Family Tree DNA and GedMatch Dustup

crystal ball

The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse

It’s really unfortunate that a “conversation” that should have been private has gone public, but it has and there is no closing the barn door after the cow has left.

Genetic genealogy, and genealogy, is a highly emotional topic. Many of us feel very strongly, myself included.  After all, it’s our ancestors, flesh and blood we’re talking about.

I know that many people look to my blog for direction and commentary on these matters, so I feel obligated to say something.

For those who are not aware, in the past few days, GedMatch has stopped accepting Family Tree DNA autosomal data file uploads.  Circumstances and timing of events beyond that are murky at best and involve a bit of a “he said – she said” type of situation.  So, I’m not going to fuel any flames by reposting anything because I can’t verify the timing or order since I was not online when it occurred.  If you are a GedMatch user, you can see their announcement and commentary, which is what sparked the public portion of this issue, after signing on to your account and you can see Family Tree DNA’s responses and commentary to GedMatch’s posting on their Facebook page.

In summary, Family Tree DNA became aware of a potential security issue relative to their customer information at GedMatch and reached out to GedMatch to resolve the issue.  From that point forward, what actually happened is unclear, is only known to the “people in the room” at the time and judging from the outcome, may well involve some confusion or misinterpretation.  In any event, the resolution did not occur and GedMatch posted that they were no longer accepting uploads from Family Tree DNA.  (For the record, I am not one of the “people in the room,” so I, like you, don’t know.)

Unfortunately, this announcement fueled rampant speculation and outrage online and does nothing to resolve the potential problem for people whose kits are already being utilized on GedMatch.

So, here’s what I can and can’t tell you, and why.

What I can tell you:

This is not an issue with an individual having or sharing their DNA files.  You can still download your autosomal DNA files from Family Tree DNA.  This is not about paternalism or someone telling you what you should or shouldn’t do.  This is not about the DNA itself.  This is about security and privacy.  Period.

What I can’t tell you:

Having worked in a technology industry for years, I cannot responsibly tell you “the problem,” at least not until it’s resolved, or why it’s a potential problem, because it would then become open season for people to attempt to exploit the potential problem. And yes, they would try, in a heartbeat – just because.  This is why neither GedMatch nor Family Tree DNA have elaborated on this part of the issue.  They are being responsible, but unfortunately, their intentional and responsible ambiguity is feeding rather wild speculation in the larger community – and none of it positive.

No Crystal Ball

No one has a crystal ball. What is perfectly fine one day may not be the next due to changes beyond any one individual or firm’s control.  What is completely secure under one circumstance may not be when you add another vendor or service into the mix.  It happens continually in our high-tech world and it’s not intentional or due to negligence on anyone’s part.  Sometimes issues or potential issues don’t become evident immediately.  When they do, it’s incumbent upon the involved parties to resolve the problem or potential problem.  Where there is more than one party involved, it makes the situation inherently more difficult and calls for cooperation, which is where we are today.

What To Do

The good thing about social media is that it makes communications immediate. The bad thing about social media is that it’s very easy for misinformation and speculation to run like wildfire and to quickly take on the context of fact, fuel everyone’s emotions, and for a mob mentality to take over.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at the political rhetoric and associated “spin” this year, regardless of your position.

Here’s the bottom line. No one really knows what is going on.  Even the parties on both sides really only know “their” side and there are two sides to every story.  For outsiders, which means all of us, to jump into the fray is like the distant family taking sides in a family squabble.  Almost everyone has the information wrong, or only part of the information, but everyone has a very strong opinion based on what they think they know.  Agendas come into play and it gets ugly, very ugly, very quickly, which is again, where we are today.  I have been utterly horrified at some of the vitriol I’ve seen online.

The people who have figured out the problem, and there are a few, generally technology professionals, are doing what they should do and keeping their mouths shut. Let me translate this – they are more concerned for our security and well-being than the perception of the online community that they were “right.”   To those people, from all of us, thank you for your professionalism.

The other bad thing about social media is that even when the problem goes away, the hard feelings generated by speculation and misinformation don’t. The damage done by jumping to early, incorrect conclusions and fueling vilifying social rhetoric may never be undone either.  Damaging, or attempting to damage either party socially or otherwise is not beneficial to a resolution and may actually hinder the resolution that we want to see.  This ultimately damages all of genetic genealogy.

What I’m saying is this: We can’t do anything to actively “help” but we can certainly negatively impact the situation.  We really don’t know what is going on, and as such, should not be speculating or arriving at premature conclusions.  Rampant speculation is not helpful, is inaccurate and has the potential to make the situation much worse.  As a community, we need to give these firms some time and space without fueling the emotional flames which may indeed make their negotiations or communications, or whatever needs to happen, more difficult.

So, in the vernacular of my parenting, I’m asking us all to calm down, take a deep breath and a personal timeout:)  Let’s find something else fun and productive to do for a few days and leave GedMatch and Family Tree DNA alone, relative to this topic.  They have both stated that they want to resolve this situation.  Both of the companies are listening to us, are well-intentioned and engaged, which is far more than we receive from other companies in this field.  What more can we ask at this point?

I have every confidence that both of these firms are committed to genetic genealogists and want to resolve this issue – and that they will, given some time and space out from under the microscope and spotlight.  I’m sure they understand how the community feels regarding this issue – so at this point there is no need to say any more unless the issue isn’t resolved.

In this same vein, I apologize to my sane and rational commenters, but the comments portion of this blog posting is closed. I do not want to add to the online rhetorical issue.  If you have something to say to either party, then send it, in a polite and civil manner that would not embarrass your grandmother, directly to the parties involved.

Update 3-19-2016 – A joint announcement from GedMatch and Family Tree DNA this afternoon:

Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch jointly announce that we are in serious conversations regarding issues that have resulted in GEDmatch discontinuing uploads of FTDNA data. Both companies recognize the importance of these talks to their customers and are committed to quickly resolve differences. We regret any inconvenience that may have been caused and assure our users that our primary focus and efforts are geared toward your benefit.

Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum

Ethnicity results from DNA testing.  Fascinating.  Intriguing.  Frustrating.  Exciting.  Fun. Challenging.  Mysterious.  Enlightening.  And sometimes wrong.  These descriptions all fit.  Welcome to your personal conundrum!  The riddle of you!  If you’d like to understand why your ethnicity results might not have been what you expected, read on!

Today, about 50% of the people taking autosomal DNA tests purchase them for the ethnicity results. Ironically, that’s the least reliable aspect of DNA testing – but apparently somebody’s ad campaigns have been very effective.  After all, humans are curious creatures and inquiring minds want to know.  Who am I anyway?

I think a lot of people who aren’t necessarily interested in genealogy per se are interested in discovering their ethnic mix – and maybe for some it will be a doorway to more traditional genealogy because it will fan the flame of curiosity.

Given the increase in testing for ethnicity alone, I’m seeing a huge increase in people who are both confused by and disappointed in their results. And of course, there are a few who are thrilled, trading their lederhosen for a kilt because of their new discovery.  To put it gently, they might be a little premature in their celebration.

A lot of whether you’re happy or unhappy has to do with why you tested, your experience level and your expectations.

So, for all of you who could write an e-mail similar to this one that I received – this article is for you:

“I received my ethnicity results and I’m surprised and confused. I’m half German yet my ethnicity shows I’m from the British Isles and Scandinavia.  Then I tested my parents and their results don’t even resemble mine, nor are they accurate.  I should be roughly half of what they are, and based on the ethnicity report, it looks like I’m totally unrelated.  I realize my ethnicity is not just a matter of dividing my parents results by half, but we’re not even in the same countries.  How can I be from where they aren’t? How can I have significantly more, almost double, the Scandinavian DNA that they do combined?  And yes, I match them autosomally as a child so there is no question of paternity.”

Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT, trade in your lederhosen for a kilt just yet.

lederhosen kilt

Lederhosen – By The original uploader was Aquajazz at German Wikipedia – Transferred from de.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2746036 Kilt – By Jongleur100 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7917180

This technology is not really ripe yet for that level of confidence except perhaps at the continent level and for people with Jewish heritage.

  1. In determining majority ethnicity at the continent level, these tests are quite accurate, but then you can determine the same thing by looking in the mirror.  I’m primarily of European heritage.  I can see that easily and don’t need a DNA test for that information.
  2. When comparing between continental ethnicity, meaning sorting African from European from Asian from Native American, these tests are relatively accurate, meaning there is sometimes a little bit of overlap, but not much.  I’m between 4 and 5% Native American and African – which I can’t see in the mirror – but some of these tests can.
  3. When dealing with intra-continent ethnicity – meaning Europe in particular, comparing one country or region to another, these tests are not reliable and in some cases, appear to be outright wrong. The exception here is Ashkenazi Jewish results which are generally quite accurate, especially at higher levels.

There are times when you seem to have too much of a particular ethnicity, and times when you seem to have too little.

Aside from the obvious adoption, misattributed parent or the oral history simply being wrong, the next question is why.

Ok, Why?

So glad you asked!

Part of why has to do with actual population mixing. Think about the history of Europe.  In fact, let’s just look at Germany.  Wiki provides a nice summary timeline.  Take a look, because you’ll see that the overarching theme is warfare and instability.  The borders changed, the rulers changed, invasions happened, and most importantly, the population changed.

Let’s just look at one event. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) devastated the population, wiped out large portions of the countryside entirely, to the point that after its conclusion, parts of Germany were entirely depopulated for years.  The rulers invited people from other parts of Europe to come, settle and farm.  And they did just that.  Hear those words, other parts of Europe.

My ancestors found in the later 1600s along the Rhine near Speyer and Mannheim were some of those settlers, from Switzerland. Where were they from before Switzerland, before records?  We don’t know and we wouldn’t even know that much were it not for the early church records.

So, who are the Germans?

Who or where is the reference population that you would use to represent Germans?

If you match against a “German” population today, what does that mean, exactly? Who are you really matching?

Now think about who settled the British Isles.

Where did those people come from and who were they?

Well, the Anglo-Saxon people were comprised of Germanic tribes, the Angles and the Saxons.  Is it any wonder that if your heritage is German you’re going to be matching some people from the British Isles and vice versa?

Anglo-Saxons weren’t the only people who settled in the British Isles. There were Vikings from Scandinavia and the Normans from France who were themselves “Norsemen” aka from the same stock as the Vikings.

See the swirl and the admixture? Is there any wonder that European intracontinental admixture is so confusing and perplexing today?

Reference Populations

The second challenge is obtaining valid and adequate reference populations.

Each company that offers ethnicity tests assembles a group of reference populations against which they compare your results to put you into a bucket or buckets.

Except, it’s not quite that easy.

When comparing highly disparate populations, meaning those whose common ancestor was tens of thousands of years ago, you can find significant differences in their DNA. Think the four major continental areas here – Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas.

Major, unquestionable differences are much easier to discern and interpret.

However, within population groups, think Europe here, it is much more difficult.

To begin with, we don’t have much (if any) ancient DNA to compare to. So we don’t know what the Germanic, French, Norwegian, Scottish or Italian populations looked like in, let’s say, the year 1000.

We don’t know what they looked like in the year 500, or 2000BC either and based on what we do know about warfare and the movement of people within Europe, those populations in the same location could genetically look entirely different at different points in history. Think before and after The 30 Years War.

population admixture

By User:MapMaster – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1234669

As an example, consider the population of Hungary and the Slavic portion of Germany before and after the Mongol invasion of Europe in the 13th century and Hun invasions that occurred between the 1st and 5th centuries.  The invaders DNA didn’t go away, it became part of the local population and we find it in descendants today.  But how do we know it’s Hunnic and not “German,” whatever German used to be, or Hungarian, or Norse?

That’s what we do know.

Now, think about how much we don’t know. There is no reason to believe the admixture and intermixing of populations on any other continent that was inhabited was any different.  People will be people.  They have wars, they migrate, they fight with each other and they produce offspring.

We are one big mixing bowl.

Software

A third challenge faced in determining ethnicity is how to calculate and interpret matching.

Population based matching is what is known as “best fit.”  This means that with few exceptions, such as some D9S919 values (Native American), the Duffy Null Allele (African) and Neanderthal not being found in African populations, all of the DNA sequences used for ethnicity matching are found in almost all populations worldwide, just at differing frequencies.

So assigning a specific “ethnicity” to you is a matter of finding the best fit – in other words which population you match at the highest frequency for the combined segments being measured.

Let’s say that the company you’re using has 50 people from each “grouping” that they are using for buckets.

A bucket is something you’ll be assigned to. Buckets sometimes resemble modern-day countries, but most often the testing companies try to be less boundary aligned and more population group aligned – like British Isles, or Eastern European, for example.

Ethnic regions

How does one decide which “country” goes where? That’s up to the company involved.  As a consumer, you need to read what the company publishes about their reference populations and their bucket assignment methodology.

ethnic country

For example, one company groups the Czech Republic and Poland in with Western Europe and another groups them primarily with Eastern Europe but partly in Western Europe and a third puts Poland in Eastern Europe and doesn’t say where they group The Czech Republic. None of these are inherently right are wrong – just understand that they are different and you’re not necessarily comparing apples to apples.

Two Strands of DNA

In the past, we’ve discussed the fact that you have two strands of DNA and they don’t come with a Mom side, a Dad side, no zipper and no instructions that tell you which is Mom’s and which is Dad’s.  Not fair – but it’s what we have to work with.

When you match someone because your DNA is zigzagging back and forth between Mom’s and Dad’s DNA sides, that’s called identical by chance.

It’s certainly possible that the same thing can happen in population genetics – where two strands when combined “look like” and match to a population reference sample, by chance.

pop ref 3

In the example above, you can see that you received all As from Mom and all Cs from Dad, and the reference population matches the As and Cs by zigzagging back and forth between your parents.  In this case, your DNA would match that particular reference population, but your parents would not.  The matching is technically accurate, it’s just that the results aren’t relevant because you match by chance and not because you have an ancestor from that reference population.

Finding The Right Bucket

Our DNA, as humans, is more than 99.% the same.  The differences are where mutations have occurred that allow population groups and individuals to look different from one another and other minor differences.  Understanding the degree of similarity makes the concept of “race” a bit outdated.

For genetic genealogy, it’s those differences we seek, both on a population level for ethnicity testing and on a personal level for identifying our ancestors based on who else our autosomal DNA matches who also has those same ancestors.

Let’s look at those differences that have occurred within population groups.

Let’s say that one particular sequence of your DNA is found in the following “bucket” groups in the following percentages:

  • Germany – 50%
  • British Isles – 25%
  • Scandinavian – 10%

What do you do with that? It’s the same DNA segment found in all of the populations.  As a company, do you assume German because it’s where the largest reference population is found?

And who are the Germans anyway?

Does all German DNA look alike? We already know the answer to that.

Are multiple ancestors contributing German ancestry from long ago, or are they German today or just a generation or two back in time?

And do you put this person in just the German bucket, or in the other buckets too, just at lower frequencies.  After all, buckets are cumulative in terms of figuring out your ethnicity.

If there isn’t a reference population, then the software of course can’t match to that population and moves to find the “next best fit.”  Keep in mind too that some of these reference populations are very small and may not represent the range of genetic diversity found within the entire region they represent.

If your ancestors are Hungarian today, they may find themselves in a bucket entirely unrelated to Hungary if a Hungarian reference population isn’t available AND/OR if a reference population is available but it’s not relevant to your ancestry from your part of Hungary.

If you’d like a contemporary example to equate to this, just think of a major American city today and the ethnic neighborhoods. In Detroit, if someone went to the ethnic Polish neighborhood and took 50 samples, would that be reflective of all of Detroit?  How about the Italian neighborhood?  The German neighborhood?  You get the drift.  None of those are reflective of Detroit, or of Michigan or even of the US.  And if you don’t KNOW that you have a biased sample, the only “matches” you’ll receive are Polish matches and you’ll have no way to understand the results in context.

Furthermore, that ethnic neighborhood 50 or 100 years earlier or later in time might not be comprised of that ethnic group at all.

Based on this example, you might be trading in your lederhosen for a pierogi or a Paczki, which are both wonderful, but entirely irrelevant to you.

paczki

Real Life Examples

Probably the best example I can think of to illustrate this phenomenon is that at least a portion of the Germanic population and the Native American population both originated in a common population in central northern Asia.  That Asiatic population migrated both to Europe to the west and eventually, to the Americas via an eastern route through Beringia.  Today, as a result of that common population foundation, some Germanic people show trace amounts of “Native American” DNA.  Is it actually from a Native American?  Clearly not, based on the fact that these people nor their ancestors have ever set foot in the Americas nor are they coastal.  However, the common genetic “signature” remains today and is occasionally detected in Germanic and eastern European people.

If you’re saying, “no, not possible,” remember for a minute that everyone in Europe carries some Neanderthal DNA from a population believed to be “extinct” now for between 25,000 and 40,000 years, depending on whose estimates you use and how you measure “extinct.”  Neanderthal aren’t extinct, they have evolved into us.  They assimilated, whether by choice or force is unknown, but the fact remains that they did because they are a forever part of Europeans, most Asians and yes, Native Americans today.

Back to You

So how can you judge the relevance or accuracy of this information aside from looking in the mirror?

Because I have been a genealogist for decades now, I have an extensive pedigree chart that I can use to judge the ethnicity predictions relatively accurately. I created an “expected” set of percentages here and then compared them to my real results from the testing companies.  This paper details the process I used.  You can easily do the same thing.

Part of how happy or unhappy you will be is based on your goals and expectations for ethnicity testing. If you want a definitive black and white, 100% accurate answer, you’re probably going to be unhappy, or you’ll be happy only because you don’t know enough about the topic to know you should be unhappy.  If you test with only one company, accept their results as gospel and go merrily on your way, you’ll never know that had you tested elsewhere, you’d probably have received a somewhat different answer.

If you’re scratching your head, wondering which one is right, join the party.  Perhaps, except for obvious outliers, they are all right.

If you know your pedigree pretty well and you’re testing for general interest, then you’ll be fine because you have a measuring stick against which to evaluate the results.

I found it fun to test with all 4 vendors, meaning Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry along with the Genographic project and compare their results.

In my case, I was specifically interesting in ascertaining minority admixture and determining which line or lines it descended from. This means both Native American and African.

You can do this too and then download your results to www.gedmatch.com and utilize their admixture utilities.

GedMatch admix menu

At GedMatch, there are several versions of various contributed admixture/ethnicity tools for you to use. The authors of these tools have in essence done the same thing the testing companies have done – compiled reference populations of their choosing and compare your results in a specific manner as determined by the software written by that author.  They all vary.  They are free.  Your mileage can and will vary too!

By comparing the results, you can clearly see the effects of including or omitting specific populations. You’ll come away wondering how they could all be measuring the same you, but it’s an incredibly eye-opening experience.

The Exceptions and Minority Ancestry

You know, there is always an exception to every rule and this is no exception to the exception rule. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

By and large, the majority continental ancestry will be the most accurate, but it’s the minority ancestry many testers are seeking.  That which we cannot see in the mirror and may be obscured in written records as well, if any records existed at all.

Let me say very clearly that when you are looking for minority ancestry, the lack of that ancestry appearing in these tests does NOT prove that it doesn’t exist. You can’t prove a negative.  It may mean that it’s just too far back in time to show, or that the DNA in that bucket has “washed out” of your line, or that we just don’t recognize enough of that kind of DNA today because we need a larger reference population.  These tests will improve with time and all 3 major vendors update the results of those who tested with them when they have new releases of their ethnicity software.

Think about it – who is 100% Native American today that we can use as a reference population?  Are Native people from North and South American the same genetically?  And let’s not forget the tribes in the US do not view DNA testing favorably.  To say we have challenges understanding the genetic makeup and migrations of the Native population is an understatement – yet those are the answers so many people seek.

Aside from obtaining more reference samples, what are the challenges?

There are two factors at play.

Recombination – the “Washing Out” Factor

First, your DNA is divided in half with every generation, meaning that you will, on the average, inherit roughly half of the DNA of your ancestors.  Now in reality, half is an average and it doesn’t always work that way.  You may inherit an entire segment of an ancestor’s DNA, or none at all, instead of half.

I’ve graphed the “washing out factor” below and you can see that within a few generations, if you have only one Native or African ancestor, their DNA is found in such small percentages, assuming a 50% inheritance or recombination rate, that it won’t be found above 1% which is the threshold used by most testing companies.

Wash out factor 2

Therefore, the ethnicity of any ancestor born 7 generations ago, or before about 1780 may not be detectable.  This is why the testing companies say these tests are effective to about the rough threshold of 5 or 6 generations.  In reality, there is no line in the sand.  If you have received more than 50% of that ancestor’s DNA, or a particularly large segment, it may be detectable at further distances.  If you received less, it may be undetectable at closer distances.  It’s the roll of the DNA dice in every generation between them and you.  This is also why it’s important to test parents and other family members – they may well have received DNA that you didn’t that helps to illuminate your ancestry.

Recombination – Population Admixture – the “Keeping In” Factor

The second factor at play here is population admixture which works exactly the opposite of the “washing out” factor. It’s the “keeping in” factor.  While recombination, the “washing out” factor, removes DNA in every generation, the population admixture “keeping in” factor makes sure that ancestral DNA stays in the mix. So yes, those two natural factors are kind of working at cross purposes and you can rest assured that both are at play in your DNA at some level.  Kind of a mean trick of nature isn’t it!

The population admixture factor, known as IBP, or identical by population, happens when identical DNA is found in an entire or a large population segment – which is exactly what ethnicity software is looking for – but the problem is that when you’re measuring the expected amount of DNA in your pedigree chart, you have no idea how to allow for endogamy and population based admixture from the past.

Endogamy IBP

This example shows that both Mom and Dad have the exact same DNA, because at these locations, that’s what this endogamous population carries.  Therefore the child carries this DNA too, because there isn’t any other DNA to inherit.  The ethnicity software looks for this matching string and equates it to this particular population.

Like Neanderthal DNA, population based admixture doesn’t really divide or wash out, because it’s found in the majority of that particular population and as long as that population is marrying within itself, those segments are preserved forever and just get passed around and around – because it’s the same DNA segment and most of the population carries it.

This is why Ashkenazi Jewish people have so many autosomal matches – they all descend from a common founding population and did not marry outside of the Jewish community.  This is also why a few contemporary living people with Native American heritage match the ancient Anzick Child at levels we would expect to see in genealogically related people within a few generations.

Small amounts of admixture, especially unexpected admixture, should be taken with a grain of salt. It could be noise or in the case of someone with both Native American and Germanic or Eastern European heritage, “Native American” could actually be Germanic in terms of who you inherited that segment from.

Have unexpected small percentages of Middle Eastern ethnic results?  Remember, the Mesolithic and Neolithic farmer expansion arrived in Europe from the Middle East some 7,000 – 12,000 years ago.  If Europeans and Asians can carry Neanderthal DNA from 25,000-45,000 years ago, there is no reason why you couldn’t match a Middle Eastern population in small amounts from 3,000, 7,000 or 12,000 years ago for the same historic reasons.

The Middle East is the supreme continental mixing bowl as well, the only location worldwide where historically we see Asian, European and African DNA intermixed in the same location.

Best stated, we just don’t know why you might carry small amounts of unexplained regional ethnic DNA.  There are several possibilities that include an inadequate population reference base, an inadequate understanding of population migration, quirks in matching software, identical segments by chance, noise, or real ancient or more modern DNA from a population group of your ancestors.

Using Minority Admixture to Your Advantage

Having said that, in my case and in the cases of others who have been willing to do the work, you can sometimes track specific admixture to specific ancestors using a combination of ethnicity testing and triangulation.

You cannot do this at Ancestry because they don’t give you ANY segment information.

Family Tree DNA and 23andMe both provide you with segment information, but not for ethnicity ranges without utilizing additional tools.

The easiest approach, by far, is to download your autosomal results to GedMatch and utilize their tools to determine the segment ranges of your minority admixture segments, then utilize that information to see which of your matches on that segment also have the same minority admixture on that same chromosome segment.

I wrote a several-part series detailing how I did this, called The Autosomal Me.

Let me sum the process up thus. I expected my largest Native segments to be on my father’s side.  They weren’t.  In fact, they were from my mother’s Acadian lines, probably because endogamy maintained (“kept in”) those Native segments in that population group for generations.  Thank you endogamy, aka, IBP, identical by population.

I made this discovery by discerning that my specifically identified Native segments matched my mother’s segments, also identified as Native, in exactly the same location, so I had obviously received those Native segments from her. Continuing to compare those segments and looking at GedMatch to see which of our cousins also had a match (to us) in that region pointed me to which ancestral line the Native segment had descended from.  Mitochondrial and Y DNA testing of those Acadian lines confirmed the Native ancestors.

That’s A Lot of Work!!!

Yes, it was, but well, well worth it.

This would be a good time to mention that I couldn’t have proven those connections without the cooperation of several cousins who agreed to test along with cousins I found because they tested, combined with the Mothers of Acadia and the AmerIndian Ancestry out of Acadia projects hosted by Family Tree DNA and the tools at GedMatch.  I am forever grateful to all those people because without the sharing and cooperation that occurs, we couldn’t do genetic genealogy at all.

If you want to be amused and perhaps trade your lederhosen for a kilt, then you can just take ethnicity results at face value.  If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’re already questioning “face value” or have noticed “discrepancies.”

Ethnicity results do make good cocktail party conversation, especially if you’re wearing either lederhosen or a kilt.  I’m thinking you could even wear lederhosen under your kilt……

If you want to be a bit more of an educated consumer, you can compare your known genealogy to ethnicity results to judge for yourself how close to reality they might be. However, you can never really know the effects of early population movements – except you can pretty well say that if you have 25% Scandinavian – you had better have a Scandinavian grandparent.  3% Scandinavian is another matter entirely.

If you’re saying to yourself, “this is part interpretive art and part science,” you’d be right.

If you want to take a really deep dive, and you carry significantly mixed ethnicity, such that it’s quite distinct from your other ancestry – meaning the four continents once again, you can work a little harder to track your ethnic segments back in time. So, if you have a European grandparent, an Asian grandparent, an African grandparent and a Native American grandparent – not only do you have an amazing and rich genealogy – you are the most lucky genetic genealogist I know, because you’ll pretty well know if your ethnicity results are accurate and your matches will easily fall into the correct family lines!

For some of us, utilizing the results of ethnicity testing for minority admixture combined with other tools is the only prayer we will ever have of finding our non-European ancestors.  If you fall into this group, that is an extremely powerful and compelling statement and represents the holy grail of both genealogy and genetic genealogy.

Let’s Talk About Scandinavia

We’ve talked about minority admixture and cases when we have too little DNA or unexpected small segments of DNA, but sometimes we have what appears to be too much.  Often, that happens in Scandinavia, although far more often with one company than the other two.  However, in my case, we have the perfect example of an unsolvable mystery introduced by ethnicity testing and of course, it involves Scandinavia.

23andMe, Ancestry and Family Tree DNA show me at 8%, 10% and 12% Scandinavian, respectively, which is simply mystifying. That’s a lot to be “just noise.”  That amount is in the great-grandparent or third generation range at 12.5%, but I don’t have anyone that qualifies, anyplace in my pedigree chart, as far back as I can go.  I have all of my ancestors identified and three-quarters (yellow) confirmed via DNA through the 6th generation, shown below.

The unconfirmed groups (uncolored) are genealogically confirmed via church and other records, just not genetically confirmed.  They are Dutch and German, respectively, and people in those countries have not embraced genetic genealogy to the degree Americans have.

Genetically confirmed means that through triangulation, I know that I match other descendants of these ancestors on common segments.  In other words, on the yellow ancestors, here is no possibility of misattributed parentage or an adoption in that line between me and that ancestor.

Six gen both

Barbara Mehlheimer, my mitochondrial line, does have Scandinavian mitochondrial DNA matches, but even if she were 100% Scandinavian, which she isn’t because I have her birth record in Germany, that would only account for approximately 3.12% of my DNA, not 8-12%.

In order for me to carry 8-12% Scandinavian legitimately from an ancestral line, four of these ancestors would need to be 100% Scandinavian to contribute 12.5% to me today assuming a 50% recombination rate, and my mother’s percentage of Scandinavian should be about twice mine, or 24%.

My mother is only in one of the testing company data bases, because she passed away before autosomal DNA testing was widely available.  I was fortunate that her DNA had been archived at Family Tree DNA and was available for a Family Finder upgrade.

Mom’s Scandinavian results are 7%, or 8% if you add in Finland and Northern Siberia.  Clearly not twice mine, in fact, it’s less. If I received half of hers, that would be roughly 4%, leaving 8% of mine unaccounted for.  If I didn’t receive all of my “Scandinavian” from her, then the balance would have had to come from my father whose Estes side of the tree is Appalachian/Colonial American.  Even less likely that he would have carried 16% Scandinavian, assuming again, that I inherited half.  Even if I inherited all 8% of Mom’s, that still leaves me 4% short and means my father would have had approximately 8%, which is still between the great and great-great-grandfather level.  By that time, his ancestors had been in America for generations and none were Scandinavian.  Clearly, something else is going on.  Is there a Scandinavian line in the woodpile someplace?  If so, which lines are the likely candidates?

In mother’s Ferverda/Camstra/deJong/Houtsma line, which is not DNA confirmed, we have several additional generations of records procured by a professional genealogist in the Netherlands from Leeuwarden, so we know where these ancestors originated and lived for generations, and it wasn’t Scandinavia.

The Kirsch/Lemmert line also reaches back in church records several generations in Mutterstadt and Fussgoenheim, Germany.  The Drechsel line reaches back several generations in Wirbenz, Germany and the Mehlheimer line reaches back one more generation in Speichersdorf before ending in an unmarried mother giving birth and not listing the father.  Aha, you say…there he is…that rogue Scandinavian.  And yes, it could be, but in that generation, he would account for only 1.56% of my DNA, not 8-12%.

So, what can we conclude about this conundrum.

  • The Scandinavian results are NOT a function of specific Scandinavian genealogical ancestors – meaning ones in the tree who would individually contribute that level of Scandinavian heritage.  There is no Scandinavian great-grandpa or Scandinavian heritage at all, in any line, tracking back more than 6 generations.  The first “available” spot with an unknown ancestor for a Scandinavian is in the 7th generation where they would contribute 1.56% of my DNA and 3.12% of mothers.
  • The Scandinavian results could be a function of a huge amount of population intermixing in several lines, but 8-12% is an awfully high number to attribute to unknown population admixture from many generations ago.
  • The Scandinavian results could be a function of a problematic reference population being utilized by multiple companies.
  • The Scandinavian results could be identical by chance matching, possibly in addition to population admixture in ancient lines.
  • The Scandinavian results could be a function of something we don’t yet understand.
  • The Scandinavian results could be a combination of several of the above.

It’s a mystery.  It may be unraveled as the tools improve and as an industry, additional population reference samples become available or better understood.  Or, it may never be unraveled.  But one thing is for sure, it is very, very interesting!  However, I’m not trading lederhosen for anything based on this.

The Companies

I wrote a comparison of the testing companies when they introduced their second generation tools.  Not a lot has changed.  Hopefully we will see a third software generation soon.

I do recommend selecting between the main three testing companies plus National Geographic’s Genographic 2.0 products if you’re going to test for ethnicity.  Stay safe.  There are less than ethical people and companies out there looking to take advantage of people’s curiosity to learn about their heritage.

Today, 23andMe is double the price of either Family Tree DNA or Ancestry and they are having other issues as well.  However, they do sometimes pick up the smallest amounts of minority admixture.

Ancestry continues to have “a Scandinavian problem” where many/most of their clients have a significant amount (some as high as the 30% range) of Scandinavian ancestry assigned to them that is not reflected by other testing companies or tools, or the tester’s known heritage – and is apparently incorrect.

However, Ancestry did pick up my minority Ancestry of both Native and African. How much credibility should I give that in light of the known Scandinavian issue?  In other words, if they can’t get 30% right, how could they ever get 4 or 5% right?

Remember what I said about companies doing pretty well on a comparative continental basis but sorting through ethnicity within a continent being much more difficult. This is the perfect example.  Ancestry also is not alone in reporting small amounts of my minority admixture.  The other companies do as well, although their amounts and descriptions don’t match each other exactly.

However, I can download any or all three of these raw data files to GedMatch and utilize their various ethnicity, triangulation and chromosome by chromosome comparison utilities. Both Family Tree DNA and Ancestry test more SNP locations than does 23andMe, and cost half as much, if you’re planning to test in order to upload your raw data file to GedMatch.

If you are considering ordering from either 23andMe or Ancestry, be sure you understand their privacy policy before ordering.

In Summary

I hate to steal Judy Russell’s line, but she’s right – it’s not soup yet if ethnicity testing is the only tool you’re going to use and if you’re expecting answers, not estimates.  View today’s ethnicity results from any of the major testing companies as interesting, because that’s what they are, unless you have a very specific research agenda, know what you are doing and plan to take a deeper dive.

I’m not discouraging anyone from ethnicity testing. I think it’s fun and for me, it was extremely informative.  But at the same time, it’s important to set expectations accurately to avoid disappointment, anxiety, misinformation or over-reliance on the results.

You can’t just discount these results because you don’t like them, and neither can you simply accept them.

If you think your grandfather was 100% Native America and you have no Native American heritage on the ethnicity test, the problem is likely not the test or the reference populations.  You should have 25% and carry zero.  The problem is likely that the oral history is incorrect.  There is virtually no one, and certainly not in the Eastern tribes, who was not admixed by two generations ago.  It’s also possible that he is not your grandfather.  View ethnicity results as a call to action to set forth and verify or refute their accuracy, especially if they vary dramatically from what you expected.  If it’s the truth you seek, this is your personal doorway to Delphi.

Just don’t trade in your lederhosen, or anything else just yet based on ethnicity results alone, because this technology it still in it’s infancy, especially within Europe.  I mean, after all, it’s embarrassing to have to go and try to retrieve your lederhosen from the pawn shop.  They’re going to laugh at you.

I find it ironic that Y DNA and mtDNA, much less popular, can be very, very specific and yield definitive answers about individual ancestors, reaching far beyond the 5th or 6th generation – yet the broad brush ethnicity painting which is much less reliable is much more popular.  This is due, in part, I’m sure, to the fact that everyone can take the ethnicity tests, which represent all lines.  You aren’t limited to testing one or two of your own lines and you don’t need to understand anything about genetic genealogy or how it works.  All you have to do is spit or swab and wait for results.

You can take a look at how Y and mtDNA testing versus autosomal tests work here.  Maybe Y or mitochondrial should be next on your list, as they reach much further back in time on specific lines, and you can use these results to create a DNA pedigree chart that tells you very specifically about the ancestry of those particular lines.

Ethnicity testing is like any other tool – it’s just one of many available to you.  You’ll need to gather different kinds of DNA and other evidence from various sources and assemble the pieces of your ancestral story like a big puzzle.  Ethnicity testing isn’t the end, it’s the beginning.  There is so much more!

My real hope is that ethnicity testing will kindle the fires and that some of the folks that enter the genetic genealogy space via ethnicity testing will be become both curious and encouraged and will continue to pursue other aspects of genealogy and genetic genealogy.  Maybe they will ask the question of “who” in their tree wore kilts or lederhosen and catch the genealogy bug.  Maybe they will find out more about grandpa’s Native American heritage, or lack thereof.  Maybe they will meet a match that has more information than they do and who will help them.  After all, ALL of genetic genealogy is founded upon sharing – matches, trees and information.  The more the merrier!

So, if you tested for ethnicity and would like to learn more, come on in, the water’s fine and we welcome both lederhosen and kilts, whatever you’re wearing today!  Jump right in!!!

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!!!