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.