Michel de Forest (c1638–c1690): Acadian Family Founder – 52 Ancestors #411

There are some things we know about Michel (de) Forest, and a lot that we don’t. Furthermore, there are myths that, with repeated telling, have become widely accepted and ingrained into genealogy, but now seem to have been disproven. Thankfully, the lives of our ancestors continue to come into clearer focus.

Let’s start with the facts we have, beginning with the trusty census records.

Acadian Censuses

The French Acadians settled in what is now Nova Scotia beginning in 1632, moving to Port Royal in 1635 on the Bay of Fundy.

It’s estimated that by 1653, there were 45-50 households in Port Royal and about 60 single men. Of course, those men would have been very interested in finding wives.

A prisoner in 1654 estimated that there were about 270 residents.

From about 1653 to 1667, Acadia was under English rule, not French. This is actually important for Michel de Forest’s history, because as a French man, he would probably have arrived prior to 1653. We know he was married in 1666, so he would already have been in Acadia before 1667.

The Acadians took periodic censuses beginning in 1671. While there are millions of Acadian descendants today, the founding population was small. Given the challenges they faced, it’s actually amazing that they survived at all and that their descendants thrived, even after the Acadian Removal, known as Le Grande Derangement.

The first record we find for Michel de Forest is the 1671 census in Port Royal, Acadia, transcribed here by Lucie LeBlanc Consentino, where he is listed as Michel de Forest, age 33, wife Marie Hebert, 20, with children Michel 4, Pierre 2, René 1, 12 cattle and two sheep.

This tells us that he has been in Acadia for at least five years, in order to have married and have a 4-year-old child. He would have been about 27 when he married.

This also provides a birth year for him of about 1638.

The next census, taken in 1678, shows Michel as a widower with 4 acres, 3 cows, 2 calves, 1 gun, four boys, ages 12, 10, 8, and 3, plus two girls, ages 6 and 4. His age is not given.

Assuming that all of Michel’s children were born to the same mother, this suggests that Marie Hebert died sometime in or after 1675, when the last child would have been born.

Marie and Michel were only married for between 9 and 12 years. I wonder if she died about 1677 in childbirth. Of course, there’s no evidence for that. If she died giving birth to that child, or shortly thereafter, the child is deceased too.

In 1684, a new governor was appointed to Acadia who described the Acadians as living simply and pastorally. He claimed they lived better than Canadians, never lacking meat or bread, but weren’t as industrious. He said they never put anything away for a bad year, and their dowries were small – a few francs and a cow in calf, a ewe, and a sow.

Maybe that explains at least one of Michel’s cows and sheep in 1671.

In 1686, Michel is once again enumerated in the census, age 47, now married to Jacqueline Benoit whose age is given as 13, but is very likely erroneously recorded. Census takers then were probably much the same as census takers decades later in the US. However, accuracy was probably not deemed to be as important in Acadia. After all, everyone knew everyone else. The entire census consisted of 392 people, but scholars estimate that it was probably closer to 500.

Based on Jacqueline’s earlier family records, I believe she was 17. Michel’s children with Marie Hebert are listed as Michel 19, Pierre 18, René 16, Gabriel 13, Marie 11, and Jean-Baptiste 9. Michel had one gun, 8 sheep, and 4 hogs and was cultivating 5 arpents of land.

Age 47 puts Michel’s birth year at 1639. He was either newly married, or his wife was pregnant, because their only child was born about 1687.

In 1686, Jean-Baptiste, at age 9, fits the same pattern as the child who was 3 in 1678, but the math is slightly off. Age 9 in 1686 would put Jean-Baptiste’s birth year in 1677. Perhaps 1676 is the actual birth year, which puts Marie Hebert’s death sometime between 1676 and the 1678 census.

A 1688 report from the governor states that there was a labor shortage, a shortage of manure necessary for developing the uplands and also a shortage of tidelands that would be easy to dyke. As a result, 25-30 (mostly) younger people had moved to Minas in the last 6 years.

By sometime in 1691, Michel’s second wife, Jacqueline Benoit had remarried to Guillaume Trahan. In the 1693 census, she was listed with him as age 20. Michel Forest’s daughter Marguerite, age 6, is shown with the family, but without a surname, as is Angelique, age 1. Angelique would have been born to Jacqueline and Guillaume.

In May of 1690, Michel’s son, René signed the required loyalty oath, but Michel did not, which tells us that he had died by then.

Therefore, we know that Michel died sometime between the birth of his last child, Marguerite, born about 1687 to his second wife, Jacqueline, and May of 1690.

Michel’s youngest child, Marguerite, married about 1705 to Etienne Comeau and had nine children. She is shown with her mother and step-father in 1693 in Les Mines.

Acadia Land Location

Based on later records and a reconstruction of the 1707 census which includes Michel’s son, René de Forest, we know the probable location of Michel’s land. Further confirming this, Karen Theriot Reader reports that Michel had obtained a considerable concession extending over a mile in depth, a dozen miles to the east of the fort in Port Royal.

The René Forest Village is a dozen miles east of the fort, exactly where we would expect based on the description of that concession. A mile in depth is a LOT of land, which would have begun with water frontage on the rivière Dauphin, now the Annapolis River.

Based on the legend, a mile in depth would extend across 201 and possibly to or across 101, Harvest Highway, as well.

As further evidence, Michel married Marie Hebert, daughter of Etienne Hebert and Marie Gaudet, who lived on the adjacent farm.

The Hebert’s lived in close proximity to the de Forest family, maybe half a mile away, which would make courting easy! MapAnnapolis was kind enough to map these locations, here.

The Nova Scotia Archives shows the Hebert and Forest villages on this 1733 map.

This land remained in those families for a century. It’s no wonder that these families intermarried heavily.

Spousal Candidates

There weren’t many marriageable-age young women to choose from among Acadian families, which explains why some men chose Native wives.

I did some analysis on the 1671 census, which proved quite interesting.

There were a total of 68 families in Port Royal in 1671. With that small number of families, it’s no wonder everyone is related to everyone else within just a few generations. The descendant population is highly endogamous today. WikiTree reports that Michel has more than 28,000 identified descendants.

The 1671 census is unique in that families with older children noted how many married children they had. Then, the married child was also enumerated with their own family.

For example, Marie Hebert’s mother was widowed, and her census entry reads thus:

“Marie Gaudet, widow of Etienne Hebert, 38. She has 10 children, two married children: Marie 20, Marguerite 19, Emmanuel 18, not yet married”…and so forth

Then, Marie Hebert is listed with her husband, Michel de Forest, along with their children.

This provides us with a rare opportunity. First, we can match children, particularly females, up with their parents so long as at least one parent is still living.

This dual listing methodology also provides an unexpected glimpse into something else. Missing married children. At least six married children females in the age bracket that I was studying were noted as “married,” but they are not listed with a spouse anyplace. This could be because they had left the area, but that exodus hadn’t really begun that early and wouldn’t for another 15 years or so. It’s also possible that they were simply missed, but that seems unlikely, given that everyone literally knew everyone else and where they lived. Furthermore, everyone lived along the river.

After matching the married daughters up with their husbands, two name-based matches remained questionable, given that the ages were significantly different. For example, one couple lists Marie Gautrot as their married daughter, age 35, but Claude Terriau’s listing shows Marie Gautrot, age 24, as his wife. Their oldest child is 9. This may or may not be the same person.

My goal was to see how many females were of marriage age and single in 1666 when Michel de Forest married. I calculated the probable marriage date for each female based on the oldest child’s age minus one year.

Based on the women living in 1671, 5 females other than Michel’s wife were married in 1666, so they may or may not have been available for marriage when Michel was looking.

I entered all the women between ages 18 and 35 in 1671 into a spreadsheet, meaning they were between 13 and 30 in 1666 when Michel was about 26 or 27. While 13 is extremely young to marry, it appears that young women began marrying at that age. I suspect they married as soon as they reached puberty or shortly thereafter.

After all, finding a “good” husband was important, and in Acadia, pickings were slim. Plus, you really wanted your daughter to settle nearby, so if her “intended” was a neighbor, so much the better. And if her “intended” also had a farm and a cow – that was the veritable jackpot!

The total number of females aged 18-35 in 1671 was only 41, one of which was a widow whose age I can’t reconcile accurately.

Of those people, only 12 were unquestionably unmarried in 1666, plus possibly the widow. If all of the women who married in 1666 were unspoken for in 1666 when Michael was courting, the absolute maximum number of available spouses in that age range was 18, including Michel’s wife. I did not calculate the number of marriage-age males, but there seemed to be more males than females.

Eighteen potential spouses are actually not many to choose from. “Here are 18 people – pick one to marry for the rest of your life.” Today, we hope and expect to be happy. I’d bet they simply hoped not to be miserable and to survive. The most important qualities were probably selecting someone kind and industrious, although young people might not have realized that.

The priests would not sanction marriages to Native women unless the woman would convert and be baptized in the Catholic church, so the men who married Native women tended to live in the woods among the Native people, adopting their lifeways.

The female Acadian marriage age was quite young, ranging from 13-25. The average was 17 years and 10 months.

Calculated marriage ages of women in that age bracket based on the age of the oldest child, less one year, were:

  • 13 years old – 2 people
  • 14 – 3
  • 15 – 5
  • 16 – 2
  • 17 – 5
  • 18 – 2
  • 19 – 6
  • 20 – 3
  • 21 – 1
  • 22 – 1
  • 23 – 1
  • 24 – 1
  • 25 – 1

It’s clear from these numbers that most people were married by 20, and by 21, few female marriage partners were left. The marriages of the women in their 20s could also be erroneous if their first child or children died before the census.

Church records before 1702 do not survive, so we can’t check further.

Michel probably climbed in his birchbark canoe, wearing his cleanest clothes, and paddled the short distance to visit Marie’s parents, asking permission to marry their daughter. Or, perhaps, he asked them in church. They would have seen each other there, at least weekly, so long as the colony had a priest in residence.

Or, maybe Michel became inspired when he was visiting Marie and just popped the question one fine day when she looked particularly beautiful as they strolled through the fields on their adjoining lands.

Because Michel had no parents in the settlement, he would have established himself as a farmer by that point, proving his ability to support a wife and children. This is probably one of the reasons he didn’t marry until he was 28. Regardless of when he arrived, or under what circumstances, he still needed time to build a foundation that would make him marriage-eligible. That would mean being either a farmer, with land, or a tradesman. Something with a dependable income – as dependable as anything could be in a region torn by conflict between the French and English.

If Michel were already farming when he married, which is likely, Marie’s parents would have been excited because their daughter would be living in very close proximity, literally within sight. Or, perhaps, this is how the de Forest family came to establish their home, then the village, next to the Heberts.

Life and Death in Acadia

Michel died young. If he perished in 1687, he would have been roughly 49 years old. If he died in 1690, he would have been 52. Certainly, he could have died of natural causes, but it’s more likely that something else was responsible for his death.

Of course, without modern medical care, any wound could fester and cause sepsis, or an accident with a horse could end a life in the blink of an eye. An appendicitis attack was a death sentence. Dysentery, typhoid, and other diseases of contamination wiped out entire families.

However, none of his children died, nor did his wife at the time, so something else caused Michel’s death.

One likely candidate is the warfare with the English. Acadia had been settled by the French, but the English coveted the land, eventually taking permanent possession, in 1710. However, they had been trying for decades, and control of Acadia has passed back and forth more than once – and never peacefully.

However, 1690 was particularly heinous.

1690

In 1690, Acadia was once again plundered and burned by the English out of Boston. The church in Port Royal and 28 homes were burned, but not the mills and upriver farms, which may have included the Forest homestead.

The French pirate, Pierre Baptiste attempted to defend Port Royal in 1690 but was unsuccessful. A year later, he was successfully recruiting men in Acadia to join him in capturing British ships.

The Acadians in Port Royal swore an oath of allegiance in May of 1690 hoping to de-escalate the situation. Instead, their priest was kidnapped and taken to Boston. Luckily for us, the priest took the loyalty oath document with him, which tells us which males were alive as of May 1690. I transcribed that list, here.

Michel is not on the list, and neither are his two oldest sons, Michel and Pierre. The eldest was probably married already, but Pierre was not. Michel’s third son, René de Forest, signed the oath and stayed in Acadia to work his father’s land. The older two brothers settled shortly thereafter, if they hadn’t already, in Grand Pre which had been founded in 1686 by the Melanson family.

The English were firmly in charge of Acadia after the 1690 attack.

Emboldened, 2 English pirates took advantage of the opportunity and burned more homes, killing people and livestock.

However, by this time, it appears that Michel was already gone. His children and widow would have been left to fight those battles.

Did Michel die defending his home and family in 1690, along with his son or sons? Was their homestead burned either in the initial attack or by the pirates?

Origins

Michel was the first Forest, de Forest or Foret settler in Acadia – the founder of the Acadian Forest family. He was clearly there before he married in either 1665 or 1666, based on the age of his eldest child.

If Michel was born about 1638 or 1639, he would have been roughly 28 years old when he married.

Forest family researchers are fortunate to have long-time researcher, John P. DeLong, as a family member. John is a descendant and has been studying this family for more than 35 years. He’s been providing his web page for more than a quarter century. Thank you, John!!

John has evaluated the various famous and infamous stories about Michel’s origins, piece by piece, including both a mysterious name and religious denominational change – all of which are without any scrap of evidence other than uncertain oral history. Sometimes facts are morphed or molded a bit to fit the narrative – and that seems to be what happened over the decades, and indeed, centuries, regarding Michel.

There are two long-standing myths, meaning oral history, surrounding Michel de Forest. John goes into great detail, documenting both exceedingly well on his site, “The Origins of the Acadian Michel Forest.”

I’m not going to repeat them herel, but I strongly encourage all Michel Forest researchers to read his extensive research, points, counterpoints, and citations. It’s an excellent piece of work.

Not only is John’s research exemplary, it’s backed up by Y-DNA evidence. Assuming the tester’s genealogy is accurate, our Michel de Forest is NOT a descendant of the French Huguenot family who sought refuge in the Netherlands. Their Y-DNA, documented in the Forest Y-DNA project, here, is entirely different.

One of the theories involves our immigrant Michel being born by another name in the Netherlands to Huguenot refugees, then changing both his name and religion when immigrating to Acadia.

He was also rumored to be related to the Forest family of New Netherlands, now New York. That family descends from the Dutch Huguenot family.

An older story involved being born to another couple from the same line, but that was debunked earlier.

I concur with John DeLong’s conclusion that Michel very likely arrived around 1650 with Governor d’Aulnay:

Governor d’Aulnay was recruiting young men to voyage to Acadia between 1645 and 1650. Furthermore, a marriage delay of sixteen years is understandable. He (Michel) had to mature to adulthood, perhaps wait for his period of servitude to end, maybe spend some time setting up his own farm to become independent, and then had to wait for an eligible bride to mature given the shortage of marriageable woman in the colony. This could take up sixteen years. Surely, the fact that his second marriage was to a girl of 14 or 15 indicates that there was a serious shortage of eligible women in the colony even as late as 1686.

Without any other evidence, this is the most reasonable hypothesis.

What we know for sure is that Michel arrived in Acadia without any known family. This makes me wonder if Michel was an orphan or perhaps an adventurous teenager who set out to see the world.

Michel must have been wide-eyed as he set eyes on Port Royal for the first time. He would spend the rest of his life here, and his bones would rest in this very location.

Forest DNA

Thank goodness for the Forest DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA. Y-DNA for males is passed from father to son, unmixed with the DNA of the mother. Occasional small mutations occur, allowing descendants to be grouped into family lines, but overall, Michel’s direct male descendants will match each other. In other words, de Forest or Forest men will match other Forest men.

Several of Michel’s direct patrilineal descendants have tested, and, as expected, they match each other. They do NOT match the Huguenot/New Netherlands group – not even close. Assuming the genealogy of the New Netherlands descendant is accurate, and no undocumented adoptions have occurred, this dispels any remaining doubt that anyone might have.

Often, stories become so ingrained in families and culture that disproof is hard to accept, especially when the story defines part of the family or cultural identity. One might ask themselves – how could these family stories have been so wrong for so long?

In this case, we know that at least two different de Forest descendant lines dating from a common ancestor in about 1830 carried this oral history, independently. Of course, we have NO idea how that story began. Maybe someone “noticed” the similarities in names and assumed that they were connected. Maybe someone told someone else they were connected. Regardless, it happened.

Then, after 150+ years of being repeated, it was accepted as incontrovertible fact, and everyone believed it. Why wouldn’t they? Those stories had been in the family “forever” so they “had” to be true. In the early/mid 1900s, books were published, further cementing the stories into the family psyche. If it’s in print, it has to be accurate, right? Then, online trees began, and what was previously in print in libraries became easily accessible from home, and the age of click/copy/paste began and continues to this day.

Let me say this again – Acadian Michel Forest’s Y-DNA, meaning his direct paternal line, does not match with the paternal line of the Dutch family, meaning that Gereyt de Forest who was born in 1737 to the wealthy Protestant de Forest family in Leiden in the Netherlands was NOT the Catholic Michel de Forest of Acadia. There are no facts that add up, and neither does the Y-DNA.

What do we know about Michel Forest’s DNA results, aside from the fact that his descendants’ Y-DNA doesn’t match the Dutch line of the same or similar surname who settled in New Netherlands?

Several of Michel de Forest’s descendants have tested, which you can see here.

I wish very much that every tester would enter their earliest known ancestor.

The volunteer project administrators have grouped Michel Forest’s known descendants together, above. You’ll notice that their haplogroups are estimated to be R-M269 based on STR tests, or the much more refined haplogroup R-FT146490 based on a Big Y test taken by kit number N36241.

On the other hand, kit number 939910 is reported to be a descendant of Melchoir de Forest III who was born about 1521 and died about 1571 or 1572. This is the Huguenot branch that immigrated to the Netherlands, then to New Netherlands. This is the line rumored to be Michel’s ancestors. Specifically, Gerryt (Geryt, Geryte, Gerryte) de Foreest/Forest born in 1637 was said to have gone to Acadia where he changed his name to Michel and became Catholic again. The birth year aligns approximately, but that’s all. Nothing more is known of Gerryte, so he was the perfect candidate to morph into Michel. A similar birth year, a continent apart, with no additional evidence, does not the same person make.

Assuming the tester’s genealogy is accurate, the Melchior haplogroup is I-FT413656, and the test can be found in the Ungrouped section.

I would very much like to see another confirmed test from any paternally descended male Melchior Forest descendant, preferably through another son. This would confirm the difference.

The base haplogroup of the Acadian Michel de Forest group is haplogroup R and the haplogroup of the Huguenot group is I. This alone disproves this theory, as those haplogroups aren’t related in thousands of years.

There are several testers in the project’s Ungrouped section. I can tell that the project administrators were actively trying to test all lines with a similar surname to see if any match. So far, they don’t.

The Group Time Tree, available under the project menu, shows all of the testers from both groups, together on one tree by time, across the top.

It’s easy to see that Acadian Michel De Forest’s group doesn’t match any other group of men with the same or similar surnames. I love this tool, because you can view all project members who have taken the Big-Y test, together, with time.

Additionally, the Forest Project has provided a summary, here that is a bit outdated, but the essence is still of value. Michel does not descend from Jesse, who descends from Melchior.

Additional information is available exclusively to members of the Forest Association, which can be found here. I’m not a member, so I don’t know what additional information might be there.

Discover More

FamilyTreeDNA has provided the free Discover tool. One of the Forest men has taken the Big Y test and has been assigned the detailed haplogroup of R-FT146490. Haplogroup R-M269 is about 6350 years old, while the mutation responsible for R-FT146490 occurred about 200 years ago.

This fine, granular information, combined with other men who have taken the Big Y test and have either the same or nearby haplogroups, provides us with significant information about our de Forest family.

It confirms who we are and tells us who we’re not.

The Discover tool provides us with information about the age of Michel’s haplogroup, R-FT146490.

The haplogroup of Michel’s direct male paternal-line descendants is estimated to have been born about the year 1800, which suggests that if more descendants of Michel through different sons were to test, we might well identify another haplogroup someplace between 1800 and the parent haplogroup born about 800 CE. That’s a thousand years. Where were our ancestors?

These dates represent ranges, though, so the 1800 date could potentially be earlier.

Perhaps additional Forest men would be willing to upgrade.

Aside from Michel’s descendants upgrading, it would be very useful to see how closely we match other men from France. But that’s a problem.

A huge challenge for Acadian DNA testing is that DNA testing in France is illegal, so most of the French tests we have are from lines that left for the New World or elsewhere.

Perhaps in time, Michel’s origins before Acadia will be revealed. Where were his ancestors between 800 CE and when we find Michel in Acadia by 1666? That’s a BIG gap. We need more of Michel’s descendants to test, preferably at least one person from each son.

Michel Summary

Michael’s life was short, and while we know who he married and the names of his children, thanks to the census, so much has been lost as a result of the destruction of the early Catholic church records.

That Catholic church that was burned by the British in 1690 assuredly held the records we need. However, the Acadians had much more than church registers to worry about after that attack. They had to bury their dead and provide for the living, somehow.

Under normal circumstances, Michael’s funeral would have been held inside the church near the fort in Annapolis Royal, and he would have been laid to rest in the cemetery beside the church. That may or may not be what happened, depending on when and how he died. The original Fort and historic area, including the church location and cemetery, is shown between St. George Street, Prince Albert, and the Bay, above.

The church no longer exists, and Acadian graves are unmarked today, but we know they were buried in what is now called the Garrison Cemetery, overlooking the Bay that welcomed Michel about 40 years earlier.

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here.

Share the Love!

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.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Ancestry’s ThruLines Are a Hot Mess Right Now – But Here Are Some Great Alternatives

Right now, ThruLines at Ancestry is one hot mess.

Aside from the inherent frustration, especially over a holiday weekend when many people had planned to work on their genealogy, I’d like to say, “don’t panic.”

I don’t have any inside information about what’s going on at Ancestry, and I’ve attempted to make contact through their support page with no luck. They make talking to a person exceedingly difficult; plus, it’s a holiday weekend, and they are probably inundated.

Regardless, I have an idea of what is happening. Ancestry has been in the midst of recalculating “things,” perhaps in relation to their other changes, which I’ll write about separately in a few days.

In any event, Ancestry SURELY MUST KNOW there’s a significant problem because I imagine thousands of their customers are screaming right about now. Adding another voice won’t be helpful.

Symptoms

  • You may not have ThruLines at all.
  • If you do have ThruLines, don’t trust the information, or more to the point, don’t trust that it’s in any way complete.

I have two tests at Ancestry, both connected to different trees so that my matches and Thrulines are calculated separately for each test.

Test One

My first Ancestry test is connected to my primary tree. I’ve been amassing Thrulines cousins ever since the feature was released. I have hundreds of cousin matches descended from some of my more prolific ancestors.

Additionally, my sister’s grandchildren have tested, as have other close relatives who have connected their tests to their trees.

Today, those people are still showing on my match list, but are NOT showing as matches in ThruLines. None of them. Most of my ThruLines ancestors are showing zero matches, and the rest are only showing very few. Ancestors who had hundreds before now have 2, for example.

Here’s an example with my cousin, Erik.

My grandfather, William George Estes, shown in Erik’s tree, above, is his great-grandfather. Erik is my half first cousin, once removed, and we share 417 cM over 16 segments.

Yet, looking at my ThruLine for William George Estes, neither he nor my other cousins are shown as matches. Same for William George’s parents, and so forth.

ThruLines is VERY ill right now.

Test Two

My second DNA test at Ancestry is even worse. There are no ThruLines calculated, even though my DNA is tree-attached, and I had ThruLines previously.

I see this message now, and I can’t even begin to tell you how irritating this is – in part because it suggests the problem is my fault. It’s clearly not. My tree hasn’t changed one bit. I’m not alone, either. I’ve seen other people posting this same message.

And yes, if you’re thinking that there is absolutely no excuse for this – you’re right.

However, outrage isn’t good for us and won’t help – so let’s all do something else fun and productive instead.

Productive Genealogy Plans

Here are some productive suggestions.

At MyHeritage:

At FamilyTreeDNA:

  • Build your haplogroup pedigree chart by locating people through different companies descended from each ancestor in your tree through the appropriate line of descent, and see if they have or will take a Y-DNA or mtDNA test.
  • Tests are on sale right now, and there’s no subscription required at FamilyTreeDNA for anything.
  • Check Y-DNA and mtDNA tests to see if there are new matches and if you share a common ancestor.

At 23andMe:

  • Check for new matches and triangulation.
  • Check to see if 23andMe has added any of your new matches to your genetic tree.

Remember, the parental sides are typically accurate, but the exact placement may not be, and 23andMe deals poorly with half-relationships. It’s certainly still worth checking though, because 23andMe does a lot of heavy lifting for you.

DNAPainter

For me, the most productive thing to do this weekend would be to copy the segment information from new matches with whom I can identify common ancestors at FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and 23andMe – the vendors who provide segment data – and paint those segments to DNAPainter.

Not only does DNAPainter allow me to consolidate my match data in one place, DNAPainter provides the ability for me to confirm ancestors through triangulation, and to assign unknown matches to ancestors as well.

As you can see, I’ve successfully assigned about 90% of my segments to an ancestor, meaning I’ve confirmed descent from that ancestor based on my autosomal matches’ descent from that same ancestor – preferably through another child. Will new matches propel me to 91%? I hope so.

What percentage can you or have you been able to assign?

If you need help getting started, or ideas, I’ve written about DNAPainter several times and provided a compiled resource library of those articles, here.

Have fun!!!

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here.

Share the Love!

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.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Haplogroups: DNA SNPs Are Breadcrumbs – Follow Their Path

Recently a reader asked some great questions.

If Y-DNA is unchanged, then why isn’t the Y-DNA of every man the same today? And if it’s not the same, then how do we know that all men descend from Y-Adam? Are the scientists just guessing?

The scientists aren’t guessing, and the recent scientific innovations behind how this works is pretty amazing, so let’s unravel these questions one at a time.

The first thing we need to understand is how Y-DNA is inherited differently from autosomal DNA, and how it mutates.

First, a reminder that:

  • Y-DNA tests the Y chromosome passed from father to son in every generation, unmixed with any DNA of the mother. This article focuses on Y-DNA.
  • Mitochondrial DNA tests the mitochondria passed from mothers to all of their children, but is only passed on by the females, unmixed with the DNA of the father. This article also pertains to mitochondrial SNPS, but we will cover that more specifically later in another article.
  • Autosomal DNA is passed from both parents to their children. Each child inherits half of each parent’s autosomal DNA.

Let’s look at how this works.

Autosomal vs Y-DNA Inheritance

Click on image to enlarge

Autosomal DNA, shown here with the green (male) and pink (female) images, divides in each generation as it’s passed from the parent to their child. Each child inherits half of each parent’s autosomal DNA, meaning chromosomes 1-22. For this discussion, each descendant shown above is a male and has a Y chromosome.

This means that in the first generation, which would be the great-grandfather, about 700,000 locations of his green autosomal DNA are tested for genealogy purposes.

His female partner (pink) also has about 700,000 locations. During recombination, they each contribute about 350,000 SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) of autosomal DNA to their child. Their offspring then has a total of 700,000 SNPs, 350,000 green and 350,000 pink contributed by each parent.

This process is repeated for each child, whether male or female (with the exception of the X chromosome, which is beyond the scope of this article), but each child does not receive exactly the same half of their parents’ autosomal DNA. Recombination is random.

In the four generations shown above, the green autosomal DNA of generation one, the great-grandfather, has been divided and recombined three times. The original 700,000 locations of great-grandfather’s green DNA has now been whittled down to about 87,500 locations of his green DNA.

Y-DNA in the Same Generation

Looking now at the blue Y-DNA at left, the Y-DNA remains the same in each generation with the exception of one mutation approximately every two or three generations.

As you can see in the chart, in the exact same number of generations, the Y-DNA of each male, which he inherited from his father:

  • Never recombines with any DNA from the mother
  • Never divides and gets smaller in subsequent generations
  • Remains essentially unchanged in each generation

The key word here is “essentially.”

Y-DNA

The Y chromosome consists of about 59 million locations or SNPs of DNA. STR tests, Short Tandem Repeats, which are essentially insertions and deletions, test limited numbers of carefully curated markers selected for the fact that they mutate in a genealogically relevant timeframe. These markers are combined in panels of either 67 or 111 marker tests available for purchase at FamilyTreeDNA today, or historically 12, 25, 37, 67, and 111 marker panels. The STR test was the original Y-DNA test for genealogy and is still used as an introductory test or to see if a male matches a specific line, or not.

From the STR tests, in addition to matching, FamilyTreeDNA can reliably predict a relatively high-level haplogroup, or genetic clan, based on the frequency of the combinations of those marker values in specific STR locations.

SNPs are much more reliable than STRs, which tend to be comparatively unstable, mutating at an unreliable rate, and back mutating, which can be very disconcerting for genealogy. We need reliable consistency to be able to assign a male tester to a specific lineage with confidence. We can, however, find genealogically relevant matches that may be quite important, so I never disregard STR tests or testers. STR tests aren’t relevant for deeper history, nor can they reliably discern a specific lineage within a surname. SNP tests can and do.

The Big Y-700 SNP test gives us that and more, along with the earlier Big Y-500 test which scanned about 30 million locations. The Big Y-700 is a significant improvement; men can upgrade from the Big Y-500 or STR tests.

The Big Y-700 test scans about 50 million Y-DNA locations, known as the gold standard region, for all mutations. It reports 700 or more STR markers for matching, but more importantly, it scans for all SNP mutations in those 50 million locations.

All mutations are confirmed by at least five positive repeat scans and are then assigned a haplogroup name if found in two or more men.

Y-DNA Testing

If Y-DNA remained exactly the same, then the Y-DNA of men today would be entirely indistinguishable from each other – essentially all matching humankind’s first common ancestor. With no changes, Y-DNA would not be useful for genealogy. We need inherited mutations to be able to compare men and determine their level of relatedness to each other.

Fortunately, Y-DNA SNPs do mutate. Y-DNA is never divided or combined, so it stays essentially the same except for occasional mutations which are inherited by the following generations.

Using SNP markers scanned in the Big Y test, one new mutation happens on the average of every two or three generations. Of course, that means that sometimes there are no mutations for a few generations, and sometimes there are two mutations between father and son.

What this does, though, very effectively, is provide a trail of SNP mutations – breadcrumbs essentially – that we can use for matching, AND for tracking our mutations, which equate to ancestors, back in time.

Estes Male Breadcrumb Trail

I’ve tested several Estes men of known lineage, so I’m going to use this line as an example of how mutations act as breadcrumbs, allowing us to track our ancestors back in time and across the globe.

Multiple cousins in my Estes line have taken the Big Y-700 test.

My closest male cousin matches two other men on a unique mutation. That SNP has been named haplogroup R-ZS3700.

We know, based on our genealogy, that this mutation occurred in Virginia and is found in the sons of Moses Estes born in 1711.

How do we know that?

We know that because three of Moses’s descendants have tested and all three of those men have the same mutation, R-ZS3700, and none of the sons of Moses’s brothers have that mutation.

I’ve created a chart to illustrate the Estes pedigree chart, and the haplogroups assigned to those men. So, it’s a DNA pedigree chart too. This is exactly what the Big-Y DNA test does for us.

In the red-bordered block of testers, you can see the three men that all have R-ZS3700 (in red), and all are sons of Moses born in 1711. I have not typed the names of all the men in each generation because, for purposes of this illustration, names aren’t important. However, the concept and the fact that we have been able to connect them genealogically, either before or because of Y-DNA testing, is crucial.

Directly above Moses born in 1711, you can see his father Abraham born in 1647, along with Moses’ brothers at right and left; John, Richard, Sylvester, and Elisha whose descendants have taken the Big Y-700 test. Moses’s brothers’ descendants all have haplogroup R-BY490 (in blue), but NOT R-ZS3700. That tells us that the mutation responsible for R-ZS3700 happened between Abraham born in 1647, and Moses born in 1711. Otherwise, Moses’s brothers would have the mutation if his father had the mutation.

Moses’s descendants also have R-BY490, but it’s NOT the last SNP or haplogroup in their lineage. For Moses’s descendants, R-ZS3700 occurred after R-BY490.

You can see haplogroup R-BY490 boxed in blue.

We know that Moses and his father, Abraham, both have haplogroup R-BY490 because all of Abraham’s sons have this haplogroup. Additionally, we know that Abraham’s father, Silvester also had haplogroup R-BY490.

How do we know that?

Abraham’s brother, Richard’s descendant, tested and he has haplogroup R-BY490.

However, Silvester’s father, Robert born in 1555 did NOT have R-BY490, so it formed between him and his son, Silvester.

How do we know that?

Robert’s other son, Robert born in 1603 has a descendant who tested and has haplogroup R-BY482, but does NOT have R-BY490 or R-ZS3700.

All of the other Eates testers also have R-BY482, blocked in green, in addition to R-BY490, so we know that the mutation of R-BY490 developed between Robert born in 1555 and his son, Silvester born in 1600, because his other son’s descendant does not have it.

Looking at only the descent of the haplogroups, in order, we have

  • R-BY482 (green) found in Robert born in 1555 and all of his descendants.
  • R-BY490 (blue) found in Silvester born in 1600 and all of his descendants, but not his brother
  • R-ZS3700 (red) found in Moses born in 1711 and all of his descendants, but not his brothers

If we had Estes men who descend from the two additional documented generations upstream of Robert born in 1555, we might discover when R-BY482 occurred, but to date, we don’t have any additional testers from those lines.

Now that we understand the genesis of these three haplogroups in the Estes lineage, what else can we discover through our haplogroup breadcrumbs?

The Discover Reports

By entering the haplogroup in the Discover tool, either on the public page, here, or clicking on Discover on your personal page at FamilyTreeDNA if you’ve taken the Big-Y test, you will see several reports for your haplogroup.

I strongly suggest reviewing each category, because they cumulatively act as chapters to the book of your haplogroup story, but we’re going to skip directly to the breadcrumbs, which is called the Ancestral Path.

The Ancestral Path begins with your haplogroup in Line 1 then lists the first upstream or parent haplogroup in Line 2. In this case, the haplogroup I entered is R-ZS3700.

You can see the estimated age of the haplogroup, meaning when it formed, at about 1700 CE. Moses Estes who was born in 1711 is the first Estes man to carry haplogroup R-ZS3700, so that’s extremely close.

Line 2, R-BY490 occurred or was born about 1650, and we know that it actually occurred between Robert and Silvester born in 1600, so that’s close too.

Scanning down to Line 3, R-BY482 is estimated to have occurred about 1500 CE, and we know for sure it had occurred by 1555 when Robert was born.

We see the parent haplogroup of R-BY487 on Line 4, dating from about 750 CE. Of course, if more men test, it’s possible that more haplogroups will emerge between BY482 and BY487, forming a new branch. Given the time involved, those men wouldn’t be expected to carry the Estes surname, as surnames hadn’t yet been adopted in that timeframe.

Moving down to Line 9, we see R-ZP18 from 2250 BCE, or about 4250 years ago. Looking at the right column, there’s one ancient sample with that haplogroup. The location of ancient samples anchors haplogroups definitively in a particular location at a specific time.

Haplogroup by haplogroup, step by step, we can follow the breadcrumbs back in time to Y-Adam, the first homo sapiens male known to have descendants today, meaning he’s the MRCA, or most recent common ancestor for all men.

Neanderthals and Denisovans follow, but their Y-DNA is only available through ancient samples. They have no known direct male survivors, but someday, maybe someone will test and their Y-DNA will be found to descend from Neanderthals or Denisovans.

Now that we know when those haplogroups occurred, how did our ancestors get from Africa 232,000 years ago to Kent, England, in the 1400s? What path did they take?

The new Globetrekker tool answers that question.

The Breadcrumb Trail

In Globetrekker, each haplogroup’s location is placed by a combination of testers’ results, their identified earliest known ancestor (EKA) country and location, combined with ancient samples, climatic factors like glaciers and sea levels, and geographic features. You can read about Globetrekker here and here.

To view the Globetrekker tool, you must sign it to an account that has taken the Big Y test. It’s a tool exclusively provided for Big-Y testers.

You can click at the bottom of your Globetrekker map to play the animated video.

Beginning in Africa, our ancestors began their journey with Y-Adam, then migrated through the Near East, South Asia, East Asia, then west through central Asia into Europe. The Estes ancestors crossed the English Channel and migrated around what is now England before settling in Deal, on the east coast.

Clicking on any haplogroup provides a description of that haplogroup and how it was placed in that location.

Enabling the option for ancient DNA shows those locations as well, near the haplogroups they represent when the animation is playing.

Clicking on the shovel icon explains about that particular ancient DNA sample, what is known, and how it relates to the haplogroup it’s connected to by a dotted line on the map.

Pretty cool, huh!!

End to End

As you can see from this example, Big Y results are an end-to-end tool.

We can use the Big Y-700 haplogroups very successfully for recent genealogy – assigning testers to specific lines in a genealogy timeframe. Some haplogroups are so specific that, without additional information, we can place a man in his exact generation, or within a generation or two.

Not shown in my Estes pedigree chart is an adoptee with a different surname, of course. We know that he descends from Moses’s line because he carries haplogroup R-ZS3700, but we are still working on the more recent generations using autosomal DNA to connect him accurately.  If more of Moses’s descendants tested, we could probably place him very specifically. Without the Big Y-700 test, he wouldn’t know his biological surname or that he descends from Moses. That’s a HUGE breakthrough for him.

There’s more about the Estes line to learn, however.

If our Estes cousins tested their brothers, uncles or other Estes males in their line, they would likely receive a more refined haplogroup that’s relevant only to that line.

Using Big-Y test results, we can place men within a couple of generations and identify a common ancestor, even when all men within a haplogroup don’t know their genealogical lineage. Using those same test results, we can follow the breadcrumbs all 50 steps back in time more than 230,000 years to Y-Adam.

End to end, the Big-Y test coupled with breadcrumbs in Discover, Globetrekker, and other amazing tools is absolutely the most informative and powerful test available to male testers for their paternal line genealogy.

These amazing innovations tracking more than 50,000 haplogroups across the globe answer the original questions about how we know.

The more people who take or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test, the more haplogroup branches will be added, and the more refined the breadcrumbs, ages, and maps will become. In other words, there’s still more to learn.

Test if you haven’t, and check back often for new matches and breadcrumbs, aka updates.

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here.

Share the Love!

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.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

 

Genealogy Books

  • com – Lots of wonderful genealogy research books
  • American Ancestors – Wonderful selection of genealogy books

Genealogy Research

 

 

Which DNA Test Should I Buy? And Why?

Which DNA test should I buy, and why?

I receive questions like this often. As a reminder, I don’t take private clients anymore, which means I don’t provide this type of individual consulting or advice. However, I’m doing the next best thing! In this article, I’m sharing the step-by-step process that I utilize to evaluate these questions so you can use the process too.

It’s important to know what questions to ask and how to evaluate each situation to arrive at the best answer for each person.

Here’s the question I received from someone I’ll call John. I’ve modified the wording slightly and changed the names for privacy.

I’m a male, and my mother was born in Charleston, SC. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Jones and a paternal surname was Davis. The family was supposed to have been Black, Dutch, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Scots-Irish…only once was I told I was 3/16 Indian, with Davis being 3/4 and Jones being full Indian.

Do I have enough reasonable information to buy a test, and which one?

Please note that it’s common for questions to arrive without all the information you need to provide a sound answer – so it’s up to you to ask those questions and obtain clarification.

Multiple Questions

There are actually multiple questions here, so let me parse this a bit.

  1. John never mentioned what his testing goal was.
  2. He also never exactly said how the paternal line of Davis was connected, so I’ve made an assumption. For educational purposes, it doesn’t matter because we’re going to walk through the evaluation process, which is the same regardless.
  3. John did not include a tree or a link to a tree, so I created a rudimentary tree to sort through this. I need the visuals and normally just sketch it out on paper quickly.
  4. Does John have enough information to purchase a test?
  5. If so, which test?

There is no “one size fits all” answer, so let’s discuss these one by one.

Easy Answers First

The answer to #4 is easy.

Anyone with any amount of information can purchase a DNA test. Adoptees do it all the time, and they have no prior information.

So, yes, John can purchase a test.

The more difficult question is which test, because that answer depends on John’s goals and whether he’s just looking for some quick information or really wants to delve into genealogy and learn. Neither approach is wrong.

Many people think they want a quick answer –  and then quickly figure out that they really want to know much more about their ancestors.

I wrote an article titled DNA Results – First Glances at Ethnicity and Matching for new testers, here.

Goals

Based on what John said, I’m going to presume his goals are probably:

  • To prove or disprove the family oral history of Black, Dutch, Pennsylvania Dutch (which is actually German,) Scots-Irish, and potentially Native American.
  • John didn’t mention actual genealogy, which would include DNA matches and trees, so we will count that as something John is interested in secondarily. However, he may need genealogy records to reach his primary goal.

If you’re thinking, “The process of answering this seemingly easy question is more complex than I thought,” you’d be right.

Ethnicity in General

It sounds like John is interested in ethnicity testing. Lots of people think that “the answer” will be found there – and sometimes they are right. Often not so much. It depends.

The great news is that John really doesn’t need any information at all to take an autosomal DNA test, and it doesn’t matter if the test-taker is male or female.

To calculate each tester’s ethnicity, every testing company compiles their own reference populations, and John will receive different results at each of the major companies. Each company updates their ethnicity results from time to time as well, and they will change.

Additionally, each company provides different tools for their customers.

The ethnicity results at different companies generally won’t match each other exactly, and sometimes the populations look quite different.

Normally, DNA from a specific ancestor can be found for at least 5 or 6 generations. Of course, that means their DNA, along with the DNA from all of your other ancestors is essentially combined in a communal genetic “pot” of your chromosomes, and the DNA testing company needs to sort it out and analyze your DNA for ethnicity.

DNA descended from ancestors, and their populations, further back in people’s trees may not be discerned at all using autosomal DNA tests.

A much more specific “ethnicity” can be obtained for both the Y-DNA line, which is a direct patrilineal line for men (blue arrow,) and the mitochondrial DNA line (pink arrows,) which is a direct matrilineal line for everyone, using those specific tests.

We will discuss both of those tests after we talk about the autosomal tests available from the four major genealogy DNA testing companies. All of these tools can and should be used together.

Let’s Start with Native American

Let’s evaluate the information that John provided.

John was told that he “was 3/16 Indian, with Davis being 3/4 and Jones being full Indian.”

We need to evaluate this part of his question slightly differently.

I discussed this in the article, Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You?

First, we need to convert generations to 16ths.

You have two ancestors in your parent’s generation, four in your grandparents, and so forth. You have 16 great-great-grandparents. So, if John was 3/16th Native, then three of his great-great-grandparents would have been fully Native, or an equivalent percentage. In other words, six ancestors in that generation could have been half-Native. Based on what John said, they would have come from his mother’s side of the tree. John is fortunate to have that much information to work with.

He told us enough about his tree that we can evaluate the statement that he might be 3/16ths Native.

Here’s the tree I quickly assembled in a spreadsheet based on John’s information.

His father, at left, is not part of the equation based on the information John provided.

On his mother’s side, John said that Grandfather Davis is supposed to be three-quarters Native, which translates to 12/16ths. Please note that it would be extremely beneficial to find a Y-DNA tester from his Davis line, like one of his mother’s brothers, for example.

John said that his Grandmother Jones is supposed to be 100% Native, so 16/16ths.

Added together, those sum to 28/32, which reduces down to 14/16th or 7/8th for John’s mother.

John would have received half of his autosomal DNA from his mother and half from his non-Native father. That means that if John’s father is 100% non-Native, John would be half of 14/16ths or 7/16ths, so just shy of half Native.

Of course, we know that we don’t always receive exactly 50% of each of our ancestors’ DNA (except for our parents,) but we would expect to see something in the ballpark of 40-45% Native for John if his grandmother was 100% Native and his grandfather was 75%.

Using simple logic here, for John’s grandmother to be 100% Native, she would almost assuredly have been a registered tribal member, and the same if his grandfather was 75% Native. I would think that information would be readily available and well-known to the family – so I doubt that this percentage is accurate. It would be easy to check, though, on various census records during their lifetimes where they would likely have been recorded as “Indian.” They might have been in the special “Indian Census” taken and might be living on a reservation.

It should also be relatively easy to find their parents since all family members were listed every ten years in the US beginning with the 1850 census.

The simple answer is that if John’s grandparents had as much Native as reported, he would be more than 3/16th – so both of these factoids cannot simultaneously be accurate. But that does NOT mean neither is accurate.

John could be 7/8th or 40ish%, 3/16th or 18ish%, or some other percentage. Sometimes, where there is smoke, there is fire. And that seems to be the quandary John is seeking to resolve.

Would  Ethnicity/Population Tests Show This Much Native?

Any of the four major testing companies would show Native for someone whose percentage would be in the 40% or 18% ballpark.

The easiest ethnicities to tell apart from one another are continental-level populations. John also stated that he thinks he may also have Black ancestry, plus Dutch, Pennsylvania Dutch (German), and Scots-Irish. It’s certainly possible to verify that using genealogy, but what can DNA testing alone tell us?

How far back can we expect to find ethnicities descending from particular ancestors?

In this table, you can see at each generation how many ancestors you have in that generation, plus the percentage of DNA, on average, you would inherit from each ancestor.

All of the major DNA testing companies can potentially pick up small trace percentages, but they don’t always. Sometimes one company does, and another doesn’t. So, if John has one sixth-generation Native American ancestor, he would carry about 1.56% Native DNA, if any.

  • Sometimes a specific ethnicity is not found because, thanks to random recombination, you didn’t inherit any of that DNA from those ancestors. This is why testing your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings can be very important. They share your same ancestors and may have inherited DNA that you didn’t that’s very relevant to your search.
  • Sometimes it’s not found because the reference populations and algorithms at that testing company aren’t able to detect that population or identify it accurately, especially at trace levels. Every DNA testing company establishes their own reference populations and writes internal, proprietary ethnicity analysis algorithms.
  • Sometimes it’s not found because your ancestor wasn’t Native or from that specific population.
  • Sometimes it’s there, but your population is called something you don’t expect.

For example, you may find Scandinavian when your ancestor was from England or Ireland. The Vikings raided the British Isles, so while some small amount of Scandinavian is not what you expect, that doesn’t mean it‘s wrong. However, if all of your family is from England, it’s not reasonable to have entirely Scandinavian ethnicity results.

It’s also less likely as each generation passes by that the information about their origins gets handed down accurately to following generations. Most non-genealogists don’t know the names of their great-grandparents, let alone where their ancestors were from.

Using a 25-year average generation length, by the 4th generation, shown in the chart above, you have 16 ancestors who lived approximately 100 years before your parents were born, so someplace in the mid-1800s. It’s unlikely for oral history from that time to survive intact. It’s even less likely from a century years earlier, where in the 7th generation, you have 128 total ancestors.

The best way to validate the accuracy of your ethnicity estimates is by researching your genealogy. Of course, you need to take an ethnicity test, or two, in order to have results to validate.

Ethnicity has a lot more to offer than just percentages.

Best Autosomal Tests for Native Ethnicity

Based on my experience with people who have confirmed Native ancestry, the two best tests to detect Native American ethnicity, especially in smaller percentages, are both FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe.

Click images to enlarge

In addition to percentages, both 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA provide chromosome painting for ethnicity, along with segment information in download files. In other words, they literally paint your ethnicity results on your chromosomes.

They then provide you with a file with the “addresses” of those ethnicities on your chromosomes, which means you can figure out which ancestors contributed those ethnicity segments.

The person in the example above, a tester at FamilyTreeDNA, is highly admixed with ancestors from European regions, African regions and Native people from South America.

Trace amounts of Native American with a majority of European heritage would appear more like this.

You can use this information to paint your chromosome segments at DNAPainter, along with your matching segments to other testers where you can identify your common ancestors. This is why providing trees is critically important – DNA plus ancestor identification with our matches is how we confirm our ancestry.

This combination allows you to identify which Native (or another ethnicity) segments descended from which ancestors. I was able to determine which ancestor provided that pink Native American segment on chromosome 1 on my mother’s side.

I’ve provided instructions for painting ethnicity segments to identify their origins in specific ancestors, here.

Autosomal and Genealogy

You may have noticed that we’ve now drifted into the genealogy realm of autosomal DNA testing. Ethnicity is nice, but if you want to know who those segments came from, you’ll need:

  • Autosomal test matching to other people
  • To identify your common ancestor with as many matches as you can
  • To match at a company who provides you with segment information for each match
  • To work with DNAPainter, which is very easy

The great news is that you can do all of that using the autosomal tests you took for ethnicity, except at Ancestry who does not provide segment information.

Best Autosomal Test for Matching Other Testers

The best autosomal test for matching may be different for everyone. Let’s look at some of the differentiators and considerations.

If you’re basing a testing recommendation solely on database size, which will probably correlate to more matches, then the DNA testing vendors fall into this order:

If you’re basing that recommendation on the BEST, generally meaning the closest matches for you, there’s no way of knowing ahead of time. At each of the four DNA testing companies, I have very good matches who have not tested elsewhere. If I weren’t in all four databases, I would have missed many valuable matches.

If you’re basing that recommendation on which vendor began testing earliest, meaning they have many tests from people who are now deceased, so you won’t find their autosomal tests in other databases that don’t accept uploads, the recommended testing company order would be:

If you’re basing that recommendation on matches to people who live in other countries, the order would be:

Ancestry and 23andMe are very distant third/fourth because they did not sell widely outside the US initially and still don’t sell in as many countries as the others, meaning their testers’ geography is more limited. However, Ancestry is also prevalent in the UK.

If you’re basing that recommendation on segment information and advanced tools that allow you to triangulate and confirm your genetic link to specific ancestors, the order would be:

Ancestry does NOT provide any segment information.

If you’re basing that recommendation on unique tools provided by each vendor, every vendor has something very beneficial that the others don’t.

In other words, there’s really no clear-cut answer for which single autosomal DNA test to order. The real answer is to be sure you’re fishing in all the ponds. The fish are not the same. Unique people test at each of those companies daily who will never be found in the other databases.

Test at or upload your DNA to all four DNA testing companies, plus GEDmatch. Step-by-step instructions for downloading your raw data file and uploading it to the DNA testing companies who accept uploads can be found, here.

Test or Upload

Not all testing companies accept uploads of raw autosomal DNA data files from other companies. The good news is that some do, and it’s free to upload and receive matches.

Two major DNA testing companies DO NOT accept uploads from other companies. In other words, you have to test at that company:

Two testing companies DO accept uploads from the other three companies. Uploads and matching are free, and advanced features can be unlocked very cost effectively.

  • FamilyTreeDNA – free matching and $19 unlock for advanced features
  • MyHeritage – free matching and $29 unlock.for advanced features

I recommend testing at both 23andMe and Ancestry and uploading one of those files to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage, then purchasing the respective unlocks.

GEDmatch

GEDmatch is a third-party matching site, not a DNA testing company. Consider uploading to GEDmatch because you may find matches from Ancestry who have uploaded to GEDmatch, giving you access to matching segment information.

Other Types of DNA

John provided additional information that may prove to be VERY useful. Both Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA can be tested as well and may prove to be more useful than autosomal to positively identify the origins of those two specific lines.

Let’s assume that John takes an autosomal test and discovers that indeed, the 3/16th Native estimate was close. 3/16th equates to about 18% Native which would mean that three of his 16 great-great-grandparents were Native.

John told us that his Grandmother Jones was supposed to be 100% Native.

At the great-great-grandparent level, John has 16 ancestors, so eight on his mother’s side, four from maternal grandmother Jones and four from his maternal grandfather Davis.

John carries the mitochondrial DNA of his mother (red boxes and arrows,) and her mother, through a direct line of females back in time. John also carries the Y-DNA of his father (dark blue box, at left above, and blue arrows below.)

Unlike autosomal DNA which is admixed in every generation, mitochondrial DNA (red arrows) is inherited from that direct matrilineal line ONLY and never combines with the DNA of the father. Mothers give their mitochondrial DNA to both sexes of their children, but men never contribute their mitochondrial DNA to offspring. Everyone has their mother’s mitochondrial DNA.

Because it never recombines with DNA from the father, so is never “watered down,” we can “see” much further back in time, even though we can’t yet identify those ancestors.

However, more importantly, in this situation, John can test his own mitochondrial DNA that he inherited from his mother, who inherited it from her mother, to view her direct matrilineal line.

John’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup that will be assigned during testing tells us unquestionably whether or not his direct matrilineal ancestor was Native on her mother’s line, or not. If not, it may well tell us where that specific line originated.

You can view the countries around the world where Y-DNA haplogroups are found, here, and mitochondrial haplogroups, here.

If John’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is Native, that confirms that one specific line is Native. If he can find other testers in his various lines to test either their Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA, John can determine if other ancestors were Native too. If not, those tests will reveal the origins of that line, separate from the rest of his genealogical lines.

Although John didn’t mention his father’s line, if he takes a Y-DNA test, especially at the Big Y-700 level, that will also reveal the origins of his direct paternal line. Y-DNA doesn’t combine with the other parent’s DNA either, so it reaches far back in time too.

Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests are laser-focused on one line each, and only one line. You don’t have to try to sort it out of the ethnicity “pot,” wondering which ancestor was or was not Native.

My Recommendation

When putting together a testing strategy, I recommend taking advantage of free uploads and inexpensive unlocks when possible.

  • To confirm Native American ancestry via ethnicity testing, I recommend testing at 23andMe and uploading to FamilyTreeDNA, then purchasing the $19 unlock. The free upload and $19 unlock are less expensive than testing there directly.
  • For matching, I recommend testing at Ancestry and uploading to MyHeritage, then unlocking the MyHeritage advanced features for $29, which is less expensive than retesting. Ancestry does not provide segment information, but MyHeritage (and the others) do.

At this point, John will have taken two DNA tests, but is now in all four databases, plus GEDmatch if he uploads there.

  • For genealogy research on John’s lines to determine whether or not his mother’s lines were Native, I recommend an Ancestry and a MyHeritage records subscription, plus using WikiTree, which is free.
  • To determine if John’s mother’s direct matrilineal female line was Native, I recommend that John order the mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA.
  • When ordering multiple tests, or uploading at FamilyTreeDNA, be sure to upload/order all of one person’s tests on the same DNA kit so that those results can be used in combination with each other.

Both males and females can take autosomal and mitochondrial DNA tests.

  • To discover what he doesn’t know about his direct paternal, meaning John’s surname line – I recommend the Big Y-700 test at FamilyTreeDNA.

Only males can take a Y-DNA test, so women would need to ask their father, brother, or paternal uncle, for example, to test their direct paternal line.

  • If John can find a male Davis from his mother’s line, I recommend that he purchase the Big Y-700 test at FamilyTreeDNA for that person, or check to see if someone from his Davis line may have already tested by viewing the Davis DNA Project. Like with mitochondrial DNA, the Y-DNA haplogroup will tell John the origins of his direct Davis male ancestor – plus matching of course. He will be able to determine if they were Native, and if not, discover the origins of the Davis line.
  • For assigning segments to ancestors and triangulating to confirm descent from a common ancestor, I recommend 23andMe, MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch, paired with DNAPainter as a tool.

Shopping and Research List

Here are the tests and links recommended above:

More Than He Asked

I realize this answer is way more than John expected or even knew to ask. That’s because there is often no “one” or “one best” answer. There are many ways to approach the question after the goal is defined, and the first “answer” received may be a bit out of context.

For example, let’s say John has 2% Native ancestry and took a test at a vendor who didn’t detect it. John would believe he had none. But a different vendor might find that 2%. If it’s on his mother’s direct matrilineal line, mitochondrial DNA testing will confirm, or refute Native, beyond any doubt, regardless of autosomal ethnicity results – but only for that specific ancestral line.

Autosomal DNA can suggest Native across all your DNA, but Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA confirm it for each individual ancestor.

Even when autosomal testing does NOT show Native American, or African, for example, it’s certainly possible that it’s just too far back in time or has not been passed down during random recombination, but either Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA will unquestionably confirm (or refute) the ancestry in question if the right person is tested.

This is exactly why I attempt to find a cousin who descends appropriately from every ancestor and provide testing scholarships. It’s important to obtain Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA information for each ancestor.

Which Test Should I Order?

What steps will help you decide which test or tests to take?

  1. Define your testing goal.
  2. Determine if your Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA will help answer the question.
  3. Determine if you need to find ancestors another generation or two back in time to get the most benefit from DNA testing. In our example, if John discovered that both of his grandparents were enrolled tribal members, that’s huge, and the tribe might have additional information about his family.
  4. Subscribe to Ancestry and MyHeritage records collections as appropriate to perform genealogical research. Additional information not only provides context for your family, it also provides you with the ability to confirm or better understand your ethnicity results.
  5. Extend your tree so that you can obtain the best results from the three vendors who support trees; Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage. All three use trees combined with DNA tests to provide you with additional information.
  6. Order 23andMe and Ancestry autosomal DNA tests.
  7. Either test at or upload one of those tests to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, and GEDmatch.
  8. If a male, order the Big Y-700 DNA test. Or, find a male from your ancestral line who has taken or will take that test. I always offer a testing scholarship and, of course, share the exciting results!
  9. Order a mitochondrial DNA test for yourself and for appropriately descended family members to represent other ancestors. Remember that your father (and his siblings) all carry your paternal grandmother’s mitochondrial DNA. That’s often a good place to start after testing your own DNA.
  10. If your parents or grandparents are alive, or aunts and uncles, test their autosomal DNA too. They are (at least) one generation closer to your ancestors than you are and will carry more of your ancestors’ DNA.
  11. Your siblings will carry some of your ancestors’ DNA that you do not, so test them too if both of your parents aren’t available for testing.

Enjoy!!!

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here.

Share the Love!

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.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Comparing DNA Results – Different Tests at the Same Testing Company

Several people have asked about different tests at the same DNA testing company. They wondered if matching is affected, meaning whether your matches are different if you have two different tests at the same company. Specifically, they asked if you are better off purchasing a test AT a DNA testing vendor that allows uploads, rather than uploading a test from a different vendor. Does it make a difference to the tester or their matches? Do they have the same matches?

These are great questions, and the answer isn’t conclusive. It varies based on several factors.

Having multiple tests at the same DNA testing company can occur in three ways:

  • The same person tests twice at the same DNA testing company.
  • The same person tests once at the DNA testing company and uploads a test from a different testing company. Only two of the primary four DNA testing companies accept uploads from other vendors – FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage.
  • The same person uploads two different files from other DNA testing companies to the DNA testing company in question. For example, the DNA company could be FamilyTreeDNA and the two uploaded DNA files could be from either MyHeritage, 23andMe or Ancestry.

All DNA testing companies allow users to download their raw DNA data files. This enables the tester to upload their DNA file to the vendors who accept uploaded files. Both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage provide matching for free, but advanced tools require a small unlock fee of $19 and $29, respectively.

Testing Company Accepts Uploads from Other Companies Download Upload Instructions
23andMe No Instructions here
Ancestry No Instructions here
FamilyTreeDNA Yes, some Instructions here
MyHeritage Yes, some Instructions here

I wrote about developing a DNA testing and transfer/upload strategy, here, and about which companies accept which tests, here.

Not all DNA files are created equal. Therefore, not all files from vendors are compatible with other vendors for various reasons.

Multiple Tests at the Same DNA Testing Company

I have at least two tests at each of the four major vendors. I did this for research purposes, meaning to write articles to share with you.

If you actually test twice at a vendor, meaning purchase two separate tests and take them yourself, you will have two test results at that testing company. At some companies, specifically 23andMe, if you purchase a new test through their “upgrade” procedure, you won’t have two tests, just the newer one.

However, if you’re testing at the DNA testing company, and also uploading, I generally don’t recommend more than one test at each vendor. All it really does is clog up people’s match lists with no or little additional benefit. At 23andMe, with their restrictions on the size of your match list, if everyone had two tests, the effective match limit would be half of their stated limit of about 1500 matches for earlier testers and about 5000 for current testers with subscriptions.

So, in essence, I’m telling you to “do as I say, not as I do.” We all have better things to do with our money rather pay for the same test twice. If you haven’t tested your Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA, that’s much more beneficial than two autosomal tests at one vendor.

Chips and Chip Evolution

Before we begin the side-by-side comparison, let’s briefly discuss DNA testing chips and how they work.

Each DNA testing company purchases DNA processing equipment. Illumina is the big dog in this arena. Illumina defines the capacity and structure of each chip. In part, how the testing companies use that capacity, or space on each chip, is up to each company. This means that the different testing companies test many of the same autosomal DNA SNP locations, but not all of the same locations.

Furthermore, the individual testing companies can specify a number of “other” locations to be included on their chip, up to the chip maximum size limit. The testing companies who offer Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA haplogroups from autosomal tests use part of their chip array space for selected known haplogroup-defining SNP locations. This does NOT mean that Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA is autosomal, just that the testing company used part of their chip array space to target these SNPs in your genome. Of course, for your most refined haplogroup and Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA matching, you have to take those specific tests at FamilyTreeDNA .

This means that each testing company includes and reports many of the same, but also some different SNP locations when they scan your DNA.

In the lab, after your DNA is extracted from either your saliva or the cheek swab, it’s placed on this array chip which is then placed in the processing equipment.

There are several steps in processing your DNA. Each DNA location specified on the chip is scanned and read multiple times, and the results are recorded. The final output is the raw DNA results file that you see if/when you download your raw DNA file.

Here’s an example from my file. The RSID is the reference SNP cluster ID which is the naming convention used for specific SNPs. It’s not relevant to you, but it is to the lab, along with the chromosome number and position, which is in essence the address on the chromosome.

In the Result column, your file reports one nucleotide (T, A, C or G) that you inherited from each parent at each tested position. They are not listed in “parent order” because your DNA is not organized in that fashion. There’s no way for the lab to know which nucleotide came from which parent, unless they are the same, of course. You can read about nucleotides, here.

When you upload your raw DNA file to a different DNA testing company (vendor), they have to work with a file that isn’t entirely compatible with the files they generate, or the other files uploaded from other DNA testing companies.

In addition to dealing with different file formats and contents from multiple DNA vendors, companies change their own chips and file structure from time to time. In some cases, it’s a forced change by the chip manufacturer. Other times, the vendors want to include different locations or make improvements. For example, with 23andMe’s focus on health, they probably add new medically related SNP locations regularly. Regardless of why, some DNA files include locations not included in other files and are not 100% compatible.

Looking at the first few entries in my example file above, let’s say that the testing vendor included the first ten positions, but an uploaded file from another company did not. Or perhaps the chip changed, and a different version of the company’s own file contains different positions.

DNA testing companies have to “fill in the blanks” for compatibility, and they do this using a technique called imputation. Illumina forced their customers to adopt imputation in 2017 when they dropped the capacity of their chip. I was initially quite skeptical, but imputation has worked surprisingly well. Some of the matching differences you will see when comparing the results of two different DNA files is a result of imputation.

I wrote about imputation in an early article here. Please note the companies have fixed many issues with imputation and improved matching greatly, but the concepts and imputation processes still apply. The downloaded raw data files are your results BEFORE imputation, meaning that it’s up to any company where you upload to process your raw file in the same way they would process a file that they generated. A lot goes on behind the scenes when you upload a file to a DNA testing company.

At both 23andMe and Ancestry, you know that all of your matches tested there, meaning they did not upload a file from another testing company. You don’t know and can’t tell what chip was utilized when your matches tested. The only way to determine a chip testing version, aside from knowing the date or remembering the chip version from when you tested, is to look at the beginning of the raw data download file, although not all files contain that information.

Ok, now that you understand the landscape, let’s look at my results at each company.

23andMe

I tested twice at 23andMe on two different chip versions, V3 and V4, which tested some different locations of my DNA. Neither of these chips is the current version. I originally tested twice to evaluate the differences between the two test versions which you can read about, here.

23andMe named their ethnicity results Ancestry Composition.

They last updated my V3 test’s Ancestry Composition results on July 28, 2021.

The percentages are shown at left, and the country locations are highlighted at right for my 23andMe V3 test.

Click to enlarge any graphic

The 23andMe V4 test was also updated for the last time on July 28, 2021.

The ethnicity results differ substantially between the two chip versions, even though they were both updated on the same date.

In October of 2020, in an effort to “encourage” their customers to pay for a new test on their V5 chip, 23andMe announced that there would be no ethnicity updates on older tests. So, I really don’t know for sure when my tests were actually updated. Just note how different the results are. It’s also worth mentioning that 23andMe does not show trace amounts on their map, so even though my Indigenous American results were found, they aren’t displayed on the map.

Indigenous is, however, shown in yellow on their DNA Chromosome Painting.

No other testing company restricts updates, penalizing their customers who purchased earlier versions of tests.

Matches at 23andMe

23andMe limits your matches to about 1500 unless you have purchased the current test, including health AND pay for an annual $69 subscription which buys you about 5000 matches. I have not purchased this test.

Your number of actual matches displayed/retained is also affected by how many people you have communicated with, or at least initiated communications with. 23andMe does not roll those people off of your match list.

I have 1803 matches on both of my tests, meaning I’ve reached out to about 300 people who would have otherwise been removed from my match list. 23andMe retains your highest matches, deleting lower matches after you reach the maximum match threshold.

I’ve randomly evaluated several of the same matches at each vendor, at least five maternal and five paternal, separated by a blank row. I wanted to determine whether they match me on the same number of centimorgans, meaning the same amount of DNA, on both tests, and the same number of segments.

Match 23and Me V3 23and Me V4
Patricia 292 cM – 12 segments Same as V3
Joe 148 cM, 8 segments Same
Emily 73 cM, 4 segs 72 cM, 4 seg
Roland 27 cM, 1 seg Same
Ian 62 cM, 4 seg Same
Stacy 469 cM, 16 segments 482 cM, 16 segments
Harold 134 cM, 6 segments Same
Dean 69 cM, 3 seg Same
Carl 95 cM, 4 seg Same
Debbie 83 cM, 4 seg 84 cM, 4 seg

As you can see, the matches are either exact or xclose.

Please note that bolded matches are also found at another company. I will include a summary table at the end comparing the same match across multiple vendors.

23and Me Summary

The 23andMe V3 and V4 match results are very close. Since the match limit is the same, and the results are so close between tests, they are essentially identical in terms of matching.

The ethnicity results are similar, but the V4 test reflects a broader region. Italian baffles me in both versions.

Ethnicity should never be taken at face value at any DNA testing company, especially with smaller percentages which could be noise or a combination of other regions which just happens to resemble Italy, in my case.

I don’t know what type of comparison the current chip would yield since I suspect it has more medical and less genealogical SNPs on board.

Reprocessing Tests

This is probably a good place to note that it’s very expensive for any company to update their customer’s ethnicity results because every single customer’s DNA results file must be completely rerun. Note that this does not mean their DNA itself is retested. The output raw data file is reprocessed using a new algorithm.

Rerunning means reprocessing that specific portion of every test, meaning the vendors must rent “time in the cloud.” We are talking millions of dollars for each run. I don’t know how much it costs per test, but think about the expense if it takes $1 to rerun each test in the vendor’s database. Ancestry has more than 20 million tests.

While we, as consumers, are always chomping at the bit for new and better ethnicity results – the testing companies need to be sure it really is “better,” not just different before they invest the money to reprocess and update results.

This is probably why 23andMe decided to cease updating older kits. The newer tests require a subscription which is recurring revenue.

The same is true when DNA testing companies need to rematch their entire user base. This happens when the criteria for matching changes. For example, Ancestry purged a large number of matches for all of their customers back in 2020. While match algorithm changes necessitate rematching, with associated costs, this change also provided Ancestry with the huge benefit of eliminating approximately half of their customer’s matches. This freed up storage space, either physically in their data center or space rented in the cloud, representing substantial cost-savings.

How long can a DNA testing company reasonably be expected to continue investing in a product which never generates additional revenue but for which the maintenance and reinvestment costs never end?

Ancestry and MyHeritage both hope to offset the expenses of maintaining their customer’s DNA tests and providing free updates by selling subscriptions to their record services. 23andMe wants you to purchase a new test and a yearly subscription. FamilyTreeDNA wants you to purchase a Big Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA test.

OK, now let’s look at my matches at Ancestry.

Ancestry

I’ve taken two Ancestry tests, V1 and V2. There were some differences, which I wrote about here and here. V2 is no longer the current chip.

Except for 23andMe who wants their customers to purchase their most current test, the other companies no longer routinely announce new chip versions. They just go about their business. The only way you know that a vendor actually changed something is when the other companies who accept uploads suddenly encounter an issue with file formats. It always takes a few weeks to sort that out.

My Ancestry V1 test’s ethnicity results don’t show my Native American ethnicity.

Ancestry results were updated in June 2022

However, my V2 results do include Native American ethnicity.

Matches at Ancestry

I have many more matches on my V1 test at Ancestry because I took steps to preserve my smaller matches when Ancestry initiated its massive purge in 2020. I wrote about that here and here.

Ancestry’s SideView breaks matches down into maternal, paternal, and unassigned based on your side selection. You tell Ancestry which side is which. You may be able to determine which “side” is maternal or paternal either by your ethnicity or shared matches. While SideView is not always accurate, it’s a good place to begin.

Match Category Ancestry V1 Test Ancestry V2 Test
Maternal 15,587 15,116
Paternal 42,247 41,870
Both 2 2
Unassigned 48,999 4,127
Total 106,835 61,115

Ancestry either displays all your matches or your matches by side, which I used to compile the table above. I suspect that Ancestry is not assigning any of the smaller preserved matches to “sides” based on the numbers above.

Ancestry implemented a process called Timber that removes DNA that they feel is “too matchy,” meaning you match enough people in this region that they think it’s a pileup region for you personally, and therefore not useful. In some cases, enough DNA is removed causing that person to no longer be considered a match because they fall beneath the match threshold. I am not a fan of Timber.

Your match amount shown is AFTER Timber has removed those segments. Unweighted shared DNA is your pre-Timber match amount.

You can view the Unweighted shared DNA by clicking on the amount of shared DNA on your match list.

You can read Ancestry’s Matching White Paper, here.

Let’s take a look at my matches. I’ve listed both weighted and unweighted where they are different.

Match Ancestry V1 Ancestry V2
Michael 755 cM, 35 seg 737 cM, 33 seg
Edward 66 cM, 4 seg (unweighted 86 cM) 65 cM, 4 seg (unweighted 86 cM)
Tom 59 cM, 3 seg (unweighted 63) Same
Jonathon 43 cM, 4 seg, (unweighted 52 cM) Same
Matthew 20 cM, 2 seg (unweighted 35 cM) Same
Harold 132 cM, 7 seg 135 cM, 6 seg
Dean 67 cM, 4 seg (unweighted 78 cM) 66 cM, 4 seg (unweighted 78 cM)
Debbie 93 cM, 5 seg Same
Valli 142 cM, 3 seg Same
Jared 20 cM, 1 seg (unweighted 22 cM) Same

Timber only removes DNA when the match is under 90 cM. Almost every match under 90 cM has some DNA removed.

Ancestry Summary

The results of the two Ancestry tests are very close.

In some circumstances, no DNA is removed by Timber, so the unweighted is the same as the weighted. However, in other cases, a significant amount is removed. 15 cM of Matthew’s 35 cM was removed by Timber, reducing his total to 20 cM.

Remember that Ancestry does not show shared matches unless they are greater than 20 cM, which is different than any other DNA testing company.

At one point, Ancestry was selling a health test that was also a genealogy test. That test utilized a different chip that is not accepted for uploads by other vendors. The results of that test might well be different that the “normal” Ancestry tests focused on genealogy. The Ancestry health test is no longer offered.

Companies that Accept Uploads

DNA testing companies that accept uploaded DNA files from other DNA testing companies need to process the uploaded file, just like a file that is generated in their own lab. Of course, they must deal with the differences between uploaded files and their own file format. The processing includes imputation and formulates the uploaded file so that it works with the tools that they provide for their customers, including ethnicity (by whatever name they use) matching, family matching (bucketing), advanced matching, the match matrix, triangulation, AutoClusters, Theories of Family Relativity, and other advanced tools.

Of course, the testing company accepting uploads can only work with the DNA locations provided by the original DNA testing company in the uploaded file.

Matching and some additional tools are free to uploaders, but advanced tools require an inexpensive unlock.

FamilyTreeDNA

I took a test at FamilyTreeDNA, plus uploaded a copy of both of my Ancestry DNA files.

FamilyTreeDNA named their population (ethnicity) test myOrigins and the current version is V3. I wrote about the rollout and comparison in September of 2020, here.

My DNA test taken at FamilyTreeDNA, above, reveals Native American segments that match reference populations found both in North and South America and the Caribbean Islands.

At FamilyTreeDNA, my Ancestry V1 uploaded file results show Native American population matches only in North America.

Interestingly, my Ancestry V1 file processed AT Ancestry did not reveal Native American ancestry, but the same file uploaded to and processed at FamilyTreeDNA did show Native American results, reflecting the difference between the vendors’ internal algorithms and reference populations utilized.

My myOrigins results from my Ancestry V2 uploaded file at FamilyTreeDNA also include my North American Native American segments. The V2 test also showed Native American ethnicity at Ancestry, so clearly something changed in Ancestry’s algorithm, locations tested, and/or reference populations between V1 and V2.

Fortunately, FamilyTreeDNA provides both chromosome painting and a population download file so I can match those Native segments with my autosomal matches to identify which of my ancestors contributed those specific segments.

One of my Native segments is shown in pink on Chromosome1. My mother has a Native segment in exactly the same location, so I know that this segment originated with my mother’s ancestors.

I downloaded the myOrigins population segment file and painted my results at DNAPainter, along with the matches where I can identify our common ancestor. This allowed me to pinpoint the ancestral line that contributed this Native segment in my maternal line. You can read about using DNAPainter, here.

FamilyTreeDNA Matches

I have significantly more matches at FamilyTreeDNA on their test than on either of my Ancestry tests that I uploaded. However, nearly the same number are maternally or paternally assigned through Family Matching, with the remainder unassigned. You can read about Family Matching here.

Match Category FamilyTreeDNA Test Ancestry V1 at FamilyTreeDNA Ancestry V2 at FamilyTreeDNA
Paternal 3,479 3,572 3,422
Maternal 1,549 1,536 1,477
Both 3 3 3
All 8,154 6,397 6,579

Family matching, aka bucketing, automatically assigns my matches as maternal and paternal by linking known relatives to their place in my tree.

I completed the following match chart using my original test taken at FamilyTreeDNA, plus the same match at FamilyTreeDNA for both of my Ancestry tests.

In other words, Cheryl matched me at 467 cM on 21 segments on the original test taken at FamilyTreeDNA. She matched me on 473 cM and 21 segments on my Ancestry V1 test uploaded to FamilyTreeDNA and on 483 cM and 22 segments on the Ancestry V2 test uploaded to FamilyTreeDNA.

Match FamilyTreeDNA Ancestry V1 at FTDNA Ancestry V2 at FTDNA
Cheryl 467 cM, 21 seg 473 cM, 21 seg 483 cM, 22 seg
Patricia 195 cM, 11 seg 189 cM, 11 seg 188 cM, 11 seg
Tom 77 cM, 4 seg 71 cM, 4 seg 76 cM, 4 seg
Thomas 72 cM, 3 seg 71 cM, 3 seg 74 cM, 3 seg
Roland 29 cM, 1 seg 35 cM, 2 seg 35 cM, 2 seg
Rex 62 cM, 4 seg 55 cM, 3 seg 57 cM, 3 seg
Don 395 cM, 18 seg 362 cM, 15 seg 398 cM, 18 seg
Ian 64 cM, 4 seg 56 cM, 4 seg 64 cM, 4 seg
Stacy 490 cM, 18 seg 494 cM, 15 seg 489 cM, 14 seg
Harold 127 cM, 5 cM 133 cM, 6 seg 143 cM, 6 seg
Dean 81 cM, 4 seg 75 cM, 3 seg 83 cM, 4 seg
Carl 103 cM, 4 seg 101 cM, 4 seg 102 cM, 4 seg
Debbie 99 cM, 5 seg 97 cM, 5 seg 99 cM, 5 seg
David 373 cM, 16 seg 435 cM, 19 seg 417 cM, 18 seg
Amos 176 cM, 7 seg 177 cM. 8 seg 177 cM, 7 seg
Buster 387 cM, 15 seg 396 cM, 16 seg 402 cM, 17 seg
Charlene 461 cM, 21 seg 450 cM, 21 seg 448 cM, 20 seg
Carol 65 cM, 6 seg 64 cM, 6 seg 65 cM, 6 seg

I have tested many of my cousins at FamilyTreeDNA and encouraged others to test or upload. I’ve attempted to include enough people so that I can have common matches at least at one other DNA testing company for comparison.

FamilyTreeDNA Summary

The matches are relatively close, with a few being exact.

Interestingly, some of the segment counts are different. In most cases, this results from one segment being broken into multiple segments by one or more of the tests, but not always. In the couple that I checked, the entire segment seems to descend from the same ancestral couple, so the break is likely a result of not all of the same DNA locations being tested, plus the limits of imputation.

MyHeritage

I have two tests at MyHeritage. One taken at MyHeritage, and an uploaded file from FamilyTreeDNA.

MyHeritage displays both ethnicity results and Genetic Groups which maps groups of people that you match. I left the Genetic Groups setting at the highest confidence level. Shifting it to lower displays additional Genetic Groups, some of which overlap with or are within ethnicity regions.

My test taken at MyHeritage, above, shows several ethnicities and Genetic Groups, but no Native American.

My FamilyTreeDNA kit processed at MyHeritage shows the same ethnicity regions, one additional Genetic Group, plus Native American heritage in the Amazon which is rather surprising given that I don’t show Native in North American regions where I’m positive my Native ancestors lived.

MyHeritage Matching

At MyHeritage, I compared the results of the test I took with MyHeritage, and a test I uploaded from FamilyTreeDNA. Fewer than half of my matches can be assigned to a parent via shared matching.

Matches MyHeritage Test FamilyTreeDNA at MyHeritage
Paternal 4,422 6,501
Maternal 2,660 3,655
Total 13,233 16,147

I have rounded my matches at MyHeritage to the closest cM.

Match MyHeritage Test FamilyTreeDNA at MyHeritage
Michael 801 cM, 32 seg 823 cM, 31 segments
Cheryl 467 cM, 23 seg 477 cM, 23 seg
Roland No match 28 cM, 1 seg
Patty 156 cM, 9 seg 151 cM, 9 seg
Rex 43 cM, 4 seg 53 cM, 3 seg
Don 369 cM, 16 seg 382 cM, 17 seg
 
David 449 cM, 17 seg 460 cM, 17 seg
Charlene 454 cM, 23 seg 477 cM, 24 seg
Buster 408 cM, 15 seg 410 cM, 16 seg
Amos 183 cM, 8 seg Same
Carol 78 cM, 6 seg 87 cM, 7 seg

MyHeritage Summary

I was surprised to discover that Roland had no match with the MyHeritage test, but did with the FamilyTreeDNA test. I wonder if this is a searching or matching glitch, especially since both companies use the same chip. 28 cM in one segment is a reasonably large match, and even if it was divided in two, it would still be over the matching threshold. I know this is a valid match because Roland triangulates with me and several cousins, I’m positive of our common ancestor, and he also matches me at both FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe.

Other than that, the matches are reasonably close, with one being exact.

Your Matches Aren’t Everyplace

I unsuccessfully searched for someone who was a match to me in all four databases. Ancestry does not permit match downloads, so I had to search manually. People don’t always use the same names in different databases.

Surprisingly, I was unable to find one match who is in all of the databases. Many people only suggest testing at Ancestry because they have the largest database, but if you look at the following comparison chart that I’ve created, you’ll see that 16 of 26 people, or 62% were not at Ancestry. Conversely, many people were at Ancestry and not elsewhere. I could not find five maternal and five paternal matches at Ancestry that I could identify as matches in another database. 40% were not elsewhere.

If you think for one minute that it doesn’t matter for genealogy if you’re in all four major databases, please reconsider. It surely does matter.

Every single vendor has matches that the others don’t. Substantial, important matches. I have found first and second-cousin matches in every database that weren’t elsewhere.

Many of the original testers have passed away and can’t test again. My mother can never test at either 23andMe or Ancestry, but she is at both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage because I could upgrade her kit at FamilyTreeDNA after she died. I uploaded her to MyHeritage. Of course, because she is a generation closer to our ancestors, she has many valuable matches that I don’t.

Each vendor provides either an email address or a messaging platform for you to contact your matches. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t answer. Just today, I received a reply that was years in the making.

Genealogists hope for immediate gratification, but we are actually in this for the long game. Play it with every tool at your disposal.

The Answer

Does it matter if you test at a DNA testing company, or upload a file?

I know this was a very long answer to what my readers hoped was a simple yes or no question.

There is no consistent answer at either FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage, the two DNA testing companies that accept uploads. Be sure you’re in both databases. My closest two matches that I did not test were found at MyHeritage. Here’s a direct link to upload at MyHeritage.

Of the vendors, those two should be the closest to each other because they are both processed in the GenebyGene lab, but again, the actual chip version, when the test was originally taken, and each vendor’s internal processing will result in differences. Neither the original test at the DNA testing company nor the uploaded files have consistently higher or lower matches. Neither type of test or upload appears to be universally more or less accurate. Differences in either direction seem to occur on a match-by-match basis. Many are so close as to be virtually equivalent, with a few seemingly random exceptions. Of course, we always have to consider Timber.

If you upload, unlock the advanced features at both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage.

If you upload to a DNA testing company, you may discover in the future that some features and functions will only be available to original testers.

Personally, if I had the option, I would test at the company directly simply because it eliminates or at least reduces the possibility of future incompatibilities – with the exception of 23andMe which has chosen to not provide consistent updates to older tests. I’m incredibly grateful I didn’t test my mother or now deceased family members at 23andMe, and only there. I would be heartsick, heartbroken, and furious.

Our DNA is an extremely valuable resource for our genealogy. It’s the gift that truly keeps on giving, day after day, even when other records don’t exist. Be sure you and your family members are in each database one way or another, and test your Y-DNA (for males) and mitochondrial DNA (for everyone) to have a complete arsenal at your disposal.

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here.

Share the Love!

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.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

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.

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

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.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

Beethoven’s DNA Reveals Surprises – Does Your DNA Match?

Beethoven’s DNA has been sequenced from a lock of his hair. That, alone, is amazing news – but that’s just the beginning!

The scientific paper was released this week, and the news media is awash with the unexpected surprises that Beethoven’s DNA has revealed for us. Better yet, his DNA is in the FamilyTreeDNA database and you just might match. Are you related to Beethoven?

His Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA have been recovered and are available for matching.

You can check your autosomal results if you’ve taken a Family Finder test, or you can upload your DNA file from either AncestryDNA, 23andMe or MyHeritage to find out if you match Beethoven. Here are the download/upload instructions for each company.

But first, let’s talk about this amazing sequence of events (pardon the pun) and scientific discoveries!

Beethoven’s Genome is Sequenced

Everyone knows the famous, genius composer, Ludwig van Beethoven. He was born in 1770 in Bonn on the banks of the Rhine River and died in 1827 in Vienna. You can listen to a snippet of his music, here.

We are all about to know him even better.

Yesterday, amid much media fanfare and a press release, the genome and related findings about Beethoven were released by a team of renowned scientists in a collaborative effort. Research partners include the University of Cambridge, the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, the American Beethoven Society, KU Leuven, the University Hospital Bonn, the University of Bonn, the Beethoven-Haus Bonn, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and  FamilyTreeDNA. I want to congratulate all of these amazing scientists for brilliant work.

Beethoven’s Hair Revelations

In the past, we were unable to retrieve viable DNA from hair, but advances have changed that in certain settings. If you’re eyeing grandma’s hair wreath – the answer is “not yet” for consumer testing. Just continue to protect and preserve your family heirlooms as described in this article.

Thankfully, Beethoven participated in the Victorian custom of giving locks of hair as mementos. Eight different locks of hair attributed to Beethoven were analyzed, with five being deemed authentic and one inconclusive. Those locks provided enough DNA to obtain a great deal of different types of information.

Beethoven’s whole genome was sequenced to a 24X coverage level, meaning the researchers were able to obtain 24 good reads of his DNA, providing a high level of confidence in the accuracy of the sequencing results.

What Was Discovered?

Perhaps the most interesting discovery, at least to genealogists, is that someplace in Beethoven’s direct paternal lineage, meaning his Y-DNA, a non-paternal event (NPE) occurred. The paper’s primary authors referred to this as an “extra-pair-paternity event” but I’ve never heard that term before.

Based on testing of other family members, that event occurred sometime between roughly 1572 and Ludwig’s conception in 1770. The reported lack of a baptismal record had already raised red flags with researchers relative to Beethoven’s paternity, but there is nothing to suggest where in the five generations prior to Ludwig von Beethoven that genetic break occurred. Perhaps testing additional people in the future will provide more specificity.

We also discovered that Beethoven was genetically predisposed to liver disease. He was plagued with jaundice and other liver-related issues for much of his later life.

Beethoven, prior to his death, left a handwritten directive asking his physicians to describe and publicize his health issues which included progressive hearing loss to the point of deafness, persistent gastrointestinal problems and severe liver issues that eventually resulted in his death. Cirrhosis of the liver was widely believed to be his cause of death.

In addition, DNA in the hair revealed that Beethoven had contracted Hepatitis B, which also affects the liver.

The combination of genetic predisposition to liver disease, Hepatitis B and heavy alcohol use probably sealed his fate.

Additional health issues that Beethoven experienced are described in the paper, published in Current Biology.

It’s quite interesting that during this analysis the team devised a method to use triangulated segments that they mapped to various geographic locations, as illustrated above in a graphic from the paper. Fascinating work!!!

As a partner in this research, Cambridge University created a beautiful website, including a video which you can watch, here.

Beethoven’s Later Years

This portrait of Beethoven was painted in 1820 just 7 years before his death, at 56 years of age. By this time, he had been completely deaf for several years, had stopped performing and appearing in public. Ironically, he still continued to compose, but was horribly frustrated and discouraged, even contemplating suicide. I can’t even fathom the depths of despair for a person with his musical genius to become deaf, slowly, like slow torture.

His personal life didn’t fare much better. In 1812, he wrote this impassioned love letter to his “Immortal Beloved” whose identity has never been revealed, if it was ever known by anyone other than Beethoven himself. The letter was never sent, which is why we have it today.

FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA, one of the research partners published a blog article, here.

The FamilyTreeDNA research team not only probed Beethoven’s genealogy, they tested people whose DNA should have matched, but as it turns out, did not.

Beethoven’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is H1b1+16,362C, plus a private mutation at C16,176T. Perhaps in the future, Beethoven’s additional private mutation will become a new haplogroup if other members of this haplogroup have it as well. If you have tested your mitochondrial DNA, check and see if Beethoven is on your match list. If you haven’t tested, now’s a great time.

According to the academic paper, Beethoven’s Y-DNA haplogroup is I-Z139, but when viewing Figure 5 in the paper, here, I noticed that Beethoven’s detailed haplogroup is given as I-FT396000, which you can see in the Discover project, here.

Viewing the Time Tree and the Suggested Projects, I noticed that there are four men with that haplogroup, some of whom are from Germany.

The ancestor’s surnames of the I-FT396000 men, as provided in public projects include:

  • Pitzschke (from Germany)
  • Hartmann (from Germany)
  • Stayler
  • Schauer (from Germany)

If your Y-DNA matches Beethoven at any level, you might want to upgrade if you haven’t taken the Big Y-700 test. It would be very interesting to see when and where your most recent common ancestor with Beethoven lived. You just never known – if you match Beethoven, your known ancestry might help unravel the mystery of Beethoven’s unknown paternal lineage.

Beethoven’s DNA is in the FamilyTreeDNA database for matching, including Y-DNA mitochondrial and autosomal results, so you just might match. Take a look! A surprise just might be waiting for you.

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

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.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

RootsTech 2023 – Truly United

Finally, finally, we were on our way, winging our way across the world from near and far – flying and motoring into snowy Salt Lake City for RootsTech. It seemed like we had been preparing forever, and Murphy visited many of us as gremlins trying to keep us away – but we persevered, and Murphy’s ploy just didn’t work.

Grab a cup of your favorite beverage, because you’re going to RootsTech with me!

I started out very early in dense fog which was a precursor to a nightmare at the airport. We didn’t know that yet, and the sun emerged beautifully as we were on our way.

Utah was blanketed with snow a few days before our arrival. We were hoping for no more snow.

The snow cover made for stunningly beautiful photos from the air.

The Kennecott Copper Mine outside Salt Lake City is three miles wide, nearly a mile deep and looked very interesting and beautiful laced with snow. These terraces are actually roughly 500 miles of dirt road. This used to be a mountain that was 8400 feet in elevation.

During the flight, I read about my ancestor, Stephen Hopkins and couldn’t help but think about how shocked he would have been that I flew across the country some 413 years after he was shipwrecked in Bermuda on the way to Jamestown, eventually lived in Jamestown for 4 years, sailed back to England, remarried, then arrived on the Mayflower in Plymouth Colony.

His ships and mine were very, very different.

FamilySearch Library

Some of us arrived early for research or meetings, or both.

FamilySearch took the opportunity presented during the Covid shutdown to remodel and upgrade the facilities significantly. The new library is both beautiful and super-functional.

The workstations now have three monitors.

There’s a lovely new break room with vending machines, tables, and a fridge.

To put things in perspective, the break room is larger than the preserved pioneer cabin that stands beside the library.

I’m struck by the contrast of the small cabin standing beside the FamilySearch library at left, and museum at right, and just a block away from skyscrapers.

Rather than leave and waste valuable research time, we had a picnic lunch in the break room.

I went to Salt Lake City early to visit the FamilySearch Library and attempt to break down a brick wall. I think I might have done that. We will see.

Other researchers did the same thing, and you can view a special GenFriends episode, here, hosted by Cheryl Hudson Passey, where several of us shared our excitement about our research, discoveries and simply gathering together again.

I was very excited to meet my cousin, Audrey Hill, for the first time in person, at the library. We’ve been collaborating for several months on our John Hill (1737-1805) and Catherine Mitchell (1738-1827) line. She’s already following up on a lead I never did (my bad.) Go Audrey!!

I spent two days perusing book after book after book in the Virginia and Maryland counties where my Dobkins and Johnson ancestors were known to have lived, then moved to the historically adjacent counties.

I was incredibly discouraged, but on the evening of the second day, back at my hotel again, I reviewed all of the library resources and noticed that I had missed one book that was shelved elsewhere.

Glory be, I *think* I’ve found him and his family.

My Peter Johnson line’s Y-DNA matches the Jochimsson (Yocum) line, so I have a LOT of work to do. But now at least I know where to dig!

I needed this entire book, not just a few pages.

Fortunately for me, Jim volunteered to scan the entire book at one of the new book-scanning stations.

I’m SOOO excited.

RootsTech and the FamilySearch library ran golf carts back and forth between the facilities throughout the conference.

Decisions, decisions.

Well, if you can’t decide, just go to the chocolate shop to think things over😊

The Night Before

Preconference events began on Wednesday evening with the media dinner which allows us to understand the layout, when to be someplace, and where that place might be. It also allows provides accurate information to pass on to you.

Of course, many of us have known each other for years. As the first event of RootsTech, after three years of being apart, it felt like one huge family reunion with everyone catching up. So many hugs!!!

And selfies.

It was wonderful to see Marie Cappart again. I’ll never forget walking down the street in Amsterdam with two friends and hearing someone shouting my name from some distance away. I turned around and there was Marie, running toward me, arms outstretched. What are the chances??

The influencers and media were treated to a tour of the show floor after setup was supposed to be complete.

Finishing touches were being put on the Expo Hall and booths. I guess I never realized how large these booths are and that they actually have to be “constructed”.

The next morning, the show would open and thousands of excited genealogists would descend on the Salt Palace for the next three days.

RootsTech Opens

Finally, the Salt Palace, with its legendary signs outside, was ready to receive genealogy guests.

Everyone was so happy to see each other again. My friends, Janna Helstein, Schelly Taladay Dardashti and Daniel Horowitz with MyHeritage photobombing the group. This was the best of several photos because we were all joyfully laughing so hard.

The absolute best part of RootsTech 2023 was seeing people again, in person. Zoom and similar platforms have been sanity-saving for the past three years – but they aren’t people.

Humans are, I think, wired for connection to each other.

I’ve worked “home office” for decades now, but not without regular contact with others.

The classes were great and there was a lot that was wonderful at RootsTech – but hands down, the best part was hugging so many people.

In case you aren’t aware, genealogists are huggers.

If someone were to have followed me around taking photos, there would have been hundreds of hugs. And I don’t mean polite greeting distant hugs. I mean the “OMG I haven’t seen you in a lifetime and everyone was concerned we might never see each other again” holding tight, never-letting-go hugs.

Mags Gaulden and I spotted each other in front of the WikiTree booth, and some kind soul took our picture. I tried to do a nice thing for her and made DNA masks, not remembering that she was allergic to my cat assistants. Thank goodness Mags realized it quickly enough to remove the masks before they had the opposite of the intended effect. I really do not want to be listed in her obituary! “Cause of death: Roberta’s masks.”

Tears streamed down people’s faces as they saw each other, especially that first day. And I don’t mean because of cat hair, either.

There were thousands of selfies joyfully taken. Lots of “blooper” ones too, but just the giddiness of being together again was intoxicating and overshadowed the challenges of the past few years. For a minute, or a few, everyone could just forget about everything else and enjoy our three-day adrenaline high.

And of course, sometimes things change, and many people weren’t there, for a variety of reasons. I missed so many people and there was more than one moment of silence.

Attendance

Here’s the RootsTech Expo Hall from the second floor. It felt like “coming home” after a long absence.

I was standing inside when the doors opened on the first day. People were waiting, but not the mob like past years.

In a Zoom call with RootsTech staff a week or ten days before the conference, they said they had 6000 paid admissions at that time, and a week or so later, they said they were anticipating the same number of attendees as 2020 which was about three times that number.

That number was clearly aspirational, but it didn’t happen.

I’ve been attending RootsTech since 2018, and the actual in-person attendance, based on observation, was lower than it has been since I’ve been attending. Of course, while we may be getting used to Covid, it’s not over and still a significant concern to many. I had my doubts.

Now that I’ve said that about attendance, let me expand. There were over a million registered online for the virtual sessions PLUS the livestreamed sessions that were held in person as well. I don’t know how many more than a million attended, but that number will only grow because those sessions remain available for viewing after RootsTech. In other words, Rootstech sessions have become a library which you can find and enjoy, here.

Clearly, more people in total were reached in 2023 than in 2020.

Questions for Attendees

This year, I had three in-person classes, and no virtual classes. All three were well-attended.

I don’t know how many people attended my sessions, but I know I took about 2000 DNAeXplain ribbons that were passed out to attendees at the exit doors of my classes if they wanted them for their RootsTech badges. I brought home maybe 100.

After everything is set up for the session (thank you Jim,) I always chat with the people in my sessions that show up early. There’s no reason not to have a little fun for everyone.

My first session was at 9:30 the first day, right after the conference opened at 9. I was passing out ribbons personally to people who were early and I saw the confused looks. So I demonstrated what to do with the ribbons with my own badge.

Ribbons on badges are a RootsTech staple, and it’s the only conference I’ve ever attended with that tradition. I realized, based on the confused looks, that we had several first-time attendees.

I was so excited to welcome people at the beginning of my first session, back to in-person genealogy, and that feeling was palpable throughout the room and the conference as a whole.

How Many First-Time Attendees?

When my session started, I asked how many people were attending RootsTech for the first time, and I was very surprised to discover that roughly half the room raised their hands.

Half!!!

That’s HUGE. No wonder there were so many confused looks about the ribbons.

My three sessions, in order, were:

  • DNA for Native American Genealogy: 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestors
  • DNA Journey – Follow Your Ancestors Path
  • Big Y for the Win

I mention this because of the next questions I asked.

Who Has Taken a DNA Test for Genealogy?

In the first session, “DNA for Native American Genealogy,” I asked who had taken a DNA test, and more than half raised their hands, but several had not. Frankly, that surprised me given how long DNA testing has been available now. I talked to people afterwards, and the common thread for those who had not seemed to be:

  • They didn’t know which vendor or which DNA test to take for this purpose.
  • They thought the ancestor was too far back in time and they would not have any Native results. In my session, I talked about testing the older generations and your cousins. Also, that you don’t know what you don’t know. I asked how many people would purchase a book if they thought the answer to that question even MIGHT be inside, and every single person raised their hand.

I also pointed people to the Native section on my blog, to my book, DNA for Native American Genealogy, and to my second blog focused entirely on early Native American records, www.nativeheritageproject.com.

In the second class, “DNA Journey – Follow Your Ancestor’s Path,” probably three fourths of the class had taken a DNA test. That session was really fun. I used several case studies to illustrate how different kinds of DNA have broken down brick walls AND showed me exactly, and I mean literally exactly where my ancestors were from. I used Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal to accomplish this. Who among you DOESN’T want to stand where your ancestors stood?

Yep, we all do.

I think it was in the second class that I asked a question about how many people had taken the three different types of tests, and here’s the breakdown:

  • Who has taken a DNA test? – The majority of the room
  • Who has taken an autosomal test – It looked to be the same number of people as above
  • Who has taken (or sponsored) a Y-DNA test – Maybe 10% of the room
  • Who has taken a mitochondrial DNA test – A scattering of people

As genealogists, we need to do more Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing, because we don’t know what we don’t know and may well be missing.

In the third class, “Big Y for the Win,” which included both Y-DNA STR testing and the Big Y-700, comparing and contrasting the tests, how to use them, and why the Big Y provides significant advantages, most of the people had taken some type of DNA test.

The second question I asked in the Big Y class was how many people had taken or sponsored a Big Y test, and significantly more than half had, which is what I would have expected.

However, given the session topic, I was surprised to learn that few had used the new, free, Discover Tools, or the recently released Group Time Tree. Both were developed and created by FamilyTreeDNA to maximize the usefulness of Y-DNA haplogroups, and they are amazing.

How Many People Have Tested?

As part of the information that I gathered during the conference, Ancestry has tested 23 million people and MyHeritage 6.5 million. I don’t have a current number for FamilyTreeDNA or 23andMe, but the last numbers I heard some months ago were 2 and 5 million, respectively.

There are clearly more (and new) people who are interested in genealogy and are still DNA testing candidates – especially Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA which have separate inheritance paths, providing additional and unique benefits as compared to autosomal tests.

Keynotes

The keynote sessions were livestreamed, so you can still view them here. Be sure to watch Steve Rockwood’s welcome. He may be the CEO, but he’s an exceptionally caring, inspirational and humble, man.

I attended two of three keynote sessions. Each keynote session actually included three speakers, which was initially confusing.

Steve Rockwood’s message is that “All Means All” – everyone is included. He also thanked and encouraged people to not be further divisive during this difficult time, and instead to choose inclusion.

Steve asked several questions and in answer to his queries, attendees were encouraged to hold up their phones with their flashlight on. As you can see, the entire huge room is filled with light – our light. One at a time. We can all be the light. You can hear Steve’s message for yourself, here.

Another session I enjoyed immensely was Jordin Sparks, the youngest ever American Idol winner. I’ve been in concert venues that were smaller, so it was a real treat to enjoy this inspirational story plus four of her amazing songs.

I really encourage you to watch this video, especially if you love music. Even Jordin’s guitarist was wiping his eyes!

She literally played to a packed house and I don’t think there was a dry eye anyplace.

Jordin has an incredible voice and an inspirational story. Do yourself a favor and listen, here.

MyHeritage Keynote and Announcements

Aaron Godfrey, VP of Marketing with MyHeritage announced new products and initiatives during the keynote on day 2.

The new Photo Dater app, available soon, will estimate when a photo was taken based on clothes, hairstyles and other items in the photo.

Additionally, Aaron announced the cM Explainer, a wonderful new tool which predicts relationship estimates between DNA matches and includes the ages of the testers, among other factors. cM Explainer is incorporated into your DNA matches at MyHeritage in addition to being independently available for free, here.

I’ll be reviewing this new feature in an article, soon.

In another surprise, Aaron announced that MyHeritage has donated another 5000 kits to DNA Quest, for adoptees, here.

MyHeritage also introduced color coding for family trees, here. If you’re a MyHeritage user, this feature is already available for you on your tree, so check it out.

MyHeritage takes the “most new announcements at RootsTech” award with these new features.

Vendor Booth Sessions

Truth be told, I didn’t even get to visit all of the various booths. I meant to, but it just didn’t happen.

At least two vendors offered sessions throughout all three days. There were probably others, but between my three RootsTech sessions, three booth sessions and the book signing, in addition to keynotes, meetings and interviews, I just wasn’t able to attend many booth sessions.

The ones I did attend were wonderful. I focused on DNA, of course. Let’s start with FamilyTreeDNA.

Sherman McRae presented “Unexpected Y-DNA Results” in the FamilyTreeDNA booth where he’s showing how to utilize the Y-DNA Time Tree in the Discover tool, and the Group Time Tree.

You can view Sherman’s main session, Connect the Forefathers, here.

You just never know when a pilgrim is going to show up for your session.

Janine Cloud, an enrolled Cherokee tribal member and manager of Group Projects at FamilyTreeDNA discussed Y-DNA, mitochondrial and autosomal avenues to prove Native ancestors using DNA, using her own Cherokee ancestors as an example.

Dr Paul Maier, Population Geneticist, Goran Runfeldt, Head of Research and Michael Sager, Phylogeneticist answer questions about Y-DNA in the AMA (Ask Me Anything) session.

Paul and Goran also hosted an AMA for mitochondrial DNA as well, an often overlooked but valuable resource.

In addition to the Native American AMA session for FamilyTreeDNA which I gave with Janine, I gave two booth presentations for MyHeritage, “Time Travel with Your Ancestors” and “AutoClusters for the Win,” both of which were recorded meaning you  just might see them in the future.

The Time Travel session utilized the MyHeritage AI tools to see what my ancestors who came from specific regions or cultures might have looked like in that time and place. In the slide above the AI photo of my grandmother is combined with the document and with the Genetic Group that incorporates that part of Germany.

I combined the AI images with MyHeritage records that link those ancestors to a specific location, showing the predicted ethnicity, genetic groups when applicable, and then the actual location – some of which I’ve visited. My ancestor owned that windmill in the Netherlands, above. Combining these tools is so much FUN. My heritage provided the AI photos, records and ethnicity. I’m the one who did the traveling, of course, but in this way, time travel is possible!

I really enjoyed using this story-telling methodology that incorporates all 4 types of genealogy research and clues.

In the AutoClusters for the Win session in the MyHeritage booth, I discussed how I utilized AutoClusters to solve an adoption case in my own family, and how you can use this very powerful tool as well. The methodology I used works equally as well for genealogy mysteries.

In another MyHeritage booth presentation, Janna Helshtein told an amazing and moving story about her grandparents, their escape from the Holocaust, move to Israel, and more – in their own “voices” using MyHeritage’s Deep Story.

We all sat spellbound.

Janna also offers a free guide on how she created and integrated the Deep Story verbiage that her grandparents “spoke.” It was actually quite easy.

There was more to Janna’s story, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

I believe MyHeritage intends to make their booth sessions available through social media.

Here, Janna and I are celebrating with a quick picnic style lunch after her presentation. She truly knocked it out of the park.

Shifting Attendance

I’m sharing my opinion here, and not anything a RootsTech spokesperson told me.

I was surprised that the in-person attendance was down as much as it was, truthfully. I think in-person was down by either half or maybe even two-thirds. Some decline wouldn’t have surprised me, but this much was sobering.

I was also VERY surprised that roughly half of the attendees were new. And that number could have actually been higher. That’s a good thing, meaning new people are being attracted to genealogy.

These two things, together, suggest the following to me:

  • The passing of time, Covid, and aging-out of some people caused some decline. I know several people who passed away during the past three years, not to mention those whose lives changed dramatically due to their partner’s illness, passing or life circumstances. Several people lost jobs or moved, or both, or are in that process now.
  • Now let’s flip this and say that the virtual and FREE capability for much of RootsTech made the conference accessible and available to many who could not attend in person. For that, I’m very grateful. I have a friend who has been very ill and participated by taking selfies of herself with the livestreamed sessions on her monitor behind her. She posted her photos on social media to be with us. That warmed my heart so much.
  • I think that the reason there were so many new people was because they were able to attend virtually during 2021 and 2022. Essentially this means that while virtual RootsTech was challenging for everyone on the behind-the-scenes production side, to put it mildly, it served to recruit many new genealogists who would not have participated in person had they not previously attended online.

Based on discussions at the media dinner table, and other statements by Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, FamilySearch, including RootsTech, is reaching out to young people and to other areas of the world as well.

According to Steve, who, by the way, turns out to be my 11th cousin according to Relatives at RootsTech and the FamilySearch Tree, RootsTech will forever be a blended conference event.

This year, in addition to the local emcee, there were 15 people in other countries hosting in their locations, times and in their native languages.

This year there were 304 virtual classes, 205 in person, and some of those were streamed online as well.

Don’t forget that Relatives at RootsTech is still available through March 31st and you can contact cousins to collaborate. Some may represent Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA testing lines that you need for matching and to complete your tree.

Vendors

That brings me to the topic of vendors.

Three of the four major DNA vendors were present, meaning Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage. 23andMe was absent in 2020 and again this year. Their last DNA innovation was their genetic tree in September of 2019.

Many of the smaller vendors were not in attendance. I had made friends with several of the Mom and Pop vendors and almost none of them were there this year, nor were many of the organizations and smaller companies. I spoke with several people and they said, almost universally, that the cost of the virtual booths over the past two years, the work involved, and the fact that those virtual booths did not generate many sales, not even equal to the amount of the booth rent, had soured the experience.

Not only are conference booths very expensive, so is the invested labor and time. For those of you who don’t know, booth rent is only a part of it. You want carpet? That’s more. A chair? That’s more. Two chairs? More. A trash basket? More. Oh, you need wireless to handle sales? LOTS more.

I’d say that the Expo Hall was only half to one third of the size it had been previously. Mind you, it’s still huge, especially compared to many other conferences, but I missed seeing many of my favorite vendors.

For example, neither Genealogical.com nor Deseret Books were there this year, so there was no bookstore, and neither were many of the fun t-shirt vendors or others that sold jewelry or genealogy-related merchandise.

I hope that FamilySearch will put their creative caps on and perhaps reach out to their vendors, both past and current, and figure out a way to make RootsTech vendors attractive to the online crowd. Perhaps a “search” game where you have to visit vendor booths to find items. Maybe there could be some permanent online stores as well.

There were fewer food vendors too, but in case anyone was wondering, I could still smell cinnamon-almonds throughout the facility😊

I did run into some of my long-time vendor friends.

My friend Jessica Taylor with Legacy Tree Genealogists. I regularly refer people seeking genealogists who understand both genealogy and DNA to Legacy Tree Genealogists.

I don’t need to tell you how much I love DNAPainter and it was great to see Jonny Perl and Patricia Coleman in the DNAPainter booth.

I feel kind of bad because I obviously caught Rob Warthen and Carol Carman by surprise in the East Coast Genetic Genealogy Conference booth, but it’s the only photo I have of their booth.

Last fall’s ECGGC conference was very successful and I’m planning to speak in person this year, in Baltimore, October 6-8, 2023. Save the date. Last year was the first year and it was wonderful.

My Book Signing

FamilyTreeDNA was kind enough to host my book signing for DNA for Native American Genealogy in conjunction with the Native American Ask Me Anything session. Many thanks to Joe Brickey for her help with this event as well.

After the AMA session, which was the final event of Saturday, just before closing, we took a group picture with the FamilyTreeDNA team, or at least the staff members in the booth at that time.

I did learn that perhaps the last thing Saturday might not be the best time for a book signing, because lots of people leave on Friday night. On the other hand, on Saturday, admission to the conference is free, at least to the show floor, with lots of children’s activities and programs for LDS families. Saturday is always very busy in terms of traffic, with sometimes more Saturday visitors than paying conference attendees. It will be interesting to see final RootsTech conference numbers.

The Thank You That Made My Day!!!

One lovely lady, Charis, came up to me after my first session and explained that she saw an ad for RootsTech. She decided she needed to purchase a ticket and attend. She had never heard of me, but she is very focused on documenting her Native ancestry. She sat in the front row in my first session and paid rapt attention. (Speakers do notice, in case you wondered.)

Charis came up to me afterwards and told me that this class alone was worth her registration fee.

She made my day, but I thought to myself that she would attend other sessions that she would find equally as valuable. After all, the conference was just beginning. She found me the next day and repeated what she had said. On day 3, she attended the Ask Me Anything session, arriving early. She said the said the same thing, AGAIN, and I asked if we could take a picture together. As presenters, we take our time, spend our money to attend these conferences, and invest the effort because we want to help people.

People like Charis make this all worthwhile.

Sweetness Personified

I’m sorry, I just can’t resist sharing the sweetest picture series ever.

In 2020, I met my cousin, Heidi Campbell and her baby at RootsTech. Three years later, I saw Heidi again, with a beautiful new addition to the family.

I just can’t tell you how wonderful it was to hold this baby. The last baby I held was Heidi’s little one, three years ago. The look on Heidi’s face is priceless too when he’s reaching for my glasses. He had the biggest smile EVER on his face and he’s booping noses with me. We had so much fun.

My heart just melted into a huge puddle. I so much wish they lived close so I could “grandma.” Thank you, Heidi, for sharing your sunshine with me.

Rolling Up the Sidewalks

On Saturday, literally at one minute after 3 when the conference closed, the workers at the Salt Palace started rolling up the sidewalks, or in this case, the carpets.

It’s a wrap!!!

Afterglow

At the Salt Lake City airport, I ran into two people and had the opportunity to talk to them again and hug goodbye once more. You’d think we would all have had enough of genealogy, but not a chance. More hugs, gratitude for togetherness, and anticipation for next year.

Winging my way home again, having walked about 6 miles each day, according to Fitbit, I was tired, desperately tired, and my everything hurt. However, I was also incredibly fulfilled to have connected again with old friends and met so many new people that I now look forward to seeing again. We are very fortunate to be members of such a wonderful, diverse and universal community.

I couldn’t help but think, as we crossed the winding Mississippi River, how fortunate we are that we have “time travel” in this way. I’m also struck with how many different ways we have to time travel, with Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA at FamilyTreeDNA, autosomal testing and ethnicity at various vendors, and actual historical records that are becoming ever-more available remotely.

Using artificial intelligence, we can “see” our ancestor’s heritage in our own faces, or, in this case, the face of my grandfather using the MyHeritage AI Time Machine.

Using our DNA, we can identify the parts of those ancestors that we carry today, reaching back in time several generations with autosomal DNA. In addition to autosomal, both Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA provide close matches and reach back in time, focused on one specific line, providing insights for millennia.

Time travel, truly reimagined.

There are so many ways to discover and connect with our ancestors available to us today. If we don’t carry the DNA of ancestors a few generations upstream, perhaps selected cousins do. We have several tools and databases at our disposal to find testers.

The DNA of our ancestors can and does actually lead us home, to them and, sometimes, exactly where they lived, as I illustrated with several case studies in my presentation, “Follow Your Ancestors Path.” Today, these options are available to everyone.

RootsTech is in the history books for another year, with new friendships made and old ones renewed. Indeed, we were finally reunited with each other, and introduced to cousins we had never met before. We shared tools, methodologies and information to identify our ancestors. We all left fervently hoping to be reunited again next year.

Please enjoy the amazing RootsTech musical finale here.

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

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.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

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.

_____________________________________________________________

Follow DNAexplain on Facebook, here or follow me on Twitter, here.

Share the Love!

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.

You Can Help Keep This Blog Free

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

My Book

Genealogy Books

Genealogy Research

DNA: In Search of…Signs of Endogamy

This is the fourth 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 ancestors further back in time as well.

In this article, we discuss endogamy – how to determine if you have it, from what population, and how to follow the road signs.

After introductions, we will be covering the following topics:

  • Pedigree collapse and endogamy
  • Endogamous groups
  • The challenge(s) of endogamy
  • Endogamy and unknown close relatives (parents, grandparents)
  • Ethnicity and Populations
  • Matches
  • AutoClusters
  • Endogamous Relationships
  • Endogamous DNA Segments
  • “Are Your Parents Related?” Tool
  • Surnames
  • Projects
  • Locations
  • Y DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, and Endogamy
  • Endogamy Tools Summary Tables
    • Summary of Endogamy Tools by Vendor
    • Summary of Endogamous Populations Identified by Each Tool
    • Summary of Tools to Assist People Seeking Unknown Parents and Grandparents

What Is Endogamy and Why Does It Matter?

Endogamy occurs when a group or population of people intermarry among themselves for an extended period of time, without the introduction of many or any people from outside of that population.

The effect of this continual intermarriage is that the founders’ DNA simply gets passed around and around, eventually in small segments.

That happens because there is no “other” DNA to draw from within the population. Knowing or determining that you have endogamy helps make sense of DNA matching patterns, and those patterns can lead you to unknown relatives, both close and distant.

This Article

This article serves two purposes.

  • This article is educational and relevant for all researchers. We discuss endogamy using multiple tools and examples from known endogamous people and populations.
  • In order to be able to discern endogamy when we don’t know who our parents or grandparents are, we need to know what signs and signals to look for, and why, which is based on what endogamy looks like in people who know their heritage.

There’s no crystal ball – no definitive “one-way” arrow, but there are a series of indications that suggest endogamy.

Depending on the endogamous population you’re dealing with, those signs aren’t always the same.

If you’re sighing now, I understand – but that’s exactly WHY I wrote this article.

We’re covering a lot of ground, but these road markers are invaluable diagnostic tools.

I’ve previously written about endogamy in the articles:

Let’s start with definitions.

Pedigree Collapse and Endogamy

Pedigree collapse isn’t the same as endogamy. Pedigree collapse is when you have ancestors that repeat in your tree.

In this example, the parents of our DNA tester are first cousins, which means the tester shares great-grandparents on both sides and, of course, the same ancestors from there on back in their tree.

This also means they share more of those ancestors’ DNA than they would normally share.

John Smith and Mary Johnson are both in the tree twice, in the same position as great-grandparents. Normally, Tester Smith would carry approximately 12.5% of each of his great-grandparents’ DNA, assuming for illustration purposes that exactly 50% of each ancestor’s DNA is passed in each generation. In this case, due to pedigree collapse, 25% of Tester Smith’s DNA descends from John Smith, and another 25% descends from Mary Johnson, double what it would normally be. 25% is the amount of DNA contribution normally inherited from grandparents, not great-grandparents.

While we may find first cousin marriages a bit eyebrow-raising today, they were quite common in the past. Both laws and customs varied with the country, time, social norms, and religion.

Pedigree Collapse and Endogamy is NOT the Same

You might think that pedigree collapse and endogamy is one and the same, but there’s a difference. Pedigree collapse can lead to endogamy, but it takes more than one instance of pedigree collapse to morph into endogamy within a population. Population is the key word for endogamy.

The main difference is that pedigree collapse occurs with known ancestors in more recent generations for one person, while endogamy is longer-term and systemic in a group of people.

Picture a group of people, all descended from Tester Smith’s great-grandparents intermarrying. Now you have the beginnings of endogamy. A couple hundred or a few hundred years later, you have true endogamy.

In other words, endogamy is pedigree collapse on a larger scale – think of a village or a church.

My ancestors’ village of Schnait, in Germany, is shown above in 1685. One church and maybe 30 or 40 homes. According to church and other records, the same families had inhabited this village, and region, for generations. It’s a sure bet that both pedigree collapse and endogamy existed in this small community.

If pedigree collapse happens over and over again because there are no other people within the community to marry, then you have endogamy. In other words, with endogamy, you assuredly DO have historical pedigree collapse, generally back in time, often before you can identify those specific ancestors – because everyone descends from the same set of founders.

Endogamy Doesn’t Necessarily Indicate Recent Pedigree Collapse

With deep, historic endogamy, you don’t necessarily have recent pedigree collapse, and in fact, many people do not. Jewish people are a good example of this phenomenon. They shared ancestors for hundreds or thousands of years, depending on which group we are referring to, but in recent, known, generations, many Jewish people aren’t related. Still, their DNA often matches each other.

The good news is that there are telltale signs and signals of endogamy.

The bad news is that not all of these are obvious, meaning as an aid to people seeking clues about unknown close relatives, and other “signs” aren’t what they are believed to be.

Let’s step through each endogamy identifier, or “hint,” and then we will review how we can best utilize this information.

First, let’s take a look at groups that are considered to be endogamous.

Endogamous Groups

Jewish PeopleSpecifically groups that were isolated from other groups of Jewish (and other) people; Ashkenazi (Germany, Northern France, and diaspora), Sephardic (Spanish, Iberia, and diaspora), Mizrahi (Israel, Middle Eastern, and diaspora,) Ethiopian Jews, and possibly Jews from other locations such as Mountain Jews from Kazakhstan and the Caucasus.

AcadiansDescendants of about 60 French families who settled in “Acadia” beginning about 1604, primarily on the island of Nova Scotia, and intermarried among themselves and with the Mi’kmaq people. Expelled by the English in 1755, they were scattered in groups to various diasporic regions where they continued to intermarry and where their descendants are found today. Some Acadians became the Cajuns of Louisiana.

Anabaptist Protestant FaithsAmish, Mennonite, and Brethren (Dunkards) and their offshoots are Protestant religious sects founded in Europe in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries on the principle of baptizing only adults or people who are old enough to choose to follow the faith, or rebaptizing people who had been previously baptized as children. These Anabaptist faiths tend to marry within their own group or church and often expel those who marry outside of the faith. Many emigrated to the American colonies and elsewhere, seeking religious freedom. Occasionally those groups would locate in close proximity and intermarry, but not marry outside of other Anabaptist denominations.

Native American (Indigenous) People – all indigenous peoples found in North and South America before European colonization descended from a small number of original founders who probably arrived at multiple times.

Indigenous Pacific Islanders – Including indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii prior to colonization. They are probably equally as endogamous as Native American people, but I don’t have specific examples to share.

Villages – European or other villages with little inflow or whose residents were restricted from leaving over hundreds of years.

Other groups may have significant multiple lines of pedigree collapse and therefore become endogamous over time. Some people from Newfoundland, French Canadians, and Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) come to mind.

Endogamy is a process that occurs over time.

Endogamy and Unknown Relatives

If you know who your relatives are, you may already know you’re from an endogamous population, but if you’re searching for close relatives, it’s helpful to be able to determine if you have endogamous heritage, at least in recent generations.

If you know nothing about either parent, some of these tools won’t help you, at least not initially, but others will. However, as you add to your knowledge base, the other tools will become more useful.

If you know the identity of one parent, this process becomes at least somewhat easier.

In future articles, we will search specifically for parents and each of your four grandparents. In this article, I’ll review each of the diagnostic tools and techniques you can use to determine if you have endogamy, and perhaps pinpoint the source.

The Challenge

People with endogamous heritage are related in multiple, unknown ways, over many generations. They may also be related in known ways in recent generations.

If both of your parents share the SAME endogamous culture or group of relatives:

  • You may have significantly more autosomal DNA matches than people without endogamy, unless that group of people is under-sampled. Jewish people have significantly more matches, but Native people have fewer due to under-sampling.
  • You may experience a higher-than-normal cM (centiMorgan) total for estimated relationships, especially more distant relationships, 3C and beyond.
  • You will have many matches related to you on both your maternal and paternal sides.
  • Parts of your autosomal DNA will be the same on both your mother’s and father’s sides, meaning your DNA will be fully identical in some locations. (I’ll explain more in a minute.)

If either (or both) of your parents are from an endogamous population, you:

  • Will, in some cases, carry identifying Y and mitochondrial DNA that points to a specific endogamous group. This is true for Native people, can be true for Jewish people and Pacific Islanders, but is not true for Anabaptist people.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

Please note that there is no “one size fits all.”

Each or any of these tools may provide relevant hints, depending on:

  • Your heritage
  • How many other people have tested from the relevant population group
  • How many close or distant relatives have tested
  • If your parents share the same heritage
  • Your unique DNA inheritance pattern
  • If your parents, individually, were fully endogamous or only partly endogamous, and how far back generationally that endogamy occurred

For example, in my own genealogy, my maternal grandmother’s father was Acadian on his father’s side. While I’m not fully endogamous, I have significantly more matches through that line proportionally than on my other lines.

I have Brethren endogamy on my mother’s side via her paternal grandmother.

Endogamous ancestors are shown with red stars on my mother’s pedigree chart, above. However, please note that her maternal and paternal endogamous ancestors are not from the same endogamous population.

However, I STILL have fewer matches on my mother’s side in total than on my father’s side because my mother has recent Dutch and recent German immigrants which reduces her total number of matches. Neither of those lines have had as much time to produce descendants in the US, and Europe is under-sampled when compared with the US where more people tend to take DNA tests because they are searching for where they came from.

My father’s ancestors have been in the US since it was a British Colony, and I have many more cousins who have tested on his side than mother’s.

If you looked at my pedigree chart and thought to yourself, “that’s messy,” you’d be right.

The “endogamy means more matches” axiom does not hold true for me, comparatively, between my parents – in part because my mother’s German and Dutch lines are such recent immigrants.

The number of matches alone isn’t going to tell this story.

We are going to need to look at several pieces and parts for more information. Let’s start with ethnicity.

Ethnicity and Populations

Ethnicity can be a double-edged sword. It can tell you exactly nothing you couldn’t discern by looking in the mirror, or, conversely, it can be a wealth of information.

Ethnicity reveals the parts of the world where your ancestors originated. When searching for recent ancestors, you’re most interested in majority ethnicity, meaning the 50% of your DNA that you received from each of your parents.

Ethnicity results at each vendor are easy to find and relatively easy to understand.

This individual at FamilyTreeDNA is 100% Ashkenazi Jewish.

If they were 50% Jewish, we could then estimate, and that’s an important word, that either one of their parents was fully Jewish, and not the other, or that two of their grandparents were Jewish, although not necessarily on the same side.

On the other hand, my mother’s ethnicity, shown below, has nothing remarkable that would point to any majority endogamous population, yet she has two.

The only hint of endogamy from ethnicity would be her ~1% Americas, and that isn’t relevant for finding close relatives. However, minority ancestry is very relevant for identifying Native ancestors, which I wrote about, here.

You can correlate or track your ethnicity segments to specific ancestors, which I discussed in the article, Native American & Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments, here.

Since I wrote that article, FamilyTreeDNA has added the feature of ethnicity or population Chromosome Painting, based on where each of your populations fall on your chromosomes.

In this example on chromosome 1, I have European ancestry (blue,) except for the pink Native segment, which occurs on the following segment in the same location on my mother’s chromosome 1 as well.

Both 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA provide chromosome painting AND the associated segment information so you can identify the relevant ancestors.

Ancestry is in the process of rolling out an ethnicity painting feature, BUT, it has no segment or associated matching information. While it’s interesting eye candy, it’s not terribly useful beyond the ethnicity information that Ancestry already provides. However, Jonny Perl at DNAPainter has devised a way to estimate Ancestry’s start and stop locations, here. Way to go Jonny!

Now all you need to do is convince your Ancestry matches to upload their DNA file to one of the three databases, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDMatch, that accept transfers, aka uploads. This allows matching with segment data so that you can identify who matches you on that segment, track your ancestors, and paint your ancestral segments at DNAPainter.

I provided step-by-step instructions, here, for downloading your raw DNA file from each vendor in order to upload the file to another vendor.

Ethnicity Sides

Three of the four DNA testing vendors, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and recently, Ancestry, attempt to phase your ethnicity DNA, meaning to assign it to one parental “side” or the other – both in total and on each chromosome.

Here’s Ancestry’s SideView, where your DNA is estimated to belong to parent 1 and parent 2. I detailed how to determine which side is which, here, and while that article was written specifically pertaining to Ancestry’s SideView, the technique is relevant for all the vendors who attempt to divide your DNA into parents, a technique known as phasing.

I say “attempt” because phasing may or may not be accurate, meaning the top chromosome may not always be parent 1, and the bottom chromosome may not always be chromosome 2.

Here’s an example at 23andMe.

See the two yellow segments. They are both assigned as Native. I happen to know one is from the mother and one is from the father, yet they are both displayed on the “top” chromosome, which one would interpret to be the same parent.

I am absolutely positive this is not the case because this is a close family member, and I have the DNA of the parent who contributed the Native segment on chromosome 1, on the top chromosome. That parent does not have a Native segment on chromosome 2 to contribute. So that Native segment had to be contributed by the other parent, but it’s also shown on the top chromosome.

The DNA segments circled in purple belong together on the same “side” and were contributed to the tester by the same parent. The Native segment on chromosome 2 abuts a purple African segment, suggesting perhaps that the ancestor who contributed that segment was mixed between those ethnicities. In the US, that suggests enslavement.

The other African segments, circled, are shown on the second chromosome in each pair.

To be clear, parent 1 is not assigned by the vendors to either mother or father and will differ by person. Your parent 1, or the parent on the top chromosome may be your mother and another person’s parent 1 may be their father.

As shown in this example, parents can vary by chromosome, a phenomenon known as “strand swap.” Occasionally, the DNA can even be swapped within a chromosome assignment.

You can, however, get an idea of the division of your DNA at any specific location. As shown above, you can only have a maximum of two populations of DNA on any one chromosome location.

In our example above, this person’s majority ancestry is European (blue.) On each chromosome where we find a minority segment, the opposite chromosome in the same location is European, meaning blue.

Let’s look at another example.

At FamilyTreeDNA, the person whose ethnicity painting is shown below has a Native American (pink) ancestor on their father’s side. FamilyTreeDNA has correctly phased or identified their Native segments as all belonging to the second chromosome in each pair.

Looking at chromosome 18, for example, most of their father’s chromosome is Native American (pink). The other parent’s chromosome is European (dark blue) at those same locations.

If one of the parents was of one ethnicity, and the other parent is a completely different ethnicity, then one bar of each chromosome would be all pink, for example, and one would be entirely blue, representing the other ethnicity.

Phasing ethnicity or populations to maternal and paternal sides is not foolproof, and each chromosome is phased individually.

Ethnicity can, in some cases, give you a really good idea of what you’re dealing with in terms of heritage and endogamy.

If someone had an Ashkenazi Jewish father and European mother, for example, one copy of each chromosome would be yellow (Ashkenazi Jewish), and one would be blue (European.)

However, if each of their parents were half European Jewish and half European (not Jewish), then their different colored segments would be scattered across their entire set of chromosomes.

In this case, both of the tester’s parents are mixed – European Jewish (green) and Western Europe (blue.) We know both parents are admixed from the same two populations because in some locations, both parents contributed blue (Western Europe), and in other locations, both contributed Jewish (green) segments.

Both MyHeritage and Ancestry provide a secondary tool that’s connected to ethnicity, but different and generally in more recent times.

Ancestry’s DNA Communities

While your ethnicity may not point to anything terribly exciting in terms of endogamy, Genetic Communities might. Ancestry says that a DNA Community is a group of people who share DNA because their relatives recently lived in the same place at the same time, and that communities are much smaller than ethnicity regions and reach back only about 50-300 years.

Based on the ancestors’ locations in the trees of me and my matches, Ancestry has determined that I’m connected to two communities. In my case, the blue group is clearly my father’s line. The orange group could be either parent, or even a combination of both.

My endogamous Brethren could be showing up in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, but it’s uncertain, in part, because my father’s ancestral lines are found in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland too.

These aren’t useful for me, but they may be more useful for fully endogamous people, especially in conjunction with ethnicity.

My Acadian cousin’s European ethnicity isn’t informative.

However, viewing his DNA Communities puts his French heritage into perspective, especially combined with his match surnames.

I wrote about DNA Communities when it was introduced with the name Genetic Communities, here.

MyHeritage’s Genetic Groups

MyHeritage also provides a similar feature that shows where my matches’ ancestors lived in the same locations as mine.

One difference, though, is that testers can adjust their ethnicity results confidence level from high, above, to low, below where one of my Genetic Groups overlaps my ethnicity in the Netherlands.

You can also sort your matches by Genetic Groups.

The results show you not only who is in the group, but how many of your matches are in that group too, which provides perspective.

I wrote about Genetic Groups, here.

Next, let’s look at how endogamy affects your matches.

Matches

The number of matches that a person has who is from an entirely endogamous community and a person with no endogamy may be quite different.

FamilyTreeDNA provides a Family Matching feature that triangulates your matches and assigns them to your paternal or maternal side by using known matches that you have linked to their profile cards in your tree. You must link people for the Family Matching feature known as “bucketing” to be enabled.

The people you link are then processed for shared matches on the same chromosome segment(s). Triangulated individuals are then deposited in your maternal, paternal, and both buckets.

Obviously, your two parents are the best people to link, but if they haven’t tested (or uploaded their DNA file from another vendor) and you have other known relatives, link them using the Family Tree tab at the top of your personal page.

I uploaded my Ancestry V4 kit to use as an example for linking. Let’s pretend that’s my sister. If I had not already linked my Ancestry V4 kit to “my sister’s” profile card, I’d want to do that and link other known individuals the same way. Just drag and drop the match to the correct profile card.

Note that a full or half sibling will be listed as such at FamilyTreeDNA, but an identical twin will show as a potential parent/child match to you. You’re much more likely to find a parent than an identical twin, but just be aware.

I’ve created a table of FamilyTreeDNA bucketed match results, by category, comparing the number of matches in endogamous categories with non-endogamous.

Total Matches Maternal Matches Paternal Matches Both % Both % DNA Unassigned
100% Jewish 34,637 11,329 10,416 4,806 13.9 23.3
100% Jewish 32,973 10,700 9,858 4,606 14 23.7
100% Jewish 32,255 9,060 10,970 3,892 12 25.8
75% Jewish 24,232 11,846 Only mother linked Only mother linked Only mother linked
100% Acadian 8093 3826 2299 1062 13 11
100% Acadian 7828 3763 1825 923 11.8 17
Not Endogamous 6760 3845 1909 13 0.19 14.5
Not Endogamous 7723 1470 3317 6 0.08 38
100% Native American 1,115 Unlinked Unlinked Unlinked
100% Native American 885 290 Unknown Can’t calculate without at least one link on both sides

The 100% Jewish, Acadian, and Not Endogamous testers both have linked their parents, so their matches, if valid (meaning not identical by chance, which I discussed here,) will match them plus one or the other parent.

One person is 75% Jewish and has only linked their Jewish mother.

The Native people have not tested their parents, and the first Native person has not linked anyone in their tree. The second Native person has only linked a few maternal matches, but their mother has not tested. They are seeking their father.

It’s very difficult to find people who are fully Native as testers. Furthermore, Native people are under-sampled. If anyone knows of fully Native (or other endogamous) people who have tested and linked their parents or known relatives in their trees, and will allow me to use their total match numbers anonymously, please let me know.

As you can see, Jewish, Acadian, and Native people are 100% endogamous, but many more Jewish people than Native people have tested, so you CAN’T judge endogamy by the total number of matches alone.

In fact, in order:

  • Fully Jewish testers have about 4-5 times as many matches as the Acadian and Non-endogamous testers
  • Acadian and Non-endogamous testers have about 5-6 times as many matches as the Native American testers
  • Fully Jewish people have about 30 times more matches than the Native American testers

If a person’s endogamy with a particular population is only on their maternal or paternal side, they won’t have a significant number of people related to both sides, meaning few people will fall into the “Both” bucket. People that will always be found in the ”Both” bucket are full siblings and their descendants, along with descendants of the tester, assuming their match is linked to their profiles in the tester’s tree.

In the case of our Jewish testers, you can easily see that the “Both” bucket is very high. The Acadians are also higher than one would reasonably expect without endogamy. A non-endogamous person might have a few matches on both sides, assuming the parents are not related to each other.

A high number of “Both” matches is a very good indicator of endogamy within the same population on both parents’ sides.

The percentage of people who are assigned to the “Both” bucket is between 11% and 14% in the endogamous groups, and less than 1% in the non-endogamous group, so statistically not relevant.

As demonstrated by the Native people compared to the Jewish testers, the total number of matches can be deceiving.

However, being related to both parents, as indicated by the “Both” bucket, unless you have pedigree collapse, is a good indicator of endogamy.

Of course, if you don’t know who your relatives are, you can’t link them in your tree, so this type of “hunt” won’t generally help people seeking their close family members.

However, you may notice that you’re matching people PLUS both of their parents. If that’s the case, start asking questions of those matches about their heritage.

A very high number of total matches, as compared to non-endogamous people, combined with some other hints might well point to Jewish heritage.

I included the % DNA Unassigned category because this category, when both parents are linked, is the percentage of matches by chance, meaning the match doesn’t match either of the tester’s parents. All of the people with people listed in “Both” categories have linked both of their parents, not just maternal and paternal relatives.

Matching Location at MyHeritage

MyHeritage provides a matching function by location. Please note that it’s the location of the tester, but that may still be quite useful.

The locations are shown in the most-matches to least-matches order. Clicking on the location shows the people who match you who are from that location. This would be the most useful in situations where recent immigration has occurred. In my case, my great-grandfather from the Netherlands arrived in the 1860s, and my German ancestors arrived in the 1850s. Neither of those groups are endogamous, though, unless it would be on a village level.

AutoClusters

Let’s shift to Genetic Affairs, a third-party tool available to everyone.

Using their AutoCluster function, Genetic Affairs clusters your matches together who match both each other and you.

This is an example of the first few clusters in my AutoCluster. You can see that I have several colored clusters of various sizes, but none are huge.

Compare that to the following endogamous cluster, sample courtesy of EJ Blom at Genetic Affairs.

If your AutoCluster at Genetic Affairs looks something like this, a huge orange blob in the upper left hand corner, you’re dealing with endogamy.

Please also note that the size of your cluster is also a function of both the number of testers and the match threshold you select. I always begin by using the defaults. I wrote about using Genetic Affairs, here.

If you tested at or transferred to MyHeritage, they too license AutoClusters, but have optimized the algorithm to tease out endogamous matches so that their Jewish customers, in particular, don’t wind up with a huge orange block of interrelated people.

You won’t see the “endogamy signature” huge cluster in the corner, so you’re less likely to be able to discern endogamy from a MyHeritage cluster alone.

The commonality between these Jewish clusters at MyHeritage is that they all tend to be rather uniform in size and small, with lots of grey connecting almost all the blocks.

Grey cells indicate people who match people in two colored groups. In other words, there is often no clear division in clusters between the mother’s side and the father’s side in Jewish clusters.

In non-endogamous situations, even if you can’t identify the parents, the clusters should still fall into two sides, meaning a group of clusters for each parent’s side that are not related to each other.

You can read more about Genetic Affairs clusters and their tools, here. DNAGedcom.com also provides a clustering tool.

Endogamous Relationships

Endogamous estimated relationships are sometimes high. Please note the word, “sometimes.”

Using the Shared cM Project tool relationship chart, here, at DNAPainter, people with heavy endogamy will discover that estimated relationships MAY be on the high side, or the relationships may, perhaps, be estimated too “close” in time. That’s especially true for more distant relationships, but surprisingly, it’s not always true. The randomness of inheritance still comes into play, and so do potential unknown relatives. Hence, the words “may” are bolded and underscored.

Unfortunately, it’s often stated as “conventional wisdom” that Jewish matches are “always” high, and first cousins appear as siblings. Let’s see what the actual data says.

At DNAPainter, you can either enter the amount of shared DNA (cM), or the percent of shared DNA, or just use the chart provided.

I’ve assembled a compilation of close relationships in kits that I have access to or from people who were generous enough to share their results for this article.

I’ve used Jewish results, which is a highly endogamous population, compared with non-endogamous testers.

The “Jewish Actual” column reports the total amount of shared DNA with that person. In other words, someone to their grandparent. The Average Range is the average plus the range from DNAPainter. The Percent Difference is the % difference between the actual number and the DNAPainter average.

You’ll see fully Jewish testers, at left, matching with their family members, and a Non-endogamous person, at right, matching with their same relative.

Relationship Jewish Actual Percent Difference than Average Average -Range Non-endogamous Actual Percent Difference than Average
Grandparent 2141 22 1754 (984-2482) 1742 <1 lower
Grandparent 1902 8.5 1754 (984-2482) 1973 12
Sibling 3039 16 2613 (1613-3488) 2515 3.5 lower
Sibling 2724 4 2613 (1613-3488) 2761 5.5
Half-Sibling 2184 24 1759 (1160-2436) 2127 21
Half-Sibling 2128 21 1759 (1160-2436) 2352 34
Aunt/Uncle 2066 18.5 1741 (1201-2282) 1849 6
Aunt/Uncle 2031 16.5 1741 (1201-2282) 2097 20
1C 1119 29 866 (396-1397) 959 11
1C 909 5 866 (396-1397) 789 9 lower
1C1R 514 19 433 (102-980) 467 8
1C1R 459 6 433 (102-980) 395 9 lower

These totals are from FamilyTreeDNA except one from GEDMatch (one Jewish Half-sibling).

Totals may vary by vendor, even when matching with the same person. 23andMe includes the X segments in the total cMs and also counts fully identical segments twice. MyHeritage imputation seems to err on the generous side.

However, in these dozen examples:

  • You can see that the Jewish actual amount of DNA shared is always more than the average in the estimate.
  • The red means the overage is more than 100 cM larger.
  • The percentage difference is probably more meaningful because 100 cM is a smaller percentage of a 1754 grandparent connection than compared to a 433 cM 1C1R.

However, you can’t tell anything about endogamy by just looking at any one sample, because:

  • Some of the Non-Endogamous matches are high too. That’s just the way of random inheritance.
  • All of the actual Jewish match numbers are within the published ranges, but on the high side.

Furthermore, it can get more complex.

Half Endogamous

I requested assistance from Jewish genealogy researchers, and a lovely lady, Sharon, reached out, compiled her segment information, and shared it with me, granting permission to share with you. A HUGE thank you to Sharon!

Sharon is half-Jewish via one parent, and her half-sibling is fully Jewish. Their half-sibling match to each other at Ancestry is 1756 cM with a longest segment of 164 cM.

How does Jewish matching vary if you’re half-Jewish versus fully Jewish? Let’s look at 21 people who match both Sharon and her fully Jewish half-sibling.

Sharon shared the differences in 21 known Jewish matches with her and her half-sibling. I’ve added the Relationship Estimate Range from DNAPainter and colorized the highest of the two matches in yellow. Bolding in the total cM column shows a value above the average range for that relationship.

Total Matching cMs is on the left, with Longest Segment on the right.

While this is clearly not a scientific study, it is a representative sample.

The fully Jewish sibling carries more Jewish DNA, which is available for other Jewish matches to match as a function of endogamy (identical by chance/population), so I would have expected the fully Jewish sibling to match most if not all Jewish testers at a higher level than the half-Jewish sibling.

However, that’s not universally what we see.

The fully Jewish sibling is not always the sibling with the highest number of matches to the other Jewish testers, although the half-Jewish tester has the larger “Longest Segment” more often than not.

Approximately two-thirds of the time (13/21), the fully Jewish person does have a higher total matching cM, but about one-third of the time (8/21), the half-Jewish sibling has a higher matching cM.

About one-fourth of the time (5/21), the fully Jewish sibling has the longest matching segment, and about two-thirds of the time (13/21), the half-Jewish sibling does. In three cases, or about 14% of the time, the longest segment is equal which may indicate that it’s the same segment.

Because of endogamy, Jewish matches are more likely to have:

  • Larger than average total cM for the specific relationship
  • More and smaller matching segments

However, as we have seen, neither of those are definitive, nor always true. Jewish matches and relationships are not always overestimated.

Ancestry and Timber

Please note that Ancestry downweights some matches by removing some segments using their Timber algorithm. Based on my matches and other accounts that I manage, Ancestry does not downweight in the 2-3rd cousin category, which is 90 cM and above, but they do begin downweighting in the 3-4th cousin category, below 90 cM, where my “Extended Family” category begins.

If you’ve tested at Ancestry, you can check for yourself.

By clicking on the amount of DNA you share with your match on your match list at Ancestry, shown above, you will be taken to another page where you will be able to view the unweighted shared DNA with that match, meaning the amount of DNA shared before the downweighting and removal of some segments, shown below.

Given the downweighting, and the information in the spreadsheet provided by Sharon, it doesn’t appear that any of those matches would have been in a category to be downweighted.

Therefore, for these and other close matches, Timber wouldn’t be a factor, but would potentially be in more distant matches.

Endogamous Segments

Endogamous matches tend to have smaller and more segments. Small amounts of matching DNA tend to skew the total DNA cM upwards.

How and why does this happen?

Ancestral DNA from further back in time tends to be broken into smaller segments.

Sometimes, especially in endogamous situations, two smaller segments, at one time separated from each other, manage to join back together again and form a match, but the match is only due to ancestral segments – not because of a recent ancestor.

Please note that different vendors have different minimum matching cM thresholds, so smaller matches may not be available at all vendors. Remember that factors like Timber and imputation can affect matching as well.

Let’s take a look at an example. I’ve created a chart where two ancestors have their blue and pink DNA broken into 4 cM segments.

They have children, a blue child and a pink child, and the two children, shown above, each inherited the same blue 4 cM segment and the same pink 4 cM segment from their respective parents. The other unlabeled pink and blue segments are not inherited by these two children, so those unlabeled segments are irrelevant in this example.

The parents may have had other children who inherited those same 4 cM labeled pink and blue segments as well, and if not, the parents’ siblings were probably passing at least some of the same DNA down to their descendants too.

The blue and pink children had children, and their children had children – for several generations.

Time passed, and their descendants became an endogamous community. Those pink and blue 4 cM segments may at some time be lost during recombination in the descendants of each of their children, shown by “Lost pink” and “Lost blue.”

However, because there is only a very limited amount of DNA within the endogamous community, their descendants may regain those same segments again from their “other parent” during recombination, downstream.

In each generation, the DNA of the descendant carrying the original blue or pink DNA segment is recombined with their partner. Given that the partners are both members of the same endogamous community, the two people may have the same pink and/or blue DNA segments. If one parent doesn’t carry the pink 4 cM segment, for example, their offspring may receive that ancestral pink segment from the other parent.

They could potentially, and sometimes do, receive that ancestral segment from both parents.

In our example, the descendants of the blue child, at left, lost the pink 4 cM segment in generation 3, but a few generations later, in generation 11, that descendant child inherited that same pink 4 cM segment from their other parent. Therefore, both the 4 cM blue and 4 cM pink segments are now available to be inherited by the descendants in that line. I’ve shown the opposite scenario in the generational inheritance at right where the blue segment is lost and regained.

Once rejoined, that pink and blue segment can be passed along together for generations.

The important part, though, is that once those two segments butt up against each other again during recombination, they aren’t just two separate 4 cM segments, but one segment that is 8 cM long – that is now equal to or above the vendors’ matching threshold.

This is why people descended from endogamous populations often have the following matching characteristics:

  • More matches
  • Many smaller segment matches
  • Their total cM is often broken into more, smaller segments

What does more, smaller segments, look like, exactly?

More, Smaller Segments

All of our vendors except Ancestry have a chromosome browser for their customers to compare their DNA to that of their matches visually.

Let’s take a look at some examples of what endogamous and non-endogamous matches look like.

For example, here’s a screen shot of a random Jewish second cousin match – 298 cM total, divided into 12 segments, with a longest segment of 58 cM,

A second Jewish 2C with 323 cM total, across 19 segments, with a 69 cM longest block.

A fully Acadian 2C match with 600 cM total, across 27 segments, with a longest segment of 69 cM.

A second Acadian 2C with 332 cM total, across 20 segments, with a longest segment of 42 cM.

Next, a non-endogamous 2C match with 217 cM, across 7 segments, with a longest segment of 72 cM.