Mitochondrial DNA: Part 5 – Joining Projects

This is the fifth article in the Mitochondrial DNA series. The first four are:

One of the best things about Family Tree DNA is their projects. Just this week, one of my brick walls is falling, thanks to a project administrator’s keen eye!

There are lots of projects to choose from for just about every interest. Let’s take a look at what’s available and why you should join.

What Are Projects?

Family Tree DNA offers customers the ability to join roughly 10,000 free projects that are administered by volunteer project administrators who have a particular interest in the subject of the project.

The most well-known projects are surname projects, but of course, the challenge with mitochondrial DNA, inherited through generations of female to female genetic transmission, is that the surname changes with each generation. Surname projects generally are founded based on paternal surnames.

For example, I started and administer the Estes surname project, even though I’m not a male and have no Y chromosome. To represent my line, I tested my Estes male family members.

Some Y DNA projects welcome all people who descend from an ancestor with that surname, and others do not. I do, because within projects members can use advanced matching tools to see who they match within the project. Of course, a match within a project does NOT guarantee that you match the person BECAUSE of that specific ancestor. It’s a good clue and a place to start, however, and I encourage everyone to consider joining all projects that pertain to their genealogy.

Testers can join an unlimited number of projects and they are all free, although some may have specific criteria required to join.

Why Join a Project?

You might be wondering why one would want to join a project. There are several reasons.

  • Expertise

Project administrators generally offer some level of expertise in the subject at hand. They have to have a reason to spend the time creating and maintaining the project and corresponding with members. Relative to haplogroup projects, project administrators are literally the most knowledgeable people on earth about their haplogroups of interest.

  • Common Interests

Whether you’re trying to figure out where your haplogroup came from, your ancestor of a specific surname or you’re interested in a particular ancestral group, like Acadian ancestors, other project members clearly have the same interest. Project members know that others in the project share that interest and if the project administrators have enabled the social media feature of projects, you can post and discuss topics and make requests there.

  • Camaraderie

Who wants to exist on a genealogical island? Working together with others often reaps huge benefits. For example, in the Crumley project, a few years ago I was able to reconstruct the partial genome of the common ancestor of 57 group members who descend from James Crumley. Without collaboration, we could never make this type of genetic progress – not to mention simply sharing traditional research.

  • Access to project feed or project results

Some project administrators make the viewing the project as well as the social media feed available only to project members who are signed in. Whether you can view the project page or social media feed or not as a non-project member, the only way to actually participate is by joining the project. The more joiners, the better for everyone.

  • Map

Every project has the ability to display a map based on the entire project, as well as by project groupings. By clicking on Manage myProjects, then on DNA Results, you’ll see options for both the results and a map, if the administrator has enabled both features.

mitochondrial DNA projects.png

Maps show the distribution of the earliest known ancestors of project members if they have provided that information and agreed to project sharing.

Mitochondrial DNA hap J map.png

My first map selection in the haplogroup J project, shown above, was for “All” meaning the entire project. There’s not much of a story here except that there’s lots of haplogroup J in Europe.

Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup J1c2f map.png

My second selection was for the group the administrator created for my own complete haplogroup, J1c2f. This map distribution, found primarily in Scandinavia is suggestive of a much more granular story.

Project maps are an important under-utilized resource.

  • Advanced matching and searching within projects

Mitochodrial DNA matching on your regular match page allows you to view your matches in the entire database or to filter by projects that you have joined.

Mitochondrial DNA project matches.png

When selecting a project view, I’m only shown matches who are members of projects that I have joined, shown above.

However, there’s another, more powerful matching tool.

The Advanced Matching Tool

Mitochondrial DNA advanced matching tool

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Utilizing the Advanced Matching tool, I have more options and can select to filter and match from a variety of tests, match types and features.

Mitochondrial DNA advanced matches.png

For example, I can select the level of mitochondrial DNA match I want to see, pair it with a Family Finder match, see only people who match me on both tests and who are in a specific project.

These are powerful combined tools.

How do you know if anyone else with your surname or interests have tested and if a project exists?

Does A Project Exist?

Without signing into your account, click here to go to the primary Family Tree DNA home page.

Scroll down. Keep scrolling….

You will eventually see this surname search box.

Mitochondrial DNA project search.png

Type the surname of interest into the box and press enter. I’ll use Estes for this example.

You will see three types of results:

  • The number of people with that exact surname that you typed, “Estes” in this case, that have tested – both male and female. In the first red box below, you can see that 320 people who currently have the surname of Estes have tested.
  • The surname projects that include that surname spelling in the project description. Looking at the second red box, you can see that the Estes project has 370 members and the Estis Jewish Ukraine project has 62. The Estis Jewish project administrator has included the spelling Estes in the project description which is why this project is listed under Estes surname Projects.
  • Other projects, in the green box, where the administrators have listed the surname Estes because their project might be of interest to some Estes descendants. This doesn’t mean that this project pertains to your Estes family – but it does mean you might want to click on the project and read the description.

Mitochondrial DNA projects by group.png

For example, here’s the North Carolina Early 1700s project description.

Mitochondrial DNA Early North Carolina

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For all projects, you can see the administrators’ names at the bottom left, below the project links. You can click on their names to contact them with questions.

You can click on this page to join. If you click “Join” and have not purchased a kit, you will be prompted to do so. If you have already purchased a kit, you will be prompted to sign in at this point so that your kit can be joined to the project.

Project results are available for viewing through the links at the left.

The Early North Carolina project includes both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA participants.

Project Grouping

Project administrators group participants in various ways, depending on the goals of the project. In this case, mitochondrial DNA results are grouped by haplogroup.

Mitochondrial DNA project display

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Note that the first 2 people didn’t enter their earliest known ancestor, but the last 3 did. Results are so much more useful with ancestor information.

HVR1, HVR2 and Full Sequence

Project administrators have a lot of leeway about the purpose and goals of the project, the criteria to join, grouping (or not) and even whether the project has a public-facing results page, like the one shown above.

However, two things project administrators have NO CONTROL OVER at all are:

  • Whether your full name displays. It does NOT! A surname only may be displayed if the administrator selects that option.
  • Whether or not the coding region results are shown. That’s not an option and never has been at Family Tree DNA. Only HVR1 and HVR2 are shown, as shown above.

If, as project members, you grant administrators coding region view access so that they can properly group your results, there is no option for administrators to show coding region results on any web page.

Joining Projects from Your Personal Page

After signing on to your personal page at Family Tree DNA, to join or manage projects, click on myProjects at the top of your personal page.

Mitochondrial DNA myProjects.png

You will then see the following option.

Mitochondrial DNA join a project.png

Click on “Join a Project.”

At this point, you will see a list of projects. People interpret this to mean that Family Tree DNA is recommending these projects, but that’s not the case. The project administrators have listed your surname as a surname that is relevant to the project they are running. That’s why the project is displayed on the project list you see initially.

Here’s the list that I see.

Mitochondrial DNA project list.png

Of these projects, 2 are of interest, Estes and Cumberland Gap Y DNA, except that I don’t carry the Y chromosome. My mitochondrial DNA is not relevant, so unless the Cumberland Gap Y DNA project accepts people who don’t descend via the Y chromosome, only the Estes project is relevant to me.

The project with the purple star is new since the last time I looked. It may be relevant to me. I’ll need to read the project description to see.

Searching

Let’s say I’m interested in joining the Lore project, my mother’s mother’s surname. I want to search for projects that include Lore. I won’t see any initially, because my surname is not Lore.

Scrolling down below the initial project names shown above, I see a search box.

Mitochondrial DNA project search by surname.png

Typing Lore in the search box and clicking on “search” displays the following projects.

Mitochondrial DNA project join link.png

Both of these projects are relevant to me. My Lore great-grandfather is indeed Acadian.

Clicking on the link displays more information about the project. Clicking on the Join button joins you to the project, or, for projects that require a join request, takes you to the join request page.

Mitochondrial DNA join button.png

If the project requires a join request, be sure to read the project goals and state why the project is a good fit for you.

For example, if the project is the Mitochondrial Haplogroup B Project, and you’re a haplogroup H, the project is not a good fit for you.

Many projects include key words that make searching more effective. For example, to find the AcadianAmerindian project, simply type Acadian into the search box. Project administrators try their best to make the projects findable for people interested in that specific topic.

To find haplogroup projects and projects that don’t include a specific surname or key word, you’ll need to browse. Fortunately, projects are logically grouped.

Browsing Projects

By scrolling down below the search box, you’ll see the various project categories with projects listed alphabetically. The number beside the letter indicates the number of projects in that category.

Mitochondrial DNA project browse

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  • Surname Projects are just what they say and you’ll find those using the search feature.
  • Y and Mitochondrial Geographical Projects are projects that aren’t surnames and aren’t haplogroups. In other words, they could be a geography like the Cumberland Gap or France, or they could be a group like Native American or Tuscarora.
  • Dual Geographical Projects include both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA from a geography, BUT, these types of projects are extremely difficult to administer because someone may join because their Y DNA is from France, for example, but their mitochondrial DNA is from Africa. What happens is that unless the administrator actively suppressed the “wrong” DNA (from the project perspective) from showing, it looks for all the world like African mitochondrial DNA is appearing in France because both the Y and mitochondrial DNA of the tester shows in the results by default. If you’re thinking to yourself that suppressing “one little thing” should be easy, it’s not necessarily, especially not with thousands of participants in some projects. Not only that, it would require each person joining a project to communicate with the administrator and tell them which line is relevant to the project, Y, mitochondrial, or neither.
  • MtDNA and Y DNA Lineage Projects are similar to surname projects, but they track descendants of a specific ancestor. For example, I could start a project for my great-great-grandmother’s descendants and encourage them to join that project so we could communicate and research together.
  • Mitochondrial and Y DNA Haplogroup Projects are focused on a single haplogroup or subgroup. Some haplogroups have only one project, like Haplogroup J. Other haplogroups have a primary project plus several subgroup projects. Haplogroup H, which is very prevalent in Europe, has several subgroups.
Mitochondrial DNA project browse list

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Haplogroup administrators as scientists and citizen scientists often study specific haplogroups to learn more about their history and through that, the history of the human species and our migrations.

Unjoin

If you joined a project by accident, changed your mind or discovered a project is no longer relevant, it’s easy to unjoin.

Mitochondrial DNA manage myProjects.png

Click on “Manage myProjects.”

Mitochondrial DNA unjoin.png

You’ll see each project that you have joined, along with two actions. A pencil to modify your membership and a trash can. To unjoin the project, just click the trash can.

Editing and Granting Administrator Access

Click on the pencil to edit.

You control the amount and level of access that administrators have to your results.

If you grant administrators Minimum Access, they can’t even see your matches to group you properly. I don’t recommend that level.

Here’s a summary of Group Administrator Access at the various levels.

Mitochondrial DNA admin access summary.pngMitochondrial DNA admin access summary 2.png

Please read the details on the Group Administrator Access Level and Permissions page in the Learning Center.

Mitochondrial DNA future admins.png

I generally allow all future administrators the same level of access. After all, I won’t be here one day to reauthorize and I want my DNA to work for both my ancestors and descendants forever.

Make your selections and then click on “Accept Project Preferences.” The system will then provide you with a summary of your selections.

Group Profile and Coding Region Sharing

You’ll need to decide if you’re going to share the Coding Region with the administrators, and if you’re going to share your results on the public webpage.

Both of those options can be found under your Account Profile, under Manage Personal Information.

Mitochondrial DNA profile.png

Under Account Settings, click on Project Preferences.

Mitochondrial DNA account settings

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Next, you’ll see a list of the projects you have joined. Scroll beneath that to the Project Sharing section.

Mitochondrial DNA sharing

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You’ll want to be sure that these selections reflect your wishes. If you DON’T allow sharing, your results won’t be included on the public web page. People often view projects to see if their ancestors are represented, so results in projects act as cousin bait.

The administrators need to be able to view your coding region mutations to group you accurately.

Housekeeping

While you’re on the Account Settings page, take a look at the other tabs and make sure they reflect your desired options.

In particular, make sure on the Genealogy page to complete your surnames and your Earliest Known Ancestors and on the Account Information Page, your Beneficiary Information.

Your relatives and descendants will thank you!!!

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First Steps When Your DNA Results are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water

First steps helix

Recently someone asked me what the first steps would be for a person who wasn’t terribly familiar with genealogy and had just received their DNA test results.

I wrote an article called DNA Results – First Glances at Ethnicity and Matching which was meant to show new folks what the various vendor interfaces look like. I was hoping this might whet their appetites for more, meaning that the tester might, just might, stick their toe into the genealogy waters😊

I’m hoping this article will help them get hooked! Maybe that’s you!

A Guide

This article can be read in one of two ways – as an overview, or, if you click the links, as a pretty thorough lesson. If you’re new, I strongly suggest reading it as an overview first, then a second time as a deeper dive. Use it as a guide to navigate your results as you get your feet wet.

I’ll be hotlinking to various articles I’ve written on lots of topics, so please take a look at details (eventually) by clicking on those links!

This article is meant as a guideline for what to do, and how to get started with your DNA matching results!

If you’re looking for ethnicity information, check out the First Glances article, plus here and here and here.

Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages provides you with guidelines for how to estimate your own ethnicity percentages based on your known genealogy and Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum explains how ethnicity testing is done.

OK, let’s get started. Fun awaits!

The Goal

The goal for using DNA matching in genealogy depends on your interests.

  1. To discover cousins and family members that you don’t know. Some people are interested in finding and meeting relatives who might have known their grandparents or great-grandparents in the hope of discovering new family information or photos they didn’t know existed previously. I’ve been gifted with my great-grandparent’s pictures, so this strategy definitely works!
  2. To confirm ancestors. This approach presumes that you’ve done at least a little genealogy, enough to construct at least a rudimentary tree. Ancestors are “confirmed” when you DNA match multiple other people who descend from the same ancestor through multiple children. I wrote an article, Ancestors: What Constitutes Proof?, discussing how much evidence is enough to actually confirm an ancestor. Confirmation is based on a combination of both genealogical records and DNA matching and it varies depending on the circumstances.
  3. Adoptees and people with unknown parents seeking to discover the identities of those people aren’t initially looking at their own family tree – because they don’t have one yet. The genealogy of others can help them figure out the identity of those mystery people. I wrote about that technique in the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching.

DNAAdoption for Everyone

Educational resources for adoptees and non-adoptees alike can be found at www.dnaadoption.org. DNAAdoption is not just for adoptees and provides first rate education for everyone. They also provide trained and mentored search angels for adoptees who understand the search process along with the intricacies of navigating the emotional minefield of adoption and unknown parent searches.

First Look” classes for each vendor are free for everyone at DNAAdoption and are self-paced, downloadable onto your computer as a pdf file. Intro to DNA, Applied Autosomal DNA and Y DNA Basics classes are nominally priced at between $29 and $49 and I strongly recommend these. DNAAdoption is entirely non-profit, so your class fee or contribution supports their work. Additional resources can be found here and their 12 adoptee search steps here.

Ok, now let’s look at your results.

Matches are the Key

Regardless of your goal, your DNA matches are the key to finding answers, whether you want to make contact with close relatives, prove your more distant ancestors or you’re involved in an adoptee or unknown parent search.

Your DNA matches that of other people because each of you inherited a piece of DNA, called a segment, where many locations are identical. The length of that DNA segment is measured in centiMorgans and those locations are called SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms. You can read about the definition of a centimorgan and how they are used in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’Crab.

While the scientific details are great, they aren’t important initially. What is important is to understand that the more closely you match someone, the more closely you are related to them. You share more DNA with close relatives than more distant relatives.

For example, I share exactly half of my mother’s DNA, but only about 25% of each of my grandparents’ DNA. As the relationships move further back in time, I share less and less DNA with other people who descend from those same ancestors.

Informational Tools

Every vendor’s match page looks different, as was illustrated in the First Glances article, but regardless, you are looking for four basic pieces of information:

  • Who you match
  • How much DNA you share with your match
  • Who else you and your match share that DNA with, which suggests that you all share a common ancestor
  • Family trees to reveal the common ancestor between people who match each other

Every vendor has different ways of displaying this information, and not all vendors provide everything. For example, 23andMe does not support trees, although they allow you to link to one elsewhere. Ancestry does not provide a tool called a chromosome browser which allows you to see if you and others match on the same segment of DNA. Ancestry only tells you THAT you match, not HOW you match.

Each vendor has their strengths and shortcomings. As genealogists, we simply need to understand how to utilize the information available.

I’ll be using examples from all 4 major vendors:

Your matches are the most important information and everything else is based on those matches.

Family Tree DNA

I have tested many family members from both sides of my family at Family Tree DNA using the Family Finder autosomal test which makes my matches there incredibly useful because I can see which family members, in addition to me, my matches match.

Family Tree DNA assigns matches to maternal and paternal sides in a unique way, even if your parents haven’t tested, so long as some close relatives have tested. Let’s take a look.

First Steps Family Tree DNA matches.png

Sign on to your account and click to see your matches.

At the top of your Family Finder matches page, you’ll see three groups of things, shown below.

First Steps Family Tree DNA bucketing

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A row of tools at the top titled Chromosome Browser, In Common With and Not in Common With.

A second row of tabs that include All, Paternal, Maternal and Both. These are the maternal and paternal tabs I mentioned, meaning that I have a total of 4645 matches, 988 of which are from my paternal side and 847 of which are from my maternal side.

Family Tree DNA assigns people to these “buckets” based on matches with third cousins or closer if you have them attached in your tree. This is why it’s critical to have a tree and test close relatives, especially people from earlier generations like aunts, uncles, great-aunts/uncles and their children if they are no longer living.

If you have one or both parents that can test, that’s a wonderful boon because anyone who matches you and one of your parents is automatically bucketed, or phased (scientific term) to that parent’s side of the tree. However, at Family Tree DNA, it’s not required to have a parent test to have some matches assigned to maternal or paternal sides. You just need to test third cousins or closer and attach them to the proper place in your tree.

How does bucketing work?

Maternal or Paternal “Side” Assignment, aka Bucketing

If I match a maternal first cousin, Cheryl, for example, and we both match John Doe on the same segment, John Doe is automatically assigned to my maternal bucket with a little maternal icon placed beside the match.

First Steps Family Tree DNA match info

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Every vendor provides an estimated or predicted relationship based on a combination of total centiMorgans and the longest contiguous matching segment. The actual “linked relationship” is calculated based on where this person resides in your tree.

The common surnames at far right are a very nice features, but not every tester provides that information. When the testers do include surnames at Family Tree DNA, common surnames are bolded. Other vendors have similar features.

People with trees are shown near their profile picture with a blue pedigree icon. Clicking on the pedigree icon will show you their ancestors. Your matches estimated relationship to you indicates how far back you should expect to share an ancestor.

For example, first cousins share grandparents. Second cousins share great-grandparents. In general, the further back in time your common ancestor, the less DNA you can be expected to share.

You can view relationship information in chart form in my article here or utilize DNAPainter tools, here, to see the various possibilities for the different match levels.

Clicking on the pedigree chart of your match will show you their tree. In my tree, I’ve connected my parents in their proper places, along with Cheryl and Don, mother’s first cousins. (Yes, they’ve given permission for me to utilize their results, so they aren’t always blurred in images.)

Cheryl and Don are my first cousins once removed, meaning my mother is their first cousin and I’m one generation further down the tree. I’m showing the amount of DNA that I share with each of them in red in the format of total DNA shared and longest unbroken segment, taken from the match list. So 382-53 means I share a total of 382 cM and 53 cM is the longest matching block.

First Steps Family Tree DNA tree.png

The Chromosome Browser

Utilizing the chromosome browser, I can see exactly where I match both Don and Cheryl. It’s obvious that I match them on at least some different pieces of my DNA, because the total and longest segment amounts are different.

The reason it’s important to test lots of close relatives is because even siblings inherit different pieces of DNA from their parents, and they don’t pass the same DNA to their offspring either – so in each generation the amount of shared DNA is probably reduced. I say probably because sometimes segments are passed entirely and sometimes not at all, which is how we “lose” our ancestors’ DNA over the generations.

Here’s a matching example utilizing a chromosome browser.

First Steps Family Tree DNA chromosome browser.png

I clicked the checkboxes to the left of both Cheryl and Don on the match page, then the Chromosome Browser button, and now you can see, above, on chromosomes 1-16 where I match Cheryl (blue) and Don (red.)

In this view, both Don and Cheryl are being compared to me, since I’m the one signed in to my account and viewing my DNA matches. Therefore, one of the bars at each chromosome represents Don’s DNA match to me and one represents Cheryl’s. Cheryl is the first person and Don is the second. Person match colors (red and blue) are assigned arbitrarily by the system.

My grandfather and Cheryl/Don’s father, Roscoe, were siblings.

You can see that on some segments, my grandfather and Roscoe inherited the same segment of DNA from their parents, because today, my mother gave me that exact same segment that I share with both Don and Cheryl. Those segments are exactly identical and shown in the black boxes.

The only way for us to share this DNA today is for us to have shared a common ancestor who gave it to two of their children who passed it on to their descendants who DNA tested today.

On other segments, in red boxes, I share part of the same segments of DNA with Cheryl and Don, but someone along the line didn’t inherit all of that segment. For example on chromosome 3, in the red box, you can see that I share more with Cheryl (blue) than Don (red.)

In other cases, I share with either Don or Cheryl, but Don and Cheryl didn’t inherit that same segment of DNA from their father, so I don’t share with both of them. Those are the areas where you see only blue or only red.

On chromosome 12, you can see where it looks like Don’s and Cheryl’s segments butt up against each other. The DNA was clearly divided there. Don received one piece and Cheryl got the other. That’s known as a crossover and you can read about crossovers here, if you’d like.

It’s important to be able to view segment information to be able to see how others match in order to identify which common ancestor that DNA came from.

In Common With

You can use the “In Common With” tool to see who you match in common with any match. My first 6 matches in common with Cheryl are shown below. Note that they are already all bucketed to my maternal side.

First Steps Family Tree DNA in common with

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You can click on up to 7 individuals in the check box at left to show them on the chromosome browser at once to see if they match you on common segments.

Each matching segment has its own history and may descend from a different ancestor in your common tree.

First Steps 7 match chromosome browser

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If combinations of people do match me on a common segment, because these matches are all on my maternal side, they are triangulated and we know they have to descend from a common ancestor, assuming the segment is large enough. You can read about the concept of triangulation here. Triangulation occurs when 3 or more people (who aren’t extremely closely related like parents or siblings) all match each other on the same reasonably sized segment of DNA.

If you want to download your matches and work through this process in a spreadsheet, that’s an option too.

Size Matters

Small segments can be identical by chance instead of identical by descent.

  • “Identical by chance” means that you accidentally match someone because your DNA on that segment has been combined from both parents and causes it to match another person, making the segment “looks like” it comes from a common ancestor, when it really doesn’t. When DNA is sequenced, both your mother and father’s strands are sequenced, meaning that there’s no way to determine which came from whom. Think of a street with Mom’s side and Dad’s side with identical addresses on the houses on both sides. I wrote about that here.
  • “Identical by descent” means that the DNA is identical because it actually descends from a common ancestor. I discussed that concept in the article, We Match, But Are We Related.

Generally, we only utilize 7cM (centiMorgan) segments and above because at that level, about half of the segments are identical by descent and about half are identical by chance, known as false positives. By the time we move above 15 cM, most, but not all, matches are legitimate. You can read about segment size and accuracy here.

Using “In Common With” and the Matrix

“In Common With” is about who shares DNA. You can select someone you match to see who else you BOTH match. Just because you match two other people doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s on the same segment of DNA. In fact, you could match one person from your mother’s side and the other person from your father’s side.

First Steps match matrix.png

In this example, you match Person B due to ancestor John Doe and Person C due to ancestor Susie Smith. However, Person B also matches person C, but due to ancestor William West that they share and you don’t.

This example shows you THAT they match, but not HOW they match.

The only way to assure that the matches between the three people above are due to the same ancestor is to look at the segments with a chromosome browser and compare all 3 people to each other. Finding 3 people who match on the same segment, from the same side of your tree means that (assuming a reasonably large segment) you share a common ancestor.

Family Tree DNA has a nice matrix function that allows you to see which of your matches also match each other.

First steps matrix link

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The important distinction between the matrix and the chromosome browser is that the chromosome browser shows you where your matches match you, but those matches could be from both sides of your tree, unless they are bucketed. The matrix shows you if your matches also match each other, which is a huge clue that they are probably from the same side of your tree.

First Steps Family Tree DNA matrix.png

A matrix match is a significant clue in terms of who descends from which ancestors. For example, I know, based on who Amy matches, and who she doesn’t match, that she descends from the Ferverda side and that Charles, Rex and Maxine descend from ancestors on the Miller side.

Looking in the chromosome browser, I can tell that Cheryl, Don, Amy and I match on some common segments.

Matching multiple people on the same segment that descends from a common ancestor is called triangulation.

Let’s take a look at the MyHeritage triangulation tool.

MyHeritage

Moving now to MyHeritage who provides us with an easy to use triangulation tool, we see the following when clicking on DNA matches on the DNA tab on the toolbar.

First Steps MyHeritage matches

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Cousin Cheryl is at MyHeritage too. By clicking on Review DNA Match, the purple button on the right, I can see who else I match in common with Cheryl, plus triangulation.

The list of people Cheryl and I both match is shown below, along with our relationships to each person.

First Steps MyHeritage triangulation

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I’ve selected 2 matches to illustrate.

The first match has a little purple icon to the right which means that Amy triangulates with me and Cheryl.

The second match, Rex, means that while we both match Rex, it’s not on the same segment. I know that without looking further because there is no triangulation button. We both match Rex, but Cheryl matches Rex on a different segment than I do.

Without additional genealogy work, using DNA alone, I can’t say whether or not Cheryl, Rex and I all share a common ancestor. As it turns out, we do. Rex is a known cousin who I tested. However, in an unknown situation, I would have to view the trees of those matches to make that determination.

Triangulation

Clicking on the purple triangulation icon for Amy shows me the segments that all 3 of us, me, Amy and Cheryl share in common as compared to me.

First Steps MyHeritage triangulation chromosome browser.png

Cheryl is red and Amy is yellow. The one segment bracketed with the rounded rectangle is the segment shared by all 3 of us.

Do we have a common ancestor? I know Cheryl and I do, but maybe I don’t know who Amy is. Let’s look at Amy’s tree which is also shown if I scroll down.

First Steps MyHeritage common ancestor.png

Amy didn’t have her tree built out far enough to show our common ancestor, but I immediately recognized the surname Ferveda found in her tree a couple of generations back. Darlene was the daughter of Donald Ferverda who was the son of Hiram Ferverda, my great-grandfather.

Hiram was the father of Cheryl’s father, Roscoe and my grandfather, John Ferverda.

First Steps Hiram Ferverda pedigree.png

Amy is my first cousin twice removed and that segment of DNA that I share with her is from either Hiram Ferverda or his wife Eva Miller.

Now, based on who else Amy matches, I can probably tell whether that segment descends from Hiram or Eva.

Viva triangulation!

Theory of Family Relativity

MyHeritage’s Theory of Family Relativity provides theories to people whose DNA matches regarding their common ancestor if MyHeritage can calculate how the 2 people are potentially related.

MyHeritage uses a combination of tools to make that connection, including:

  • DNA matches
  • Your tree
  • Your match’s tree
  • Other people’s trees at MyHeritage, FamilySearch and Geni if the common ancestor cannot be found in your tree compared against your DNA match’s MyHeritage
  • Documents in the MyHeritage data collection, such as census records, for example.

MyHeritage theory update

To view the Theories, click on the purple “View Theories” banner or “View theory” under the DNA match.

First Steps MyHeritage theory of relativity

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The theory is displayed in summary format first.

MyHeritage view full theory

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You can click on the “View Full Theory” to see the detail and sources about how MyHeritage calculated various paths. I have up to 5 different theories that utilize separate resources.

MyHeritage review match

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A wonderful aspect of this feature is that MyHeritage shows you exactly the information they utilized and calculates a confidence factor as well.

All theories should be viewed as exactly that and should be evaluated critically for accuracy, taking into consideration sources and documentation.

I wrote about using Theories of Relativity, with instructions, here and here.

I love this tool and find the Theories mostly accurate.

AncestryDNA

Ancestry doesn’t offer a chromosome browser or triangulation but does offer a tree view for people that you match, so long as you have a subscription. In the past, a special “Light” subscription for DNA only was available for approximately $49 per year that provided access to the trees of your DNA matches and other DNA-related features. You could not order online and had to call support, sometimes asking for a supervisor in order to purchase that reduced-cost subscription. The “Light” subscription did not provide access to anything outside of DNA results, meaning documents, etc. I don’t know if this is still available.

After signing on, click on DNA matches on the DNA tab on the toolbar.

You’ll see the following match list.

First Steps Ancestry matches

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I’ve tested twice at Ancestry, the second time when they moved to their new chip, so I’m my own highest match. Click on any match name to view more.

First Steps Ancestry shared matches

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You’ll see information about common ancestors if you have some in your trees, plus the amount of shared DNA along with a link to Shared Matches.

I found one of the same cousins at Ancestry whose match we were viewing at MyHeritage, so let’s see what her match to me at Ancestry looks like.

Below are my shared matches with that cousin. The notes to the right are mine, not provided by Ancestry. I make extensive use of the notes fields provided by the vendors.

First Steps Ancestry shared matches with cousin

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On your match list, you can click on any match, then on Shared Matches to see who you both match in common. While Ancestry provides no chromosome browser, you can see the amount of DNA that you share and trees, if any exist.

Let’s look at a tree comparison when a common ancestor can be detected in a tree within the past 7 generations.

First Steps Ancestry view ThruLines.png

What’s missing of course is that I can’t see how we match because there’s no chromosome browser, nor can I see if my matches match each other.

Stitched Trees

What I can see, if I click on “View ThruLines” above or ThruLines on the DNA Summary page on the main DNA tab is all of the people I match who Ancestry THINKS we descend from a common ancestor. This ancestor information isn’t always taken from either person’s tree.

For example, if my match hadn’t included Hiram Ferverda in her tree, Ancestry would use other people’s trees to “stitch them together” such that the tester is shown to be descended from a common ancestor with me. Sometimes these stitched trees are accurate and sometimes they are not, although they have improved since they were first released. I wrote about ThruLines here.

First Steps Ancestry ThruLines tree

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In closer generations, especially if you are looking to connect with cousins, tree matching is a very valuable tool. In the graphic above, you can see all of the cousins who descend from Hiram Ferverda who have tested and DNA match to me. These DNA matches to me either descend from Hiram according to their trees, or Ancestry believes they descend from Hiram based on other people’s trees.

With more distant ancestors, other people’s trees are increasingly likely to be copied with no sources, so take them with a very large grain of salt (perchance the entire salt lick.) I use ThruLines as hints, not gospel, especially the further back in time the common ancestor. I wish they reached back another couple of generations. They are great hints and they end with the 7th generation where my brick walls tend to begin!

23andMe

I haven’t mentioned 23andMe yet in this article. Genealogists do test there, especially adoptees who need to fish in every pond.

23andMe is often the 4th choice of the major 4 vendors for genealogy due to the following challenges:

  • No tree support, other than allowing you to link to a tree at FamilySearch or elsewhere. This means no tree matching.
  • Less than 2000 matches, meaning that every person is limited to a maximum of 2000 matches, minus however many of those 2000 don’t opt-in for genealogical matching. Given that 23andMe’s focus is increasingly health, my number of matches continues to decrease and is currently just over 1500. The good news is that those 1500 are my highest, meaning closest matches. The bad news is the genealogy is not 23andMe’s focus.

If you are an adoptee, a die-hard genealogist or specifically interested in ethnicity, then test at 23andMe. Otherwise all three of the other vendors would be better choices.

However, like the other vendors, 23andMe does have some features that are unique.

Their ethnicity predictions are acknowledged to be excellent. Ethnicity at 23andMe is called Ancestry Composition, and you’ll see that immediately when you sign in to your account.

First Steps 23andMe DNA Relatives.png

Your matches at 23andMe are found under DNA Relatives.

First Steps 23andMe tools

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At left, you’ll find filters and the search box.

Mom’s and Dad’s side filter matches if you’ve tested your parents, but it’s not like the Family Tree DNA bucketing that provides maternal and paternal side bucketing by utilizing through third cousins if your parents aren’t available for testing.

Family names aren’t your family names, but the top family names that match to you. Guess what my highest name is? Smith.

However, Ancestor Birthplaces are quite useful because you can sort by country. For example, my mother’s grandfather Ferverda was born in the Netherlands.

First Steps 23andMe country.png

If I click on Netherlands, I can see my 5 matches with ancestors born in the Netherlands. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I match because of my match’s Dutch ancestors, but it does provide me with a place to look for a common ancestor and I can proceed by seeing who I match in common with those matches. Unfortunately, without trees we’re left to rely on ancestor birthplaces and family surnames, if my matches have entered that information.

One of my Dutch matches also matches my Ferverda cousin. Given that connection, and that the Ferverda family immigrated from Holland in 1868, that’s a starting point.

MyHeritage has a similar features and they are much more prevalent in Europe.

By clicking on my Ferverda cousin, I can view the DNA we share, who we match in common, our common ethnicity and more. I have the option of comparing multiple people in the chromosome browser by clicking on “View DNA Comparison” and then selecting who I wish to compare.

First Steps 23andMe view DNA Comparison.png

By scrolling down instead of clicking on View DNA Comparison, I can view where my Ferverda cousin matches me on my chromosomes, shown below.

First STeps 23andMe chromosome browser.png

23andMe identifies completely identical segments which would be painted in dark purple, the legend at bottom left.

Adoptees love this feature because it would immediately differentiate between half and full siblings. Full siblings share approximately 25% of the exact DNA on both their maternal and paternal strands of DNA, while half siblings only share the DNA from one parent – assuming their parents aren’t closely related. I share no completely identical DNA with my Ferverda cousin, so no segments are painted dark purple.

23andMe and Ancestry Maps Show Where Your Matches Live

Another reason that adoptees and people searching for birth parents or unknown relatives like 23andMe is because of the map function.

After clicking on DNA Relatives, click on the Map function at the top of the page which displays the following map.

First Steps 23andMe map

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This isn’t a map of where your matches ancestors lived, but is where your matches THEMSELVES live. Furthermore, you can zoom in, click on the button and it displays the name of the individual and the city where they live or whatever they entered in the location field.

First Steps 23andMe your location on map.png

I entered a location in my profile and confirmed that the location indeed displays on my match’s maps by signing on to another family member’s account. What I saw is the display above. I’d wager that most testers don’t realize that their home location and photo, if entered, is being displayed to their matches.

I think sharing my ancestors’ locations is a wonderful, helpful, idea, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to know where I live and I feel it’s stalker-creepy and a safety risk.

First Steps 23andMe questions.png

If you enter a location in this field in your profile, it displays on the map.

If you test with 23andMe and you don’t want your location to display on this map to your matches, don’t answer any question that asks you where you call home or anything similar. I never answer any questions at 23andMe. They are known for asking you the same question repeatedly, in multiple locations and ways, until you relent and answer.

Ancestry has a similar map feature and they’ve also begun to ask you questions that are unrelated to genealogy.

Ancestry Map Shows Where Your Matches Live

At Ancestry, when you click to see your DNA matches, look to the right at the map link.

First Steps Ancestry map link.png

By clicking on this link, you can see the locations that people have entered into their profile.

First Steps Ancestry match map.png

As you can see, above, I don’t have a location entered and I am prompted for one. Note that Ancestry does specifically say that this location will be shown to your matches.

You can click on the Ancestry Profile link here, or go to your Personal Profile by click the dropdown under your user name in the upper right hand corner of any page.

This is important because if you DON’T want your location to show, you need to be sure there is nothing entered in the location field.

First Steps Ancestry profile.png

Under your profile, click “Edit.”

First Steps Ancestry edit profile.png

After clicking edit, complete the information you wish to have public or remove the information you do not.

First Steps Ancestry location in profile.png

Sometimes Your Answer is a Little More Complicated

This is a First Steps article. Sometimes the answer you seek might be a little more complicated. That’s why there are specialists who deal with this all day, everyday.

What issues might be more complex?

If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about these things for now. Just know when you run into something more complex or that doesn’t make sense, I’m here and so are others. Here’s a link to my Help page.

Getting Started

What do you need to get started?

  • You need to take a DNA test, or more specifically, multiple DNA tests. You can test at Ancestry or 23andMe and transfer your results to both Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, or you can test directly at all vendors.

Neither Ancestry nor 23andMe accept uploads, meaning other vendors tests, but both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA accept most file versions. Instructions for how to download and upload your DNA results are found below, by vendor:

Both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA charge a minimal fee to unlock their advanced features such as chromosome browsers and ethnicity if you upload transfer files, but it’s less costly in both cases than testing directly. However, if you want the MyHeritage DNA plus Health or the Family Tree DNA Y DNA or Mitochondrial DNA tests, you must test directly at those companies for those tests.

  • It’s not required, but it would be in your best interest to build as much of a tree at all three vendors as you can. Every little bit helps.

Your first tree-building step should be to record what your family knows about your grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles. Here’s what my first step attempt looked like. It’s cringe-worthy now, but everyone has to start someplace. Just do it!

You can build a tree at either Ancestry or MyHeritage and download your tree for uploading at the other vendors. Or, you can build the tree using genealogy software on your computer and upload to all 3 places. I maintain my primary tree on my computer using RootsMagic. There are many options. MyHeritage even provides free tree builder software.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage offer research/data subscriptions that provide you with hints to historical documents that increase what you know about your ancestors. The MyHeritage subscription can be tried for free. I have full subscriptions to both Ancestry and MyHeritage because they both include documents in their collections that the other does not.

Please be aware that document suggestions are hints and each one needs to be evaluated in the context of what you know and what’s reasonable. For example, if your ancestor was born in 1750, they are not included in the 1900 census, nor do women have children at age 70. People do have exactly the same names. FindAGrave information is entered by humans and is not always accurate. Just sayin’…

Evaluate critically and skeptically.

Ok, Let’s Go!

When your DNA results are ready, sign on to each vendor, look at your matches and use this article to begin to feel your way around. It’s exciting and the promise is immense. Feel free to share the link to this article on social media or with anyone else who might need help.

You are the cumulative product of your ancestors. What better way to get to know them than through their DNA that’s shared between you and your cousins!

What can you discover today?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Summer Sale at Family Tree DNA

Do you ever have one of those weeks when absolutely nothing goes right? Me too, and that’s why this week’s regular blog article isn’t ready and didn’t get published.

But Family Tree DNA just saved the day by announcing their summer sale which will last from now until the end of August. (How can it possibly be August already?)

Summer sale 2019

These are great prices on both new purchases, bundles AND upgrades. Seldom does everything go on sale at the same time.

Confused About Which Test to Take?

If you are uncertain about which kind of DNA you’d like to test and how the different tests work, now’s a great time to take a look at the newly revamped and updated article, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy. Feel free to share that (and this) article as well.

Sale Pricing!

Here’s a chart with the regular and sale prices for each product so you can see just how much you’re saving. Now’s a great time to order some kits to take to that family cookout or reunion!

Test Sale Price Regular Price Savings
Y37 $129 $169 $40
Y67 $199 $268 $69
Y111 $299 $359 $60
Big Y-700 $499 $649 $150
Family Finder $59 $79 $20
mtFull mitochondrial full sequence $149 $199 $50
       
Bundles      
Family Finder + Y37 $178 $248 $70
Family Finder + mtFull $198 $278 $80
Family Finder + Y67 + mtFull $387 $546 $159
Family Finder + Y111 + mtFull $487 $637 $150
Family Finder + Y37 + mtFull $317 $447 $130
Family Finder + Y67 $248 $347 $99
Family Finder + Y111 $348 $438 $90
Y37 + mtFull $268 $368 $100
Y67 + mtFull $338 $467 $129
Y111 + mtFull $438 $558 $120
       
Upgrades      
Y12 to Y37 $99 $109 $10
Y12 to Y67 $169 $199 $30
Y12 to Y111 $279 $359 $80
Y25 to Y37 $49 $59 $10
Y25 to Y67 $139 $159 $20
Y25 to Y111 $239 $269 $30
Y37 to Y67 $89 $109 $20
Y37 to Y111 $178 $228 $50
Y67 to Y111 $89 $99 $10
Y12 to Big Y-700 $489 $629 $140
Y25 to Big Y-700 $489 $599 $110
Y37 to Big Y-700 $459 $569 $110
Y67 to Big Y-700 $399 $499 $100
Y111 to Big Y-700 $349 $449 $100
Big Y-500 to Big Y-700 $229 $249 $20
mtDNA (HVR1) to mtFull $139 $159 $20
mtPlus (HVR1+HVR2) to mtFull $129 $159 $30

To purchase any of the tests, or upgrade, click on any link above, or here.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Your Mitochondrial DNA Journey – Free New Video at Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA released a cool new video for everyone who has taken the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test.

I signed in today and discovered this nice little gift.

mtDNA journey link.png

I clicked, and the first thing you do is to answer a few questions to generate your video.

After selecting a drawing of an avatar, you’ll move on to a couple of questions. Note that you cannot change your answers, so if you eventually want to share on social media, be sure the names and location is something you’ll be comfortable with.

mtDNA journey info.png

After you click submit, your video takes a few minutes to generate.

mtDNA journey generate.png

You’ll receive an e-mail when the video is ready.

mtDNA journey email.png

Now, just click on the very same link on your account.

mtDNA journey link

My video was 4 minutes+ in length and began by showing me how mitochondrial DNA is inherited.

mtDNA journey parents.png

Next, the video explains the concept of our ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve.

mtDNA journey mitochondrial eve.png

I must say, the speech is synthetic, and I chuckled every time I heard it say mitochondrial.

mtDNA journey haplogroup map.png

The video does a good job of describing the concept of a haplogroup, then proceeds to explain your base haplogroup – J in my case.

mtDNA journey haplogroup source.png

Next, your specific haplogroup, J1c2f for me, and where it’s found in the world.

mtDNA journey haplogroup specific.png

Hapogroup frequency is shown as well as the range, on a map.

mtDNA journey haplogroup range.png

One cool stop on your journey is your relationship to a notable figure, even if it’s distant.

mtdna journey notable.png

King Richard III, whose skeleton was found under a parking lot, also descends from haplogroup J. Who knew!!!

mtdna journey matches.png

The video provides some quick examples of how to understand your matches and explains mutations. My Swedish matches were really unexpected, given that my ancestor was found in Germany. There’s a story there waiting to be told!

mtDNA journey new match.png

Next, the video encourages people to sign in to view their matches when they receive match notification e-mails. Each match holds the promise of a new discovery.

mtDNA journey share.png

Last, you have an option to share your video with family and friends on social media.

mtDNA journey social media.png

Here I am on Facebook.

mtDNA journey on Facebook.png

Pretty cool.

The Great Thing About Mitochondrial DNA

The great thing about mitochondrial DNA is that results apply to several people in your family. You, your siblings, your mother and your mother’s siblings all share your maternal grandmother’s mitochondrial DNA – so the information is something that pertains to lots of people – not just you. Unlike autosomal tests, one of you can take a mitochondrial DNA test to represent everyone, so it’s a great value.

  • If you have taken the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test, just click here to sign in and generate your video.
  • If you’ve taken the HVR1 or HVR2 lower resolution test, you can upgrade to the full sequence by clicking on the upgrade button in your account and you’ll receive your video automatically when your full sequence results are ready.
  • If you haven’t yet tested your mitochondrial DNA, it’s the story of your matrilineal line – and it’s a great time to order your mitochondrial DNA test. Mine held surprises I’d never have guessed. Just recently I matched someone from the neighboring village to where my oldest known ancestor in that line lived in Germany in the 1600s. Her genealogy may help identify my ancestors too.

Click here to order.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

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.

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Mitochondrial DNA: Part 4 – Techniques for Doubling Your Useful Matches

This article is Part 4 of a series about mitochondrial DNA. I suggest you read these earlier articles in order before reading this one:

This article builds on the information presented in parts 1, 2 and 3.

Hellooooo – Is Anyone Home?

One of the most common complaints about ALL DNA matches is the lack of responses. When using Y DNA, which follows the paternal line directly, passed from father to son, hopefully along with the surname, you can often discern hints from your matches’ surnames.

Not so with mitochondrial DNA because the surname changes with each generation when the female marries. In fact, I often hear people say, “but I don’t recognize those names.” You won’t unless the match is from very recent generations and you know who the daughters married to the present generation.

Therefore, genealogists really depend on information from other genealogists when working with mitochondrial DNA.

Recently, I experimented at Family Tree DNA  to see what I could do to improve the information available. Family Tree DNA is the only vendor that provides full sequence testing combined with matching.

This exercise is focused on mitochondrial DNA matches, but you can use the same techniques for Y DNA as well. These are easy step-by-step instructions!

Let’s get started and see what you can do. You’ll be surprised. I was!

Your Personal Page at Family Tree DNA

mitochondrial personal page

On your personal page, under mtDNA, click on Matches.

Matches

You’ll be viewing your match list of the people who match you at some level.

You’ll see several fields on your match list that you’ll want to use. Many of the bullet points in this article refer to the fields boxed in red or red arrows.

mitochondrial matches

You can click this image to enlarge.

Let’s review why each piece of information is important.

  • Be sure you’re using viewing your matches for the HVR1, HVR2 and Coding region in the red box at the top. Those are your most relevant matches. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t also view your HVR1+HVR2 matches, and your HVR1 matches, because you literally never know what might be there. However, start with the HVR1+HVR2+Coding Region.
  • Focus on your Genetic Distance of 0 matches. Those are exact matches, meaning you have no mutations that don’t match each other. A genetic distance of 1 means that you have one mutation that doesn’t match each other. You can read about Genetic Distance here.
  • Be sure you’re looking at the match results for the entire data base or the project you want to be viewing. For example, if I’m a member of the Acadian AmerIndian project and have Acadian ancestry on my direct matrilineal line, knowing who I match within that project may be extremely beneficial, especially if I need to narrow my results to known Acadian families.
  • Look at the earliest known ancestor (EKA) information. Don’t just let your eyes gloss over it, really look at it. There may be secrets hidden here that are critical for solving your puzzle. The mother of Lydia Brown was discovered by a cousin recently after I had (embarrassingly) ignored an EKA in plain sight for years. You can read about that discovery here.
  • Click on the little blue pedigree icon on your match to view trees that go hand in hand with the earliest known ancestor (EKA) information. Some people provide more information in either the EKA or the tree, so be sure to look at both for hints.

mitochondrial tree

  • If your match’s pedigree icon is grey, they haven’t uploaded their tree. You can always drop them an email explaining how useful trees are and ask them if they will upload theirs.

Utilizing Other Resources

Many people don’t have both trees and an EKA at Family Tree DNA. Don’t hesitate to check Ancestry, MyHeritage or FamilySearch trees with the earliest known ancestor information your match provides if they don’t have a tree, or even if they do to expand their tree. We think nothing of building out trees for autosomal matches – do the same for your matches’ mitochondrial lines.

Finding additional information about someone’s ancestor is also a great ice-breaker for an email conversation. I mean, what genealogist doesn’t want information about their ancestors?

For example, if you match me and I’ve only listed my earliest known ancestor as Ellenore “Nora” Kirsch, you can go to Ancestry and search for her name where you will find several trees, including mine that includes several more generations. Most genealogists don’t limit themselves to one resource, testing company or tree repository.

mitochondrial ancestry tree

WikiTree includes a descendants link for each ancestor that provides a list of people who have DNA tested, including mtDNA. Here’s an example for my ancestor, Curtis B. Lore.

mitochondrial wiki tree

Unfortunately, no one from that line has tested their mitochondrial DNA, but looking at the descendants may provide me with some candidates that descend from his sisters through all females to the current generation, which can be male.

You can do that same type of thing at Geni if you have a tree by viewing that ancestor and clicking on “view a list of living people.”

mitochondrial Geni

While trees at FamilySearch, Ancestry and MyHeritage don’t tell you which lines could be tested for mitochondrial DNA, it’s not difficult to discern. Mitochondrial DNA is passed on by females to the current generation where males can test too – because they received their mitochondrial DNA from their mother.

Family Tree DNA Matches Profiles

Your matches’ profiles are a little used resource as many people don’t realize that additional information may be provided there. You can click on your match’s name to show their profile card.

mitochondrial profile

Be sure to check their “about me” section where I typed “test” as well as their email address which may give you a clue about where the match lives based on the extension. For example, .de is Germany and .se is Sweden.

You can also google their email address which may lead to old Rootsweb listings among other useful genealogical information.

Matches Map

mitochondrial matches map

Next, click on your Matches Map. Your match may have entered a geographical location for their earliest known ancestor. Beware of male names because sometimes people don’t realize the system isn’t literally asking for the earliest known ancestor of ANY line or the oldest ancestor on their mother’s side. The system is asking for the most distant known ancestor on the matrilineal line. A male name entered in this field invalidates the data, of course.

My Matches Map is incredibly interesting, especially since my EKA is from Germany in 1655.

mitochondrial Scandinavia

The white pin shows the location of my ancestor in Germany. The red pins are exact matches, orange are genetic distance of 1, yellow of 2 and so forth.

Note that the majority of my matches are in Scandinavia.

The first question you should be asking is if I’m positive of my genealogical research – and I am. I have proofs for every single generation. The question of paternity is not relevant to mitochondrial DNA, since the identity of the mother is readily apparent, especially in small villages of a few hundred people where babies are baptized by clergy who knows the families well.

Adoptions might be another matter of course, but adoptions as we know them have only taken place in the past hundred years or so. Generally, the child was still baptized with the parents’ names given before the 1900s. Who raised the child was another matter entirely.

Important Note: Your matches map location does NOT feed from your tree. You must go to the Matches Map page and enter that information at the bottom of that page. Otherwise your matches map location won’t show when viewed by your matches, and if they don’t do the same, theirs won’t show on your map.

mitochondrial ancestor location

Email

I KNOW nobody really wants to do this, but you may just have to email as a last resort. The little letter icon on your match’s profile sends an email, or you can find their email in their profile as well.

DON’T email an entire group of people at once as that’s perceived as spam and is unlikely to receive a response from anyone.

Compose a friendly email with a title something like “Mitochondrial DNA Match at Family Tree DNA to Susan Smith.” Many people manage several kits and if you provide identifying information in the title, you’re more likely to receive a response

I always provide my matches with some information too, instead of just asking for theirs.

Advanced Matching

mitochondrial advanced matches

Click on the advanced matching link at the bottom right of the mtDNA area on your personal page.

The Advanced Matches tool allows you to compare multiple types of tests. When looking at your match list, notice if your matches have also taken a Family Finder (FF) test. If so, then the advanced matching tool will show you who matches you on multiple types of tests, assuming you’ve taken the Family Finder test as well or transferred autosomal results to Family Tree DNA.

For example, Advanced Matches will show you who matches you on BOTH the mtDNA and the Family Finder tests. This is an important tool to help determine how closely you might be related to someone who matches you on a mitochondrial DNA test – although here is no guarantee that your autosomal match is through the same ancestor as your mitochondrial DNA match.

mitochondrial advanced matches filter

On the advanced matching page, select the tests you want to view, together, meaning you only want to see results for people who match you on BOTH TESTS. In this case, I’ve selected the full mitochondrial sequence (FMS) and the Family Finder, requested to show only people I match on both tests, and for the entire database. I could select a specific project that I’ve joined if I want to narrow the matches.

Note that if you don’t click the “yes” button you’ll see everyone you match on both tests INDIVIDUALLY, not together. So if you match 50 people on mtDNA and 1000 on Family Finder, you would show 1050 people, not the people who match you on BOTH tests, which is what you want. You might match a few or none on both tests.

Note that if you select “all mtDNA” that means you must match the person on the HVR1, HVR2 and coding region, all 3. That may not be at all what you want either. I select each one separately and run the report. So first, FMS and Family Finder, then HVR2 and Family Finder, etc.

When you’ve made your selection, click on the red button to run the report.

Family Finder Surnames

Another hint you might overlook is Family Finder surnames.

mitochondrial family finder surnames

Go to your Family Finder match list and enter the surname of your matches EKA in the search box to see if you match anyone with that same ancestor. Of course, if it’s Smith or Jones, I’m sorry.

mitochondrial family finder surname results

Entering Kirsch in my Family Finder match list resulting in discovering a match that has Kirsh from Germany in their surname list, but no tree. Using the ICW (in common with) tool, I can then look to see if they match known cousins from the Kirsch line in common with me.

Putting Information to Work

OK, now we’ve talked about what to do, so let’s apply this knowledge.

Your challenge is to go to your Full Sequence match page in the lower right hand corner and download your match list into a spreadsheet by clicking the CSV button.

mitochondrial csv

Column headings when downloaded will be:

  • Genetic Distance
  • Full Name
  • First Name
  • Middle Name
  • Last Name
  • Email
  • Earliest Known Ancestor
  • mtDNA Haplogroup
  • Match Date

I added the following columns:

  • Country
  • Location (meaning within the country)
  • Ancestral Surname
  • Year (meaning their ancestor’s birth/death year)
  • Map (meaning do they have an entry on the matches map)
  • Tree (do they have a tree)
  • Profile (did I check their profile and what did it say)
  • Comment (anything I can add)

This spreadsheet is now a useful tool.

Our goal is to expand this information in a meaningful way.

Data Mining Steps

Here are the steps in checklist format that you’ll complete for each match to fill in additional information on your spreadsheet.

  • EKA (earliest known ancestor)
  • Matches Map
  • Tree
  • Profile
  • Advanced matching
  • Family Finder surname list
  • Email, as a last resort
  • Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, WikiTree, Geni to search for information about their EKA

Doubling My Match Information

I began with 32 full sequence matches. Of those, 13 had an entry on the Matches Map and another 6 had something in the EKA field, but not on the Matches Map.

32 matches Map Additional EKA Nothing Useful
Begin 13 on Matches Map 6 but not mapped 13
End 29 remapped on Google 5 improved info 3

When I finished this exercise, only 3 people had no usable information (white rows), 29 could be mapped, and of the original 13 (red rows), 5 had improved information (yellow cells.)

mitochondrial spreadsheet

Please note that I have removed the names of my matches for privacy reasons, but they appear as a column on my original spreadsheet instead of the Person number.

Google Maps

I remapped my matches from the spreadsheet using free Google Maps.

mitochondrial Google maps

Purple is my ancestor. Red are the original Matches Map ancestors of my matches. Green are the new people that I can map as a result of the information gleaned.

The Scandinavian clustering is even more mystifying and stronger than ever.

Add History

Of course, there’s a story here to be told, but what is that story? My family records are found in Germany in 1655, and before that, there are no records, at least not where my ancestors were living.

Clearly, from this map and also from comparing the mutations of my matches that answered my emails, it’s evident that the migration path was from Scandinavia to Germany and not vice-versa.

How did my ancestor get from Scandinavia to Germany?

When and why?

Looking at German history, there’s a huge hint – the Thirty Years’ War which occurred from 1618-1648. During that war, much of Germany was entirely depopulated, especially the Palatinate.

Looking at where my ancestor was found in 1655 (purple pin), and looking at the Swedish troop movements, we see what may be a correlation.

mitochondrial Swedish troop movements

In the first few generations of church records, there were several illegitimate births and the mother was referred to as a servant woman.

It’s possible that my Scandinavian ancestor came along with the Swedish army and she was somehow left behind or captured.

The Challenge!

Now, it’s your turn. Using this article as a guideline, what can you find? Let me know in a comment. If you utilize additional resources I haven’t found, please mention those too!

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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

Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching

There have been a lot of questions recently about the methodology used by people searching for unknown parents and other unidentified individuals. I covered this technique in concept recently at a conference as part of an overview presentation. In this article, I’m addressing only this topic and in more detail.

What is the methodology that genealogists use to identify unknown parents? It’s exactly the same process used to identify unknown Does, meaning unidentified bodies as well as violent criminals who have left DNA, such as blood or semen, at a crime scene.

How is Identifying Unknown Individuals Different from Genealogy?

Genealogists are interested in discovering their ancestors. Generally, genealogists know who their parents are and most of the time, their grandparents as well. Not very many people can tell you the names of their great-grandparents off the top of their head – not unless they ARE genealogists😊

Genealogists interview family members and access family sources, such as photos, Bibles, boxes of memorabilia and often extend their family another generation or two using these resources. Then, to gather additional information, genealogists turn to publicly available sources such as:

Constructing a Tree

Genealogists utilize software to create trees of their ancestors, either on their own computers with software such as Family Tree Maker, Legacy, RootsMagic or the free tree building software from MyHeritage. They then either synchronize or duplicate their tree on the public sites mentioned above which provide functionality such as “hints” that point to documents relevant to the ancestors in their tree. Additionally, they can access the trees of other genealogists who are researching the same ancestors. This facilitates the continued growth of their tree by adding ancestors and extending the tree back generations.

While tree-building is the goal of genealogists, the trees they build are important tools for people seeking to identify unknown individuals.

The Tree

Generations tree

In my tree, shown in the format of a pedigree chart, above, you can see that I’ve identified all 16 of my great-great-grandparents. In reality, because I’ve been a genealogist for decades, I’ve identified many more of my ancestors which are reflected in my tree on my computer and in my trees at both Ancestry and MyHeritage where I benefit from hints and DNA matches.

Genealogical pedigree charts are typically represented with the “home person,” me, in this case at the base with my ancestors branching out behind them like a lovely peacock’s tail.

While I’m looking for distant ancestors, adoptees and others seeking the identities of contemporary people are not looking back generations, but seek to identify contemporary generations, meaning people who are alive or lived very recently, typically within a generation.

Enter the world of genetics and DNA matching.

Genetics, The Game Changing Tool

Before the days of DNA testing, adoptees could only hope that someone knew the identify of their biological parents, or that their biological parents registered with a reunion site, or that their court records could be opened.

DNA testing changed all of that, because people can now DNA test and find their close relatives. As more people test, the better the odds of actually having a parent or sibling match, or perhaps a close relative like an aunt, uncle or first cousin. My closest relative that has tested that I didn’t know was testing is my half-sister’s daughter.

You share grandparents with your first cousin, and since you only have 4 grandparents, it’s not terribly difficult to figure out which set of grandparents you connect to through that first cousin – especially given the size of the databases and the number of matches that people have today.

The chart below shows my matches as of June 2019.

Vendor

Total Matches

Second Cousin or Closer

Family Tree DNA

4,609

18

MyHeritage

9,644

14

23andMe

1,501

5

Ancestry

80,151

8

You can see that I have a total of 45 close matches, although some of those matches are duplicates of each other. However, each database has some people that are only in that database and have not tested at other companies or transferred to other databases.

Situations like this are exactly why people who are searching for unknown family members take DNA tests at all 4 of the vendors.

Stories were once surprising about people who tested and either discover a previously unknown close relative, or conversely discovered that they are not related to someone who they initially believed they were. Today these occurrences are commonplace.

Matches

If you’re searching for an unknown parent or close relative, you just might be lucky to receive a parental, sibling, half-sibling or uncle/aunt match immediately.

An estimated relationship range is provided by all vendors based on the amount of DNA that the tester shares with their match.

Generations Family Tree DNA matches

My mother’s match page at Family Tree DNA is shown above. You can see that I’m Mother’s closest match. My known half brother did not test before he passed away, and mother’s parents are long deceased, so my mother should NEVER have another match this close.

So, who is that person in row 2 that is also predicted to be a mother or daughter? I took a test at Ancestry and uploaded my results to Family Tree DNA for research purposes, so this is actually my own second kit, but for example purposes, I’ve renamed myself “Example Adoptee.” Judging from the photo here, apparently my “adopted” sibling was a twin😊

If the adoptee tested at Family Tree DNA, she would immediately see a sibling match (me) and a parent match (Mom.) A match at that cM (centiMorgan) level can only be a parent or a child, and the adoptee knows whether she has a child or not.

Let’s look at a more distant example, which is probably more “typical” than immediately finding a parent match.

Let’s say that the “male adoptee” at the bottom in the red box is also searching for his birth family. He matches my mother at the 2nd-3rd cousin level, so someplace in her tree are his ancestors too.

People who have trees are shown with gold boxes around the tiny pedigree icons, because they literally are trees of gold.

Because of Family Tree DNA’s “bucketing” tool, the software has already told my Mother that the male adoptee is a match on her father’s side of her tree. The adoptee can click on the little pedigree icon to view the trees of his matches to view their ancestors, then engage in what is known as “tree triangulation” with his other close matches.

From the Perspective of the Adoptee

An adoptee tests not knowing anything about their ancestors.

Generations adoptee

When their results come back, the adoptee, in the red box in the center, hoping to identify their biological parents, discovers that their closest matches are the testers in the pink and blue ovals.

The adoptee does NOT know that these people are related to each other at this point, only that these 7 people are their closest matches on their match list.

The adoptee has to put the rest of the story together like a puzzle.

Who Matches Each Other?

In our scenario, test takers 2, 3 and 8 don’t match the adoptee, so the adoptee will never know they tested and vice versa. Everyone at a second cousin level will match each other, but only some people will match at more distant relationships, according to statistics published by 23andMe:

Relationship Level

Percentage of People Who Match

Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, half siblings, half aunts/uncles and 1st cousins

100%

2nd cousins

>99%

3rd cousins

90%

4th cousins

45%

5th cousins

15%

6th cousins and more distant

<5%

You can view a detailed chart with additional relationships here.

Tree Triangulation

By looking at the individual trees of test taker 1, 4 and 5 whom they match, the adoptee notices that John and Jane Doe are common ancestors in the trees of all 3 test takers. The adoptee may also use “in common with” tools provided by each vendor to see who they match “in common with” another tester. In this case, let’s say that test taker 1, 4 and 5 also match each other, so the adoptee would also make note of that, inferring correctly that they are members of the same family.

The goal is to identify a common ancestor of a group of matches in order to construct the ancestor’s tree, not a pedigree chart backwards in time, as with genealogy, but to construct a descendants’ tree from the ancestral couple to the current day, as completely as possible. After all, the goal is to identify the parent of the adoptee who descends from the common ancestor.

Generations adoptee theory

In this case, the adoptee realized that the pink test takers descended from John and Jane Doe, and the blue test takers descended from Walter and Winnie Smith, and constructed descendant trees of both couples.

The adoptee created a theory, based on the descendants of these two ancestral couples, incorporating other known facts, such as the year when the adoptee was born, and where.

In our example, the adoptee discovered that John and Jane Doe had another daughter, Juanita, whose descendants don’t appear to have tested, and that Juanita had a daughter who was in the right place at the right time to potentially be the mother of the adoptee.

Conversely, Walter and Winnie Smith had a son whose descendants also appear to have not tested, and he had a son who lived in the same place as Juanita Doe. In other words, age, opportunity and process of elimination all play a role in addition to DNA matches. DNA is only the first hint that must be followed up by additional research.

At this point, if the adoptee has taken either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, those results can serve to either include or exclude some candidates at Family Tree DNA. For example, if the adoptee was a male and matched the Y DNA of the Smith line, that would be HUGE hint.

From this point on, an adoptee can either wait for more people to test or can contact their matches hoping that the matches will have information and be helpful. Keep in mind that all the adoptee has is a theory at this point and they are looking to refine their theory or create a new one and then to help narrow their list of parent candidates.

Fortunately, there are tools and processes to help.

What Are the Odds?

One helpful tool to do this is the WATO, What Are the Odds statistical probability tools at DNAPainter.

Using WATO, you create a hypothesis tree as to how the person whose connection you are seeking might be related, plugging them in to different tree locations, as shown below.

Generations WATO

This is not the same example as Smith and Doe, above, but a real family puzzle being worked on by my cousin. Names are blurred for privacy, of course.

Generations WATO2

WATO then provides a statistical analysis of the various options, with only one of the above hypothesis being potentially viable based on the level of DNA matching for the various hypothetical relationships.

DNAPainter Shared cM Tool

If your eyes are glazing over right about now with all of these numbers flying around, you’re not alone.

I’ll distill this process into individual steps to help you understand how this works, and why, starting with another tool provided by DNAPainter, the Shared cM tool that helps you calculate the most likely relationship with another person.

The more closely related you are to a person, the more DNA you will share with them.

DNAPainter has implemented this tool based on the results of Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project where you can enter the amount of DNA that you share with someone to determine the “best fit” relationship, on average, plus the range of expected shared DNA.

Generations DNAPainter Shared cM Project

You, or the test taker, are in the middle and the relationship ranges surround “you.”

For example, you can clearly see that the number of cMs for my Example Adoptee at 3384 is clearly in the Parent or Child range. But wait, it could also be at the very highest end of a half sibling relationship. Other lower cM matches are less specific, so another feature of the DNAPainter tool is a life-saver.

At the top of the page, you can enter the number of matching cMs and the tool will predict the most likely results, based on probability.

Generations 3384

The relationship for 3384 cMs is 100% a parent/child relationship, shown above, but the sibling box is highlighted below because 3384 is the very highest value in the range. This seems to be a slight glitch in the tool. We can summarize by saying that it would be extremely, extremely rare for a 3384 cM match to be a full sibling instead of a parent or child. Hen’s teeth rare.

Generations parent child

Next, let’s look at 226 cM, for our male adoptee which produces the following results:

Generations 226

The following chart graphically shows the possible relationships. The “male adoptee” is actually Mom’s second cousin. This tool is quite accurate.

Generations 226 chart

Now that you’ve seen the tools in action, let’s take a look at the rest of the process.

The Steps to Success

The single biggest predictor of success identifying an unknown person is the number of close matches. Without relatively close matches, the process gets very difficult quickly.

What constitutes a close match and how many close matches do adoptees generally have to work with?

If an adoptee matches someone at a 2nd or 3rd cousin level, what does that really mean to them?

I’ve created the following charts to answer these questions. By the way, this information is relevant to everyone, not just adoptees.

In the chart below, you can view different relationships in the blue legs of the chart descending from the common ancestral couple.

In this example, “You” and the “Other Tester” match at the 4th cousin level sharing 35 cM of DNA. If you look “up” the tree a generation, you can see that the parents of the testers match at the 3rd cousin level and share 74 cM of DNA, the grandparents of the testers match at the 2nd cousin level and share 223 cM of DNA and so forth.

Generations relationship table

In the left column, generations begin being counted with your parents as generation 1. The cumulative number of direct line relatives you have at each generation is shown in the “# Grandparents” column.

Generations relationship levels

Here’s how to read this chart, straight across.

Viewing the “Generation” column, at the 4th generation level, you have 16 great-great-grandparents. Your great-great-grandparent is a first cousin to the the great-great-grandparent of your 4th cousin. Their parents were siblings.

Looking at it this way, it might not seem too difficult to reassemble the descendancy tree of someone 5 generations in the past, but let’s look at it from the other perspective meaning from the perspective of the ancestral couple.

Generations descendants

Couples had roughly 25 years of being reproductively capable and for most of history, birth control was non-existent. If your great-great-great-grandparents, who were born sometime near the year 1800 (the births of mine range from 1785 to 1810) had 5 children who lived, and each of their descendants had 5 children who lived, today each ancestral couple would have 3,125 descendants.

If that same couple had 10 children and 10 lived in each subsequent generation, they would have 100,000 descendants. Accuracy probably lies someplace in-between. That’s still a huge number of descendants for one couple.

That’s JUST for one couple. You have 32 great-great-great-grandparents, or 16 pairs, so multiply 16 times 3,125 for 50,000 descendants or 100,000 times 16 for…are you ready for this…1,600,000 descendants.

Descendants per GGG-grandparent couple at 5 generations Total descendants for 16 GGG-grandparent couples combined
5 children per generation 3,125 50,000
10 children per generation 100,000 1,600,000

NOW you understand why adoptees need to focus on only close matches and why distant matches at the 3rd and 4th cousin level are just too difficult to work with.

By contrast, let’s look at the first cousin row.

Generations descendants 1C.png

At 5 descendants per generation, you’ll have 25 first cousins or 100 first cousins at 10 descendants per generation.

Generations descendants 2C

At second cousins, you’ll have 125 and 1,000 – so reconstructing these trees down to current descendants is still an onerous task but much more doable than from the third or fourth cousin level, especially in smaller families.

The Perfect Scenario

Barring a fortuitous parent or sibling match, the perfect scenario for adoptees and people seeking unknown individuals means that:

  • They have multiple 1st or 2nd cousin matches making tree triangulation to a maternal and paternal group of matches to identify the common ancestors feasible.
  • Their matches have trees that allow the adoptee to construct theories of how they might fit into a family.

Following the two steps above, when sufficient matching and trees have been assembled, the verification steps begin.

  • Adoptees hope that their matches are responsive to communications requesting additional information to either confirm or refute their relationship theory. For example, my mother could tell the male adoptee that he is related on her father’s side of the family based on Family Tree DNA‘s parental “side” assignment. Based on who else the adoptee matches in common with mother, she could probably tell him how he’s related. That information would be hugely beneficial.
  • In a Doe situation where the goal is to identify remains, with a relatively close match, the investigator could contact that match and ask if they know of a missing family member.
  • In a law enforcement situation where strong close-family matches that function as hints lead to potential violent crime suspects, investigators could obtain a piece of trash discarded by the potential suspect to process and compare to the DNA from the crime scene, such as was done in the Golden State Killer case.

If the discarded DNA doesn’t match the crime scene DNA, the person is exonerated as a potential suspect. If the discarded DNA does match the crime scene DNA, investigators would continue to gather non-DNA evidence and/or pick the suspect up for questioning and to obtain a court ordered DNA sample to compare to the DNA from the crime scene in a law enforcement database.

Sometimes DNA is a Waiting Game

I know that on the surface, DNA matching for adoptees and unknown persons sounds simple, and sometimes it is if there is a very close family match.

More often than not, trying to identify unknown persons, especially if the tester doesn’t have multiple close matches is much like assembling a thousand-piece puzzle with no picture on the front of the box.

Sometimes simply waiting for a better match at some point in the future is the only feasible answer. I waited years for my brother, Dave’s family match. You can read his story here and here.

DNA is a waiting game.

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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.

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Exciting New Y DNA Haplogroup D Discoveries!

Haplogroup D is a very old branch of Y-DNA that has remained rather mysterious. It has been uncertain where haplogroup D was born – in Africa, Asia or elsewhere – and when. It’s always fascinating when new research sheds light on the early history of humanity – discovered through people living and testing today.

In the current issue of Genetics, the article A Rare Deep-Rooting African Y-chromosomal Haplogroup and its Implications for the Expansion of Modern Humans Out of Africa by Haber et al appeared.

Their abstract:

Present-day humans outside Africa descend mainly from a single expansion out ∼50,000-70,000 years ago, but many details of this expansion remain unclear, including the history of the male-specific Y chromosome at this time. Here, we re-investigate a rare deep-rooting African Y-chromosomal lineage by sequencing the whole genomes of three Nigerian men described in 2003 as carrying haplogroup DE* Y-chromosomes, and analyzing them in the context of a calibrated worldwide Y-chromosomal phylogeny. We confirm that these three chromosomes do represent a deep-rooting DE lineage, branching close to the DE bifurcation, but place them on the D branch as an outgroup to all other known D chromosomes, and designate the new lineage D0. We consider three models for the expansion of Y lineages out of Africa ∼50,000-100,000 years ago, incorporating migration back to Africa where necessary to explain present-day Y-lineage distributions. Considering both the Y-chromosomal phylogenetic structure incorporating the D0 lineage, and published evidence for modern humans outside Africa, the most favored model involves an origin of the DE lineage within Africa with D0 and E remaining there, and migration out of the three lineages (C, D and FT) that now form the vast majority of non-African Y chromosomes. The exit took place 50,300-81,000 years ago (latest date for FT lineage expansion outside Africa – earliest date for the D/D0 lineage split inside Africa), and most likely 50,300-59,400 years ago (considering Neanderthal admixture).

Haplogroup DE was and is very rare. Because of its rarity, and that it had initially been reported in one man from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa and two Tibetans, it was unclear where DE originated, or when.

This new paper sequenced three men from Africa and five from Tibet.

D Splits

The result of the paper is that the authors confirm that the DE lineage split consists of three branches:

  • E which is “mainly African” which we’ve known for a long time
  • D0 which is exclusively African with the 3 Nigerian samples being within 2500 years of each other
  • D which is exclusively non-African

To calibrate the branch length between any two samples when calculating split times, the authors multiplied the number of derived variants (mutations) found in the first sample but absent from the record, meaning previously unknown.

In supplementary table S2, they recalculate the splits between the various haplogroups. I found the table confusing to read, so I reached out to Goran Runfeldt who heads the scientific research team at Family Tree DNA to make this simpler.

I knew from previous discussions with the team that they had split the haplogroup D line internally to reflect a new branch at the time they named D-FT75 and subsequently D-FT76, and they were waiting for verification from multiple tests before splitting the line further.

Haplogroup D root and split

On the Family Tree DNA block tree, above, you can see the D split between D-F974 which is the main haplogroup D root (navy blue) which then splits into D-M174 which is the old line referred to as Haplogroup D, and the new D0/D2/D-FT75 lineage, both in lighter blue. You can see the public tree, here.

Goran explained that Family Tree DNA has actually found multiple lineages in what the authors call D0, which ISOGG calls D2 and Family Tree DNA refers to by the defining SNP as D-FT75.

If you’re like me, looking at this information in pedigree format is easier to comprehend.

I asked Goran and Big Y haplotree guru, Michael Sager if they could create something easy to understand. You can see them working together in this photo. Thanks guys!

Goran Runfeldt and Michael Sager

The Haplogroup D Tree

Note that the following graphic is NOT TO TIME SCALE. Currently tested, unplaced and and pending samples are at the bottom.

Haplogroup D Family Tree DNA diagram

In the chart above, haplogroups in red at the top are the base haplogroups, not refined by the paper. Green is the already known upper structure of haplogroup D. Tan is the haplogroup D structure being refined by Family Tree DNA. The blue group is the Nigerian structure from the paper.

Divergence times as quoted in the paper are noted. For example, the time between the split between CT and BT, according to the paper, is approximately 101.1 thousand years ago. (kya means thousands of years ago)

How the D-FT75 Branch was Discovered

At the end of 2018, Family Tree DNA published the first SNPs from the new haplogroup D lineage to the ISOGG SNP index. During 2019, additional SNPs have been added, including the new haplogroup D lines of D-FT75 and D-FT76.

I asked Michael Sager how he made that discovery.

When a customer purchases an STR test, if Family Tree DNA cannot reliably predict a haplogroup, they will run a backbone test, at no additional charge to the customer, to test enough SNPs to at least call a base level haplogroup, such as R-M269.

In this case, Family Tree DNA ran a backbone test on a customer’s Y DNA and the result came back as something Michael had never seen before – haplogroup CT, but no subgroup. As you’ve already noticed, haplogroup CT is far up the tree and Michael needed more information.

Michael said that he knew the only possible options were:

  • CT* – where star means there is no subgroup. An individual with no CT subgroup has never been found, to date
  • A lineage that breaks CT into a further haplogroup
  • Haplogroup DE*
  • A lineage that breaks haplogroup DE into further branches
  • A lineage that breaks haplogroup D into further branches
  • A lineage that breaks haplogroup E into further branches

After the backbone results were returned, Family Tree DNA contacted the customer and asked permission to run a Big Y test. The result was the discovery and naming of D-FT75 and D-FT76 which split D, twice, into new subgroups.

Further testing has verified the haplogroup D-FT76 finding in another Saudi Arabian male. Two additional haplogroup D males have results pending – one from Syria and one from another part of the world.

We now know that indeed the new branch of D, D0/D2/D-F75 has been found outside Africa, specifically in Saudi Arabia. It’s possible that there are more than two distinct lineages. We’ll know more as pending results come back from the lab.

However, what can be added is that according to the paper, the age of haplogroup D to the Nigerian samples is 71,400 years. The Family Tree DNA calculations based on the total number of 702 SNPs at 100 years per SNP suggest that the age is 70,200, which is very close to the 71,400 age in the paper. Additionally, because of the haplogroup FT75 and FT76 split, we can estimate the age of the divergence of those two lines with 261 SNPs between them at between 26,000 and 26,500 years, using these two calculation methods.

To quote Michael Sager, it’s “pretty neat to find a 20,000+-year-old NEW branch off of a 70,000+-year-old NEW branch.” I’d certainly agree!

Family Tree DNA would also like to place the Nigerian samples precisely on the tree.

In the supplemental data, the paper provided a list of the HG19 SNPs that are positive, including the positions for both D-FT75 and D-FT76, but did not list the SNPs that were negative. In order for Family Tree DNA to assign the Nigerian samples from the paper precisely to a branch, they need the BAM file because they need to see positive, negative and no-call SNPs. Family Tree DNA would also need to convert the results from build HG19, used by the authors, to current HG38.

What About You?

If you’re a male and have taken a Y STR test, meaning the 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 marker test and you do not have a predicted haplogroup, please contact support at Family Tree DNA.

The best thing you can do, if you haven’t Y DNA tested, is to actually take a Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA. You can start out with the STR marker test which provides you with STR marker results, matching to other males and a haplogroup prediction.

Many individuals also purchase the Big Y-700 test which provides a very granular haplogroup – the most detailed possible, matching and at least 700 STR marker results – in addition to revealing never before discovered SNPs. Without the Big Y test, D-FT75 and D-FT76 and most of the 150,000 Y SNPs would not yet be discovered. This is the only test that can make new discoveries like this.

To summarize, you can be a part of scientific discovery if you’re a male (only males have Y chromosomes) by either:

  • Testing your Y DNA by taking a 37, 67 or 111 marker test
  • Ordering or upgrading to the Big Y-700 test

You can click here to order or upgrade.

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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

DNA Testing the Recently Deceased

No one really want to think about this, but it happens.

You’ve always meant to DNA test someone, and they’ve agreed, but either you didn’t order the kit, or the kit is far away from where they passed away.

What can you do?

Take heart, all is not lost. You have two options.

Swabbing the dead

Swabbing the Deceased

Some funeral homes work with companies for DNA preservation and other services, but these services do not provide you with genealogy results from any of the major vendors and are processed by the lab associated with the company whose kit the funeral home is selling.

For genealogy, you have two options.

  1. Call Family Tree DNA (713-868-1438 9-5 CST) and have them overnight you a swab kit. The funeral director can swab the inside of their cheek and generally, funeral directors do a great job. You may want to ask for extra vials to be included in the overnight package, just in case. This is your last (and only) chance.
  2. If you don’t have time or aren’t in a location where you can receive an overnight delivery, purchase an Identigene paternity test kit at any CVS or similar drugstore. That kit will cost you about $27 for the kit alone, but the kit contains sterile swabs and a sterile pouch for inserting the swabs after swabbing the inside of the cheek. DO NOT SEND THE SWABS TO IDENTIGENE. Instead, call Family Tree DNA and explain that you are sending the Identigene swabs to their lab for processing. They will provide you with instructions and you must obtain approval before sending non-standard swabs for processing.

Caveats and Alternatives

  • Cheek swabbing must occur before embalming because embalming fluid interferes with DNA processing, per Dr. Connie Bormans, lab director at GenebyGene.
  • Per my friendly mortician, if you’re desperate and embalming has occurred, another area where some have achieved swabbing success is the crease behind the ear lobe where skin cells tend to become trapped if the body has not already been cleaned in that area. At this point, you have nothing to lose by trying.
  • Please note that sometimes “overnight” is not actually overnight. I attempted to overnight something across the Memorial Day weekend and “overnight” in that case was actually Friday to Tuesday for all carriers. If you are in a pickle, be aware of delivery constraints surrounding weekends, holidays and perhaps a very remote location.

Ordering

After the kit is returned to Family Tree DNA for processing, you can order the regular suite of tests. I would suggest that you order all the tests you actually want initially, because the quantity and/or quality of the DNA sample may be questionable.

In other words, later upgrades may not be successful. I had that situation occur with my aunt’s mitochondrial DNA test results. The initial mtPlus test was successful, but her sample could not be upgraded to either the mitochondrial full sequence or Family Finder.

Three Data Bases in One Test

While you can’t obtain a spit sample from a deceased person for other autosomal tests, you can transfer the person’s autosomal DNA results to both GedMatch and MyHeritage for additional matching after processing.

Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in this difficult situation, but if you do, you have options.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Mitochondrial DNA: Part 3 – Haplogroups Unraveled

This is the third article in a series about mitochondrial DNA.

The first two articles are:

This third article focuses on haplogroups. They look so simple – a few letters and numbers – but haplogroups are a lot more sophisticated than they appear and are infinitely interesting!

What can you figure out about yours and what secrets will it reveal? Let’s find out!

What is a Haplogroup?

A haplogroup is a designation that you can think of as your genetic clan reaching far back in time.

My mitochondrial haplogroup is J1c2f, and I’ll be using this as an example throughout these articles.

The description of a haplogroup is the same for both Y and mitochondrial DNA, but the designations and processes of assigning haplogroups are different, so the balance of this article only refers to mitochondrial DNA haplogroups.

Where Did I Come From?

Every haplogroup has its own specific history.

mitochondrial migration map link.png

Looking at my DNA Migration Map at Family Tree DNA, I can see the path that haplogroup J took out of Africa.

mitochondrial migration map j.png

This map is interactive on your personal page, so you can view your or any other haplogroup highlighted on the map.

mitochondrial frequency map J.png

On the frequency tab of the Migration Map, you can view the frequency of your haplogroup in any specific location.

mitochondrial results tab

On my Results tab, I’m provided with this information:

The mitochondrial haplogroup J contains several sub-lineages. The original haplogroup J originated in the Near East approximately 50,000 years ago. Within Europe, sub-lineages of haplogroup J have distinct and interesting distributions. Haplogroup J1 is found distributed throughout Europe, from Britain to Iberia and along the Mediterranean coast. This widespread distribution strongly suggests that haplogroup J1 was part of the Neolithic spread of agriculture into Europe from the Near East beginning approximately 10,000 years ago.

Stepping-Stones back in Time

The haplogroup designation itself is a stepping-stone back in time.

Looking at my full haplogroup, J1c2f, we see 5 letters or numbers.

The first letter, J, is my base haplogroup, and each letter or digit after that will be another step forward in time from the “mother” haplogroup J.

Therefore, 1 is a major branch of haplogroup J, c is a smaller branch sprouting off of J1, 2 is a branch off of J1c, and f is the last leaf, at least for now.

Ages

In the supplementary data for the article, A “Copernican” Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root, by Doron M Behar et al, published in the Journal of Human Genetics on April 6, 2012, he provides age estimates for the various haplogroups and subhaplogroups identified at that time.

My haplogroup breakdown is shown below.

Haplogroup

Time Estimate (Years) SD (standard deviation in years)
J 34,258.3 4886.2
J1 26,935.1 5272.9
J1c 13,072.3 1919.3
J1c2 9762.5 2010.7
J1c2f 1926.7

3128.6

  • Time estimate means how long ago this haplogroup was “born,” meaning when that haplogroup’s defining mutation(s) occurred.
  • SD, standard deviation, can be read as the range on either side of the time estimate, with the time estimate being the “most likely.” Based on this, the effective range for the birth of haplogroup J is 29,372.1 – 39,144.5. In some of the most current haplogroups, like J1c2f, the lowest age range is a negative number, which obviously can’t happen. This sometimes occurs with statistical estimates.

The first question you’re going to ask is how can these age estimates be so precise? The answer is that these are statistical calculations – because we can’t travel back in time.

What Came Before J?

Clearly J is not Mitochondrial Eve, so what came before J?

In the paper announcing the latest version (Build 17) of the Phylotree by van Oven, meaning the haplotree for mitochondrial DNA, this pedigree style tree was drawn to show the backbone plus 25 subtrees.

mitochondrial Build 17 tree.png

Haplogroup J descended from JT, fourth from right on the bottom right.

The MRCA, most recent common ancestor at the root of the tree would be the RSRS (Reconstructed Sapiens Reference Sequence), known colloquially as Mitochondrial Eve.

Branches and Names

Haplogroups were named in the order they were discovered, using the alphabet, A-Z (except O). Branches are indicated by subsequent numbers and letters. Build 17 of the phylogenetic tree includes 5437 branches, increasing from 4809 in build 16.

Occasionally branches are sawed off and reconnected elsewhere, which sometimes plays havoc with the logical naming structure because they are renamed completely on the new branch. This happened when haplogroup A4 was retired in Build 17 and is now repositioned on the tree as haplogroup A1. I wrote about this in the article, Family Tree DNA’s Mitochondrial Haplotree.

It’s easier to see the branching tree structure if you look at the public mitochondrial haplotree on the Family Tree DNA website. Scroll to the very bottom of the main Family Tree DNA page, here, and click on mtDNA haplotree.

Mitochondrial mtDNA haplotree.png

You can search for your haplogroup name and track your ancestral haplogroups back in time.

mitochondrial J1c2f search.png

J1c2f is shown below on the tree, with haplogroup J at the top.

mitochondrial J1c2f tree

Click to enlarge

Where in the World?

Whether you’ve tested at Family Tree DNA or not, you can view this tree and you can see the location of the earliest known ancestor of people who have tested, agreed to sharing and have been assigned to your haplogroup.

You can mouse over the little flag icons or click on the 3 dots to the right for a country report.

mitochondrial country.png

The country report details the distribution of  the earliest known ancestors where people on that branch, and those with further subbranches are found.

mitochondrial country report J1c2f

You can click to enlarge the image.

J1c2f is the lowest leaf on this branch of the tree, for now, so there is no difference in the columns.

However, if we look at the country report for haplogroup J1c2, the immediate upstream haplogroup above J1c2f, you can see the differences in the columns showing people who are members of haplogroup J1c2 and also downstream branches.

Mitochondrial country report J1c2

Click to enlarge the image.

I wrote more about how to use the new public tree here.

Haplogroup Assignment Process

There’s a LOT of confusion about haplogroup assignments, and how they are generated.

First, the official mitochondrial tree is the Phylotree, here. Assigning new haplogroups isn’t cut and dried, nor is it automated today. The Phylotree has been the defacto location for multiple entities to combine their information, uploading academic samples to GenBank, a repository utilized by Phylotree for all researchers to use in the classification efforts. You can read more about GenBank here. Prior to Phylotree, each interested entity was creating their own names and the result was chaotic confusion.

Individuals who test at Family Tree DNA can contribute their results, a process I’ll cover in a future article.

The major criteria for haplogroup assignments are:

  • Three non-familial sequences that match exactly. Family mutations are considered “private mutations” at this time.
  • Avoidance of regions that are likely to be unstable (such as 309, 315 and others,) preferably using coding region locations which are less likely to mutate.
  • Evaluating whether transitions, transversions and reversions are irrelevant events to haplogroup assignment, or whether they are actually a new branch. I covered transitions, transversions and reversions here.

Periodically, the Phylotree is updated. The current version is Build 17, which I wrote about here.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

While change and scientific progress is a good thing, it also creates havoc for the vendors.

For each vendor to update your haplogroup, they have to redo their classification algorithm behind the scenes, of course, then rerun their entire customer database against the new criteria. That’s a huge undertaking.

In IT terms, haplogroups are calculated and stored one time for each person, not calculated every time you access your information. Therefore, to change that data, a recalculation program has to be run against millions of accounts, the information stored again and updating any other fields or graphics that require updating as a result. This is no trivial feat and is one reason why some vendors skip Phylotree builds.

When you’re looking at haplogroups at different vendors, it’s important to find the information on your pages there that identify which build they are using.

Vendors who only test a few locations in order to assign a base or partial haplogroup may find themselves in a pickle. For example, if a new Phylotree build is released that now specifies a mutation at a location that the vendor hasn’t tested, how can they upgrade to the new build version? They can’t, or at least not completely accurately.

This is why full sequence testing is critically important.

Haplogroup Defining Mutations

Build 17 example

Using the Build 17 table published by Family Tree DNA that identifies the mutations required to assign an individual to a specific haplogroup or subhaplogroup, you can determine why you were assigned to a specific haplogroup and subgroups.

Mutations in Different Haplogroups are Not Equal

What you can’t do is to take mutations out of haplogroup context for matching.

Let’s say that someone in haplogroup H and haplogroup J both have a mutation at location G228A.

mitochondrial mutation comparison.png

That does NOT mean these two people match each other genealogically. It means that the two different branches of the mitochondrial tree, haplogroup J and haplogroup H individually developed the same mutation, by chance, over time. In other words, parallel, disconnected mutations.

It may mean that both individuals simply happen to have the same personal mutations, or, it could mean that eventually these values could become haplogroup defining for a new branch in one or the other haplogroup.

How Common Are Parallel Mutations?

From the Build 17 paper again, this table shows us the top recurrent mutations after excluding insertions, deletions and location 16519. We see that 197 different branches of the tree have mutation T152C. My branch is one of those 197.

Mitochondrial build 17 mutation frequency.png

I think you can see, with location T152C being found in 197 different branches of the Pylotree why the only meaningful match between two people is within specific haplogroup subclades.

Within a haplogroup, this means that two people match on T152C PLUS all of the upstream haplogroup defining markers. Outside of a haplogroup, it’s just a chance parallel mutation in both lines.

Therefore, if another person in haplogroup J1c2f and I match a mutated value at the same location, that could be a very informative piece of genealogical information.

Partial and Full Haplogroups

Some vendors, such as 23andMe and LivingDNA provide customers with partial haplogroups as a part of their autosomal offering.

Family Tree DNA (full haplogroup) 23andMe LivingDNA
J1c2f J1c2 J1c

23andMe and LivingDNA provide partial haplogroups because they are not testing all of the 16,569 locations of the mitochondrial DNA. They are using scan technology on a chip that also processes autosomal DNA, so the haplogroup assignment is basically an “extra” for the consumer. Each chip location they use for mitochondrial (or Y) DNA testing for haplogroups is one less location that can be used for autosomal testing.

Therefore, these companies utilize what is known as target testing. In essence, they test for the main mutations that allow them to classify people into major haplogroups. For example, you can see that LivingDNA tests the mutations through the J1c level, but not to J1c2, and 23andMe tests to J1c2 but not J1c2f. If they tested further, my haplogroup designation would be J1c2f, not J1c or J1c2.

For full sequence testing, complete haplogroup designation and matching, I need to test at Family Tree DNA. They are the only vendor that provides the complete package.

Matching

mitochondrial matches link.png

Family Tree DNA provides matching of customer results. Consumers can purchase the mtPlus product, which tests only the HVR1/HVR2 portion of the mitochondria, or the mtFull product which tests the entire mitochondria. I recommend the mtFull.

In addition to haplogroup information, customers receive a list of people who match them on their mitochondrial sequence.

mitochondrial matches result

Click to enlarge

Matches with genealogical information allow customers to make discoveries such as this location information, provided by Lucille, above:

mitochondrial villages map.png

Lucille’s earliest known ancestor, according to her tree, is found just 12.6 km, or 7.8 miles from the tiny German village where my ancestor was found in the late 1600s.

Of course, matching isn’t provided in the 23andMe and LivingDNA databases, so we can’t tell who we do and don’t match genealogically, but haplogroups alone are not entirely useless and can provide great clues.

Haplogroups Alone

Haplogroups alone can be utilized to include or eliminate people for further scrutiny to identify descendancy on a particular line.

mitochondrial advanced matches link.png

For example, at Family Tree DNA, I can utilize the advanced matching tool to determine whether I match anyone on both the Family Finder autosomal test AND on any of the mitochondrial DNA tests.

mitochondrial advanced matches

Click to enlarge

My match on both tests, Ms. Martha, above, has not tested at the full sequence level, so she won’t be shown as a match there. It’s possible that were she to upgrade that we would also match at the full sequence level. It’s also possible that we wouldn’t. Even an exact mitochondrial match doesn’t indicate THAT’s the line you’re related on autosomally, but it does not eliminate that line and may provide useful clues.

If my German match, Lucille and I had matched autosomally AND on the full sequence mitochondrial test, plus our ancestors lived 7 miles apart – those pieces of evidence would be huge clues about the autosomal match in addition to our mitochondrial match.

Alas, Lucille and I don’t match autosomally, but keep in mind that there are many generations between Lucille and me. If we had matched autosomally, it would have been a wonderful surprise, but we’d be expected not to match given that our common ancestor probably lived sometime in the 1600s or 1700s.

If I’m utilizing 23andMe and notice that someone’s haplogroup is not J1c2, the same as mine, then that precludes our common ancestral line from being our direct matrilineal line.

At GedMatch, people enter their haplogroup (or not) by hand, so they enter their haplogroup at the time they upload to GedMatch. It’s possible that their haplogroup assignment may have changed since that time, either because of a refined test or because of a Build number update. Be aware of the history of your haplogroup. In other words, if your haplogroup name changed (like A4 to A1), it’s possible that someone at GedMatch is utilizing the older name and might be a match to you on that line even though the haplogroup looks different. Know the history of your haplogroup.

Perhaps the best use of haplogroups alone is in conjunction with autosomal testing to eliminate candidates.

For example, looking at my match with Stacy at 23andMe, I see that her haplogroup is H1c, so I know that I can eliminate that specific line as our possible connection.

mitochondrial haplogroup compare.png

At Family Tree DNA, I can click on any Family Finder match’s profile to view their haplogroup or use the Advanced matching tool to see my combined Family Finder+mtDNA matches at once.

Mitochondrial match profile.png

Haplogroups and Ethnicity

My favorite use of haplogroups is for their identification of the history of the ancestral line. Yes, in essence a line by line ethnicity test.

Using either your own personal results at Family Tree DNA, or their public haplotree, you can trace the history of your haplogroup. In essence, this is an ethnicity test for each specific line – and you don’t have to try to figure out which line your specific ancestry came from. It’s recorded in the mitochondrial DNA of each person. I’ve created a DNA pedigree chart to record all my ancestors Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups.

Ancestor DNA Pedigree Chart

Using Powerpoint, I created this DNA pedigree chart of my ancestors and their Y and mitochondrial DNA.

Roberta's DNA Pedigree Chart 2019

You can see my own mitochondrial DNA path to the right, in red circles, and my father’s Y DNA path at left, in blue boxes. In addition to Y DNA, all men have mitochondrial DNA inherited from their mother. So you can see my grandfather, William George Estes inherited his mitochondrial DNA from his mother Elizabeth Vannoy, who inherited it from Phoebe Crumley whose haplogroup is J1c2c.

This exercise disproved the rumor that Elizabeth Vannoy was Native American, at least on that line, based on her haplogroup. You can view known Native American haplogroups here.

So Elizabeth Vannoy and her mother, Phoebe Crumley, and I share a common ancestor back in J1c2 times, before the split of J1c2c and J1c2f from J1c2, so roughly 2,000 years ago, give or take a millennia.

Haplogroup Origins

My own haplogroup J is European. That’s where my earliest ancestor is found, and it’s also where the migration map shows that haplogroup J lived.

mitochondrial haplogroup origins tab.png

The information provided on my Haplogroup Origins page shows the location of my matches by haplogroup by location. I’m only showing my full sequence matches below.

Generally, the fewer locations tested, at the HVR1 or HVR1+HVR2 levels, the matches tend to be less specific, meaning that they may reach thousands of years back in time. On the other hand, some of those HVR1/HVR2 matches may be very relevant, but it’s unlikely that you’ll know unless you have a rare value in the HVR1/HVR2 region meaning few matches, or both people upgrade to the full sequence test.

mitochondrial haplogroup origins results

Click to enlarge image

You can see by the information above that most of my exact matches are distributed between Sweden and Norway, which is a very specific indicator of Scandinavian heritage ON THIS LINE alone.

By contacting and working with my matches of a genetic distance of 1, 2 and 3, I determined, based on the mutations, that the “root” of this group originated in Scandinavia and my branch traveled to Germany.

This is more specific than any ethnicity test would ever hope to be and reaches back to the mid-1600s. Better yet, I can make this same discovery for every line where I can find an individual to test – effectively rolling back the curtain of time.

Ancestral Origins

mitochondrial ancestral origins tab.png

Haplogroup Origins can be augmented by the Ancestral Origins tab which provides you with the ancestral location of your matches’ most distant known ancestor.

mitochondrial ancestral origins results

Click to enlarge

Again, exact matches are going to be much more relevant to you, barring exceptions like heteroplasmies (covered here), than more distant matches.

New Haplogroup Discoveries

You might wonder, when looking at your results if there are opportunities for new haplogroup subgroups. In my case, there are a group of 33 individuals who match exactly and that include many common mutations in addition to the 11 locations in my results that are currently indicated as haplogroup identifying, indicated in red below.

mitochondrial haplogroup defining mutations J1c2f

Click to enlarge image

My haplogroup defining mutation at A10398G! is a reversion, meaning that it has mutated back to the ancestral value, so we don’t see it above, because now it’s “normal” again. We just have to trust the ancestral branching tree to understand that upstream, this mutation occurred, then occurred a second time back to the normal or ancestral value.

The two extra mutations that everyone in this group has may be enough to qualify for a new haplogroup, call it “1” for purposes of discussion – so it could be named J1c2f1, hypothetically. However, there may be other sub-haplogroups between f and 1, so it’s not just a matter of tacking on a new leaf. It’s a matter of evaluating the entire tree structure with enough testers to find as many sub-branches as possible.

Attempting to assign or reassign branches based on a few tests and without a full examination of many tests in that particular branching haplotree structure would only guarantee a great deal of confusion as the new branch names would have to be constantly changed to accommodate new branching tree structures upstream.

This is exactly why I encourage people to upload their results to GenBank. I’ll step through that process in our last article.

What’s Next?

My next article in this series, in a couple weeks, will be Mitochondrial DNA: Part 4 – Techniques for Doubling Your Useful Matches. I more than doubled mine. There’s a lot more available than meets the eye at first glance if you’re willing to do a bit of digging.

But hey, we’re genealogists – and digging is what we live for!

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