DNA: In Search Of…Your Grandparents

Are you searching for an unknown relative or trying to unravel and understand unexpected results? Maybe you discovered that one or both of your parents is not your biological parent. Maybe one of your siblings might be a half-sibling instead. Or maybe you suddenly have an unexpected match that looks to be an unknown close relative, possibly a half-sibling. Perhaps there’s a close match you can’t place.

Or, are you searching for the identity of your grandparent or grandparents? If you’re searching for your parent or parents, often identifying your grandparents is a necessary step to narrow the parent-candidates.

I’ve written an entire series of “In Search of Unknown Family” articles, permanently listed together, here. They will step you through the search process and help you understand how to unravel your results. If you’re new, reading these, in order, before proceeding, would be a good idea.

Identifying a Grandparent

I saved this “grandparents” article for later in the series because you will need the tools and techniques I’ve introduced in the earlier articles. Identifying grandparents is often the most challenging of any of the relationships we’ve covered so far. In part because each of those four individuals occupies a different place in your tree, meaning their X, Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA is carried by different, and not all, descendants. This means we sometimes have to utilize different tools and techniques.

If you’re trying to identify any of your four grandparents, females are sometimes more challenging than males.

Why?

Women don’t have a Y chromosome to test. This can be a double handicap. Female testers can’t test a Y chromosome, and maternal ancestors don’t have a Y chromosome to match.

Of course, every circumstance differs. You may not have a male to test for paternal lines either.

The maternal grandfather can be uniquely challenging, because two types of DNA, Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA matching are immediately eliminated for all testers.

While I’ve focused on the maternal grandfather in this example, these techniques can be utilized for all four grandparents as well as for parents. At the end, I’ll review other grandparent relationships and additional tools you might be able to utilize for each one.

In addition to autosomal DNA, we can also utilize mitochondrial DNA, Y-DNA and sometimes X DNA in certain situations.

Testing, Tests and Vendors

As you recall, only men have a Y chromosome (blue arrow), so only genetic males can take a Y-DNA test. Men pass their Y chromosome from father to son in each generation. Daughters don’t receive a Y chromosome.

Everyone has their mother’s mitochondrial DNA (pink arrow.) Women pass their mitochondrial DNA to both sexes of their children, but only females pass it on. In the current generation, represented by the son and daughter, above, the mother’s yellow heart-shaped mitochondrial DNA is inherited by both sexes of her children. In the current generation, males and females can both test for their mother’s mitochondrial DNA.

Of course, everyone has autosomal DNA, inherited from all of their ancestral lines through at least the 5th or 6th generation, and often further back in time. Autosomal DNA is divided in half in each generation, as children inherit half of each parents’ autosomal DNA (with the exception of the X chromosome, which males only inherit from their mother.)

The four major vendors, Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage sell autosomal DNA tests, but only FamilyTreeDNA sells Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests.

Only 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA report X matching.

All vendors except Ancestry provide segment location information along with a chromosome browser.

You can read about the vendor’s strengths and weaknesses in the third article, here.

Ordering Y and Mitochondrial DNA Tests

If you’re seeking the identities of grandparents, the children and parents, above, can test for the following types of DNA in addition to autosomal:

Person in Pedigree Y-DNA Mitochondrial
Son His father’s blue star His mother’s pink heart
Daughter None Her mother’s pink heart
Father His father’s blue star His mother’s gold heart
Mother None Her mother’s pink heart

Note that none of the people shown above in the direct pedigree line carry the Y-DNA of the green maternal grandfather. However, if the mother has a full sibling, the green “Male Child,” he will carry the Y-DNA of the maternal grandfather. Just be sure the mother and her brother are full siblings, because otherwise, the brother’s Y-DNA may not have been inherited from your mother’s father. I wrote about full vs half sibling determination, here.

Let’s view this from a slightly different perspective. For each grandparent in the tree, which of the two testers, son or daughter, if either, carry that ancestor’s DNA of the types listed in the columns.

Ancestor in Tree Y-DNA Mitochondrial DNA Autosomal DNA X DNA
Paternal Grandfather Son Neither Son, daughter Neither
Paternal Grandmother Has no Y chromosome None (father has it, doesn’t pass it on to son or daughter) Son, daughter Daughter (son does not receive father’s X chromosome)
Maternal Grandfather Neither Neither Son, daughter Son, daughter (potentially)
Maternal Grandmother Has no Y chromosome Son, daughter Son, daughter Son, daughter (potentially)

Obtaining the Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA of those grandparents from their descendants will provide hints and may be instrumental in identifying the grandparent.

FamilyTreeDNA

You’ll need to order Y-DNA (males only) and mitochondrial DNA tests separately from autosomal DNA tests. They are three completely different tests.

At FamilyTreeDNA, the autosomal DNA test is called Family Finder to differentiate it from their Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests.

Their autosomal test is called Family Finder whether you order a test from FamilyTreeDNA, or upload your results to their site from another vendor (instructions here.)

I recommend ordering the Big Y-700 Y-DNA test if possible, and if not, the highest resolution Y-DNA test you can afford. The Big Y-700 is the most refined Y-DNA test available, includes multiple tools and places Big Y-700 testers on the Time Tree through the Discover tool, providing relatively precise estimates of when those men shared a common ancestor. If you’ve already purchased a lower-precision Y-DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA, you can easily upgrade.

I wrote about using the Discover tool here. The recently added Group Time Tree draws a genetic Y-DNA tree of Big-Y testers in common projects, showing earliest known ancestors and the date of the most recent common ancestor.

You need to make sure your Family Finder, mitochondrial DNA and Y-DNA (if you’re a male) tests are ordered from the same account at FamilyTreeDNA.

You want all 3 of your tests on the same account (called a kit number) so that you can use the advanced search features that display people who match you on combinations of multiple kinds of tests. For example, if you’re a male, do your Y-DNA matches also match you on the autosomal Family Finder test, and if so, how closely? Advanced matching also provides X matching tools.

X DNA is included in autosomal tests. X DNA has a distinct matching pattern for males and females which makes it uniquely useful for genealogy. I wrote about X DNA matching here.

If you upload your autosomal results to FamilyTreeDNA from another company, you’re only uploading a raw DNA file, not the DNA itself, so FamilyTreeDNA will need to send you a swab kit to test your Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA. If you upload your autosomal DNA, simply sign in to your kit, purchase the Y-DNA and/or mitochondrial DNA tests and they will send you a swab kit.

If you test directly at FamilyTreeDNA, you can add any test easily by simply signing in and placing an order. They will use your archived DNA from your swab sample, as long as there’s enough left and it’s of sufficient quality.

Fish In All Ponds

The first important thing to do in your grandparent search is to be sure you’re fishing in all ponds. In other words, be sure you’ve tested at all 4 vendors, or uploaded files to FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage.

When you upload files to those vendors, be sure to purchase the unlock for their advanced tools, because you’re going to utilize everything possible.

If you have relatively close matches at other vendors, ask if they will upload their files too. The upload is free. Not only will they receive additional matches, and another set of ethnicity results, their results will help you by associating your matches with specific sides of your family.

Why Order Multiple Tests Now Instead of Waiting?

I encourage testers to order their tests at the beginning of their journey, not one at a time. Each new test from a vendor takes about 6-8 weeks from the time you initially order – they send the test, you swab or spit, return it, and they process your DNA. Of course, uploading takes far less time.

If you’re adding elapsed time, two autosomal tests (Ancestry and 23andMe), two uploads (FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage,) a Y-DNA and a mitochondrial DNA test, if all purchased serially, one after the other, means you’ll be waiting about 6-8 months.

Do you want to wait 6-8 months? Can you afford to?

Part of that answer has to do with what, exactly, you’re seeking.

A Name or Information?

Are you seeking the name of a person, or are you seeking information about that person? With grandparents, you may be hoping to meet them, and time may be of the essence. Time delayed may not be able to be recovered or regained.

Most people don’t just want to put a name to the person they are seeking – they want to learn about them. You will have different matches at each company. Even after you identify the person you seek, the people you match at each company may have information about them, their photos, know about their life, family, and their ancestors. They may be able and willing to facilitate an introduction if that’s what you seek.

One cousin that I assisted discovered that his father had died just 6 weeks before he made the connection. He was heartsick.

Having data from all vendors simultaneously will allow you to compile that data and work with it together as well as separately. Using your “best” matches at each company, augmented by both Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA can make MUCH shorter work of this search.

Your Y-DNA, if you’re a male will give you insights into your surname line, and the Big-Y test now comes with estimates of how far in the past you share a common ancestor with other men that have taken the Big-Y test. This can be a HUGE boon to a male trying to figure out his surname line.

Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, respectively, will eliminate many people from being your mother or father, or your direct paternal or direct maternal line ancestor. Both provide insights into which population and where that population originated as well. In other words, it provides you lineage-specific information not available elsewhere.

Your Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA can also provide critically important information about whether that direct line ancestor belonged to an endogamous population, and where they came from.

Strategies

You may be tempted to think that you only need to test at one vendor, or at the vendor with the largest database, but that’s not necessarily true.

Here’s a table of my closest matches at the 4 vendors.

Vendor Closest Maternal Closest Paternal Comments
Ancestry 1C, 1C1R Half 1C, 2C I recognized both of the maternal and neither of the paternal.
23andMe 2C, 2C 1C1R, half-gr-niece Recognized both maternal, one paternal
MyHeritage Mother uploaded, 1C Half-niece, half 1C Recognized both maternal, one paternal
FamilyTreeDNA Mother tested, 1C1R Parent/child, half-gr-niece Recognized all 4

To be clear, I tested my mother at FamilyTreeDNA before she passed away, but if I was an adoptee searching for my mother, that’s the first database she would be in. As her family, we were able to order the Family Finder test from her archived DNA after she had passed away. I then uploaded her DNA file to MyHeritage, but she’ll never be at either 23andMe or Ancestry because they don’t accept uploads and she clearly can’t test.

Additionally, being able to identify maternal matches by viewing shared matches with my mother separates out close matches from my paternal side.

Let’s put this another way, I stand a MUCH BETTER chance of unraveling this mystery with the combined closest matches of all 4 databases instead of the top ones from just one database.

I’m providing analysis methodologies for working with results from all of the vendors together, in case your answer is not immediately obvious. Taking multiple tests facilitates using all of these tools immediately, not months later. Solving the puzzle sooner means you may not miss valuable connection opportunities.

You may also discover that the door slams shut with some people, but another match may be unbelievably helpful. Don’t unnecessarily limit your possibilities.

Here’s the testing and upload strategy I recommend.

What When Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage FamilyTreeDNA GEDmatch
Order autosomal test Initially Yes Yes Upload Upload Upload
Order Big-Y DNA test if male Initially Yes
Order mitochondrial DNA test Initially Yes
Upload free autosomal file From Ancestry or 23andMe Yes Yes Yes
Unlock Advanced Tools When upload file $29 $19 $9.95 month
Includes X Matching No Yes No Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser, segment location information No Yes Yes Yes Yes

When you upload a DNA file to a vendor site, only upload one file per site, per tester. Otherwise, multiple tests simply glom up everyone’s match list with multiple matches to the same person and can be very confusing.

  • One person took an autosomal test at a company that accepts uploads, forgot about it, uploaded a file from another vendor later, and immediately thought she had found her parent. She had not. She “found” herself.
  • Another person though she had found two sisters, but one person had uploaded their own file from two different vendors.

Multiple vendor sites reveal multiple close matches to different people which increase your opportunity to discover INFORMATION about your family, not just the identity of the person.

Match Ranges

Given that we are searching for an unknown maternal grandfather, your mother may not have had any (known) full siblings. The “best” match would be to a full or half siblings to your parents, or their descendants, depending on how old your grandparents would be.

Let’s take the “worst case” scenario, meaning there are no full siblings AND there are many possible generations between you and the people you may match.

Now, let’s look at DNAPainter’s Shared cM tool.

You’re going to be looking for someone who is either your mother’s half sibling on her father’s side, or who is a full sibling.

If your mother is adopted, it’s possible that she has or had full siblings. If your mother was born circa 1920, it’s likely that you will be matching the next generation, or two, or three.

However, if your mother was born later, you could be matching her siblings directly.

I’m going to assume half siblings for this example, because they are more difficult than full siblings.

Full sibling relationships for your mother’s siblings are listed at right. Your full aunt or uncle at top, then their descendant generations below.

At left, in red, are the half-sibling relationships and the matching amounts.

You can see that if you’re dealing with half 1C3R (half first cousin three times removed,) you may not match.

Therefore, in order to isolate matches, it’s imperative to test every relevant relative possible.

Who’s Relevant for DNA Testing?

Who is relevant to test If you’re attempting to identify your maternal grandfather?

The goal is to be able to assign matches to the most refined ancestor possible. In other words, if you can assign someone to either your grandmother’s line, or your grandfather’s line, that’s better than assigning the person to your grandparents jointly.

Always utilize the tests of the people furthest up the tree, meaning the oldest generations. Their DNA is less-diluted, meaning it has been divided fewer times. Think about who is living and might be willing to test.

You need to be able to divide your matches between your parents, and then between your grandparents on your mother’s side.

  • Test your parents, of course, and any of their known siblings, half or full.
  • If those siblings have passed away, test as many of their children as you can.
  • If any of your grandparents are living, test them
  • If BOTH of your grandparents on the same side aren’t available to test, test any, preferably all, living aunts or uncles.
  • If your maternal grandmother had siblings, test them or their descendants if they are deceased.
  • If your parents are deceased, test your aunts, uncles, full siblings and half-siblings on your mother’s side. (Personally, I’d test all half-siblings, not just maternal.)
  • Half-siblings are particularly valuable because there is no question which “side” your shared DNA came from. They will match people you don’t because they received part of your parent’s DNA that you did not.

Furthermore, shared matches to half-siblings unquestionably identify which parent those matches are through.

Essentially, you’re trying to account for all matches that can be assigned to your grandparents whose identities you know – leaving only people who descend from your unknown maternal grandfather.

Testing your own descendants will not aid your quest. There is no need to test them for this purpose, given that they received half of your DNA.

I wrote about why testing close relatives is important in the article Superpower: Your Aunts’ and Uncles’ DNA is Your DNA Too – Maximize Those Matches!

Create or Upload a Tree

Three of the four major vendors, plus GEDMatch, support and utilize family trees.

You’ll want to either upload or create a tree at each of the vendor sites.

You can either upload a GEDCOM file from your home computer genealogy software, or you can create a tree at one of the vendors, download it, and upload to the others. I described that process at Ancestry, here.

Goal

Your goal is to work with your highest matches first to determine how they are related to you, thereby eliminating matches to known lineages.

Assuming you’re only searching for the identity of one grandparent, it’s beneficial to have done enough of your genealogy on your three known grandparents to be able to assign matches from those lines to those sides.

Step 1 is to check each vendor for close matches that might fall into that category.

The Top 15 at Each Vendor

Your closest several autosomal matches are the most important and insightful. I begin with the top 15 autosomal results at each vendor, initially, which provides me with the best chance of meaningful close relationship discoveries.

Create a Spreadsheet or Chart

I hate to use that S word (spreadsheet), because I don’t want non-technical people to be discouraged. So, I’m going to show you how I set up a spreadsheet and you can simply create a chart or even draw this out on paper if you wish.

I’ve color-coded columns for each of my 4 grandparents. The green column is the target Maternal Grandfather whose identity I’m seeking.

I match our first example; Erik, at 417 cM. Based on various pieces of information, taken together, I’ve determined that I’m Erik’s half 1C1R. His 8 great-grandparent surnames, or the ones he has provided, indicate that I’m related to Eric on my paternal grandfather’s line.

You’ll want to record your closest matches in this fashion.

Let’s look at how to find this information and work with the tools at the individual vendors.

23andMe

Let’s start at 23andMe, because they create a potential genetic tree for you, which may or may not be accurate.

I have two separate tests at 23andMe. One is a V3 and one is a V4 test. I keep one in its pristine state, and I work with the second one. You’ll see two of “me” in the tree, and that’s why.

23andMe makes it easy to see estimated relationships, although they are not always correct. Generally, they are close, and they can be quite valuable.

Click on any image to enlarge

The maternal and paternal “sides” may not be positioned where genealogists are used to seeing them. Remember, 23andMe has no genealogy trees, so they are attempting to construct a genetic tree based on how people are related to you and to each other, with no prior knowledge. They do sometimes have issues with half-relationships, so I’d encourage you to use this tree to isolate people to the three grandparents you know.

In my case, I was able to determine the maternal and paternal sides easily based on known cousins. This is the perfect example of why it’s important to test known relatives from both sides of your family.

My paternal side, at right, in blue, was easy because I recognized my half-sister’s family, and because of known cousins who I recognized from having tested elsewhere. I’ve worked with them for years. The blue stars show people I could identify, mostly second cousins.

My maternal side is at left, in red. Normally, for genealogists, the maternal side is at right, and the paternal at left, so don’t make assumptions, and don’t let this positioning throw you.

I’m pretending I don’t know who my maternal grandfather is. I was able to identify my maternal grandmother’s side based on a known second cousin.

That leaves my target – my maternal grandfather’s line.

All of the matches to the left of the red circle would, by process of elimination, be on my maternal grandfather’s side.

The next step would be to figure out how the 5 people descending from my maternal grandfather’s line are related to each other – through which of their ancestors.

On the DNA Relatives match list, here’s what needs to be checked:

  • Do your matches share surnames with you or your ancestors?
  • Do they show surnames in common with each other?
  • Is there a common location?
  • Birth year which helps you understand their potential generation.
  • Did they list their grandparents’ birthplaces?
  • Did they provide a family tree link?
  • Do they also match each other using the Relatives in Common feature?
  • Do they triangulate, indicated by “DNA Overlap” in Relatives in Common?
  • Who else is on the Relatives in Common list, and what do they have in common with each other?
  • Looking at your Ancestry Composition compared with theirs, what are your shared populations, and are they relevant? If you are both 100% European, then shared populations aren’t useful, but if both people share the same minority ancestry, especially on the same segments, it may indeed be relevant – especially if it can’t be accounted for on the known sides of the family.

Reach out to these people and see what they know about their genealogy, if they have tested elsewhere, and if they have a genealogy tree someplace that you can view.

If they can tell you their grandparents’ names, birth and death dates and locations, you can check public sources like WikiTree, FamilySearch and Geni, or build trees for them. You can also use Newspaper resources, like Newspapers.com, NewspaperArchive and the newspapers at MyHeritage.

I added the top 15 23andMe matches into the spreadsheet I created.

You’ll notice that not many people at 23andMe enter surnames. However, if you can identify individuals from your 3 known lines, you can piggyback the rest by using Relatives in Common in conjunction with the genetic tree placement.

Be sure to check all the people that are connected to the target line in your genetic tree.

You’ll want to harvest your DNA segments to paint at DNAPainter if you don’t solve this mystery with initial reviews at each vendor.

Ancestry

Let’s move to Ancestry next.

At Ancestry, you’ll want to start with your closest matches on your match list.

Ancestry classifies “Close Matches” as anyone 200 cM or greater, which probably won’t reach as far down as the matches we’ll want to include.

Some of the categories in the Shared cM Chart from DNAPainter, above, don’t work based on ages, so I’ve eliminated those. I also know, for example, that someone who could fall in the grandparent/grandchild category (blue star,) in my case, does not, so must be a different relationship.

Second cousins, who share great-grandparents, can be expected to share about 229 cM of DNA on average, or between 41 and 592 cM. First cousins share 866 cM, and half first cousins share 449 cM on average.

I have 13 close matches (over 200 cM), but I’m including my top 15 at each vendor, so I added two more. You can always go back and add more matches if necessary. Just keep in mind that the smaller the match, the greater the probability that it came from increasingly distant generations before your grandparents. Your sweet spot to identify grandparents is between 1C and 2C.

I need to divide my close matches into 4 groups, each one equating to a grandparent. Record this on your spreadsheet.

You can group your matches at Ancestry using colored dots, which means you can sort by those groups.

You can also select a “side” for a match by clicking on “Yes” under the question, “Do you recognize them?”

Initially, you want to determine if this person is related to you on your mother’s or father side, and hopefully, through which grandparent.

Recently, Ancestry added a feature called SideView which allows testers to indicate, based on ethnicity, which side is “parent 1” and which side is “parent 2.” I wrote about that, here.

Make your selection, assuming you can tell which “side” of you descends from which parent based on ethnicity and/or shared matches. How you label “parent 1,” meaning either maternal or paternal, determines how Ancestry assigns your matches, when possible.

Using these tools, which may not be completely accurate, plus shared matches with people you can identify, divide your matches among your three known grandparents, meaning that the people you cannot assign will be placed in the fourth “unknown” column.

On my spreadsheet, I assign all of my closest matches to one of my grandparents. Michael is my first cousin (1C) and we share both maternal grandparents, so he’s not helpful in the division because he can’t be assigned to only one grandparent.

The green maternal grandfather is who I’m attempting to identify.

There are 4 people, highlighted in yellow, who don’t fall into the other three grandparent lines, so they get added to the green column and will be my focus.

I would be inclined to continue adding matches using a process known as the Leeds Method, until I had several people in each category. Looking back at the DNAPainter cM chart, at this point, we don’t have anyone below 200 cM and the matches we need might be below that threshold. The more matches you have to work with, the better.

At Ancestry, you cannot download your matches into a spreadsheet, nor can you work with other clustering tools such as Genetic Affairs, so you’ll have to build out your spreadsheet manually.

Check for the same types of information that I reviewed at 23andMe:

  • Review trees, if your matches have them, minimally recording the surnames of their 8 great-grandparents.
  • Review shared matches, looking for common names in the trees in recent generations.
  • View shared matches with people with whom you have a “Common Ancestor” indication, which means a ThruLine. You won’t have Thrulines with your target grandparent, of course, but Thrulines will allow you to place the match in one of the other columns. I wrote about ThruLines here, here and here.
  • ThruLines sometimes suggests ancestors based on other people’s trees, so be EXCEEDINGLY careful with potential ancestor suggestions. That’s not to say you should discount those suggestions. Just treat them as tree hints that may have been copy/pasted hundreds of times, because that’s what they are.

I make notes on each match so I can easily see the connection by scanning without opening the match.

Now, I have a total of 30 entries on my spreadsheet, 15 from 23and Me and 15 from Ancestry.

Why Not Use Autosclusters?

Even with vendors who allow or provide cluster tools, I don’t use an automated autocluster tool at this point. Autocluster tools often omit your closest matches because your closest matches would be in nearly half of all your clusters, which isn’t exactly informative. However, for this purpose, those are the very matches we need to evaluate.

After identifying groups of people that represent the missing grandparent, using our spreadsheet methodology, autoclusters could be useful to identify common surnames and even to compare the trees of our matches using AutoTree, AutoPedigree and AutoKinship. AutoClusters cannot be utilized at Ancestry, but is available through MyHeritage and at GEDmatch, or through Genetic Affairs for 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA.

Next, let’s move to FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor that provides Family Matching, also known as “bucketing.” FamilyTreeDNA assigns your matches to either a paternal or maternal bucket, or both, based on triangulated matches with someone you’ve linked to a profile in your tree.

The key to Family Matching is to link known Family Finder matches to their profile cards in your tree.

Clicking on the Family Tree link at the top of your personal page allows you to link your matches to the profile cards of your matches.

FamilyTreeDNA utilizes these linked matches to assign those people, and matches who match you and those people, both, on at least one common segment, to the maternal or paternal tabs on your match list.

Always link as many known people as possible (red stars) which will result in more matches being bucketed and assigned to parents’ sides for you, even if neither parent is available to test.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at FamilyTreeDNA, here.

You can see at the top of my match list that I have a total of 8000 matches of which 3422 are paternal, 1517 are maternal and 3 match on both sides. Full siblings, their (and my) children and their descendants will always match on both sides. People with endogamy across both parents may have several matches on both sides.

If your relevant parent has tested, always work from their test.

Because we are searching for the maternal grandfather, in this case, we can ignore all tests that are bucketed as paternal matches.

Given that we are searching for my maternal grandfather, I probably have not been able to link as many maternal matches, other than possibly ones from my maternal grandmother. This means that the maternal grandfather’s matches are not bucketed because there are no identified matches to link on that side of my tree.

If you sort by maternal and paternal tabs, you’ll miss people who aren’t bucketed, meaning they have no maternal or paternal icon, so I recommend simply scanning down the list and processing maternal matches and non-bucketed matches.

By being able to confidently ignore paternally bucketed matches and only processing maternal and non-assigned matches, this is equivalent to processing the first 48 total matches. If I were to only look at the first 15 matches, 12 were paternal and only 3 are maternal.

Using bucketing at FamilyTreeDNA is very efficient and saves a lot of work.

Omitting paternal matches also means we are including smaller matches which could potentially be from common ancestors further back in the tree. Or, they could be younger testers. Or simply smaller by the randomness of recombination.

FamilyTreeDNA is a goldmine, with 16 of 20 maternal matches being from the unknown maternal grandfather.

Next, let’s see what’s waiting at MyHeritage.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage is particularly useful if your lineage happens to be from Europe. Of course, if you’re searching for an unknown person, you probably have no idea where they or their ancestors are from. Two of my best matches first appeared at MyHeritage.

Of course, your matches with people who descend from your unknown maternal grandfather won’t have any Theories of Family Relativity, as that tool is based on BOTH a DNA match plus a tree or document match. However, Theories is wonderful to group your matches to your other three grandparents.

MyHeritage provides a great deal of information for each match, including common surnames with your tree. If you recognize the surnames (and shared matches) as paternal or maternal, then you can assign the match. However, the matches you’re most interested in are the highest matches without any surnames in common with you – which likely point to the missing maternal grandfather.

However, those people may, and probably do, have surnames in common with each other.

Of the matches who aren’t attributed to the other three grandparents, the name Ferverda arises again and again. So does Miller, which suggests the grandparent or great-grandparent couple may well be Ferverda/Miller.

Let’s continue working through the process with our spreadsheet and see what we can discover about those surnames.

Our 60 Results

Of the 60 total results, 15 from each vendor, a total of 24 cannot be assigned to other columns through bucketing or shared matches, so are associated with the maternal grandfather. Of course, Michael who descends from both of my maternal grandparents won’t be helpful initially.

Cheryl, Donald and Michael are duplicates at different vendors, but the rest are not.

Of the relevant matches, the majority, 12 are from FamilyTreeDNA, four each are from Ancestry and MyHeritage, and three are from 23andMe.

Of the names provided in the surname fields of matches, in matches’ trees in the first few generations, and the testers’ surnames, Ferverda is repeated 12 times, for 50% of the time. Miller is repeated 9 times, so it’s likely that either of those are the missing grandfather’s surname. Of course, if we had Y-DNA, we’d know the answer to that immediately.

Comparing trees of my matches, we find John Ferverda as the common ancestor between two different matches. John is the son of Hiram Ferverda and Eva Miller who are found in several trees.

That’s a great hint. But is this the breakthrough I need?

What’s Next?

The next step is to look for connections between the maternal grandmother, Edith Lore, who is known in our example, and a Ferverda male. He is probably one of the sons of Hiram Ferverda and Eva Miller. Do they lived in the same area? In close proximity? Do they attend the same church or school? Are they neighbors or live close to the family or some of their relatives? Does she have connections with Ferverda family members? We are narrowing in.

Some of Hiram and Eva’s sons might be able to be eliminated based on age or other factors, or at least be less likely candidates. Any of their children who had moved out of state when the child was conceived would be less likely candidates. Age would be a factor, as would opportunity.

Target testing of the Ferverda sons’ children, or the descendants of their children would (probably) be able to pinpoint which of their sons is more closely related to me (or my mother) than the rest.

In our case, indeed, John Ferverda is the son we are searching for and his descendant, Michael is the highest match on the list. Cheryl and Donald descend from John’s brother, which eliminates him as a candidate. Another tester descends from a third Ferverda son, which eliminates that son as well.

Michael, my actual first cousin with a 755 cM match at one vendor, and 822 cM at a second vendor, is shown by the MyHeritage cM Explainer with an 88% probability that he is my first cousin.

However, when I’m trying to identify the maternal grandfather, which is half of that couple, I need to focus one generation further back in time to eliminate other candidates.

The second and third closest matches are both Donald at 395 cM and Cheryl at 467 cM who also share the same Ferverda/Miller lineage and are the children of my maternal grandfather’s brother.

On the spreadsheet, I need to look at the trees of people who have both Ferverda and Miller, which brought me to both Cheryl and Donald, then Michael, which allowed me to identify John Ferverda, unquestionably, as my grandfather based on the cM match amounts.

Cheryl and Donald, who are confirmed full siblings, and my mother either have to be first cousins, or half siblings. Their match with mother is NOT in the half-sibling range for one sibling, and on the lower edge with the other. Mother also matches Michael as a nephew, not more distantly as she would if he were a first cousin once removed (1C1R) instead of a nephew.

Evaluating these matches combined confirms that my maternal grandfather is indeed John Ferverda.

What About X DNA?

The X chromosome has a unique inheritance path which is sometimes helpful in this circumstance, especially to males.

Women inherit an X chromosome from both parents, but males inherit an X chromosome from ONLY their mother. A male inherits a Y chromosome from his father which is what makes him male. Women inherit two X chromosomes, one from each parent, and no Y, which is what makes them female.

Therefore, if you are a male and are struggling with which side of your tree matches are associated with, the X chromosome may be of help.

Your mother passed her X chromosome to you, which could be:

  • Her entire maternal X, meaning your maternal grandmother’s X chromosome
  • Her entire paternal X, meaning your maternal grandfather’s X chromosome (which descends from his mother)
  • Some combination of your maternal grandmother and maternal grandfather’s chromosomes

One thing we know positively is that a male’s X matches are ALWAYS from their maternal side only, so that should help when dividing a male’s matches maternally or paternally. Note – be aware of potential pedigree collapse, endogamy and identical-by-chance matches if it looks like a male has a X match on his father’s side.

Unfortunately, the X chromosome cannot assist females in the same way, because females inherit an X from both parents. Therefore, they can match people in the same was as a male, but also in additional ways.

  • Females will match their paternal grandmother on her entire X chromosome, and will match one or both of their maternal grandparents on the X chromosome.
  • Females will NEVER match their paternal grandfather’s X chromosome because their father did not inherit an X chromosome from his father.
  • Males will match one or both of their maternal grandparents on their X chromosome.
  • Males will NEVER match their paternal grandparents, because males do not receive an X chromosome from their father.

The usefulness of X DNA matching depends on the inheritance path of both the tester AND their match.

When Can Y-DNA or Mitochondrial DNA Help with Grandparent Identification?

If you recall, I selected the maternal grandfather as the person to seek because no tester carries either the Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA of their maternal grandfather. In other words, this was the most difficult identification, meaning that any of the other three grandparents would be, or at least could be, easier with the benefit of Y-DNA and/or mitochondrial DNA testing.

In addition to matching, both Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA will provide testers with location origins, both continental and often much more specific locations based on where other testers and matches are from.

Y-DNA often provides a surname.

Let’s see how these tests, matches and results can assist us.

  • Paternal grandfather – If I was a male descended from John Ferverda paternally, I could have tested both my autosomal DNA PLUS my Y-DNA, which would have immediately revealed the Ferverda surname via Y-DNA. Two Ferverda men are shown in the Ferverda surname DNA project, above.

That revelation would have confirmed the Ferverda surname when combined with the high frequency of Ferverda found among autosomal matches on the spreadsheet.

  • Maternal grandmother – If we were searching for a maternal grandmother, both the male and female sibling testers (as shown in the pedigree chart) would have her mitochondrial DNA which could provide matches to relevant descendants. Mitochondrial DNA at both FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe could also eliminate anyone who does not match on a common haplogroup, when comparing 23andMe results to 23andMe results, and FamilyTreeDNA to FamilyTreeDNA results at the same level.

At 23andMe, only base level haplogroups are provided, but they are enough to rule out a direct matrilineal line ancestor.

At FamilyTreeDNA, the earlier HVR1 and HVR2 tests provide base level haplogroups, while full sequence testing provides granular, specific haplogroups. Full sequence is the recommended testing level.

  • Paternal grandmother – If we were searching for a paternal grandmother, testers would, of course, need either their father to test his mitochondrial DNA, or for one of his siblings to test which could be used in the same way as described for maternal grandmother matching.

Summary

Successfully identifying a grandparent is dependent on many factors. Before you make that identification, it’s very difficult to know which are more or less important.

For example, if the grandparent is from a part of the world with few testers, you will have far fewer matches, potentially, than other lines from more highly tested regions. In my case, two of my four grandparents’ families, including Ferverda, immigrated in the 1850s, so they had fewer matches than families that have been producing large families in the US for generations.

Endogamy may be a factor.

Family size in past and current generations may be a factor.

Simple luck may be a factor.

Therefore, it’s always wise to test your DNA, and that of your parents and close relatives if possible, and upload to all of the autosomal databases. Then construct an analysis plan based on:

  • How you descend from the grandparent in question, meaning do you carry their X DNA, Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA.
  • Who else is available to test their autosomal DNA to assist with shared matches and the process of elimination.
  • Who else is available to test for Y-DNA and/or mitochondrial DNA of the ancestor in question.

If you don’t find the answer initially, schedule a revisit of your matches periodically and update your spreadsheet. Sometimes DNA and genealogy is a waiting same.

Just remember, luck always favors the prepared!

Resources

You may find the following resource articles beneficial in addition to the links provided throughout this article.

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X Chromosome Master Class

The X chromosome can be especially useful to genetic genealogists because it has a unique inheritance path. Thanks to that characteristic, some of the work of identifying your common ancestor is done just by simply HAVING an X match.

Unfortunately, X-DNA and X matching is both underutilized and somewhat misunderstood – in part because not all vendors utilize the X chromosome for matching.

The X chromosome has the capability of reaching further back in time and breaking down brick walls that might fall no other way.

Hopefully, you will read this article, follow along with your own DNA results and make important discoveries.

Let’s get started!

Who Uses the X Chromosome?

The X chromosome is autosomal in nature, meaning it recombines under some circumstances, but you only inherit your X chromosome from certain ancestors.

It’s important to understand why, and how to utilize the X chromosome for matching. In this article, I’ve presented this information in a variety of ways, including case studies, because people learn differently.

Of the four major testing vendors, only two provide X-DNA match results.

  • FamilyTreeDNA – provides X chromosome results and advanced matching capabilities including filtered X matching
  • 23andMe – provides X chromosome results, but not filtered X matching without downloading your results in spreadsheet format
  • Ancestry and MyHeritage do not provide X-DNA results but do include the X in your raw DNA file so you can upload to vendors who do provide X matching
  • GEDmatch – not a DNA testing vendor but a third-party matching database that provides X matching in addition to other tools

It’s worth noting at this point that X-DNA and mitochondrial DNA is not the same thing. I wrote about that, here. The source of this confusion is that the X chromosome and mitochondrial DNA are both associated in some way with descent from females – but they are very different and so is their inheritance path.

So, what is X-DNA and how does it work?

What is X-DNA?

Everyone inherits two copies of each of chromosomes 1-22, one copy of each chromosome from each of your parents.

That’s why DNA matching works and each match can be identified as “maternal” or “paternal,” depending on how your match is related to you. Each valid match (excluding identical by chance matches) will be related either maternally, or paternally, or sometimes, both.

Your 23rd chromosome is your sex determination chromosome and is inherited differently. Chromosome 23 is comprised of X and Y DNA.

Everyone inherits one copy of chromosome 23 from each parent.

  • Males inherit a Y chromosome from their father, which is what makes males male. They do not inherit an X chromosome from their father.
  • Males always inherit an X chromosome from their mother.
  • Females inherit an X chromosome from both parents, which is what makes them female. Females have two X chromosomes, and no Y chromosome.
Chromosome 23 Father Contributes Mother Contributes
Male Child Y chromosome X chromosome
Female Child X chromosome X chromosome

X-DNA and mitochondrial DNA are often confused, but they are not the same thing. In fact, they are completely different.

Mitochondrial DNA, in BOTH males and females is always inherited from only the mother and only descends from the direct matrilineal line, so only the mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line. X DNA can be inherited from a number of ancestors based on a specific inheritance path.

Everyone has both X-DNA AND mitochondrial DNA.

Because males don’t inherit an X chromosome from their father, X chromosome matching has a unique and specific pattern of descent which allows testers who match to immediately eliminate some potential common ancestors.

  • Males only inherit an X chromosome from their mother, which means they can only have legitimate X matches on their mother’s side of their tree.
  • Females, on the other hand, inherit an X chromosome from both their mother and father. Their father only has one X chromosome to contribute, so his daughter receives her paternal grandmother’s X chromosome intact.
  • Both males and females inherit their mother’s X chromosome just like any of the other 22 autosomes. I wrote about chromosomes, here.

However, the unique X chromosome inheritance path provides us with a fourth very useful type of DNA for genealogy, in addition to Y-DNA, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA.

For the vendors who provide X-matching, it’s included with your autosomal test and does not need to be purchased separately.

The Unique X Chromosome

The X chromosome, even though it is autosomal in nature, meaning it does recombine and divide in certain circumstances, is really its own distinct tool that is not equivalent to autosomal matching in the way we’re accustomed. We just need to learn about the message it’s delivering and how to interpret X matches.

FamilyTreeDNA is one of two vendors who utilizes X chromosome matching, along with 23andMe, which is another good reason to encourage your matches at other vendors to upload their DNA file to FamilyTreeDNA for free matching.

The four major vendors do include X-DNA results in their raw DNA download file, even if they don’t provide X-matching themselves. This means you can upload the results to either FamilyTreeDNA or GEDmatch where you can obtain X matches. I provided step-by-step download/upload instructions for each vendor here.

Let’s look how X matching is both different, and beneficial.

My X Chromosome Family Tree

We are going to build a simple case study. A case study truly is worth 1000 descriptions.

This fan chart of my family tree colorizes the X chromosome inheritance path. In this chart, males are colored blue and females pink, but the salient point is that I can inherit some portion of (or all of) a copy of my X chromosome from the colorized ancestors, and only those ancestors.

Because males don’t inherit an X chromosome from their father, they CANNOT inherit any portion of an X chromosome from their father’s ancestors.

Looking at my father’s half of the chart, at left, you see that I inherited an X chromosome from both of my parents, but my father only inherited an X chromosome from his mother, Ollie Bolton. His father’s portion of the tree is uncolored, so no X chromosome could have descended from his paternal ancestors to him. Therefore he could not pass any X chromosome segments to me from his paternal side – because he doesn’t have X DNA from his father.

Hence, I didn’t inherit an X chromosome from any of the people whose positions in the chart are uncolored, meaning I can only inherit an X chromosome from the pink or blue people.

Essentially any generational male to male, meaning father/son relationship is an X-DNA blocker.

I know positively that I inherited my paternal grandmother, Ollie Bolton’s entire X chromosome, because hers is the only X chromosome my father, in the fan chart above, had to give me. His entire paternal side of the fan chart is uncolored.

Men only ever inherit their X chromosome from their mother. The only exception to this is if a male has the rare genetic condition of Klinefelter Syndrome, also known as XXY. If you are an adult male, it’s likely that you’ll already know if you have Klinefelters, so that’s probably the last possibility you should consider if you appear to have paternal X matches, not the first.

Sometimes, men appear to have X matches on their father’s side, but (barring Klinefelter’s) this is impossible. Those matches must either be identical by chance, or somehow related in an unknown way on their mother’s side.

Everyone inherits an X chromosome from their mother that is some combination of the X from her father and mother. It’s possible to inherit all of your maternal grandmother or maternal grandfather’s X chromosome, meaning they did not recombine during meiosis.

Using DNA Painter as an X Tool

I use DNAPainter to track my matches and correlate segments with ancestors.

I paint my DNA segments for all my chromosomes at DNAPainter which provides me with a central tracking mechanism that is visual in nature and allows me to combine matches from multiple vendors who provide segment information. I provide step-by-step instructions for using DNAPainter, here.

This is my maternal X chromosome with my matches painted. I’ve omitted my matches’ names for privacy.

On the left side of the shaded grey column, those matches are from my maternal grandmother’s ancestors. On the right side, those matches are from my maternal grandfather’s ancestors.

The person in the grey column descends from unknown ancestors. In other words, I can tell that they descend from my maternal line, but I can’t (yet) determine through which of my two maternal grandparents.

There’s also an area to the right of the grey column where there are no matches painted, so I don’t know yet whether I inherited this portion of my X chromosome from my maternal grandmother or maternal grandfather.

The small darker pink columnar band is simply marking the centromere of the chromosome and does not concern us for this discussion.

Click on any image to enlarge

In this summary view of my paternal X chromosome, above, it appears that I may well have inherited my entire X chromosome from my paternal great-grandmother. We know, based on our inheritance rules that I clearly received my paternal grandmother’s X chromosome, because that’s all my father had to give me.

However, by painting my matches based on their ancestors, and selecting the summary view, you can see that most of my paternal X chromosome can be accounted for, with the exception of rather small regions with the red arrows.

It’s not terribly unusual for either a male or female to inherit their entire maternal X chromosome from one grandparent, or in this case, great-grandparent.

Of course, a male doesn’t inherit an X chromosome from their father, but a female can inherit her paternal X chromosome from either or both paternal grandparents.

Does Size Matter?

Generally speaking, an X match needs to be larger than a match on the other chromosomes to be considered genealogically equivalent in the same timeframe as other autosomal matches. This is due to:

  • The unique inheritance pattern, meaning fewer recombination events occurred.
  • The fact that X-DNA is NOT inherited from several lines.
  • The X chromosome has lower SNP density, meaning it contains fewer SNPs, so there are fewer possible locations to match when compared to the other chromosomes.

I know this equivalency requirement sounds negative, but it’s actually not. It means 7 cM (centimorgans) of DNA on the X chromosome will reach back further in time, so you may carry the DNA of an ancestor on the X chromosome that you no longer carry on other chromosomes. It may also mean that older segments remain larger. It’s actually a golden opportunity.

It sounds much more positive to say that a 16 cM X match for a female, or a 13 cM X match for a male is about the same as a 7 cM match for any other autosomal match in the same generation.

Of course, if the 7 cM match gets divided in the following generation, it has slipped below the matching threshold. If a 16 or 13 cM X match gets divided, it’s still a match. Plus, in some generations, if passed from father to daughter, it’s not divided or recombined. So a 7 cM X match may well be descended from ancestors further back in time.

X Chromosome Differences are Important!

Working with our great-great grandparent’s generation, we have 16 direct ancestors as illustrated in the earlier fan chart.

Given that females inherit from 8 X-chromosome ancestors in total, they are going to inherit an average of 45.25 cM of X-DNA from each of those ancestors. Females have two X chromosomes for a total length of 362 cM of X-DNA from both parents.

A male only has one X chromosome, 181 cM in length, so he will receive an average of 36.2 cM from each of 5 ancestors, and it’s all from his mother’s side.

In this chart, I’ve shown the total number of cMs for all of the autosomes, meaning chromosomes 1-22 and, separately, the X for males and females.

  • The average total cM for chromosomes 1-22 individually is 304 cM. (Yes, each chromosome is a different length, but that doesn’t matter for averages.)
  • That 304 cM can be inherited from any of 16 ancestors (in your great-grandparent’s generation)
  • The total number of cM on the X chromosomes for both parents for females totals 362
  • The total cM of X-DNA for males is 181 cM
  • The calculated average cM inherited for the X chromosome in the same generation is significantly different, shown in the bottom row.

The actual average for males and females for any ancestor on any random non-X chromosome (in the gg-grandparent generation) is still 19 cM. Due to the inheritance pattern of the X chromosome, the female X-chromosome average inheritance is 45.25 cM and the male average is 36.2 cM, significantly higher than the average of 19 cM that genetic genealogists have come to expect at this relationship distance on the other chromosomes, combined.

How Do I Interpret an X Match?

It’s important to remember when looking at X matching that you’re only looking at the amount of DNA from one chromosome. When you’re looking at any other matching amount, you’re looking at a total match across all chromosomes, as reported by that vendor. Vendors report total matching DNA differently.

  • The total amount of matching autosomal DNA does not include the X chromosome cMs at FamilyTreeDNA. X-DNA matching cMs are reported separately.
  • The total amount of matching autosomal DNA does include the X chromosome cMs in the total cM match at 23andMe
  • X-DNA is not used for matching or included in the match amount at either MyHeritage or Ancestry, but is included in the raw DNA data download files for all four vendors.
  • The total match amount shows the total for 22 (or 23) chromosomes, NOT just the X chromosome(s). That’s not apples to apples.

Therefore, an X match of 45 cM for a female or 36 for a male is NOT (necessarily) equivalent to a 19 cM non-X match. That 19 cM is the total for 22 chromosomes, while the X match amount is just for one chromosome.

You might consider a 20 cM match on the regular autosomes significant, but a 20 cM X-only match *could* be only roughly equivalent to a 10ish cM match on chromosomes 1-22 in the same generation. That’s the dog-leg inheritance pattern at work.

This is why FamilyTreeDNA does not report an X-only match if there is no other autosomal match. A 19 cM X match is not equivalent to a 19cM match on chromosomes 1-22. Not to mention, calculating relationships based on cM ranges becomes more difficult when the X is included.

However, the flip side is that because of the inheritance pattern of the X chromosome, that 19 cM match, if valid and not IBC, may well reach significantly further back in time than a regular autosomal matches. This can be particularly important for people seeking either Native or enslaved African ancestors for whom traditional records are elusive if they exist at all.

Critical Take-Away Messages

Here are the critical take-away messages:

  1. Because there are fewer ancestral lineages contributing to the tester’s X chromosome, the amount of X chromosomal DNA that a tester inherits from the ancestors who contribute to their X chromosome is increased substantially.
  2. The DNA of the contributing ancestors is more likely to be inherited, because there are fewer other possible contributing ancestors, meaning fewer recombination events or DNA divisions/recombinations.
  3. X-DNA is also more likely to be inherited because when passed from mother to son, it’s passed intact and not admixed with the DNA of the father.
  4. X matches cannot be compared equally to either percentages or cM amounts on any of the other chromosomes, or autosomal DNA in total, because X matching only reports the amount on one single chromosome, while your total cM match amount reports the amount of DNA that matches from all chromosomes (which includes the X at 23andMe).
  5. If you have X matches at 23andMe and/or FamilyTreeDNA, you can expect your total matching to be higher at 23andMe because they include the X matching cM in the total amount of shared DNA. FamilyTreeDNA provides the amount of X matching DNA separately, but not included in the total. MyHeritage and Ancestry do not include X matching DNA.

For clarity, at FamilyTreeDNA, you can see my shared DNA match with my mother. Of course, I match her on the total length of all my chromosomes, which is 3563 cM, the total Shared DNA for chromosomes 1-22. This includes all chromosomes except for the X chromosome which is reported separately at 181 cM. The longest contiguous block of shared DNA is 284 cM, the entire length of chromosome 1, the longest chromosome.

Because I’m a female, I match both parents on the full length of all 23 chromosomes, including 181 cM on both X chromosomes, respectively. Males will only match their mother on their X chromosome, meaning their total autosomal DNA match to their father, because the X is excluded, is 181 cM less than to their mother.

This difference in the amount of shared DNA with each parent, plus the differences in how DNA totals are reported by various vendors is also challenging for tools like DNAPainter’s Shared cM Tool which is based on the crowd sourced Shared cM Project that averages shared DNA numbers for known relationships at various vendors and translates those numbers into possible relationships for unknown matches.

Not all vendors report their total amount of shared DNA the same way. This is true for both X-DNA and half identical (HIR) versus fully identical (FIR) segments at 23andMe. This isn’t to say either approach is right or wrong, just to alert you to the differences.

Said Another Way

Let’s look at this another way.

If the average on any individual chromosome is 19 cMs for a relationship that’s 5 generations back in time. The average X-DNA for the same distance relationship is substantially more, which means that:

  • The X-DNA probably reaches further back in time than an equivalent relationship on any other autosome.
  • The X-DNA will have (probably) divided fewer times, and more DNA will descend from individual ancestors.
  • The inheritance path, meaning potential ancestors who contributed the X chromosomal DNA, is reduced significantly.

It’s challenging to draw equivalences when comparing X-DNA matching to the other chromosomes due to several variables that make interpretation difficult.

Based on the X-match size in comparison to the expected 19 cM single chromosome match at this genealogical distance, what is the comparable X-DNA segment size to the minimum 7 cM size generally accepted as valid on other chromosomes? What would be equal to a 7 cM segment on any other single random autosomal match, even though we know the inheritance probabilities are different and this isn’t apples to apples? Let’s pretend that it is.

This calculation presumes at the great-great-grandparent level that the 19 cM is in one single segment on a single chromosome. Now let’s divide 19 cM by 7 cM, which is 2.7, then divide the X amounts by the same number for the 7 cM equivalent of 16.75 cM for a female and 13.4 cM for a male.

When people say that you need a “larger X match to be equivalent to a regular autosomal match,” this is the phenomenon being referenced. Clearly a 7 cM X match is less relevant, meaning not equivalent, in the same generation as a 7 cM regular autosomal match.

Still, X matching compared to match amounts shown on the other chromosomes is never exact;u apples to apples because:

  • You’re comparing one X chromosome to the combined DNA amounts of many chromosomes.
  • The limited recombination path.
  • DNA from the other autosomes is less likely to be inherited from a specific ancestor.
  • The X chromosome has a lower SNP density than the other chromosomes, meaning fewer SNPs per cM.
  • The X-DNA may well reach further back in time because it has been divided less frequently.

Bottom Line

The X chromosome is different and holds clues that the other autosomes can’t provide.

Don’t dismiss X matches even if you can’t identify a common ancestor. Given the inheritance path, and the reduced number of divisions, your X-DNA may descend from an ancestor further back in time. I certainly would NOT dismiss X matches with smaller cMs than the 13 and 16 shown above, even though they are considered “equivalent” in the same generation.

X chromosome matching can’t really be equated to matching on the other chromosomes. They are two distinct tools, so they can’t be interpreted identically.

Different vendors treat the X chromosome differently, making comparison challenging.

  • 23andMe includes not only the X chromosome in their cM total, but doubles the Fully Identical Regions (FIR) when people, such as full siblings, share the same DNA from both parents. I wrote about that here.
  • Ancestry does not include the X in their cM match calculations.
  • Neither does MyHeritage.
  • FamilyTreeDNA shows an X match only when it’s accompanied by a match on another chromosome.

The Shared cM Project provides an average of all of the data input by crowdsourcing from all vendors, by relationship, which means that the cM values for some relationships are elevated when compared to the same relationship or even same match were it to be reported from a different vendor.

The Best Part!

The X chromosome inheritance pattern means that you’re much more likely to carry some amount of a contributing ancestor’s X-DNA than on any other chromosome.

  • X-DNA may well be “older” because it’s not nearly as likely to be divided, given that there are fewer opportunities for recombination.
  • When you’re tracking your X-DNA back in your tree, whenever you hit a male, you get an automatic “bump” back a generation to his mother. It’s like the free bingo X-DNA square!
  • You can immediately eliminate many ancestors as your most recent common ancestor (MRCA) with an X-DNA match.
  • Because X-DNA reaches further back in time, sometimes you match people who descend from common ancestors further back in time as well.

If you match someone on multiple segments, if one of those matching segments is X-DNA, that segment is more likely to descend from a different ancestor than the segments on chromosomes 1-22. I’ve found many instances where an X match descends from a different ancestor than matching DNA segments on the autosomes. Always evaluate X matches carefully.

Sometimes X-DNA is exactly what you need to solve a mystery.

Ok, now let’s step through how to use X-DNA in a real-life example.

Using X DNA to Solve a Mystery

Let’s say that I have a 30 cM X match with a male.

  • I know immediately that our most recent common ancestor (MRCA) is on HIS mother’s side.
  • I know, based on my fan chart, which ancestral lines are eliminated in my tree. I’ve immediately narrowed the ancestors from 16 to 5 on his side and 16 to 8 on my side.
  • Two matching males is even easier, because you know immediately that the common ancestor must be on both of their mother’s sides, with only 5 candidate lines each at the great-great-grandparent generation.

Female to female matches are slightly more complex, but there are still several immediately eliminated lines each. That means you’ve already eliminated roughly half of the possible relationships by matching another female on their X chromosome.

In this match with a female second cousin, I was able to identify who she was via our common ancestor based on the X chromosome path. In this chart, I’m showing the relevant halves of her chart at left (paternal), and mine (maternal), side by side.

I added blockers on her chart and mine too.

As it turns out, we both inherited most of our X chromosome from our great-grandparents, marked above with the black stars.

Several lines are blocked, and my grandfather’s X chromosome is not a possibility because the common ancestor is my maternal grandmother’s parents. My grandfather is not one of her ancestors.

Having identified this match as my closest relative (other than my mother) to descend on my mother’s maternal side, I was able to map that portion of my X chromosome to my great-grandparents Nora Kirsch and Curtis Benjamin Lore.

My X Chromosome at DNA Painter

Here’s my maternal X chromosome at DNAPainter and how I utilized chromosome painting to push the identification of the ancestors whose X chromosome I inherited back an additional two generations.

Using that initial X chromosome match with my second cousin, shown by the arrow at bottom of the graphic, I mapped a large segment of my maternal X chromosome to my maternal great-grandparents.

By viewing the trees of subsequent X maternal matches, I was then able to push those common segments, shown painted directly above that match with the same color, back another two generations, to Joseph Hill, born in 1790, and Nabby Hall. I was able to do that based on the fact that other matches descend from Joseph and Nabby through different children, meaning we all triangulate on that common segment. I wrote about triangulation at DNAPainter, here.

I received no known X-DNA from my great-grandmother, Nora Kirsch, although a small portion of my X chromosome is still unassigned in yellow as “Uncertain.”

I received a small portion of my maternal X chromosome, in magenta, at left, from my maternal great-great-grandparents, John David Miller and Margaret Lentz.

The X chromosome is a powerful tool and can reach far back in time.

In some cases, the X, and other chromosomes can be inherited intact from one grandparent. I could have inherited my mother’s entire copy of her mother’s, or her father’s X chromosome based on random recombination, or not. As it turns out, I didn’t, and I know that because I’ve mapped my chromosomes to identify my ancestors based on common ancestors with my matches.

X-DNA Advanced Matches at FamilyTreeDNA

At FamilyTreeDNA, the Advanced Matches tab includes the ability to search for X matches, either within the entire database, or within specific projects. I find the project selection to be particularly useful.

For example, within the Claxton project, my father’s maternal grandmother’s line, I recognize my match, Joy, which provides me an important clue as to the possible common ancestor(s) of our shared segments.

Joy’s tree shows that her 4-times great-grandparents are my 3-times great-grandparents, meaning we are 4th cousins once removed and share 17 cM of DNA on our X chromosome across two segments.

Don’t be deceived by the physical appearance of “size” on your chromosomes. The first segment that spans the centromere, or “waist” of the chromosome, above, is 10.29 cM, and the smaller segment at right is 7.02 cM. SNPs are not necessarily evenly distributed along chromosomes.

Remember, an X or other autosomal match doesn’t necessarily mean the entire match is contained in one segment so long as it’s large enough to be divided in two parts and survive the match threshold.

It’s worth noting that Joy and I actually share at least two different, unrelated ancestral lines, so I need to look at Joy’s blocked lines to see if one of those common ancestral lines is not a possibility for our X match. It’s important to evaluate all possible ancestors, plus the inheritance path to eliminate any lineage that involves a father to son inheritance on the X chromosome.

Last but not least, you may match on your X chromosome through a different ancestor than on other chromosomes. Every matching segment has its own individual history. It’s not safe to assume.

Now, take a look at your X chromosome matches at FamilyTreeDNA, 23andMe, and GedMatch. What will you discover?

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DNA Black Friday is Here

Yes, I know it’s not Friday yet, but the DNA Black Friday sales have started, and sale dates are limited, so here we go.

These are the best prices I’ve ever seen at both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage. If you’ve been waiting to purchase a DNA test for that special someone, there’s never been a better time.

Remember, to jump-start your genetic genealogy, test close or targeted relatives in addition to yourself:

  • Parents, or if both parents are not available, full and half-siblings
  • If neither parents nor siblings are available, your siblings’ descendants
  • Grandparents or descendants of your grandparents – aunts, uncles, or their descendants
  • Cousins descended from great-grandparents or other known ancestors
  • Y and mitochondrial DNA descendants of specific, targeted ancestors

For yourself, you’ll want to fish in all the ponds by taking an autosomal test or uploading a DNA file to each of the four vendors. Upload/download instructions are available here.

Everyone can test their own mitochondrial DNA to learn about your mother’s direct matrilineal line, and males can test their Y-DNA to unveil information about their patrilineal or surname line. Women, you can test your father’s, brother’s, or paternal uncle’s Y-DNA.

I’ve written a DNA explainer article, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy, which you might find helpful. Please feel free to pass it on.

Vendor Offerings

FamilyTreeDNA

Free shipping within the US for orders of $79 or more

FamilyTreeDNA is the only major testing company that offers multiple types of tests, meaning Y-DNA, mitochondrial and autosomal. You can also get your toes wet with introductory level tests for Y DNA (37 and 111 marker tests), or you can go for the big gun right away with the Big Y-700.

This means that if you’ve purchased tests in the past, you can upgrade now. Upgrade pricing is shown below. Click here to sign on to your account to purchase an upgrade or additional product.

At FamilyTreeDNA, by taking advantage of autosomal plus Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, you will get to know your ancestors in ways not possible elsewhere. You can even identify or track them using your myOrigins painted ethnicity segments.

FamilyTreeDNA divides your Family Finder matches maternal and paternally for you if you create or upload a tree and link known testers. How cool is this?!!!

MyHeritage

The MyHeritage DNA test is on sale for $36, the best autosomal test price I’ve ever seen anyplace.

MyHeritage has a significant European presence and I find European matches at MyHeritage that aren’t anyplace else. MyHeritage utilizes user trees and DNA matches to construct Theories of Family Relativity that shows how you and your matches may be related.

Remember, you can upload the raw data file from the MyHeritage DNA test to both FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch for free.

Free shipping on 2 kits or more.

This sale ends at the end-of-day on Black Friday.

You can combine your DNA test with a MyHeritage records subscription with a free trial, here.

Ancestry

The AncestryDNA test is $59, here. With Ancestry’s super-size DNA database, you’re sure to get lots of matches and hints via ThruLines.

You can get free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

If you order an AncestryDNA test, you can upload the raw DNA file to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GEDmatch for free. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not accept uploads from other vendors.

23andMe

The 23andMe Ancestry + Traits DNA test is $79, here. 23andMe is well known for its Ancestry Composition (ethnicity) results and one-of-a-kind genetic tree.

The 23andMe Ancestry + Traits + Health test is now $99, here.

You can get free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

If you order either of the 23andMe tests, you can upload the raw data file to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch for free. Unfortunately, 23andMe does not accept uploads from other vendors.

Can’t Wait!!

This is always my favorite time of the year because I know that beginning soon, we will all be receiving lots of new matches from people who purchased or received DNA tests during the holiday season.

  • What can you do to enhance your genealogy?
  • Have you ordered Y and mitochondrial DNA tests for yourself and people who carry the Y and mitochondrial DNA of your ancestors?
  • Are you in all of the autosomal databases?
  • Who are you ordering tests for?

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

Thank you so much.

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Connect Your DNA Test, and Others, to Your Tree

To optimize your DNA tests, each tester needs to take advantage of the features offered by each vendor.

In order to do that, we need to perform the following tasks.

  1. Upload or create a tree (except at 23andMe who does not support trees)
  2. Connect our own test to our own profile card on our tree
  3. Connect other tests we manage to their (or our) tree, depending on the vendor
  4. Connect matches who are known relatives to their profiles on our tree

Each vendor handles these situations differently, so we’ll look at each one of the vendors with step-by-step instructions for handling those situations. We all want to get the most out of the tests we’ve taken!

Plant a Tree

If you have not created or uploaded a tree at each one of the vendors (except 23andMe who does not support genealogy trees), please do so. However, 23andMe does provide for links to your tree elsewhere, so we will review that function.

I manage my “master tree” on my own computer, but I also maintain trees at both Ancestry and MyHeritage where I attach documents and research found at that vendor. I also update my ancestors at WikiTree to be sure other researchers benefit from new discoveries.

I have not uploaded my full tree from my computer anyplace because I have many private notes that are not appropriate for disclosure, not to mention speculative and unproven relationships. I created a pared-down tree at one time to upload to both Ancestry and MyHeritage, and build those trees out from there.

I’m often asked about replacing your tree at the various vendors with an updated tree. If you do that, be aware that you will lose your DNA connections and document links. I do NOT recommend that. I simply maintain multiple trees. I wrote about this in the article, “Genealogy Tree Replacement – Should I or Shouldn’t I?” If you are considering that option, PLEASE read that article first.

RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, and Legacy Family Tree Software all provide a syncing option with various vendors and FamilySearch, although not every vendor allows access to each of those software companies. I probably should experiment with the syncing option, but given a family member’s terrible experience some years back, I’ve been unwilling to do that. My biggest fear is that I will corrupt the file and not notice it until it’s far too late to revert to a backup.

When you upload or create a tree, make sure deceased and living people are marked as such, and you’ve opted to share your tree. If you don’t, you accidentally have a private tree. Worse yet, you might not realize it. I wrote about that in Quick Tip: Trees, Death Dates and Unintentionally Private Ancestors.

Now, let’s take a look at each vendor.

23andMe

23andMe does not support traditional genealogy trees, but they do provide a location for you to link your tree at another vendor or source.

Under your name at the right side, you’ll see “View Your Profile” under the dropdown.

I’ve not been able to find a generic Ancestry tree link that will allow non-Ancestry subscribers to view my tree, but it’s easy to do at MyHeritage. Simply open your tree at  MyHeritage and just copy the link at the top. Don’t worry, people won’t see anyone living.

If you want to use “one world” types of trees, you can also link to other trees such as FamilySearch or WikiTree, but just remember that you don’t control that content.

You don’t need to connect yourself to your tree at 23andMe, because there is no genealogy tree. However, 23andMe constructs a “genetic tree” for you using your closest matches, based on how you match other people, and how they match each other.

You can view your tree under “Family and Friends,” then “Family Tree.”

I added my ancestors’ names so it’s easy to keep straight. You can do that by simply clicking on the colored circle representing the ancestor, starting with your parents.

If you know that one of your matching relatives is not in exactly the correct tree location, you can click on their circle, and then click on Edit to make modifications.

You may want to add a relative that you can identify but who isn’t connected on the tree that 23andMe constructed.

Looking on the far-right side of the tree, in the lower corner, you’ll see “Add a Relative.” Click there and follow the instructions.

Ancestry

At Ancestry, you need to link your test to “you” in a tree. Your test can only be linked to one person in one tree at a time. You can change this, but you will lose any ThruLines you currently have. They will be regenerated based on the new tree you connect your test to, but based on the tree and other factors, they may not be the same. My recommendation is if you’re going to disconnect yourself and reconnect yourself elsewhere, record everything first.

Alternatively, you can take a second DNA test and simply link that second test to another tree. IMHO, that’s a better alternative. You can leave one in place as your research tree and use the second test to experiment with.

To link your test to your tree, select the “DNA” tab. At far right, you’ll see “Settings.”

You need to tell Ancestry who you are in your tree. Click on “Settings,” then scroll to “Tree Link.”

You can also link other tests you directly manage to their placards in your tree as well.

These links allow Ancestry to form ThruLines using both DNA matches and common ancestors in trees for 7 generations.

On your DNA Match page, Ancestry will ask you if you recognize a match.

If you click on “Yes,” you’ll be asked which side the match is on.

Then you’ll be given a long list of possible relationships in most-likely to least-likely order. Literally, Erik is the last option offered.

Select and confirm.

I’m not positive exactly HOW this helps Ancestry help you, but I suspect it confirms and helps Ancestry perfect ThruLines, relationship predictions, and perhaps even “sides” of ethnicity.

I wrote about Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines.

FamilyTreeDNA

At FamilyTreeDNA, every DNA test kit has its own kit number and associated tree, so you don’t need to tell FamilyTreeDNA who you are if you create a tree from scratch on their site.

FamilyTreeDNA offers a unique family matching feature that sorts your matches into maternal and paternal sides.

In order to take advantage of this, you will need a tree. You can upload a GEDCOM file, although the upload at FamilyTreeDNA does not seem to do well with very large files.

If you don’t have a GEDCOM file on your computer, you can download a tree from either Ancestry or MyHeritage and upload to FamilyTreeDNA.

I wrote about this in the article Download Your Ancestry Tree and Upload it Elsewhere for Added Benefit.

If you upload a tree, you’ll be asked to select the person in the tree that is “you,” meaning the person who tested their DNA.

You’ll want to link known matches to your tree to enable Family Matching, aka bucketing, so that FamilyTreeDNA can divide and assign your matches maternally and paternally.

If you are building your tree at FamilyTreeDNA from scratch, simply click to begin and complete the information on the placards to add your information, then your parents, building out from there. You’ll want to add the ancestral lines to connect with your closest matches on your match list.

Family matching, or bucketing, is enabled by linking known matches to their proper place on your tree. FamilyTreeDNA then evaluates each match, determining if they match a common segment with you and someone you’ve linked. If that match does share a segment with both of you, meaning they triangulate, then that person is assigned either maternally, paternally, or both. I wrote about Triangulation in Action at FamilyTreeDNA, here.

The best people to link are your parents and grandparents, of course, but that’s not always an option. You’ll want to link as many matches as you can.

To link people, either click on the Family Tree tab at the top of the page, or on the “Link on Family Tree” under Relationship Range for individual matches.

Simply click on “Link Matches,” then drag and drop your match to their placard.

Here’s an example of linking parents.

Once someone is linked, the green dot will appear signifying that they are linked, and which type of test. Green is a Family Finder autosomal test, blue means they’ve taken a Y DNA test, and pink is a mitochondrial DNA test.

If your parents aren’t available to test, link every upstream relative that you can identify. By this, I mean that your children and full siblings will match you on both sides, so aren’t helpful for parental-side assignment.

People who have DNA tests from both parents can expect around 80% of their matches to be assigned maternally, paternally, or both.

If you have relatives who have tested at other vendors, you can ask them to upload to FamilyTreeDNA for free matching.

MyHeritage

At MyHeritage, you will connect yourself and any relatives whose tests you manage to your tree.

Under “DNA,” select “Manage DNA kits.”

At the right, you’ll click on the three dots, also known as a hamburger menu (who knew.)

Select Assign (if this is a new test or a transfer) or Re-assign a kit.

Be sure to do this for every kit you manage. I made that mistake and wrote about how I discovered and fixed the problem, here. Kit assignment enables Theories of Family Relativity and other super-helpful features.

I wrote about several things you can do to optimize your chances of receiving Theories of Family Relativity, here.

You can upload DNA kits to MyHeritage from tests taken at other vendors, here.

Fish in All the Ponds

I have provided step-by-step download/upload instructors for all vendors, here. It’s important to fish in all available ponds by making sure you have DNA tests at all four vendors. Then, upload or create trees and complete this bit of housekeeping to increase your chances of catching fish!

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

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Genealogy Research

DNA: In Search of…Full and Half-Siblings

This is the fifth article in our series of articles about searching for unknown close family members, specifically; parents, grandparents, or siblings. However, these same techniques can be applied by genealogists to identify ancestors further back in time as well.

Please note that if a family member has tested and you do NOT see their results, ask them to verify that they have chosen to allow matching and for other people to view them in their match list. That process varies at different vendors.

You can also ask if they can see you in their results.

All Parties Need to Test

Searching for unknown siblings isn’t exactly searching, because to find them, they, themselves, or their descendant(s) must have taken a DNA test at the same vendor where you tested or uploaded a DNA file.

You may know through any variety of methods that they exist, or might exist, but if they don’t take a DNA test, you can’t find them using DNA. This might sound obvious, but I see people commenting and not realizing that the other sibling(s) must test too – and they may not have.

My first questions when someone comments in this vein are:

  1. Whether or not they are positive their sibling actually tested, meaning actually sent the test in to the vendor, and it was received by the testing company. You’d be surprised how many tests are living in permanent residence on someone’s countertop until it gets pushed into the drawer and forgotten about.
  2. If the person has confirmed that their sibling has results posted. They may have returned their test, but the results aren’t ready yet or there was a problem.
  3. AND that both people have authorized matching and sharing of results. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your vendor’s customer care if you need help with this.

Sibling Scenarios

The most common sibling scenarios are when one of two things happens:

  • A known sibling tests, only to discover that they don’t match you in the full sibling range, or not at all, when you expected they would
  • You discover a surprise match in the full or half-sibling range

Let’s talk about these scenarios and how to determine:

  • If someone is a sibling
  • If they are a full or half-sibling
  • If a half-sibling, if they descend from your mother or father

As with everything else genetic, we’ll be gathering and analyzing different pieces of evidence along the way.

Full and Half-Siblings

Just to make sure we are all on the same page:

  • A full sibling is someone who shares both parents with you.
  • A half-sibling is someone who shares one parent with you, but not the other parent.
  • A step-sibling is someone who shares no biological parents with you. This situation occurs when your parent marries their parent, after you are both born, and their parent becomes your step-parent. You share neither of your biological parents with a step-sibling, so you share no DNA and will not show up on each other’s match lists.
  • A three-quarters sibling is someone with whom you share one parent, but two siblings are the other parent. For example, you share the same mother, but one brother fathered you, and your father’s brother fathered your sibling. Yes, this can get very messy and is almost impossible for a non-professional to sort through, if even then. (This is not a solicitation. I do not take private clients.) We will not be addressing this situation specifically.

Caution

With any search for unknown relatives, you have no way of knowing what you will find.

In one’s mind, there are happy reunions, but you may experience something entirely different. Humans are human. Their stories are not always happy or rosy. They may have made mistakes they regret. Or they may have no regrets about anything.

Your sibling may not know about you or the situation under which you, or they, were born. Some women were victims of assault and violence, which is both humiliating and embarrassing. I wrote about difficult situations, here.

Your sibling or close family member may not be receptive to either you, your message, or even your existence. Just be prepared, because the seeking journey may not be pain-free for you or others, and may not culminate with or include happy reunions.

On the other hand, it may.

Please step back and ponder a bit about the journey you are about to undertake and the possible people that may be affected, and how. This box, once opened, cannot be closed again. Be sure you are prepared.

On the other hand, sometimes that box lid pops off, and the information simply falls in your lap one day when you open your match list, and you find yourself sitting there, in shock, staring at a match, trying to figure out what it all means.

Congratulations, You Have a Sibling!

This might not be exactly what runs through your mind when you see that you have a very close match that you weren’t expecting.

The first two things I recommend when making this sort of discovery, after a few deep breaths, a walk, and a cup of tea, are:

  • Viewing what the vendor says
  • Using the DNAPainter Shared cM Relationship Chart

Let’s start with DNAPainter.

DNAPainter

DNAPainter provides a relationship chart, here, based on the values from the Shared cM Project.

You can either enter a cM amount or a percentage of shared DNA. I prefer the cM amount, but it doesn’t really matter.

I’ll enter 2241 cM from a known half-sibling match. To enter a percent, click on the green “enter %.”

As you can see, statistically speaking, this person is slightly more likely to be a half-sibling than they are to be a full sibling. In reality, they could be either.

Looking at the chart below, DNAPainter highlights the possible relationships from the perspective of “Self.”

The average of all the self-reported relationships is shown, on top, so 2613 for a full sibling. The range is shown below, so 1613-3488 for a full sibling.

In this case, there are several possibilities for two people who share 2241 cM of DNA.

I happen to know that these two people are half-siblings, but if I didn’t, it would be impossible to tell from this information alone.

The cM range for full siblings is 1613-3488, and the cM range for half-siblings is 1160-2436.

  • The lower part of the matching range, from 1160-1613 cM is only found in half-siblings.
  • The portion of the range from 1613-2436 cM can be either half or full siblings.
  • The upper part of the range, from 2436-3488 cM is only found in full siblings.

If your results fall into the center portion of the range, you’re going to need to utilize other tools. Fortunately, we have several.

If you’ve discovered something unexpected, you’ll want to verify using these tools, regardless. Use every tool available. Ranges are not foolproof, and the upper and lower 10% of the responses were removed as outliers. You can read more about the shared cM Project, here and here.

Furthermore, people may be reporting some half-sibling relationships as full sibling relationships, because they don’t expect to be half-siblings, so the ranges may be somewhat “off.”

Relationship Probability Calculator

Third-party matching database, GEDmatch, provides a Relationship Probability Calculator tool that is based on statistical probability methods without compiled user input. Both tools are free, and while I haven’t compared every value, both seem to be reasonably accurate, although they do vary somewhat, especially at the outer ends of the ranges.

When dealing with sibling matches, if you are in all four databases, GEDmatch is a secondary resource, but I will include GEDmatch when they have a unique tool as well as in the summary table. Some of your matches may be willing to upload to GEDmatch if the vendor where you match doesn’t provide everything you need and GEDmatch has a supplemental offering.

Next, let’s look at what the vendors say about sibling matches.

Vendors

Each of the major vendors reports sibling relationships in a slightly different way.

Sibling Matches at Ancestry

Ancestry reports sibling relationships as Sister or Brother, but they don’t say half or full.

If you click on the cM portion of the link, you’ll see additional detail, below

Ancestry tells you that the possible relationships are 100% “Sibling.” The only way to discern the difference between full and half is by what’s next.

If the ONLY relationship shown is Sibling at 100%, that can be interpreted to mean this person is a full sibling, and that a half-sibling or other relationship is NOT a possibility.

Ancestry never stipulates full or half.

The following relationship is a half-sibling at Ancestry.

Ancestry identifies that possible range of relationships as “Close Family to First Cousin” because of the overlaps we saw in the DNAPainter chart.

Clicking through shows that there is a range of possible relationships, and Ancestry is 100% sure the relationship is one of those.

DNAPainter agrees with Ancestry except includes the full-sibling relationship as a possibility for 1826 cM.

Sibling Matches at 23andMe

23andMe does identify full versus half-siblings.

DNAPainter disagrees with 23andMe and claims that anyone who shares 46.2% of their DNA is a parent/child.

However, look at the fine print. 23andMe counts differently than any of the other vendors, and DNAPainter relies on the Shared cM Project, which relies on testers entering known relationship matching information. Therefore, at any other vendor, DNAPainter is probably exactly right.

Before we understand how 23andMe counts, we need to understand about half versus fully identical segments.

To determine half or full siblings, 23andMe compares two things:

  1. The amount of shared matching DNA between two people
  2. Fully Identical Regions (FIR) of DNA compared to Half Identical Regions (HIR) of DNA to determine if any of your DNA is fully identical, meaning some pieces of you and your sibling’s DNA is exactly the same on both your maternal and paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an example on any chromosome – I’ve randomly selected chromosome 12. Which chromosome doesn’t matter, except for the X, which is different.

Your match isn’t broken out by maternal and paternal sides. You would simply see, on the chromosome browser, that you and your sibling match at these locations, above.

In reality, though, you have two copies of each chromosome, one from Mom and one from Dad, and so does your sibling.

In this example, Mom’s chromosome is visualized on top, and Dad’s is on the bottom, below, but as a tester, you don’t know that. All you know is that you match your sibling on all of those blue areas, above.

However, what’s actually happening in this example is that you are matching your sibling on parts of your mother’s chromosome and parts of your father’s chromosome, shown above as green areas

23andMe looks at both copies of your chromosome, the one you inherited from Mom, on top, and Dad, on the bottom, to see if you match your sibling on BOTH your mother’s and your father’s chromosomes in that location.

I’ve boxed the green matching areas in purple where you match your sibling fully, on both parents’ chromosomes.

If you and your sibling share both parents, you will share significant amounts of the same DNA on both copies of the same chromosomes, meaning maternal and paternal. In other words, full siblings share some purple fully identical regions (FIR) of DNA with each other, while half-siblings do not (unless they are also otherwise related) because half-siblings only share one parent with each other. Their DNA can’t be fully identical because they have a different parent that contributed the other copy of their chromosome.

Total Shared DNA Fully Identical DNA from Both Parents
Full Siblings ~50% ~25%
Half Siblings ~25% 0
  • Full siblings are expected to share about 50% of the same DNA. In other words, their DNA will match at that location. That’s all the green boxed locations, above.
  • Full siblings are expected to share about 25% of the same DNA from BOTH parents at the same location on BOTH copies of their chromosomes. These are fully identical regions and are boxed in purple, above.

You’ll find fully identical segments about 25% of the time in full siblings, but you won’t find fully identical segments in half-siblings. Please note that there are exceptions for ¾ siblings and endogamous populations.

You can view each match at 23andMe to see if you have any completely identical regions, shown in dark purple in the top comparison of full siblings. Half siblings are shown in the second example, with less total matching DNA and no FIR or completely identical regions.

Please note that your matching amount of DNA will probably be higher at 23andMe than at other companies because:

  • 23andMe includes the X chromosome in the match totals
  • 23andMe counts fully identical matching regions twice. For full siblings, that’s an additional 25%

Therefore, a full sibling with an X match will have a higher total cM at 23andMe than the same siblings elsewhere because not only is the X added into the total, the FIR match region is added a second time too.

Fully Identical Regions (FIR) and Half Identical Regions (HIR) at GEDmatch

At GEDMatch, you can compare two people to each other, with an option to display the matching information and a painted graphic for each chromosome that includes FIR and HIR.

If you need to know if you and a match share fully identical regions and you haven’t tested at 23andMe, you can both upload your DNA data file to GEDmatch and use their One to One Autosomal DNA Comparison.

On the following page, simply enter both kit numbers and accept the defaults, making sure you have selected one of the graphics options.

While GEDmatch doesn’t specifically tell you whether someone is a full or half sibling, you can garner additional information about the relationship based on the graphic at GEDmatch.

GEDMatch shows both half and fully identical regions.

The above match is between two full siblings using a 7 cM threshold. The blue on the bottom bar indicates a match of 7 cM or larger. Black means no match.

The green regions in the top bar indicate places where these two people carry the same DNA on both copies of their chromosome 1. This means that both people inherited the same DNA from BOTH parents on the green segments.

In the yellow regions, the siblings inherited the same DNA from ONE parent, but different DNA in that region from the other parent. They do match each other, just on one of their chromosomes, not both.

Without a tool like this to differentiate between HIR and FIR, you can’t tell if you’re matching someone on one copy of your chromosome, or on both copies.

In the areas marked with red on top, which corresponds to the black on the bottom band, these two siblings don’t match each other because they inherited different DNA from both parents in that region. The yellow in that region is too scattered to be significant.

Full siblings generally share a significant amount of FIR, or fully identical regions of DNA – about 25%.

Half siblings will share NO significant amount of FIR, although some will be FIR on very small, scattered green segments simply by chance, as you can see in the example, below.

This half-sibling match shares no segments large enough to be a match (7 cM) in the black section. In the blue matching section, only a few small green fragments of DNA match fully, which, based on the rest of that matching segment, must be identical by chance or misreads. There are no significant contiguous segments of fully identical DNA.

When dealing with full or half-siblings, you’re not interested in small, scattered segments of fully identical regions, like those green snippets on chromosome 6, but in large contiguous sections of matching DNA like the chromosome 1 example.

GEDmatch can help when you match when a vendor does not provide FIR/HIR information, and you need additional assistance.

Next, let’s look at full and half-siblings at FamilyTreeDNA

Sibling Matches at FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA does identify full siblings.

Relationships other than full siblings are indicated by a range. The two individuals below are both half-sibling matches to the tester.

The full range when mousing over the relationship ranges is shown below.

DNAPainter agrees except also gives full siblings as an option for the two half-siblings.

FamilyTreeDNA also tells you if you have an X match and the size of your X match.

We will talk about X matching in a minute, which, when dealing with sibling identification, can turn out to be very important.

Sibling Matches at MyHeritage

MyHeritage indicates brother or sister for full siblings

MyHeritage provides other “Estimated relationships” for matches too small to be full siblings.

DNAPainter’s chart agrees with this classification, except adds additional relationship possibilities.

Be sure to review all of the information provided by each vendor for close relationships.

View Close Known Relationships

The next easiest step to take is to compare your full or half-sibling match to known close family members from your maternal and paternal sides, respectively. The closer the family members, the better.

It’s often not possible to determine if someone is a half sibling or a full sibling by centiMorgans (cMs) alone, especially if you’re searching for unknown family members.

Let’s start with the simplest situation first.

Let’s say both of your parents have tested, and of course, you match both of them as parents.

Your new “very close match” is in the sibling range.

The first thing to do at each vendor is to utilize that vendor’s shared matches tool and see whether your new match matches one parent, or both.

Here’s an example.

Close Relationships at FamilyTreeDNA

This person has a full sibling match, but let’s say they don’t know who this is and wants to see if their new sibling matches one or both of their parents.

Select the match by checking the box to the left of the match name, then click on the little two-person icon at far right, which shows “In Common” matches

You can see on the resulting shared match list that both of the tester’s parents are shown on the shared match list.

Now let’s make this a little more difficult.

No Parents, No Problem

Let’s say neither of your parents has tested.

If you know who your family is and can identify your matches, you can see if the sibling you match matches other close relatives on both or either side of your family.

You’ll want to view shared matches with your closest known match on both sides of your tree, beginning with the closest first. Aunts, uncles, first cousins, etc.

You will match all of your family members through second cousins, and 90% of your third cousins. You can view additional relationship percentages in the article, How Much of Them is in You?.

I recommend, for this matching purpose, to utilize 2nd cousins and closer. That way you know for sure if you don’t share them as a match with your sibling, it’s because the sibling is not related on that side of the family, not because they simply don’t share any DNA due to their distance.

In this example, you have three sibling matches. Based on your and their matches to the same known first and second cousins, you can see that:

  • Sibling 1 is your full sibling, because you both match the same maternal and paternal first and second cousins
  • Sibling 2 is your paternal half-sibling because you both match paternal second cousins and closer, but not maternal cousins.
  • Sibling 3 is your maternal half-sibling because you both match maternal second cousins and closer, but not paternal cousins.

Close Relationships at Ancestry

Neither of my parents have tested, but my first cousin on my mother’s side has. Let’s say I have a suspected sibling or half-sibling match, so I click on the match’s name, then on Shared Matches.

Sure enough, my new match also matches my first cousin that I’ve labeled as “on my mother’s side.”

If my new match in the sibling range also matches my second cousins or closer on my father’s side, the new match is a full sibling, not a half-sibling.

Close Relationships at MyHeritage

Comparing my closest match provided a real surprise. I wonder if I’ve found a half-sibling to my mother.

Now, THIS is interesting.

Hmmm. More research is needed, beginning with the age of my match. MyHeritage provides ages if the MyHeritage member authorizes that information to be shared.

Close Relationships at 23andMe

Under DNA Relatives, click on your suspected sibling match, then scroll down and select “Find Relatives in Common.”

The Relatives in Common list shows people that match both of you.

The first common match is very close and a similar relationship to my closest match on my father’s side. This would be expected of a sibling. I have no common matches with this match to anyone on my mother’s side, so they are only related on my father’s side. Therefore they are a paternal half-sibling, not a full sibling.

More Tools Are Available

Hopefully, by now, you’ve been able to determine if your mystery match is a sibling, and if so, if they are a half or full sibling, and through which parent.

We have some additional tools that are relevant and can be very informative in some circumstances. I suggest utilizing these tools, even if you think you know the answer.

In this type of situation, there’s no such thing as too much information.

X Matching

X matching, or lack thereof, may help you determine how you are related to someone.

There are two types of autosomal DNA. The X chromosome versus chromosomes 1-22. The X chromosome (number 23) has a unique inheritance path that distinguishes it from your other chromosomes.

The X chromosome inheritance path also differs between men and women.

Here’s my pedigree chart in fan form, highlighting the ancestors who may have contributed a portion of their X chromosome to me. In the closest generation, this shows that I inherited an X chromosome from both of my parents, and who in each of their lines could have contributed an X to them.

The white or uncolored positions, meaning ancestors, cannot contribute any portion of an X chromosome to me based on how the X chromosome is inherited.

You’ll notice that my father inherited none of his X chromosome from any of his paternal ancestors, so of course, I can’t inherit what he didn’t inherit. There are a very limited number of ancestors on my father’s side whom I can inherit any portion of an X chromosome from.

Men receive their Y chromosome from their fathers, so men ONLY receive an X chromosome from their mother.

Therefore, men MUST pass their mother’s X chromosome on to their female offspring because they don’t have any other copy of the X chromosome to pass on.

Men pass no X chromosome to sons.

We don’t need to worry about a full fan chart when dealing with siblings and half-siblings.

We only need to be concerned with the testers plus one generation (parents) when utilizing the X chromosome in sibling situations.

These two female Disney Princesses, above, are full siblings, and both inherited an X chromosome from BOTH their mother and father. However, their father only has one X (red) chromosome to give them, so the two females MUST match on the entire red X chromosome from their father.

Their mother has two X chromosomes, green and black, to contribute – one from each of her parents.

The full siblings, Melody, and Cinderella:

  • May have inherited some portion of the same green and black X chromosomes from their mother, so they are partial matches on their mother’s X chromosome.
  • May have inherited the exact same full X chromosome from their mother (both inherited the entire green or both inherited the entire black), so they match fully on their mother’s X chromosome.
  • May have inherited the opposite X from different maternal grandparents. One inherited the entire green X and one inherited the entire black X, so they don’t match on their mother’s X chromosome.

Now, let’s look at Cinderella, who matches Henry.

This female and male full sibling match can’t share an X chromosome on the father’s side, because the male’s father doesn’t contribute an X chromosome to him. The son, Henry, inherited a Y chromosome instead from his father, which is what made them males.

Therefore, if a male and female match on the X chromosome, it MUST be through HIS mother, but could be through either of her parents. In a sibling situation, an X match between a male and female always indicates the mother.

In the example above, the two people share both of their mother’s X chromosomes, so are definitely (at least) maternally related. They could be full siblings, but we can’t determine that by the X chromosome in this situation, with males.

However, if the male matches the female on HER father’s X chromosome, there a different message, example below.

You can see that the male is related to the female on her father’s side, where she inherited the entire magenta X chromosome. The male inherited a portion of the magenta X chromosome from his mother, so these two people do have an X match. However, he matches on his mother’s side, and she matches on her father’s side, so that’s clearly not the same parent.

  • These people CAN NOT be full siblings because they don’t match on HER mother’s side too, which would also be his mother’s side if they were full siblings.
  • They cannot be maternal half-siblings because their X DNA only matches on her father’s side, but they wouldn’t know that unless she knew which side was which based on share matches.
  • They cannot be paternal half-siblings because he does not have an X chromosome from his father.

They could, however, be uncle/aunt-niece/nephew or first cousins on his mother’s side and her father’s side. (Yes, you’re definitely going to have to read this again if you ever need male-female X matching.)

Now, let’s look at X chromosome matching between two males. It’s a lot less complicated and much more succinct.

Neither male has inherited an X chromosome from their father, so if two males DO match on the X, it MUST be through their mother. In terms of siblings, this would mean they share the same mother.

However, there is one slight twist. In the above example, you can see that the men inherited a different proportion of the green and black X chromosomes from their common mother. However, it is possible that the mother could contribute her entire green X chromosome to one son, Justin in this example, and her entire black X chromosome to Henry.

Therefore, even though Henry and Justin DO share a mother, their X chromosome would NOT match in this scenario. This is rare but does occasionally happen.

Based on the above examples, the X chromosome may be relevant in the identification of full or half siblings based on the sexes of the two people who otherwise match at a level indicating a full or half-sibling relationship.

Here’s a summary chart for sibling X matching.

X Match Female Male
Female Will match on shared father’s full X chromosome, mother’s X is the same rules as chromosomes 1-22 Match through male’s mother, but either of female’s parents. If the X match is not through the female’s mother, they are not full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. They cannot have an X match through the male’s father. They are either full or half-siblings through their mother if they match on both of their mother’s side. If they match on his mother’s side, and her father’s side, they are not siblings but could be otherwise closely related.
Male Match through male’s mother, but either of female’s parents. If the X match is not through the female’s mother, they are not full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. They cannot have an X match through the male’s father. They are either full or half-siblings through their mother if they match on both or their mother’s side. If they match on his mother’s side, and her father’s side, they are not siblings but could be otherwise closely related. Both males are related on their mother’s side – either full or half-siblings.

Here’s the information presented in a different way.

DOES match X summary:

  • If a male DOES match a female on the X, he IS related to her through HIS mother’s side, but could match her on her mother or father’s side. If their match is not through her mother, then they are not full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. They cannot match through his father, so they cannot be paternal half-siblings.
  • If a female DOES match a female on the X, they could be related on either side and could be full or half-siblings.
  • If a male DOES match a male on the X, they ARE both related through their mother. They may also be related on their father’s side, but the X does not inform us of that.

Does NOT match X summary:

  • If a male does NOT match a female on the X, they are NOT related through HIS mother and are neither full siblings nor maternal half-siblings. Since a male does not have an X chromosome from his father, they cannot be paternal half-siblings based on an X match.
  • If a male does NOT match a male, they do NOT share a mother.
  • If a female does NOT match another female on the X, they are NOT full siblings and are NOT half-siblings on their paternal side. Their father only has one X chromosome, and he would have given the same X to both daughters.

Of the four autosomal vendors, only 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA report X chromosome results and matching, although the other two vendors, MyHeritage and Ancestry, include the X in their DNA download file so you can find X matches with those files at either FamilyTreeDNA or GEDMatch if your match has or will upload their file to either of those vendors. I wrote step-by-step detailed download/upload instructions, here.

X Matching at FamilyTreeDNA

In this example from FamilyTreeDNA, the female tester has discovered two half-sibling matches, both through her father. In the first scenario, she matches a female on the full X chromosome (181 cM). She and her half-sibling MUST share their father’s entire X chromosome because he only had one X, from his mother, to contribute to both of his daughters.

In the second match to a male half-sibling, our female tester shares NO X match because her father did not contribute an X chromosome to his son.

If we didn’t know which parents these half-sibling matches were through, we can infer from the X matching alone that the male is probably NOT through the mother.

Then by comparing shared matches with each sibling, Advanced Matches, or viewing the match Matrix, we can determine if the siblings match each other and are from the same or different sides of the family.

Under Additional Tests and Tools, Advanced Matching, FamilyTreeDNA provides an additional tool that can show only X matches combined with relationships.

Of course, you’ll need to view shared matches to see which people match the mother and/or match the father.

To see who matches each other, you’ll need to use the Matrix tool.

At FamilyTreeDNA, the Matrix, located under Autosomal DNA Results and Tools, allows you to select your matches to see if they also match each other. If you have known half-siblings, or close relatives, this is another way to view relationships.

Here’s an example using my father and two paternal half-siblings. We can see that the half-siblings also match each other, so they are (at least) half-siblings on the paternal side too.

If they also matched my mother, we would be full siblings, of course.

Next, let’s use Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA.

Y DNA and Mitochondrial DNA

In addition to autosomal DNA, we can utilize Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in some cases to identify siblings or to narrow or eliminate relationship possibilities.

Given that Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA both have distinctive inheritance paths, full and half-siblings will, or will not, match under various circumstances.

Y DNA

Y DNA is passed intact from father to son, meaning it’s not admixed with any of the mother’s DNA. Daughters do not inherit Y DNA from their father, so Y DNA is only useful for male-to-male comparisons.

Two types of Y DNA are used for genealogy, STR markers for matching, and haplogroups, and both are equally powerful in slightly different ways.

Y DNA at FamilyTreeDNA

Men can order either 37 or 111 STR marker tests, or the BIg Y which provides more than 700 markers and more. FamilyTreeDNA is the only one of the vendors to offer Y DNA testing that includes STR markers and matching between men.

Men who order these tests will be compared for matching on either 37, 111 or 700 STR markers in addition to SNP markers used for haplogroup identification and assignment.

Fathers will certainly match their sons, and paternal line brothers will match each other, but they will also match people more distantly related.

However, if two men are NOT either full or half siblings on the paternal side, they won’t match at 111 markers.

If two men DON’T match, especially at high marker levels, they likely aren’t siblings. The word “likely” is in there because, very occasionally, a large deletion occurs that prevents STR matching, especially at lower levels.

Additionally, men who take the 37 or 111 marker test also receive an estimated haplogroup at a high level for free, without any additional testing.

However, if men take the Big Y-700 test, they not only will (or won’t) match on up to 700 STR markers, they will also receive a VERY refined haplogroup via SNP marker testing that is often even more sensitive in terms of matching than STR markers. Between these two types of markers, Y DNA testing can place men very granularly in relation to other men.

Men can match in two ways on Y DNA, and the results are very enlightening.

If two men match on BOTH their most refined haplogroup (Big Y test) AND STR markers, they could certainly be siblings or father/son. They could also be related on the same line for another reason, such as known or unknown cousins or closer relationships like uncle/nephew. Of course, Y DNA, in addition to autosomal matching, is a powerful combination.

Conversely, if two men don’t have a similar or close haplogroup, they are not a father and son or paternal line siblings.

FamilyTreeDNA offers both inexpensive entry-level testing (37 and 111 markers) and highly refined advanced testing of most of the Y chromosome (Big Y-700), so haplogroup assignments can vary widely based on the test you take. This makes haplogroup matching and interpretation a bit more complex.

For example, haplogroups R-M269 and I-BY14000 are not related in thousands of years. One is haplogroup R, and one is haplogroup I – completely different branches of the Y DNA tree. These two men won’t match on STR markers or their haplogroup.

However, because FamilyTreeDNA provides over 50,000 different haplogroups, or tree branches, for Big Y testers, and they provide VERY granular matching, two father/son or sibling males who have BOTH tested at the Big Y-700 level will have either the exact same haplogroup, or at most, one branch difference on the tree if a mutation occurred between father and son.

If both men have NOT tested at the Big Y-700 level, their haplogroups will be on the same branch. For example, a man who has only taken a 37/111 marker STR test may be estimated at R-M269, which is certainly accurate as far as it goes.

His sibling who has taken a Big Y test will be many branches further downstream on the tree – but on the same large haplogroup R-M269 branch. It’s essential to pay attention to which tests a Y DNA match has taken when analyzing the match.

The beauty of the two kinds of tests is that even if one haplogroup is very general due to no Big Y test, their STR markers should still match. It’s just that sometimes this means that one hand is tied behind your back.

Y DNA matching alone can eliminate the possibility of a direct paternal line connection, but it cannot prove siblingship or paternity alone – not without additional information.

The Advanced Matching tool will provide a list of matches in all categories selected – in this case, both the 111 markers and the Family Finder test. You can see that one of these men is the father of the tester, and one is the full sibling.

You can view haplogroup assignments on the public Y DNA tree, here. I wrote about using the public tree, here.

In addition, recently, FamilyTreeDNA launched the new Y DNA Discover tool, which explains more about haplogroups, including their ages and other fun facts like migration paths along with notable and ancient connections. I wrote about using the Discover tool, here.

Y DNA at 23andMe

Testers receive a base haplogroup with their autosomal test. 23andMe tests a limited number of Y DNA SNP locations, but they don’t test many, and they don’t test STR markers, so there is no Y DNA matching and no refined haplogroups.

You can view the haplogroups of your matches. If your male sibling match does NOT share the same haplogroup, the two men are not paternal line siblings. If two men DO share the same haplogroup, they MIGHT be paternal siblings. They also might not.

Again, autosomal close matching plus haplogroup comparisons include or exclude paternal side siblings for males.

Paternal side siblings at 23andMe share the same haplogroup, but so do many other people. These two men could be siblings. The haplogroups don’t exclude that possibility. If the haplogroups were different, that would exclude being either full or paternal half-siblings.

Men can also compare their mitochondrial DNA to eliminate a maternal relationship.

These men are not full siblings or maternal half-siblings. We know, unquestionably, because their mitochondrial haplogroups don’t match.

23andMe also constructs a genetic tree, but often struggles with close relative placement, especially when half-relationships are involved. I do not recommend relying on the genetic tree in this circumstance.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to all of their children, but only females pass it on. If two people, males or females, don’t match on their mitochondrial DNA test, with a couple of possible exceptions, they are NOT full siblings, and they are NOT maternal half-siblings.

Mitochondrial DNA at 23andMe

23andMe provides limited, base mitochondrial haplogroups, but no matching. If two people don’t have the same haplogroup at 23andMe, they aren’t full or maternal siblings, as illustrated above.

Mitochondrial DNA at FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA provides both mitochondrial matching AND a much more refined haplogroup. The full sequence test (mtFull), the only version sold today, is essential for reliable comparisons.

Full siblings or maternal half-siblings will always share the same haplogroup, regardless of their sex.

Generally, a full sibling or maternal half-sibling match will match exactly at the full mitochondrial sequence (FMS) level with a genetic distance of zero, meaning fully matching and no mismatching mutations.

There are rare instances where maternal siblings or even mothers and children do not match exactly, meaning they have a genetic distance of greater than 0, because of a mutation called a heteroplasmy.

I wrote about heteroplasmies, here.

Like Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA cannot identify a sibling or parental relationship without additional evidence, but it can exclude one, and it can also provide much-needed evidence in conjunction with autosomal matching. The great news is that unlike Y DNA, everyone has mitochondrial DNA and it comes directly from their mother.

Once again, FamilyTreeDNA’s Advanced Matching tool provides a list of people who match you on both your mitochondrial DNA test and the Family Finder autosomal test, including transfers/uploads, and provides a relationship.

You can see that our tester matches both a full sibling and their mother. Of course, a parent/child match could mean that our tester is a female and one of her children, of either sex, has tested.

Below is an example of a parent-child match that has experienced a heteroplasmy.

Based on the comparison of both the mitochondrial DNA test, plus the autosomal Family Finder test, you can verify that this is a close family relationship.

You can also eliminate potential relationships based on the mitochondrial DNA inheritance path. The mitochondrial DNA of full siblings and maternal half-siblings will always match at the full sequence and haplogroup level, and paternal half-siblings will never match. If paternal half-siblings do match, it’s happenstance or because of a different reason.

Sibling Summary and Checklist

I’ve created a quick reference checklist for you to use when attempting to determine whether or not a match is a sibling, and, if so, whether they are half or full siblings. Of course, these tools are in addition to the DNAPainter Shared cM Tool and GEDmatch’s Relationship Predictor Calculator.

FamilyTreeDNA Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage GEDmatch
Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Shared Matches Yes – In Common With Yes – Shared Matches Yes – Relatives in Common Yes – Review DNA Match Yes – People who match both or 1 of 2 kits
Relationship Between Shared Matches No No No Yes, under shared match No
Matches Match Each Other* Yes, Matrix No Yes, under “View DNA details,” then, “compare with more relatives” Partly, through triangulation Yes, can match any kits
Full Siblings Yes Sibling, implies full Yes Brother, Sister, means full No
Half Siblings Sibling, Uncle/Aunt-Niece/Nephew, Grandparent-Grandchild Close Family – 1C Yes Half sibling, aunt/uncle-niece-nephew No
Fully Identical Regions (FIR) No No Yes No Yes
Half Identical Regions (HIR) No No Yes No Yes
X matching Yes No Yes No Yes
Unusual Reporting or Anomalies No No, Timber is not used on close relationships X match added into total, FIR added twice No Matching amount can vary from vendors
Y DNA Yes, STRs, refined haplogroups, matching No High-level haplogroup only, no matching No No, only if tester enters haplogroup manually
Mitochondrial DNA Yes, full sequence, matching, refined haplogroup No High-level haplogroup only, no matching No No, only if tester enters haplogroup manually
Combined Tools (Autosomal, X, Y, mtDNA) Yes No No No No

*Autoclusters through Genetic Affairs show cluster relationships of matches to the tester and to each other, but not all matches are included, including close matches. While this is a great tool, it’s not relevant for determining close and sibling relationships. See the article, AutoClustering by Genetic Affairs, here.

Additional Resources

Some of you may be wondering how endogamy affects sibling numbers.

Endogamy makes almost everything a little more complex. I wrote about endogamy and various ways to determine if you have an endogamous heritage, here.

Please note that half-siblings with high cM matches also fall into the range of full siblings (1613-3488), with or without endogamy. This may be, but is not always, especially pronounced in endogamous groups.

As another resource, I wrote an earlier article, Full or Half Siblings, here, that includes some different examples.

Strategy

You have a lot of quills in your quiver now, and I wish you the best if you’re trying to unravel a siblingship mystery.

You may not know who your biological family is, or maybe your sibling doesn’t know who their family is, but perhaps your close relatives know who their family is and can help. Remember, the situation that has revealed itself may be a shock to everyone involved.

Above all, be kind and take things slow. If your unexpected sibling match becomes frightened or overwhelmed, they may simply check out and either delete their DNA results altogether or block you. They may have that reaction before you have a chance to do anything.

Because of that possibility, I recommend performing your analysis quickly, along with taking relevant screenshots before reaching out so you will at least have that much information to work with, just in case things go belly up.

When you’re ready to make contact, I suggest beginning by sending a friendly, short, message saying that you’ve noticed that you have a close match (don’t say sibling) and asking what they know about their family genealogy – maybe ask who their grandparents are or if they have family living in the area where you live. I recommend including a little bit of information about yourself, such as where you were born and are from.

I also refrain from using the word adoption (or similar) in the beginning or giving too much detailed information, because it sometimes frightens people, especially if they know or discover that there’s a painful or embarrassing family situation.

And, please, never, ever assume the worst of anyone or their motives. They may be sitting at their keyboard with the same shocked look on their face as you – especially if they have, or had, no idea. They may need space and time to reach a place of acceptance. There’s just nothing more emotionally boat-capsizing in your life than discovering intimate and personal details about your parents, one or both, especially if that discovery is disappointing and image-altering.

Or, conversely, your sibling may have been hoping and waiting just for you!

Take a deep breath and let me know how it goes!

Please feel free to share this article with anyone who could benefit.

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In Search of…Vendor Features, Strengths, and Testing Strategies

This is the third in our series of articles about searching for unknown close family members, specifically; parents, grandparents, or siblings. However, these same techniques can be applied to ancestors further back in time too.

In this article, we are going to discuss your goals and why testing or uploading to multiple vendors is advantageous – even if you could potentially solve the initial mystery at one vendor. Of course, the vendor you test with first might not be the vendor where the mystery will be solved, and data from multiple vendors might just be the combination you need.

Testing Strategy – You Might Get Lucky

I recommended in the first article that you go ahead and test at the different vendors.

Some people asked why, and specifically, why you wouldn’t just test at one vendor with the largest database first, then proceed to the others if you needed to.

That’s a great question, and I want to discuss the pros and cons in this article more specifically.

Clearly, that is one strategy, but the approach you select might differ based on a variety of considerations:

  • You may only be interested in obtaining the name of the person you are seeking – or – you may be interested in finding out as much as possible.
  • You may find that your best match at one company is decidedly unhelpful, and may even block you or your efforts, while someone elsewhere may be exactly the opposite.
  • Solving your mystery may be difficult and painful at one vendor, but the answer may be infinitely easier at a different vendor where the answer may literally be waiting.
  • There may not be enough, or the right information, or matches, at any one vendor, but the puzzle may be solvable by combining information from multiple vendors and tests. Every little bit helps.
  • You may have a sense of urgency, especially if you hope to meet the person and you’re searching for parents, siblings or grandparents who may be aging.
  • You may be cost-sensitive and cannot afford more than one test at a time. Fortunately, our upload strategy helps with that too. Also, watch for vendor sales or bundles.

From the time you order your DNA test, it will be about 6-8 weeks, give or take a week or two in either direction, before you receive results.

When those results arrive, you might get lucky, and the answer you seek is immediately evident with no additional work and just waiting for you at the first testing company.

If that’s the case, you got lucky and hit the jackpot. If you’re searching for both parents, that means you still have one parent to go.

Unidentified grandparents can be a little more difficult, because there are four of them to sort between.

If you discover a sibling or half-sibling, you still need to figure out who your common parent is. Sometimes X, Y, and mitochondrial DNA provides an immediate answer and is invaluable in these situations.

It’s more likely that you’ll find a group of somewhat more distant relatives. You may be able to figure out who your common grandparents or great-grandparents are, but not your parent(s) initially. Often, the closer generation or two is actually the most difficult because you’re dealing with contemporary records which are not publicly available, fewer descendants, and the topic may be very uncomfortable for some people. It’s also complicated because you’re often not dealing with “full” relationships, but “half,” as in half-sibling, half-niece, half-1C, etc.

You may spend a substantial amount of time trying to solve this puzzle at the first vendor before ordering your next test.

That second test will also take about 6-8 weeks, give or take. I recommend that you order the first two autosomal tests, now.

Order Your First Two Autosomal Tests

The two testing companies with the largest autosomal databases for comparison, Ancestry, and 23andMe, DO NOT accept DNA file uploads from other companies, so you’ll need to test with each individually.

Fortunately, you CAN transfer your autosomal DNA tests to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA, for free.

You will have different matches at each company. Some people will be far more responsive and helpful than others.

I recommend that you go ahead and order both the Ancestry and 23andMe tests initially, then upload the first one that comes back with results to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage. Complete, step-by-step download/upload instructions can be found here.

You can also upload your DNA file to a fifth company, Living DNA, but they are significantly smaller and heavily focused on England and Great Britain. However, if that’s where you’re searching, this might be where you find important matches.

You can also upload to GEDMatch, a popular third-party database, but since you’re going to be in the databases of the four major testing companies, there is little to be gained at GEDMatch in terms of people who have not tested at one of the major companies. Do NOT upload to GEDMatch INSTEAD of testing or uploading to the four major sites, as GEDMatch only has a small fraction of the testers in each of the vendor databases.

What GEDMatch does offer is a chromosome browser – something that Ancestry does NOT offer, along with other clustering tools which you may find useful. I recommend GEDMatch in addition to the others, if needed or desired.

Ordering Y and Mitochondrial DNA Tests

We reviewed the basics of the different kinds of DNA, here.

Some people have asked why, if autosomal DNA shows relatives on all of your lines, would one would want to order specific tests that focus on just one line?

It just so happens that the two lines that Y and mitochondrial DNA test ARE the two lines you’re seeking – direct maternal – your mother (and her mother), and direct paternal, your father (and his father.)

These two tests are different kinds of DNA tests, testing a different type of DNA, and provide very focused information, and matches, not available from autosomal DNA tests.

For men, Y DNA can reveal your father’s surname, which can be an invaluable clue in narrowing paternal candidates. Knowing that my brother’s Y DNA matched several men with the surname of Priest made me jump for joy when he matched a woman of that same last name at another vendor.

Here’s a quote from one of the members of a Y DNA project where I’m the volunteer administrator:

“Thank you for your help understanding and using all 4 kinds of my DNA results. By piecing the parts together, I identified my father. Specifically, without Y DNA testing, and the Big Y test, I would not have figured out my parental connection, and then that my paternal line had been assigned to the wrong family. STR testing gave me the correct surname, but the Big Y test showed me exactly where I fit, and disproved that other line. I’m now in touch with my father, and we both know who our relatives are – two things that would have never happened otherwise.”

If you fall into the category of, “I want to know everything I can now,” then order both Y and mitochondrial DNA tests initially, along with those two autosomal tests.

You will need to order Y (males only) and mitochondrial DNA tests separately from the autosomal Family Finder test, although you should order on the same account as your Family Finder test at FamilyTreeDNA.

If you take the Family Finder autosomal test at FamilyTreeDNA or upload your autosomal results from another vendor, you can simply select to add the Y and mitochondrial DNA tests to your account, and they will send you a swab kit.

Conversely, you can order either a Y or mitochondrial DNA test, and then add a Family Finder or upload a DNA file if you’ve already taken an autosomal DNA test to that account too. Note – these might not be current prices – check here for sales.

You will want all 3 of your tests on the same account so that you can use the Advanced Matches feature.

Using Advanced Matches, you’ll be able to view people who match you on combinations of multiple kinds of tests.

For example, if you’re a male, you can see if your Y DNA matches also match you on the Family Finder autosomal test, and if so, how closely?

Here’s an example.

In this case, I requested matches to men with 111 markers who also match the tester on the Family Finder test. I discovered both a father and a full sibling, plus a few more distant matches. There were ten total combined matches to work with, but I’ve only shown five for illustration purposes.

This information is worth its weight in gold.

Is the Big Y Test Worth It?

People ask if the Big Y test is really worth the extra money.

The answer is, “it depends.”

If all you’re looking for are matching surnames, then the answer is probably no. A 37 or 111 marker test will probably suffice. Eventually, you’ll probably want to do the Big Y, though.

If you’re looking for exact placement on the tree, with an estimated distance to other men who have taken that test, then the answer is, “absolutely.” I wish the Big Y test had been available back when I was hunting for my brother’s biological family.

The Big Y test provides a VERY specific haplogroup and places you very accurately in your location on the Y DNA tree, along with other men of your line, assuming they have tested. You may find the surname, as well as being placed within a generation or a few of current in that family line.

Additionally, the Discover page provides estimates of how far in the past you share a common ancestor with other people that share the same haplogroup. This can be a HUGE boon to a male trying to figure out his surname line and how closely in time he’s related to his matches.

Big Y NPE Examples

Y DNA SNP mutations tested with the Big Y test accrue a mutation about every generation, or so. Sometimes we see mutations in every generation.

Here’s an example from my Campbell line. Haplogroups are listed in the top three rows.

I created this spreadsheet, but FamilyTreeDNA provides a block tree for Big Y testers. I’ve added the genealogy of the testers, with the various Big Y testers at the bottom and common ancestors above, in bold.

We have two red NPE lines showing. The MacFarlane tester matches M. Campbell VERY closely, and two Clark males match W. Campbell and other Campbells quite closely. We utilized autosomal plus the Y results to determine where the unknown parentage events occurred. Today, if you’re a Clark or MacFarlane male, or a male by any other surname who was fathered by a Y chromosome Campbell male (by any surname), you’ll know exactly where you fit in this group of testers on your direct paternal line.

Y DNA is important because men often match other men with the same surname, which is a HUGE clue, especially in combination with autosomal DNA results. I say “often,” because it’s possible that no one in your line has tested, or that your father’s surname is not his biological surname either.

Y and mitochondrial DNA matches can be HUGELY beneficial pieces of information either by confirming a close autosomal relationship on that line, or eliminating the possibility.

Lineage-Specific Population Information

In addition to matching other people, both Y and mitochondrial DNA tests provide you with lineage-specific population or “ethnicity” information for this specific line which helps you focus your research.

For example, if you view the Y DNA Haplogroup Origins shown for this tester, you’ll discover that these matches are Jewish.

The tester might not be Jewish on any other genealogical line, but they definitely have Jewish ancestry on their Y DNA, paternal, line.

The same holds true for mitochondrial DNA as well. The main difference with mitochondrial DNA is that the surname changes with each generation, haplogroups today (pre-Million Mito) are less specific, and fewer people have been tested.

Y and Mitochondrial DNA Benefits

Knowing your Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups not only arm you with information about yourself, they provide you with matching tools and an avenue to include or exclude people as your direct line paternal or maternal ancestors.

Your Y and mitochondrial DNA can also provide CRITICALLY IMPORTANT information about whether that direct line ancestor belonged to an endogamous population, and where they came from.

For example, both Jewish and Native populations are endogamous populations, meaning highly intermarried for many generations into the past.

Knowing that helps you adjust your autosomal relationship analysis.

Why Order Multiple Tests Initially Instead of Waiting?

If you’ve been adding elapsed time, two autosomal tests (Ancestry and 23andMe), two uploads (to FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage,) a Y DNA test, and a mitochondrial DNA test, if all purchased serially, one following the other, means you’ll be waiting approximately 6-8 months.

Do you want to wait 6-8 months for all of your results? Can you afford to?

Part of this answer has to do with what, exactly, you’re seeking, and how patient you are.

Only you can answer that question.

A Name or Information?

Are you seeking the name or identity of a person, or are you seeking information about that person?

Most people don’t just want to put a name to the person they are seeking – they want to learn about them and the rest of the family that door opens.

You will have different matches at each company. Even after you identify the person you seek, the people you match may have trees you can view, with family photos and other important information. (Remember, you can’t see living people in trees.) Your matches may have first-person information about your relative and may know them if they are living, or have known them.

Furthermore, you may have the opportunity to meet that person. Time delayed may not be able to be recovered or regained.

One cousin that I assisted discovered that his father had died just six weeks before he broke through that wall and made the connection.

Working with data from all vendors simultaneously will allow you to combine that data and utilize it together. Using your “best” matches at each company, augmented by X, Y, and/or mitochondrial DNA, can make MUCH shorter work of this search.

Your closest autosomal matches are the most important and insightful. In this series, I will be working with the top 15 autosomal results at each vendor, at least initially. This approach provides me with the best chance of meaningful close relationship discoveries.

Data and Vendor Results Integration

Here’s a table of my two closest maternal and paternal matches at the four major vendors. I can assign these to maternal or paternal sides, because I know the identity of my parents, and I know some of these people. If an adoptee was doing this, the top 4 could all be from one parent, which is why we work with the top 15 or so matches.

Vendor Closest Maternal Closest Paternal Comments
Ancestry 1C, 1C1R Half-1C, 2C I recognized both of the maternal and neither of the paternal.
23andMe 2C, 2C 1C1R, half-gr-niece Recognized both maternal, one paternal
MyHeritage Mother uploaded, 1C Half-niece, half-1C Recognized both maternal, one paternal
FamilyTreeDNA Mother tested, 1C1R Parent/child, half-gr-niece uploaded Recognized all 4

To be clear, I tested my mother’s mitochondrial DNA before she passed away, but because FamilyTreeDNA archives DNA samples for 25 years, as the owner/manager of her DNA kit, I was able to order the Family Finder test after she had passed away. Her tests are invaluable today.

Then, years later, I uploaded her results to MyHeritage.

If I was an adopted child searching for my mother, I would find her results in both databases today. She’ll never be at either 23andMe or Ancestry because she passed away before she could test there and they don’t accept uploads.

Looking at the other vendors, my half-niece at MyHeritage is my paternal half-sibling’s daughter. My half-sibling is deceased, so this is as close as I’ll ever get to matching her.

At 23andMe, the half-great-niece is my half-siblings grandchild.

It’s interesting that I have no matches to descendants of my other half-sibling, who is also deceased. Maybe I should ask if any of his children or grandchildren have tested. Hmmmm…..

You can see that I stand a MUCH BETTER chance of figuring out close relatives using the combined closest matches of all four databases instead of the top matches from just one database. It doesn’t matter if the database is large if the right person or people didn’t test there.

Combine Resources

I’ll be providing analysis methodologies for working with results from all of the vendors together, just in case your answer is not immediately obvious. Taking multiple DNA tests facilitates using all of these tools immediately, not months later. Solving the puzzle sooner means you may not miss valuable opportunities.

You may also discover that the door slams shut with some people, or they may not respond to your queries, but another match may be unbelievably helpful. Don’t limit your possibilities.

Let’s take a look at the strengths of each vendor.

Vendor Strengths and Things to Know

Every vendor has product strengths and idiosyncracies that the others do not. All vendors provide matches and shared matches. Each vendor provides ethnicity tools which certainly can be useful, but the features differ and will be covered elsewhere.

  • AncestryAncestry has the largest autosomal database and includes ThruLines, but no Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, no clusters, no chromosome browser, no triangulation, and no X chromosome matching or reporting. Ancestry provides genealogical records, advanced tools, and full tree access to your matches’ trees with an Ancestry subscription. Ancestry does not allow downloading your match list or segment match information, but the other vendors do.
  • 23andMe 23andMe has the second largest database. They provide triangulation and genetic trees that include your closest matches. Many people test at 23andMe for health and wellness information, so 23andMe has people in their database who are not specifically interested in genealogy and probably won’t have tested elsewhere, but may be invaluable to your search. 23andMe provides Y and mtDNA high-level haplogroups only, but no matching or other haplogroup information. If you purchase a new test or have a V5 ancestry+health current test, you can expand your matches from a limit of 1500 to about 5000 with an annual membership. For seeking close relatives, you don’t need those features, but you may want them for genealogy. 23andMe is the only vendor that limits their customers’ matches.
  • MyHeritageMyHeritage has the third largest database that includes lots of European testers. MyHeritage provides triangulation, Theories of Family Relativity, and an integrated cluster tool* but does not report X matches and does not offer Y or mitochondrial DNA testing. MyHeritage accepts autosomal DNA file uploads from other testing companies for free and provides access to advanced DNA features for a one-time unlock fee. MyHeritage includes genealogical records and full feature access to advanced DNA tools with a Complete Subscription. (Free 15 days trial subscription, here.)
  • FamilyTreeDNA Family Finder (autosomal)FamilyTreeDNA is the oldest DNA testing company, meaning their database includes people who initially tested 20+ years ago and have since passed away. This, in essence, gets you one generation further back in time, with the possibility of stronger matches. Their Family Matching feature buckets and triangulates your matches, assigning them to your maternal or paternal sides if you link known matches to their proper place in your tree, even if your parents have not tested. FamilyTreeDNA accepts uploads from other testing companies for free and provides advanced DNA features for a one time unlock fee.
  • FamilyTreeDNAFamilyTreeDNA is the only company that offers both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing products that include matching, integration with autosomal test results, and other tools. These two tests are lineage-specific and don’t have to be sorted from your other ancestral lines.

I wrote about using Y DNA results, here.

I wrote about using mitochondrial DNA results, here.

*Third parties such as Genetic Affairs provide clustering tools for both 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA. Clustering is integrated at MyHeritage. Ancestry does not provide a tool for nor allow third-party clustering. If the answer you seek isn’t immediately evident, Genetic Affairs clustering tools group people together who are related to each other, and you, and create both genetic and genealogical trees based on shared matches. You can read more about their tools, here.

Fish in all the Ponds and Use All the Bait Possible

Here’s the testing and upload strategy I recommend, based on the above discussion and considerations. The bottom line is this – if you want as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, order the four tests in red initially. Then transfer the first autosomal test results you receive to the two companies identified in blue. Optionally, GEDMatch may have tools you want to work with, but they aren’t a testing company.

What When Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage FamilyTreeDNA
Order autosomal Initially X X    
Order Y 111 or Big-Y DNA test if male Initially       X
Order mitochondrial DNA test Initially if desired       X
Upload free autosomal When Ancestry or 23andMe results are available     X X
Unlock Advanced Tools When you upload     $29 $19
Optional GEDMatch free upload If desired, can subscribe for advanced tools

When you upload an autosomal DNA file to a vendor site, only upload one file per site, per tester. Otherwise, multiple tests simply glom up everyone’s match list with multiple matches to the same person.

Multiple vendor sites will hopefully provide multiple close matches, which increase your opportunity to discover INFORMATION about your family, not just the identity of the person you seek.

Or maybe you prefer to wait and order these DNA tests serially, waiting until one set of results is back and you’re finished working with them before ordering the next one. If so, that means you’re a MUCH more patient person than me. 😊

Our next article in this series will be about endogamy, how to know if it applies to you, and what that means to your search.

_____________________________________________________________

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DNA-eXplained Celebrates Tenth Anniversary!

This blog, DNA-eXplained, is celebrating its 10th anniversary today. How time flies!

I never thought for a minute about a 10th anniversary when I launched that first article.

I started blogging to teach people and literally “explain” about genetic genealogy – which is why I selected the name DNA-eXplained. Over time, it has also been nicknamed DNAeXplain, which is fine.

I hoped to be able to answer questions once, with graphics and examples, instead of over and over again off-the-cuff. I needed someplace where people could be referred for answers. Blogging seemed like the perfect medium for achieving exactly that.

Blogs allow writers to publish content attractively and react to changes and announcements quickly.

Blogs encourage readers to subscribe for email delivery or use RSS reader aggregation and can publish to social media.

Content can be located easily using browser searches.

Everything, all content, is indexed and searchable by keyword or phrase.

Blogging certainly seemed like the right solution. Still, I was hesitant.

I vividly remember working at my desk that day, a different desk in a different location, and anguishing before pressing the “publish” button that first time. Was I really, REALLY sure? I had the sense that I was sitting in one of those life-defining fork-in-the-road moments and once embarked upon, there would be no turning back.

I’m so glad I closed my eyes and pushed that button!

I knew we were going to be in for an incredible journey. Of course, I had no idea where that roller coaster ride was going, but we would be riding together, regardless. What a journey it has been!

A decade later, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and become friends with so many of you, both online and in person. I’ve met countless cousins I never knew I had, thanks to various blog articles, including the 52 Ancestors series which has turned out to be 365 and counting.

I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity! I thought I was giving to others, yet I’ve been greatly enriched by this experience and all of you.

So much has changed in all of our lives.

Looking Back

Today, as I look back at that very short first article, I can’t help but think just how unbelievably far we’ve come.

There was one Y and mitochondrial DNA testing vendor in 2012, FamilyTreeDNA, and that’s still the case today.

There were three autosomal testing companies, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and Ancestry, in addition to the Genographic Project, which was sunset in 2019 after an amazing 15-year run. GEDmatch was two years old in 2012 and had been formed to fill the need for advanced autosomal matching tools. In 2016, MyHeritage joined the autosomal testing market. All of those companies have since been acquired.

In 2012, FamilyTreeDNA broke ground by accepting uploaded DNA files from other vendors. Autosomal DNA tests cost about $300 although prices were dropping. I don’t anticipate prices dropping much further now, because companies have to maintain a reasonable profit margin to stay in business.

In 2013, when DNA-eXplained celebrated its first anniversary, I had published 162 articles.

That first year was VERY busy with lots of innovation occurring in the industry. You can read my end-of-year article, 2012 Top 10 Genetic Genealogy Happenings if you’d like to reminisce a bit. For comparison, here’s my Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years summary.

The World is Our Oyster

In the past decade, I’ve penned articles in a wide variety of locations, in several countries, on 5 continents.

I’ve written in my offices, of course, but also in cars, on buses, trains, and planes. I’ve crafted several articles on ships while cruising. In fact, writing is one of my favorite “sea-day” things to do, often sitting on deck if it’s a nice day.

I’ve written in cemeteries, which shouldn’t surprise you, on the hood of my car, and cross-legged on the floor at innumerable conferences.

I’ve composed at picnic tables and in countless hotel lobbies, libraries, laboratories, restaurants, and coffee shops. And, in at least 3 castles.

I’ve written while on archaeology digs, balancing my laptop on my knees while sitting on an inverted bucket, trying to keep dirt, sand, and ever-present insects away.

I’ve even written in hospitals, both as a visitor and a patient. Yea, I might not have told you about that.

I’ve pretty much taken you with me everyplace I’ve gone for the past decade. And we are no place near finished!

Today

This article is number 1531 which means I’ve published an article every 2.3 days for a decade. Truthfully, I’m stunned. I had no idea that I have been that prolific. I never have writer’s block. In fact, I have the opposite problem. So many wonderful topics to write about and never enough time.

A huge, HUGE thank you to all of my readers. Writers don’t write if people don’t read!

DNA-eXplained has received millions and millions of views and is very popular, thanks to all of you.

There have been more than 48,000 comments, 4,800 a year or about 13 each day, and yes, I read every single one before approving it for publication.

Akismet, my spam blocker only reports for 45 months, but in that time alone, there have been about 100,000 attempted SPAM comments. That equates to about 75 each day and THANK GOODNESS I don’t have to deal with those.

WordPress doesn’t count “pages,” as such, but if my articles average 10 pages each, and each page averages 500 words, then we’re looking at someplace between 7 and 8 million words. That’s 13 times the size of War and Peace😊. Not only do I write each article, but I proofread it several times too.

Peering Into the Future

Genetic genealogy as a whole continues to produce the unexpected and solve mysteries.

Tools like triangulation in general, Family Matching at FamilyTreeDNA, genetic trees at 23andMe, Theories of Family Relativity at MyHeritage, and ThruLines at Ancestry have provided hints and tools to both suggest and confirm relationships and break through brick walls.

Ethnicity chromosome painting at both 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA help unravel ancestral mysteries, especially for people with combinations of fundamentally different ancestries, as does Genetic Communities at Ancestry and Genetic Groups at MyHeritage.

Third-party tools that we love today weren’t even a twinkle in a developer’s eye in 2012. Products like DNAPainter, Genetic Affairs, and DNAGedcom pick up where the vendors leave off and are widely utilized by genealogists.

I hope that all of our vendors continue to invest in product development and provide the genetic genealogy community with new and innovative tools that assist us with breaking down those pesky brick walls.

Primarily, though, I hope you continue to enjoy your genealogy journey and make steady progress, with a rocket boost from genetic testing.

The vendors can provide wonderful tools, but it’s up to us to use them consistently, wringing out every possible drop. Don’t neglect paternal (male surname) Y DNA and matrilineal mitochondrial DNA testing for people who carry those important lines for your ancestors. All 4 kinds of DNA have a very specific and unique genealogical use.

I encourage you to test every relative you can and check their and your results often. New people test every single day. You never know where that critical piece of information will come from, or when that essential puzzle piece will drop into place.

Be sure to upload to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage (plus GEDMatch) so you are in the database of all the vendors. (Instructions here.) Fate favors the prepared.

Thank You!!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting me by reading and sharing my articles with your friends, organizations, and family members, by purchasing through the affiliate links, by buying my book, and by graciously sharing your own experiences.

Thank you for your suggestions and questions which plant the seeds of new articles and improvements.

I hope you’ve made progress with your research, unraveled some thorny knots, and that you’ve enjoyed this decade as much as I have. Tell me in the comments what you enjoyed the most or found most useful?

Here’s to another wonderful 10 years together!

___________________________________________________________

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You’re always welcome to forward articles or links to friends and share on social media.

If you haven’t already subscribed (it’s free,) you can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking the “follow” button on the main blog page, here.

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

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Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

 

Top Ten RootsTech 2022 DNA Sessions + All DNA Session Links

The official dates of RootsTech 2022 were March 3-5, but the sessions and content in the vendor booths are still available. I’ve compiled a list of the sessions focused on DNA, with web links on the RootsTech YouTube channel

YouTube reports the number of views, so I was able to compile that information as of March 8, 2022.

I do want to explain a couple of things to add context to the numbers.

Most speakers recorded their sessions, but a few offered live sessions which were recorded, then posted later for participants to view. However, there have been glitches in that process. While the sessions were anticipated to be available an hour or so later, that didn’t quite happen, and a couple still aren’t posted. I’m sure the presenters are distressed by this, so be sure to watch those when they are up and running.

The Zoom rooms where participants gathered for the live sessions were restricted to 500 attendees. The YouTube number of views does not include the number of live viewers, so you’ll need to add an additional number, up to 500.

When you see a number before the session name, whether recorded or live, that means that the session is part of a series. RootsTech required speakers to divide longer sessions into a series of shorter sessions no longer than 15-20 minutes each. The goal was for viewers to be able to watch the sessions one after the other, as one class, or separately, and still make sense of the content. Let’s just say this was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as a presenter.

For recorded series sessions, these are posted as 1, 2 and 3, as you can see below with Diahan Southard’s sessions. However, with my live session series, that didn’t happen. It looks like my sessions are a series, but when you watch them, parts 1, 2 and 3 are recorded and presented as one session. Personally, I’m fine with this, because I think the information makes a lot more sense this way. However, it makes comparisons difficult.

This was only the second year for RootsTech to be virtual and the conference is absolutely HUGE, so live and learn. Next year will be smoother and hopefully, at least partially in-person too.

When I “arrived” to present my live session, “Associating Autosomal DNA Segments With Ancestors,” my lovely moderator, Rhett, told me that they were going to livestream my session to the RootsTech page on Facebook as well because they realized that the 500 Zoom seat limit had been a problem the day before with some popular sessions. I have about 9000 views for that session and more than 7,400 of them are on the RootsTech Facebook page – and that was WITHOUT any advance notice or advertising. I know that the Zoom room was full in addition. I felt kind of strange about including my results in the top ten because I had that advantage, but I didn’t know quite how to otherwise count my session. As it turns out, all sessions with more than 1000 views made it into the top ten so mine would have been there one way or another. A big thank you to everyone who watched!

I hope that the RootsTech team notices that the most viewed session is the one that was NOT constrained by the 500-seat limited AND was live-streamed on Facebook. Seems like this might be a great way to increase session views for everyone next year. Hint, hint!!!

I also want to say a huge thank you to all of the presenters for producing outstanding content. The sessions were challenging to find, plus RootsTech is always hectic, even virtually. So, I know a LOT of people will want to view these informative sessions, now that you know where to look and have more time. Please remember to “like” the session on YouTube as a way of thanking your presenter.

With 140 DNA-focused sessions available, you can watch a new session, and put it to use, every other day for the next year! How fun is that! You can use this article as your own playlist.

Please feel free to share this article with your friends and genealogy groups so everyone can learn more about using DNA for genealogy.

Ok, let’s look at the top 10. Drum roll please…

Top 10 Most Viewed RootsTech Sessions

Session Title Presenter YouTube Link Views
1 1. Associating Autosomal DNA Segments With Ancestors Roberta Estes (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IHSCkNnX48

 

~9000: 1019 + 500 live viewers + 7,400+ Facebook
2 1. What to Do with Your DNA Test Results in 2022 (part 1 of 3) Diahan Southard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FENAKAYLXX4 7428
3 Who Is FamilyTreeDNA? FamilyTreeDNA – Bennett Greenspan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHFtwoatJ-A 2946
4 2. What to Do with Your DNA Test Results in 2022 (part 2 of 3) Diahan Southard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIllhtONhlI 2448
5 Latest DNA Painter Releases DNAPainter Jonny Perl (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLBThU8l33o 2230 + live viewers
6 DNA Painter Introduction DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rpe5LMPNmf0 1983
7 3. What to Do with Your DNA Test Results in 2022 (part 3 of 3) Diahan Southard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hemY5TuLmGI 1780
8 The Tree of Mankind Age Estimates Paul Maier https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjkL8PWAEwk 1638
9 A Sneak Peek at FamilyTreeDNA Coming Attractions FamilyTreeDNA (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9sKqNScvnE 1270 + live viewers

 

10 Extending Time Horizons with DNA Rob Spencer (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wppXD1Zz2sQ 1037 + live viewers

 

All DNA-Focused Sessions

I know you’ll find LOTS of goodies here. Which ones are your favorites?

  Session Presenter YouTube Link Views
1 Estimating Relationships by Combining DNA from Multiple Siblings Amy Williams https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xs1U0ohpKSA 201
2 Overview of HAPI-DNA.org Amy Williams https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjNiJgWaBeQ 126
3 How do AncestryDNA® Communities help tell your story? | Ancestry® Ancestry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQNpUxonQO4 183

 

4 AncestryDNA® 201 Ancestry – Crista Cowan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbqpnXloM5s

 

494
5 Genealogy in a Minute: Increase Discoveries by Attaching AncestryDNA® Results to Family Tree Ancestry – Crista Cowan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAqwSCO8Pvw 369
6 AncestryDNA® 101: Beginner’s Guide to AncestryDNA® | Ancestry® Ancestry – Lisa Elzey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N2usCR86sY 909
7 Hidden in Plain Sight: Free People of Color in Your Family Tree Cheri Daniels https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUOcdhO3uDM 179
8 Finding Relatives to Prevent Hereditary Cancer ConnectMyVariant – Dr. Brian Shirts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpwLGgEp2IE 63
9 Piling on the chromosomes Debbie Kennett https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e14lMsS3rcY 465
10 Linking Families With Rare Genetic Condition Using Genealogy Deborah Neklason https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b94lUfeAw9k 43
11 1. What to Do with Your DNA Test Results in 2022 Diahan Southard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FENAKAYLXX4 7428
12 1. What to Do with Your DNA Test Results in 2022 Diahan Southard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hemY5TuLmGI 1780
13 2. What to Do with Your DNA Test Results in 2022 Diahan Southard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIllhtONhlI 2448
14 DNA Testing For Family History Diahan Southard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCLuOCC924s 84

 

15 Understanding Your DNA Ethnicity Estimate at 23andMe Diana Elder

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xT1OtyvbVHE 66
16 Understanding Your Ethnicity Estimate at FamilyTreeDNA Diana Elder https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XosjViloVE0 73
17 DNA Monkey Wrenches Katherine Borges https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Thv79pmII5M 245
18 Advanced Features in your Ancestral Tree and Fan Chart DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4u5Vf13ZoAc 425
19 DNA Painter Introduction DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rpe5LMPNmf0 1983
20 Getting Segment Data from 23andMe DNA Matches DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EBRI85P3KQ 134
21 Getting segment data from FamilyTreeDNA DNA matches DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWnxK86a12U 169
22 Getting segment data from Gedmatch DNA matches DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WF11HEL8Apk 163
23 Getting segment data from Geneanet DNA Matches DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eclj8Ap0uK4 38
24 Getting segment data from MyHeritage DNA matches DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rGwOtqbg5E 160
25 Inferred Chromosome Mapping: Maximize your DNA Matches DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzd5arHkv64 688
26 Keeping track of your genetic family tree in a fan chart DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3Hcno7en94 806

 

27 Mapping a DNA Match in a Chromosome Map DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A61zQFBWaiY 423
28 Setting up an Ancestral Tree and Fan Chart and Exploring Tree Completeness DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkJp5Xk1thg 77
29 Using the Shared cM Project Tool to Evaluate DNA Matches DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxhn9l3Dxg4 763
30 Your First Chromosome Map: Using your DNA Matches to Link Segments to Ancestors DNAPainter – Jonny Perl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzd5arHkv64 688
31 DNA Painter for absolute beginners DNAPainter (Jonny Perl) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwUWW4WHwhk 1196
32 Latest DNA Painter Releases DNAPainter (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLBThU8l33o 2230 + live viewers
33 Unraveling your genealogy with DNA segment networks using AutoSegment from Genetic Affairs Evert-Jan Blom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVpsJSqOJZI

 

162
34 Unraveling your genealogy with genetic networks using AutoCluster Evert-Jan Blom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTKSz_X7_zs 201

 

 

35 Unraveling your genealogy with reconstructed trees using AutoTree & AutoKinship from Genetic Affairs Evert-Jan Blom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmDQoAn9tVw 143
36 Research Like a Pro with DNA – A Genealogist’s Guide to Finding and Confirming Ancestors with DNA Family Locket Genealogists https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYpLscJJQyk 183
37 How to Interpret a DNA Network Graph Family Locket Genealogists – Diana Elder https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i83WRl1uLWY 393
38 Find and Confirm Ancestors with DNA Evidence Family Locket Genealogists – Nicole Dyer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGLpV3aNuZI 144
39 How To Make A DNA Network Graph Family Locket Genealogists – Nicole Dyer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLm_dVK2kAA 201
40 Create A Family Tree With Your DNA Matches-Use Lucidchart To Create A Picture Worth A Thousand Words Family Locket Genealogists – Robin Wirthlin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlRIzcW-JI4 270
41 Charting Companion 7 – DNA Edition Family Tree Maker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2r9rkk22nU 316

 

42 Family Finder Chromosome Browser: How to Use FamilyTreeDNA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0_tgopBn_o 750

 

 

43 FamilyTreeDNA: 22 Years of Breaking Down Brick Walls FamilyTreeDNA https://www.familysearch.org/rootstech/session/familytreedna-22-years-of-breaking-down-brick-walls Not available
44 Review of Autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, & mtDNA FamilyTreeDNA  – Janine Cloud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJoQVKxgaVY 77
45 Who Is FamilyTreeDNA? FamilyTreeDNA – Bennett Greenspan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHFtwoatJ-A 2946
46 Part 1: How to Interpret Y-DNA Results, A Walk Through the Big Y FamilyTreeDNA – Casimir Roman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ra1cjGgvhRw 684

 

47 Part 2: How to Interpret Y-DNA Results, A Walk Through the Big Y FamilyTreeDNA – Casimir Roman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgqcjBD6N8Y

 

259
48 Big Y-700: A Brief Overview FamilyTreeDNA – Janine Cloud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IefUipZcLCQ 96
49 Mitochondrial DNA & The Million Mito Project FamilyTreeDNA – Janine Cloud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zppv2uAa6I 179
50 Mitochondrial DNA: What is a Heteroplasmy FamilyTreeDNA – Janine Cloud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeGTyUDKySk 57
51 Y-DNA Big Y: A Lifetime Analysis FamilyTreeDNA – Janine Cloud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6NEU92rpiM 154
52 Y-DNA: How SNPs Are Added to the Y Haplotree FamilyTreeDNA – Janine Cloud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGQaYcroRwY 220
53 Family Finder myOrigins: Beginner’s Guide FamilyTreeDNA – Katy Rowe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrJNpSv8nlA 88
54 Mitochondrial DNA: Matches Map & Results for mtDNA FamilyTreeDNA – Katy Rowe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtA1j01MOvs 190
55 Mitochondrial DNA: mtDNA Mutations Explained FamilyTreeDNA – Katy Rowe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awPs0cmZApE 340

 

56 Y-DNA: Haplotree and SNPs Page Overview FamilyTreeDNA – Katy Rowe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOuVhoMD-hw 432
57 Y-DNA: Understanding the Y-STR Results Page FamilyTreeDNA – Katy Rowe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCeZz1rQplI 148
58 Y-DNA: What Is Genetic Distance? FamilyTreeDNA – Katy Rowe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJ6wY6ILhfg 149
59 DNA Tools: myOrigins 3.0 Explained, Part 1 FamilyTreeDNA – Paul Maier https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACgY3F4-w78 74

 

60 DNA Tools: myOrigins 3.0 Explained, Part 2 FamilyTreeDNA – Paul Maier https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7qU36bIFg0 50
61 DNA Tools: myOrigins 3.0 Explained, Part 3 FamilyTreeDNA – Paul Maier https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWlGPm8BGyU 36
62 African American Genealogy Research Tips FamilyTreeDNA – Sherman McRae https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdbkM58rXIQ 153

 

63 Connecting With My Ancestors Through Y-DNA FamilyTreeDNA – Sherman McRae https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbo1XnLkuQU 200
64 Join The Million Mito Project FamilyTreeDNA (Join link) https://www.familysearch.org/rootstech/session/join-the-million-mito-project link
65 View the World’s Largest mtDNA Haplotree FamilyTreeDNA (Link to mtDNA tree) https://www.familytreedna.com/public/mt-dna-haplotree/L n/a
66 View the World’s Largest Y Haplotree FamilyTreeDNA (Link to Y tree) https://www.familytreedna.com/public/y-dna-haplotree/A link
67 A Sneak Peek at FamilyTreeDNA Coming Attractions FamilyTreeDNA (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9sKqNScvnE 1270 + live viewers

 

68 DNA Upload: How to Transfer Your Autosomal DNA Data FamilyTreeDNA -Katy Rowe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS-rH_HrGlo 303
69 Family Finder myOrigins: How to Compare Origins With Your DNA Matches FamilyTreeDNA -Katy Rowe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mBmWhM4j9Y 145
70 Join Group Projects at FamilyTreeDNA FamilyTreeDNA link to learning center article) https://www.familysearch.org/rootstech/session/join-group-projects-at-familytreedna link

 

71 Product Demo – Unraveling your genealogy with reconstructed trees using AutoKinship GEDmatch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7_W0FM5U7c 803
72 Towards a Genetic Genealogy Driven Irish Reference Genome Gerard Corcoran https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Kx8qeNiVmo 155

 

73 Discovering Biological Origins in Chile With DNA: Simple Triangulation Gonzalo Alexis Luengo Orellana https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcVby54Uigc 40
74 Cousin Lynne: An Adoption Story International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AptMcV4_B4o 111
75 Using DNA Testing to Uncover Native Ancestry Janine Cloud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edzebJXepMA 205
76 1. Forensic Genetic Genealogy Jarrett Ross https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0euIDZTmx5g 58
77 Reunited and it Feels so Good Jennifer Mendelsohn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-hxjm7grBE 57

 

78 Genealogical Research and DNA Testing: The Perfect Companions Kimberly Brown https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X82jA3xUVXk 80
79 Finding a Jewish Sperm Donor Kitty Munson Cooper https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKRjFfNcpug 164
80 Using DNA in South African Genealogy Linda Farrell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXkbBWmORM0 141
81 Using DNA Group Projects In Your Family History Research Mags Gaulden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tX7QDib4Cw 165
82 2. The Expansion of Genealogy Into Forensics Marybeth Sciaretta https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcEO-rMe3Xo 35

 

83 DNA Interest Groups That Keep ’em Coming Back McKell Keeney (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFwpmtA_QbE 180 plus live viewers
84 Searching for Close Relatives with Your DNA Results Mckell Keeney (live) https://www.familysearch.org/rootstech/session/searching-for-close-relatives-with-your-dna-results Not yet available
85 Top Ten Reasons To DNA Test For Family History Michelle Leonard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B9hEeu_dic 181
86 Top Tips For Identifying DNA Matches Michelle Leonard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3Oay_btNAI 306
87 Maximising Messages Michelle Patient https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TRmn0qzHik 442
88 How to Filter and Sort Your DNA Matches MyHeritage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmIgamFDvc8 88
89 How to Get Started with Your DNA Matches MyHeritage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPOzhTxhU0E 447

 

90 How to Track DNA Kits in MyHeritage` MyHeritage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2W0zBbkBJ5w 28

 

91 How to Upload Your DNA Data to MyHeritage MyHeritage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ4RoZOQafY 82
92 How to Use Genetic Groups MyHeritage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtDAUHN-3-4 62
My Story: Hope MyHeritage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjyggKZEXYA 133
93 MyHeritage Keynote, RootsTech 2022 MyHeritage https://www.familysearch.org/rootstech/session/myheritage-keynote-rootstech-2022 Not available
94 Using Labels to Name Your DNA Match List MyHeritage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enJjdw1xlsk 139

 

95 An Introduction to DNA on MyHeritage MyHeritage – Daniel Horowitz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1I6LHezMkgc 60
96 Using MyHeritage’s Advanced DNA Tools to Shed Light on Your DNA Matches MyHeritage – Daniel Horowitz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pez46Xw20b4 110
97 You’ve Got DNA Matches! Now What? MyHeritage – Daniel Horowitz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gl3UVksA-2E 260
98 My Story: Lizzie and Ayla MyHeritage – Elizbeth Shaltz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQv6C8G39Kw 147
99 My Story: Fernando and Iwen MyHeritage – Fernando Hermansson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98-AR0M7fFE 165

 

100 Using the Autocluster and the Chromosome Browser to Explore Your DNA Matches MyHeritage – Gal Zruhen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7aQbfP7lWU 115

 

101 My Story : Kara Ashby Utah Wedding MyHeritage – Kara Ashby https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbr_gg1sDRo 200
102 When Harry Met Dotty – using DNA to break down brick walls Nick David Barratt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SdnLuwWpJs 679
103 How to Add a DNA Match to Airtable Nicole Dyer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKxizWIOKC0 161
104 How to Download DNA Match Lists with DNAGedcom Client Nicole Dyer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9zTWnwl98E 124
105 How to Know if a Matching DNA Segment is Maternal or Paternal Nicole Dyer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zd5iat7pmg 161
106 DNA Basics Part I Centimorgans and Family Relationships Origins International, Inc. dba Origins Genealogy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SI1yUdnSpHA 372
107 DNA Basics Part II Clustering and Connecting Your DNA Matches Origins International, Inc. dba Origins Genealogy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECs4a1hwGcs 333
108 DNA Basics Part III Charting Your DNA Matches to Get Answers Origins International, Inc. dba Origins Genealogy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzybjN0JBGY 270
109 2. Using Cluster Auto Painter Patricia Coleman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nfLixwxKN4 691
110 3. Using Online Irish Records Patricia Coleman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZsB0l4z4os 802
111 Exploring Different Types of Clusters Patricia Coleman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEZBFPC8aL4 972

 

112 The Million Mito Project: Growing the Family Tree of Womankind Paul Maier https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpctoeKb0Kw 541
113 The Tree of Mankind Age Estimates Paul Maier https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjkL8PWAEwk 1638
114 Y-DNA and Mitochondrial DNA Testing Plans Paul Woodbury https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akymSm0QKaY 168
115 Finding Biological Family Price Genealogy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xh-r3hZ6Hw 137
116 What Y-DNA Testing Can Do for You Richard Hill https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a094YhIY4HU 191
117 Extending Time Horizons with DNA Rob Spencer (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wppXD1Zz2sQ 1037 + live viewers
118 DNA for Native American Ancestry by Roberta Estes Roberta Estes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbNyXCFfp4M 212
119 1. Associating Autosomal DNA Segments With Ancestors Roberta Estes (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IHSCkNnX48

 

~9000: 1019 + 500 live viewers + 7,400+ Facebook
120 1. What Can I Do With Ancestral DNA Segments? Roberta Estes (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Suv3l4iZYAQ 325 plus live viewers

 

121 Native American DNA – Ancient and Contemporary Maps Roberta Estes (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFTl2vXUz_0 212 plus 483 live viewers

 

122 How Can DNA Enhance My Family History Research? Robin Wirthlin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3KKW-U2P6w 102
123 How to Analyze a DNA Match Robin Wirthlin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTL8NbpROwM 367
124 1. Jewish Ethnicity & DNA: History, Migration, Genetics Schelly Talalay Dardashti https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIJyphGEZTA 82

 

125 2. Jewish Ethnicity & DNA: History, Migration, Genetics Schelly Talalay Dardashti https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VM3MCYM0hkI 72
126 Ask us about DNA Talking Family History (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv_RfR6OPpU 96 plus live viewers
127 1. An Introduction to Visual Phasing Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNhErW5UVKU

 

183
128 2. An Introduction to Visual Phasing Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRpQ8EVOShI 110

 

129 Common Problems When Doing Visual Phasing Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzFxtBS5a8Y 68
130 Cross Visual Phasing to Go Back Another Generation Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrrMqhfiwbs 64
131 DNA Basics Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCMUz-kXNZc 155
132 DNA Painter and Visual Phasing Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-eh1L4wOmQ 155
133 DNA Painter Part 2: Chromosome Mapping Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgOJDRG7hJc 172
134 DNA Painter Part 3: The Inferred Segment Generator Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96ai8nM4lzo

 

100
135 DNA Painter Part 4: The Distinct Segment Generator Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pu-WIEQ_8vc 83
136 DNA Painter Part 5: Ancestral Trees Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkYDeFLduKA 73
137 Understanding Your DNA Ethnicity Results Tanner Blair Tolman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tAd8jK6Bgw 518
138 What’s New at GEDmatch Tim Janzen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjA59BG_cF4

 

515
139 What Does it Mean to Have Neanderthal Ancestry? Ugo Perego https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DshCKDW07so 190
140 Big Y-700 Your DNA Guide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIFC69qswiA 143
141 Next Steps with Your DNA Your DNA Guide – Diahan Southard (live) https://www.familysearch.org/rootstech/session/next-steps-with-your-dna Not yet available

Additions:

142  Adventures of an Amateur Genetic Genealogist – Geoff Nelson https://www.familysearch.org/rootstech/session/adventures-of-an-amateur-genetic-genealogist     291 views

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Preserving Items for Future DNA Testing – Teeth, Stamps, Envelopes, Hats, Hair and More

I often receive questions about testing items from deceased people. Is that type of testing available, and is it successful?

The answer is some shade of grey depending on several factors.

So, let’s start with no and work our way up!

NO

Today for the normal air-breathing human, testing items for DNA in a commercial lab for genealogical purposes is not yet feasible. In part, this is due to the labor-intensive extraction costs plus the fact that often, when DNA is able to be retrieved, it’s not of sufficient quality to pass the stringent guidelines of the testing companies.

Compounding that issue is one of consent. How does the testing company actually know the item is from someone deceased AND that you have the legal right to request the specified service?

There are other problems too.

How do you know the stamp was really licked by your ancestor or the intended person and not by the person at the post office, or a family member or neighbor? You don’t.

How do you know the DNA retrieved is actually that of your ancestor or intended person and not contaminant DNA from someone else? You don’t.

And yes, I know there are companies that enter our periphery from time to time that advertise the ability to provide this service. So far, I’ve not seen consistent success which is why these companies don’t stay around long. It’s very expensive, for them and for the consumer, just to try. Regardless of the outcome.

The Technology

The intricate extraction methodology and processing is the same technology used to process forensic samples from crime scenes or to identify unknown deceased people.

Clearly, in some cases, it’s technically possible. However, remember that this type of work requires a special lab, costs in the ballpark of $2000 per sample, or more, and the results often need to be compared in a database environment that accepts partial or degraded results.

My advice – don’t even attempt this now unless you have LOTS of whatever it is from the deceased person and don’t mind sacrificing some of it, along with some big $$, and be prepared to receive no result. I’ve now tried this twice without success.

However, this isn’t the situation with someone recently deceased.

YES

While processing DNA from the recently deceased is not a commercially available service today, it’s sometimes possible.

You need to collect a DNA sample immediately after death using a swab kit. If you’re like me, you always have a DNA kit at home, but you might not be like me or you might not be at home.

You can call FamilyTreeDNA and have them overnight a kit to you or the funeral home, or you can go to the closest pharmacy and purchase an Identigene DNA kit. This brand includes swabs. Ask the mortician to swab the inside of the cheeks of the deceased. (Do NOT send the swabs in the kit to Identigene – you’re only using their swabs in order to send it to FamilyTreeDNA.)

Hopefully, there is no denture adhesive present, as that interferes with DNA processing.

While swabbing is recommended prior to embalming, if embalming has already occurred, ask them to swab anyway. The worst thing that will happen is that it won’t work. It’s worth a try.

I wrote about the process, here.

Clearly, with a swab kit, you’ll need a DNA company that uses swabs to do the processing. That eliminates both Ancestry and 23andMe which use spit kits, leaving as candidates only FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage. Fortunately, you can upload DNA files from one to the other.

MAYBE

Some things fall in-between yes and no, meaning taking a swab of a recently deceased person to process at FamilyTreeDNA and attempting to process an artifact.

For example, blood cards or tissue samples fall into this category. In this case, the challenge will be finding a lab that will accept that item.

FamilyTreeDNA may, but you’ll need to contact them in advance as it’s on a case-by-case basis.

Candidate Items

Please keep in mind that all items can be contaminated by handling. To handle, wear sterile gloves and use sterile tweezers. Your goal is to avoid contamination by handling or storage.

We’ll discuss storage and preservation in the next section.

Here’s a list of common candidate items and my comments:

Item Comments
Hair Can be contaminated. May not include the follicle which is your best bet for autosomal DNA. While mitochondrial DNA is most typically extracted from hair, using forensic methods, in some cases, autosomal can be extracted as well.
Envelopes and stamps High probability of contamination. Special processing needs to be utilized due to the adhesive which in some cases is animal-based which means it contains animal DNA.
Teeth Should be in good shape and not have cavities, meaning baby teeth are better candidates than extracted teeth. Normally, adult teeth aren’t extracted without a reason. Don’t throw anything away though.
Hearing aids Hearing aids often contain ear wax and skin cells and make good candidates.
Glasses nose pads The nose pad or metal connecting the nose pad to the glasses frame sometimes harbors skin cells.
Dentures Possible candidates although adhesive interferes with DNA as does soaking denture in cleaning solutions.
Electric razors Excellent candidates since residue held in razors generally contains skin cells. However, be sure your relative is the only person who used the razor. Contact the lab for instructions before extracting the contents.
Blood cards and tissue samples Excellent source but the lab needs to be contacted about whether they accept this type of sample and how to send it safely. Blood and tissue samples may be held by a medical facility if the person was hospitalized, received treatment, or a post-mortem was performed.
Hats, sweaty items, etc. Possible candidates but it depends on the item, its age, and condition. Contact the lab with specifics. With hats, check for embedded hairs which may be a better source than the hat itself.
Used Kleenex type tissue If you’re positive that the tissue was used by the target person, this is a great source of DNA.
Toothbrush Sometimes, but bacteria can be an issue. Doesn’t hurt to save a toothbrush after allowing to dry completely
Fingernail and toenail clippings Clippings are a great source of DNA. Be sure to check clippers, as some have little “catchers” built-in. Also check the drawer where clippers are stored, assuming there is only one individual using those clippers.
Travel bag If your relative traveled from time to time, check the bag in their suitcase that held their personal items. You never know what you might find. Mine holds many DNA-rich items and yours probably does too.

If your relative passed away from something communicable, you need to take that into consideration.

Storage and Preservation Guidelines

While this type of DNA processing service isn’t commercially available as an off-the-shelf service yet today, as technology improves and prices reduce, I feel confident it will be a viable, readily-available service someday. I’ve been saying that for years now, and I just hope someday isn’t too far in the future.

Your challenge is to keep your sample of whatever it is in good condition, so it doesn’t degrade irrecoverably while you are waiting.

  • NEVER store items in plastic including ziplocks or baggies. Plastic prevents air circulation and encourages mold.
  • NEVER use any type of tape or adhesive.
  • DO store each item individually in paper, like an envelope, preferable acid-free paper.
  • If you store an item in fabric, DO wash the fabric first to remove dye, stabilizers and dirt as well as DNA residue from other people. Handle the fabric with sterile gloves after washing.
  • DON’T store the item against wood and not in a cedar chest. Wood contains tannins which are acids that stain and leach into other items.
  • DON’T store the item in the sun, a hot attic or humid basement.
  • DO store the item in a safe, dark location in a temperature-controlled area of your home.
  • DO label the container the item is stored in.

I have several items from my father and grandfather that I’m keeping with the hope of someday being able to utilize them. I have them stored individually in an acid-free envelope, in a small train case, buffered by acid free tissue paper, with nothing else touching the envelope, in my closet.

I’ve also enclosed a note for my daughter, just in case she finds those one day and wonders what they are and why they are packaged in that manner.

Don’t Throw It Away

Let’s say you’ve already done DNA testing on your parent, then they pass away.

As you go through their things, you see hairbrushes and razors and maybe even find a tissue in a nightgown pocket.

You think about how those items would be good for DNA testing and you’re glad you already did that. That means you don’t need to save those things, right? Wrong!

DON’T throw those items away. They’re treasure. There may be new vendors in the future, new companies that process and utilize DNA. There will assuredly be advances in science and new products, and you may wish you had those DNA sources.

I saved my Mom’s hairbrush and Kleenexes from her bathrobe pocket for this exact reason. She lived alone and no one else would have used those items.

Complicating Circumstances

Biological processes accelerate and degrade DNA.

For example, heat.

The heat of modern-day cremations destroys all DNA, even though residual bone fragments are left.

Cold, meaning freezing, would typically preserve DNA, unless a repeated freeze/thaw cycle is involved. In other words, don’t store those teeth in a frost-free refrigerator. I know someone who froze something in an ice cube tray and suffice it to say that a guest received a VERY unexpected surprise one hot summer day. In another instance, a power failure caused everything in a freezer to be thrown away. Freezing is generally not the best choice.

If your ancestor died in a fire, or the home burned but some items were preserved – maybe.

If flooding or water was involved, again, think mold and rapid degradation. Dry those items but without high heat and not in a dryer. If you’re dealing with sewer water, dispose of the items.

The bottom line is this – if there’s enough of an item left to see and identify, other than cremains, there’s enough to preserve, just in case.

Truly, you never know. The best you can do is to begin preservation now and work with what you have.

Staying on the Right Side of the Law

I’m not a lawyer, but I do know that there are required legal procedures to exhume remains for testing. Those laws and procedures vary by location.

Do not try this at home. Contact a lawyer in the jurisdiction where the person you hope to test is buried and be prepared to convince at least five people that your need is pressing and justifiable:

  • The lawyer (bring a large check)
  • Other family members, ALL of whom will likely be required to sign and notarize their agreement
  • A judge who will ultimately decide
  • The coroner or other individual to arrange exhumation and take the sample
  • A lab to process the sample and if it’s not your DNA testing lab, agreement from your DNA lab to allow your sample to be uploaded

You’ve probably figured out why you never see anyone discussing having exhumed their dearly departed for testing. The hoops are many and the process is exorbitantly complex and expensive. Just moving a grave a mile or so down the road when a cemetery was being permanently flooded, without getting a court order or taking a biological sample cost a friend in excess of $20,000 several years ago.

Alternate Strategies

If you’re seeking the Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA of that ancestor, another family member appropriately descended may be able to serve as a proxy. Work your way up the tree to find test candidates and create a DNA Pedigree Chart.

Males inherit their father’s Y chromosome along with their surname. Everyone received their mother’s mitochondrial DNA, but only females pass it on.

Autosomal DNA, at least in part can sometimes be inferred by matching with other people from the same side through family matching, or conversely, not sharing a match with someone that you know is from either your paternal or maternal side on the same segment.

You can read more about how different kinds of DNA is passed to descendants, here.

Summary

Today, testing most artifact items isn’t a viable strategy to retrieve DNA, but there are some notable exceptions. Alternate testing strategies may prove more fruitful

However, taking appropriate measures to preserve these items for future testing is a great strategy. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work. You’ll never know if you don’t take those preservation steps today.

The best outcome, of course, is that one day your ancestor’s DNA will be able to assist your genealogy. I can hardly wait!

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AutoKinship at GEDmatch by Genetic Affairs

Genetic Affairs has created a new version of AutoKinship at GEDmatch. The new AutoKinship report adds new features, allows for more kits to be included in the analysis, and integrates multiple reports together:

  • AutoCluster – the autoclusters we all know and love
  • AutoSegment – clusters based on segments
  • AutoTree – reconstructed tree based on GEDCOM files of you and your matches, even if you don’t have a tree
  • AutoKinship – the original AutoKinship report provided genetic trees. The new AutoKinship report includes AutoTree, combines both, and adds features called AutoKinship Tree. (Trust me on this one – you’ll see in a minute!)
  • Matches
    • Common Ancestors with your ancestors
    • Common Ancestors between matches, even if they don’t match your tree
    • Common Locations

Maybe the best news is that some reports provide automatic triangulation because, at GEDmatch, it’s possible to not only see how you match multiple people, but also if those people match each other on that same segment. Of course, triangulation requires three-way matching in addition to the identification of common ancestors which is part of what AutoKinship provides, in multiple ways.

Let’s step through the included reports and features one at a time, using my clusters as an example.

Order Your Report

As a Tier 1 GEDmatch customer, sign in, select AutoKinship and order your report.

Note that there are now two clustering settings, the default setting and one that will provide more dense clusters. The last setting is the default setting for AutoKinship, since it has been shown to produce better AutoKinship results.

You can also select the number of kits to consider. Since this tool is free with a GEDmatch Tier 1 subscription, you can start small and rerun if you wish, as often as you wish.

Currently, a maximum of 500 matches can be included, but that will be increased to 1000 in the future. Your top 500 matches will be included that fall within the cM matching parameters specified.

I’m leaving this at the maximum 400 cM threshold, so every match below that is included. I generally leave this default threshold because otherwise my closest matches will be in a huge number of clusters which may cause processing issues.

For a special use case where you will want to increase the cM threshold, see the Special Use Cases section near the end of this article.

You can select a low number of matches, like 25 or 50 which is particularly useful if you want to examine the closest matches of a kit without a tree.

Keep in mind that there is currently a maximum processing time of 10 minutes allowed per report. This means that if you have large clusters, which are the last ones processed, you may not have AutoKinship results for those clusters.

This also means that if you select a high cM threshold and include all 500 allowable matches, you will receive the report but the AutoKinship results may not be complete.

When finished, your report will be delivered to you as a download link with an attached zipped file which you will need to save someplace where you can find it.

Unzip

If you’re a PC user, you’ll need to unzip or extract the files before you can use the files. You’ll see the zipper on the file.

If you don’t extract the contents, you can click on the file to open which will display a list of the files, so it looks like the files are extracted, but they aren’t.

You can see that the file is still zipped.

You can click on the html file which will display the AutoCluster correctly too, but when you click on any other link within that file, you’ll receive this error message if the file is still zipped.

If this happens to you, it means the file is still zipped. Close the files you have open, right click on the yellow zipped file folder and “extract all.”

Then click on the HTML link again and everything should work.

Ok, on to the fun part – the tools.

Tools

I’ve written about most of these tools individually before, except for the new combinations of course. I’ve put all of the Genetic Affairs Tools, Instructions and Resources in one article that you can find here.

I recommend that you take a look to be sure you’re using each tool to its greatest advantage.

AutoCluster

Click on the html file and watch your AutoCluster fly into place. I always, always love this part.

The first thing I noticed about my AutoCluster at GEDmatch is that it’s HUGE! I have a total of 144 clusters and that’s just amazing!

Information about the cluster file, including the number of matches, maximum and minimum cM used for the report, and minimum cluster size appears beneath your cluster chart.

22 people met the criteria but didn’t have other matches that did, so they are listed for my review, but not included in the cluster chart.

At first glance, the clusters look small, but don’t despair, they really aren’t.

My clusters only look small because the tool was VERY successful, and I have many matches in my clusters. The chart has to be scaled to be able to display on a computer monitor.

New Layout

Genetic Affairs has introduced a new layout for the various included tools.

Each section opens to provide a brief description of the tool and what is occurring. This new tool includes four previous tools plus a new one, AutoCluster Tree, as follows:

AutoCluster

AutoCluster first organizes your DNA matches into shared match clusters that likely represent branches of your family. Everyone in a cluster will likely be on the same ancestral line, although the MRCA between any of the matches and between you and any match may vary. The generational level of the clusters may vary as well. One may be your paternal grandmother’s branch, another may be your paternal grandfather’s father’s branch.

AutoSegment

AutoSegment organizes your matches based on triangulating segments. AutoSegment employs the positional information of segments (chromosome and start and stop position) to identify overlapping segments in order to link DNA matches. In addition, triangulated data is used to collaborate these links. Using the user defined minimum overlap of a DNA segment we perform a clustering of overlapping DNA segments to identify segment clusters. The overlap is calculated in centimorgans using human genetic recombination maps. Another aspect of overlapping segments is the fact that some regions of our genome seem to have more matches as compared to the other regions. These so-called pile-up areas can influence the clustering. The removal of known pile-up regions based on the paper of Li et al 2014 is optional and is not performed for this analysis However, a pileup report is provided that allows you to examine your genome for pileup regions.

AutoTree

By comparing the tree of the tested person and the trees from the members of a certain cluster, we can identify ancestors that are common amongst those trees. First, we collect the surnames that are present in the trees and create a network using the similarity between surnames. Next, we perform a clustering on this network to identify clusters of similar surnames. A similar clustering is performed based on a network using the first names of members of each surname cluster. Our last clustering uses the birth and death years of members of a cluster to find similar persons. As a consequence, initially large clusters (based on the surnames) are divided up into smaller clusters using the first name and birth/death year clustering.

AutoKinship

AutoKinship automatically predicts family trees based on the amount of DNA your DNA matches share with you and each other. Note that AutoKinship does not require any known genealogical trees from your DNA matches. Instead, AutoKinship looks at the predicted relationships between your DNA matches, and calculates many different paths you could all be related to each other. The probabilities used by this AutoKinship analysis are based on simulated data for GEDmatch matches and are kindly provided by Brit Nicholson (methodology described here). Based on the shared cM data between shared matches, we create different trees based on the putative relationships. We then use the probabilities to test every scenario which are then ranked.

AutoKinship Tree

Predicted trees from the AutoTree analysis are based on genealogical trees shared by the DNA matches and, if available, shared by the tested person. The relationships between DNA matches based on their common ancestors as provided AutoTree are used to perform an AutoKinship analysis and are overlayed on the predicted AutoKinship tree.

AutoKinship Tree is New

AutoKinship Tree is the new feature that combines the features of both AutoTree and AutoKinship. You receive:

  • Common ancestors between you and your matches
  • Trees of people who don’t share your common ancestors but share ancestors with each other
  • Combined with relationship predictions and
  • A segment analysis

Of course, the relative success of the tree tools depends upon how many people have uploaded GEDCOM files.

Big hint, if you haven’t uploaded your family tree, do so now. If you are an adoptee or searching for a parent and don’t know who your ancestors are, AutoKinship Tree does its best without your tree information, and you will still benefit from the trees of others combined with predicted relationships based on DNA.

It’s easier to show you than to tell you, so let’s step through my results one section at a time.

I’m going to be using cluster 5 which has 32 members and cluster 136 which has 8 members. Ironically, cluster 136 is a much more useful cluster, with 8 good matches, than cluster 5 which includes 32 people.

Results of the AutoKinship Analyses

As you scroll down your results, you’ll see a grid beneath the Explanation area.

It’s easy to see which cluster received results for each tool. My cluster 5 has results in each category, along with surnames. (Notice that you can search for surnames which displays only the clusters that contain that surname.)

I can click on each icon to see what’s there waiting for me.

Additionally, you can click at the top on the blue middle “here” for an overview of all common ancestors. Who can resist that, right?

Click on the ancestor’s name or the tree link to view more information.

You can also view common locations too by clicking on the blue “here” at far right. A location, all by itself, is a HUGE hint.

Clicking on the tree link shows you the tree of the tester with ancestors at that location. I had several others from North Carolina, generally, and other locations specifically. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Common Ancestor Clusters

Click on the first blue link to view all common ancestors.

Common Ancestor Clusters summarize all of the clusters by ancestor. In other words, if any of your matches have ancestors in common in their tree, they are listed here.

These clusters include NOT just the people who share ancestors in a tree with you, but who also share known ancestors with each other BUT NOT YOU. That may be incredibly important when you are trying to identify your ancestors – as in brick walls. Your ancestors may be their ancestors too, or your common segments might lead to your common ancestors if you complete their tree.

There are other important hints too.

In my case, above, Jacob Lentz is my known ancestor.

However, Sarah Barron is not my ancestor, nor is John Vincent Dodson. They are the descendants of my Dodson ancestor though. I recognized that surname and those people. In other instances, recognizing a common geography may be your clue for figuring out how you connect.

In the cluster column at left, you can see the cluster number in which these people are found.

Common Locations Table

Clicking on the second link provides a Common Location Table

Some locations are general, like a state, and others are town, county or even village names. Whatever people have included in their GEDCOM files that can be connected.

Looking at this first entry, I recognize some of the ancestral surnames of Karen’s ancestors. The fact that we are found in the same cluster and share DNA indicates a common ancestor someplace.

Check for this same person in additional locations, then, look at their tree.

Ok, back to the AutoKinship Analysis Table and Cluster 136.

Cluster 136

I’m going to use Cluster 136 as an example because this cluster has generated great reports using all of the tools, indicated by the icon under each column heading. Some clusters won’t have enough information for everything so the tools generate as much as possible.

Scrolling down to Cluster 136 in the AutoCluster Information report, just beneath the list of clusters, I can see my 8 matches in that cluster.

Of course, I can click on the links for specific information, or contact them via email. At the end of this article in the “Tell Me Everything” section, I’ll provide a way to retrieve as much information as possible about any one match. For now, let’s move to the AutoTree.

Cluster 136 AutoTree

Clicking on the icon under AutoTree shows me how two of the matches in this cluster are related to each other and myself.

Note that the centimorgan badges listed refer to the number of cM that I share with each of these people, not how much they share with each other.

Click on any of the people to see additional information.

When I click on J Lentz m F Moselman, a popup box shows me how this couple is related to me and my matches.

Of course, you can also view the Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA haplogroups if the testers have provided that information when they set up their GEDmatch profile information.

Just click on the little icons.

If the testers have not provided that information, you can always check at FamilyTreeDNA or 23andMe, if they have tested at either of those vendors, to view their haplogroup information.

Today, GEDmatch kit numbers are assigned randomly, but in the early days, before Genesis, the leading letter of A meant AncestryDNA, F or T for FamilyTreeDNA, M for 23andMe and H for MyHeritage. If the kit number is something else, perform a one-to-one or a one-to-many report which will display the source of their DNA file.

The small number, 136 in this case, beside the cM number indicates the cluster or clusters that these people are members of. Some people are members of multiple clusters

Let’s see what’s next.

Cluster 136 Common Ancestors

Clicking on the Ancestors icon provides a report that shows all of the Ancestor Clusters in cluster 136.

The difference between this ancestor chart and the larger chart is that this only shows ancestors for cluster 136, while the larger chart shows ancestors for the entire AutoCluster report.

Cluster 136 Locations

All of the locations shown are included in trees of people who cluster together in cluster 136. Of course, this does NOT mean that these locations are all relevant to cluster 136. However, finding my own tree listed might provide an important clue.

Using the location tool, I discover 5 separate location clusters. This location cluster includes me with each tester’s ancestors who are found in Montgomery County, Ohio.

The difference between this chart for cluster 136 only and the larger location chart is that every location in this chart is relevant for people who all cluster together meaning we all share some ancestral line.

Viewing the trees of other people in the cluster may suggest ancestors or locations that are essential for breaking down brick walls.

Cluster 136 AutoKinship

Clicking on the anchor in the AutoKinship column provides a genetically reconstructed tree based on how closely each of the people match me, and each other. Clearly, in order to be able to provide this prediction, information about how your matches also match each other, or don’t, is required.

Again, the cM amount shown is the cM match with me, not with each other. However, if you click on a match, a popup will be shown that shows the shared cM between that person and the other matches as well as the relationship prediction between them in this tree

So, Bill matches David with a total of 354.3 cM and they are positioned as first cousins once removed in this tree. The probability of the match being a 1C1R (first cousin once removed) is 64.9%, meaning of course that other relationships are possible.

Note that Bill and David ALSO share a segment with me in autosegment cluster 185, on chromosome 3.

It’s important to note that while 136 is the autocluster number, meaning that colored block on the report, WITHIN clusters, autosegment clusters are formed and numbered. 

Each autosegment cluster receives its own number and the numbers are for the entire report. You will have more autosegment clusters than autoclusters, because at least some of the colorful autoclusters will contain more than one segment cluster.

Remember, autoclusters are those colorful boxes of matches that fly into place. Autosegment clusters are the matching triangulated clusters on chromosomes and they are represented by the blue bars, shown below.

AutoCluster 136 contains 5 different autosegment clusters, but Bill is only included in one of those autosegment clusters.

You’ll notice that there are some people, like Robin at the bottom, who do match some other people in the cluster, but either not enough people, or not enough overlapping DNA to be included as an autocluster member.

The small colored chromosomes with numbers, boxed in red, indicate the chromosome on which this person matches me.

If you click on that chromosome icon, you’ll see a popup detailing everyone who matches me on that segment.

Note that in some cases a member of a segment cluster, like Robin, did not make it in the AutoCluster cluster. You can spot these occurrences by scrolling down and looking at the cluster column which will then be empty for that particular match.

Reconstructed AutoKinship Trees in Most Likely Order

Scrolling down the page, next we see that we have multiple possible trees to view. We are shown the most likely tree first.

Tree likelihood is constructed based on the combined probability of my matching cM to an individual plus their likely relationship to each other based on the amount of DNA they share with each other as well.

In my case, all of the first 8 trees are equally as likely to be accurate, based on autosomal genetic relationships only. The ninth tree is only very slightly less likely to be accurate.

The X chromosome is not utilized separately in this analysis, nor are Y or mitochondrial DNA haplogroups if provided.

DNA Relationship Matrix

Continuing to scroll down, we next see the DNA matrix that shows relationships for cluster 5 in a grid format. Click on “Download Relationship Matrix” to view in a spreadsheet.

Keep scrolling for the next view which is the Individual Segment Cluster Information

Individual Segment Cluster Information

Remember that we are still focused on only one cluster – in this case, cluster 136. Each cluster contains people who all match at least some subset of other people in the cluster. Some people will match each other and the tested person on the same chromosome segment, and some won’t. What we generally see within clusters are “subclusters” of people who match each other on different chromosomes and segments. Also, some matches from cluster 136 might match other people but those matches might not be a member of cluster 136.

In autocluster 136, I have 14 DNA segments that converge into 5 segment clusters with my matches. Here’s segment cluster 185 that consists of two people in addition to me. Note that for individuals to be included in these segment clusters at GEDmatch, they must triangulate with people in the same segment cluster.

From left to right, we see the following information:

  • AutoCluster number 136, shown below

  • Segment cluster 185. This is a segment cluster within autocluster 136.

  • Segment cluster 185 occurs on chromosome 3, between the designated start and stop locations.
  • The segment representation shows the overlapping portions of the two matches, to me. You can easily see that they overlap almost exactly with each other as well.
  • The SNP count is shown, followed by the name and cM count.

Cluster 136 AutoKinship Tree

The AutoKinship Tree column is different from the AutoKinship column in one fundamental way. The new AutoKinship Tree feature combines the genealogical AutoTree and the genetic AutoKinship output together in one report.

You can see that the “prior” genealogical tree information that one of my matches also descends from Jacob Lentz (and wife, if you click further) has now been included. The matches without trees have been reconstructed around the known genealogy based on how they match me and each other.

I was already aware of how I’m related to Bill, David, *C and *R, but I don’t know how I am related to these other people. Based on their kit identifier, I can go to the vendor where they tested and utilize tools there, and I can check to see if they have uploaded their DNA files elsewhere to discover additional records information or critical matches. Now at least I know where in the tree to search.

Cluster 136 AutoSegment

Clicking on AutoSegment provides you with segment information. Each cluster is painted on your chromosomes.

By hovering over the darkly colored segments, which are segment clusters, you can view who you match, although to view multiple matches, continue scrolling.

In the next section, you’ll see the two segment clusters contained wholly within cluster 136.

Following that is the same information for segment clusters partially linked to cluster 136, but not contained wholly within 136.

Bonus – Tell Me Everything – Individual Match Clusters

We’ve focused specifically on the AutoKinship tools, but if you’re interested in “everything” about one specific match, you can approach things from that perspective too. I often look at a cluster, then focus on individuals, beginning with those I can identify which focuses my search.

If you click on any person in your match list, you’ll receive a report focusing on that person in your autocluster.

Let’s use cousin Bill as an example. I know how he’s related to me.

You can choose to display your chosen cluster by:

  • Cluster
  • Number of shared matches
  • Shared cM with the tester
  • Name

I would suggest experimenting with all of the options and see which one displays information that is most useful to the question you’re trying to answer.

Beneath the cluster for Bill, you’ll see the relevant information about the cluster itself. Bill has cluster matches on two different chromosomes.

The AutoCluster Cluster member Information report shows you how much DNA each cluster member shares with the tested person, which is me, and with each other cluster member. It’s easy to see at a glance who Bill is most closely related to by the number of cMs shared.

Only one of Bill’s chromosomes, #3, is included in clusters, but this tells me immediately that this/these segments on chromosome 3 triangulate between me, Bill, and at least one other person.

Segments shown in orange (chromosome 22) match me, but are not included in a cluster.

Special Use Cases – Unknown People

For adoptees and people trying to figure out how they are related to closer relatives, especially those without a tree, this new combined AutoKinship tool is wonderful.

400 cM is the upper default limit when running the report, meaning that close family members will not be included because they would be included in many clusters. However, you can make a different selection. If you’re trying to determine how several closely related people intersect, select a high threshold to include everyone.

Select a lower number of matches, like 25 or 50.

In this example, ‘no limit” was selected as the upper total match threshold and 25 closest matches.

AutoKinship then constructs a genetic tree and tells you which trees are possible and most likely. If some people do have trees, that common ancestor information would be included as well.

Note that when matches occur over the 400 cM threshold, there will be too many common chromosome matches so the chromosome numbers are omitted. Just check the other reports.

This tool would have helped a great deal with a recent close match who didn’t know how they are related to my family.

You can see this methodology in action and judge its accuracy by reconstructing your own family, assuming some of your known family members have uploaded to GEDmatch. Try it out.

It’s a Lot!

I know there’s a lot here to absorb, but take your time and refer back to this article as needed.

This flexible new tool combines DNA matching, genealogy trees, genetic trees, locations, autoclusters, a chromosome browser, and triangulation. It took me a few passes and working with different clusters to understand and absorb the information that is being provided.

For people who don’t know who their parents or close relatives are, these tools are amazing. Not only can they determine who they are related to, and who is related to each other, but with the use of trees, they can view common ancestors which provides possible ancestors for them too.

For people painting their triangulated segments at DNAPainter, AutoKinship provides triangulation groups that can be automatically painted using the Cluster Auto Painter, here, plus helps to identify that common ancestor. You can read more about DNAPainter, here.

For people seeking to break down brick walls, AutoKinship Tree provides assistance by providing tree matching between your matches for common ancestors NOT IN YOUR TREE, but that ARE in theirs. Your brick walls are clearly not (yet) identified in your tree, although that’s our fervent hope, right?

Even if your matches’ trees don’t go far enough back, as a genealogist, you can extend those trees further to hopefully reveal a previously unknown common ancestor.

The Best Things You Can Do

Aside from DNA testing, the three best things you can do to help yourself, and your clusters are:

  • Upload your GEDCOM file, complete with locations, so you have readily available trees. Ask your matches to do so as well. Trees help you and others too.
  • Encourage people you match at Ancestry who provides no chromosome segment information or chromosome browser to upload a copy of their DNA files and tree.
  • Test your family members and cousins, and encourage them to upload their DNA and their trees. Offer to assist them. You can find step-by-step download/upload instructions here.

Have fun!

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