The Stages of Genetic Genealogy Addiction

By Evan-Amos - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By Evan-Amos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

One of the people I’ve met through genetic genealogy, Eric, sent me an e-mail recently that he composed in a cab in Moscow headed to the airport. Yes, that’s right…in a cab. Ironically, the e-mail was titled “The Nine Stages of Genetic Genealogy Addiction,” which I’ve expanded to 10.

I’m sharing this with you, slightly edited, with Eric’s permission (thanks Eric). I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself and indeed, it is a very slippery slope!

And it all started so innocently…

1)   A friend suggests you drop $100 (now $200) on 23andMe to “do your DNA” and see whether you have “asparagus pee.” Why not? Will make for interesting family reunion and cocktail party conversation, plus, you can find out if you’re going to go bald too. You order the kit and east some asparagus, as a test. You check in the mirror to see if you hair is still as thick as it used to be. All looks well except OMG – there’s a hair on my shirt…and another one…

2)   After discovering that you do have asparagus pee and might go bald, you shrug and curiously click on the 23andMe’s admixture button. You get beyond the surprise of “I’m 50% Scandinavian—really?” and wonder what the list of “DNA relatives” means. You click. Three hours later, you remember that you created a family tree in high school back in the ‘80s, dig it out, put it on MyHeritage. Now you’re wondering who all these “smart matches” are. Yesterday, you had never heard of a smart match or DNA Relatives.

3)   Having discovered Ancestry’s little green leaves, you shell out for a subscription and find yourself able to use its databases to extend your tree twice as far (even while learning that the accuracy of the data in others’ online trees should be taken with at least a pound, if not a kilogram, of salt). You order a DNA test from Ancestry to see if you need to order a kilt or leiderhosen. You will later discover that most of that extended tree is wrong, and have to saw off branches, but by then, it’s too late… you’re hooked.

4) You realize that from a genetic genealogical point of view, a parent’s DNA is twice as valuable as your own, so you get each of your oldest ancestors (grands, their siblings) to send in a DNA kit … to all three personal genomics services companies – 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry. Your family begins to doubt your sanity, but you don’t care as long as they agree to test.

5)   You discover both GedMatch and DNAGedcom and learn how to use the chromosome browsers built into 23andMe, GedMatch and FTDNA. You download your matches and begin recording your (elder generation’s) shared DNA and “DNA cousins” in an excel spreadsheet.

6)   The elementary chromosome mapping you learn from Roberta Estes’ and Jim Bartlett’s blogs teaches you that creating triangulated groups is a game of numbers, and you build “invitation templates” to reach out to everyone who shares at least 15 cM, then 10 cM, then 7cM with “your” DNA which of course includes all of your family members who have tested. This is first 100 people, then 1,000, then 10,000 folks. At first you’re quite unhappy that so many people don’t answer, but eventually you realize this has become an addiction and most people just aren’t into it as much as you are—and that’s okay; there’s enough data to work with, and if everyone answered, you’d actually be snowed under. Still, in spite of that, you ponder strategies to encourage more people to reply.

7)    You realize that even though you’re thrifty, there are ways to invest a little to make the process easier, so you start paying to get all your elders’ first cousins, and then second cousins tested so you can triangulate matches to them.

8)   The combination of lots of DNA, lots of family tree information, and lots of triangulation, gives you the confidence to “solve” first one “DNA cousin” (build a paper-trail relationship to someone you “met” via DNA testing), then a second, then a tenth. With each success, the next one gets easier with triangulation! This is starting to be a lot of fun. You now build trees for your matches to see if you can find a common ancestor. They think you’re wonderful! You feel guilty because you know you’re really not doing it for them.

9)   You learn a whole new language the includes words like pileup, haplogroup, triangulation, IBC. IBD, SNP and STR. You realize that your life will never be the same again. Your family no longer just doubts your sanity. You tell them there are no recovery programs and you don’t want one.

10) You are in a cab going to the airport half way around the world and you are not only thinking about genetic genealogy and wondering when your next set of DNA results for a fourth cousin once removed will be available, but you’re writing about the 9, ummm, make that 10, Stages of Genetic Genealogy addiction.

Great News !!!

We have great news today!

Indeed, at 23andMe, I’ve been transitioned to the new experience and all of my former unanswered contact requests now have replies, with ancestor information, and pedigree charts. I guess my years of patience finally paid off!

Over at Ancestry.com, there are no private or locked trees anymore in my DNA match list, all of my Circles have returned, as well as my NADs and I’ve suddenly discovered that my bad NADs aren’t bad NADs after all, but real ancestors. Wow.  Maybe I’m going to have to rescind all those bad things I said about NADs.

In my excitement, I nearly forgot to mention that Ancestry overnight added a chromosome browser for us, as a gift, and restored the Y, mitochondrial and Sorenson data bases. Talk about responsive to customer feedback.  I am so impressed!

And at Family Tree DNA, not only do they have a new tree, all of my matches in an apparent fit of mass inspiration have uploaded their GEDCOM files! WooHoooo!!!

After that, I discovered that both Ancestry and 23andMe have stopped selling our DNA out the back door without a separate, understandable, plain English authorization. They apologized as well.  I feel a lot better about their business practices relative to DNA now!

Last but not least, 23andMe reduced their price back to the industry standard $99 and reverted to their previous genealogy tools and health reports.  A win-win-win for sure.

Then, I noticed, on Facebook, that everyone was being nice, civil and no one was being hateful or strong-arming anyone else.  Wha….????

About that time, I woke up and remembered what day it is, April 1.

Happy April Fools’ Day.

It was a great dream while it lasted!

The Red Cup

I’m sure we’ve all heard the brouhaha over the red cup.

red cup 1

Oh no, not those red cups, these, and in particular, the ones Starbucks introduced this holiday season without the snowflakes and other decorations.

red cup 2

Yes, seriously.

I typically try to avoid any controversial subjects in this blog, but I thought, just this once, I’d see what the ancestors have to say about the topic of the red cup, with or without the snowflakes and reindeer.

I often wonder what my ancestors would think of questions and problems in my life and times, so I “interviewed” a few of my ancestors and asked them what they thought of the red cup.

James Crumley, my Quaker ancestor who died in 1764 owning a still, several gallons of liquor and with a bunch of people owing him money:

“Red cups?  Great – we can put hard cyder in them with some cinnamon and charge five pounds.  You can put it on account.”

Edward Mercer, my Quaker ancestor who got thrown out of the Quaker church for excessive drinking in 1759.  By the way, his daughter married the son of neighbor, James Crumley, above:

“Red, who cares.  What’s in the cup?”

Ann Mercer, Edward’s wife:

“Oh for Heavens sake Edward, haven’t you gotten in enough trouble already???”

Johann Michael Mueller, my Pietist ancestor:

“Red is too bright.  Are there black or brown cups?”

John David Miller, my Brethren ancestor who requested his gravestone not be highly polished:

“The cup is too shiny.  Is there a duller version?”

Evaline Miller Ferverda, my Brethren great-grandmother:

“Sinful, it’s all sinful.  Red, coffee, shiny – if it’s pretty and you like it – it’s sinful.”

William George Estes, my bootlegging grandfather:

“Put some whiskey in that coffee.  Oh, was the cup red?

Sarah Faires Speak, my ancestor who had 76 grandchildren:

“I’m a widow living with my daughter and have nothing to give my grandchildren for Christmas.  I think 76 red cups would be wonderful.  I can’t write, either, so writing their names on each one would be perfect?  No snowflakes, don’t worry – the kids can decorate them.”

Philip Jacob Kirsch, the proprietor of the Kirsch House in Aurora, Indiana:

“The customers would love red cups!  Bring ‘em on.  Beer is good in any color cup.”

King Henry IIIHenry III shield

“Red is a royal color.  Let’s put my shield on the cup?”

Fairwick Claxton, my ancestor who disowned his children who had abandoned him.”

“Only Samuel should get a red cup.  The rest of you should have no cups at all.”

Agnes Muncy Clarkson, Fairwick’s wife:

“I begged Fairwick to give red cups with snowflakes to everyone, but alas, he would not hear of it.  Perhaps you could have some red cups with no snowflakes?”

Moses Estes, “distiller of fine brandy and cyder”:

“Why put coffee in that cup?  Brandy would be much better.”

George Estes, my Revolutionary War Veteran who served three different terms of service in the same war:

“It’s cold as hell out here and I’d give anything to have a hot cup of any beverage in any color cup.”

John Y. Estes, prisoner of war during the Civil War”

“Could I eat the cup?”

My mother, Barbara Jean Ferverda, who survived the depression…and my father.

“Five dollars for a cup of coffee and the cup is disposable????!!!!!!!”

My father, William Sterling Estes, who had multiple wives at the same time and was not Mormon:

“Can I please get several cups?  Oh, names?  Uhhh…just write “Merry Christmas” on all of them.”

Personally, I think they should just put a double helix on the cup – because everyone, without fail, has one of those – and it is what unites us all:)