Concepts – Why Genetic Genealogy and Triangulation?

One of the questions often asked is why triangulation in genetic genealogy is so important.

Before I answer that, let’s take a look at why genealogists use autosomal DNA for genetic genealogy in the first place.

Why Genetic Genealogy?

Aside from ethnicity testing, genetic genealogists utilize autosomal DNA testing to further their genealogical research or confirm the research they have already performed. Genetic genealogy cannot stand alone on DNA evidence, but must include traditional genealogical research. DNA is simply another tool in the genealogist’s tool box – albeit a critical one.

There are three established primary vendors in this field, Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe, plus a few newcomers. All three vendors offer autosomal DNA tests utilized by genetic genealogists in various ways. If you want to learn more about the differences between these vendors’ offerings, please read the article, “Which DNA Test is Best?”

In order to achieve genealogical goals, there are four criteria that need to be met. All are required to achieve triangulation which is the only way to confirm a genealogical ancestral match to a specific ancestor.

  • DNA Matching – The tester’s DNA matches that of other testers at the company where they tested, or at GedMatch. All three vendors provide matching information, along with GedMatch, a third-party tool utilized by genetic genealogists.

Family Tree DNA assigns matches to either maternal, paternal or both sides of the tester’s tree based on connecting the DNA of relatives, up through third cousins, who have tested to their appropriate location in the tester’s tree.

In the example above, you can see the individuals linked to my tree include my mother with her Family Finder test, plus her two first cousins, Donald and Cheryl Ferverda who have also tested.

  • Ancestor Matching – The testers identify a common ancestor or ancestral line based on their previous work, aka, genealogy and family trees.  In the example above, the common ancestors are the parents of the brothers, John and Roscoe Ferverda.  Identifying a common ancestor is an easy task with known close relatives, but becomes more challenging the more distant the common ancestor.

Of the vendors, 23andMe does not have a Gedcom upload or ability for testers to display trees and for the vendor to utilize to match surnames, although they can link to external trees. Ancestry provides “tree matching,” shown above, and Ancestry and Family Tree DNA, shown below, both provide surname matching.

  • Segment Matching – Utilizing chromosome browsers or downloaded match lists including segment information to identify actual DNA segments that match other testers.

Family Tree DNA’s chromosome browser is shown above.

Each individual tester will have two groups of matches on the same segment, one group from their mother’s side of the tree and one from their father’s side of the tree. Each tester carries DNA inherited from both parents on two different “sides” of each chromosome. You can read more about that in the article, One Chromosome, Two Sides, No Zipper – ICW and the Matrix.

Of the three vendors, Ancestry does not provide segment matching, a chromosome browser, nor any segment information, so testers cannot perform this step at Ancestry.

23andMe does provide this information, but each tester must individually “opt in” to data sharing, and many do not. If testers do not globally “opt in” they must authorize sharing individually for every match, so testers will not be able to see the chromosome segment information for many 23andMe matches. In my case, only about 60% are sharing.

Family Tree DNA provides a chromosome browser, the file download capability with segment information, and everyone authorizes sharing of information when they initially test – so there is no opt-in confusion.

Ancestry and 23andMe raw DNA data files can be transferred to both Family Tree DNA and GedMatch where chromosome browsers and other tools are available. For more information about transferring files, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

Triangulation – The process used to combine all three of the above steps in order to assign specific segments of the tester’s DNA to specific ancestors, by virtue of:

  • The tester’s DNA matching the DNA of other testers on a specific segment.
  • Identifying that the individuals who match the tester on that segment also match each other. This is part of the methodology employed to group the testers matches into two groups, the maternal and paternal groupings.
  • Identifying which ancestor contributed that segment to all of the people who match the tester and each other on that same segment.

In order for a group of matches to triangulate, they must match each other on the same segment of DNA and they must all share a common ancestor.

Triangulation is part DNA, meaning the inheritance, part technology, meaning the ability to show that all testers in a match group all match each other and on the same segment, and part genealogy, meaning the ability to identify the common ancestor of the group of individuals.

The following chart shows a portion of my match download file on chromosome 5 from Family Tree DNA.

As you can see, these matches all cover significant portions of the same segment on chromosome 5.

Without further investigation, we know that I match all of these people, but we don’t know what that information is telling us about my genealogy. We don’t know who matches each other, and we can’t tell which people are from my mother’s and father’s sides. We also don’t know who the common ancestor is or common ancestors are.

However, looking at the trees of the individuals involved, or contacting them for further information, and/or recognizing known cousins from a specific line all combine to contribute to the identification of our common ancestors.

Below is the same spreadsheet, now greatly enriched after my genealogy work is applied to the DNA matches in two additional columns.

I’ve colored my triangulated groups pink for my mother’s side and blue for my father’s side.

In this case, I also have access to my cousins’ DNA match results, so I can view their matches as well, looking for common matches on my match list.

One of the reasons genealogists always suggest testing older family members and as many cousins as possible is because triangulation becomes much easier with known cousins from particular lines to point the way to the common ancestor. In this case, one cousin, Joe, is from my mother’s side and one, Lou, is from my father’s side.

By looking at my matches’ genealogy, I’ve now been able to assign this particular segment on chromosome 5, on my mother’s side to ancestors Johann Michael Miller and his wife Susanna Berchtol. The same segment, on my father’s side is inherited from Charles Dodson and his wife, Ann, last name unknown.

In order to achieve triangulation, the common ancestor must be determined for the match group. Once triangulation is achieved, descent from the common ancestor is confirmed.

Unless you are dealing with very close known relatives, like the Ferverda first cousins, there is no other way to prove a genetic connection to a specific ancestor.

At Family Tree DNA, I can utilize the chromosome browser and the ICW and matrix tools to determine which of this group matches each other. At 23andMe, I can utilize their shared DNA matching tool. This information can then be recorded in my DNA spreadsheet, as illustrated above.

Triangulation cannot be achieved at Ancestry or utilizing their tools. Ancestry’s DNA Circles provide extended match groups, indicating who matches whom for a particular ancestor shown in a tester’s tree, but do not indicate that the matches are on the same segment. Circles do not guarantee that Circle members are matching on DNA from that ancestor, only that they do match and show a common ancestor in their tree.  The third triangulation step of segment matching is missing.  Ancestry does not provide segment information in any format, so Ancestry customers who want to triangulate can either retest elsewhere or download their data files to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch for free.

Summary

Before the advent of genetic genealogy, genealogists had to take it on faith that the paper trail was accurate, and that there was no misattributed parentage – either through formal or informal adoption or hanky-panky.  That’s not the case anymore.

Today, DNA through triangulation can prove ancestry for groups of people to a common ancestor by identifying segments that have descended from that ancestor and are found in multiple descendants today.

Of course, the next step is to break down those remaining brick walls. For example, what is the birth name of Ann, wife of Charles Dodson, whose surname is unknown? Logically, the DNA descended from a couple, meaning Charles and Ann, contains DNA from both individuals. We don’t know if that segment on chromosome 5 is from Ann, Charles, or parts from both, BUT, if we begin to see a further breakdown to another, unknown family line among the Charles and Ann segments, that might be a clue.

One day, in the future, we’ll be able to identify our unknown family lines through DNA matches and other people’s triangulation. That indeed, is the Holy Grail.

Additional Resources

If you’d like to read more specific information about autosomal DNA matching and triangulation, be sure to read the links in the article, above. The following articles may be of interest as well:

DeMystifying Autosomal DNA Matching

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – What Now?

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum

Concepts – Segment Size, Legitimate and False Matches

How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical by Descent, State, Population and Chance

Nine Autosomal Tools at Family Tree DNA

If you think you might come up short, because you have only one known cousin who has tested, well, think again.

Just One Cousin

Here’s wishing you lots of triangulated matches!!!

Which DNA Test is Best?

If you’re reading this article, congratulations. You’re a savvy shopper and you’re doing some research before purchasing a DNA test. You’ve come to the right place.

The most common question I receive is asking which test is best to purchase. There is no one single best answer for everyone – it depends on your testing goals and your pocketbook.

Testing Goals

People who want to have their DNA tested have a goal in mind and seek results to utilize for their particular purpose. Today, in the Direct to Consumer (DTC) DNA market space, people have varied interests that fall into the general categories of genealogy and medical/health.

I’ve approached the question of “which test is best” by providing information grouped into testing goal categories.  I’ve compared the different vendors and tests from the perspective of someone who is looking to test for those purposes – and I’ve created separate sections of this article for each interest..

We will be discussing testing for:

  • Ethnicity – Who Am I? – Breakdown by Various World Regions
  • Adoption – Finding Missing Parents or Close Family
  • Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification
  • Medical/Health

We will be reviewing the following test types:

  • Autosomal
  • Y DNA (males only)
  • Mitochondrial DNA

I have included summary charts for each section, plus an additional chart for:

  • Additional Vendor Considerations

If you are looking to select one test, or have limited funds, or are looking to prioritize certain types of tests, you’ll want to read about each vendor, each type of test, and each testing goal category.

Each category reports information about the vendors and their products from a different perspective – and only you can decide which of these perspectives and features are most important to you.

You might want to read this short article for a quick overview of the 4 kinds of DNA used for genetic genealogy and DTC testing and how they differ.

The Big 3

Today, there are three major players in the DNA testing market, not in any particular order:

Each of these companies offers autosomal tests, but each vendor offers features that are unique. Family Tree DNA and 23andMe offer additional tests as well.

In addition to the Big 3, there are a couple of new kids on the block that I will mention where appropriate. There are also niche players for the more advanced genetic genealogist or serious researcher, and this article does not address advanced research.

In a nutshell, if you are serious genealogist, you will want to take all of the following tests to maximize your tools for solving genealogical puzzles. There is no one single test that does everything.

  • Full mitochondrial sequence that informs you about your matrilineal line (only) at Family Tree DNA. This test currently costs $199.
  • Y DNA test (for males only) that informs you about your direct paternal (surname) line (only) at Family Tree DNA. This test begins at $169 for 37 markers.
  • Family Finder, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching at Family Tree DNA. This test currently costs $89.
  • AncestryDNA, an autosomal test at Ancestry.com that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. (Do not confuse this test with Ancestry by DNA, which is not the same test and does not provide the same features.) This test currently costs $99, plus a subscription for full access.
  • 23andMe Ancestry Service test, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. The genealogy version of this test costs $99, the medical+genealogy version costs $199.

A Word About Third Party Tools

A number of third party tools exist, such as GedMatch and DNAGedcom.com, and while these tools are quite useful after testing, these vendors don’t provide tests. In order to use these sites, you must first take an autosomal DNA test from a testing vendor. This article focuses on selecting your DNA testing vendor based on your testing goals.

Let’s get started!

Ethnicity

Many people are drawn to DNA testing through commercials that promise to ‘tell you who you are.” While the allure is exciting, the reality is somewhat different.

Each of the major three vendors provide an ethnicity estimate based on your autosomal DNA test, and each of the three vendors will provide you with a different result.

Yep, same person, different ethnicity breakdowns.

Hopefully, the outcomes will be very similar, but that’s certainly not always the case. However, many people take one test and believe those results wholeheartedly. Please don’t. You may want to read Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages to see how varied my own ethnicity reports are at various vendors as compared to my known genealogy.

The technology for understanding “ethnicity” from a genetic perspective is still very new. Your ethnicity estimate is based on reference populations from around the world – today. People and populations move, and have moved, for hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of years. Written history only reaches back a fraction of that time, so the estimates provided to people today are not exact.

That isn’t to criticize any individual vendor. View each vendor’s results not as gospel, but as their opinion based on their reference populations and their internal proprietary algorithm of utilizing those reference populations to produce your ethnicity results.

To read more about how ethnicity testing works, and why your results may vary between vendors or not be what you expected, click here.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from testing, only to be sure consumers understand the context of what they will be receiving. Generally speaking, these results are accurate at the continental level, and less accurate within continents, such as European regional breakdowns.

All three testing companies provide additional features or tools, in addition to your ethnicity estimates, that are relevant to ethnicity or population groups.

Let’s look at each company separately.

Ethnicity – Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity tool is called myOrigins and provides three features or tools in addition to the actual ethnicity estimate and associated ethnicity map.

Please note that throughout this article you can click on any image to enlarge.

On the myOrigins ethnicity map page, above, your ethnicity percentages and map are shown, along with two additional features.

The Shared Origins box to the left shows the matching ethnic components of people on your DNA match list. This is particularly useful if you are trying to discover, for example, where a particular minority admixture comes from in your lineage. You can select different match types, for example, immediate relatives or X chromosome matches, which have special inheritance qualities.

Clicking on the apricot (mitochondrial DNA) and green (Y DNA) pins in the lower right corner drops the pins in the locations on your map of the most distant ancestral Y and mitochondrial DNA locations of the individuals in the group you have selected in the Shared Origins match box. You may or may not match these individuals on the Y or mtDNA lines, but families tend to migrate in groups, so match hints of any kind are important.

A third unique feature provided by Family Tree DNA is Ancient Origins, a tool released with little fanfare in November 2016.

Ancient Origins shows the ancient source of your European DNA, based on genome sequencing of ancient DNA from the locations shown on the map.

Additionally, Family Tree DNA hosts an Ancient DNA project where they have facilitated the upload of the ancient genomes so that customers today can determine if they match these ancient individuals.

Kits included in the Ancient DNA project are shown in the chart below, along with their age and burial location. Some have matches today, and some of these samples are included on the Ancient Origins map.

Individual Approx. Age Burial Location Matches Ancient Origins Map
Clovis Anzick 12,500 Montana (US) Yes No
Linearbandkeramik 7,500 Stuttgart, Germany Yes Yes
Loschbour 8,000 Luxembourg Yes Yes
Palaeo-Eskimo 4,000 Greenland No No
Altai Neanderthal 50,000 Altai No No
Denisova 30,000 Siberia No No
Hinxton-4 2,000 Cambridgeshire, UK No No
BR2 3,200 Hungary Yes Yes
Ust’-Ishim 45,000 Siberia Yes No
NE1 7,500 Hungary Yes Yes

Ethnicity – Ancestry

In addition to your ethnicity estimate, Ancestry also provides a feature called Genetic Communities.

Your ethnicity estimate provides percentages of DNA found in regions shown on the map by fully colored shapes – green in Europe in the example above. Genetic Communities show how your DNA clusters with other people in specific regions of the world – shown with dotted clusters in the US in this example.

In my case, my ethnicity at Ancestry shows my European roots, illustrated by the green highlighted areas, and my two Genetic Communities are shown by yellow and red dotted regions in the United States.

My assigned Genetic Communities indicate that my DNA clusters with other people whose ancestors lived in two regions; The Lower Midwest and Virginia as well as the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana.

Testers can then view their DNA matches within that community, as well as a group of surnames common within that community.

The Genetic Communities provided for me are accurate, but don’t expect all of your genealogical regions to be represented in Genetic Communities. For example, my DNA is 25% German, and I don’t have any German communities today, although ancestry will be adding new Genetic Communities as new clusters are formed.

You can read more about Genetic Communities here and here.

Ethnicity – 23andMe

In addition to ethnicity percentage estimates, called Ancestry Composition, 23andMe offers the ability to compare your Ancestry Composition against that of your parent to see which portions of your ethnicity you inherited from each parent, although there are problems with this tool incorrectly assigning parental segments.

Additionally, 23andMe paints your chromosome segments with your ethnic heritage, as shown below.

You can see that my yellow Native American segments appear on chromosomes 1 and 2.

In January 2017, 23andMe introduced their Ancestry Timeline, which I find to be extremely misleading and inaccurate. On my timeline, shown below, they estimate that my most recent British and Irish ancestor was found in my tree between 1900 and 1930 while in reality my most recent British/Irish individual found in my tree was born in England in 1759.

I do not view 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline as a benefit to the genealogist, having found that it causes people to draw very misleading conclusions, even to the point of questioning their parentage based on the results. I wrote about their Ancestry Timeline here.

Ethnicity Summary

All three vendors provide both ethnicity percentage estimates and maps. All three vendors provide additional tools and features relevant to ethnicity. Vendors also provide matching to other people which may or may not be of interest to people who test only for ethnicity. “Who you are” only begins with ethnicity estimates.

DNA test costs are similar, although the Family Tree DNA test is less at $89. All three vendors have sales from time to time.

Ethnicity Vendor Summary Chart

Ethnicity testing is an autosomal DNA test and is available for both males and females.

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Ethnicity Test Included with $89 Family Finder test Included with $99 Ancestry DNA test Included with $99 Ancestry Service
Percentages and Maps Yes Yes Yes
Shared Ethnicity with Matches Yes No Yes
Additional Feature Y and mtDNA mapping of ethnicity matches Genetic Communities Ethnicity phasing against parent (has issues)
Additional Feature Ancient Origins Ethnicity mapping by chromosome
Additional Feature Ancient DNA Project Ancestry Timeline

 

Adoption and Parental Identity

DNA testing is extremely popular among adoptees and others in search of missing parents and grandparents.

The techniques used for adoption and parental search are somewhat different than those used for more traditional genealogy, although non-adoptees may wish to continue to read this section because many of the features that are important to adoptees are important to other testers as well.

Adoptees often utilize autosomal DNA somewhat differently than traditional genealogists by using a technique called mirror trees. In essence, the adoptee utilizes the trees posted online of their closest DNA matches to search for common family lines within those trees. The common family lines will eventually lead to the individuals within those common trees that are candidates to be the parents of the searcher.

Here’s a simplified hypothetical example of my tree and a first cousin adoptee match.

The adoptee matches me at a first cousin level, meaning that we share at least one common grandparent – but which one? Looking at other people the adoptee matches, or the adoptee and I both match, we find Edith Lore (or her ancestors) in the tree of multiple matches. Since Edith Lore is my grandmother, the adoptee is predicted to be my first cousin, and Edith Lore’s ancestors appear in the trees of our common matches – that tells us that Edith Lore is also the (probable) grandmother of the adoptee.

Looking at the possibilities for how Edith Lore can fit into the tree of me and the adoptee, as first cousins, we fine the following scenario.

Testing the known child of daughter Ferverda will then provide confirmation of this relationship if the known child proves to be a half sibling to the adoptee.

Therefore, close matches, the ability to contact matches and trees are very important to adoptees. I recommend that adoptees make contact with www.dnaadoption.com. The volunteers there specialize in adoptions and adoptees, provide search angels to help people and classes to teach adoptees how to utilize the techniques unique to adoption search such as building mirror trees.

For adoptees, the first rule is to test with all 3 major vendors plus MyHeritage. Family Tree DNA allows you to test with both 23andMe and Ancestry and subsequently transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, but I would strongly suggest adoptees test on the Family Tree DNA platform instead. Your match results from transferring to Family Tree DNA from other companies, except for MyHeritage, will be fewer and less reliable because both 23andMe and Ancestry utilize different chip technology.

For most genealogists, MyHeritage is not a player, as they have only recently entered the testing arena, have a very small data base, no tools and are having matching issues. I recently wrote about MyHeritage here. However, adoptees may want to test with MyHeritage, or upload your results to MyHeritage if you tested with Family Tree DNA, because your important puzzle-solving match just might have tested there and no place else. You can read about transfer kit compatibility and who accepts which vendors’ tests here.

Adoptees can benefit from ethnicity estimates at the continental level, meaning that regional (within continent) or minority ethnicity should be taken with a very large grain of salt. However, knowing that you have 25% Jewish heritage, for example, can be a very big clue to an adoptee’s search.

Another aspect of the adoptees search that can be relevant is the number of foreign testers. For many years, neither 23andMe, nor Ancestry tested substantially (or at all) outside the US. Family Tree DNA has always tested internationally and has a very strong Jewish data base component.

Not all vendors report X chromosome matches. The X chromosome is important to genetic genealogy, because it has a unique inheritance path. Men don’t inherit an X chromosome from their fathers. Therefore, if you match someone on the X chromosome, you know the relationship, for a male, must be from their mother’s side. For a female, the relationship must be from the mother or the father’s mother’s side. You can read more about X chromosome matching here.

Neither Ancestry nor MyHeritage have chromosome browsers which allow you to view the segments of DNA on which you match other individuals, which includes the X chromosome.

Adoptee Y and Mitochondrial Testing

In addition to autosomal DNA testing, adoptees will want to test their Y DNA (males only) and mitochondrial DNA.

These tests are different from autosomal DNA which tests the DNA you receive from all of your ancestors. Y and mitochondrial DNA focus on only one specific line, respectively. Y DNA is inherited by men from their fathers and the Y chromosome is passed from father to son from time immemorial. Therefore, testing the Y chromosome provides us with the ability to match to current people as well as to use the Y chromosome as a tool to look far back in time. Adoptees tend to be most interested in matching current people, at least initially.

Working with male adoptees, I have a found that about 30% of the time a male will match strongly to a particular surname, especially at higher marker levels. That isn’t always true, but adoptees will never know if they don’t test. An adoptee’s match list is shown at 111 markers, below.

Furthermore, utilizing the Y and mitochondrial DNA test in conjunction with autosomal DNA matching at Family Tree DNA helps narrows possible relatives. The Advanced Matching feature allows you to see who you match on both the Y (or mitochondrial) DNA lines AND the autosomal test, in combination.

Mitochondrial DNA tests the matrilineal line only, as women pass their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on. Family Tree DNA provides matching and advanced combination matching/searching for mitochondrial DNA as well as Y DNA. Both genders of children carry their mother’s mitochondrial DNA. Unfortunately, mitochondrial DNA is more difficult to work with because of the surname changes in each generation, but you cannot be descended from a woman, or her direct matrilineal ancestors if you don’t substantially match her mitochondrial DNA.

Some vendors state that you receive mitochondrial DNA with your autosomal results, which is only partly accurate. At 23andMe, you receive a haplogroup but no detailed results and no matching. 23andMe does not test the entire mitochondria and therefore cannot provide either advanced haplogroup placement nor Y or mitochondrial DNA matching between testers.

For additional details on the Y and Mitochondrial DNA tests themselves and what you receive, please see the Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA section.

Adoption Summary

Adoptees should test with all 4 vendors plus Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

  • Ancestry – due to their extensive data base size and trees
  • Family Tree DNA – due to their advanced tools, chromosome browser, Y and mitochondrial DNA tests (Ancestry and 23andMe participants can transfer autosomal raw data files and see matches for free, but advanced tools require either an unlock fee or a test on the Family Tree DNA platform)
  • 23andMe – no trees and many people don’t participate in sharing genetic information
  • MyHeritage – new kid on the block, working through what is hoped are startup issues
  • All adoptees should take the full mitochondrial sequence test.
  • Male adoptees should take the 111 marker Y DNA test, although you can start with 37 or 67 markers and upgrade later.
  • Y and mitochondrial tests are only available at Family Tree DNA.

Adoptee Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage
Autosomal DNA – Males and Females
Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes – problems
Relationship Estimates* Yes – May be too close Yes – May be too distant Yes – Matches may not be sharing Yes –  problematic
International Reach Very strong Not strong but growing Not strong Small but subscriber base is European focused
Trees Yes Yes No Yes
Tree Quantity 54% have trees, 46% no tree (of my first 100 matches) 56% have trees, 44% no tree or private (of my first 100 matches) No trees ~50% don’t have trees or are private (cannot discern private tree without clicking on every tree)
Data Base Size Large Largest Large – but not all opt in to matching Very small
My # of Matches on 4-23-2017 2,421 23,750 1,809 but only 1,114 are sharing 75
Subscription Required No No for partial, Yes for full functionality including access to matches’ trees, minimal subscription for $49 by calling Ancestry No No for partial, Yes for full functionality
Other Relevant Tools New Ancestor Discoveries
Autosomal DNA Issues Many testers don’t have trees Many testers don’t have trees Matching opt-in is problematic, no trees at all Matching issues, small data base size is problematic, many testers don’t have trees
Contact Methodology E-mail address provided to matches Internal message system – known delivery issues Internal message system Internal message system
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes No
Y-DNA – Males Only
Y DNA STR Test Yes- 37, 67, and 111 markers No No No
Y Haplogroup Yes as part of STR test plus additional testing available No Yes, basic level but no additional testing available, outdated haplogroups No
Y Matching Yes No No No
Advanced Matching Between Y and Autosomal Yes No No No
Mitochondrial DNA- Males and Females
Test Yes, partial and full sequence No No No
Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Yes, included in test No Yes, basic but full haplogroup not available, haplogroup several versions behind No
Advanced Matching Between Mitochondrial and Autosomal Yes No No No

Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification

People who want to take a DNA test to find cousins, to learn more about their genealogy, to verify their genealogy research or to search for unknown ancestors and break down brick walls will be interested in various types of testing

Test Type Who Can Test
Y DNA – direct paternal line Males only
Mitochondrial DNA – direct matrilineal line Males and Females
Autosomal – all lines Males and Females

Let’s begin with autosomal DNA testing for genealogy which tests your DNA inherited from all ancestral lines.

Aside from ethnicity, autosomal DNA testing provides matches to other people who have tested. A combination of trees, meaning their genealogy, and their chromosome segments are used to identify (through trees) and verify (through DNA segments) common ancestor(s) and then to assign a particular DNA segment(s) to that ancestor or ancestral couple. This process, called triangulation, then allows you to assign specific segments to particular ancestors, through segment matching among multiple people. You then know that when another individual matches you and those other people on the same segment, that the DNA comes from that same lineage. Triangulation is the only autosomal methodology to confirm ancestors who are not close relatives, beyond the past 2-3 generations or so.

All three vendors provide matching, but the tools they include and their user interfaces are quite different. 

Genealogy – Autosomal –  Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA entered DNA testing years before any of the others, initially with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Because of the diversity of their products, their website is somewhat busier, but they do a good job of providing areas on the tester’s personal landing page for each of the products and within each product, a link for each feature or function.

For example, the Family Finder test is Family Tree DNA’s autosomal test. Within that product, tools provided are:

  • Matching
  • Chromosome Browser
  • Linked Relationships
  • myOrigins
  • Ancient Origins
  • Matrix
  • Advanced Matching

Unique autosomal tools provided by Family Tree DNA are:

  • Linked Relationships that allows you to connect individuals that you match to their location in your tree, indicating the proper relationship. Phased Family Matching uses these relationships within your tree to indicate which side of your tree other matches originate from.
  • Phased Family Matching shows which side of your tree, maternal, paternal or both, someone descends from, based on phased DNA matching between you and linked relationship matches as distant as third cousins. This allows Family Tree DNA to tell you whether matches are paternal (blue icon), maternal (red icon) or both (purple icon) without a parent’s DNA. This is one of the best autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, shown below.

  • In Common With and Not In Common With features allow you to sort your matches in common with another individual a number of ways, or matches not in common with that individual.
  • Filtered downloads provide the downloading of chromosome data for your filtered match list.
  • Stackable filters and searches – for example, you can select paternal matches and then search for a particular surname or ancestral surname within the paternal matches.
  • Common ethnicity matching through myOrigins allows you to see selected groups of individuals who match you and share common ethnicities.
  • Y and mtDNA locations of autosomal matches are provided on your ethnicity map through myOrigins.
  • Advanced matching tool includes Y, mtDNA and autosomal in various combinations. Also includes matches within projects where the tester is a member as well as by partial surname.
  • The matrix tool allows the tester to enter multiple people that they match in order to see if those individuals also match each other. The matrix tool is, in combination with the in-common-with tool and the chromosome browser is a form of pseudo triangulation, but does not indicate that the individuals match on the same segment.

  • Chromosome browser with the ability to select different segment match thresholds to display when comparing 5 or fewer individuals to your results.
  • Projects to join which provide group interaction and allow individuals to match only within the project, if desired.

To read more about how to utilize the various autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, with examples, click here.

Genealogy – Autosomal – Ancestry

Ancestry only offers autosomal DNA testing to their customers, so their page is simple and straightforward.

Ancestry is the only testing vendor (other than MyHeritage who is not included in this section) to require a subscription for full functionality, although if you call the Ancestry support line, a minimal subscription is available for $49. You can see your matches without a subscription, but you cannot see your matches trees or utilize other functions, so you will not be able to tell how you connect to your matches. Many genealogists have Ancestry subscriptions, so this is minimally problematic for most people.

However, if you don’t realize you need a subscription initially, the required annual subscription raises the effective cost of the test quite substantially. If you let your subscription lapse, you no longer have access to all DNA features. The cost of testing with Ancestry is the cost of the test plus the cost of a subscription if you aren’t already a subscriber.

This chart, from the Ancestry support center, provides details on which features are included for free and which are only available with a subscription.

Unique tools provided by Ancestry include:

  • Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) which indicate a match with whom you share a common ancestor in your tree connected to your DNA, allowing you to display the path of you and your match to the common ancestor. In order to take advantage of this feature, testers must link their tree to their DNA test. Otherwise, Ancestry can’t do tree matching.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the single most useful DNA tool at Ancestry. Subscription required.

  • DNA Circles, example below, are created when several people whose DNA matches also share a common ancestor. Subscription required.

  • New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs), which are similar to Circles, but are formed when you match people descended from a common ancestor, but don’t have that ancestor in your tree. The majority of the time, these NADs are incorrect and are, when dissected and the source can be determined, found to be something like the spouse of a sibling of your ancestor. I do not view NADs as a benefit, more like a wild goose chase, but for some people these could be useful so long as the individual understands that these are NOT definitely ancestors and only hints for research. Subscription required.
  • Ancestry uses a proprietary algorithm called Timber to strip DNA from you and your matches that they consider to be “too matchy,” with the idea that those segments are identical by population, meaning likely to be found in large numbers within a population group – making them meaningless for genealogy. The problem is that Timber results in the removal of valid segments, especially in endogamous groups like Acadian families. This function is unique to Ancestry, but many genealogists (me included) don’t consider Timber a benefit.
  • Genetic Communities shows you groups of individuals with whom your DNA clusters. The trees of cluster members are then examined by Ancestry to determine connections from which Genetic Communities are formed. You can filter your DNA match results by Genetic Community.

Genealogy – Autosomal – 23and Me

Unfortunately, the 23andMe website is not straightforward or intuitive. They have spent the majority of the past two years transitioning to a “New Experience” which has resulted in additional confusion and complications when matching between people on multiple different platforms. You can take a spin through the New Experience by clicking here.

23andMe requires people to opt-in to sharing, even after they have selected to participate in Ancestry Services (genealogy) testing, have opted-in previously and chosen to view their DNA Relatives. Users on the “New Experience” can then either share chromosome data and results with each other individually, meaning on a one by one basis, or globally by a one-time opt-in to “open sharing” with matches. If a user does not opt-in to both DNA Relatives and open sharing, sharing requests must be made individually to each match, and they must opt-in to share with each individual user. This complexity and confusion results in an approximate sharing rate of between 50 and 60%. One individual who religiously works their matches by requesting sharing now has a share rate of about 80% of their matches in the data base who HAVE initially selected to participate in DNA Relatives. You can read more about the 23andMe experience at this link.

Various genetic genealogy reports and tools are scattered between the Reports and Tools tabs, and within those, buried in non-intuitive locations. If you are going to utilize 23andMe for matching and genealogy, in addition to the above link, I recommend Kitty Cooper’s blogs about the new DNA Relatives here and on triangulation here. Print the articles, and use them as a guide while navigating the 23andMe site.

Note that some screens (the Tools, DNA Relatives, then DNA tab) on the site do not display/work correctly utilizing Internet Explorer, but do with Edge or other browsers.

The one genealogy feature unique to 23andMe is:

  • Triangulation at 23andMe allows you to select a specific match to compare your DNA against. Several pieces of information will be displayed, the last of which, scrolling to the bottom, is a list of your common relatives with the person you selected.

In the example below, I’ve selected to see the matches I match in common with known family member, Stacy Den (surnames have been obscured for privacy reasons.)  Please note that the Roberta V4 Estes kit is a second test that I took for comparison purposes when the new V4 version of 23andMe was released.  Just ignore that match, because, of course I match myself as a twin.

If an individual does not match both you and your selected match, they will not appear on this list.

In the “relatives in common” section, each person is listed with a “shared DNA” column. For a person to be shown on this “in common” list, you obviously do share DNA with these individuals and they also share with your match, but the “shared DNA” column goes one step further. This column indicates whether or not you and your match both share a common DNA segment with the “in common” person.

I know this is confusing, so I’ve created this chart to illustrate what will appear in the “Shared DNA” column of the individuals showing on the list of matches, above, shared between me and Stacy Den.

Clicking on “Share to see” sends Sarah a sharing request for her to allow you to see her segment matches.

Let’s look at an example with “yes” in the Shared DNA column.

Clicking on the “Yes” in the Shared DNA column of Debbie takes us to the chromosome browser which shows both your selected match, Stacy in my case, and Debbie, the person whose “yes” you clicked.

All three people, meaning me, Stacy and Debbie share a common DNA segment, shown below on chromosome 17.

What 23andMe does NOT say is that these people. Stacy and Debbie, also match each other, in addition to matching me, which means all three of us triangulate.

Because I manage Stacy’s kit at 23andMe, I can check to see if Debbie is on Stacy’s match list, and indeed, Debbie is on Stacy’s match list and Stacy does match both Debbie and me on chromosome 17 in exactly the same location shown above, proving unquestionably that the three of us all match each other and therefore triangulate on this segment. In our case, it’s easy to identify our common relative whose DNA all 3 of us share.

Genealogy – Autosomal Summary

While all 3 vendors offer matching, their interfaces and tools vary widely.

I would suggest that Ancestry is the least sophisticated and has worked hard to make their tools easy for the novice working with genetic genealogy. Their green leaf DNA+Tree Matching is their best feature, easy to use and important for the novice and experienced genealogist alike.  Now, if they just had that chromosome browser so we could see how we match those people.

Ancestry’s Circles, while a nice feature, encourage testers to believe that their DNA or relationship is confirmed by finding themselves in a Circle, which is not the case.

Circles can be formed as the result of misinformation in numerous trees. For example, if I were to inaccurately list Smith as the surname for one of my ancestor’s wives, I would find myself in a Circle for Barbara Smith, when in fact, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that her surname is Smith. Yet, people think that Barbara Smith is confirmed due to a Circle having been formed and finding themselves in Barbara Smith’s Circle. Copying incorrect trees equals the formation of incorrect Circles.

It’s also possible that I’m matching people on multiple lines and my DNA match to the people in any given Circle is through another common ancestor entirely.

A serious genealogist will test minimally at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, who provides a chromosome browser and other tools necessary to confirm relationships and shared DNA segments.

Family Tree DNA is more sophisticated, so consequently more complex to use.  They provide matching plus numerous other tools. The website and matching is certainly friendly for the novice, but to benefit fully, some experience or additional education is beneficial, not unlike traditional genealogy research itself. This is true not just for Family Tree DNA, but GedMatch and 23andMe who all three utilize chromosome browsers.

The user will want to understand what a chromosome browser is indicating about matching DNA segments, so some level of education makes life a lot easier. Fortunately, understanding chromosome browser matching is not complex. You can read an article about Match Groups and Triangulation here. I also have an entire series of Concepts articles, Family Tree DNA offers a webinar library, their Learning Center and other educational resources are available as well.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor to provide Phased Family Matches, meaning that by connecting known relatives who have DNA tested to your tree, Family Tree DNA can then identify additional matches as maternal, paternal or both. This, in combination with pseudo-phasing are very powerful matching tools.

23andMe is the least friendly of the three companies, with several genetic genealogy unfriendly restrictions relative to matching, opt-ins, match limits and such. They have experienced problem after problem for years relative to genetic genealogy, which has always been a second-class citizen compared to their medical research, and not a priority.

23andMe has chosen to implement a business model where their customers must opt-in to share segment information with other individuals, either one by one or by opting into open sharing. Based on my match list, roughly 60% of my actual DNA matches have opted in to sharing.

Their customer base includes fewer serious genealogists and their customers often are not interested in genealogy at all.

Having said that, 23andMe is the only one of the three that provides actual triangulated matches for users on the New Experience and who have opted into sharing.

If I were entering the genetic genealogy testing space today, I would test my autosomal DNA at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, but I would probably not test at 23andMe. I would test both my Y DNA (if a male) and mitochondrial at Family Tree DNA.

Thank you to Kitty Cooper for assistance with parent/child matching and triangulation at 23andMe.

Genealogy Autosomal Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Matching Yes Yes Yes – each person has to opt in for open sharing or authorize sharing individually, many don’t
Estimated Relationships Yes Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser Yes No – Large Issue Yes
Chromosome Browser Threshold Adjustment Yes No Chromosome Browser No
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes
Trees Yes Yes – subscription required so see matches’ trees No
Ability to upload Gedcom file Yes Yes No
Ability to search trees Yes Yes No
Subscription in addition to DNA test price No No for partial, Yes for full functionality, minimal subscription for $49 by calling Ancestry No
DNA + Ancestor in Tree Matches No Yes – Leaf Hints – subscription required – Best Feature No
Phased Parental Side Matching Yes – Best Feature No No
Parent Match Indicator Yes No Yes
Sort or Group by Parent Match Yes Yes Yes
In Common With Tool Yes Yes Yes
Not In Common With Tool Yes No No
Triangulated Matches No – pseudo with ICW, browser and matrix No Yes – Best Feature
Common Surnames Yes Yes – subscription required No
Ability to Link DNA Matches on Tree Yes No No
Matrix to show match grid between multiple matches Yes No No
Match Filter Tools Yes Minimal Some
Advanced Matching Tool Yes No No
Multiple Test Matching Tool Yes No multiple tests No multiple tests
Ethnicity Matching Yes No Yes
Projects Yes No No
Maximum # of Matches Restricted No No Yes – 2000 unless you are communicating with the individuals, then they are not removed from your match list
All Customers Participate Yes Yes, unless they don’t have a subscription No – between 50-60% opt-in
Accepts Transfers from Other Testing Companies Yes No No
Free Features with Transfer Matching, ICW, Matrix, Advanced Matching No transfers No transfers
Transfer Features Requiring Unlock $ Chromosome Browser, Ethnicity, Ancient Origins, Linked Relationships, Parentally Phased Matches No Transfers No transfers
Archives DNA for Later Testing Yes, 25 years No, no additional tests available No, no additional tests available
Additional Tool DNA Circles – subscription required
Additional Tool New Ancestor Discoveries – subscription required
Y DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Mitochondrial DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Advanced Testing Available Yes No No
Website Intuitive Yes, given their many tools Yes, very simple No
Data Base Size Large Largest Large but many do not test for genealogy, only test for health
Strengths Many tools, multiple types of tests, phased matching without parent DNA + Tree matching, size of data base Triangulation
Challenges Website episodically times out No chromosome browser or advanced tools Sharing is difficult to understand and many don’t, website is far from intuitive

 

Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA

Two indispensable tools for genetic genealogy that are often overlooked are Y and mitochondrial DNA.

The inheritance path for Y DNA is shown by the blue squares and the inheritance path for mitochondrial DNA is shown by the red circles for the male and female siblings shown at the bottom of the chart.

Y-DNA Testing for Males

Y DNA is inherited by males only, from their father. The Y chromosome makes males male. Women instead inherit an X chromosome from their father, which makes them female. Because the Y chromosome is not admixed with the DNA of the mother, the same Y chromosome has been passed down through time immemorial.

Given that the Y chromosome follows the typical surname path, Y DNA testing is very useful for confirming surname lineage to an expected direct paternal ancestor. In other words, an Estes male today should match, with perhaps a few mutations, to other descendants of Abraham Estes who was born in 1647 in Kent, England and immigrated to the colony of Virginia.

Furthermore, that same Y chromosome can look far back in time, thousands of years, to tell us where that English group of Estes men originated, before the advent of surnames and before the migration to England from continental Europe. I wrote about the Estes Y DNA here, so you can see an example of how Y DNA testing can be used.

Y DNA testing for matching and haplogroup identification, which indicates where in the world your ancestors were living within the past few hundred to few thousand years, is only available from Family Tree DNA. Testing can be purchased for either 37, 67 or 111 markers, with the higher marker numbers providing more granularity and specificity in matching.

Family Tree DNA provides three types of Y DNA tests.

  • STR (short tandem repeat) testing is the traditional Y DNA testing for males to match to each other in a genealogically relevant timeframe. These tests can be ordered in panels of 37, 67 or 111 markers and lower levels can be upgraded to higher levels at a later date. An accurate base haplogroup prediction is made from STR markers.
  • SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) testing is a different type of testing that tests single locations for mutations in order to confirm and further refine haplogroups. Think of a haplogroup as a type of genetic clan, meaning that haplogroups are used to track migration of humans through time and geography, and are what is utilized to determine African, European, Asian or Native heritage in the direct paternal line. SNP tests are optional and can be ordered one at a time, in groups called panels for a particular haplogroup or a comprehensive research level Y DNA test called the Big Y can be ordered after STR testing.
  • The Big Y test is a research level test that scans the entire Y chromosome to determine the most refined haplogroup possible and to report any previously unknown mutations (SNPs) that may define further branches of the Y DNA tree. This is the technique used to expand the Y haplotree.

You can read more about haplogroups here and about the difference between STR markers and SNPs here, here and here.

Customers receive the following features and tools when they purchase a Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test at 23andMe. The 23andMe Y DNA information is included in their Ancestry Services test. The Family Tree DNA Y DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. You can click here to read about the difference in the technology between Y DNA testing at Family Tree DNA and at 23andMe. Ancestry is not included in this comparison because they provide no Y DNA related information.

Y DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of STR panel marker testing Yes, in panels of 37, 67 and 111 markers No
Test panel (STR) marker results Yes Not tested
Haplogroup assignment Yes – accurate estimate with STR panels, deeper testing available Yes –base haplogroup by scan – haplogroup designations are significantly out of date, no further testing available
SNP testing to further define haplogroup Yes – can purchase individual SNPs, by SNP panels or Big Y test No
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees available for your matches Yes No
E-mail of matches provided Yes No
Calculator tool to estimate probability of generational distance between you and a match Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic projects No
Ability to search Y matches Yes No Y matching
Ability to search matches within projects Yes No projects
Ability to search matches by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer result location on tree Yes, detailed with every branch Yes, less detailed, subset
Terminal SNP used to determine haplogroup Yes Yes, small subset available
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins – match ancestral location summary by haplogroup, by test level Yes No
SNP map showing worldwide locations of any selected SNP Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the paternal line, by test panel Yes No
Big Y – full scan of Y chromosome for known and previously unknown mutations (SNPs) Yes No
Big Y matching Yes No
Big Y matching known SNPs Yes No
Big Y matching novel variants (unknown or yet unnamed SNPs) Yes No
Filter Big Y matches Yes No
Big Y results Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

Mitochondrial DNA Testing for Everyone

Mitochondrial DNA is contributed to both genders of children by mothers, but only the females pass it on. Like the Y chromosome, mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the DNA of the other parent. Therefore, anyone can test for the mitochondrial DNA of their matrilineal line, meaning their mother’s mother’s mother’s lineage.

Matching can identify family lines as well as ancient lineage.

You receive the following features and tools when you purchase a mitochondrial DNA test from Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test from 23andMe. The Family Tree DNA mitochondrial DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. The 23andMe mitochondrial information is provided with the Ancestry Services test. Ancestry is omitted from this comparison because they do not provide any mitochondrial information.

Mitochondrial DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of testing Yes, mtPlus and Full Sequence No
Test panel marker results Yes, in two formats, CRS and RSRS No
Rare mutations, missing and extra mutations, insertions and deletions reported Yes No
Haplogroup assignment Yes, most current version, Build 17 Yes, partial and out of date version
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees of matches available to view Yes No
E-mail address provided to matches Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic available No
Ability to search matches Yes No
Ability to search matches within project Yes No projects
Ability to search match by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer location on tree No Yes
Mutations used to determine haplogroup provided Yes No
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins –match ancestral location summary by haplogroup Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the maternal line, by test level Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

 

Overall Genealogy Summary

Serious genealogists should test with at least two of the three major vendors, being Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, with 23andMe coming in as a distant third.

No genetic genealogy testing regimen is complete without Y and mitochondrial DNA for as many ancestral lines as you can find to test. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you’ll never know if you don’t test.

Unfortunately, many people, especially new testers, don’t know Y and mitochondrial DNA testing for genetic genealogy exists, or how it can help their genealogy research, which is extremely ironic since these were the first tests available, back in 2000.

You can read about finding Y and mitochondrial information for various family lines and ancestors and how to assemble a DNA Pedigree Chart here.

You can also take a look at my 52 Ancestors series, where I write about an ancestor every week. Each article includes some aspect of DNA testing and knowledge gained by a test or tests, DNA tool, or comparison. The DNA aspect of these articles focuses on how to use DNA as a tool to discover more about your ancestors.

 

Testing for Medical/Health or Traits

The DTC market also includes health and medical testing, although it’s not nearly as popular as genetic genealogy.

Health/medical testing is offered by 23andMe, who also offers autosomal DNA testing for genealogy.

Some people do want to know if they have genetic predispositions to medical conditions, and some do not. Some want to know if they have certain traits that aren’t genealogically relevant, but might be interesting – such as whether they carry the Warrior gene or if they have an alcohol flush reaction.

23andMe was the first company to dip their toes into the water of Direct to Consumer medical information, although they called it “health,” not medicine, at that time. Regardless of the terminology, information regarding Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for example, were provided for customers. 23andMe attempted to take the raw data and provide the consumer with something approaching a middle of the road analysis, because sometimes the actual studies provide conflicting information that might not be readily understood by consumers.

The FDA took issue with 23andMe back in November of 2013 when they ordered 23andMe to discontinue the “health” aspect of their testing after 23andMe ignored several deadlines. In October 2015, 23andMe obtained permission to provide customers with some information, such as carrier status, for 36 genetic disorders.

Since that time, 23andMe has divided their product into two separate tests, with two separate prices. The genealogy only test called Ancestry Service can be purchased separately for $99, or the combined Health + Ancestry Service for $199.

If you are interested in seeing what the Health + Ancestry test provides, you can click here to view additional information.

However, there is a much easier and less expensive solution.

If you have taken the autosomal test from 23andMe, Ancestry or Family Tree DNA, you can download your raw data file from the vendor and upload to Promethease to obtain a much more in-depth report than is provided by 23andMe, and much less expensively – just $5.

I reviewed the Promethease service here. I found the Promethease reports to be very informative and I like the fact that they provide information, both positive and negative for each SNP (DNA location) reported. Promethease avoids FDA problems by not providing any interpretation or analysis, simply the data and references extracted from SNPedia for you to review.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should be sure you really want to know before you delve into medical testing. Some mutations are simply indications that you could develop a condition that you will never develop or that is not serious. Other mutations are not so benign. Promethease provides this candid page before you upload your data.

Different files from different vendors provide different results at Promethease, because those vendors test different SNP locations in your DNA. At the Promethease webpage, you can view examples.

Traits

Traits fall someplace between genealogy and health. When you take the Health + Ancestry test at 23andMe, you do receive information about various traits, as follows:

Of course, you’ll probably already know if you have several of these traits by just taking a look in the mirror, or in the case of male back hair, by asking your wife.

At Family Tree DNA, existing customers can order tests for Factoids (by clicking on the upgrade button), noted as curiosity tests for gene variants.

Family Tree DNA provides what I feel is a great summary and explanation of what the Factoids are testing on their order page:

“Factoids” are based on studies – some of which may be controversial – and results are not intended to diagnose disease or medical conditions, and do not serve the purpose of medical advice. They are offered exclusively for curiosity purposes, i.e. to see how your result compared with what the scientific papers say. Other genetic and environmental variables may also impact these same physiological characteristics. They are merely a conversational piece, or a “cocktail party” test, as we like to call it.”

Test Price Description
Alcohol Flush Reaction $19 A condition in which the body cannot break down ingested alcohol completely. Flushing, after consuming one or two alcoholic beverages, includes a range of symptoms: nausea, headaches, light-headedness, an increased pulse, occasional extreme drowsiness, and occasional skin swelling and itchiness. These unpleasant side effects often prevent further drinking that may lead to further inebriation, but the symptoms can lead to mistaken assumption that the people affected are more easily inebriated than others.
Avoidance of Errors $29 We are often angry at ourselves because we are unable to learn from certain experiences. Numerous times we have made the wrong decision and its consequences were unfavorable. But the cause does not lie only in our thinking. A mutation in a specific gene can also be responsible, because it can cause a smaller number of dopamine receptors. They are responsible for remembering our wrong choices, which in turn enables us to make better decisions when we encounter a similar situation.
Back Pain $39 Lumbar disc disease is the drying out of the spongy interior matrix of an intervertebral disc in the spine. Many physicians and patients use the term lumbar disc disease to encompass several different causes of back pain or sciatica. A study of Asian patients with lumbar disc disease showed that a mutation in the CILP gene increases the risk of back pain.
Bitter Taste Perception $29 There are several genes that are responsible for bitter taste perception – we test 3 of them. Different variations of this gene affect ability to detect bitter compounds. About 25% of people lack ability to detect these compounds due to gene mutations. Are you like them? Maybe you don’t like broccoli, because it tastes too bitter?
Caffeine Metabolism $19 According to the results of a case-control study reported in the March 8, 2006 issue of JAMA, coffee is the most widely consumed stimulant in the world, and caffeine consumption has been associated with increased risk for non-fatal myocardial infarction. Caffeine is primarily metabolized by the cytochrome P450 1A2 in the liver, accounting for 95% of metabolism. Carriers of the gene variant *1F allele are slow caffeine metabolizers, whereas individuals homozygous for the *1A/*1A genotype are rapid caffeine metabolizers.
Earwax Type $19 Whether your earwax is wet or dry is determined by a mutation in a single gene, which scientists have discovered. Wet earwax is believed to have uses in insect trapping, self-cleaning and prevention of dryness in the external auditory canal of the ear. It also produces an odor and causes sweating, which may play a role as a pheromone.
Freckling $19 Freckles can be found on anyone no matter what the background. However, having freckles is genetic and is related to the presence of the dominant melanocortin-1 receptor MC1R gene variant.
Longevity $49 Researchers at Harvard Medical School and UC Davis have discovered a few genes that extend lifespan, suggesting that the whole family of SIR2 genes is involved in controlling lifespan. The findings were reported July 28, 2005 in the advance online edition of Science.
Male Pattern Baldness $19 Researchers at McGill University, King’s College London and GlaxoSmithKline Inc. have identified two genetic variants in Caucasians that together produce an astounding sevenfold increase of the risk of male pattern baldness. Their results were published in the October 12, 2008 issue of the Journal of Nature Genetics.
Monoamine Oxidase A (Warrior Gene) $49.50 The Warrior Gene is a variant of the gene MAO-A on the X chromosome. Recent studies have linked the Warrior Gene to increased risk-taking and aggressive behavior. Whether in sports, business, or other activities, scientists found that individuals with the Warrior Gene variant were more likely to be combative than those with the normal MAO-A gene. However, human behavior is complex and influenced by many factors, including genetics and our environment. Individuals with the Warrior Gene are not necessarily more aggressive, but according to scientific studies, are more likely to be aggressive than those without the Warrior Gene variant. This test is available for both men and women, however, there is limited research about the Warrior Gene variant amongst females. Additional details about the Warrior Gene genetic variant of MAO-A can be found in Sabol et al, 1998.
Muscle Performance $29 A team of researchers, led by scientists at Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth College, have identified and tested a gene that dramatically alters both muscle metabolism and performance. The researchers say that this finding could someday lead to treatment of muscle diseases, including helping the elderly who suffer from muscle deterioration and improving muscle performance in endurance athletes.
Nicotine Dependence $19 In 2008, University of Virginia Health System researchers have identified a gene associated with nicotine dependence in both Europeans and African Americans.

Many people are interested in the Warrior Gene, which I wrote about here.

At Promethease, traits are simply included with the rest of the conditions known to be associated with certain SNPs, such as baldness, for example, but I haven’t done a comparison to see which traits are included.

 

Additional Vendor Information to Consider

Before making your final decision about which test or tests to purchase, there are a few additional factors you may want to consider.

As mentioned before, Ancestry requires a subscription in addition tot he cost of the DNA test for the DNA test to be fully functional.

One of the biggest issues, in my opinion, is that both 23andMe and Ancestry sell customer’s anonymized DNA information to unknown others. Every customer authorizes the sale of their information when they purchase or activate a kit – even though very few people actually take the time to read the Terms and Conditions, Privacy statements and Security documents, including any and all links. This means most people don’t realize they are authorizing the sale of their DNA.

At both 23andMe and Ancestry, you can ALSO opt in for additional non-anonymized research or sale of your DNA, which you can later opt out of. However, you cannot opt out of the lower level sale of your anonymized DNA without removing your results from the data base and asking for your sample to be destroyed. They do tell you this, but it’s very buried in the fine print at both companies. You can read more here.

Family Tree DNA does not sell your DNA or information.

All vendors can change their terms and conditions at any time. Consumers should always thoroughly read the terms and conditions including anything having to do with privacy for any product they purchase, but especially as it relates to DNA testing.

Family Tree DNA archives your DNA for later testing, which has proven extremely beneficial when a family member has passed away and a new test is subsequently introduced or the family wants to upgrade a current test.  Had my mother’s DNA not been archived at Family Tree DNA, I would not have Family Finder results for her today – something I thank Mother and Family Tree DNA for every single day.

Family Tree DNA also accepts transfer files from 23andMe, Ancestry and very shortly, MyHeritage – although some versions work better than others. For details on which companies accept which file versions, from which vendors, and why, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

If you tested on a compatible version of the 23andMe Test (V3 between December 2010 and November 2013) or the Ancestry V1 (before May 2016) you may want to transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA for free and pay only $19 for full functionality, as opposed to taking the Family Finder test. Family Tree DNA does accept later versions of files from 23andMe and Ancestry, but you will receive more matches if you test on the same chip platform that Family Tree DNA utilizes instead of doing a transfer.

Additional Vendor Considerations Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Subscription required in addition to cost of DNA test No Yes for full functionality, partial functionality is included without subscription, minimum subscription is $49 by calling Ancestry No
Customer Support Good and available Available, nice but often not knowledgeable about DNA Poor
Sells customer DNA information No Yes Yes
DNA raw data file available to download Yes Yes Yes
DNA matches file available to download including match info and chromosome match locations Yes No Yes
Customers genealogically focused Yes Yes Many No
Accepts DNA raw data transfer files from other companies Yes, most, see article for specifics No No
DNA archived for later testing Yes, 25 years No No
Beneficiary provision available Yes No No

 

Which Test is Best For You?

I hope you now know the answer as to which DNA test is best for you – or maybe it’s multiple tests for you and other family members too!

DNA testing holds so much promise for genealogy. I hesitate to call DNA testing a miracle tool, but it often is when there are no records. DNA testing works best in conjunction with traditional genealogical research.

There are a lot of tests and options.  The more tests you take, the more people you match. Some people test at multiple vendors or upload their DNA to third party sites like GedMatch, but most don’t. In order to make sure you reach those matches, which may be the match you desperately need, you’ll have to test at the vendor where they tested. Otherwise, they are lost to you. That means, of course, that eventually, if you’re a serious genealogist, you’ll be testing at all 3 vendors.  Don’t forget about Y and mitochondrial tests at Family Tree DNA.

Recruit family members to test and reach out to your matches.  The more you share and learn – the more is revealed about your ancestors. You are, after all, the unique individual that resulted from the combination of all of them!

Update: Vendor prices updated June 22, 2017.

______________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure will now appear at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 850 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

Valentine’s Day – Can You Really Love Your Facebook Cousins and Friends?

In the new world of DNA testing, now combined with social media, the word cousin and its meaning have morphed a bit.

Classically, historically, your cousins were the children of your parents’ siblings. Often you were the same age and grew up with them as neighbors, especially in a rural, small town or farming community. Typically your cousins were your playmates and the people you got into trouble with when you were teenagers, and maybe who you married as an adult. You would likely be lifelong friends as well, attending the same church and social functions. Your kids knew each other too, and the pattern repeated itself generation after generation.  Your cousins were the people you saw every single day of your life, cradle to grave.

But often, that’s not the case anymore.

My Neighbor, My Cousin

A good example of a historical cousin relationship would be my grandfather, John, who lived across the street in the tiny town of Silver Lake from his brother, Roscoe. Their children, first cousins, grew up as neighbors. My mother’s first cousin is Cheryl.

cousins-pedigree-2

The stories of Cheryl and Mom are typical of small town America where there were no jobs. Mom moved away for a job and married. Mom visited her parents often, living an hour or so away, but after her parents died, Mom had no reason to go back to Silver Lake.  Mom did keep track of family members and exchanged letters and Christmas cards with many, updating addresses and phone numbers religiously in her address book. Phone calls, being “long distance” were expensive, reserved for Sunday evenings when the rates were lower, and often placed only in emergencies.

Mom’s brother, Lore, went to college and eventually moved out of state, living in several locations in his lifetime. After moving away, he seldom returned to Indiana. His daughter, Nancy, lived a couple hours away and was close to Mom, but his son, Mike, moved to Arizona and then on to China. A world apart.

Cheryl, Mom’s first cousin, the first woman in our family to graduate from college, moved about 40 miles away, also for employment. Cheryl’s degree was in education, and sadly, her incredible aptitude for science wasn’t realized, at least not in a professional setting.  Women of her generation simply weren’t encouraged or allowed to study science. Even when I was in school, a number of years later, I was told that a seat in an advanced placement science class wasn’t going to be” wasted on a girl” and was going to be “saved for a boy who would make something of himself.” Cheryl did amazingly well for herself, especially considering what she had to contend with throughout her career. She was indeed a woman on the frontier.

Cheryl’s brother Don, after serving in the military, still lives in Silver Lake near where he grew up. He’s the only one – everyone else is gone – scattered like dust in the wind.

I’m one generation removed, and I never met Cheryl until I was in my late 30s. I knew she existed, but really wasn’t sure how we were related. That all changed due to genealogy and in a very ironic twist of fate, Cheryl and I are much closer than Mom and Cheryl were, or than I am to any other family members in that line.

cousin-cheryl-holland

If Cheryl and I look like we’re having a wonderful time and maybe engaged in a bit of mischief, we were, I assure you. You’ll get to read about those stories when I write the articles about our Dutch ancestors and our visit to Holland.

Moving Away

Moving, across the state, the country or the world bifurcated families, especially before the days of the internet and Facebook. The family moved, and while that generation may have remained in touch through occasional letters, the next generation didn’t know each other, and the next generation didn’t even know OF each other, let alone know each other. You can see the perfect example in the pedigree chart of my own family, above. There was no family connection at all after a couple generations. I guarantee you, my children can’t recall the names of Lore’s children, let alone Nancy’s children who they’ve never met.

The past 20 years or so has dramatically changed the nature of moving away and distance. E-mail made communications easy and Facebook made it instantaneous. “Long distance” phone charges no longer apply and for the most part communicating with family has never been easier.

Bifurcated Families

This past week, the message about bifurcated families came home to roost.

My first cousin, Nancy, died….last July…and no one, not one person, notified me, or my sister-in-law, or Cheryl or Don. Nancy had a sibling and children and a spouse, all of whom we knew. Yet no one in this day of electronic media and incredible findability made a phone call or sent a note.

I knew Nancy my entire life. Nancy was beautiful and lovely and smart and talented – shown here with our shared grandmother.

cousin-nancy

Nancy’s father was my mother’s brother, and they visited the farm where I grew up. There was never a family issue or rift.

cousin-nancy-farm

Mother’s brother, Lore, and daughter Nancy at the table on the farm in 1977. Mom even used the “special occasion” plates and was always thrilled when family visited.

After Dad died in1994 and Mom moved to town, she drove to Ohio to visit Nancy several times. I visited Nancy a few years ago, but Nancy did not reply to e-mails nor did she reply to letters. You cannot sustain a one-sided relationship. There didn’t seem to be any hard feelings, and we had a lovely visit, but apparently communicating wasn’t Nancy’s strong suite. Nancy also had a degenerative disease that I’m sure eventually took her life.

I discovered Nancy’s death by googling the surname for something genealogical in nature, when her obituary popped up. Imagine my surprise. And then the sorrow. And then realizing that we hadn’t been notified of her death.

What is Family?

I’ve thought about this a lot the past few days, and about the definition of family. I realize that I’m very close to several cousins who aren’t my first cousins and some who turned out not to be cousins at all. In fact, I met all of them (except one) as a result of either genealogy or DNA testing.

Before genealogy, DNA testing and Facebook, my world of cousins would have been a lot smaller.

Ironically, Cheryl isn’t on Facebook, but the rest are. I’m still working on Cheryl.

While I met these folks as a result of common ancestors, and genealogy was our introduction, I’ve become close friends with many.

Daryl

Daryl and I met through genealogy about 15 years ago now, when we met for lunch and coffee, and managed to consume the entire afternoon.  Since we virtually disappeared, and both of us were meeting someone we “met on the internet,” both husbands were nearly ready to call the police about our disappearance.  Fortunately, we went home in time to avert that phone call – but it was close! After that, we journeyed across the country on many genealogy adventures together.

In fact, our adventures are legendary. Daryl and I have the distinction of being cornered in a cemetery by a bull. We think he wanted to add us to his harem. We were held captive until Mr. Bull got bored with courting us – and then we ran like hell for the car. That would have been very comical to watch.

clarkson-cemetery-bull

Quite a handsome guy, wouldn’t you say???

Daryl and I have been through some really rough spots, including the death of both of our mothers. Now, Daryl’s son Brent desperately needs a kidney donor, and we are going through that together as well.

lovin daryl

Daryl and I wading in a cool creek one miserably hot summer day on a genealogy adventure.  Love you Daryl!

Dolores

My cousin Dolores and I used to write handwritten letters on stationery back in the 1980s, believe it or not.  I still have them. Now we communicate regularly through our Facebook feed and an occasional e-mail. I feel much more involved in her life. Before, I only knew her as a genealogist, and she is an incredible wealth of knowledge, but now, I know her on a much more personal level. We recently discovered, thanks to Facebook, that Dolores’s neighbor is my other cousin, Kay.  Small world!

In Dolores’ recent “Friend’s Day” video I noticed a quilt that I made for another cousin and presented when several of us were together for an event in Richmond, Virginia. Seeing that made me feel good and brought back such warm memories. Yes, I love Dolores.

cousin-dolores-friend

Lola-Margaret

And there’s Lola-Margaret, that “other cousin” mentioned above – bless Lola-Margaret. She and I share the same ancestor that Dolores and I do, Nicholas Speaks. Should I admit in public that I kinda sorta kidnapped Lola-Margaret and Dolores in Middlesboro, KY one time? Ummm…probably not. I don’t think the statute of limitations has yet expired.  However, they were willing victims, especially after they discovered that I had kidnapped them to see the newly rediscovered and restored cabin of our ancestor, Nicholas.

nicholas-speaks-cabin-winter

Lola-Margaret and I have been on several adventures together, the last one returning to the land of our ancestor in Maryland, with another dear cousin, Susan, between Lola-Margaret and me, below.

societies5

I met Lola-Margaret in the hazy past through the Speaks Family Association although I feel like she has been in my life forever. We are very different but have some undefinable bond that neither of us fully understands. I clearly love her, very much.

societies6

In the photo above, we three cousins are walking the land of our ancestor together in what can only be described as a spiritual adventure. That day was such an incredible blessing – especially given that Lola-Margaret traveled across the country just 10 days out of back surgery. To say Lola-Margaret is incredible would be an understatement.

Susan

Susan, another cousin who is near and dear to my heart arranged a trip to England after we discovered, through DNA testing, where our Speaks ancestor was from.

Speak Family at St Mary Whalley

Descendants of the Speak family, cousins from literally around the globe rendezvoused in England, many meeting for the first time. As I look at this photo, I think about how fortunate I am, in so many ways – and were it not for DNA testing, Susan and social media – none of this would have happened. I love Susan for her tenacity and wonderful ability to get things done.

I love this group photo, because I see Mary, another cousin that I love, and John, and Dolores is there too….you get the idea.

Mary

lovin mary

At the church where our ancestors worshipped, cousin Mary and I exchange hugs. Yep, I love Mary too! Bless her heart, she called me to see how I was doing this past week – when she herself has had so many challenges this past year.

These are all people, so far, that I’ve eventually met, but there are many I have never met in person.

Kathy

Looking at my Facebook feed, just today, I see my Estes line cousin Kathy who I love and supported through a health challenge that she thankfully overcame.  I felt incredibly powerless – all I could do was make her a quilt and say prayers.

kathy-amazing-grace-quilt

I’ve never met Kathy personally, but I now “know” her family, and her cat who is an honorary cousin to my cats. I always look forward to her posts and to seeing what she is doing.  Sometimes having someone to talk to who cares about you but that isn’t right in the middle of the emotional dilemma is a blessing. I also know that if I had a health crisis, she would be there for me too.

In the middle of her own health issue, she helped me post daily flower pictures for my brother John (when I had to be gone) to help him through a very rough spot in his journey. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it meant the world to John during very dark days when that is literally all he had to look forward to, and Kathy’s help meant the world to me. Yes, I love Kathy and John too.

John

John, my “brother” who is neither my biological brother nor even a bio-cousin, but my adopted brother, as of a couple years ago.  John’s story and our bond are very unique. We met through an e-mail list about the Cumberland Gap region that I began as an offshoot of the Cumberland Gap DNA project. He offered to send me fabrics from Japan where he lived at the time to help with making quilts for a fund-raiser.

crane-quilt

John is an amazing example of bravery and triumph over tragedy and is incredibly inspiring after cheating the grim reaper, not once, but twice. In fact, John was the inspiration for this new blog, Victory Garden Day by Day with the hope that it will inspire others.

john-mcdonald-and-son

I love this picture of John and his son, because it shows his inner spirit of courage and joy.  Love you oceans, JT!!!

Los and Denise

There’s Los with his two lovely children. I would never have met Los or cousin Denise were it not for our naughty ancestor, William Harrell, with two wives. This all came to light with genealogy followed by DNA testing.

I love that ancestor story, but I love even more Carlos and what he has made of his life, what it represents, his intelligence, drive and conviction. Can I brag on Los for a minute?  He’s a double PhD teaching at a university and he’s an absolutely incredible father, driving across the country alone with 2 small children for the genealogy reunion in the photo below. He’s an amazing man. I love my cousin, Los and his wonderful babies, who aren’t exactly babies anymore. I’ve gotten to watch them grow up, thanks to Facebook. I would love to be their honorary grandma if we lived closer.

lovin los and denise

Here, me, Carlos, his daughter and our cousin Denise meet for the first (and so far, only) time. Denise has an amazing story of resilience and success of her own.  Denise found our cousin group, scattered across the country, through genealogy, drew us together, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m so fortunate to have been found by these wonderful cousins and so proud to claim them as my own.

Denny

I love my amazing cousin, Denny, aka Santa. Denny’s Santa activities are focused on nursing homes, the elderly and often forgotten. Denny just dropped me a line to say that he is thinking about me. Sometimes it’s just nice to know that someone cares about you. Obviously, I’m not on Santa’s bad list – maybe it’s still too early in the year. Give me time!

Denny Santa

I made Denny’s acquaintance a dozen years ago by accident when someone at his high school reunion told him that some lady was looking for Lore family descendants from Warren County, PA on a rootsweb forum.  That woman was me, and Denny replied.

I met Denny and his lovely wife when I visited during a research trip the next summer. A few years later, we lamented on the phone that we wished were siblings. Denny’s research and knowledge of Warren County, PA were indispensable in understanding the life of Anthony Lore, our own personal adventurer, trader, pirate, whatever. I see his resilient spirit in Denny and recognize it, because I have it too.

Kathy and Mary

One last cousin story that falls in the “truth is stranger than fiction” category.

I was working at a client site about 16 or 17 years ago, when I became increasingly close to one particular woman, Kathy. We went to lunch often, and we just seemed to be on the same page repeatedly. She told me she was trying to finish a quilt, and I invited her to my house to “quilt day” with a few of my friends. I never, ever did this with clients, but Kathy was the exception and we got along so well.

One day, Kathy and I were the only two people on time for a meeting, and we were discussing technology in the conference room as we waited for the tardy attendees. I made a comment that my Brethren great-grandmother would roll over in her grave to know that her great-granddaughter not only drove a car (gasp), but embraced all things technology – you know – like electricity and telephones – not to mention computers. Kathy said that she had Brethren family as well.

The following conversation went something like this:

Me: “I didn’t know there were any Brethren communities in this area.”

Kathy: “My family was from northern Indiana.”

Me: “Where in Northern Indiana?”

Kathy: “Around Elkhart.”

Me: “My family too. What is their name?”

Kathy: “Miller.”

Me: “SERIOUSLY???? Mine too.”

Kathy: I’ll bring my genealogy file tomorrow.

I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that Kathy and I are cousins too through our ancestor, Daniel Miller, whose children settled in Elkhart County, Indiana.

Not only is Kathy my cousin, she is my very close friend, all these years later, and my quilt sister too.

kathy mary quilt

Here, Kathy, at left above, and I are presenting our other quilt sister, Mary, at right, in the photo below, with a memory quilt for her 50th wedding anniversary. Yes, Kathy and Mary and I all follow each other on Facebook and that’s how we keep track of each other and each other’s families – which are our families too!

me mary quilt

Do I love Kathy and Mary? You bet your britches I do. In fact, my husband and I have spent every Christmas Eve evening with Mary and her family since my mother passed away a decade ago. I do believe we have created a new tradition. Above, Mary and I are working on a care quilt together at her son’s house.

No, Mary and I aren’t biologically related – and yes, she tested her DNA just to be sure.

Kathy and Mary are family in every sense of the word – whether by blood or not. Which brings us full circle.

A New Definition of Family

Sometimes the family we were born into slips away, intentionally or otherwise. But family we choose, our family of heart is what sustains us. All of the people above are my family, in various ways and for differing reasons – but the common unifying fact is that they are family and live in my heart – along with many more people not mentioned.

Today, with the availability of Facebook and other electronic communications, we can follow families as they grow up and remain in touch outside of that yearly Christmas card. Those relationships we cultivate and nurture are the ones that survive. The rest starve to death and die of neglect.

In my case, this social evolution or maybe revolution has redefined what cousin means, as well as family. Aside from Cheryl and her brother, I can’t tell you how distantly or closely related I am to any of my cousins, at least not without cheating and looking at my genealogy software. But I know we are “cousins” and that’s really all I need to know.

Occasionally, “cousin” might just mean a close relationship with someone I “feel” is a cousin. In some cases, cousin refers to someone we thought was a cousin, only to discover they weren’t, genealogically or biologically, but they are still “cousins” of heart and referred to as such.

In the south, elder cousins (and sometimes elders that aren’t related) that you are close to and respect are referred to as “aunt” and “uncle,” as in Uncle Buster who was really my first cousin once removed.  So yes, the word cousin is now redefined a bit and has become more a term of affection or simply stating that one is related in some fashion rather than referring to a specific degree of relationship.  In a way, it harkens back to the southern word, “kin.”  “We’re kin” means “we’re somehow related but I’m not sure how.”

Social media is an incredibly powerful venue – as politicians have recently discovered. But for family, both close and distant, social media has the ability to help us forge relationships and nurture them, keeping them strong and allowing us to maintain a continuity never before available – an advantage our ancestors never had. Genealogy and DNA testing has allowed us to expand the size of our known family, and social media has facilitated easily becoming more inclusionary – encompassing and cultivating our ever-expanding family.

Don

As I was finishing this article, I received one of those phone calls no one wants to receive. It wasn’t about a cousin’s death, but that of a friend.  Yes, my cousins didn’t call, but my friend did.

Our mutual friend, Don, died unexpectedly this morning.  I didn’t always agree with Don, but I valued his friendship and always looked forward to his research and what he had to say.  We were warriors on a common path, seeking the truth.

We are all bonded and bound by the seeds we sew, those common causes that draw us together, and we are united by years on a collective journey.

I will miss Don.  He always sent me a Jackie Lawson card e-mail at various holidays and when I was feeling blue.  His e-mails, contentious or reflective, will no longer grace my inbox.  His journey is finished, but ours wasn’t, nor was his work complete. I am gravely saddened. I hope I enriched his life as much as he enriched mine.

However, Don’s death vividly points out that while I was related to Nancy, our only commonality was that we were born into the same family, while my common journey with my “Facebook cousins” and close friends is one of reciprocal caring, shared experiences and mutual interests – having walked side by side, step by step and sometimes hand in hand over the rocky road of life for many years.

Love

Fortunately, love is not like a pie that is divided into pieces and when it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s the only resource in our human arsenal that isn’t decreased when some is given away. Love is boundless and endless, a renewable and ever-expanding resource that enriches both the giver and receiver. The more you give, the more you receive. I am so very blessed to have many “cousins” and family members of heart. While I have only mentioned a few cousins and friends, I am unbelievably blessed to have a great many.  So if your name isn’t here, it’s not because I don’t love you.

Sometimes family isn’t who you are, or the relatives you are born to, but the family you make, woven into a whole from the strands and fibers of love from each individual, colorful and unique person. The most beautiful patchwork quilt imaginable.

We are all on a journey together – enriching each others lives. That enrichment is what we will be remembered for – and why we will be missed when it’s our turn to finish our earthly journey.

So yes, you can indeed love your Facebook cousins and friends! What a wonderful unintended consequence of genealogy and DNA testing!

Love, it’s a renewable resource – give it away! Tell your family and friends you love them.  You never know when it will be the last opportunity – don’t miss it.

Here’s wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day and many wonderful cousins to love!!!

nested-hearts