pavilion.

nora-1933-quilt

In my case, one of those (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime events forever seared in my memory is the 1965 Palm Sunday Tornado which cut a wide and devastating swath through central Indiana.  I didn’t realize what I was seeing, but I saw that tornado move across the southern part of the city where I lived.  A tree fell on the house and in an instant my mother grabbed me and we ran for the basement – her half dragging me all the way.

Another time, Mother, my daughter and I were in a van in Illinois one beastly hot June day and after watching a wall cloud overtake us, a tornado picked the van up and moved it some 20-30 feet off the road, sitting it back down right side up, amazingly enough. We were all fine that day, albeit terrified, but others weren’t so lucky.

Another very memorable and somewhat surreal event, as an adult, was unexpectedly seeing the Hale-Bopp Comet from an airplane.

A humorous episode occurred when mother’s uncle died in the middle of a paralyzing blizzard and they put his body in my grandfather’s garage. That was the family joke for years, ribbing my grandfather, but what else were they going to do?

“Remember when” stories like these may never surface if you don’t prompt with questions – and the answers in terms of your family and also in terms of what was happening in society – like radio, TV, electricity and the space race – at that time in history are all part of your family story. Those things would clearly have affected everyone one way or another but the personal stories of how they directly affected people in your family will never emerge unless you ask those leading questions – and record them for posterity.

DNA

Of course, it goes without saying that you might want to take some DNA kits along to family gatherings, just in case.  I always have a swab kit in my purse or in the car, or both.

Your family is also your best resource for genetic genealogy as well. Different family members can provide haplogroup information for ancestors whose haplogroups you don’t carry.

Family members often can and will gladly provide this genetic information for the family, but they don’t realize they carry these genealogy gems, gifts directly from the ancestors passed down the direct paternal and direct matrilineal lines. For example, your father and his siblings can provide the mitochondrial haplogroup of your paternal grandmother (red circles on the chart below), something you don’t carry.  Of course, the blue squares on the chart below represent the direct patrilineal line for males which is both the path of the Y chromosome and the traditional way surnames are inherited.  Your father will carry the family surname and Y DNA, but your mother’s father or brothers will carry the Y of her birth surname.  There’s lots to be discovered!

DNA Pedigree

If you’d like to see an example of how to build a DNA pedigree chart, above, by collecting the haplogroup information from all of your ancestral lines, click here.

Let’s face it, both Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups are the only direct line periscope we have back in time more than the few generations provided by autosomal testing. Autosomal DNA is divided in half in each generation, but Y and mitochondrial DNA is not, and is passed intact, except for mutations that might occur, generation to generation – making Y and mtDNA extremely valuable resources to the genealogist.

Haplogroups, discovered through Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, are invaluable historical resources revealing your deep ancestry and not utilized nearly enough. We simply don’t know what we don’t know and testing the right people is the only way to find out.

In terms of autosomal DNA testing, anyone that is a third cousin or closer is used in Family Tree DNA’s phased family matching to indicate which side of your family your matches originate from, as shown by the little blue male, pink female and purple “both” icons shown beside matches, below.

Phased FF2

The only way to divide your matches into maternal and paternal sides, without both parents, is by testing other relatives.  If you’re lucky enough to have both parents, that’s wonderful, but the only way to divide your parents’ results is by testing other relatives as well.

Right now, you can purchase the DNA kits on sale and save them until you need them. You can fill in the name of the tester when you determine who is going to take the test, but be sure to let Family Tree DNA know the correct gender at the time the test is submitted if it is different than the gender indicated when you purchased the kit. The actual swab kit is the same for both genders, but gender verification is part of quality assurance for the various tests.  Listing the wrong gender will delay your test results – and no one wants that!

When I find a willing candidate, I have them swab right then and there, on the spot, and I mail the kit back to Family Tree DNA myself. That way, I know the swabbing gets done and the kit doesn’t take up residence in their junk drawer or under the front seat of the car forever!  In one case, family members found a used swab kit in the glove box three years later, after the person died – and amazingly – it was still good!  However, mailing the kit back yourself avoids these situations.

Enjoy your holidays, take DNA kits along, and ask leading questions. You don’t know what you don’t know and you’ll never find out if you don’t ask those questions and DNA test your relatives.

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

We’re going to do three things in this article.

  1. Updating Your DNA Master Spreadsheet With New Matches
  2. Labeling Known Pileup Areas
  3. Utilizing Phased Family Finder Matches

You must do item one above, before you can do item three…just in case you are thinking about taking a “shortcut” and jumping to three. Word to the wise. Don’t.

OK, let’s get started! I promise, after we get the housework done, you’ll have a LOT of fun! Well, fun for a genetic genealogist anyway!

Updating Your Chromosome Browser Spreadsheet

If you haven’t updated your chromosome browser spreadsheet at Family Tree DNA since you originally downloaded your matches, it’s time to do that. You need to do this update so that your DNA Master Spreadsheet is in sync with your current matches before you can add the Family Finder bucketed matches to your master spreadsheet. Just trust me on this and understand that I found out the hard way. You don’t have to traipse through that same mud puddle because I already did and I’m warning you not to.

Let’s get started updating our DNA Master spreadsheet with our latest matches.  It’s a multi-step process and you’re going to be working with three different files:

  • File 1 – Your DNA Master Matches spreadsheet that you have created. This is the file you will be updating with information from the other two files, below.
  • File 2 – A current download of all of your chromosome browser file matches.
  • File 3 – A current download of a list of your matches.

The steps you will take, are as follows:

  1. Download a new Chromosome Browser Spreadsheet, but DO NOT overwrite your existing DNA Master spreadsheet, or you’ll be swearing, guaranteed. This chromosome browser spreadsheet is downloaded from the Family Finder chromosome browser page. Label it with a date and save it as an Excel file.
  2. Download a new Matches spreadsheet. This spreadsheet is downloaded from the bottom of your matches page. Label it with the same date and save it as an Excel file too.
  3. Update your Master DNA Matches spreadsheet utilizing the instructions provided below.

If you need a refresher about downloading spreadsheet information from Family Tree DNA, click here.

Your Matches spreadsheet will include a column labeled “Match Date.”

concepts2-match-date

On your Matches spreadsheet, sort the Match Date column in reverse order (sort Z to A) and print the list of matches that occurred since your last update date – meaning the date you last updated your DNA Master Spreadsheet.

If you need a refresher about how to sort spreadsheets, click here.

concepts2-match-list

This list will be your “picklist” from the new chromosome browser match spreadsheet you downloaded. I removed the middle and last names the matches, above, to protect their privacy, but you’ll have their full name to work with.

After your spreadsheet is sorted by match date, with the most current date at the top, you’ll have a list of the most recent matches, meaning those that happened since your last file download/update. Remember, I told you to record on a secondary page in your DNA Master Spreadsheet the history of the file, including the date you do things? This is why.  You need to know when you last downloaded your matches so that you don’t duplicate existing matches in your spreadsheet.

Why don’t you just want to download a new spreadsheet and start over?

concepts2-headers

Remember the color coding and those pink columns we’ve been adding, at right, above, so you can indicate which side that match is from, if the segment is triangulated, how you are related, the most recent common ancestor, the ancestral line, and other notes? If you overwrite your current DNA Master spreadsheet, all of that research information will be gone and you’ll have to start over. So as inconvenient as it is, you’ll need to go to the trouble of adding only your new matches to your DNA Master spreadsheet and only add new matches.

Utilizing the new Chromosome Browser match spreadsheet, you are going to scroll down (or Ctl+F) and find the names of the people you want to add to your master spreadsheet. Those are the people on your Matches spreadsheet whose test date is since you last downloaded the chromosome browser information.

When you find the person’s name (Amy in this example) on the Chromosome Browser Match spreadsheet, highlight the cells and right click to copy the contents of those cells so that you can paste them at the bottom of your DNA Master Spreadsheet.

concepts2-pick-list

Next, open your Master DNA Spreadsheet, and right click to paste the cells at the very bottom of the spreadsheet, positioning the cursor in the first cell of the first row where you want to paste, shown below.

concepts2-paste

Then click on Paste to paste the cells.

concepts2-paste-position

Repeat this process for every new match, copy/pasting all of their information into your DNA Master Spreadsheet.  I try to remember to do this about once a month.

Housekeeping note – If you’re wondering why some graphics in this article are the spreadsheet itself, and some are pictures of my screen (taken with my handy iPhone,) like the example above, it’s because when you do a screen capture, the screen capture action removes the drop down box that I want you to see in the pictures above. Yes, I know these pictures aren’t wonderful – but they are sufficient for you to see what I’m doing and that’s the goal.

Combined Spreadsheets

In my case, if you recall, I have a combined master spreadsheet with my matches and my mother’s matches in one spreadsheet. You may have this same situation with parents and grandparents or your full siblings if your parents are missing.

You will need to repeat this process for each family member whose entire match list resides in your DNA Master spreadsheet.

I know, I groaned too. And just in case you’re wondering, I’ve commenced begging at Family Tree DNA for a download by date function – but apparently I did not commence begging soon enough, because as of the date of this article, it hasn’t happened yet – although I’m hopeful, very hopeful.

After your spreadsheet is updated, we have a short one-time housekeeping assignment, then we’ll move on to something much more fun.

Known Pileup Regions

I want you to add the following segments into your DNA Master spreadsheet. These are known pileup regions in the human genome, also known as excess IBD (identical by descent) regions. This means that you may well phase against your parents, but the match is not necessarily genealogical in nature, because many individuals match in these areas, by virtue of being human. Having said that, close relationships may match you in these regions. Hopefully they will also match you in other regions as well, because it’s very difficult to tell if matches in these regions are by virtue of descent genealogically or because so many people match in these regions by virtue of being human.

concepts2-known-pileup-regions

You can color code these rows in your spreadsheet so you will notice them.  If you do, be sure to use a color that you’re not using for something else.

I have used several sources for this information, including the ISOGG wiki phasing page and Sue Griffith’s great Genealogy Junkie blog article titled Chromosome Maps Showing Centromeres, Excess IBD Regions and HLA Region. The HLA region on chromosome 6 is the most pronounced. Tim Janzen states that he has seen as many as 2000 SNP segments in this region that are identical by population, or at least they do not appear to be identical by descent, meaning he cannot find the common ancestor. His personal HLA region boundaries are a bit larger too, from 25,000,000 to 35,000,000. Regardless of the exact boundaries that you use, be aware of this very “matchy” region when you are evaluating your matches.  This is exactly why you’re entering these into your DNA Master spreadsheet – so you don’t have to “remember.”.

By the way, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch use Build 36, but eventually they will move to Build 37 of the human genome, so you might as well enter this information now so it will be there when you need it. If your next question is about how that transition will be handled, the answer is that I don’t know, and we will deal with it at that time.

I do not enter the SNP poor regions, because Family Tree DNA does not utilize those regions at all, and they are the greyed out regions of your chromosome map, shown below.

concepts2-snp-poor-regions

On my own spreadsheet, I have a few other things too.

I have indicated chromosomal regions where I carry minority ancestry.  For both my mother and me, chromosome 2 has significant Native admixture.  This Native heritage is also confirmed by mitochondrial and Y DNA tests on relevant family members.

concepts2-native-segments

If you carry any Native American or other minority admixture, where minority is defined as not your majority ethnicity, as determined by any of the testing companies, you can utilize GedMatch ethnicity tools to isolate the segments where your specific admixture occurs. I described how to do this here as part of The Autosomal Me series. I would suggest that you use multiple tools and look for areas that consistently show with that same minority admixture in all or at least most of the tools. Note that some tools are focused towards a specific ethnicity and omit others, so avoid those tools if the ethnicity you seek is not in line with the goals of that specific tool.

Ok, now that our housekeeping is done, we can have fun.

Adding Phased Family Finder Matches to your Spreadsheet

I love the new Family Tree DNA phased Family Finder matches that assign maternal or paternal “sides” to matches based on your matches to either a parent or close relative. If you would like a refresher on parental phasing, click here.

We’re going to utilize that Match spreadsheet you just downloaded once again.

In this case, we’re going to do something a bit different.

This time, we’re going to sort by the last column, “Matching Bucket.” (Please note you can enlarge any image by clicking or double clicking on it.)

concepts2-match-bucket

When you’re done sorting the “Matching Bucket” column , you will have four groups of matches, as follows:

  • Both
  • Maternal
  • N/A
  • Paternal

I delete the N/A rows, which means “not applicable” – in other words, the match did not meet the criterial to be assigned to a “side.” You can read about the criteria for phased Family Finder matches here and here. If you don’t want to delete these rows, you can just ignore them.

The next thing I do is to add a column before the first column on the spreadsheet, so before “Full Name.”

In this case, you can highlight either the entire column or just the column heading, and right click to insert an entire column to the left.

concepts2-insert-column

If these are your matches, add your name in the “Who” column. If these are your parents’ or full siblings’ matches, add their names in this column. When you have a combined spreadsheet, it’s critical to know whose matches are whose.

Then select colors for the maternal, paternal and both buckets, and color the rows on your spreadsheet accordingly.

I use pink and blue, appropriately, but not exactly the same pink and blue I use for the mother and father spreadsheet rows in my DNA Master spreadsheet. I used a slightly darker pink and slightly darker blue so I can see the difference at a glance. The yellow, or gold in this case, indicates a match to both sides.

concepts2-bucket-colors

You’re only going to actually utilize the first two columns of information.

Highlight and copy the first two columns, without the header, as shown below.

concepts2-bucket-columns

Then open your master spreadsheet and paste this information at the very bottom of your spreadsheet in the first two columns.

concepts2-bucket-paste

After the paste, your spreadsheet will look like this.

concepts2-bucket-rows

Next, sort your spreadsheet by match name, this case, RVH is the match (white row).

concepts2-bucket-match-sort

Be still my heart. Look what happens. By color, you can see who matches you on which sides, for those who are assigned to parental buckets.  Now my white RVH match row is accompanied by a gold row as well telling me that RVH matches me on both my maternal and paternal sides.

Let’s look at another example. In the case of Cheryl, she is my mother’s first cousin. Since I have combined both my mother’s and my spreadsheets, you can see that Cheryl matches both me and my mother on chromosome 19 and 20 below. Mother’s match rows are pink and my rows are white.

concepts2-bucket-match-maternal

In this example, you can see that indeed, Cheryl is assigned on my maternal side by Family Tree DNA, based on the dark pink match row that we just added. Indeed, by looking at the spreadsheet itself, you can confirm that Cheryl is a match on my mother’s side. I am only showing chromosome 19 and 20 as examples, but we match on several different locations.

I don’t have as many paternal side matches, because my father is not in the system, but I do have several cousins to phase against.

concepts2-bucket-match-paternal

Here’s my cousin, Buster, assigned paternally, which is accurate. In Buster’s case, I already have him assigned on my Dad’s side, but if I hadn’t already made this assignment, I could make that with confidence now, based on Family Tree DNA’s assignment.  The blessing here is that the usefulness of Buster’s assignment paternally doesn’t end there, but his results, and mine, together will be used to assign other matches to buckets as well.  Cousin matching is the gift that keeps on giving.

Because my DNA Master spreadsheet includes my mother’s information as well, we need to add her phased Family Finder matches too.

Mother’s Family Finder Matches

Because I have my mother’s and my results combined into one DNA Master spreadsheet, I repeat the same process for my mother, except I type her name in the first column I added with the title of “Who.”

concepts2-mother

Continue with the same “Adding Phased Family Finder Matches” instructions above, and when you are finished, you will have a Master DNA Spreadsheet that includes your information, your parent’s information, and anyone who is phased for either of you maternally, paternally or to both sides will be noted in your spreadsheet by match and color coded as well.

Let’s take a look at cousin Cheryl’s matches to both mother and I on our spreadsheet now with our maternal and paternal buckets assigned.

concepts2-cheryl-to-mother

As you can see, my results are the white row, and my Family Finder phased matches indicate that Cheryl is a match on my mother’s side, which is accurate.

Looking at my mother, Barbara’s matches, the pink rows, and then at Barbara’s Family Finder phased match information, it shows us that Cheryl matches mother on the blue, or paternal side, which is also accurate, per the pedigree chart below.

Margaret Lentz chart

You can see that Barbara and Cheryl are in the same generation, first cousins, and Barbara matches Cheryl on her paternal line which is reflected in the Family Finder bucketing.

I have updated the “Side” column to reflect the Family Finder bucketing information, although in this case, I already had the sides assigned based on previous family knowledge.

concepts2-bucket-matching-blended

In this example of viewing my mother and my combined spreadsheet matches, you are seeing the following information:

  • Cheryl matches me – white rows
  • Cheryl matches me on my maternal side – dark pink row imported from Match spreadsheet
  • Cheryl matches mother (Barbara) – light pink rows
  • Cheryl matches mother on her father’s side – blue row imported from Match spreadsheet

I find this combined spreadsheet with the color coding very visual and easy to follow.  Better yet, when other people match mother, Cheryl and I on this same segment, they fall right into this grouping on my DNA Master spreadsheet, so the relationship is impossible to miss.  That’s the beauty of a combined spreadsheet.

You can do a combined spreadsheet with individuals whose DNA is “yours” and they don’t share DNA with anyone that you don’t. Those individuals would be:

  • Either or both parents
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts and Uncles
  • Full siblings
  • Great-aunts and great-uncles

Why not half siblings or half aunts-uncles? Those people have DNA from someone who is not your ancestor. In other words, your half siblings have the DNA from only one of your parents, and you don’t want their matches from their other parent in your spreadsheet. You only want matches that positively descend from your ancestors.

While your grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, parents, aunts and uncles will have matches that you don’t, those matches may be critically important to you, because they have DNA from your ancestors that you didn’t inherit. So your combined DNA Master spreadsheet represents your DNA and the DNA of your ancestors found in your relatives who descend directly ONLY from your ancestors. Those relatives have DNA from your ancestors that has washed out by the time it gets to you.

Why can’t your cousins be included in your DNA Master spreadsheet?

I want you to take a minute and think about the answer to this question.

Thinking…..thinking….thinking…. (can you hear the Jeopardy music?)

And the answer is….

If you answered, “Because my aunt or uncle married someone with whom they had children, so my cousins have DNA that is not from an ancestor of mine,” you would be exactly right!!!

The great news is that between a combined spreadsheet and the new Family Finder bucketed matches, you can determine a huge amount about your matches.

After discovering which matches are bucketed, you can then use the other tools at Family Tree DNA, like “in common with” to see who else matches you and your match. The difference between bucketing and ICW is that bucketing means that you match that person (and one of your proven relatives who has DNA tested) on the same segment(s) above the 9cM bucketing threshold.  You can still match on the same segments, but not be reported as a bucketed match because the segments fall below the threshold.  “In common with” means that you both match someone else, but not necessarily on the same segments.

Here’s a nice article about utilizing the 9 tools provided by Family Tree DNA for autosomal matching.

The Beauty of the Beast

The absolutely wonderful aspect of phased Family Finder Matching is that while you do need to know some third cousins or closer, and the more the better, who have DNA tested, you do NOT need access to their family information, their tree or the DNA of your matches. If your matches provide that information, that’s wonderful, but your DNA plus that of your known relatives linked to your tree is doing the heavy lifting for you.

How well does this really work? Let’s take a look and see.

On the chart below, I’ve “bucketed” my information (pardon the pun.) Keep in mind that I do have my mother’s autosomal DNA, but not my fathers. His side is represented by 8 more distant relatives, the closest of which are my half-sister’s granddaughter and my father’s brother’s granddaughter – both of which are the genetic equivalent of 1st cousins once removed. My mother’s side is represented by mother and two first cousins.

Total Matches Maternal Side Bucket Paternal Side Bucket Both Sides Bucket Percent Assigned
Mother 865 13 106 2 14
Me 1585 356 361 3 23

Mother has the above 106 paternal bucketed matches without me doing anything at all except linking the DNA tests of mother to her two first cousins in her tree.  In my case, the combination of mother’s DNA and her two first cousins generated 356 maternal side bucketed matches, just by linking mother and her two first cousins to my tree.

concepts2-tree

Mother does have one third cousin on her mother’s side who generated 13 maternal bucketed matches.  So, while third cousins are distant, they can be very useful in terms of bucketed “sides” to matches.

It’s ironic that even though I have my mother’s DNA tested, I have slightly more paternal matches, without my father, than maternal matches, with my mother. Of course, in my case, that is at least partly a result of the fact that my mother has so many fewer matches herself due to her very recent old world heritage on several lines. Don’t think though, for one minute, that you have to have parents or siblings tested for Family Finder bucketed matching to be useful. You don’t. Even second and third cousins are useful and generate bucketed maternal and paternal matches. My 361 paternal matches, all generated from 8 cousins, are testimony to that fact.

The very best thing you can do for yourself is to test the following relatives that will be used to assign your resulting matches with other people to maternal and paternal sides.

  • Your parents
  • If your parents are not both available, all of your full and half siblings
  • Your grandparents
  • Your aunts and uncles
  • Your great-aunts and great-uncles
  • All first, second and third cousins unless they are children of aunts and uncles who have already tested

The new permanent price of $79 for the Family Finder test will hopefully encourage people to test as many family members as they can find! For autosomal genetic genealogy, it’s absolutely the best gift you can give yourself – after testing yourself of course.

Additional Relatives Added to Phased Family Matches at Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA has been rolling out updates and upgrades fast and furious.

On July 7th, Family Tree DNA released Phased Family Matches which included phasing to people linked to your tree who have DNA tested who are related to you.  These phased matches allow Family Tree DNA to assign matches to maternal or paternal buckets, or both.  The people that could be utilized for this phased matching were as follows:

  • Parent(s)
  • Aunts
  • Uncles
  • First Cousins
  • Grandparents

Of course, because everyone wants the most people possible in their assigned parental buckets, the first clamor was for the addition of:

  • Half siblings
  • Half “other relatives” such as aunts, uncles, first cousins, etc.
  • Second Cousins
  • Third Cousins

Family Tree DNA said that there would be additional new developments shortly, and exactly 20 days later, they quietly rolled updated capabilities that includes matching to…..you guess it….all of the above, plus more, including:

  • Great-great-grandparents
  • Great-grandparents
  • Grand uncles
  • Grand aunts
  • Great-grandaunts
  • Great-granduncles

I’m certainly envious of anyone who can test their great-grandmother – although my grandchildren have their great-grandmother, grandmother and both parents in the system.

In my case, before this change, the only relative that I had in the system that originally qualified was my mother. I was very excited to have people in my maternal bucket and was wishing for people in my paternal bucket. I do have several cousins who have tested on my paternal side, but none as close as 1st cousins.

Imagine my delight when I signed on to my account and discovered 359 individuals in my paternal bucket and one in both, in addition to my 256 maternal phased matches.

Both Buckets

These 359 phased paternal matches come from the combination of the following 8 individuals that have tested and I had previouisly linked to me in my tree:

  • Half sister’s granddaughter
  • Two first cousins once removed
  • One first cousin twice removed
  • One second cousin
  • One second cousin once removed
  • Two third cousins

Of course, now I’m searching through my DNA matches to see if I have anyone else who qualifies that has tested.

And I’m thinking about any other cousins that would benefit my phased parental bucket assignments if I were to be able to convince them to test.

I unlinked and relinked a few people to see how many people were added to the buckets because of them.

The second cousin once removed added 12 new people. Yet, one of the third cousins added 82, so you really never know. Some of the people who might have been added to a bucket by the second cousin may have already been added to the parental bucket by an earlier match.

Regardless, the more people linked to your tree from third cousins closer, the better your chances for having people assigned to maternal and paternal sides of your tree, even without having your parents.

Keep linking people in your tree when you know where and how they connect to you – regardless of where they are located in your tree.  You never know how that may benefit you – which morning you may wake up and find additional information or more people in your buckets.  What a great surprise!!!

This is a pretty amazing feat if you think about it, given that just a few years ago autosomal testing wasn’t available at all, and even today, no other vendor does phased matching, assigning individuals to maternal or paternal buckets utilizing parents and other relatives when parents aren’t available.