Further Analysis of Native American Haplogroup C-P39 Planned

Haplogroup C is one of two Native American male haplogroups. More specifically, one specific branch of the haplogroup C tree is Native American which is defined by mutation C-P39 (formerly known as C3b).  Ray Banks shows this branch (highlighted in yellow) along with sub-branches underneath on his tree:

C-P39 Ray Banks Tree

Please note that if you are designated at 23andMe as Y haplogroup C3e, you are probably C-P39. We encourage you to purchase the Y DNA 111 marker test at Family Tree DNA and join the haplogroup C and C-P39 projects.

It was only 11 years, ago in 2004 in the Zegura study, that C-P39 was reported among just a few Native American men in the Plains and Southwest.  Since that time The American Indian DNA project, surname projects and the AmerIndian Ancestry Out of Acadia DNA projects have accumulated samples that span the Canadian and American borders, reaching west to east, so haplogroup C-P39 is not relegated to the American Southwest.  It is, however, still exceedingly rare.

In August of 2012, Marie Rundquist, co-administrator of the haplogroup C-P39 DNA project performed an analysis and subsequent report of the relationships, both genealogical and genetic, of the C-P39 project members.  One of the burning questions is determining how far back in time the common ancestor of all of the C-P39 group members lived.

C-P39 MCRA

When Marie performed the first analysis, in 2012,, there were only 14 members in the project, representing 6 different families, and they had only tested to 67 markers. Most were from Canada.

C-P39 countries

My, how things have changed. We now have more participants, more markers to work with and additional tests to bring to bear on the questions of relatedness, timing and origins.

Today, there are a total of 43 people in the project and their locations include the Pacific Northwest, Appalachia, the Southwest and all across Canada, west to east.

If you are haplogroup C-P39 or C3e at 23andMe, please join the C-P39 project at Family Tree DNA today.  I wrote about how to join a project here, but if you need assistance, just let me know in a comment to the blog and Marie or I will contact you.  (Quick Instructions: sign on to your FTDNA account, click on projects tab on upper left toolbar, click on join, scroll down to Y haplogroup projects, click on C, select C-P39 project and click through to press orange join button.)

Marie is preparing to undertake a new analysis and provides the following announcement:

The C-P39 Y DNA project is pleased to announce a forthcoming updated and revised project report.  The C-P39 project has established a 111-marker baseline for our 2016 study and analysis will include:

  • 111 marker result comparisons
  • geo-locations
  • tribal / family relationships
  • C P39 SNP findings
  • new SNPs and Big Y results

The current C-P39 Y DNA study has a healthy diversity of surnames, geo-locations, and tribal / family lines represented.

The C-P39 Y DNA project will cover the costs of the necessary 111 marker upgrades by way of Family Tree DNA C-P39 Y DNA study project fund.

Thanks to all who have contributed to the project fund and to participants who have funded their own tests to 111 markers as part of our study.  To voluntarily contribute (anonymously if you like) to the C-P39 Y DNA project funds and help our project achieve this goal, please click on the link below and please do make certain that the “C-P39 Y-DNA” pre-selected project is highlighted when you do:

https://www.familytreedna.com/group-general-fund-contribution.aspx?g=Y-DNAC-P39

Thank you to project members contributing DNA test results to the C-P39 study and for encouraging friends and relatives to do the same!  Thank you also to Family Tree DNA management for their ongoing support.

The project needs to raise $3164 to upgrade all project members to 111 markers.  Many participants have already upgraded their own results, for which we are very grateful, but we need all project members at the 111 level if possible.

Please help fund this scientific project if you can.  Every little bit helps.  I’m going to start by making a donation right now!  You can make the donation in memory or in honor of someone or a particular ancestor – or you can be completely anonymous.  Please click on the link above to make your contribution!!!  We thank you and the scientific community thanks you.

What is a DNA Scholarship and How Do I Get One?

I mention DNA scholarships from time to time in my 52 Ancestor articles and sometimes in conjunction with other projects as well.

What, exactly, is a DNA scholarship? Who gets one?  How and why?

First, let’s talk a bit about the basics of how DNA works, because understanding that is fundamental to understanding why we have DNA scholarships in the first place, who qualifies and why. Not everyone has the DNA they need for testing specific genealogical lines – and scholarships are a way to obtain that information from others.  I think of it as a testing incentive to someone who is already interested at some level.

Every person can test their DNA, but each person carries a unique and very important type of DNA from just one or two very specific ancestors.

DNA for Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial

There are three kinds of DNA we can use for genealogy.

Mitochondrial DNA, carried by both males and females, is your mother’s mother’s mother’s line all the way up your tree until you run out of direct line mothers.

Y DNA, which only males carry, is inherited from the father’s father’s father’s direct paternal line which typically follows the surname.

The pedigree chart path of both Y (blue) and mitochondrial DNA (red) is shown on the pedigree chart below

Y and mito

You’ve probably noticed that the brother, or males, carry both blue Y DNA and red mitochondrial DNA, but the sister, or females, carry only red mitochondrial DNA.

Sisters, or females, pass mitochondrial DNA on to their offspring, but males don’t.

So, males can test for Y and mitochondrial DNA and females can only test for mitochondrial DNA. In either case, the mitochondrial DNA reflects the oldest direct matrilineal ancestor in that line.

Most (but not all) of the DNA scholarships that I offer are for Y and mitochondrial DNA lineages and Family Tree DNA is the only company that offers these types of genealogical tests.

Autosomal DNA

The third kind of DNA for genetic genealogy is autosomal DNA which allows testing for all of your ancestral lines and provides matching to others who carry the same DNA. The trick is, of course, that you have to look at your common genealogy to figure out why your DNA matches, meaning which ancestor you share.  Sometimes that quest is successful, and sometimes it isn’t.

Autosomal path

The reason autosomal DNA matching works is because you and the person you match have inherited a piece of the same DNA from a common ancestor. In the above chart, the DNA of the ancestors is colored blue, yellow, green, etc.  When you match someone else with a common segment, your goal is to determine which ancestor it came from.

Your autosomal DNA segments from any given ancestor become smaller and smaller over time with each generation, until eventually, they either become so small they don’t show up as matches, or you lose them altogether as more and more generations accrue between you and that ancestor. Ancestral DNA is “diluted” in a sense in every generation when the offspring receives half of each parent’s DNA.  The chances of carrying a particular distant ancestor’s DNA become less in each generation.

However, the Y and mitochondrial DNA are never diluted, because they are never admixed with the DNA of the other parent. They are passed intact, and therefore they provide a periscope back into the very distant past, but ONLY for that particular line.  In many cases, the haplogroup, or “clan” tells you a great deal about that ancestor, such as where they were from ancestrally.  There are African, Native American, Asian, Jewish and European haplogroups, and yes of course there is some overlap between some of those, but we have advanced tools to deal with that too.

Combining Autosomal DNA with Y and Mitochondrial

If you can discover the Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroup of each of the ancestors on your tree, you can tell a great deal about them that may well have washed out in the autosomal DNA. For example, in the colored graph above, let’s say that the blue male line is unquestionably Native American and carries a distinctive Native American Y haplogroup, C-P39.

Using this example, if the blue male great-grandfather is 100% Native, which is very unlikely today, the “son’s” and “daughter’s” autosomal DNA would reflect something like 12.5% Native heritage.

However, if the blue great grandfather was himself only one eighth Native, he would have carried roughly 6.25% total Native autosomal DNA and his children would carry roughly 3.25%. The father in this chart would carry roughly 1.63% Native autosomal DNA and the children in the chart, only .81 or less than 1%, an amount which is generally not recognizable on autosomal ethnicity tests today.  It’s also possible that the Native autosomal DNA has “washed out” entirely by this time.

The good news is that the Y DNA is still 100% Native. So even though Native heritage may not be detectable today in the autosomal tests, it’s 100% confirmed in the Y DNA test for that line.  This makes Y DNA a very powerful tool.  Mitochondrial DNA works the very same way on the matrilineal line – it never gets diluted either.

But, what if your Native ancestor is not in either the Y (blue) or mitochondrial (red) lines that you can directly test for?  What if your Native ancestor is in the yellow, green, pink, grey, gold or aqua lines.  You won’t know what the DNA of those direct Y or mitochondrial lines tells you until you find someone appropriately descended from those lines to test.

DNA Beggars

You’ve now become a DNA beggar – begging for people who do descend from those lines through Y or mitochondrial DNA to test. If you’re a female, it can become immediately evident if you have no male siblings and your father is deceased.  In this case, you can’t test your Y DNA directly (because you don’t have a Y chromosome,) but you desperately need those results to flesh out your genealogy.

The good news is that this same information is important to other people too and they DO carry the Y or mitochondrial DNA of the lineage you need.

I call this process creating your DNA pedigree chart.  Here’s an example of mine with haplogroups, where known.

DNA Pedigree

The good news is that sometimes people from those lineages have already tested and you may be able to find them through either surname projects, Ysearch or Mitosearch. When I can’t find someone who has already tested, I try various methods to recruit a suitable candidate and sweeten the pie by offering a DNA scholarship.

DNA Scholarships

Given that you want other people to test their DNA to provide information for your common ancestor – the best way to obtain that is to offer to pay for the test. Hence, the DNA scholarship.  Some people don’t feel comfortable if I say I’m paying for a test.  Sometimes, in surname and haplogroup projects, people join forces to pay for tests for someone with a particular lineage.  Regardless of who pays, or how, the result is that a DNA scholarship is available for someone of a particular lineage.

Looking for a DNA Scholarship?

You’d actually be surprised how many scholarships, or free DNA tests, are available. The ISOGG Wiki holds a list under the title of “Free DNA Tests” at this link.

The scholarships I offer, listed below, are for one person, and when someone has taken that one test, the scholarship is no longer available. I’ll update this list as I add scholarships and as they are (hopefully) redeemed.

Mitochondrial DNA Testing Scholarship for anyone who descends through any from the following people (or their female siblings) through all females only. In the current generation, meaning you, males can test so long as there are only females between the male and the ancestor.

Y DNA Testing Scholarship for any male who descends from the following people through all males, meaning you carry the surname today:

  • Berchtol, Hans (1641/53-1711) Konken/Krottelbach, Germany, wife Anna Christina or Hans Simon Berchtol/Bechtel, wife Catherine, living in Steinwenden, Germany in the same timeframe
  • Bonnevie, Jacque dit “Beaumont” (c1660 Paris -1783 Port Royal, Acadia)
  • Combs, John (c1705-1762) Amelia County, VA or brother George Combs (b 1701/05-c1765) lived in Charlotte County, VA
  • Dorfler, Johann George (1732-1790), Speichersdorf and Wirbenz, Germany, married Anna Magdalena Buntzman, Johann Dorfler (1699-1779) Wirbenz married Anna Gerlin, Johann Dorfler (born c 1660) Wirbenz married Barbara Ehl
  • Drechsel, George (1823-1908), born in Speichersdorf, Germany, died Aurora, Indiana in 1908, married Barbara Mehlheimer, son John Edward Drexler lived in Cincinnati married to Lizzie Theisinger
  • Kirsch, Jacob (1841 Mutterstadt, Germany -1917 Aurora, Indiana) married to Barbara Drechsel, Philipp Jacob Kirsch (1806 Mutterstadt, Germany -1880 Ripley County, Indiana) married to Katharina Barbara Lemmert, Andreas Kirsch (1772-1819 Fussgoenheim, Germany) married Margaretha Elisabetha Koehler, Johann Valentin Kirsch (1744 Fussgoenheim – 1792 Carlberg, Germany) married Anna Margaretha Kirsch, Johann Wilheim Kirsch (b 1706 Fussgoenheim) married Maria Catharina Spanier, Johann Martin Kirsch (c1680 Fussgoenheim – 1741) married Anna Elisabetha Borstler, Johann Jacob Kirsch (c1660-Fussgoenheim-c1723) married Maria Catharina surname unknown, Jerg Kirsch (born c1630-died Fussgoenheim, Germany)
  • Mann, John (1725 Ulster, Ireland-1774 Botetourt Co., VA) married Frances Carpenter
  • Martin, Thomas (b 1577 Ringwould, Kent), father William Martin (died 1614)
  • Mercer, Edward (c1704-1763) married Ann, lived in Frederick County, VA
  • Woodrow/Woodward, Matthew born about 1550 probably Northborne, Kent

How to Join a DNA Project

Family Tree DNA provides three types of projects for people to join. Projects are free to join and are run by volunteer project administrators, people who have a specific interest in the topic at hand and are generally quite glad to be of assistance.  Projects are great ways to find people you match and others interested in a common topic.

There are three kinds of DNA projects:

  • Surname projects – like Estes
  • Haplogroup Projects – like R1b, M269 or J1c2f, for both Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups and subgroups
  • Geographic projects – really anything else that isn’t a surname or a haplogroup, like Cumberland Gap or Cherokee or Scottish DNA

You can join unlimited multiple projects, but you want to make sure projects you join are relevant to your genealogy, your research and/or your haplogroup.

I covered haplogroup projects in depth here and surname projects in depth here, but today, I just want to do a simple “how to” instruction on how to find and join any project of your choosing.

Joining projects is easy.

First, of course, you must have tested at or transferred your results to Family Tree DNA and you must have taken the type of test relevant to the project at hand.

For example, if you have taken the Family Finder Autosomal test and not taken any other tests, you can’t join a Y DNA project because you have not tested your Y chromosome. Ladies, sorry, you can’t join Y DNA projects either because you don’t have a Y chromosome.

If you haven’t yet tested, then you can join a project and get a discount on your test at the same time. If you already have results at Family Tree DNA, skip to the next section, “Joining Up.”

Discounts When Ordering Through Projects

You can order tests through projects at a discount if you’ve never tested before. To do that, just click on this link, then type your surname of interest into the search field by the green text box.

join 13

Hint – if you’re an adoptee, just type adoptee and you’ll see the adoptee project. If you type a surname, you’ll see surname related projects.

Join 14

Click on the project you’re interested in joining to see discounted project based pricing, example shown below.

Join 15

Not sure what to order? You can read about the different kinds of DNA testing and how they apply to various ancestors on your tree in this “basic” DNA article.

Joining Up

If you’re already a customer at Family Tree DNA, it’s easy to join projects. First, sign on to your account.

Join 1

You’ll see your home page that looks something like this at the top.

In the upper left hand tool bar you’ll see the projects tab, with 3 drop down selections, shown below.

Join 2

“Learn About Projects” is basic information which you should, of course, read.

The “Manage My Projects” selection shows you which projects you are a member of and provides you with a convenient click list to visit any of your projects.

Join 3

But before you can manage projects, you have to join some first.

Click on “Join Projects.”

The first thing you will see is a list, based on your surname, of projects where the administrators have entered your surname as a surname of interest to their projects. This may or may not be useful to you.  If your surname is the surname of your spouse – not useful at all.  In my case, however, Estes is my maiden name so these projects might be useful to me.

Join 4

Let’s take a quick look.

  • The Cumberland Gap mtDNA project isn’t relevant, because my Estes line is my paternal line and my mitochondrial DNA is my matrilineal line – so no cigar on this one.
  • The Cumberland Gap Y DNA project isn’t relevant for me, because I’m a female and don’t have a Y chromosome, although my family is from the Cumberland Gap area. Hmmm…I need to find a related Estes male to test so he can join that project.
  • The Estes surname project. I have it on good authority that I can join this project whether or not I’m related via the Y, mitochondrial or autosomal connection. Hint – I founded this project and yes, we welcome anyone who is Estes descended.
  • Estis Jewish Ukraine – Nope doesn’t pertain to me and neither do the surnames Jester or Maestas, although clearly Estes could be derivative spellings of those surnames.
  • The I-L161 project is a Y DNA haplogroup project, so I’m not sure why a surname would be listed here, but this does not apply to me as I have no Y chromosome.
  • The administrators of the North Carolina Early project have obviously found the Estes surname in early records, but my line came through Virginia and Tennessee, so this doesn’t pertain to me either.

So, I can join one of these projects. Please, please take the time to read the project descriptions to see if the projects listed are a good fit for your family and for the stated project goals.

Some people think that this list is Family Tree DNA recommending certain projects, or suggesting that they join these projects. It isn’t.  The only way these projects appear is for the administrator to list your surname as one that their project is interested in – and it’s likely not universal meaning not relevant to everyone who carries the surname.  For example, Early North Carolina is confined to a specific geography and timeframe.

Obviously, there are probably other projects of interest that can’t be sensed by your surname.

Join 5

At the bottom of the project list, there is a search field, followed by a list of projects that are divided into types.

First, type into the search box the surname (or word) you are trying to find. Let’s use Ferverda for example.

Join 6

Yes, there is one project with 3 members for Ferverda. You can click on the project name to see additional information.  In fact, please do read the entire project description, because that’s the only way you’ll know if you qualify to join and the project is a good fit.  For example, what is the word Ferverda, or worse yet, Ireland?  Is it a surname or a place?  If it’s the place, can you join only if you are proven to descend from Ireland or can you join if might have Irish heritage?  Mitochondrial or Y DNA, or both?  What about autosomal DNA?  Read the project description to find out.

Join 7

Once you’ve determined that this project is for you, click the orange join button to join. Don’t worry, you can unjoin easily if you make a mistake.  Some projects have a “request to join” feature to be sure the pairing is a good fit.

Can’t find your surname? Try an alternate spelling or scroll down and see if you can find a different kind of project that fits the bill.  (Hint – you can double click on this image to make it larger.)

Join 8

For example, let’s see what’s available under the letter B under Y-DNA Geographical projects:

Join 9

Hmm, I can’t join those because they are Y DNA projects, so lets look under mtDNA Haplogroup projects. I’m haplogroup J.

Look, here’s the perfect project for me!

Join 10

Now all I have to do is click on the project link and then on the orange Join button to become a member.

Privacy Settings and Sharing

You will want to be sure your privacy settings are set such that your results will show in the projects you choose to join. I wrote about that here with specific instructions, so be sure to check, especially if you tested in 2015 or later, because the default is set to not publicly sharing.  This means if you don’t change your settings, your results will not be visible on the public project page.  An example of my haplogroup J project results on the public project page is shown below.

Join 11

The great thing about projects is that they ultimately benefit everyone through sharing, but sharing is the key word.

For example, this map of where the J1c2f ancestors are found in Europe and Asia, generated within the haplogroup J project, would not be available if people didn’t:

  1. Join projects
  2. Share publicly
  3. Enter the location of their most distant ancestor for that line

Join 12These maps allow us to take a look at the migration and settlement story behind this haplogroup. There are there hints based cumulatively on where our most distant ancestors are found.  We’ll never unravel the ancestral story without these hints and these hints are the results of shared information.  So, please share.  You’ll benefit from others sharing and others will benefit from you sharing.  Sort of a scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours scenario.

Have fun and find some great projects to join. You never know where your DNA will take you or the discoveries you’ll make!  What is your DNA waiting to tell you?

Genealogy and Ethnicity DNA Testing – 3 Legitimate Companies

Big 3 logos

As with any industry that has become popular, especially quickly, there are the front runner companies, and then there is an entire cadre of what I am going to call “third tier” companies that spring up and are trying to play off of the success of the front runners and the naivety of the consuming public. I’m going to avoid the use of the words snake oil here, because some of them aren’t quite that bad, but others clearly are.  You get the drift, I’m sure.  There is a very big gulf, as in a chasm, between the three front-runners, Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe, whose recognizable logos you see above and the rest of the pack.

Recently, we’ve seen a huge raft of people finding these “third tier” companies, purchasing their products thinking they’re getting something they aren’t, often due to what I would call corporate weasel-wording and snazzy ads, and then being unhappy with their purchase. Unfortunately, often the purchasers don’t understand that they’ve in essence “been had.”  This type of behavior tarnishes the entire genetic genealogy industry.

So, if you find a test on LivingSocial or a Groupon coupon that “looks familiar” it may by the AncestrybyDNA test that people mistakenly purchase instead of the AncestryDNA kit sold by Ancestry.com.  They think they are getting a great deal on the AncestryDNA test.  They aren’t.  It’s not the same thing at all.  AncestrybyDNA is an old, inaccurate, ineffective test called DNAPrint that has been rebranded to be sold to the unsuspecting.  Don’t buy this Groupon item.

There are other useless tests too, probably too many to mention by name, plus I really don’t want to give them any publicity, even inadvertently.

I also want to be clear that I’m only talking about genetic genealogy and ethnicity testing, not about medical DNA testing or traditional paternity testing, although some of the labs that offer paternity testing services also offer the less than forthright tests, in fact, those very two mentioned above.  I’m also not talking about add-on services like GedMatch and DNAGedcom which don’t provide DNA testing and do provide much valued services within the genetic genealogy community.  I’m also not talking about the Genographic project testing which does provide great information but is not in essence a genetic genealogy test in the sense that you can’t compare your results with others.  You can, however, transfer your results from the Genographic project to Family Tree DNA where you can compare with others.

Twisting the Truth

One of the biggest areas ripe for harvesting by sheisters are the thousands of people who descend, or think they descend from, or might descend from Native Americans. It’s a very common question.

If you find a company that says they will tell you what Indian tribe you descend from, and believe me, they’re out there, just know that you really can’t do that today with just a DNA test.  If you could identify a tribe that quickly and easily, these three leading companies would be doing just that – it would be a booming consumer product.  “Identifying my tribe” is probably my most frequently asked question and a highly sought after piece of information, so I’m not surprised that companies have picked up on that aspect of genetic genealogy to exploit.  I wrote about proving Native heritage and what it takes to identify your tribe here and here.  If that’s how they’re trying to hook you, you’re either going to be massively disappointed in your results, or the results are going to be less than forthright and truthful.

Yes, the DNA truth can be twisted and I see these “twisted results” routinely that people have paid a lot of money to receive and desperately want to believe.

Let me just give you one very brief example of DNA “fact” twisting. Person one claims (“self-identifies” in the vernacular), with no research or proof, that their maternal grandma is Cherokee, a very common family story.  Their mitochondrial haplogroup is H3, clearly, unquestionably European and not Native.  You test and share haplogroup H3 with person one.  I’ve seen companies that then claim you descend from the same “Cherokee line” as person one with haplogroup H3 and therefore you too are magically Cherokee because you match someone in their data base that is “Cherokee.” Congratulations!  I guess all Europeans who carry haplogroup H3 are also Cherokee, using that same logic.  Won’t they be surprised!

This H3=Cherokee analogy is obviously incorrect and inaccurate in several different ways, but suffice it to say that, as a hopeful consumer, you are now very happy that you are now “proven” to be Cherokee and you have no idea or understanding that it’s all predicated on one person’s “self-identification” that allows the less-than-ethical company to then equate all other H3 people to a “Cherokee lineage.” The problem is that you aren’t either proven Native nor Cherokee on your direct matrilineal line. And you’ve been snookered.  But you’re obliviously happy.

What a shameful way to exploit Native people and their descendants, not to mention the consuming public.

Unfortunately, there are lots of ways to twist the truth, intentionally or inadvertently.  If you’re looking for direction on this topic, there is a FaceBook group called Native American Ancestry Explorer: DNA, Genetics, Genealogy and Anthropology that I would recommend.

In genetic genealogy, meaning for both genealogy and ethnicity, there are three companies that are the frontrunners, by any measure, and then there are the rest, many of whom misrepresent their wares and what they can legitimately tell you. Or they tell you, and you have no idea if what they say is accurate or their own version of “truth” from their own “private research” and data bases, i.e., H3=Cherokee.

The Big 3

So, here are the Big 3 testing companies, in my preference order.

  1. Family Tree DNA
  2. Ancestry
  3. 23andMe

Not only are these the Big 3, they are the only three that give you the value for your money as represented, plus the ability to compare your results to others.

Family Tree DNA is the only company to provide mitochondrial and Y DNA testing and matching.

All three of these companies provide autosomal tests and provide you:

  • Ethnicity estimates
  • Autosomal DNA Results (downloadable)
  • Autosomal DNA Matching to others in their data base
  • Different tools at each company that vary in quality and completeness

If it’s not one of these three companies, don’t buy, JUST DON’T.

You can debate all day about which of these three companies is the best for you (or maybe all three), but that is what the debate SHOULD be about, not whether to use one of these companies versus some third tier company.

I’m am not going to do a review of these companies in this article. Suffice it to say that my 2015 review holds relatively well EXCEPT that 23andMe is still going through something of a corporate meltdown with their genetic genealogy product which has caused me to take them off of my recommended list other than for adoptees who should test with all three vendors due to their data base matching.  Also, if you’re trying to make a decision in relation to the Big 3 companies and testing, you might want to read these two articles, here and here, as well.

I will do a 2016 review after 23andMe finishes their transition so we know how the genealogy aspect of their new services will work.

Personally, I think that everyone interested in genetic genealogy should test their mitochondrial DNA (males and females both,) and Y DNA (males only) at Family Tree DNA and their autosomal DNA (males and females both) at both Ancestry and Family Tree DNA. Family Tree DNA offers a $39 transfer from Ancestry, so you can put together a nice testing package and reap all of the benefits.  Here’s a basic article about the different kinds of DNA testing, what they cover and how, based on your family tree.

Bottom Line

So, here’s the bottom line – as heated as the debate gets sometimes within the genetic genealogy community about which of the three vendors, Family Tree DNA, Ancestry or 23andMe, is best, that really IS the question to debate.  The question should NEVER be whether to use a third tier company for genetic genealogy or ethnicity instead of one of these three.

So spread the word and hopefully none of our genealogy friends or well-meaning spouses or family members purchasing gifts with the very best of intentions will get sucked in. Stick with the Big 3.

Saying Hello in the DNA World

Hey Baby, what’s your sign?  Remember that?  I surely do.  It was the worst introductory, aka “pickup line” ever!

If someone asked me that today, after rolling my eyes of course, I’d just have to show them a double helix on my Kerchner R1b piniphone or maybe just look at them deadpan and say “R1b,” M269” or “J1c2f.” If they know what means, well, there might be hope…

Ok, so what DO you say to someone with whom you match on your DNA?  How do you appropriately say “hello?”

When you receive a match from a vendor or via tools like GedMatch, what do you say to that new match that will elicit a response that might be useful and not make you look either like an idiot or predatory in the process? In part, that has to do with what kind of DNA match it is, meaning Y, mitochondrial or autosomal, and in part, how you ask for information.

So, first, let’s talk about some basics of how to obtain good responses and secondly, let’s look at each type of match.

The Basics

I know some of these basics sounds, well, really basic, but I wouldn’t have included them if I didn’t receive a lot of e-mails from people who obviously don’t understand these basic communications “good manners.”

  1. Do use capitals and punctuation. If you don’t you’re conveying the message to the recipient that they don’t matter enough to bother constructing a complete sentence. E-mails like this are apt to be immediately deleted.
  2. Don’t put the entire question in the subject line. These get deleted too.
  3. Include the person’s name who you match. Don’t assume that the person whose e-mail is on the kit is the person who tested.  Many people manage multiple (as in many) kits.
  4. Don’t write “dear match” e-mails and copy several people at once.
  5. Title the e-mail with something relevant like “DNA Match to Robert Doe at Family Tree DNA.”  You don’t want your e-mail to wind up in their spam filter.
  6. Include the basics of the match including the match’s name on the kit (or kit number) and the company (or service like GedMatch) where the match occurred.  I always add the test type as well, and if the match is particularly close.
  7. Don’t say, “Can you tell me how we’re related?” without giving any other information. That comes across as sounding a bit “entitled” and the response it gets from the receiver generally isn’t positive.
  8. Do not tell your life story. They won’t read it and they’ll delete it.
  9. Include friendly, short, concise basic information, depending on the kind of test.
  10. I always end my communications with a question for them to answer and a short, positive comment.

Y-DNA

Y-DNA tests are between males, so if you’re a female, you might want to mention that you’re the custodian for the kit for your brother, or father, John Doe. Give basic surname and lineage information for the Doe line.

Here’s an example of a contact e-mail for Y DNA:

Dear Robert Doe,

I’m the custodian for the DNA kit at Family Tree DNA of John Doe, my father. I noticed that he matches Robert Doe, which I presume is you, on the Y DNA test at 67 markers with only one mutation.  In addition, these two men carry the same surname which suggest a common ancestor.  I’ve also checked and you two don’t seem to match on the Family Finder test, so perhaps the common ancestor between you and my father is a few generations back in time.

Here is my father’s direct Doe lineage:

y pedigree

As you can see, I’m stuck with Martin Doe in Virginia. I’m hoping that our match might be helpful in getting beyond this brick wall.

Who is your oldest Doe ancestor and where were they located?

Thank you for your time. Here’s hoping we can find our common ancestor or at least some hints!

Jane Doe

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA is a little more challenging genealogically, because the surnames change with every generation. Therefore, locations become very important clues in terms of finding a common ancestor.

Here’s an example of a mitochondrial DNA contact e-mail:

Dear Susie Smith,

I’m the custodian for the DNA kit at Family Tree DNA for my mother, Barbara Jones. I noticed that mother and Susie Smith, which I presume is you, share mitochondrial DNA at the full sequence level with no mutations difference.  This means that our common relative could be in recent generations, or maybe further back in time.  Since you’ve both also taken the Family Finder test, I noticed that you also match in the 2nd to 4th cousin range, meaning you and mother could potentially share great-grandparents to great-great-great-grand-parents. That could possibly be from Barbara Brown, Ellen Green or Mary on my pedigree chart below.

Here is my mother’s matrilineal line as far back as I have information:

mtDNA pedigree

Of course, it’s possible that our common ancestor is further back in time, but I’m hopeful that some of these names or locations might look familiar or be where your matrilineal family members are from too.

Do you see anything here that looks promising in terms of a common ancestor or location?  Where is your most distant maternal ancestor from?

I look forward to hearing from you. Maybe we can solve this puzzle together.

Jane Jones

Autosomal DNA

Autosomal DNA is, of course, genealogically more complex than either Y or mitochondrial DNA in that your matches can be from any of your family lines. That also means this test is full of potential as well, but it’s more difficult to provide your matches with enough information to obtain a useful response without overwhelming them.  With three different vendors plus GedMatch, a one-size-fits-all introductory letter doesn’t work

The first thing I do is to see if I can tell how this person may match me.

For example, my mother has taken the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA as well, so the first thing I check on any match is to see if that person matches both me and my mother. If so, then that match is through my mother’s side of the tree.

This is easy to do with the ICW (in common with) button at Family Tree DNA.  The ICW button looks like crossed arrows and is blue, below.

Joy compare

The list of matches returned will either show my mother or it won’t.

If the person doesn’t match my mother, and Joy doesn’t, I see who else they do match in addition to me.  For example, let’s see who Joy matches that I match as well.

Joy ICW

I can tell based on the ICW cousins that Joy and I both match that indeed, this match is on my father’s side and that it’s in the Vannoy line. That’s actually very helpful, because it helps me provide my match with some direction and gives us someplace to go.  This also illustrates the benefit of testing every cousin you can find!

Here’s an example of a Family Finder contact e-mail:

Dear Joy,

I notice that I have a match to Joy Smith, which I presume is you, at Family Tree DNA on the Family Finder test.  Our connection is estimated to be at the 2nd to 4th cousin level. This is exciting because it means we may be able to find our common ancestor.

Based on the fact that you match several of my cousins, including Stacy, Charlene, Christopher, Debbie and 3 Vannoy cousins, our common ancestor seems to be either in the Vannoy line, from which we all descend, or a common ancestral line to all of these cousins.

I’m attaching a copy of my father’s pedigree chart in pdf format so that it’s easily readable. Please note that his grandmother was Elizabeth Vannoy and take a look at her lineage. There is an index in the back of the document so you can easily scan to see if anyone looks familiar.

Are any of her ancestors your ancestors too?

I’m excited to see if we can make a family connection. I look forward to hearing from you,

Roberta Estes

Of course, if you’re sending a message to someone you match at either 23andMe or Ancestry.com, it would read a little bit differently because their tools are different from those provided at Family Tree DNA. For those vendors, my contact verbiage reads somewhat differently, in part, because my mother’s DNA is not at either of those vendors and I have much less flexibility in terms of tools and usage.

For example, at 23andMe the contact request is “blind” and you can’t see anything about matches until the contact and DNA sharing requests are accepted. This is changing shortly at 23andMe, but exactly how all of this will work is uncertain.  Also, not all 23andMe kits can be transferred to Family Tree DNA.

At Ancestry, they have no chromosome browser, so you can’t look at any comparative chromosome information. You can see who else you match in common though, in addition to the Circles.

The message is also different because both Ancestry and 23andMe contacts must be made through their internal message system where you cannot attach files and you are limited in terms of message size. Also, remember to sign your full real name.  Your screen name may not be the same and that’s all the recipient will see in the message they receive through the vendor.  I also include an e-mail address.

Here’s an example of a 23andMe or Ancestry contact message.

I notice that we are a DNA match. That’s great news.  I believe that we may match through the Estes line, but I’m not positive.  I have a number of Estes cousins who have tested from this line at Family Tree DNA that you might match as well.  You can upload your results to Family Tree DNA and see your matches for $39 instead of retesting, which is a real value.  You can also join the Estes project at Family Tree DNA.  Many of my cousins have uploaded their results to GedMatch too.  Have you uploaded your DNA results to http://www.GedMatch.com yet?  It’s a free service provided by genealogists for genealogists and allows people who have tested at different companies to compare their kits for matching.  I’d love to send you my pedigree chart, my GedMatch kit number, provide instructions for transferring your kit to Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, or answer questions.  You can e-mail me at xxxxxx@att.net.  I look forward to seeing if we can find our common ancestor.  Do you have any Estes ancestors in your tree?  Genealogy sure has gotten exciting since DNA has been added as a tool.

Roberta Estes

If I can make this contact more personal, I do. For example, if we share a common ancestor in a tree or a Circle at Ancestry, I always include that information.  I tend, in general to get more responses where I can tell the recipient at least something about how we do or might match, even if it’s nonspecific.

If you want to read more about autosomal DNA contacts tips for success, you can read this more extensive contact article here and one for adoptees here.

Making the contact takes very little effort. Not all contact requests work, of course, but I’ve found some real gems in those that do.

Let me know in the comments what contact techniques work well for you.

Have fun!!!

The Best and Worst of 2015 – Genetic Genealogy Year in Review

2015 Best and Worst

For the past three years I’ve written a year-in-review article. You can see just how much the landscape has changed in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 versions.

This year, I’ve added a few specific “award” categories for people or firms that I feel need to be specially recognized as outstanding in one direction or the other.

In past years, some news items, announcements and innovations turned out to be very important like the Genographic Project and GedMatch, and others, well, not so much. Who among us has tested their full genome today, for example, or even their exome?  And would you do with that information if you did?

And then there are the deaths, like the Sorenson database and Ancestry’s own Y and mitochondrial data base. I still shudder to think how much we’ve lost at the corporate hands of Ancestry.

In past years, there have often been big new announcements facilitated by new technology. In many ways, the big fish have been caught in a technology sense.  Those big fish are autosomal DNA and the Big Y types of tests.  Both of these have created an avalanche of data and we, personally and as a community, are still trying to sort through what all of this means genealogically and how to best utilize the information.  Now we need tools.

This is probably illustrated most aptly by the expansion of the Y tree.

The SNP Tsunami Growing Pains Continue

2015 snp tsunami

Going from 800+ SNPs in 2012 to more than 35,000 SNPs today has introduced its own set of problems. First, there are multiple trees in existence, completely or partially maintained by different organizations for different purposes.  Needless to say, these trees are not in sync with each other.  The criteria for adding a SNP to the tree is decided by the owner or steward of that tree, and there is no agreement as to the definition of a valid SNP or how many instances of that SNP need to be in existence to be added to the tree.

This angst has been taking place for the most part outside of the public view, but it exists just the same.

For example, 23andMe still uses the old haplogroup names like R1b which have not been used in years elsewhere. Family Tree DNA is catching up with updating their tree, working with haplogroup administrators to be sure only high quality, proven SNPs are added to branches.  ISOGG maintains another tree (one branch shown above) that’s publicly available, utilizing volunteers per haplogroup and sometimes per subgroup.  Other individuals and organizations maintain other trees, or branches of trees, some very accurate and some adding a new “branch” with as little as one result.

The good news is that this will shake itself out. Personally, I’m voting for the more conservative approach for public reference trees to avoid “pollution” and a lot of shifting and changing downstream when it’s discovered that the single instance of a SNP is either invalid or in a different branch location.  However, you have to start with an experimental or speculative tree before you can prove that a SNP is where it belongs or needs to be moved, so each of the trees has its own purpose.

The full trees I utilize are the Family Tree DNA tree, available for customers, the ISOGG tree and Ray Banks’ tree which includes locations where the SNPs are found when the geographic location is localized. Within haplogroup projects, I tend to use a speculative tree assembled by the administrators, if one is available.  The haplogroup admins generally know more about their haplogroup or branch than anyone else.

The bad news is that this situation hasn’t shaken itself out yet, and due to the magnitude of the elephant at hand, I don’t think it will anytime soon. As this shuffling and shaking occurs, we learn more about where the SNPs are found today in the world, where they aren’t found, which SNPs are “family” or “clan” SNPs and the timeframes in which they were born.

In other words, this is a learning process for all involved – albeit a slow and frustrating one. However, we are making progress and the tree becomes more robust and accurate every year.

We may be having growing pains, but growing pains aren’t necessarily a bad thing and are necessary for growth.

Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who work on these trees, and in particular, to Alice Fairhurst who has spearheaded the ISOGG tree for the past nine years. Alice retired from that volunteer position this year and is shown below after receiving two much-deserved awards for her service at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November.

2015 ftdna fairhurst 2

Best Innovative Use of Integrated Data

2015 smileDr. Maurice Gleeson receives an award this year for the best genealogical use of integrated types of data. He has utilized just about every tool he can find to wring as much information as possible out of Y DNA results.  Not only that, but he has taken great pains to share that information with us in presentations in the US and overseas, and by creating a video, noted in the article below.  Thanks so much Maurice.

Making Sense of Y Data

Estes pedigree

The advent of massive amounts of Y DNA data has been both wonderful and perplexing. We as genetic genealogists want to know as much about our family as possible, including what the combination of STR and SNP markers means to us.  In other words, we don’t want two separate “test results” but a genealogical marriage of the two.

I took a look at this from the perspective of the Estes DNA project. Of course, everyone else will view those results through the lens of their own surname or haplogroup project.

Estes Big Y DNA Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/26/estes-big-y-dna-results/

At the Family Tree DNA Conference in November, James Irvine and Maurice Gleeson both presented sessions on utilizing a combination of STR and SNP data and various tools in analyzing their individual projects.

Maurice’s presentation was titled “Combining SNPs, STRs and Genealogy to build a Surname Origins Tree.”
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/building-a-mutation-history-tree

Maurice created a wonderful video that includes a lot of information about working with Y DNA results. I would consider this one of the very best Y DNA presentations I’ve ever seen, and thanks to Maurice, it’s available as a video here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvyHY4R6DwE&feature=youtu.be

You can view more of Maurice’s work at:
http://gleesondna.blogspot.com/2015/08/genetic-distance-genetic-families.html

James Irvine’s presentation was titled “Surname Projects – Some Fresh Ideas.” http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/y-dna-surname-projects-some-fresh-ideas

Another excellent presentation discussing Y DNA results was “YDNA maps Scandinavian Family Trees from Medieval Times and the Viking Age” by Peter Sjolund.
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/ydna-maps-scandinavian-family-trees-from-medieval-times-and-the-viking-age

Peter’s session at the genealogy conference in Sweden this year was packed. This photo, compliments of Katherine Borges, shows the room and the level of interest in Y-DNA and the messages it holds for genetic genealogists.

sweden 2015

This type of work is the wave of the future, although hopefully it won’t be so manually intensive. However, the process of discovery is by definition laborious.  From this early work will one day emerge reproducible methodologies, the fruits of which we will all enjoy.

Haplogroup Definitions and Discoveries Continue

A4 mutations

Often, haplogroup work flies under the radar today and gets dwarfed by some of the larger citizen science projects, but this work is fundamentally important. In 2015, we made discoveries about haplogroups A4 and C, for example.

Haplogroup A4 Unpeeled – European, Jewish, Asian and Native American
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/05/haplogroup-a4-unpeeled-european-jewish-asian-and-native-american/

New Haplogroup C Native American Subgroups
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/11/new-haplogroup-c-native-american-subgroups/

Native American Haplogroup C Update – Progress
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/25/native-american-haplogroup-c-update-progress/

These aren’t the only discoveries, by any stretch of the imagination. For example, Mike Wadna, administrator for the Haplogroup R1b Project reports that there are now over 1500 SNPs on the R1b tree at Family Tree DNA – which is just about twice as many as were known in total for the entire Y tree in 2012 before the Genographic project was introduced.

The new Y DNA SNP Packs being introduced by Family Tree DNA which test more than 100 SNPs for about $100 will go a very long way in helping participants obtain haplogroup assignments further down the tree without doing the significantly more expensive Big Y test. For example, the R1b-DF49XM222 SNP Pack tests 157 SNPs for $109.  Of course, if you want to discover your own private line of SNPs, you’ll have to take the Big Y.  SNP Packs can only test what is already known and the Big Y is a test of discovery.

                       Best Blog2015 smile

Jim Bartlett, hands down, receives this award for his new and wonderful blog, Segmentology.

                             Making Sense of Autosomal DNA

segmentology

Our autosomal DNA results provide us with matches at each of the vendors and at GedMatch, but what do we DO with all those matches and how to we utilize the genetic match information? How to we translate those matches into ancestral information.  And once we’ve assigned a common ancestor to a match with an individual, how does that match affect other matches on that same segment?

2015 has been the year of sorting through the pieces and defining terms like IBS (identical by state, which covers both identical by population and identical by chance) and IBD (identical by descent). There has been a lot written this year.

Jim Bartlett, a long-time autosomal researcher has introduced his new blog, Segmentology, to discuss his journey through mapping ancestors to his DNA segments. To the best of my knowledge, Jim has mapped more of his chromosomes than any other researcher, more than 80% to specific ancestors – and all of us can leverage Jim’s lessons learned.

Segmentology.org by Jim Bartlett
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/12/segmentology-org-by-jim-bartlett/

When you visit Jim’s site, please take a look at all of his articles. He and I and others may differ slightly in the details our approach, but the basics are the same and his examples are wonderful.

Autosomal DNA Testing – What Now?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/07/autosomal-dna-testing-101-what-now/

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – Tips and Tricks for Contact Success
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/11/autosomal-dna-testing-101-tips-and-tricks-for-contact-success/

How Phasing Works and Determining IBS vs IBD Matches
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/02/how-phasing-works-and-determining-ibd-versus-ibs-matches/

Just One Cousin
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/11/just-one-cousin/

Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/17/demystifying-autosomal-dna-matching/

A Study Using Small Segment Matching
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/21/a-study-utilizing-small-segment-matching/

Finally, A How-To Class for Working with Autosomal Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/10/finally-a-how-to-class-for-working-with-autosomal-dna-results/

Parent-Child Non-Matching Autosomal DNA Segments
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/14/parent-child-non-matching-autosomal-dna-segments/

A Match List Does Not an Ancestor Make
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/19/a-match-list-does-not-an-ancestor-make/

4 Generation Inheritance Study
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/23/4-generation-inheritance-study/

Phasing Yourself
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/27/phasing-yourself/

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/25/autosomal-dna-matching-confidence-spectrum/

Earlier in the year, there was a lot of discussion and dissention about the definition of and use of small segments. I utilize them, carefully, generally in conjunction with larger segments.  Others don’t.  Here’s my advice.  Don’t get yourself hung up on this.  You probably won’t need or use small segments until you get done with the larger segments, meaning low-hanging fruit, or unless you are doing a very specific research project.  By the time you get to that point, you’ll understand this topic and you’ll realize that the various researchers agree about far more than they disagree, and you can make your own decision based on your individual circumstances. If you’re entirely endogamous, small segments may just make you crazy.  However, if you’re chasing a colonial American ancestor, then you may need those small segments to identify or confirm that ancestor.

It is unfortunate, however, that all of the relevant articles are not represented in the ISOGG wiki, allowing people to fully educate themselves. Hopefully this can be updated shortly with the additional articles, listed above and from Jim Bartlett’s blog, published during this past year.

Recreating the Dead

James Crumley overlapping segments

James and Catherne Crumley segments above, compliments of Kitty Cooper’s tools

As we learn more about how to use autosomal DNA, we have begun to reconstruct our ancestors from the DNA of their descendants. Not as in cloning, but as in attributing DNA found in multiple descendants that originate from a common ancestor, or ancestral couple.  The first foray into this arena was GedMatch with their Lazarus tool.

Lazarus – Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/14/lazarus-putting-humpty-dumpty-back-together-again/

I have taken a bit of a different proof approach wherein I recreated an ancestor, James Crumley, born in 1712 from the matching DNA of roughly 30 of his descendants.
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/roberta-estes-crumley-y-dna

I did the same thing, on an experimental smaller scale about a year ago with my ancestor, Henry Bolton.
https://dna-explained.com/2014/11/10/henry-bolton-c1759-1846-kidnapped-revolutionary-war-veteran-52-ancestors-45/

This is the way of the future in genetic genealogy, and I’ll be writing more about the Crumley project and the reconstruction of James Crumley in 2016.

                         Lump Of Coal Award(s)2015 frown

This category is a “special category” that is exactly what you think it is. Yep, this is the award no one wants.  We have a tie for the Lump of Coal Award this year between Ancestry and 23andMe.

               Ancestry Becomes the J.R. Ewing of the Genealogy World

2015 Larry Hagman

Attribution : © Glenn Francis, http://www.PacificProDigital.com

Some of you may remember J.R. Ewing on the television show called Dallas that ran from 1978 through 1991. J.R. Ewing, a greedy and unethical oil tycoon was one of the main characters.  The series was utterly mesmerizing, and literally everyone tuned in.  We all, and I mean universally, hated J.R. Ewing for what he unfeelingly and selfishly did to his family and others.  Finally, in a cliffhanger end of the season episode, someone shot J.R. Ewing.  OMG!!!  We didn’t know who.  We didn’t know if J.R. lived or died.  Speculation was rampant.  “Who shot JR?” was the theme on t-shirts everyplace that summer.  J.R. Ewing, over time, became the man all of America loved to hate.

Ancestry has become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world for the same reasons.

In essence, in the genetic genealogy world, Ancestry introduced a substandard DNA product, which remains substandard years later with no chromosome browser or comparison tools that we need….and they have the unmitigated audacity to try to convince us we really don’t need those tools anyway. Kind of like trying to convince someone with a car that they don’t need tires.

Worse, yet, they’ve introduced “better” tools (New Ancestor Discoveries), as in tools that were going to be better than a chromosome browser.  New Ancestor Discoveries “gives us” ancestors that aren’t ours. Sadly, there are many genealogists being led down the wrong path with no compass available.

Ancestry’s history of corporate stewardship is abysmal and continues with the obsolescence of various products and services including the Sorenson DNA database, their own Y and mtDNA database, MyFamily and most recently, Family Tree Maker. While the Family Tree Maker announcement has been met with great gnashing of teeth and angst among their customers, there are other software programs available.  Ancestry’s choices to obsolete the DNA data bases is irrecoverable and a huge loss to the genetic genealogy community.  That information is lost forever and not available elsewhere – a priceless, irreplaceable international treasure intentionally trashed.

If Ancestry had not bought up nearly all of the competing resources, people would be cancelling their subscriptions in droves to use another company – any other company. But there really is no one else anymore.  Ancestry knows this, so they have become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world – uncaring about the effects of their decisions on their customers or the community as a whole.  It’s hard for me to believe they have knowingly created such wholesale animosity within their own customer base.  I think having a job as a customer service rep at Ancestry would be an extremely undesirable job right now.  Many customers are furious and Ancestry has managed to upset pretty much everyone one way or another in 2015.

AncestryDNA Has Now Thoroughly Lost Its Mind
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/ancestrydna-has-now-thoroughly-lost-its-mind/

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/kenny-kenny-kenny/

Dear Kenny – Any Suggestions for our New Ancestor Discoveries?
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/dear-kenny-any-suggestions-for-our-new-ancestor-discoveries/

RIP Sorenson – A Crushing Loss
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/15/rip-sorenson-a-crushing-loss/

Of Babies and Bathwater
http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/17/of-babies-and-bathwater/

Facts Matter
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/

Getting the Most Out of AncestryDNA
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/02/getting-the-most-out-of-ancestrydna/

Ancestry Gave Me a New DNA Ancestor and It’s Wrong
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/03/ancestry-gave-me-a-new-dna-ancestor-and-its-wrong/

Testing Ancestry’s Amazing New Ancestor DNA Claim
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/07/testing-ancestrys-amazing-new-ancestor-dna-claim/

Dissecting AncestryDNA Circles and New Ancestors
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/09/dissecting-ancestrydna-circles-and-new-ancestors/

Squaring the Circle
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/03/29/squaring-the-circle/

Still Waiting for the Holy Grail
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/04/05/still-waiting-for-the-holy-grail/

A Dozen Ancestors That Aren’t aka Bad NADs
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/14/a-dozen-ancestors-that-arent-aka-bad-nads/

The Logic and Birth of a Bad NAD (New Ancestor Discovery)
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/12/the-logic-and-birth-of-a-bad-nad-new-ancestor-discovery/

Circling the Shews
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/24/circling-the-shews/

Naughty Bad NADs Sneak Home Under Cover of Darkness
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/24/naughty-bad-nads-sneak-home-under-cover-of-darkness/

Ancestry Shared Matches Combined with New Ancestor Discoveries
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/28/ancestry-shared-matches-combined-with-new-ancestor-discoveries/

Ancestry Shakey Leaf Disappearing Matches: Now You See Them – Now You Don’t
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/24/ancestry-shakey-leaf-disappearing-matches-now-you-see-them-now-you-dont/

Ancestry’s New Amount of Shared DNA – What Does It Really Mean?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/06/ancestrys-new-amount-of-shared-dna-what-does-it-really-mean/

The Winds of Change
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/11/08/the-winds-of-change/

Confusion – Family Tree Maker, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/13/confusion-family-tree-maker-family-tree-dna-and-ancestry-com/

DNA: good news, bad news
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/01/11/dna-good-news-bad-news/

Check out the Alternatives
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/12/09/check-out-the-alternatives/

GeneAwards 2015
http://www.tamurajones.net/GeneAwards2015.xhtml

23andMe Betrays Genealogists

2015 broken heart

In October, 23andMe announced that it has reached an agreement with the FDA about reporting some health information such as carrier status and traits to their clients. As a part of or perhaps as a result of that agreement, 23andMe is dramatically changing the user experience.

In some aspects, the process will be simplified for genealogists with a universal opt-in. However, other functions are being removed and the price has doubled.  New advertising says little or nothing about genealogy and is entirely medically focused.  That combined with the move of the trees offsite to MyHeritage seems to signal that 23andMe has lost any commitment they had to the genetic genealogy community, effectively abandoning the group entirely that pulled their collective bacon out of the fire. This is somehow greatly ironic in light of the fact that it was the genetic genealogy community through their testing recommendations that kept 23andMe in business for the two years, from November of 2013 through October of 2015 when the FDA had the health portion of their testing shut down.  This is a mighty fine thank you.

As a result of the changes at 23andMe relative to genealogy, the genetic genealogy community has largely withdrawn their support and recommendations to test at 23andMe in favor of Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.

Kelly Wheaton, writing on the Facebook ISOGG group along with other places has very succinctly summed up the situation:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153873250057922/

You can also view Kelly’s related posts from earlier in December and their comments at:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153830929022922/
and…
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153828722587922/

My account at 23andMe has not yet been converted to the new format, so I cannot personally comment on the format changes yet, but I will write about the experience in 2016 after my account is converted.

Furthermore, I will also be writing a new autosomal vendor testing comparison article after their new platform is released.

I Hate 23andMe
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/i-hate-23andme/

23andMe to Get Makeover After Agreement With FDA
https://dna-explained.com/2015/10/21/23andme-to-get-a-makeover-after-agreement-with-fda/

23andMe Metamorphosis
http://throughthetreesblog.tumblr.com/post/131724191762/the-23andme-metamorphosis

The Changes at 23andMe
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-changes-at-23andme/

The 23and Me Transition – The First Step
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/05/the-23andme-transition-first-step-november-11th/

The Winds of Change
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/11/08/the-winds-of-change/

Why Autosomal Response Rate Really Does Matter
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/24/why-autosomal-response-rate-really-does-matter/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/

Now…and not now
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/12/06/now-and-not-now/

                             Cone of Shame Award 2015 frown

Another award this year is the Cone of Shame award which is also awarded to both Ancestry and 23andMe for their methodology of obtaining “consent” to sell their customers’, meaning our, DNA and associated information.

Genetic Genealogy Data Gets Sold

2015 shame

Unfortunately, 2015 has been the year that the goals of both 23andMe and Ancestry have become clear in terms of our DNA data. While 23andMe has always been at least somewhat focused on health, Ancestry never was previously, but has now hired a health officer and teamed with Calico for medical genetics research.

Now, both Ancestry and 23andMe have made research arrangements and state in their release and privacy verbiage that all customers must electronically sign (or click through) when purchasing their DNA tests that they can sell, at minimum, your anonymized DNA data, without any further consent.  And there is no opt-out at that level.

They can also use our DNA and data internally, meaning that 23andMe’s dream of creating and patenting new drugs can come true based on your DNA that you submitted for genealogical purposes, even if they never sell it to anyone else.

In an interview in November, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki said the following:

23andMe is now looking at expanding beyond the development of DNA testing and exploring the possibility of developing its own medications. In July, the company raised $79 million to partly fund that effort. Additionally, the funding will likely help the company continue with the development of its new therapeutics division. In March, 23andMe began to delve into the therapeutics market, to create a third pillar behind the company’s personal genetics tests and sales of genetic data to pharmaceutical companies.

Given that the future of genetic genealogy at these two companies seems to be tied to the sale of their customer’s genetic and other information, which, based on the above, is very clearly worth big bucks, I feel that the fact that these companies are selling and utilizing their customer’s information in this manner should be fully disclosed. Even more appropriate, the DNA information should not be sold or utilized for research without an informed consent that would traditionally be used for research subjects.

Within the past few days, I wrote an article, providing specifics and calling on both companies to do the following.

  1. To minimally create transparent, understandable verbiage that informs their customers before the end of the purchase process that their DNA will be sold or utilized for unspecified research with the intention of financial gain and that there is no opt-out. However, a preferred plan of action would be a combination of 2 and 3, below.
  2. Implement a plan where customer DNA can never be utilized for anything other than to deliver the services to the consumers that they purchased unless a separate, fully informed consent authorization is signed for each research project, without coercion, meaning that the client does not have to sign the consent to obtain any of the DNA testing or services.
  3. To immediately stop utilizing the DNA information and results from customers who have already tested until they have signed an appropriate informed consent form for each research project in which their DNA or other information will be utilized.

And Now Ancestry Health
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/06/and-now-ancestry-health/

Opting Out
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/26/opting-out/

Ancestry Terms of Use Updated
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/07/ancestry-terms-of-use-updated/

AncestryDNA Doings
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/05/ancestrydna-doings/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/

23andMe and Ancestry and Selling Your DNA Information
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/30/23andme-ancestry-and-selling-your-dna-information/

                      Citizen Science Leadership Award   2015 smile

The Citizen Science Leadership Award this year goes to Blaine Bettinger for initiating the Shared cM Project, a crowdsourced project which benefits everyone.

Citizen Scientists Continue to Push the Edges of the Envelope with the Shared cM Project

Citizen scientists, in the words of Dr. Doron Behar, “are not amateurs.” In fact, citizen scientists have been contributing mightily and pushing the edge of the genetic genealogy frontier consistently now for 15 years.  This trend continues, with new discoveries and new ways of viewing and utilizing information we already have.

For example, Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project was begun in March and continues today. This important project has provided real life information as to the real matching amounts and ranges between people of different relationships, such as first cousins, for example, as compared to theoretical match amounts.  This wonderful project produced results such as this:

2015 shared cM

I don’t think Blaine initially expected this project to continue, but it has and you can read about it, see the rest of the results, and contribute your own data here. Blaine has written several other articles on this topic as well, available at the same link.

Am I Weird or What?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/07/am-i-weird-or-what/

Jim Owston analyzed fourth cousins and other near distant relationships in his Owston one-name study:
https://owston.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/an-analysis-of-fourth-cousins-and-other-near-distant-relatives/

I provided distant cousin information in the Crumley surname study:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/roberta-estes-crumley-y-dna

I hope more genetic genealogists will compile and contribute this type of real world data as we move forward. If you have compiled something like this, the Surname DNA Journal is peer reviewed and always looking for quality articles for publication.

Privacy, Law Enforcement and DNA

2015 privacy

Unfortunately, in May, a situation by which Y DNA was utilized in a murder investigation was reported in a sensationalist “scare” type fashion.  This action provided cause, ammunition or an excuse for Ancestry to remove the Sorenson data base from public view.

I find this exceedingly, exceedingly unfortunate. Given Ancestry’s history with obsoleting older data bases instead of updating them, I’m suspecting this was an opportune moment for Ancestry to be able to withdraw this database, removing a support or upgrade problem from their plate and blame the problem on either law enforcement or the associated reporting.

I haven’t said much about this situation, in part because I’m not a lawyer and in part because the topic is so controversial and there is no possible benefit since the damage has already been done. Unfortunately, nothing anyone can say or has said will bring back the Sorenson (or Ancestry) data bases and arguments would be for naught.  We already beat this dead horse a year ago when Ancestry obsoleted their own data base.  On this topic, be sure to read Judy Russell’s articles and her sources as well for the “rest of the story.”

Privacy, the Police and DNA
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/02/08/privacy-the-police-and-dna/

Big Easy DNA Not So Easy
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/03/15/big-easy-dna-not-so-easy/

Of Babies and Bathwater
http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/17/of-babies-and-bathwater/

Facts Matter
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/

Genetic genealogy standards from within the community were already in the works prior to the Idaho case, referenced above, and were subsequently published as guidelines.

Announcing Genetic Genealogy Standards
http://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2015/01/10/announcing-genetic-genealogy-standards/

The standards themselves:
http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Genetic-Genealogy-Standards.pdf

Ancient DNA Results Continue to Amass

“Moorleiche3-Schloss-Gottorf” by Commander-pirx at de.wikipedia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ancient DNA is difficult to recover and even more difficult to sequence, reassembling tiny little blocks of broken apart DNA into an ancient human genome.

However, each year we see a few more samples and we are beginning to repaint the picture of human population movement, which is different than we thought it would be.

One of the best summaries of the ancient ancestry field was Michael Hammer’s presentation at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November titled “R1B and the Peopling of Europe: an Ancient DNA Update.” His slides are available here:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/r1b-and-the-people-of-europe-an-ancient-dna-update

One of the best ongoing sources for this information is Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog. He covered most of the new articles and there have been several.  That’s the good news and the bad news, all rolled into one. http://dienekes.blogspot.com/

I have covered several that were of particular interest to the evolution of Europeans and Native Americans.

Yamnaya, Light Skinned Brown Eyed….Ancestors?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/15/yamnaya-light-skinned-brown-eyed-ancestors/

Kennewick Man is Native American
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/18/kennewick-man-is-native-american/

Botocudo – Ancient Remains from Brazil
https://dna-explained.com/2015/07/02/botocudo-ancient-remains-from-brazil/

Some Native had Oceanic Ancestors
https://dna-explained.com/2015/07/22/some-native-americans-had-oceanic-ancestors/

Homo Naledi – A New Species Discovered
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/11/homo-naledi-a-new-species-discovered/

Massive Pre-Contact Grave in California Yields Disappointing Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/10/20/mass-pre-contact-native-grave-in-california-yields-disappointing-results/

I know of several projects involving ancient DNA that are in process now, so 2016 promises to be a wonderful ancient DNA year!

Education

2015 education

Many, many new people discover genetic genealogy every day and education continues to be an ongoing and increasing need. It’s a wonderful sign that all major conferences now include genetic genealogy, many with a specific track.

The European conferences have done a great deal to bring genetic genealogy testing to Europeans. European testing benefits those of us whose ancestors were European before immigrating to North America.  This year, ISOGG volunteers staffed booths and gave presentations at genealogy conferences in Birmingham, England, Dublin, Ireland and in Nyköping, Sweden, shown below, photo compliments of Catherine Borges.

ISOGG volunteers

Several great new online educational opportunities arose this year, outside of conferences, for which I’m very grateful.

DNA Lectures YouTube Channel
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/26/dna-lectures-youtube-channel/

Allen County Public Library Online Resources
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/03/allen-county-public-library-online-resources/

DNA Data Organization Tools and Who’s on First
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/08/dna-data-organization-tools-and-whos-on-first/

Genetic Genealogy Educational Resource List
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/03/genetic-genealogy-educational-resource-list/

Genetic Genealogy Ireland Videos
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHnW2NAfPIA2KUipZ_PlUlw

DNA Lectures – Who Do You Think You Are
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7HQSiSkiy7ujlkgQER1FYw

Ongoing and Online Classes in how to utilize both Y and autosomal DNA
http://www.dnaadoption.com/index.php?page=online-classes

Education Award

2015 smile Family Tree DNA receives the Education Award this year along with a huge vote of gratitude for their 11 years of genetic genealogy conferences. They are the only testing or genealogy company to hold a conference of this type and they do a fantastic job.  Furthermore, they sponsor additional educational events by providing the “theater” for DNA presentations at international events such as the Who Do You Think You Are conference in England.  Thank you Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA Conference

ftdna 2015

The Family Tree DNA Conference, held in November, was a hit once again. I’m not a typical genealogy conference person.  My focus is on genetic genealogy, so I want to attend a conference where I can learn something new, something leading edge about the science of genetic genealogy – and that conference is definitely the Family Tree DNA conference.

Furthermore, Family Tree DNA offers tours of their lab on the Monday following the conference for attendees, and actively solicits input on their products and features from conference attendees and project administrators.

2015 FTDNA lab

Family Tree DNA 11th International Conference – The Best Yet
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/18/2015-family-tree-dna-11th-international-conference-the-best-yet/

All of the conference presentations that were provided by the presenters have been made available by Family Tree DNA at:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA?utm_campaign=website&utm_source=sendgrid.com&utm_medium=email

2016 Genetic Genealogy Wish List

2015 wish list

In 2014, I presented a wish list for 2015 and it didn’t do very well.  Will my 2015 list for 2016 fare any better?

  • Ancestry restores Sorenson and their own Y and mtDNA data bases in some format or contributes to an independent organization like ISOGG.
  • Ancestry provides chromosome browser.
  • Ancestry removes or revamps Timber in order to restore legitimate matches removed by Timber algorithm.
  • Fully informed consent (per research project) implemented by 23andMe and Ancestry, and any other vendor who might aspire to sell consumer DNA or related information, without coercion, and not as a prerequisite for purchasing a DNA testing product. DNA and information will not be shared or utilized internally or externally without informed consent and current DNA information will cease being used in this fashion until informed consent is granted by customers who have already tested.
  • Improved ethnicity reporting at all vendors including ancient samples and additional reference samples for Native Americans.
  • Autosomal Triangulation tools at all vendors.
  • Big Y and STR integration and analysis enhancement at Family Tree DNA.
  • Ancestor Reconstruction
  • Mitochondrial and Y DNA search tools by ancestor and ancestral line at Family Tree DNA.
  • Improved tree at Family Tree DNA – along with new search capabilities.
  • 23andMe restores lost capabilities, drops price, makes changes and adds features previously submitted as suggestions by community ambassadors.
  • More tools (This is equivalent to “bring me some surprises” on my Santa list as a kid.)

My own goals haven’t changed much over the years. I still just want to be able to confirm my genealogy, to learn as much as I can about each ancestor, and to break down brick walls and fill in gaps.

I’m very hopeful each year as more tools and methodologies emerge.  More people test, each one providing a unique opportunity to match and to understand our past, individually and collectively.  Every year genetic genealogy gets better!  I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy and Ancestrally Prosperous New Year!

2015 happy new year

23andMe, Ancestry and Selling Your DNA Information

Are you aware that when you purchase a DNA kit for genealogy testing through either 23andMe or Ancestry that you are literally giving these companies carte blanche to your DNA, the rights to your DNA information, including for medical utilization meaning sales to Big Pharm, and there is absolutely no opt-out, meaning they can in essence do anything they want with your anonymized data?

Both companies also have a higher research participation level that you can choose to participate in, or opt out of, that grants them permission to sell or otherwise utilize your non-anonymized data, meaning your identity is attached to that information.

However, opting out of his higher level DOES NOT stop the company from utilizing, sharing or selling your anonymized DNA and data.  Anonymized data means your identity and what they consider identifying information has been removed.

Many people think that if you opt-out, your DNA and data is never shared or sold, but according to 23andMe and Ancestry’s own documentation, that’s not true. Opt-out is not truly opt-out.  It’s only opting out of them sharing your non-anonymized data – meaning just the higher level of participation only.  They still share your anonymized data in aggregated fashion.

Some people are fine with this. Some aren’t.  Many people don’t really understand the situation.  I didn’t initially.  I’m very uncomfortable with this situation, and here’s why.

First, let me say very clearly that I’m not opposed to WHAT either 23andMe or Ancestry is doing, I’m very concerned with HOW, meaning their methodology for obtaining consent.

I feel like a consumer should receive what they pay for and not have their DNA data co-opted, often without their knowledge, explicit permission or full situational understanding, for other purposes.

There should also be no coercion involved – meaning the customer should not be required to participate in medical research as a condition of obtaining a genealogy test.  Most people have no idea this is happening.  I certainly didn’t.

How could a consumer not know, you ask?

Because these companies don’t make their policies and intentions clear.  Their language, in multiple documents that refer back and forth to each other, is extremely confusing.

Neither company explains what they are going to (or can) do with your DNA in plain English, before the end of the purchase process, so that the customer clearly understands what they are doing (or authorizing) IN ADDITION to what they intended to do. Obtaining customer permission in this fashion is hardly “informed consent” which is a prerequisite for a subject’s participation in research.

The University of Southern California has prepared this document describing the different aspects of informed consent for research.  If you read this document, then look at the consent, privacy and terms and conditions documents of both Ancestry and 23andMe, you will notice significant differences.

While 23andMe has clearly been affiliated with the medical community for some time, Ancestry historically has not and there is absolutely no reason for an Ancestry customer to suspect that Ancestry is doing something else with their DNA. After all, Ancestry is a genealogy company, not a medical genetics company.  Aren’t they???

Let’s look at each of these two companies Individually.

23andMe

At 23andMe, when you purchase a kit, you see the following final purchase screen.

23andMe Terms of Service

On the very last review page, after the “order total” is the tiny “I accept the terms of service” checkbox, just above the large grey “submit order” box. That’s the first and only time this box appears.  By this time, the consumer has already made their purchase decision, has already entered their credit card number and is simply doing a final review and approval.

In the 23andMe Terms of Service, we find this:

Waiver of Property Rights: You understand that by providing any sample, having your Genetic Information processed, accessing your Genetic Information, or providing Self-Reported Information, you acquire no rights in any research or commercial products that may be developed by 23andMe or its collaborating partners. You specifically understand that you will not receive compensation for any research or commercial products that include or result from your Genetic Information or Self-Reported Information.

You understand that you should not expect any financial benefit from 23andMe as a result of having your Genetic Information processed; made available to you; or, as provided in our Privacy Statement and Terms of Service, shared with or included in Aggregated Genetic and Self-Reported Information shared with research partners, including commercial partners.

Clicking on the privacy policy showed me the following information in their privacy highlights document:

  1. We may share anonymized and aggregate information with third parties; anonymized and aggregate information is any information that has been stripped of your name and contact information and aggregated with information of others or anonymized so that you cannot reasonably be identified as an individual.

In their full Privacy statement, we find this:

By using our Services, you agree to all of the policies and procedures described in the foregoing documents.

Under the Withdrawing Consent paragraph:

If you withdraw your consent for research your Genetic Information and Self-Reported Information may still be used by us and shared with our third-party service providers to provide and improve our Services (as described in Section 4.a), and shared as Aggregate Information that does not identify you as an individual (as described in Section 4.d).

And in their “What Happens if you do NOT consent to 23andMe Research” section:

If you do not complete a Consent Document or any additional consent agreement with 23andMe, your information will not be used for 23andMe Research. However, your Genetic Information and Self-Reported Information may still be used by us and shared with our third-party service providers to provide and improve our Services (as described in Section 4.a), and shared as Aggregate or Anonymous Information that does not reasonably identify you as an individual (as described in Section 4.d).

If you don’t like these terms, here’s what you can do about it:

If you want to terminate your legal agreement with 23andMe, you may do so by notifying 23andMe at any time in writing, which will entail closing your accounts for all of the Services that you use.

You can read the 23andMe full privacy statement here.

You can read the 23andMe Terms of Service here.

You can read the Consent document here.

Ancestry

Ancestry recently jumped into the medical research arena, forming an alliance with Calico to provide them with DNA information – that would be Ancestry’s customer DNA information – meaning your DNA if you’re an AncestryDNA customer. You can read about this here, here and here.

When you purchase an AncestryDNA kit, you are asked the following, also at the very end of the purchase process.  If you don’t click, you receive an error message, shown below.

Ancestry Terms and Conditions crop

Here are the Ancestry Terms and Conditions.

Here is the Ancestry Privacy Statement.

From Ancestry’s Terms and Conditions, here’s what you are authorizing:

By submitting DNA to AncestryDNA, you grant AncestryDNA and the Ancestry Group Companies a perpetual, royalty-free, world-wide, transferable license to use your DNA, and any DNA you submit for any person from whom you obtained legal authorization as described in this Agreement, and to use, host, sublicense and distribute the resulting analysis to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered. You hereby release AncestryDNA from any and all claims, liens, demands, actions or suits in connection with the DNA sample, the test or results thereof, including, without limitation, errors, omissions, claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, right of publicity, emotional distress or economic loss. This license continues even if you stop using the Website or the Service.

From their Privacy Statement, here’s what Ancestry says they are doing with your DNA:

vi) To perform research: AncestryDNA will internally analyze Users’ results to make discoveries in the study of genealogy, anthropology, evolution, languages, cultures, medicine, and other topics.

The is no complete opt-out at Ancestry either.

Now What?

So, how many of you read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Statements at either 23andMe or Ancestry and understood that you were in essence giving them carte blanche with your anonymized data when you purchased your tests from them?

Is this what you intended to do?

How many of you understood that the ONLY way to obtain your genealogy information, ethnicity and matching is to grant 23andMe and Ancestry authorization to use your DNA for other purposes?

How many of you understood you could never entirely opt-out?

Where is your DNA?

Who has it?

What are they doing with it?

How much did or will Ancestry or 23andMe, or Big Pharm make from it?

Why would they want to obtain your DNA in this manner, instead of being entirely transparent and forthright and obtaining a typical informed consent?

Are they or their partners utilizing your DNA to design high end drugs and services that you as a consumer will never be able to afford?

Are they using your DNA to design gene manipulation techniques that you might personally be opposed to?

Do you care?

Personally, I was done participating in research when 23andMe patented their Designer Baby technology, and I’ve never changed my mind since.  There is a vast difference between research to cure Parkinson’s and cancer and focusing your research efforts on creating designer children.

People who do want medical information (such as from 23andMe) should be allowed to receive that, personally, for their own use – but no one’s DNA should be co-opted for something other than what they had intended when they made the purchase without a very explicit, separate, opt-in for any other usage of their DNA, including anonymized data.

Period.

People who purchase these services for genealogy information shouldn’t have to worry about their DNA being utilized for anything else if that’s not their specific and direct choice.

I shouldn’t have to opt-out of something I didn’t want and didn’t know I was signing up for in the first place – a type of usage that wouldn’t be something one would normally expect when purchasing a genealogy product. Furthermore, if I opt out, I should be able to opt out entirely.  You only discover opt-out isn’t truly opt-out by reading lots of fine print, or asking an attorney.  And yes, I still had to ask an attorney, to be certain, even after reading all the fine print.

Why did I ask a legal expert?  Because I was just sure I was wrong – that I was missing something in the confusing spaghetti verbiage.  I couldn’t believe these companies could actually do this.  I couldn’t believe I had been that naïve and gullible, or didn’t read thoroughly enough.  Well, guess what – I was naïve and gullible and the companies can and do utilize our DNA in this manner.

Besides that, “everyone knows” that companies can’t just do what they want with your DNA without an informed consent.  Right?  Anyone dealing with medicine knows that – and it’s widely believed within the genetic genealogy community.  And it’s wrong.

It seems that 23andMe and Ancestry have borrowed a page from the side of medical research where “discarded” tissues are used routinely for research without informed consent of the person from whom they originated.  This article in the New York Times details the practice, an excerpt given below:

Tissues from millions of Americans are used in research without their knowledge. These “clinical biospecimens” are leftovers from blood tests, biopsies and surgeries. If your identity is removed, scientists don’t have to ask your permission to use them. How people feel about this varies depending on everything from their relationship to their DNA to how they define life and death. Many bioethicists aren’t bothered by the research being done with those samples — without it we wouldn’t have some of our most important medical advances. What concerns them is that people don’t know they’re participating, or have a choice. This may be about to change.

Change is Needed

The 23andMe and Ancestry process of consent needs to change too.

I would feel a lot better about the 23andMe and Ancestry practices if both companies simply said, before purchase, in plain transparent normal-human-without-a-law-degree understandable language, the following type of statement:

“If you purchase this product, you cannot opt out of research and we will sell or utilize your anonymized results, including any information submitted to us (trees, surveys, etc.) for unspecified medical and pharmaceutical research of our choosing from which we and our partners intend to profit financially.”

If I am wrong and there is a way to opt out of research entirely, including anonymized aggregated data, while still retaining all of the genealogy services paid for from the vendor, I’ll be more than happy to publish that verbiage and clarification.

Today, the details are buried in layers of verbiage and the bottom-line meaning certainly is not clear. And it’s very easy to just “click through” because you have no choice if you want to order the test for your genealogy. You cannot place an order without agreeing and clicking the box.

This less-than-forthright technique of obtaining “consent” may be legal, and it’s certainly effective for the companies, guaranteeing them 100% participation, but it just isn’t morally or ethically right.

Shame on us, the consumers, for not reading the fine print, assuming everyone could understand it.

But shame on both companies for burying that verbiage and taking advantage of the genealogists’ zeal, knowing full well, under the current setup, we must authorize, without fully informed consent, their use of our DNA in order to test in their systems to obtain our genealogy information.  They know full well that people will simply click through without understanding the fine print, which is why the “I accept” box is positioned where it is in the sales process, and the companies are likely depending on that “click through” behavior.

Shame on them for being less than forthright, providing no entire opt-out, or better yet, requiring a fully informed-consent intentional opt-in.

Furthermore, these two large companies are likely only the tip of the iceberg – leading the charge as it were. I don’t know of any other DNA testing companies that are selling your DNA data today – at least not yet.  And just because I don’t know about it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Other Companies

Family Tree DNA, the third of the three big autosomal DNA testing companies, has not and is not participating in selling or otherwise providing customer DNA or data for medical or third party research or utilization.  I confirmed this with the owners, this week.

Surely, if Ancestry and 23andMe continue to get away with this less than forthright technique, more companies will follow suit.  It’s clearly very profitable.

Today, DNA.Land, a new site, offers genetic genealogists “value” in exchange for the use of their DNA data.  However, DNA.Land is not charging the consumer for testing services nor obtaining consent in a surreptitious way.  They do utilize your DNA, but that is the entire purpose of this organization.  (This is not an endorsement of their organization or services – just a comment.)

GedMatch, a third party site utilized heavily by genetic genealogists states their data sharing or selling policy clearly.

It is our policy to never provide your genealogy, DNA information, or email address to 3rd parties, except as noted above.

They further state:

We may use your data in our own research, to develop or improve applications.

Using data internally for application improvement for the intended use of the test is fully legitimate, can and should be expected of every vendor.

Bottom line – before you participate in DNA testing or usage of a third party site, read the fine print fully and understand that no matter how a vendor tries, your DNA can never be fully anonymized.

Call to Action

I would call on both 23andMe and Ancestry to make what they are doing, and intend to do, with their customers DNA much more transparent. Consumers have the right to clearly know before they purchase the product if they are required to sign an authorization such as this and what it actually means to them.

Furthermore, I would call on both companies to implement a plan whereby our DNA can never be used for anything other than to deliver to us, the consumers, the product(s) and services for which we’ve paid unless we sign, separately, and without coercion, a fully informed consent opt-in waiver that explains very specifically and clearly what will occur with our DNA.

These companies clearly don’t want to do this, because it would likely reduce their participation rate dramatically – from 100% today for anonymized aggregated data, because there is no opt-out at that level, to a rate significantly lower.

I’m reminded of when my children were teenagers.  One of them took the car someplace they knew they didn’t have permission to go.  I asked them why they didn’t ask permission first, and they rolled their eyes, looked at me like I was entirely stupid and said, “Because you would have said no.  At least I got to go this way.”  Yes, car privileges were removed and they were grounded.

Currently 23andMe reports an amazing 85-90% participation rate, which has to reflect their higher non-anonymized level of participation because their participation rate in the anonymized aggregated level is 100%, because it’s mandatory.  Their “consent” techniques have come under question by others in the field as well, according to this article.  Many people who do consent believe their participation is altruistic, meaning that only nonprofit organizations like the Michael J. Fox Foundation will benefit, not realizing the full scope of how their DNA data can be utilized.  That’s what I initially thought at 23andMe.  Did I ever feel stupid, and duped, when that designer baby patent was issued.

Lastly, I would call on both companies to obtain a fully informed consent for every person in their system today who has already purchased their product, and to discontinue using any of the data in any way for anyone who does not sign that fully informed consent. This includes internal use (aside from product improvement), not just third party data sharing or sales, given that 23andMe is planning on developing their own drugs.

If you support this call to action, let both companies know. Furthermore, vote with your money and consumer voice. I will be making sure that anyone who asks about testing firms is fully aware of this issue.  You can do the same thing by linking to this article.

Call them:

23andMe – 1-800-239-5230
Ancestry – 1-800-401-3193 or 1-800-262-3787 in the US. For other locations click here

Write them:

23andMe – customercare@23andme.com
Ancestry – Memberservices@ancestrydna.com

I genuinely hope these vendors make this change, and soon.

For additional information, Judy Russell and I have both written about this topic recently:

And Now Ancestry Health
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/06/and-now-ancestry-health/

Opting Out
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/26/opting-out/

Ancestry Terms of Use Updated
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/07/ancestry-terms-of-use-updated/

AncestryDNA Doings
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/05/ancestrydna-doings/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/