Identify Your Ancestors – Follow Nested Ancestral Segments

I don’t think that we actively think about our DNA segments as nested ancestors, like Russian Matryoshka dolls, but they are.

That’s exactly why segment information is critical for genealogists. Every segment, and every portion of a segment, has an incredibly important history. In fact, you could say that the further back in time we can track a segment, the more important it becomes.

Let’s see how to unveil nested segments. I’ll use my chromosome 20 as an example because it’s a smaller chromosome. But first, let’s start with my pedigree chart.

Pedigree

Click images to enlarge.

Before we talk about nested segments that originated with specific ancestors, it’s important to take a look at the closest portion of my maternal pedigree chart. My DNA segments came from and through these people. I’ll be working with the first 5 generations, beginning with my mother as generation #1.

Generation 1 – Parents

In the first generation, we receive a copy of each chromosome from each parent. I have a copy of chromosome 20 from my mother and a copy from my father.

At FamilyTreeDNA, you can see that I match my mother on the entire tested region of each chromosome.

Therefore, the entire length of each of my chromosomes is assigned to both mother and father because I received a copy from each parent. I’m fortunate that my mother’s DNA was able to be tested before she passed away.

We see that each copy of chromosome 20 is a total of 110.20 cM long with 17,695 SNPs.

Of course, my mother inherited the DNA on her chromosome 20 from multiple ancestors whose DNA combined in her parents, a portion of which was inherited by my mother. Mom received one chromosome from each of her parents.

I inherited only one copy of each chromosome (In this case, chromosome 20) from Mom, so the DNA of her two parents was divided and recombined so that I inherited a portion of my maternal chromosome 20 from both of my maternal grandparents.

Identifying Maternal and Paternal Matches

Associating matches with your maternal or paternal side is easy at FamilyTreeDNA because their Family Finder matching does it automatically for you if you upload (or create) a tree and link matches that you can identify to their proper place in your tree.

FamilyTreeDNA then uses that matching segment information from known, identified relatives in your tree to place people who match you both on at least one significant-sized segment in the correct maternal, paternal, (or both) buckets. That’s triangulation, and it happens automatically. All you have to do is click on the Maternal tab to view your triangulated maternal matches. As you can see, I have 1432 matches identified as maternal. 

Some other DNA testing companies and third-party tools provide segment information and various types of triangulation information, but they aren’t automated for your entire match list like Family Finder matching at FamilyTreeDNA.

You can read about triangulation in action at MyHeritage, here, 23andMe, here, GEDmatch, here, and DNAPainter, which we’ll use, here. Genetic Affairs AutoKinship tool incorporates triangulation, as does their AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch. I’ve compiled a reference resource for triangulation, here.

Every DNA testing vendor has people in their database that haven’t tested anyplace else. Your best strategy for finding nested segments and identifying matches to specific ancestors is to test at or transfer your DNA file to every vendor plus GEDmatch where people who test at Ancestry sometimes upload for matching. Ancestry does not provide segment information or a chromosome browser so you’ll sometimes find Ancestry testers have uploaded to GEDmatch, FamilyTreeDNA  or MyHeritage where segment information is readily available. I’ve created step-by-step download/upload instructions for all vendors, here.

Generation 2 – Grandparents

In the second generation, meaning that of my grandparents, I inherited portions of my maternal and paternal grandmother’s and grandfather’s chromosomes.

My maternal and paternal chromosomes can be divided into two pieces or groups each, one for each grandparent.

Using DNAPainter, we can see my father’s chromosome 20 on top and my mother’s on the bottom. I have previously identified segments assigned to specific ancestors which are represented by different colors on these chromosomes. You can read more about how to use DNAPainter, here.

We can divide the DNA inherited from each parent into the DNA inherited from each grandparent based on the trees of people we match. If we test cousins from each side, assigning segments maternally or paternally becomes much, much easier. That’s exactly why I’ve tested several.

For the rest of this article, I’m focusing only on my mother’s side because the concepts and methods are the same regardless of whether you’re working on your maternal side or your paternal side.

Using DNAPainter, I expanded my mother’s chromosome 20 in order to see all of the people I’ve painted on my mother’s side.

DNAPainter allows us to paint matching segments from multiple testing vendors and assign them to specific ancestors as we identify common ancestors with our matches.

Based on these matches, I’ve divided these maternal matches into two categories:

  • Maternal grandmother, meaning my mother’s mother, bracketed in red boxes
  • Maternal grandfather, meaning my mother’s father, bracketed in black boxes.

The text and arrows in these graphics refer to the colors of the brackets/boxes, and NOT the colors of the segments beside people’s names. For example, if you look at the large black box at far right, you’ll see several people, with their matching segments identified by multiple colored bars. The different colored segments (bars) mean I’ve associated the match with different ancestors in multiple or various levels of generations.

Generation 3 – Great-grandparents

Within those maternal and paternal grandparent segments, more nested information is available.

The black Ferverda grandfather segments are further divided into black, from Hiram Ferverda, and gold from his wife Eva Miller. The same concept applies to the red grandmother segments which are now divided into red representing Nora Kirsch and purple representing Curtis Lore, her husband.

While I have only been able to assign the first four segments (at the top) to one person/ancestor, there’s an entire group of matches who share the grouping of segments at right, in gold, descended through Eva Miller. The Miller line is Brethren and Mennonite with lots of testers, so this is a common pattern in my DNA matches.

Eva Miller, the gold ancestor, has two parents, Margaret Elizabeth Lentz and John David Miller, so her segments would come from those two sides.

Generation 4 and 5 – Fuschia Segment

I was able to track the segment shown in fuschia indicated by the blue arrow to Jacob Lentz and his wife Fredericka Ruhle, German immigrant ancestors. Other people in this same match (triangulation) group descend from Margaret Elizabeth Lentz and John David Miller – but that fuschia match is the one that shows us where that segment originated. This allows us to assign that entire gold/blue bracketed set of segments to a specific ancestor or ancestral couple because they triangulate, meaning they all match me and each other.

Therefore, all of the segments that match with the fuschia segment also track back to Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle, or to their ancestors. We would need people who descend from Jacob’s parents and/or Fredericka’s parents to determine the origins of that segment.

In other words, we know all of these people share a common source of that segment, even if we don’t yet know exactly who that common ancestor was or when they lived. That’s what the process of tracking back discovers.

To be very clear, I received that segment through Jacob and Fredericka, but some of those matches who I have not been able to associate with either Jacob or Fredericka may descend from either Jacob or Fredericka’s ancestors, not Jacob and Fredericka themselves. Connecting the dots between Jacob/Fredericka and their ancestors may be enlightening as to the even older source of that segment.

Let’s take a look at nested segments on my pedigree chart.

Nested Pedigree

Click to enlarge.

You can see the progression of nesting on my pedigree chart, using the same colors for the brackets/boxes. The black Ferverda box at the grandparent level encompasses the entire paternal side of my mother’s ancestry, and the red includes her mother’s entire side. This is identical to the DNAPainter graphic, just expressed on my pedigree chart instead of my chromosome 20.

Then the black gets broken into smaller nested segments of black, gold and fuschia, while the red gets broken into red and purple.

If I had more matches that could be assigned to ancestors, I would have even more nested levels. Of course, if I was using all of my chromosomes, not just 20, I would be able to go back further as well.

You can see that as we move further back in time, the bracketed areas assigned to each color become smaller and smaller, as do the actual segments as viewed on my DNAPainter chromosomes.

Segments Get Progressively Smaller

You can see in the pedigree chart and segment painting above that the segments we inherit from specific ancestors divide over time. As we move further and further back in our tree, the segments inherited from any specific ancestor get smaller and smaller too.

Dr. Paul Maier in the MyOrigins 3.0 White Paper provides this informative graphic that shows the reduction in segments and the number of ancestors whose DNA we carry reaching back in time.

I refer to this as a porcupine chart.

Eventually, we inherit no segments from red ancestors, and the pieces of DNA that we inherit from the distant blue ancestors become so small and fragmented that they cannot be positively identified as coming from a specific ancestor when compared to and matched with other people. That’s why vendors don’t show small segment matches, although different vendors utilize different segment thresholds.

The debate about how small is too small continues, but the answer is not simply segment size alone. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

As segments become smaller, the probability, or chances that we match another person by chance (IBC) increases. Proof that someone shares a specific ancestor, especially when dealing with increasingly smaller segments is a function of multiple factors, such as tree completeness for both people, shared matches, parental match confirmation, and more. I wrote about What Constitutes Proof, here.

In the Family Finder Matching White Paper, Dr. Maier provides this chart reflecting IBD (Identical By Descent) and IBC (Identical By Chance) segments and the associated false positivity rate. That means how likely you are to match someone on a segment of that size by chance and NOT because you both share the DNA from a common ancestor.

I wrote Concepts: Identical by Descent, State, Population and Chance to help you better understand how this works.

In the chart below, I’ve combined the generations, relationships, # of ancestors, assuming no duplicates, birth year range based on an approximate 30-year generation, percent of DNA assuming exactly half of each ancestor’s DNA descends in each generation (which we know isn’t exactly accurate), and the average amount of total inherited cMs using that same assumption.

Note that beginning with the 7th generation, on average, we can expect to inherit less than 1% of the DNA of an ancestor, or approximately 55 total cM which may be inherited in multiple segments.

The amount of actual cMs inherited in each generation can vary widely and explains why, beginning with third cousins, some people won’t share DNA from a common ancestor above the various vendor matching thresholds. Yet, other cousins several generations removed will match. Inheritance is random.

Parallel Inheritance

In order to match someone else descended from that 11th generation ancestor, BOTH you AND your match will need to have inherited the exact SAME DNA segment, across 11 generations EACH in order to match. This means that 11 transmission events for each person will need to have taken place in parallel with that identical segment being passed from parent to child in each line. For 22 rolls of the genetic dice in a row, the same segment gets selected to be passed on.

You can see why we all need to work to prove that distant matches are valid.

The further back in time we work, the more factors we must take into consideration, and the more confirming proof is needed that a match with another individual is a result of a shared ancestor.

Having said that, shared distant matches ARE the key to breaking through brick-wall ancestors. We just need to be sure we are chasing the real deal and not a red herring.

Exciting Possibilities

The most exciting possibility is that some segments are actually passed intact for several generations, meaning those segments don’t divide into segments too small for matching.

For example, the 22 cM fuschia segment that tracks through generations 4 and 5 to Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle has been passed either intact or nearly intact to all of those people who stack up and match each other and me on that segment. 22 cM is definitely NOT a small segment and we know that it descended from either Jacob or Fredericka, or perhaps combined segments from each. In any case, if someone from the Lentz line in Germany tested and matched me on that segment (and by inference, the rest of these people too), we would know that segment descended to me from Jacob Lentz – or at least the part we match on if we don’t match on the entire segment.

This is exactly what nested segments are…breadcrumbs to ancestors.

Part of that 22cM segment could be descended from Jacob and part from Fredericka. Then of Jacob’s portion, for example, pieces could descend from both his mother and father.

This is why we track individual segments back in time to discern their origin.

The Promise of the Future

The promise of the future is when a group of other people triangulate on a reasonably sized segment AND know where it came from. When we match that triangulation group, their identified segment may well help break down our brick walls because we match all of them on that same segment.

It is exactly this technique that has helped me identify a Womack segment on my paternal line. I still haven’t identified our common ancestor, but I have confirmed that the Womacks and my Moore/Rice family interacted as neighbors 8 generations ago and likely settled together in Amelia county, migrating from eastern Virginia. In time, perhaps I’ll be able to identify the common Womack ancestor and the link into either my Moore or Rice lines.

I’m hoping for a similar breakthrough on my mother’s side for Philip Jacob Miller’s wife, Magdalena, 7 generations back in my tree. We know Magdalena was Brethren and where they lived when they took up housekeeping. We don’t know who her parents were. However, there are thousands of Miller descendants, so it’s possible that eventually, we will be able to break down that brick wall by using nested segments – ours and people who descend from Magdalena’s siblings, aunts, and uncles.

Whoever those people were, at least some of their descendants will likely match me and/or my cousins on at least one nested Miller segment that will be the same segment identified to their ancestors.

Genealogy is a team sport and solving puzzles using nested segments requires that someone out there is working on identifying triangulated segments that track to their common ancestors – which will be my ancestors too. I have my fingers crossed that someone is working on that triangulation group and I find them or they find me. Of course, I’m working to triangulate and identify my segments to specific ancestors – hoping for a meeting in the middle – that much-desired bridge to the past.

By the time you’ve run out of other records, nested segments are your last chance to identify those elusive ancestors. 

Do you have genealogical brick walls that nested segments could solve?

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2021 Favorite Articles

It’s that time of the year again when we welcome the next year.

2021 was markedly different than anything that came before. (Is that ever an understatement!)

Maybe you had more time for genealogy and spent time researching!

So, what did we read in 2021? Which of my blog articles were the most popular?

In reverse order, beginning with number 10, we have:

This timeless article published in 2015 explains how to calculate the amount of any specific heritage you carry based on your ancestors.

Just something fun that’s like your regular pedigree chart, except color coded locations instead of ancestors. Here’s mine

The Autosegment Triangulation Cluster Tool is a brand new tool introduced in October 2021. Created by Genetic Affairs for GEDmatch, this tool combines autoclusters and triangulation.

Many people don’t realize that we actually don’t inherit exactly 25% of our DNA from each grandparent, nor why.

This enlightening article co-authored with statistician Philip Gammon explains how this works, and why it affects all of your matches.

Who doesn’t love learning about ancient DNA and the messages it conveys. Does your Y or mitochondrial DNA match any of these burials? Take a look. You might be surprised.

How can you tell if you are full or half siblings with another person? You might think this is a really straightforward question with an easy answer, but it isn’t. And trust me, if you EVER find yourself in a position of needing to know, you really need to know urgently.

Using simple match, it’s easy to figure how much of your ancestor’s DNA you “should” have, but that’s now how inheritance actually works. This article explains why and shows different inheritance scenarios.

That 28 day timer has expired, but the article can still be useful in terms of educating yourself. This should also be read in conjunction with Ancestry Retreats, by Judy Russell.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say that their ethnicity percentages were “wrong,” I’d be a rich woman, living in a villa in sun-drenched Tuscany😊

This extremely popular article has either been first or second every year since it was published. Ethnicity is both exciting and perplexing.

As genealogists, the first thing we need to do is to calculate what, according to our genealogy, we would expect those percentages to be. Of course, we also need to factor in the fact that we don’t inherit exactly the same amount of DNA from each grandparent. I explain how I calculated my “expected” percentages of ethnicity based on my known tree. That’s the best place to start.

Please note that I am no longer updating the vendor comparison charts in the article. Some vendors no longer release updates to the entire database at the same time, and some “tweak” results periodically without making an announcement. You’ll need to compare your own results at the different vendors at the same point in time to avoid comparing apples and oranges.

The #1 Article for 2021 is…

  1. Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

This article has either been first (7 times) or second (twice) for 9 years running. Now you know why I chose this topic for my new book, DNA for Native American Genealogy.

If you’re searching for your Native American ancestry, I’ve provided step-by-step instructions, both with and without some percentage of Native showing in your autosomal DNA percentages.

Make 2022 a Great Year!

Here’s wishing you the best in 2022. I hope your brick walls cave. What are you doing to help that along? Do you have a strategy in mind?

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Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here. You can also subscribe to receive emails when I publish articles by clicking the “Follow” button at www.DNAexplain.com.

You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends.

Help Out, Please

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch

Today, I’m reviewing the exciting new AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch. I love it because this automated tool can be as easy or complex as you want.

It’s easy because you just select your options, run it, and presto, you receive all kinds of useful results. It’s only complex if you want to understand the details of what’s really happening beneath the hood, or you have a complex problem to unravel. The great news is that this one tool does both.

I’ve taken a deep dive with this article so that you can use AutoSegment either way.

Evert-Jan “EJ” Blom, creator of Genetic Affairs has partnered with GEDmatch to provide AutoSegment for GEDmatch users. He has also taken the time to be sure I’ve presented things correctly in this article. Thanks, EJ!

My recommendation is to read this article by itself first to understand the possibilities and think about how you can utilize these results. Then, at GEDmatch, select the AutoSegment Report option and see what treasures await!

Genetic Affairs

Genetic Affairs offers a wide variety of clustering tools that help genealogists break down their brick walls by showing us, visually, how our matches match us and each other. I’ve written several articles about Genetic Affairs’ tools and how to use them, here.

Every DNA segment that we have originated someplace. First, from one of our parents, then from one of our 4 grandparents, and so forth, on up our tree. The further back in time we go, the smaller the segments from those more distant ancestors become, until we have none for a specific ancestor, or at least none over the matching threshold.

The keyword in that sentence is segment, because we can assign or attribute DNA segments to ancestors. When we find that we match someone else on that same segment inherited from the same parent, assuming the match is identical by descent and not identical by chance, we then know that somehow, we shared a common ancestor. Either an ancestor we’ve already identified, or one that remains a mystery.

Those segments can and will reveal ancestors and tell us how we are related to our matches.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that not every vendor provides segment information. For example, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage all do, but Ancestry does not.

For Ancestry testers, and people wishing to share segment information with Ancestry testers, all is not lost.

Everyone can download a copy of their raw DNA data file and upload those files to vendors who accept uploads, including FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and of course GEDmatch.

GEDmatch

GEDmatch does not offer DNA testing services, specializing instead in being the common matching denominator and providing advanced tools. GEDmatch recently received a facelift. If you don’t recognize the image above, you probably haven’t signed in to GEDmatch recently, so take a look. The AutoSegment tool is only available on the new version, not the Classic version.

Ancestry customers, as well as people testing elsewhere, can download their DNA files from the testing vendor and upload the files to GEDmatch, availing themselves of both the free and Tier 1 subscription tools.

I’ve written easy step-by-step download/upload instructions for each vendor, here.

At GEDmatch, matching plus a dozen tools are free, but the Tier 1 plan for $10 per month provides users with another 14 advanced tools, including AutoSegment.

To get started, click on the AutoSegment option.

AutoSegment at GEDmatch

You’ll see the GEDmatch AutoSegment selection menu.

You can easily run as many AutoSegment reports as you want, so I suggest starting with the default values to get the lay of the land. Then experiment with different options.

At GEDmatch, AutoSegment utilizes your top 3000 matches. What a huge, HUGE timesaver.

Just a couple of notes about options.

  • My go-to number of SNPs is 500 (or larger,) and I’m always somewhat wary of matches below that level because there is an increased likelihood of identical by chance segments when the required number of segment matching locations is smaller.
  • GEDmatch has to equalize DNA files produced by different vendors, including no-calls where certain areas don’t read. Therefore, there are blank spaces in some files where there is data in other vendors’ files. The “Prevent Hard Breaks” option allows GEDmatch to “heal” those files by allowing longer stretches of “missing” DNA to be considered a match if the DNA on both sides of that blank space matches.
  • “Remove Segments in Known Pile-Up Regions” is an option that instructs GEDmatch NOT to show segments in parts of the human genome that are known to have pile-up regions. I generally don’t select this option, because I want to see those matches and determine for myself if they are valid. We’ll look at a few comparative examples in the Pileup section of this article.

Fortunately, you can experiment with each of these settings one by one to see how they affect your matching. Even if you don’t normally subscribe to GEDmatch, you can subscribe for only one month to experiment with this and other Tier 1 tools.

Your AutoSegment results will be delivered via a download link.

Save and Extract

All Genetic Affairs cluster files are delivered in a zipped file.

You MUST DO TWO THINGS, or these files won’t work correctly.

  1. Save the zip file to your computer.
  2. Extract the files from the zip file. If you’re on a PC, right-click on the zip file and EXTRACT ALL. This extracts the files from the zipped file to be used individually.

If you click on a feature and receive an error message, it’s probably because you either didn’t save the file to your computer or didn’t extract the files.

The file name is very long, so if you try to add the file to a folder that is also buried a few levels deep on your system, you may encounter problems when extracting your file. Putting the file on your desktop so you can access it easily while working is a good idea.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

Your AutoSegment Cluster File

Click on the largest HTML file in the list of your extracted files. The HTML file uses the files in the clusters and matches folders, so you don’t need to open those individually.

It’s fun to watch your clusters fly into place. I love this part.

If your file is too large and your system is experiencing difficulty or your browser locks, just click on the smaller AutoSegment HTML file, at the bottom of the list, which is the same information minus the pretty cluster.

Word to the wise – don’t get excited and skip over the three explanatory sections just below your cluster. Yes, I did that and had to go back and read to make sense of what I was seeing.

At the bottom of this explanatory section is a report about Pileup Regions that I’ll discuss at the end of this article.

Excel

As a third viewing option, you can also open the AutoSegment Excel file to view the results in an excel grid.

You’ll notice a second sheet at the bottom of this spreadsheet page that says AutoSegment-segment-clusters. If you click on that tab, you’ll see that your clusters are arranged in chromosome and cluster order, in the same format as long-time genetic genealogist Jim Bartlett uses in his very helpful blog, segment-ology.

You’ll probably see a message at the top of the spreadsheet asking if you want to enable editing. In order for the start and end locations to calculate, you must enable editing. If the start and end locations are zeroes, look for the editing question.

Notice that the colors on this sheet are coordinated with the clusters on the first sheet.

EJ uses yellow rows as cluster dividers. The “Seg” column in the yellow row indicates the number of people in this cluster group, meaning before the next yellow divider row. “Chr” is the chromosome. “Segment TG” is the triangulation group number and “Side” is Jim Bartlett’s segment tracking calculation number.

Of course, the Centimorgans column is the cM size, and the number of matching SNPs is provided.

You can read about how Jim Bartlett tracks his segment clusters, here, which includes discussions of the columns and how they are used.

Looking at each person in the cluster groups by chromosome, *WS matches me and *Cou, the other person in the cluster beginning and ending at the start and end location on chromosome 1. In the match row (as compared with the yellow dividing row,) Column F, “Seg,” tells you the number of segments where *WA matches me, the tester.

A “*” before the match name at GEDmatch means a pseudonym or alias is being used.

In order to be included in the AutoSegment report, a match must triangulate with you and at least one other person on (at least) one of those segments. However, in the individual match reports, shown below, all matching segments are provided – including ones NOT in segment clusters.

Individual DNA Matches

In the HTML file, click on *WA.

You’ll see the three segments where *WA matches you, or me in this case. *WA triangulates with you and at least one other person on at least one of these segments or *WA would not be included in the GEDmatch AutoSegment report.

However, *WA may only triangulate on one segment and simply match you on the other two – or *WA may triangulate on more than one segment. You’ll have to look at the other sections of this report to make that determination.

Also, remember that this report only includes your top 3000 matches.

AutoSegment

All Genetic Affairs tools begin with an AutoCluster which is a grouping of people who all match you and some of whom match each other in each colored cluster.

AutoSegment at GEDmatch begins with an AutoCluster as well, but with one VERY IMPORTANT difference.

AutoSegment clusters at GEDmatch represent triangulation of three people, you and two other people, in AT LEAST ONE LOCATION. Please note that you and they may also match in other locations where three people don’t triangulate.

By matching versus triangulation, I’m referring to the little individual cells which show the intersection of two of your matches to each other.

Regular AutoCluster reports, meaning NOT AutoSegment clusters at GEDmatch, include overlapping segment matches between people, even if they aren’t on the same chromosome and/or don’t overlap entirely. A colored cell in AutoSegment at GEDmatch means triangulation, while a colored cell in other types of AutoCluser reports means match, but not necessarily triangulation.

Match information certainly IS useful genealogically, but those two matching people in that cell:

  • Could be matching on unrelated chromosomes.
  • Could be matching due to different ancestors.
  • Could be matching each other due to an ancestor you don’t have.
  • May or may not triangulate.

Two people who have a colored cell intersection in an AutoSegment Cluster at GEDmatch are different because these cells don’t represent JUST a match, they represent a TRIANGULATED match.

Triangulation tightens up these matches by assuring that all three people, you and the two other people in that cell, match each other on a sufficient overlapping segment (10 cM in this case) on the same chromosome which increases the probability that you do in fact share a common ancestor.

I wrote about the concept of triangulation in my article about triangulation at GEDmatch, but AutoSegment offers a HUGE shortcut where much of the work is done for you. If you’re not familiar with triangulation, it’s still a good idea to read that article, along with A Triangulation Checklist Born From the Question; “Why NOT use Close Relatives for Triangulation?”

Let’s take a look at my AutoSegment report from GEDmatch.

AutoSegment Clusters at GEDmatch

A total of 195 matches are clustered into a total of 32 colored clusters. I’m only showing a portion of the clusters, above.

I’ve blurred the names of my matches in my AutoSegment AutoCluster, of course, but each cell represents the intersection of two people who both match and triangulate with me and each other. If the two people match and triangulate with each other and others in the same cluster, they are colored the same as their cluster matches.

For example, all 18 of the people in the orange cluster match me and each other on one (or more) chromosome segments. They all triangulate with me and at least one other person, or they would not appear in a colored cell in this report. They triangulate with me and every other person with whom they have a colored cell.

If you mouse over a colored cell, you can see the identity of those two people at that intersection and who else they match in common. Please note that me plus the two people in any cell do triangulate. However, me plus two people in a different cell in the same cluster may triangulate on a different segment. Everyone matches in an intricate grid, but different segments on different chromosomes may be involved.

You can see in this example that my cousin, Deb matches Laurene and both Deb and Laurene match these other people on a significant amount of DNA in that same cluster.

What happens when people match others within a cluster, but also match people in other colored clusters too?

Multiple Cluster Matches = Grey Cells

The grey cells indicate people who match in multiple clusters, showing the match intersection outside their major or “home” cluster. When you see a grey cell, think “AND.” That person matches everyone in the colored cell to the left of that grey cell, AND anyone in a colored cell below grey cells too. Any of your matches could match you and any number of other people in other cells/clusters as well. It’s your lucky day!

Deb’s matches are all shown in row 4. She and I both match all of the orange cluster people as well as several others in other clusters, indicated by grey cells.

I’m showing Deb’s grey cell that indicates that she also matches people in cluster #5, the large brown cluster. When I mouse over that grey cell, it shows that Deb (orange cluster) and Daniel (brown cluster) both match a significant number of people in both clusters. That means these clusters are somehow connected.

Looking at the bigger picture, without mousing over any particular cell, you can see that a nontrivial number of people match between the first several clusters. Each of these people match strongly within their primary-colored cluster, but also match in at least one additional cluster. Some people will match people in multiple clusters, which is a HUGE benefit when trying to identify the source ancestor of a specific segment.

Let’s look at a few examples. Remember, all of these people match you, so the grid shows how they also match with each other.

#1 – In the orange cluster, the top 5 rows, meaning the first 5 people on the left side list match other orange cluster members, but they ALSO match people in the brown cluster, below. A grey cell is placed in the column of the person they also match in the brown cluster.

#2 – The two grey cells bracketed in the second example match someone in the small red cluster above, but one person also matches someone in the small purple cluster and the other person matches someone in the brown cluster.

#3 – The third example shows one person who matches a number of people in the brown cluster in addition to every person in the magenta cluster below.

#4 – This long, bracketed group shows several people who match everyone in the orange cluster, some of whom also match people in the green cluster, the red cluster, the brown cluster, and the magenta cluster. Clearly, these clusters are somehow related to each other.

Always look at the two names involved in an individual cell and work from there.

The goal, of course, is to identify and associate these clusters with ancestors, or more specifically, ancestral couples, pushing back in time, as we identify the common ancestors of individuals in the cluster.

For example, the largest orange cluster represents my paternal grandparents. The smaller clusters that have shared members with the large orange cluster represent ancestors in that lineage.

Identifying the MRCA, or most recent common ancestor with our matches in any cluster tells us where those common segments of DNA originated.

Chromosome Segments from Clusters

As you scroll down below your cluster, you’ll notice a section that describes how you can utilize these results at DNAPainter.

While GEDmatch can’t automatically determine which of your matches are maternal and paternal, you can import them, by colored cluster, to DNAPainter where you can identify clusters to ancestors and paint them on your maternal and paternal chromosomes. I’ve written about how to use DNAPainter here.

Let’s scroll to the next section in your AutoSegment file.

Chromosome Segment Statistics

The next section of your file shows “Chromosome segment statistics per AutoSegment cluster.”

I need to take a minute here to describe the difference between:

  1. Colored clusters on your AutoCluster diagram, shown below, and
  2. Chromosome segment clusters or groups within each colored AutoSegment cluster

Remember, colored clusters are people, and you can match different people on different, sometimes multiple, chromosomes. Two people whose intersecting cell is colored triangulate on SOME segment but may also match on other segments that don’t triangulate with each other and you.

According to my “Chromosome segment statistics” report, my large orange AutoSegment cluster #1, above, includes:

  • 67 segments from all my matches
  • On five chromosomes (3, 5, 7, 10, 17)
  • That cluster into 8 separate chromosome segment clusters or groups within the orange cluster #1

This is much easier to visualize, so let’s take a look.

Chromosome Segment Clusters

Click on any cluster # in your report, above, to see the chromosome painting for that cluster. I’m clicking on my AutoSegment cluster #1 on the “Chromosome segment statistics” report that will reveal all of the segments in orange cluster #1 painted on my chromosomes.

The brightly colored painted segments show the triangulated segment locations on each chromosome. You can easily see the 8 different segment clusters in cluster #1.

Interestingly, three separate groups or chromosome clusters occur on chromosome 5. We’ll see in a few minutes that the segments in the third cluster on chromosome 5 overlaps with part of cluster #5. (Don’t confuse cluster number shown with a # and chromosome number. They are just coincidentally both 5 in this case.)

The next tool helps me visualize each of these segment clusters individually. Just scroll down.

You can mouse over the segment to view additional information, but I prefer the next tool because I can easily see how the DNA of the people who are included in this segment overlap with each other.

This view shows the individual chromosome clusters, or groups, contained entirely within the orange cluster #1. (Please note that you can adjust the column widths side to side by positioning the cursor at the edge of the column header and dragging.)

Fortunately, I recognize one of these matches, Deb, and I know exactly how she and I are related, and which ancestor we share – my great-grandparents.

Because these segments are triangulated, I know immediately that every one of these people share that segment with Deb and me because they inherited that segment of DNA from some common ancestor shared by me and Deb both.

To be very clear, these people may not share our exact same ancestor. They may share an ancestor upstream from Deb and my common ancestor. Regardless, these people, Deb, and I all share a segment I can assign at this point to my great-grandparents because it either came from them for everyone, or from an upstream ancestor who contributed it to one of my great-grandparents, who contributed it to me and Deb both.

Segment Clusters Entirely Linked

Clusters #2 and #3 are small and have common matches with people in cluster #1 as indicated by the grey cells, so let’s take a look.

I’m clicking on AutoSegment green cluster #2 which only has two cluster members.

I can see that the common triangulated segment between these two people and me occurs on chromosome 3.

This segment on chromosome 3 is entirely contained in green cluster #2, meaning no members of other clusters triangulate on this segment with me and these two people.

This can be a bit confusing, so let’s take it logically step by step.

Remember that the two people who triangulate in green cluster #2 also match people in orange cluster #1? However, the people from orange cluster #1 are NOT shown as members of green cluster #2.

This could mean that although the two people in the green cluster #2 match a couple of people in the orange cluster, they did not match the others, or they did not triangulate. This can be because of the minimum segment overlap threshold that is imposed.

So although there is a link between the people in the clusters, it is NOT sufficient for the green people to be included in the orange cluster and since the two matches triangulate on another segment, they become a separate green cluster.

In reality, you don’t need to understand exactly why members do or don’t fall into the clusters they do, you just need to understand generally how clustering and triangulation works. In essence, trust the tool if people are NOT included in multiple clusters. Click on each person individually to see which chromosomes they match you on, even if they don’t triangulate with others on all of those segments. At this point, I often run one-to-one matches, or other matching tools, to see exactly how people match me and each other.

However, if they ARE included in multiple partly linked clusters, that can be a HUGE bonus.

Let’s look at red cluster #3.

Segment Clusters Partly Linked

You can see that Mark, one of the members of red cluster #3 shares two triangulated segments, one on chromosome 4, and one on chromosome 10.

Mark and Glenn are members of cluster #3, but Glenn is not a member of the segment cluster/group on chromosome 4, only Iona and Mark.

Scrolling down, I can view additional information about the cluster members and the two segments that are held within red cluster #3.

Unlike green cluster #2 whose segment cluster/group is entirely confined to green cluster #2, red cluster #3 has NO segments entirely confined to members of red cluster #3.

Cluster #3 has two members, Mark and Glen. Mark and Glen, along with Val who is a member of orange cluster #1 triangulate on chromosome 10. Remember, I said that chromosome 10 would be important in a minute when we were discussing orange cluster #1. Now you know why.

This segment of chromosome 10 triangulates in both orange cluster #1 AND red cluster #3.

However, Mark, who is a red cluster #3 member also triangulates with Iona and me on a segment of chromosome 4. This segment also appears in AutoSegment brown cluster #4 on chromosome 4.

Now, the great news is that I know my earliest known ancestors with Iona, which means that I can assign this segment to my paternal great-great-grandparents.

If I can identify a common ancestor with some of these other people, I may be able to push segments back further in time to an earlier ancestral couple.

Identifying Common Ancestors

Of course, review each cluster’s members to see if you recognize any of your cousins.

If you don’t know anyone, how do you identify a common ancestor? You can email the person, of course, but GEDmatch also facilitates uploading GEDCOM files which are trees.

In your primary AutoSegment file, keep scrolling to see who has trees.

AutoSegment Cluster Information

If you continue to scroll down in your original HTML file, you’ll see AutoSegment Cluster Information.

For each cluster, all members are listed. It’s easy to see which people have uploaded trees. You can click to view and can hopefully identify an ancestor or at least a surname.

Click on “tree” to view your match’s entry, then on Pedigree to see their tree.

If your matches don’t have a tree, I suggest emailing and sharing what you do know. For example, I can tell my matches in cluster #1 that I know this line descends from Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy, their birth and death dates and location, and encourage my match to view my tree which I have uploaded to GEDmatch.

If you happen to have a lot of matches with trees, you can create a tag group and run the AutoTree analysis on this tag group to identify common ancestors automatically. AutoTree is an amazing tool that identifies common ancestors in the trees of your matches, even if they aren’t in your tree. I wrote about AutoTree, here.

Pileup Regions

Whether you select “Remove Segments in Known Pileup Regions” or not when you select the options to run AutoSegment, you’ll receive a report that you can access by a link in the Explanation of AutoSegment Analysis section. The link is buried at the bottom of those paragraphs that I said not to skip, and many people don’t even see it. I didn’t at first, but it’s most certainly worth reviewing.

What Are Pileup Regions?

First, let’s talk about what pileup regions are, and why we observe them.

Some regions of the human genome are known to be more similar than others, for various reasons.

In these regions, people are more likely to match other people simply because we’re human – not specifically because we share a common ancestor.

EJ utilizes a list of pileup regions, based on the Li et al 2014 paper.

You may match other people on these fairly small segments because humans, generally, are more similar in these regions.

Many of those segments are too small to be considered a match by themselves, although if you happen to match on an adjacent segment, the pileup region could extend your match to appear to be more significant than it is.

If you select the “remove pileup segments” option, and you overlap any pileup region with 4.00 cM or larger, the entire matching segment that includes that region will be removed from the report no matter how large the matching segment is in total.

Here’s an example where the pileup region of 5.04 cM is right in the middle of a matching segment to someone. This entire 15.04 cM segment will be removed.

If those end segments are both 10 cM each instead of 5 cM, the segment will still be removed.

However, if the segment overlap with the pileup region is 3.99 cM or smaller, none of the resulting segment will be removed, so long as the entire segment is over the matching threshold in the first place. In the example above, if the AutoSegment threshold was 7 or 8 cM, the entire segment would be retained. If the matching threshold was 9 or greater, the segment would not have been included because of the threshold.

Of course, eight regions in the pileup chart are large enough to match without any additional adjacent segments if the match threshold is 7 cM and the overlap is exact. If the match threshold is 10 cM, only two pileup regions will possibly match by themselves. However, because those two regions are so large, we are more likely to see multiple matches in those regions.

Having a match in a pileup region does NOT invalidate that match. I have many matches in pileup regions that are perfectly valid, often extending beyond that region and attributable to an identified common ancestor.

You may also have pileup regions, in the regions shown in the chart and elsewhere, because of other genealogical reasons, including:

  • Endogamy, where your ancestors descend from a small, intermarried population, either through all or some of your ancestors. The Jewish population is probably the most well-known example of large-scale endogamy over a very long time period.
  • Pedigree collapse, where you descend from the same ancestors in multiple ways in a genealogical timeframe. Endogamy can reach far back in time. With pedigree collapse, you know who your ancestors are and how you descend, but with endogamy, you don’t.
  • Because you descend from an over-represented or over-tested group, such as the Acadians who settled in Nova Scotia in the early 1600s, intermarried and remained relatively isolated until 1755 when they were expelled. Their numerous descendants have settled in many locations. Acadian descendants often have a huge number of Acadian matches.
  • Some combination of all three of the above reasons. Acadians are a combination of both endogamy and pedigree collapse and many of their descendants have tested.

In my case, I have proportionally more Acadian matches than I have other matches, especially given that my Dutch and some of my German lines have few matches because they are recent immigrants with few descendants in the US. This dichotomy makes the proportional difference even more evident and glaring.

I want to stress here that pileup regions are not necessarily bad. In fact, they may provide huge clues to why you match a particular group of people.

Pileup Regions and Genealogy

In 2016, when Ancestry removed matches that involved personal pileup regions, segments that they felt were “too-matchy,” many of my lost matches were either Acadian or Mennonite/Brethren. Both groups are endogamous and experience pedigree collapse.

Over time, as I’ve worked with my DNA matches, painting my segments at DNAPainter, which marks pileup regions, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have more matches on segments spanning standard pileup regions indicated in the Li paper, nor are those matches unreliable.

An unreliable match might be signaled by people who match on that segment but descend from different unrelated common ancestors to me. Each segment tracks to one maternal and one paternal ancestral source, so if we find individuals matching on the same segment who claim descent from different ancestral lines on the same side, that’s a flag that something’s wrong. (That “something” could also be genealogy or descending from multiple ancestors.)

Therefore, after analyzing my own matching patterns, I don’t select the option to remove pileup segments and I don’t discount them. However, this may not be the right selection for everyone. Just remember, you can run the report as many times as your want, so nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Regardless of whether you select the remove pileup segments option or not, the report contents are very interesting.

Pileup Regions in the Report

Let’s take a look at Pileups in the AutoSegment report.

  • If I don’t select the option of removing pileup region segments, I receive a report that shows all of my segments.
  • If I do select the option to remove pileup region segments, here’s what my report says.

Based on the “remove pileup region segments” option selected, all segments should be removed in the pileup regions documented in the Li article if the match overlap is 4.00 cM or larger.

I want to be very clear here. The match itself is NOT removed UNLESS the pileup segment that IS removed causes the person not to be a match anymore. If that person still matches and triangulates on another segment over your selected AutoSegment threshold, those segments will still show.

I was curious about which of my chromosomes have the most matches. That’s exactly what the Pileup Report tells us.

According to the Pileup Report, my chromosome with the highest number of people matching is chromosome 5. The Y (vertical) axis shows the number of people that match on that segment, and the X axis across the bottom shows the match location on the chromosome.

You’ll recall that chromosome 5 was the chromosome from large orange AutoSegment cluster #1 with three distinct segment matches, so this makes perfect sense.

Sure enough, when I view my DNAPainter results, that first pileup region from about location 5-45 are Brethren matches (from my maternal grandfather) and the one from about 48-95 are Acadian matches (from my maternal grandmother.) This too makes sense.

Please note that chromosome 5 has no general pileup regions annotated in the Li table, so no segments would have been removed.

Let’s look at another example where some segments would be removed.

Based on the chromosome table from the Li paper, chromosome 15 has nearly back-to-back pileup regions from about 20-30 with almost 20 cM of DNA combined.

Let’s see what my Pileup Segment Removal Report for chromosome 15 shows.

No segment matches in this region are reported because I selected remove pileup regions.

The only way to tell how many segment matches were removed in this region is to run the report and NOT select the remove pileup segments option. I did that as a basis for comparison.

You can see that about three segments were removed and apparently one of those segments extended further than the other two. It’s also interesting that even though this is designated as a pileup region, I had fewer matches in this region than on other portions of the chromosome.

If I want to see who those segments belong to, I can just view my chromosome 15 results in the AutoSegment-segment-clusters tab in the spreadsheet view which is arranged neatly in chromosome order.

The only way to tell if matches in pileup regions are genealogically valid and relevant is to work with each match or group of matches and determine if they make sense. Does the match extend beyond the pileup region start and end edge? If so, how much? Can you identify a common ancestor or ancestral line, and if so, do the people who triangulate in that segment cluster makes sense?

Of course, my genealogy and therefore my experience will be different than other people’s. Anyone who descends primarily from an endogamous population may be very grateful for the “remove pileups” option. One size does NOT fit all. Fortunately, we have options.

You can run these reports as many times as you want, so you may want to run identical reports and compare a report that removes segments that occur in pileup regions with one that does not.

What’s Next?

For AutoSegment at GEDmatch to work most optimally, you’ll need to do three things:

  • If you don’t have one already, upload a raw DNA file from one of the testing vendors. Instructions here.
  • Upload a GEDCOM file. This allows you to more successfully run tools like AutoTree because your ancestors are present, and it helps other people too. Perhaps they will identify your common ancestor and contact you. You can always email your matches and suggest that they view your GEDCOM file to look for common ancestors or explain what you found using AutoTree. Anyone who has taken the time to learn about GEDmatch and upload a file might well be interested enough to make the effort to upload their GEDCOM file.
  • Convince relatives to upload their DNA files too or offer to upload for them. In my case, triangulating with my cousins is invaluable in identifying which ancestors are represented by each cluster.

If you have not yet uploaded a GEDCOM file to GEDmatch, now’s a great time while you’re thinking about it. You can see how useful AutoClusters and AutoSegment are, so give yourself every advantage in identifying common matches.

If you have a tree at Ancestry, you can easily download a copy and upload to GEDmatch. I wrote step-by-step instructions, here. Of course, you can upload any GEDCOM file from another source including your own desktop computer software.

You never know, using AutoSegment and AutoTree, you may just find common ancestors BETWEEN your matches that you aren’t aware of that might, just might, help you break down YOUR brick walls and find previously unknown ancestors.

AutoSegment tells you THAT you triangulate and exactly where. Now it’s up to you to figure out why.

Give AutoSegment at GEDmatch a try.

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Genetic Affairs – New AutoKinship Tool Predicts Relationships and Builds Genetic Trees

Genetic Affairs recently introduced a new tool – AutoKinship. Evert-Jan (EJ) Blom, the developer was kind enough to step through these results with me to assure that I’m explaining things correctly. Thanks EJ!

AutoKinship automatically predicts family trees and pathways that you may be related to your matches based on how they match you and each other. Not only is this important for genealogists trying to piece our family tree together, it’s indispensable for anyone searching for unknown ancestors, beginning with parents and walking right on up the tree for the closest several generations.

Right now, the automated AutoKinship tool is limited to 23andMe profiles, but will also work as a standalone tool where users can fill in the shared DNA information for their matches. MyHeritage, 23andMe, and GEDMatch provide centiMorgan information about how your matches also match each other. Here’s a tutorial for the standalone tool.

Unfortunately, Ancestry does not provide their customers with segment information, but fortunately, you can upload a copy of your Ancestry DNA file to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA or GEDmatch, for free. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, here.

Automated AutoKinship Tool

After signing into to your Genetic Affairs account, assuming you have already set up your 23andMe profile at Genetic Affairs, click on “Run AutoKinship for 23andMe.”

I manage multiple profiles at 23andMe, so I need to click on “Profiles.”

Select the correct profile if you manage multiple kits at 23andMe.

You’ll see your various options that can be run for your 23andMe kit.

Select AutoKinship

If you select AutoKinship, you automatically receive an AutoCluster because AutoKinship is built on the AutoCluster functionality.

Make your selections. I recommend leaving these settings at the default, at least initially.

The default of 250 cM excludes your closest matches. You don’t want your closest matches because they will be members of too many clustered groups.

In my initial run, I made the mistake of changing the 50 cM lower threshold to 20 cM because I wanted more matches to be included. Unfortunately, the effect this had on my results was that my largest two clusters did not produce trees.

Hint: EJ states that the software tool works from the smallest cluster to the largest when producing trees. If you notice that your largest cluster, which is usually the first one displayed in the upper left hand corner (orange here), does not have associated trees, or some people are missing, that’s your clue that the AutoKinship ran out of server time to process and you need to raise either the minimum match threshold, in this case, 50 cM, or the minimum amount of DNA shared between your matches to each other, in this case, 10 cM.

You can also select between shared matches and triangulated groups. I selected shared matches, but I may well rerun this report with triangulated groups because that provides me with a great deal of even more useful information.

When you’re ready, click on the big green “you can’t miss it” Perform AutoCluster Analysis button.

Make a cup of coffee. Your report is processing. If your email doesn’t arrive, you can click on the little envelope in your Genetic Affairs profile and the report can be downloaded to your computer directly from that link.

Your Report Arrives!

You’ll receive a zip file in the email that you MUST SAVE TO YOUR COMPUTER to work correctly. You’ll see these files, but you can’t use them yet.

First, you MUST EXTRACT THE FILES from the zip file. My zip file displays the names of the file inside of the zipped file, but they are not extracted.

You must right click, as shown above, and then click on “Extract All” on a PC. Not sure what MAC users need to do but I think it autoextracts. If you click on some of the files in this article and they don’t load correctly, or say they aren’t present, that likely means:

  • You either forgot to save the file in the email to your computer
  • Or you failed to do the extract

The bottom two files are your normal AutoCluster visual html file and the same information in an excel file.

Click on the AutoCluster html file to activate.

Personally, I love watching the matches all fly into place in their clusters. This html file is going to be our home base, the file we’ll be operating from for all of the functions.

I have a total of 23 interrelated autoclusters. The question is, how are we all related to each other. You can read my article about AutoClusters and how they work here.

People who are members of more than one cluster are shown with those little grey squares signifying that they match people in two clusters, not just one cluster.

For example, one cluster might be my grandparents, but the second cluster might be my maternal great-great-grandfather. Membership in both clusters tells me that my matching DNA with those people in the second cluster probably descends from my great-great-grandfather. Some of the DNA matches in the first cluster assuredly also descend from that man, but some of them may descend from other related ancestors, like my maternal grandmother. It’s our job as genealogists to discern the connections, but the entire purpose of AutoKinship is to make that process much easier.

We are going to focus on the first few clusters to see what kinds of information Genetic Affairs can produce about these clusters. Notice that the first person in row 1 is related to the orange cluster, the green cluster, the purple and the brown clusters. That’s important information about that person, and also about the interrelationship of those clusters themselves and the ancestors they represent.

Remember, to be included in a grandparent cluster, that person’s DNA segment(s) must have descended from other ancestors, represented in other clusters. So you can expect one person to be found potentially in multiple clusters that serve to trace those common ancestors (and associated segments) back in time.

AutoKinship

The AutoKinship portion of this tool creates hypothetical trees based on relationships of you to each person in the cluster, and to the other cluster members to each other.

If you’re thinking triangulation, you’re right. I selected matches, not triangulated groups which is also an option. Some people do triangulate, but some people may match each other on different segments. Right now, it’s a jumble of hints, but we’ll sort some of this out.

If you scroll down in your html file, below your cluster, and below the explanation (which you should read,) you’ll see the AutoKinship verbiage.

I want to do a quick shout-out to Brit Nicholson, the statistician that works with EJ on probabilities of relationships for this tool and describes his methodology, here.

AutoKinship Table

You’ll see the AutoKinship Table that includes a link for each cluster that could be assembled into a potential tree.

Click on the cluster you wish to view.

In my case, clusters 1 through 5 are closely related to each other based on the common members in each cluster. I selected cluster 1.

Your most probable tree for that cluster will be displayed.

I’m fortunate that I recognized three of my third cousins. AutoKinship constructed a probable genetic pedigree, but I’ve overlayed what I know to be the correct pedigree.

With the exception of one person, this AutoKinship tree is accurate to the best of my knowledge. A slot for Elizabeth, the mother of William George Estes and the daughter of Joel is missing. I probably know why. I match two of my cousins with a higher than expected amount of DNA which means that I’m shown “closer” in genetic distance that I normally would be for that relationship level.

In one case, Charles and I share multiple ancestors. In the other case, I don’t know why I match Everett on so much more DNA than his brother Carl or our other cousin, Vianna. Regardless, I do.

In one other instance, there’s a half-relationship that throws a wrench into the tree. I know that, but it’s very difficult to factor half-relationships into tree building without prior knowledge.

If you continue to scroll down, you’ll see multiple options for trees for this cluster.

DNA Matrix

Below that, you’ll see a wonderful downloadable DNA matrix of how everyone in the cluster shares DNA with everyone else in the cluster.

At this point, exit from cluster one and return to your original cluster file that shows your cluster matrix.

Beneath the AutoKinship table, you’ll see AutoCluster Cluster Information.

AutoCluster Cluster Information

Click on any one of those people. I’m selecting Everett because I know how we are related.

Voila, a new cluster configuration forms.

I can see all of the people I match in common with Everett in each cluster. This tells me two things:

  • Which clusters are related to this line. In particular, the orange cluster, green, red, purple, brown, magenta and dark grey clusters. If you mouse over each cell in the cluster, more information is provided.
  • The little helix in each cell tells you that those two people triangulate with each other and the tester. How cool is that?!!

Note that you can display this cluster in 4 different ways.

Return again to your main autocluster page and scroll down once again.

This just might be my favorite part.

Chromosome Segments

You can import chromosome segment information into DNAPainter – instructions here.

What you’ll see next is the clusters painted on your chromosomes. I love this!!!

Of course, Genetic Affairs can’t tell you which side is maternal and which is paternal. You’ll need to do that yourself after you import into DNAPainter.

Just beneath this painting, you’ll see a chart titled Chromosome segment statistics per AutoCluster cluster.

I’m only showing the first couple as an example.

Click on one of links. I’m selecting cluster 1.

Cluster 1 has painted portions of each chromosome, but I’m only displaying chromosomes 1-7 here.

Following the painting is a visual display of each overlap region by cluster, by overlapping segment on each chromosome.

You can clearly see where these segments overlap with each other!

Surname Enrichment

If you select the surname enrichment option, you’ll receive two additional features in your report.

Please note that I ran this option separately at a different time, so the cluster members and clusters themselves do not necessarily correlate with the examples above.

The Enriched Surname section of your report shows surnames in common found between the matches in each specific cluster.

Keep in mind, this does NOT just mean surnames in common with YOUR surname list, assuming you’ve entered your surnames at 23andMe. (If you haven’t please do so now.) 23andMe does not support user trees, so your entered surnames are all that can be utilized when comparing information from your matches.

These are surnames that are found more than once among your matches. I’ve framed the ones in red that I recognize as being found in my tree, and I’ve framed the ones in black that I recognize as being “married in.” In other words, some people may descend through children of my ancestors who married people with that black bracketed surname.

I can tell you immediately, based on these surnames, that the first cluster is the cluster formed around my great-great-grandparents, Joel Vannoy and his wife, Phebe Crumley.

Cluster 6 is less evident, but Anderson might be connected to the Vannoy family. I’ll need to view the common matches in that cluster at 23andMe and look for additional clues.

Cluster 9 is immediately evident too. Ferverda is Hiram Ferverda, my great-grandfather and Eva Miller is his wife.

Cluster 10 is probably the Miller line as well. Indiana is a location in this case, not a surname.

Click on “Detailed Surname Table” for more information, as shown below.

Each group of people that shares any surname is shown in a table together. In this case, these three people, who I happen to know are brothers, all share these surnames. The surnames they also share with me are shown with red boxes. The other surnames are shared only with each other and no one else in the cluster. I know they aren’t shared with me because I know my tree.

While your initial reaction may be that this isn’t terribly useful, it is actually a HUGE gift. Especially if you find a cluster you aren’t familiar with.

Mystery Cluster

A mystery cluster is an opportunity to break down a brick wall. This report tells you which people to view on your match list who share that surname. My first step is to use that list and see who I match in common with each person at 23andMe.

My relatives in common with my Cluster 10 matches include my close Ferverda cousins who descend from our common Miller ancestor, plus a few Miller cousins. This confirms that this cluster does indeed originate in the Miller line.

Not everyone in that cluster shares the surname Miller. That might be a good thing.

I have a long-standing brick wall with Magdalena (surname unknown) who was married to Philip Jacob Miller, my 5-times great-grandparents. My cousins through that couple, at my same generation, would be about 6th cousins.

These matches are matching me at the approximate 4th cousin level or more distantly, so it’s possible that at least some of these matches COULD be through Magdalena’s family. In that case, I certainly would not recognize the common surnames. Therefore, it’s imperative that I chase these leads. I can also adjust the matching threshold to obtain more matches, hopefully, in this cluster, and run the report again.

Are you in love with Autokinship and its associated features yet? I am!

Summary

Wow is all I can say. There’s enough in this one report to keep me busy for days, especially since 23andMe does not support a tree function in the traditional genealogical sense.

I have several matches that I have absolutely no idea how they are related to me. This helps a great deal and allows to me systematically approach tree-building or identifying ancestors.

You can see if 23andMe has predicted these relationships in the same way, but other than messaging your matches, or finding them at another vendor who does support a tree, there’s no way to know if either 23andMe’s autogenerated tree or the Genetic Affairs trees are accurate.

What Genetic Affairs provides that 23andMe does not is composite information in one place – as a group in a cluster. You don’t have to figure out who matches whom one by one and create your own matrix. (Yes, I used to do that.)

You can also import the Genetic Affairs information into DNAPainter to make further use of these segments. I’ve written about using DNAPainter, here.

Once you’ve identified how one person in any cluster connects, you’ve found your lever to unlock the identity of the ancestors whose DNA is represented in that particular cluster – and an important clue/link to associated clusters as well.

If you don’t recognize these cousins at 23andMe, look for common surnames on your DNA Relatives match list, or see if a known close relative on your maternal or paternal side matches these people found in a cluster. Click on each match at 23andMe to see if they have provided notes, surnames, locations or even a link to a tree at another vendor.

Don’t forget, you can also select the “Based on Triangulated Groups” option instead of the “Based on Shared Matches” option initially.

Run A Report

If you have tested at 23andMe, give the Genetic Affairs AutoKinship report a try.

Is it accurate for you? Have you gained insight? Identified how people are related to you? Are there any surprises?

Do you have a mystery cluster? I hope so, because an answer just might be hiding there.

If you’d like to read more about Genetic Affairs tools, click here for my free repository of Genetic Affairs articles.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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How to Download Your DNA Matching Segment Data and Why You Should

There are two or three types of data that testers may be able to download from DNA testing sites. Genealogy customers need to periodically download as much as possible.

  1. Raw data files needed for transferring DNA files from the company where you tested to other testing or analysis/comparison sites such as FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch for matching and other tools.
  2. Matching segment files which detail your matches, segment by segment with people whom you match.
  3. Match information files that provide you with additional information about your matches. What’s included varies by vendor.

This type of information is not uniformly available from all vendors, but is available as follows:

Vendor Raw Data File Matching Segment File Match Information File
FamilyTreeDNA Yes Yes Yes
MyHeritage Yes Yes Yes
23andMe Yes Yes Yes
Ancestry Yes No No
GedMatch Not a testing company, so no Yes Yes

I have provided step-by-step information about how to download your raw DNA data files and upload them to other vendors in a series of articles that you can find here.

Some of the answers in the table above need caveats because each vendor is different. Let’s take a look.

Matching Segment Files

In this article, I’ll provide information about how to download your matching segment and match information file(s).

Unfortunately, Ancestry does not provide any segment data at all, nor do they provide a way to download your match information. Third-party tools that did this for you have been banned by Ancestry, under threat of legal action, so this information is no longer available to Ancestry customers.

You can’t obtain this information from Ancestry, but you can transfer your DNA file to other vendors such as FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and the third-party site, GEDmatch where you’ll receive additional matches. Some Ancestry matches will have transferred elsewhere as well, and you can take advantage of your matching segment information.

Why Do I Want a Matching Segment File?

The matching segment file provides you with information about exactly how and where you match each person.

Here’s an example that includes the match name, chromosome, start and end location of the match along with the total number of CentiMorgans (cM) and total SNPs in the matching segment. Your matching segment file consists of hundreds/thousands of rows of this information.

Determining who matches you on the same segment is important because it facilitates the identification of common ancestors. Segment matching is also the first step in triangulation which allows you to confirm descent from common ancestors with your matches.

I wrote about triangulation at each vendor in the following articles:

Matching and Triangulation help you sort out legitimate matches, and which ancestors that DNA segment comes from.

Sorting For Legitimate Matches

On each segment location of your DNA, you will match:

  • People from your Mom’s side
  • People from your Dad’s side
  • People that are identical by chance (IBC) where they match you because part of the DNA from your Mom’s side and part from your Dad’s side just happens to look like their DNA (or vice versa.)

You can see how matching works in this example of 10 DNA locations. You inherited half of your Mom’s DNA and half of your Dad’s.

  • Legitimate maternal matches to you on this segment will have all As in this location.
  • Legitimate paternal matches to you will have all Cs in this location.
  • Identical by chance matches will match you, because they have the same DNA as both of your parents that you carry – interspersed. They will not match either of your parents individually.

IBC matches DO technically match you, but accidentally. In other words, they are identical by chance (IBC) because they just happen to match the DNA of both of your parents intermixed. Conversely, you can match the DNA of their parents intermixed as well. Regardless of why, they are not a legitimate maternal or paternal match to you.

For example, you can see that the identical by chance (IBC) match to you, above, won’t match the legitimate maternal or legitimate paternal matches.

When comparing your matches on any segment, you’ll wind up with a group of people who match you and each other on your maternal side, a group on your paternal side, and “everyone else” who is IBC.

I wrote about IBD, identical by descent DNA and IBC, identical by chance DNA and how that works, here.

A downloadable segment match file allows you to sort all of your matches by chromosome and segment. That’s the first step in determining if your matches match each other – which is how to determine if people are legitimate matches or IBC.

Additionally, these files allow you to utilize features at DNAPainter along with the tools at DNAGedcom and Genetic Affairs.

Match Information File

There’s a second file you’ll want to download as well except at 23andMe who includes all of the information in one file. You’ll want to download these files from each vendor at the same time so they are coordinated and include the same matches from the same time.

Downloading the second file, your match information, provides additional information which will be helpful for your genealogy. The information in this file varies by vendor, but includes items such as, but not limited to:

  • Tree link
  • Haplogroup
  • Match date
  • Predicted Relationship Range
  • Actual Relationship
  • Total shared cM
  • Longest segment cM
  • Maternal or paternal bucket (FamilyTreeDNA)
  • Notes
  • Email
  • Family Surnames
  • Location
  • Percent of shared DNA

You never know when vendors are going to change something that will affect your matches, like 23andMe did last fall, so it’s a good idea to download periodically.

Downloading your segment match and match information files are free, so let’s do this.

Downloading Your Segment Match & Information Files

FamilyTreeDNA

Sign on to your account.

click images to enlarge

Under your Family Finder Autosomal DNA test results, click on Chromosome Browser.

On the chromosome browser page, at the top right, click on Download All Segments.

Caveat – if you access the chromosome browser through the Family Finder match page, shown below, you will receive the segment matches ONLY for the people you have selected.

After selecting specific matches, as shown above, the option on the chromosome browser page will only say “Download Segments.” It does NOT say “Download All Segments.”

Clicking on this link only downloads the segments that you match with those people, so always be sure to access “Download ALL Segments” directly through the chromosome browser selection on your Autosomal DNA Family Finder menu without going to your match page and selecting specific matches.

The segment download file includes only the segments, but not additional information, such as which side, maternal or paternal, those matches are bucketed to, surnames and so forth. You need to download a second file.

To download additional information about your matches, scroll to the very bottom of your Family Finder match page and click on either Download Matches or Download Filtered matches. If you’ve used a filter such as maternal or paternal, you’ll receive only those matches, so be sure no filters are in use to download all of your matches’ information.

Your reports will be downloaded to your computer, so save them someplace where you can find them.

MyHeritage

Sign in to your account and click on the DNA tab, then DNA Matches.

At the far right-hand side, you’ll see three little dots. Click on the dots and you’ll see the options to export both the entire DNA Matches list and the shared DNA segment info for all DNA Matches.

You’ll want to download both. The first file Is the DNA matches list.

To download your segment matches, select the second option, “Export shared DNA segment info…”

Your files will be emailed to you.

23andMe

At 23andMe, sign on to your account and click on “DNA Relatives” under the Ancestry tab.

You’ll see your list of matches. Scroll to the very bottom where you’ll see the link to “Download aggregate data.”

23andMe combines your segment and match information in one file.

Remember that at 23andMe, your matches are limited to 2000 (unless you’re a V5 subscriber), minus the number of people who have not opted in to Relative Sharing. Additionally, there will be a number of people in the download file whose names appear, but who don’t have any segment data. Those people opted-in to Relative Sharing, but not to share segment information.

For example, my download file has 2827 rows. Of those, 1769 are unique individuals, meaning that I have matches with multiple segments for 1058 people. This means that of my 2000 allowed matches, 231 (or more) did not opt-in for Relative Sharing. The “or more” means that 23andMe does not roll matches off the list if you have communicated with the person, so some people may actually have more than 2000 matches. It’s impossible to know how 23andMe approaches calculations in this case.

Of those 1769 unique individuals on my match list, 257, or 15% did not share segment information. I’d sure like for those to be automatically rolled off and replaced with the next 257 who do share. 1512 or roughly three-quarters, 75%, of my 2000 allowed matches are useful for genealogy.

Initially, when 23andMe made their changes last fall, they were reportedly limiting the download file number to 1000, but they have reversed that policy on the V3 and V4 chips. I downloaded files from both chip versions to confirm that’s true.

I don’t have the V5 chip subscription level, nor am I going to retest to do that, so I don’t know if V5 subscribers receive all 5000 of the allowed matches in their download file.

This is the perfect example of why it’s a good idea to download your match files periodically. 23andMe is the only testing vendor that restricts your matches and when they roll off your list, they are irretrievable.

Aside from that, safe is better than sorry. You never know when something will change at a vendor and you’ll wish you had downloaded your match files earlier.

GedMatch

GedMatch, a third-party vendor, provides lots of tools but isn’t intuitive and provides almost no tutorial or information about how to navigate or use their site. There are some YouTube videos and Kitty Cooper has written several how-to articles. GEDmatch has promised a facelift soon.

GEDmatch provides many tools for free, along with a Tier1 level which provides advanced features by subscription.

At GEDmatch, you can see up to 2000 matches for free, but you must be a Tier 1 subscription member to download your matches – and the download is restricted to your top 1000 matches.

There are two Tier 1 one-to-many comparison options that are very similar. For either, you’ll enter your kit number and make your selection. Given that you’re restricted to 1000 in the download, there is no reason to search for more than 1000 kits.

click to enlarge

Then, click on Visualization options

You will then see the list of visualization options which includes “List/CSV.”

Clicking on “List/CSV” provides you with options.

click to enlarge

You’ll want to select the Matched Segment List, and you can either select “Prevent Hard Breaks,” or not. Allowing hard breaks means that small non-matching regions between two matching segments is not ignored, and the two segments are reported as two separate segments – if they are large enough to be reported.

If you prevent hard breaks, non-matching regions of less than 500,000 thousand base positions are ignored, creating one larger blended segment. It’s my preference to allow hard breaks because I’ve seen too many instances of erroneously “blended” segments.

When your matching segment file is complete, you will be prompted to download to your computer.

Thanks to Genetic Affairs, I discovered an alternate way to obtain more than 1000 downloaded matches from GEDmatch.

GEDmatch Alternative Methodology

Genetic Affairs suggests using the DNA Segment Search with a minimum of 5000 kits, and to enable the option to “Prevent Hard Breaks.”

Do not close the session while GedMatch is processing or you’ll need to restart your query.

When finished click “Here” to download the file to your system.

Now you’re ready for part 2.

Next, you’ll want to select the Triangulation feature.

These functions take time, so you’ll be watching as the counter increases. Or maybe go eat dinner or research some genealogy.

I can hear the “Jeopardy countdown music

When finished, click on “Here” to download this second file.

Whew! Now you should have your segment and match information files from each company that supports this information and provides downloads.

Saving Files

I generally save my files by vendor and date. However, if you’re going to use the files for a special project – you may want to make a copy elsewhere. For example, I’m going to use these files for Genetic Affairs’ AutoSegment feature, so I’ve downloaded fresh files from each vendor on the same date and made a separate copy, stored in my Genetic Affairs folder. I’ll let you know how that goes😊

Bottom Line

  • Test at vendors that don’t accept transfers. Ancestry and 23andMe
  • Test at or transfer to the rest. FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GEDmatch
  • Unlock or subscribe to the advanced tools that include chromosome browsers, ethnicity, and more, depending on the vendor. FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, GEDmatch
  • Upload or create trees at each vendor (except 23andMe who doesn’t support trees.)
  • Download as much information as you can from each vendor.
  • Work your matches through shared (in common with) matches, trees, segments, and clusters!

Have fun!!!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going and What’s Important?

Not only have we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, thankfully, we’re at the 20-year, two-decade milestone. The point at which genetics was first added to the toolbox of genealogists.

It seems both like yesterday and forever ago. And yes, I’ve been here the whole time,  as a spectator, researcher, and active participant.

Let’s put this in perspective. On New Year’s Eve, right at midnight, in 2005, I was able to score kit number 50,000 at Family Tree DNA. I remember this because it seemed like such a bizarre thing to be doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But hey, we genealogists are what we are.

I knew that momentous kit number which seemed just HUGE at the time was on the threshold of being sold, because I had inadvertently purchased kit 49,997 a few minutes earlier.

Somehow kit 50,000 seemed like such a huge milestone, a landmark – so I quickly bought kits, 49,998, 49,999, and then…would I get it…YES…kit 50,000. Score!

That meant that in the 5 years FamilyTreeDNA had been in business, they had sold on an average of 10,000 kits per year, or 27 kits a day. Today, that’s a rounding error. Then it was momentous!

In reality, the sales were ramping up quickly, because very few kits were sold in 2000, and roughly 20,000 kits had been sold in 2005 alone. I know this because I purchased kit 28,429 during the holiday sale a year earlier.

Of course, I had no idea who I’d test with that momentous New Year’s Eve Y DNA kit, but I assuredly would find someone. A few months later, I embarked on a road trip to visit an elderly family member with that kit in tow. Thank goodness I did, and they agreed and swabbed on the spot, because they are gone today and with them, the story of the Y line and autosomal DNA of their branch.

In the past two decades, almost an entire generation has slipped away, and with them, an entire genealogical library held in their DNA.

Today, more than 40 million people have tested with the four major DNA testing companies, although we don’t know exactly how many.

Lots of people have had more time to focus on genealogy in 2020, so let’s take a look at what’s important? What’s going on and what matters beyond this month or year?

How has this industry changed in the last two decades, and where it is going?

Reflection

This seems like a good point to reflect a bit.

Professor Dan Bradley reflecting on early genetic research techniques in his lab at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College in Dublin. Photo by Roberta Estes

In the beginning – twenty years ago, there were two companies who stuck their toes in the consumer DNA testing water – Oxford Ancestors and Family Tree DNA. About the same time, Sorenson Genomics and GeneTree were also entering that space, although Sorenson was a nonprofit. Today, of those, only FamilyTreeDNA remains, having adapted with the changing times – adding more products, testing, and sophistication.

Bryan Sykes who founded Oxford Ancestors announced in 2018 that he was retiring to live abroad and subsequently passed away in 2020. The website still exists, but the company has announced that they have ceased sales and the database will remain open until Sept 30, 2021.

James Sorenson died in 2008 and the assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, including the Sorenson database, were sold to Ancestry in 2012. Eventually, Ancestry removed the public database in 2015.

Ancestry dabbled in Y and mtDNA for a while, too, destroying that database in 2014.

Other companies, too many to remember or mention, have come and gone as well. Some of the various company names have been recycled or purchased, but aren’t the same companies today.

In the DNA space, it was keep up, change, die or be sold. Of course, there was the small matter of being able to sell enough DNA kits to make enough money to stay in business at all. DNA processing equipment and a lab are expensive. Not just the equipment, but also the expertise.

The Next Wave

As time moved forward, new players entered the landscape, comprising the “Big 4” testing companies that constitute the ponds where genealogists fish today.

23andMe was the first to introduce autosomal DNA testing and matching. Their goal and focus was always medical genetics, but they recognized the potential in genealogists before anyone else, and we flocked to purchase tests.

Ancestry settled on autosomal only and relies on the size of their database, a large body of genealogy subscribers, and a widespread “feel-good” marketing campaign to sell DNA kits as the gateway to “discover who you are.”

FamilyTreeDNA did and still does offer all 3 kinds of tests. Over the years, they have enhanced both the Y DNA and mitochondrial product offerings significantly and are still known as “the science company.” They are the only company to offer the full range of Y DNA tests, including their flagship Big Y-700, full sequence mitochondrial testing along with matching for both products. Their autosomal product is called Family Finder.

MyHeritage entered the DNA testing space a few years after the others as the dark horse that few expected to be successful – but they fooled everyone. They have acquired companies and partnered along the way which allowed them to add customers (Promethease) and tools (such as AutoCluster by Genetic Affairs), boosting their number of users. Of course, MyHeritage also offers users a records research subscription service that you can try for free.

In summary:

One of the wonderful things that happened was that some vendors began to accept compatible raw DNA autosomal data transfer files from other vendors. Today, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch DO accept transfer files, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

The transfers and matching are free, but there are either minimal unlock or subscription plans for advanced features.

There are other testing companies, some with niche markets and others not so reputable. For this article, I’m focusing on the primary DNA testing companies that are useful for genealogy and mainstream companion third-party tools that complement and enhance those services.

The Single Biggest Change

As I look back, the single biggest change is that genetic genealogy evolved from the pariah of genealogy where DNA discussion was banned from the (now defunct) Rootsweb lists and summarily deleted for the first few years after introduction. I know, that’s hard to believe today.

Why, you ask?

Reasons varied from “just because” to “DNA is cheating” and then morphed into “because DNA might do terrible things like, maybe, suggest that a person really wasn’t related to an ancestor in a lineage society.”

Bottom line – fear and misunderstanding. Change is exceedingly difficult for humans, and DNA definitely moved the genealogy cheese.

From that awkward beginning, genetic genealogy organically became a “thing,” a specific application of genealogy. There was paper-trail traditional genealogy and then the genetic aspect. Today, for almost everyone, genealogy is “just another tool” in the genealogist’s toolbox, although it does require focused learning, just like any other tool.

DNA isn’t separate anymore, but is now an integral part of the genealogical whole. Having said that, DNA can’t solve all problems or answer all questions, but neither can traditional paper-trail genealogy. Together, each makes the other stronger and solves mysteries that neither can resolve alone.

Synergy.

I fully believe that we have still only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Inheritance

As we talk about the various types of DNA testing and tools, here’s a quick graphic to remind you of how the different types of DNA are inherited.

  • Y DNA is inherited paternally for males only and informs us of the direct patrilineal (surname) line.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by everyone from their mothers and informs us of the mother’s matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line.
  • Autosomal DNA can be inherited from potentially any ancestor in random but somewhat predictable amounts through both parents. The further back in time, the less identifiable DNA you’ll inherit from any specific ancestor. I wrote about that, here.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

Where should we be focused today and where is this industry going? What tools and articles popped up in 2020 to help further our genealogy addiction? I already published the most popular articles of 2020, here.

This industry started two decades ago with testing a few Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA markers, and we were utterly thrilled at the time. Both tests have advanced significantly and the prices have dropped like a stone. My first mitochondrial DNA test that tested only 400 locations cost more than $800 – back then.

Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA are still critically important to genetic genealogy. Both play unique roles and provide information that cannot be obtained through autosomal DNA testing. Today, relative to Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, the biggest challenge, ironically, is educating newer genealogists about their potential who have never heard about anything other than autosomal, often ethnicity, testing.

We have to educate in order to overcome the cacophony of “don’t bother because you don’t get as many matches.”

That’s like saying “don’t use the right size wrench because the last one didn’t fit and it’s a bother to reach into the toolbox.” Not to mention that if everyone tested, there would be a lot more matches, but I digress.

If you don’t use the right tool, and all of the tools at your disposal, you’re not going to get the best result possible.

The genealogical proof standard, the gold standard for genealogy research, calls for “a reasonably exhaustive search,” and if you haven’t at least considered if or how Y
DNA
and mitochondrial DNA along with autosomal testing can or might help, then your search is not yet exhaustive.

I attempt to obtain the Y and mitochondrial DNA of every ancestral line. In the article, Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates, I described several methodologies to find appropriate testing candidates.

Y DNA – 20 Years and Still Critically Important

Y DNA tracks the Y chromosome for males via the patrilineal (surname) line, providing matching and historical migration information.

We started 20 years ago testing 10 STR markers. Today, we begin at 37 markers, can upgrade to 67 or 111, but the preferred test is the Big Y which provides results for 700+ STR markers plus results from the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome in order to provide the most refined results. This allows genealogists to use STR markers and SNP results together for various aspects of genealogy.

I created a Y DNA resource page, here, in order to provide a repository for Y DNA information and updates in one place. I would encourage anyone who can to order or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test which provides critical lineage information in addition to and beyond traditional STR testing. Additionally, the Big Y-700 test helps build the Y DNA haplotree which is growing by leaps and bounds.

More new SNPs are found and named EVERY SINGLE DAY today at FamilyTreeDNA than were named in the first several years combined. The 2006 SNP tree listed a grand total of 459 SNPs that defined the Y DNA tree at that time, according to the ISOGG Y DNA SNP tree. Goran Rundfeldt, head of R&D at FamilyTreeDNA posted this today:

2020 was an awful year in so many ways, but it was an unprecedented year for human paternal phylogenetic tree reconstruction. The FTDNA Haplotree or Great Tree of Mankind now includes:

37,534 branches with 12,696 added since 2019 – 51% growth!
defined by
349,097 SNPs with 131,820 added since 2019 – 61% growth!

In just one year, 207,536 SNPs were discovered and assigned FT SNP names. These SNPs will help define new branches and refine existing ones in the future.

The tree is constructed based on high coverage chromosome Y sequences from:
– More than 52,500 Big Y results
– Almost 4,000 NGS results from present-day anonymous men that participated in academic studies

Plus an additional 3,000 ancient DNA results from archaeological remains, of mixed quality and Y chromosome coverage at FamilyTreeDNA.

Wow, just wow.

These three new articles in 2020 will get you started on your Y DNA journey!

Mitochondrial DNA – Matrilineal Line of Humankind is Being Rewritten

The original Oxford Ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA test tested 400 locations. The original Family Tree DNA test tested around 1000 locations. Today, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is standard, testing the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria.

Mitochondrial DNA tracks your mother’s direct maternal, or matrilineal line. I’ve created a mitochondrial DNA resource page, here that includes easy step-by-step instructions for after you receive your results.

New articles in 2020 included the introduction of The Million Mito Project. 2021 should see the first results – including a paper currently in the works.

The Million Mito Project is rewriting the haplotree of womankind. The current haplotree has expanded substantially since the first handful of haplogroups thanks to thousands upon thousands of testers, but there is so much more information that can be extracted today.

Y and Mitochondrial Resources

If you don’t know of someone in your family to test for Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA for a specific ancestral line, you can always turn to the Y DNA projects at Family Tree DNA by searching here.

The search provides you with a list of projects available for a specific surname along with how many customers with that surname have tested. Looking at the individual Y DNA projects will show the earliest known ancestor of the surname line.

Another resource, WikiTree lists people who have tested for the Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA lines of specific ancestors.

Click on images to enlarge

On the left side, my maternal great-grandmother’s profile card, and on the right, my paternal great-great-grandfather. You can see that someone has tested for the mitochondrial DNA of Nora (OK, so it’s me) and the Y DNA of John Estes (definitely not me.)

MitoYDNA, a nonprofit volunteer organization created a comparison tool to replace Ysearch and Mitosearch when they bit the dust thanks to GDPR.

MitoYDNA accepts uploads from different sources and allows uploaders to not only match to each other, but to view the STR values for Y DNA and the mutation locations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions of mitochondrial DNA. Mags Gaulden, one of the founders, explains in her article, What sets mitoYDNA apart from other DNA Databases?.

If you’ve tested at nonstandard companies, not realizing that they didn’t provide matching, or if you’ve tested at a company like Sorenson, Ancestry, and now Oxford Ancestors that is going out of business, uploading your results to mitoYDNA is a way to preserve your investment. PS – I still recommend testing at FamilyTreeDNA in order to receive detailed results and compare in their large database.

CentiMorgans – The Word of Two Decades

The world of autosomal DNA turns on the centimorgan (cM) measure. What is a centimorgan, exactly? I wrote about that unit of measure in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab.

Fortunately, new tools and techniques make using cMs much easier. The Shared cM Project was updated this year, and the results incorporated into a wonderfully easy tool used to determine potential relationships at DNAPainter based on the number of shared centiMorgans.

Match quality and potential relationships are determined by the number of shared cMs, and the chromosome browser is the best tool to use for those comparisons.

Chromosome Browser – Genetics Tool to View Chromosome Matches

Chromosome browsers allow testers to view their matching cMs of DNA with other testers positioned on their own chromosomes.

My two cousins’ DNA where they match me on chromosomes 1-4, is shown above in blue and red at Family Tree DNA. It’s important to know where you match cousins, because if you match multiple cousins on the same segment, from the same side of your family (maternal or paternal), that’s suggestive of a common ancestor, with a few caveats.

Some people feel that a chromosome browser is an advanced tool, but I think it’s simply standard fare – kind of like driving a car. You need to learn how to drive initially, but after that, you don’t even think about it – you just get in and go. Here’s help learning how to drive that chromosome browser.

Triangulation – Science Plus Group DNA Matching Confirms Genealogy

The next logical step after learning to use a chromosome browser is triangulation. If fact, you’re seeing triangulation above, but don’t even realize it.

The purpose of genetic genealogy is to gather evidence to “prove” ancestral connections to either people or specific ancestors. In autosomal DNA, triangulation occurs when:

  • You match at least two other people (not close relatives)
  • On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA (generally 7 cM or greater)
  • And you can assign that segment to a common ancestor

The same two cousins are shown above, with triangulated segments bracketed at MyHeritage. I’ve identified the common ancestor with those cousins that those matching DNA segments descend from.

MyHeritage’s triangulation tool confirms by bracketing that these cousins also match each other on the same segment, which is the definition of triangulation.

I’ve written a lot about triangulation recently.

If you’d prefer a video, I recorded a “Top Tips” Facebook LIVE with MyHeritage.

Why is Ancestry missing from this list of triangulation articles? Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or segment information. Therefore, you can’t triangulate at Ancestry. You can, however, transfer your Ancestry DNA raw data file to either FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch, all three of which offer triangulation.

Step by step download/upload transfer instructions are found in this article:

Clustering Matches and Correlating Trees

Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, we can no longer depend on the major vendors to provide all of the tools that genealogists want and need.

Of course, I would encourage you to stay with mainstream products being used by a significant number of community power users. As with anything, there is always someone out there that’s less than honorable.

2020 saw a lot of innovation and new tools introduced. Maybe that’s one good thing resulting from people being cooped up at home.

Third-party tools are making a huge difference in the world of genetic genealogy. My favorites are Genetic Affairs, their AutoCluster tool shown above, DNAPainter and DNAGedcom.

These articles should get you started with clustering.

If you like video resources, here’s a MyHeritage Facebook LIVE that I recorded about how to use AutoClusters:

I created a compiled resource article for your convenience, here:

I have not tried a newer tool, YourDNAFamily, that focuses only on 23andMe results although the creator has been a member of the genetic genealogy community for a long time.

Painting DNA Makes Chromosome Browsers and Triangulation Easy

DNAPainter takes the next step, providing a repository for all of your painted segments. In other words, DNAPainter is both a solution and a methodology for mass triangulation across all of your chromosomes.

Here’s a small group of people who match me on the same maternal segment of chromosome 1, including those two cousins in the chromosome browser and triangulation sections, above. We know that this segment descends from Philip Jacob Miller and his wife because we’ve been able to identify that couple as the most distant ancestor intersection in all of our trees.

It’s very helpful that DNAPainter has added the functionality of painting all of the maternal and paternal bucketed matches from Family Tree DNA.

All you need to do is to link your known matches to your tree in the proper place at FamilyTreeDNA, then they do the rest by using those DNA matches to indicate which of the rest of your matches are maternal and paternal. Instructions, here. You can then export the file and use it at DNAPainter to paint all of those matches on the correct maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an article providing all of the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources.

DNA Matches Plus Trees Enhance Genealogy

Of course, utilizing DNA matching plus finding common ancestors in trees is one of the primary purposes of genetic genealogy – right?

Vendors have linked the steps of matching DNA with matching ancestors in trees.

Genetic Affairs take this a step further. If you don’t have an ancestor in your tree, but your matches have common ancestors with each other, Genetic Affairs assembles those trees to provide you with those hints. Of course, that common ancestor might not be relevant to your genealogy, but it just might be too!

click to enlarge

This tree does not include me, but two of my matches descend from a common ancestor and that common ancestor between them might be a clue as to why I match both of them.

Ethnicity Continues to be Popular – But Is No Shortcut to Genealogy

Ethnicity is always popular. People want to “do their DNA” and find out where they come from. I understand. I really do. Who doesn’t just want an answer?

Of course, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to people who test for that purpose with high expectations. Hopefully, ethnicity will pique their curiosity and encourage engagement.

All four major vendors rolled out updated ethnicity results or related tools in 2020.

The future for ethnicity, I believe, will be held in integrated tools that allow us to use ethnicity results for genealogy, including being able to paint our ethnicity on our chromosomes as well as perform segment matching by ethnicity.

For example, if I carry an African segment on chromosome 1 from my father, and I match one person from my mother’s side and one from my father’s side on that same segment – one or the other of those people should also have that segment identified as African. That information would inform me as to which match is paternal and which is maternal

Not only that, this feature would help immensely tracking ancestors back in time and identifying their origins.

Will we ever get there? I don’t know. I’m not sure ethnicity is or can be accurate enough. We’ll see.

Transition to Digital and Online

Sometimes the future drags us kicking and screaming from the present.

With the imposed isolation of 2020, conferences quickly moved to an online presence. The genealogy community has all pulled together to make this work. The joke is that 2020’s most used phrase is “can you hear me?” I can vouch for that.

Of course while the year 2020 is over, the problem isn’t and is extending at least through the first half of 2021 and possibly longer. Conferences are planned months, up to a year, in advance and they can’t turn on a dime, so don’t even begin to expect in-person conferences until either late in 2021 or more likely, 2022 if all goes well this year.

I expect the future will eventually return to in-person conferences, but not entirely.

Finding ways to be more inclusive allows people who don’t want to or can’t travel or join in-person to participate.

I’ve recorded several sessions this year, mostly for 2021. Trust me, these could be a comedy, mostly of errors😊

I participated in four MyHeritage Facebook LIVE sessions in 2020 along with some other amazing speakers. This is what “live” events look like today!

Screenshot courtesy MyHeritage

A few days ago, I asked MyHeritage for a list of their LIVE sessions in 2020 and was shocked to learn that there were more than 90 in English, all free, and you can watch them anytime. Here’s the MyHeritage list.

By the way, every single one of the speakers is a volunteer, so say a big thank you to the speakers who make this possible, and to MyHeritage for the resources to make this free for everyone. If you’ve ever tried to coordinate anything like this, it’s anything but easy.

Additonally, I’ve created two Webinars this year for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Geoff Rasmussen put together the list of their top webinars for 2020, and I was pleased to see that I made the top 10! I’m sure there are MANY MORE you’d be interested in watching. Personally, I’m going to watch #6 yet today! Also, #9 and #22. You can always watch new webinars for free for a few days, and you can subscribe to watch all webinars, here.

The 2021 list of webinar speakers has been announced here, and while I’m not allowed to talk about something really fun that’s upcoming, let’s just say you definitely have something to look forward to in the springtime!

Also, don’t forget to register for RootsTech Connect which is entirely online and completely free, February 25-27, here.

Thank you to Penny Walters for creating this lovely graphic.

There are literally hundreds of speakers providing sessions in many languages for viewers around the world. I’ve heard the stats, but we can’t share them yet. Let me just say that you will be SHOCKED at the magnitude and reach of this conference. I’m talking dumbstruck!

During one of our zoom calls, one of the organizers says it feels like we’re constructing the plane as we’re flying, and I can confirm his observation – but we are getting it done – together! All hands on deck.

I’ll be presenting an advanced session about triangulation as well as a mini-session in the FamilySearch DNA Resource Center about finding your mother’s ancestors. I’ll share more information as it’s released and I can.

Companies and Owners Come & Go

You probably didn’t even notice some of these 2020 changes. Aside from the death of Bryan Sykes (RIP Bryan,) the big news and the even bigger unknown is the acquisition of Ancestry by Blackstone. Recently the CEO, Margo Georgiadis announced that she was stepping down. The Ancestry Board of Directors has announced an external search for a new CEO. All I can say is that very high on the priority list should be someone who IS a genealogist and who understands how DNA applies to genealogy.

Other changes included:

In the future, as genealogy and DNA testing becomes ever more popular and even more of a commodity, company sales and acquisitions will become more commonplace.

Some Companies Reduced Services and Cut Staff

I understand this too, but it’s painful. The layoffs occurred before Covid, so they didn’t result from Covid-related sales reductions. Let’s hope we see renewed investment after the Covid mess is over.

In a move that may or may not be related to an attempt to cut costs, Ancestry removed 6 and 7 cM matches from their users, freeing up processing resources, hardware, and storage requirements and thereby reducing costs.

I’m not going to beat this dead horse, because Ancestry is clearly not going to move on this issue, nor on that of the much-requested chromosome browser.

Later in the year, 23andMe also removed matches and other features, although, to their credit, they have restored at least part of this functionality and have provided ethnicity updates to V3 and V4 kits which wasn’t initially planned.

It’s also worth noting that early in 2020, 23andMe laid off 100 people as sales declined. Since that time, 23andMe has increasingly pushed consumers to pay to retest on their V5 chip.

About the same time, Ancestry also cut their workforce by about 6%, or about 100 people, also citing a slowdown in the consumer testing market. Ancestry also added a health product.

I’m not sure if we’ve reached market saturation or are simply seeing a leveling off. I wrote about that in DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons.

Of course, the pandemic economy where many people are either unemployed or insecure about their future isn’t helping.

The various companies need some product diversity to survive downturns. 23andMe is focused on medical research with partners who pay 23andMe for the DNA data of customers who opt-in, as does Ancestry.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage provide subscription services for genealogy records.

FamilyTreeDNA is part of a larger company, GenebyGene whose genetics labs do processing for other companies and medical facilities.

A huge thank you to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA for NOT reducing services to customers in 2020.

Scientific Research Still Critical & Pushes Frontiers

Now that DNA testing has become a commodity, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that DNA testing is still a scientific endeavor that requires research to continue to move forward.

I’m still passionate about research after 20 years – maybe even more so now because there’s so much promise.

Research bleeds over into the consumer marketplace where products are improved and new features created allowing us to better track and understand our ancestors through their DNA that we and our family members inherit.

Here are a few of the research articles I published in 2020. You might notice a theme here – ancient DNA. What we can learn now due to new processing techniques is absolutely amazing. Labs can share files and information, providing the ability to “reprocess” the data, not the DNA itself, as more information and expertise becomes available.

Of course, in addition to this research, the Million Mito Project team is hard at work rewriting the tree of womankind.

If you’d like to participate, all you need to do is to either purchase a full sequence mitochondrial DNA kit at FamilyTreeDNA, or upgrade to the full sequence if you tested at a lower level previously.

Predictions

Predictions are risky business, but let me give it a shot.

Looking back a year, Covid wasn’t on the radar.

Looking back 5 years, neither Genetic Affairs nor DNAPainter were yet on the scene. DNAAdoption had just been formed in 2014 and DNAGedcom which was born out of DNAAdoption didn’t yet exist.

In other words, the most popular tools today didn’t exist yet.

GEDmatch, founded in 2010 by genealogists for genealogists was 5 years old, but was sold in December 2019 to Verogen.

We were begging Ancestry for a chromosome browser, and while we’ve pretty much given up beating them, because the horse is dead and they can sell DNA kits through ads focused elsewhere, that doesn’t mean genealogists still don’t need/want chromosome and segment based tools. Why, you’d think that Ancestry really doesn’t want us to break through those brick walls. That would be very bizarre, because every brick wall that falls reveals two more ancestors that need to be researched and spurs a frantic flurry of midnight searching. If you’re laughing right now, you know exactly what I mean!

Of course, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser, it would cost development money for no additional revenue and their customer service reps would have to be able to support it. So from Ancestry’s perspective, there’s no good reason to provide us with that tool when they can sell kits without it. (Sigh.)

I’m not surprised by the management shift at Ancestry, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see several big players go public in the next decade, if not the next five years.

As companies increase in value, the number of private individuals who could afford to purchase the company decreases quickly, leaving private corporations as the only potential buyers, or becoming publicly held. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because investment dollars are infused into new product development.

What we desperately need, and I predict will happen one way or another is a marriage of individual tools and functions that exist separately today, with a dash of innovation. We need tools that will move beyond confirming existing ancestors – and will be able to identify ancestors through our DNA – out beyond each and every brick wall.

If a tester’s DNA matches to multiple people in a group descended from a particular previously unknown couple, and the timing and geography fits as well, that provides genealogical researchers with the hint they need to begin excavating the traditional records, looking for a connection.

In fact, this is exactly what happened with mitochondrial DNA – twice now. A match and a great deal of digging by one extremely persistent cousin resulting in identifying potential parents for a brick-wall ancestor. Autosomal DNA then confirmed that my DNA matched with 59 other individuals who descend from that couple through multiple children.

BUT, we couldn’t confirm those ancestors using autosomal DNA UNTIL WE HAD THE NAMES of the couple. DNA has the potential to reveal those names!

I wrote about that in Mitochondrial DNA Bulldozes Brick Wall and will be discussing it further in my RootsTech presentation.

The Challenge

We have most of the individual technology pieces today to get this done. Of course, the combined technological solution would require significant computing resources and processing power – just at the same time that vendors are desperately trying to pare costs to a minimum.

Some vendors simply aren’t interested, as I’ve already noted.

However, the winner, other than us genealogists, of course, will be the vendor who can either devise solutions or partner with others to create the right mix of tools that will combine matching, triangulation, and trees of your matches to each other, even if you don’t’ share a common ancestor.

We need to follow the DNA past the current end of the branch of our tree.

Each triangulated segment has an individual history that will lead not just to known ancestors, but to their unknown ancestors as well. We have reached critical mass in terms of how many people have tested – and more success would encourage more and more people to test.

There is a genetic path over every single brick wall in our genealogy.

Yes, I know that’s a bold statement. It’s not future Jetson’s flying-cars stuff. It’s doable – but it’s a matter of commitment, investment money, and finding a way to recoup that investment.

I don’t think it’s possible for the one-time purchase of a $39-$99 DNA test, especially when it’s not a loss-leader for something else like a records or data subscription (MyHeritage and Ancestry) or a medical research partnership (Ancestry and 23andMe.)

We’re performing these analysis processes manually and piecemeal today. It’s extremely inefficient and labor-intensive – which is why it often fails. People give up. And the process is painful, even when it does succeed.

This process has also been made increasingly difficult when some vendors block tools that help genealogists by downloading match and ancestral tree information. Before Ancestry closed access, I was creating theories based on common ancestors in my matches trees that weren’t in mine – then testing those theories both genetically (clusters, AutoTrees and ThruLines) and also by digging into traditional records to search for the genetic connection.

For example, I’m desperate to identify the parents of my James Lee Clarkson/Claxton, so I sorted my spreadsheet by surname and began evaluating everyone who had a Clarkson/Claxton in their tree in the 1700s in Virginia or North Carolina. But I can’t do that anymore now, either with a third-party tool or directly at Ancestry. Twenty million DNA kits sold for a minimum of $79 equals more than 1.5 billion dollars. Obviously, the issue here is not a lack of funds.

Including Y and mitochondrial DNA resources in our genetic toolbox not only confirms accuracy but also provides additional hints and clues.

Sometimes we start with Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA, and wind up using autosomal and sometimes the reverse. These are not competing products. It’s not either/or – it’s *and*.

Personally, I don’t expect the vendors to provide this game-changing complex functionality for free. I would be glad to pay for a subscription for top-of-the-line innovation and tools. In what other industry do consumers expect to pay for an item once and receive constant life-long innovations and upgrades? That doesn’t happen with software, phones nor with automobiles. I want vendors to be profitable so that they can invest in new tools that leverage the power of computing for genealogists to solve currently unsolvable problems.

Every single end-of-line ancestor in your tree represents a brick wall you need to overcome.

If you compare the cost of books, library visits, courthouse trips, and other research endeavors that often produce exactly nothing, these types of genetic tools would be both a godsend and an incredible value.

That’s it.

That’s the challenge, a gauntlet of sorts.

Who’s going to pick it up?

I can’t answer that question, but I can say that 23andMe can’t do this without supporting extensive trees, and Ancestry has shown absolutely no inclination to support segment data. You can’t achieve this goal without segment information or without trees.

Among the current players, that leaves two DNA testing companies and a few top-notch third parties as candidates – although – as the past has proven, the future is uncertain, fluid, and everchanging.

It will be interesting to see what I’m writing at the end of 2025, or maybe even at the end of 2021.

Stay tuned.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Triangulation Resources In One Place

I’ve written a number of articles about autosomal DNA triangulation.

I’ve created this repository to provide gather various resources all in one place to make it easier for you to find what you need.

Triangulation Concepts and Tools

What is triangulation, why it is important for genealogy, and how does one go about triangulating? More importantly, why do genealogists care?

In a nutshell, triangulation allows you to discover or confirm your ancestors or ancestral lines when:

  • You match at least two other people (who are not close relatives) on the same reasonably sized segment of DNA.
  • Those matches also match each other on a reasonably sized portion of the same DNA segment where you match both of them.
  • You identify a common ancestor or ancestral couple who passed that segment to all of the people who match on that segment of DNA.
Recently, one of my readers asked why we can’t or shouldn’t use close relatives for triangulation. Another explained that she was just sure she had proof that DNA skipped generations and was appalled that I said it doesn’t. (It doesn’t.) 
Using lots of graphics, I’ve explained why you really can’t use close relatives for reliable triangulation, how you can use their results successfully, and why that reader might have thought DNA skipped a generation. Yes, there is a potential reason why she might think that – and you might find yourself in that same situation too.
 
I compiled everything at the end into a Triangulation Checklist that you can use to make sure you’ve thought of everything, that people are matching in reasonable ways, and to at least consider reasons for anomalies that might drag you down that rabbit hole.
I’ve written two articles that explain chromosome matching, triangulation, and how to use a chromosome browser.

This article explains chromosome matching and triangulation step-by-step to help you sort through your matches.

A chromosome browser is essential to genetic genealogy and specifically, to triangulation, allowing you to visualize your DNA matches on your chromosomes. This article starts at the beginning with what a chromosome browser looks like and explains each step along the way.

It’s important to understand that some people will match you, but won’t match either of your parents, or wouldn’t if your parents were both available to test. The technique of triangulation removes the issue of “false matches” which aren’t identical by descent, because you inherited that DNA segment from an ancestor through one of your parents, but are instead “identical by chance.”

If you’d like to utilize X matching, you’ll want to read this article. The X chromosome has a unique inheritance path, is treated differently by various vendors and you’ll need to evaluate X matches differently.

Genetic Affairs has numerous tools that facilitate and assist with different aspects of triangulation including their AutoClusters, AutoTree, AutoPedigree, AutoSegment and AutoKinship features in addition to their AutoSegment Cluster Tool at GEDmatch.

How to Triangulate?

Each of the major vendors, except Ancestry, provides a chromosome browser along with some type of triangulation tool. Additionally, third parties who do not perform DNA testing offer great supplemental tools. GEDmatch and DNAPainter both provide triangulation tools, allowing you to take advantage of matches from multiple vendors.

I’ve written step-by-step articles detailing how to utilize triangulation at each vendor:

FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor that provides built-in parental phasing, even if your own parents haven’t tested. You’ll want to either test at or transfer your DNA file (free) to Family Tree DNA, then pay the $19 unlock for advanced tools. As an added benefit, you can also test and obtain matches to your Y DNA (paternal or surname line) if you’re a male and mitochondrial DNA (mother’s matrilineal line) for either sex in order to further your genealogical research.

MyHeritage is the only vendor to incorporate a triangulation tool with shared matches and AutoClusters into their solution. Of course, MyHeritage also provides traditional genealogical research records that they combine with DNA matches and trees in their Theories of Family Relativity feature, showing potential tree connections between you and your matches to common ancestors. You’ll want to either test at or transfer your DNA file to MyHeritage (free), then pay the $29 unlock for advanced tools.

23andMe doesn’t call triangulation by that name, but they provide the functionality, nonetheless. While 23andMe doesn’t support trees in the normal genealogical manner, they are the only vendor who has created a sort of genetic tree, giving you an idea of how your closest matches may fit into a family tree positionally. You can’t transfer files to 23andMe, so if you want to be in their database, you’ll need to test there.

In the late fall or winter of 2020/2021, 23andMe made changes that broke triangulation the way it previously worked.

This article details the problem and provides step-by-step instructions for the workaround

GEDmatch does not provide DNA testing, but they do provide additional tools. You will find a number of people who have tested at Ancestry and other vendors, then transferred to GEDmatch to use their chromosome browser and other tools to obtain additional matches. GEDmatch is the only vendor who triangulates all of your matches at one time – providing a comprehensive report. You’ll want to transfer your DNA kit to GEDmatch (free) and subscribe to their Tier1 Level to utilize their advanced tools.

DNAPainter doesn’t provide DNA testing but does provide a critical service by facilitating the painting of your DNA matches on your chromosomes, identified by ancestor. This allows you to “walk the segment back in time,” meaning to identify the oldest ancestor to whom you can identify a specific segment. I utilize DNAPainter as a central location to house all of my identified segments from all vendors. You can get started by checking out the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources, here.

Testing and Transferring

It’s important to identify as many triangulated segments as possible, which means it‘s crucial to be in all the databases that support triangulation and provide tools.

All major vendors allow you to download your DNA raw data file once you’ve tested, but not all vendors support uploading other vendors’ files instead of purchasing their test.

You can upload (at least) recent versions of other vendors DNA data files to:

The following vendors do NOT support uploads, but you can download your DNA file from these vendors and upload to the vendors above:

I wrote step-by-step instructions about how to download your files from each vendor and uploading them to vendors who accept uploads in the article, DNA File Upload-Download and Transfer Instructions to and from DNA Testing Companies.

Up your genealogy game by transferring and triangulating.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

DNA Tidbit #5: What’s Your Goal?

You probably see this all the time on social media:

“I just got my DNA results. Now what?”

No further information is given.

The answer is, “What is your goal?”

Why did they test and what are they hoping to learn?

DNA Tidbit Challenge: Define goals for answering genealogy questions, allowing you to focus your efforts.

Your DNA testing goal depends on a number of factors including:

  • What test you took, meaning Y DNA, mitochondrial or autosomal.
  • Where you tested and the tools they offer.
  • What you’re hoping to achieve. In other words, why did you test in the first place?

For a short article about the difference between Y, mitochondrial, and autosomal DNA, please click here.

For more seasoned genealogists, we may have taken all the tests and answered many questions already, but still, our research needs to be guided by goals.

I regularly check my matches. I still think I may have had a half-sibling that is yet to be located. After I confirm that no, I don’t have any new close matches, I then look at the rest, making notes where appropriate.

Recently, late one night, I thought to myself, “why am I doing this?” Endlessly scrolling through new matches and randomly seeing if I can figure out where they fit or which ancestor we share.

But why?

Originally, I had two broad goals.

  • I wanted to find Y line males in each line and other males from the same supposed line to confirm that indeed the ancestral line is what the paper trail had identified.
  • To confirm that I am indeed descended from the ancestral lines I think I am, meaning no NPEs. As a genealogist, the only thing I’d hate worse than discovering that I’ve been researching the wrong line for all these years is to keep doing so.

Given that I’ve confirmed my connection to ancestors on most lines back several generations now, what are my goals?

Broad and Deep

I’ve realized over the years that goals are both broad and deep.

Broad goals are as I described above, in essence, spanning the entire tree.

My broad goals have changed a bit over time. I’ve located and tested descendants of many Y lines, but I’m still working on a few. I’ve confirmed most of my lineage back several generations by matching the DNA from other children of the same ancestor and using tools like triangulation and DNAPainter to confirm the segment is actually from the ancestral couple I think it is.

I’ve added the goal of breaking down brick walls.

This means that I need to look deep instead of broad.

Deep means that I need to focus on and formulate a plan for each line.

Looking Deep

I’ve identified three specific deep goals and put together a plan with action steps to achieve those goals.

  • Deep Goal #1 – Collecting and Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA

I like to “collect” the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA results/haplogroups of my ancestors for different reasons. First, I’ve discovered surprises in where their DNA originated. For both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, you can identify their continent of origin as well as confirm ancestors or break down brick walls for that one specific line through matches and other tools at Family Tree DNA.

Looking at my tree, my closest ancestor whose Y DNA or mtDNA I don’t have is my great-grandmother, Evaline Miller (1857-1939) who had 4 daughters who all had daughters. You wouldn’t think it would be this difficult to find someone who descends to current through all daughters.

How do I go about achieving this goal? What are some alternatives?

  • Track and ask family members, if possible.
  • Find descendants using MyHeritage, Ancestry and Geneanet (especially in Europe) trees. Bonus – they may also have photos or information that I don’t, especially since this isn’t a distant ancestor.

click to enlarge

Ancestry’s ThruLines shows your matches by ancestor, so long as the connection can be made through trees. Unfortunately, in this case, no one descends correctly for mitochondrial DNA, meaning through all females to the current generation which can be male. BUT, they might have an aunt or uncle who does, so it’s certainly worth making a contact attempt.

  • I can also use WikiTree to see if someone has already tested in her line. Unfortunately, no.

However, I don’t know the profile manager so maybe I should click and see how we might be related. You never know and the answer is no if you don’t ask😊

Deep Goal #2 – Confirming a Specific Ancestor

I want to confirm that a specific ancestor is my ancestor, or as close as I can get.

What do I mean by that?

In the first couple of close generations, using autosomal DNA, we can confirm ancestral lines and parentage. We can confirm our parents and our grandparents, but further back in that, we have to use a combination of our tree and other tools to confirm our paper genealogy.

For example, as we move further back in time, we can’t confirm that one particular son was the father as opposed to his brother. In closer generations, autosomal DNA might help, but not beyond the first couple of generations. Second cousins always match autosomally, but beyond that, not so much.

Using Y DNA, if we can find a suitable candidate, I can confirm that my Estes ancestor actually does descend through the Estes line indicated by my paper trail.

I need to find someone in my line either to test or who has already tested, of course.

click to enlarge

If they do test and share their match information with me, and others from that same line have tested, I can see their earliest known ancestors on their Y DNA match page.

If someone from that line has already tested and has joined a surname project, you can see their results on the public project page if they have authorized public project display.

click to enlarge

This is also one way of determining whether or not your line has already tested, especially if you have no Y DNA matches to the expected surname and ancestor. If others have tested from that ancestor, and you don’t match them, there’s a mystery to be unraveled.

To see if projects exist for your surnames, you can click here and scroll down to the search box, below.

Please note that if someone else in your family takes the Y DNA test, that doesn’t guarantee that you descend from that ancestor too unless that person is a reasonably close relative and you match them autosomally in the expected way.

Confirmation of a specific ancestor requires two things without Y DNA testing:

  • Sharing autosomal matches, and preferably triangulated segments, with others who descend from that ancestor (or ancestral couple) through another child.
  • Eliminating other common ancestors.

Of course, Ancestry’s ThruLines are useful for this purpose as are MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity, but that only works if people have linked their DNA results to a tree.

My favorite tool for ancestor confirmation is DNAPainter where you can paint your segments from FamilyTreeDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage and GEDmatch, either individually or in bulk. You can’t use Ancestry DNA information for this purpose, but you can transfer your Ancestry DNA file to those other vendors (except 23andMe) for free, and search for matches without retesting. (Step-by-step transfer instructions are found here.)

Here’s an example of a group of my matches from various companies painted on one of my chromosomes at DNAPainter. You can read all about how to use DNAPainter, here.

I identify every match that I can and paint those segments to that ancestor. Ancestors are identified by color that I’ve assigned.

In this case, I have identified several people who descend from ancestors through my paternal grandmother’s side going back four generations. We have a total of 12 descendants of the couple Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann (burgundy), even though initially I can only identify some people back to either my grandparents (mustard color) or my grandmother’s parents (grey) or her grandparents (blue). The fact that several people descend from Henry and Nancy, through multiple children, confirms this segment back to that couple. Of course, we don’t know which person of that couple until we find people matching from upstream ancestors.

What about that purple person? I don’t know how they match to me – meaning through which ancestor based on genealogy. However, I know for sure at least part of that matching segment, the burgundy portion, is through Henry Bolton and Nancy Mann, or their ancestors.

Deep Goal #3 – Breaking Down a Brick Wall

Of course, the nature of your brick wall may vary, but I’ll use the example of not being able to find the parents of an ancestral couple.

In the above example, I mentioned that each segment goes back to a couple. Clearly, in the next generation, that segment either comes from either the father or mother, or parts from both perhaps. In this case, that oldest burgundy segment originated with either Henry Bolton or Nancy Mann.

In other words, in the next generation upstream, that segment can be assigned to another couple.

Even if we don’t know who that couple is, it’s still their DNA and other people may have inherited that very same segment.

What we need to know is if the people who share that segment with us and each other also have people in their trees in common with each other that we don’t have in our trees.

Does that make sense? I’m looking for commonality between other testers in their trees that might allow me to connect back another generation.

That common couple in their trees may be the key to unlocking the next generation.

Caveat – please note that people they have in common that we don’t may also be wives of their ancestors downstream of our common ancestor. Just keep that in mind.

Let’s shift away from that Bolton example and look at another way to identify clusters of people and common ancestors.

In order to identify clusters of people who match me and each other, I utilize Genetic Affairs autocluster, or the AutoCluster features incorporated into MyHeritage or the Tier 1 “Clusters” option at GEDmatch.

Based on the ancestors of people in this red cluster that I CAN identify, I know it’s a Crumley cluster. The wife of my William Crumley (1767/8 – 1837/40) has never been identified. I looked at the trees of the people in this cluster that I don’t know and can’t identify a common ancestor, and I discovered at least two people have a Babb family in their tree.

Babb was a near neighbor to William Crumley’s family, but I’ve also noticed that Babb married into this line downstream another 3 generations in Iowa. These families migrated from Frederick County, VA to Greene County, TN and on, together – so I’ll need to be very careful. However, I can’t help but wonder if my William’s wife was a Babb.

I need to see if any of my other matches have Babb as a common name. Now, I can search for Babb at any of the testing vendors to see what, if anything, I can discover.

Genetic Affairs has a combined AutoCluster and AutoTree/AutoPedigree function that compares and combines the trees of cluster members for you, here.

Goals Summary

Now, it’s your turn.

  • What are your genealogy goals that DNA can assist with?
  • Are those goals broad or deep?
  • What kind of DNA test can answer or help answer those questions?
  • What tools and research techniques fit the quandary at hand?

I suggest that you look at each ancestor, and in particular each end-of-line ancestor thinking about where you can focus to obtain answers and reveal new ancestors.

Happy ancestor hunting!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Holiday DNA Sales Have Started Early

Wow – the sales started early this year! I understand that Black Friday has morphed into the month of November. I’m good with that!

I’m not really surprised because many people are spending more time at home and let’s face it, genealogy is a great at-home activity. I’m glad the sales are starting earlier and running longer because it encourages more people to become engaged.

Genealogy can even help you produce holiday gifts for others in a myriad of ways. Not just purchasing DNA kits for yourself and family members but creating stories or giving them a book you’ve created with photos of grandma and grandpa’s life, perchance.

Of course, DNA is a HUGE part of genealogy. Even if you’re not going to be able to see Uncle Joe this Thanksgiving, you can certainly have a fun Zoom session and document him swabbing or spitting for his DNA test! Make memories, one way or another

Let’s see what the vendors are offering. Then, be sure to read to the end for a surprise.

FamilyTreeDNA – Early Bird Holiday Sale

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FamilyTreeDNA has more products to offer than any of the other vendors with autosomal, Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests, each offering something unique.

Y DNA focuses only on your direct patrilineal (surname) line if you are a male. Mitochondrial DNA follows your matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line for both sexes. The Family Finder autosomal test traces all ancestral lines. You can read a quick article about these different tests and how they work in this article:

The Family Finder test uses matches to known family members like parents, aunts, uncles and cousins to assign other matches who match both you and your family member to either maternal or paternal sides of your tree.

You can also use Genetic Affairs AutoCluster, AutoTree and AutoPedigree tools at FamilyTreeDNA to get even more mileage out of your DNA tests.

If you were an early tester with Y and mitochondrial DNA, you can upgrade now to a more robust test to receive more granular results.

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Have you noticed the ancient DNA articles I’ve been writing recently?

Your most refined haplogroup revealed only in the Big Y-700 or mitochondrial mtFull Sequence test allows you to compare your haplogroup with ancient samples most effectively. I promise you, there will be more articles upcoming! These are just pure joy, connecting back in time.

The FamilyTreeDNA sale ends November 24th. Please click here to order or upgrade.

MyHeritage

MyHeritageDNA includes lots of features that other vendors don’t have, such as integrated AutoClusters and Theories of Family Relativity (TOFR) which connects you and your matches through a network of common records and trees. TOFR is surprisingly accurate, either pointing the way to or identifying common ancestors.

I wrote about how to use these and other included tools to unravel your genealogy in this recent article, with a free companion webinar:

Additionally, MyHeritage has a strong focus in Europe that includes lots of European testers – perfect for people whose ancestors are emigrants from another country.

MyHeritageDNA is on sale now for $49, a $30 savings, plus free shipping if you purchase two or more kits. Please click here to order.

This sale ends November 25th.

Ancestry

Best known for their large database, AncestryDNA offers ThruLines which takes advantage of their database size to suggest common ancestors for you and your matches based on multiple trees. I wrote about ThruLines in this article:

The AncestryDNA test is on sale now for $59, a $40 savings, with free US shipping. Please click here to order.

Sale ends November 23rd.

23andMe

23andMe is best known in the genealogy community for the accuracy of their Ancestry Composition, known as ethnicity results, which they paint on your chromosomes.

23andMe also creates a “genetic tree” between you and your closest matches based on who does and who does not match each other, and how they match each other. I wrote about genetic trees and subsequently, how they solved one mystery in these two articles.

While the genetic tree technology isn’t perfected yet, it’s certainly the direction of the future and can provide insight into how you and others are related and where to look for them in your actual genealogy tree.

The 23andMe Ancestry only test is available for a 10% reduction in price at $88.95. Please click here to order.

Of course, 23andMe also offers a health product that includes the ancestry product.

The 23andMe Health + Ancestry test is available for $99, a saving of 50%. Please click here to order.

These sale prices end November 26th.

Surprise!!!

I have an early holiday gift for you too.

Beginning later this week, I’m publishing the first article in a new interactive series aptly named…drum roll…“DNA Tidbits.”

Indeed, there is fruit-of-the-vine to be harvested and that’s exactly what we are going to do – in small steps! Tidbits.

Just like everything else on this blog, it’s completely free of course and we are going to have lots of FUN!

Let me give you a hint – you’ll probably want to have test results at all of these companies because the Tidbits will be bouncing around a bit – so if you need to buy something, please click on the links below.

Thank you and I can’t wait to get started!

_____________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates

I utilize DNA matches in various ways, some of which are a little unusual. In many cases, I mine autosomal DNA matches to search for people whose Y and mitochondrial DNA can provide descendants, including me and them, with additional insights into our common ancestors.

Y and mitochondrial DNA connects testers to their ancestors in ways that autosomal cannot. It’s a different type of DNA, not combined with the DNA of the other parent, so it’s not diluted and halved in each generation like autosomal DNA. Y and mitochondrial lines each descend from only one ancestral line, rich in historical information, with the ability to reach far back in time along with the ability to connect testers recently.

You First

The very first thing you can do to further your own research is to test yourself in three ways:

  • Autosomal DNA – Test at all 4 primary testing vendors, meaning FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry and 23andMe. The reason for testing at (or transferring to) multiple vendors is because they each have a unique focus and tools. Perhaps more importantly, they each have different people in their databases. Each testing company has benefits. FamilyTreeDNA has people who tested as long as 20 years ago and are no longer available for testing. MyHeritage has many European testers and you’ll find matches there that you won’t find elsewhere if your ancestors came from Europe. Ancestry has the largest database, but fewer advanced tools.
  • Full Sequence Mitochondrial DNA Available at FamilyTreeDNA, this test allows focus solely on your matrilineal line, meaning your mother’s mother’s mother’s line directly without confusion introduced by DNA from other lines.
  • Y DNA – For males only, also available at FamilyTreeDNA, provides focus on the direct patrilineal, or surname, line.

Obviously, if you haven’t upgraded your own Y and mitochondrial DNA tests to the highest level possible, the first thing you can do is to test or upgrade to the highest level where you receive the most refined amount of information.

(There’s a sale at FamilyTreeDNA right now, lasting until August 31, 2020, so it’s a great time to upgrade or order Y and mitochondrial. Check it out here.)

Different Kinds of DNA Serve Different Genealogical Purposes

Let’s look, briefly at how the various types of DNA tests benefit genealogy. Autosomal tests that you and family members can take will help you find other family members to test for specific Y and mitochondrial DNA lines.

Remember that you can test family members in addition to yourself, so if you’re a female, you may want to recruit your father or an uncle or brother to represent your patrilineal line DNA. If you’d like to read a brief article about the different types of DNA and their benefits, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is a good resource.

Y and Mito Pedigree.png

In this image, you can see that if you’re a male you can test for both your Y (blue-square) and mitochondrial DNA (red-circle) ancestral lines. If you’re a female, you can test only your mitochondrial DNA because females don’t have a Y chromosome. Both males and females, of course, can test (green) autosomal DNA which reveals a different type of connection to all of your ancestral lines, but with autosomal, you have to figure out which people match you on which lines.

Y and mitochondrial DNA provides you with a different type of information about laser-focused specific lines that you can’t obtain through autosomal testing, and reaches back in time far beyond the curtain when surnames were adopted.

personal pedigree

You personally can only test for the red-circle mitochondrial DNA line, and perhaps the blue-square Y DNA line if you’re a male. Unless you find family members to test for the Y and mitochondrial DNA of your ancestors, you’re leaving valuable information unresearched. That means all those colored boxes and squares that aren’t blue or red.

I’ve solved MANY brick walls using both Y and mitochondrial DNA, often in conjunction with autosomal.

Let’s take a look at each type of DNA testing a little more in-depth, so that you understand how each one works and why they are important to genealogy.

The Specifics

Y DNA – Y DNA descends through the direct male paternal line and is inherited by men only. You match against other Y DNA testers, hopefully finding surname links.

The Big Y test and upgrade at FamilyTreeDNA provides testers with all 111 traditional STR markers, plus another 589+ STRs available only in the Big Y test, plus a scan of the balance of the rest of the Y chromosome that is useful for genealogy. SNP results are increasingly being used for genealogy, in addition to STRs.

SNPs group men into genetic lineages and STRs help with defining and refining the closest generations when matching to each other. Often, the benefits of these two tests overlap, which is why I recommend that males test to the Big Y-700 level which provides 700+ STR markers plus all SNPs with mutations that define ancestral lineages.

Y DNA haplogroups, derived from SNPs, reveal the geographic part of the world where the lineage originated, such as Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa, as well as a migration path across the continents based on where SNPs are and were historically found. Ancient DNA samples are being added to the database.

If you or a family member took an earlier Y DNA test, you can upgrade to the Big Y-700 today which provides you with matching for both the STR markers and separately, SNP markers, along with other genealogical tools.

You can order or upgrade your Y DNA here. Don’t forget family members accounts you may control. They may agree to have their kit upgraded too.

To upgrade, sign in to your account, and click on your desired upgrade level under Y DNA testing.

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Then click on upgrades.

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I wrote about Y DNA in these recent articles:

I have more Y DNA articles planned for the future.

You can search for additional articles by going to the main page of this blog and enter “Y DNA” into the search box for additional articles already published.

Many features such as the matches maps, haplogroup origins and ancestral origins pages are the same for Y DNA results as mitochondrial DNA results. You can view mitochondrial articles here.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – Mitochondrail DNA descends through the direct matrilineal line to both sexes of children. Everyone has mitochondrial DNA and it is inherited matrilineally by you from your mother, from her mother, from her mother, etc.

The FMS or full mitochondrial sequence DNA test tests the entire mitochondria that provides information about your direct matrilineal line. Family Tree DNA provides matching, which can sometimes lead to genealogical breakthroughs such as when I identified Lydia Brown, the mother of my Phoebe Crumley and then a couple years later, her mother, Phoebe Cole – via mitochondrial DNA. Those discoveries led us to her mother, Mary Mercy Kent, via genealogy records. All we needed was to punch our way through that initial brick wall – and mitochondrial DNA was our battering ram.

Additionally, you’ll receive a full haplogroup designation which allows you to look back in time before the advent of surnames and identifies the location where your ancestral line came from. For those seeking confirmation of Native American heritage, Y and mitochondrial DNA provides unquestionable proof and doesn’t wash out in time as autosomal DNA does.

Mitochondrial DNA includes haplogroups, matching and other genealogical tools.

You can order or upgrade you or a family member’s mitochondrial DNA here.

To upgrade, sign in to your account, and click on the desired upgrade level.

ymt mt upgrade

Then click on Upgrade if you’re upgrading or Add On if you’re ordering a new product for yourself.

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I wrote several mitochondrial DNA articles and compiled them into a summary article for your convenience.

Autosomal DNA – With autosomal DNA testing, you test once and there’s not an upgrade unless the vendor changes DNA testing platforms, which is rare. Each of the four vendors compares your DNA with all other people who’ve taken that test, or transferred from other companies. They match you with descendants from all of your ancestral lines. While the Y and mtDNA tests look back deeply in time as well as recently on one specific line, the autosomal tests are broad but not deep, spanning all ancestral lines, but limited to approximately 10 generations.

Each autosomal vendor has unique benefits and focus as well as shortcomings. I’ve listed the major points for each vendor relative to searching for Y and mitochondrial
DNA testing candidates. It’s important to understand the advantages of each vendor because it will help you understand the testers you are most likely to find in each database and may help focus your search.

FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder

  • Because FamilyTreeDNA archives customer’s DNA for 25 years, many people who tested Y or mitochondrial DNA 20 years ago and are now deceased upgraded to autosomal tests when they became available, or have been upgraded by family members since. These early testers often reach back another generation or so into the past to people born a century ago.
  • Advanced autosomal matching integrates with Y and mitochondrial DNA along with surname and other projects
  • Phased Family Matching provides the ability to link family members that match you to your tree which allows Family Tree DNA to group matches as paternal or maternal by utilizing matching segments to the same side of your family
  • Genetic Affairs, a third-party tool available for testers, builds common trees by reading the trees of your matches and comparing their trees with your own to identify common ancestors.
  • Genetic Affairs builds trees and pedigrees of your matches by searching for common ancestors in your MATCHES trees, even if you have no tree or don’t share those ancestors in your tree. This functionality includes Y and mitochondrial DNA if you have tested. This facilitates discovery of common ancestors of the people who you match, which may well lead you to ancestral discoveries as well.
  • Genetic Affairs offers clustering of your shared matches.
  • DNA file transfers are accepted from other vendors, free, with a $19 one time fee to unlock advanced tools.
  • Family Tree DNA has tested people worldwide, with a few location exceptions, since inception in the year 2000.
  • No direct triangulation, but Phased Family Matching provides maternal and paternal side triangulation when matches can be grouped into maternal and paternal sides.
  • Matches and segment match information are available for download.
  • The great thing about the advanced matching tool at Family Tree DNA is that it facilitates searching for people who match you on different kinds of tests, so it helps determine the potential closeness or distance of Y and mitochondrial relationships.

MyHeritage

Ancestry

  • Ancestry has the largest database, but did not begin testing until 2012 and did not test widely outside of the US/UK for some time. They now sell tests in 34 countries. Their testers are primarily focused in the US, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, and diaspora, with some overlap into Europe.
  • Ancestry offers ThruLines, a tool that connects testers whose DNA matches with common ancestors in their trees.
  • Ancestry does not provide a chromosome browser, a tool provided by the other three primary testing companies, nor do they provide triangulation or matching segment location information necessary to confirm that you match on the same segment with other people.
  • Ancestry has issued cease and desist orders to third party tools that perform functions such as clustering, autotrees, autopedigrees or downloading of matches. Ancestry does not provide these types of features for their users.
  • Ancestry does not accept transfers, so if you want to be in Ancestry’s database, you must test with Ancestry.
  • No Y or mitochondrial DNA testing available.
  • Match list is not available for download.

23andMe

  • The primary focus of 23andMe has always been health testing, so many people who test at 23andMe are not interested in genealogy.
  • 23andMe tests are sold in about 50 countries, but not worldwide.
  • 23andMe provides a chromosome browser, triangulation, segment information and a beta genetically constructed tree for close matches.
  • 23andMe does NOT support a genealogical tree either uploaded or created on their site, making tree comparisons impossible.
  • Genetic Affairs AutoCluster works at 23andMe, but AutoTree and AutoPedigree do not because 23andMe does not support trees.
  • 23andMe does make match files available for downloading.
  • No Y or mitochondrial DNA full testing or matching, but basic haplogroups are provided.
  • 23andMe caps matches at 2000, less any matches that have opted out of matching. My matches currently number 1770.
  • 23andMe does not accept transfers from other vendors, so if you want to be in their database, you must test with 23andMe.

Reaching Out to Find Testers

Unfortunately, we only carry the mitochondrial DNA of our mother and only men carry the Y DNA of their father. That means if we want to obtain that DNA information about our other family lines, we have to find people who descend appropriately from the ancestor in question and test that person.

I’ll share with you how I search for people who descend from each ancestor. After finding that person, I explain the situation, why the different kinds of tests are important, and offer a testing scholarship for the Y or mtDNA test at Family Tree DNA if they have not already taken that test. If they’ve tested their autosomal DNA elsewhere. I also explain that they can transfer their autosomal DNA file for free too and will receive new matches.

Here’s an article with links to upload/download instructions for each testing company. Feel free to share.

Each DNA testing company has different features, but you can use all of the companies to find people descended in the appropriate way from each ancestor. It’s easier if you know how to utilize each vendor’s tools to optimize your chances of success. I’m going to step you through the search process with hints and tips for each vendor.

Finding Y DNA and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at FamilyTreeDNA

Because FamilyTreeDNA tests for both Y and mitochondrial DNA and has for 20 years, you stand a better chance of finding a candidate there who may have already tested, so that’s where I always begin.

Y DNA

Let’s say, for example, that I need to find a male descendant of my Ferverda line in order to ask them to test for Y DNA. The person can be descended from either a close relative, if I know of one, or a more distant relative that I don’t know, but need to find through searching other ways.

Search for Surnames and Projects at Family Tree DNA

First, search the FamilyTreeDNA website for your goal surname among existing testers, and then the appropriate surname project to see if your line has already tested.

ymt ferverda

On the main page, here, scroll down to until you see the prompt, above, and enter the surname. Be sure to consider alternate spellings too.

ymt ferverda search.png

In this case, I see that there is a Ferverda surname project with 18 people, and scrolling on down, that 4 people with this specific surname have tested.

ymt results.png

However, searching for an alternate spelling, the way it’s spelled in the Netherlands, I find that another 10 people have tested.

ymt ferwerda

Of course, some may be females, but they probably know males by that surname.

First, I’m going to check the Ferverda DNA project to see if a Ferverda male from my line has tested, and if so, to what level.

Click on the project link in the search results to see the DNA Project.

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Note two things. First, the administrator’s name, as you may need this later. If you click on their name, their email address is displayed.

Second, click on DNA Results and select Y DNA if you’re presented with a choice. If the project has a public facing page, and most do, you’ll see something like the following information.

ymt project

Hey look, it’s my lucky day, given that both of these men descend from my ancestor. I happen to know that they have both taken the Big Y test, because I’m the project administrator, but you won’t know that. One way to get an idea is if they have less than the full 111 markers showing, they probably haven’t taken the Big Y, because a 111 upgrade is included in the Big Y test today.

You have three options at this point to contact one of these men:

  • See if the people are on your own autosomal DNA match list, or the match lists of kits from that family that you manage. If so, you can view their email address and contact them. If you haven’t yet tested autosomally, meaning the Family Finder test, at Family Tree DNA, you can transfer autosomal tests from elsewhere, for free, which means you will be viewing matches within hours or a couple days. Otherwise, you can order a Family Finder test, of course.
  • If the person with the Ferverda or Ferwerda surname is not on your Family Finder match list, reach out to the project administrator with a note to the person you want to contact and ask the administrator to forward your email to the project member.
  • If the administrator doesn’t answer, contact Family Tree DNA support and make the same request.

Checking Family Finder, one of those people is on my match list and I’m pretty sure it’s the right person, because when I click on his profile, not only does the haplogroup match the DNA project, but so does the ancestor.

ymt ferverda profile.png

Searching Family Finder

If there isn’t a DNA project match you can identify as your direct line ancestor, you can search your Family Finder matches for the surname to find a male with that surname. If your match has a tree, see if your ancestor or ancestral line is showing, then note whether they have taken a Y DNA test. They may have taken a Y test, but have not joined a project or not entered any “earliest known ancestor.” You can see which tests they’ve taken by looking at the little tabs above their profile on their tree, or on their profile card.

ymt ferverda tree

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Regardless, you’re now in touch with a potential contact.

Don’t dismiss females with that surname, or people who show that surname in their ancestral surname list. Women with the surname you’re looking for may have husbands, fathers, brothers or uncles who descend from the line you are seeking.

ymt search field.png

Utilize Genetic Affairs

My ace in the hole at FamilyTreeDNA is the Genetic Affairs AutoTree and AutoPedigree function.

Genetic Affairs is a third-party tool that you can use to assist with analysis of your matches at FamilyTreeDNA.

ymt genetic affairs

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At Genetic Affairs, selecting AutoTree generates trees where common ancestors of you and your matches, or your matches to each other, are displayed.

Your goal is to identify people descended from a common ancestor either directly paternally through all males for Y DNA or through all females to the current generation, which can be males, for mitochondrial DNA.

This article provides step-by-step instructions for the Genetic Affairs AutoTree and AutoPedigree functions.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA lineages are a bit more challenging because the surname changes every generation and DNA projects are unlikely to help.

The AutoTree/AutoPedigree report through Genetic Affairs serves the same purpose for mitochondrial DNA – building trees that intersect with a common ancestor. I generally drop the “minimum size of the largest DNA segment shared with the match” to 7 cM for this report. My goal running this report for this purpose isn’t to analyze autosomal DNA, but to find testing candidates based on how my matches descend from a specific ancestor, so I want to include as many matches as possible.

Family Finder Can Refine Y and mtDNA Information

In some cases, a Family Finder test can refine a potential relationship between two people who match on either Y DNA or mitochondrial. Additionally, you may want to encourage, or gift, specific matches with an upgrade to see if they continue to match you at higher testing levels.

Let’s say that two men match closely on a Y DNA test, but you’d like to know how far back the common ancestor lived.

ymt y matches.png

In this instance, you can see that the second match has taken a BIg Y and a Family Finder test, but the exact match (genetic distance of 0) has not. If the first individual cannot provide much genealogy, having them take a Family Finder test would help at least rule out a relationship through second cousins and would give you at least some idea how far back in time your common ancestor may have lived. If you do match on Family Finder, you receive an estimate of your relationship and can check the match level possibilities using the DNAPainter Shared cM Tool. If they upgrade to the Big Y-700 test, you may be able to differentiate your line from theirs, or confirm when and where a split occurred – or that there is no split.

This same autosomal testing scenario works for mitochondrial DNA.

For people who have taken both tests, Family Finder plus either Y or mitochondrial DNA, the Advanced Matching menu allows you to select combinations of tests and projects to query.

ymt advanced

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Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at MyHeritage

MyHeritage provides a wonderful tool called Theories of Family Relativity (TOFR) which finds common ancestors between you and your DNA matches, even if the ancestor is not in both trees, so long as a path exists between the two testers’ trees using other trees or research documents, such as census records. Of course, you’ll need to verify accuracy.

ymt tofr.png

At MyHeritage, select DNA Matches, then “Has Theory of Family Relativity.”

ymt mh ferverda

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You can see that I have 65 matches with a Theory of Family Relativity. Additionally, I can then search by surname.

ymt mh ferverda tree.png

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If I am looking for a Ferverda Y DNA candidate, I’ve found one thanks to this TOFR.

If you don’t find a tree where your match descends from your ancestor in the desired way, you can also widen the search by de-selecting Theories of Family Relativity and instead selecting SmartMatchs or shared surname combined with the name of your ancestor. There are many search and filter combinations available.

Let’s look at a mitochondrial DNA example where I’m searching for a descendant of Elizabeth Speaks who married Samuel Clarkson/Claxton.

ymt smartmatches

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In this case, I have one SmartMatch, which means that someone by the name of Elizabeth Speaks is found in my matches tree. I need to look to see if it’s the RIGHT Elizabeth Speaks and if my match descends through all females to the current generation. If so, I’ve found my mitochondrial DNA candidate and I can leave them a message.

You can also view SmartMatches (without a DNA match) from your own tree.

I can go to that person in my tree, click on their profile, and see how many SmartMatches I have. Clicking on 13 SmartMatches allows me to view those matches and I can click through to the connected trees.

ymt mt speaks.png

I can also click on “research this person” to discover more.

If you’re still not successful, don’t give up quite yet, because you can search in the records for trees that shows the person whom you seek. A SmartMatch is only created if the system thinks it’s the same person in both trees. Computers are far from perfect.

ymt mh trees

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Narrow the search as much as possible to make it easier to find the right individual, and then view the trees for descent in the proper manner.

Another wonderful tool at MyHeritage is the Genetic Affairs AutoCluster tool, built-in for MyHeritage users.

ymt mh cluster.png

The above cluster shows that one person carries the surname of Elizabeth’s husband. Viewing the accompanying spreadsheet for the AutoCluster run reveals that indeed, I’ve already identified a couple of matches as descendants of the desired ancestral couple. The spreadsheet shows links to their trees, my notes and more.

ymt cluster ss

Clusters show you where to look. Without the cluster, I had only identified two people as descendants of this ancestral couple. I found several more candidates to evaluate and two mitochondrial candidates are found in this cluster.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at 23andMe

23andMe is a little more tricky because they don’t support either uploaded or created user trees which makes finding descendants of a particular ancestor quite challenging.

However, 23andMe attempts to create a tree of your closer relatives genetically. which you can find under “DNA Relatives,” under the Ancestry tab, then “Family Tree” at the top.

I’ve added the names of my ancestors when I can figure out who the match is. Please note that this “created tree” is seldom exactly accurate, but there are often enough hints that you’ll be able to piece together at least some of the rest.

Here’s part of my “created” tree at 23andMe. I’m at far right.

ymt23 tree.png

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If you’re a genealogist, your eyes are going to glaze over about now, because the “people” aren’t in the correct locations – with maternal and paternal sides of the tree swapped. Also, please note, the locations in which they place people are estimates AND 23andMe does NOT take into account or provide for half-relationships.

That said, you can still obtain candidates for Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

In this case, I’m searching for a mitochondrial DNA candidate for Evaline Miller, my grandfather’s mother or a Y DNA candidate for the Ferverda line.

I can tell by the surname of the male match, Ferverda, that he probably descends through a son, making him a Y DNA candidate.

Both Cheryl and Laura are possible mitochondrial DNA candidates for Evaline Miller, based on this tree, depending of course on how they actually do descend.

I can contact all of my matches, but in the event that they don’t answer, I’m not entirely out of luck. If I can determine EXACTLY how the match descends, and they descend appropriately for mitochondrial DNA, I can view the match to see at least a partial haplogroup. Since 23andMe only uses relatively close matches when constructing your tree, I’m relatively likely to recognize the names of the testers and may have them in my genealogy program.

By clicking on the Ferverda male, I can see that his Y haplogroup is I-Z58. That’s not nearly as refined as the Y DNA information at Family Tree DNA, but it’s something if I have nothing else and he doesn’t answer my query that would include the offer of a Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA.

ymt 23 hap

You can search at 23andMe by surname, but unless your match has entered their ancestral surnames and you recognize surnames that fit together, without a tree, unless your match answers your query, it’s very difficult to determine how you connect.

ymt 23 search.png

You can also view “Relatives in Common,” hoping to recognize someone you know as a common match.

ymt relatives in common

Please note that 23andMe does allow testers to enter a link to a tree, but few do.

ymt tree link.png

It’s worth checking, and be sure to enter your own tree link location.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at Ancestry

Ancestry’s ThruLines provides an excellent tool to find both Y and mitochondrial DNA participants.

Ancestry organizes their ThruLines by ancestor.

ymt thrulines

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Select your desired Ancestor, someone whose DNA you seek. Clearly, Y DNA candidates are very easy because you simply choose any male ancestor in the correct line with the surname and look for a male match with the appropriate surname.

In this case, I’m selecting Martha Ruth Dodson, because I need her mitochondrial DNA.

ymt dodson.png

By clicking on her “card” I then see my matches assigned to her ThruLine.

Ymt ancestry thruline

Obviously, for mitochondrial DNA, I’m looking for someone descended through all females, so Martha’s daughter, Elizabeth Estes’s son Robert won’t work, but her daughter, Louisa Vannoy, at left is the perfect candidate. Thankfully, my cousin whom I match, at bottom left is descended through all females to the current generation, which can be male or female, so is a mitochondrial DNA candidate.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates in Trees in General

I’ve utilized the combination of trees and DNA matches at FamilyTreeDNA through Genetic Affairs, Ancestry and MyHeritage, but you can also simply search for people who descend from the same ancestor based on their tree alone at the vendors who support trees as part of genealogical records. This includes both Ancestry and MyHeritage but also sites like Geneanet which is becoming increasingly popular, especially in Europe. (I have not worked extensively with Geneanet yet but plan to take it for a test drive soon.)

My reason for utilizing DNA matches+trees first is that the person has already been introduced to the concept that DNA can help with genealogy, and has obviously embraced DNA testing at least once. Not only that, with the assist of a Theory of Family Relativity, ThruLine or genetic Affairs automation tools, it’s much easier to find appropriate candidates.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at WikiTree

If you reach beyond DNA testing companies, WikiTree provides a valuable feature which allows people to specify that they descend from a particular ancestor, and if they have DNA tested, how they descend – including Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal.

Here’s an example on the profile of John Y. Estes at WikiTree, one of my Estes ancestors.

ymt wiki.png

If someone descends appropriately for either Y or mitochondrial DNA line, and has taken that test, their information is listed.

In this case, there are two Y DNA testers and two autosomal, but no mitochondrial DNA which would have descended from John’s mother, of course.

You can click on the little green arrow icon to see how any DNA tested person descends from the ancestor whose profile you are accessing.

ymt wiki compare

Of course, the same surname for males is a good indication that the man in question is descended from that paternal line, but check to be sure, because some males took their mother’s surname for various reasons.

Here’s my line-of-descent from John Y. Estes. I can click on anyone else whose DNA information is listed as well to see how they descend from John. If they descend from John through all females, then they obviously descend from his wife though all females too which means they are a mitochondrial DNA candidate for her.

ymt wiki relationship.png

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Clicking on autosomal testers may reveal someone appropriately descended from the ancestor in question.

You can then click on any ancestor shown to view their profile, and any DNA tested descendants.

By clicking on name of the descendant whose DNA test you are interested in, you’ll be able to view their profile. Look for the Collaboration section where you can send them a private message that will be delivered by email from WikiTree.

ymt collaborate

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at GedMatch

One final avenue to find Y and mitochondrial DNA candidates is through GedMatch, It’s probably the least useful option, though, because the major vendors all have some sort of tree function, except for 23andMe, and for some reason, many people have not uploaded GEDCOM files (trees) to GEDmatch.

Therefore, if you can find someone on GedMatch that tested elsewhere perhaps, such as LivingDNA who also provides a base haplogroup, or 23andMe, and they uploaded a GEDCOM file (tree) to GedMatch, you can utilize the GEDmatch “Find common ancestors” automated tree-matching functionality.

gedmatch mrca matches

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GEDmatch produces a list of your matches with common ancestors in their trees, allowing you to select the appropriate ancestor or lineage.

I wrote step-by-step instructions in the article, GEDmatch Introduces Automated Tree Matching.

Additionally, GEDmatch includes the Genetic Affairs AutoCluster tool in their Tier1 subscription offering,

ymt gedmatch.png

Gedmatch users who know their Y and mitochondrial haplogroup can enter that information in their profile and it will be reflected on the autosomal match list.

ymt gedmatch hap

Summary Chart

In summary, each testing vendor has a different focus and unique tools that can be used to search for Y and mitochondrial DNA candidates. Additionally, two other resources, WikiTree and GEDmatch, although not DNA testing vendors, can lead to discovering Y and mtDNA candidates as well.

I’ve created a quick-reference chart.

  Family Tree DNA MyHeritage Ancestry 23andMe Wikitree GEDmatch
Y DNA Test Yes No No No, partial haplogroup provided No test, listed by ancestor No, user entered
mtDNA Test Yes No No No, partial haplogroup provided No test, listed by ancestor No, user entered
DNA Projects Yes No No No Some Some
Strengths other than mentioned categories 20 year worldwide customer base, phased family matching European focus, SmartMatches, wide variety of filters Largest autosomal database Genetic tree beta DNA by ancestor May include users not found elsewhere who tested outside the major companies
Drawbacks No direct triangulation or tree matching No Genetic Affairs AutoTree or AutoPedigree Can’t download matches, no triangulation, clusters, AutoTree, or AutoPedigree No trees, 2000 match limit “One tree” may be incorrect Few trees, no AutoTree or AutoPedigree
Clustering Genetic Affairs Included in advanced tools No, prohibited Genetic Affairs N/A Included in Tier1
Genetic Affairs AutoTree & AutoPedigree Yes No No No, no tree support N/A No
Tree matching between users No, through Genetic Affairs Theories of Family Relativity ThruLines No Not directly MRCA common ancestors in Tier1

Now it’s your turn. Which Y and mitochondrial DNA lines can you find today?

Happy Hunting!

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