2018 – The Year of the Segment

Looking in the rear view mirror, what a year! Some days it’s been hard to catch your breath things have been moving so fast.

What were the major happenings, how did they affect genetic genealogy and what’s coming in 2019?

The SNiPPY Award

First of all, I’m giving an award this year. The SNiPPY.

Yea, I know it’s kinda hokey, but it’s my way of saying a huge thank you to someone in this field who has made a remarkable contribution and that deserves special recognition.

Who will it be this year?

Drum roll…….

The 2018 SNiPPY goes to…

DNAPainter – The 2018 SNiPPY award goes to DNAPainter, without question. Applause, everyone, applause! And congratulations to Jonny Perl, pictured below at Rootstech!

Jonny Perl created this wonderful, visual tool that allows you to paint your matches with people on your chromosomes, assigning the match to specific ancestors.

I’ve written about how to use the tool  with different vendors results and have discovered many different ways to utilize the painted segments. The DNA Painter User Group is here on Facebook. I use DNAPainter EVERY SINGLE DAY to solve a wide variety of challenges.

What else has happened this year? A lot!

Ancient DNA – Academic research seldom reports on Y and mitochondrial DNA today and is firmly focused on sequencing ancient DNA. Ancient genome sequencing has only recently been developed to a state where at least some remains can be successfully sequenced, but it’s going great guns now. Take a look at Jennifer Raff’s article in Forbes that discusses ancient DNA findings in the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia and perhaps most surprising, a first generation descendant of a Neanderthal and a Denisovan.

From Early human dispersals within the Americas by Moreno-Mayer et al, Science 07 Dec 2018

Inroads were made into deeper understanding of human migration in the Americas as well in the paper Early human dispersals within the Americas by Moreno-Mayer et al.

I look for 2019 and on into the future to hold many more revelations thanks to ancient DNA sequencing as well as using those sequences to assist in understanding the migration patterns of ancient people that eventually became us.

Barbara Rae-Venter and the Golden State Killer Case

Using techniques that adoptees use to identify their close relatives and eventually, their parents, Barbara Rae-Venter assisted law enforcement with identifying the man, Joseph DeAngelo, accused (not yet convicted) of being the Golden State Killer (GSK).

A very large congratulations to Barbara, a retired patent attorney who is also a genealogist. Nature recognized Ms. Rae-Venter as one of 2018’s 10 People Who Mattered in Science.

DNA in the News

DNA is also represented on the 2018 Nature list by Viviane Slon, a palaeogeneticist who discovered an ancient half Neanderthal, half Denisovan individual and sequenced their DNA and He JianKui, a Chinese scientist who claims to have created a gene-edited baby which has sparked widespread controversy. As of the end of the year, He Jiankui’s research activities have been suspended and he is reportedly sequestered in his apartment, under guard, although the details are far from clear.

In 2013, 23andMe patented the technology for designer babies and I removed my kit from their research program. I was concerned at the time that this technology knife could cut two ways, both for good, eliminating fatal disease-causing mutations and also for ethically questionable practices, such as eugenics. I was told at the time that my fears were unfounded, because that “couldn’t be done.” Well, 5 years later, here we are. I expect the debate about the ethics and eventual regulation of gene-editing will rage globally for years to come.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA was also in the news when she took a DNA test in response to political challenges. I wrote about what those results meant scientifically, here. This topic became highly volatile and politicized, with everyone seeming to have a very strongly held opinion. Regardless of where you fall on that opinion spectrum (and no, please do not post political comments as they will not be approved), the topic is likely to surface again in 2019 due to the fact that Elizabeth Warren has just today announced her intention to run for President. The good news is that DNA testing will likely be discussed, sparking curiosity in some people, perhaps encouraging them to test. The bad news is that some of the discussion may be unpleasant at best, and incorrect click-bait at worst. We’ve already had a rather unpleasant sampling of this.

Law Enforcement and Genetic Genealogy

The Golden State Killer case sparked widespread controversy about using GedMatch and potentially other genetic genealogy data bases to assist in catching people who have committed violent crimes, such as rape and murder.

GedMatch, the database used for the GSK case has made it very clear in their terms and conditions that DNA matches may be used for both adoptees seeking their families and for other uses, such as law enforcement seeking matches to DNA sequenced during a criminal investigation. Since April 2018, more than 15 cold case investigations have been solved using the same technique and results at GedMatch. Initially some people removed their DNA from GedMatch, but it appears that the overwhelming sentiment, based on uploads, is that people either aren’t concerned or welcome the opportunity for their DNA matches to assist apprehending criminals.

Parabon Nanolabs in May established a genetic genealogy division headed by CeCe Moore who has worked in the adoptee community for the past several years. The division specializes in DNA testing forensic samples and then assisting law enforcement with the associated genetic genealogy.

Currently, GedMatch is the only vendor supporting the use of forensic sample matching. Neither 23anMe nor Ancestry allow uploaded data, and MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA’s terms of service currently preclude this type of use.

MyHeritage

Wow talk about coming onto the DNA world stage with a boom.

MyHeritage went from a somewhat wobbly DNA start about 2 years ago to rolling out a chromosome browser at the end of January and adding important features such as SmartMatching which matches your DNA and your family trees. Add triangulation to this mixture, along with record matching, and you’re got a #1 winning combination.

It was Gilad Japhet, the MyHeritage CEO who at Rootstech who christened 2018 “The Year of the Segment,” and I do believe he was right. Additionally, he announced that MyHeritage partnered with the adoption community by offering 15,000 free kits to adoptees.

In November, MyHeritage hosted MyHeritage LIVE, their first user conference in Oslo, Norway which focused on both their genealogical records offerings as well as DNA. This was a resounding success and I hope MyHeritage will continue to sponsor conferences and invest in DNA. You can test your DNA at MyHeritage or upload your results from other vendors (instructions here). You can follow my journey and the conference in Olso here, here, here, here and here.

GDPR

GDPR caused a lot of misery, and I’m glad the implementation is behind us, but the the ripples will be affecting everyone for years to come.

GDPR, the European Data Protection Regulation which went into effect on May 25,  2018 has been a mixed and confusing bag for genetic genealogy. I think the concept of users being in charge and understanding what is happened with their data, and in this case, their data plus their DNA, is absolutely sound. The requirements however, were created without any consideration to this industry – which is small by comparison to the Googles and Facebooks of the world. However, the Googles and Facebooks of the world along with many larger vendors seem to have skated, at least somewhat.

Other companies shut their doors or restricted their offerings in other ways, such as World Families Network and Oxford Ancestors. Vendors such as Ancestry and Family Tree DNA had to make unpopular changes in how their users interface with their software – in essence making genetic genealogy more difficult without any corresponding positive return. The potential fines, 20 million plus Euro for any company holding data for EU residents made it unwise to ignore the mandates.

In the genetic genealogy space, the shuttering of both YSearch and MitoSearch was heartbreaking, because that was the only location where you could actually compare Y STR and mitochondrial HVR1/2 results. Not everyone uploaded their results, and the sites had not been updated in a number of years, but the closure due to GDPR was still a community loss.

Today, mitoydna.org, a nonprofit comprised of genetic genealogists, is making strides in replacing that lost functionality, plus, hopefully more.

On to more positive events.

Family Tree DNA

In April, Family Tree DNA announced a new version of the Big Y test, the Big Y-500 in which at least 389 additional STR markers are included with the Big Y test, for free. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive between 389 and 439 new markers, depending on how many STR markers above 111 have quality reads. All customers are guaranteed a minimum of 500 STR markers in total. Matching was implemented in December.

These additional STR markers allow genealogists to assemble additional line marker mutations to more granularly identify specific male lineages. In other words, maybe I can finally figure out a line marker mutation that will differentiate my ancestor’s line from other sons of my founding ancestor😊

In June, Family Tree DNA announced that they had named more than 100,000 SNPs which means many haplogroup additions to the Y tree. Then, in September, Family Tree DNA published their Y haplotree, with locations, publicly for all to reference.

I was very pleased to see this development, because Family Tree DNA clearly has the largest Y database in the industry, by far, and now everyone can reap the benefits.

In October, Family Tree DNA published their mitochondrial tree publicly as well, with corresponding haplogroup locations. It’s nice that Family Tree DNA continues to be the science company.

You can test your Y DNA, mitochondrial or autosomal (Family Finder) at Family Tree DNA. They are the only vendor offering full Y and mitochondrial services complete with matching.

2018 Conferences

Of course, there are always the national conferences we’re familiar with, but more and more, online conferences are becoming available, as well as some sessions from the more traditional conferences.

I attended Rootstech in Salt Lake City in February (brrrr), which was lots of fun because I got to meet and visit with so many people including Mags Gaulden, above, who is a WikiTree volunteer and writes at Grandma’s Genes, but as a relatively expensive conference to attend, Rootstech was pretty miserable. Rootstech has reportedly made changes and I hope it’s much better for attendees in 2019. My attendance is very doubtful, although I vacillate back and forth.

On the other hand, the MyHeritage LIVE conference was amazing with both livestreamed and recorded sessions which are now available free here along with many others at Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Family Tree University held a Virtual DNA Conference in June and those sessions, along with others, are available for subscribers to view.

The Virtual Genealogical Association was formed for those who find it difficult or impossible to participate in local associations. They too are focused on education via webinars.

Genetic Genealogy Ireland continues to provide their yearly conference sessions both livestreamed and recorded for free. These aren’t just for people with Irish genealogy. Everyone can benefit and I enjoy them immensely.

Bottom line, you can sit at home and educate yourself now. Technology is wonderful!

2019 Conferences

In 2019, I’ll be speaking at the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, Journey of Discovery, in St. Charles, providing the Special Thursday Session titled “DNA: King Arthur’s Mighty Genetic Lightsaber” about how to use DNA to break through brick walls. I’ll also see attendees at Saturday lunch when I’ll be providing a fun session titled “Twists and Turns in the Genetic Road.” This is going to be a great conference with a wonderful lineup of speakers. Hope to see you there.

There may be more speaking engagements at conferences on my 2019 schedule, so stay tuned!

The Leeds Method

In September, Dana Leeds publicized The Leeds Method, another way of grouping your matches that clusters matches in a way that indicates your four grandparents.

I combine the Leeds method with DNAPainter. Great job Dana!

Genetic Affairs

In December, Genetic Affairs introduced an inexpensive subscription reporting and visual clustering methodology, but you can try it for free.

I love this grouping tool. I have already found connections I didn’t know existed previously. I suggest joining the Genetic Affairs User Group on Facebook.

DNAGedcom.com

I wrote an article in January about how to use the DNAGedcom.com client to download the trees of all of your matches and sort to find specific surnames or locations of their ancestors.

However, in December, DNAGedcom.com added another feature with their new DNAGedcom client just released that downloads your match information from all vendors, compiles it and then forms clusters. They have worked with Dana Leeds on this, so it’s a combination of the various methodologies discussed above. I have not worked with the new tool yet, as it has just been released, but Kitty Cooper has and writes about it here.  If you are interested in this approach, I would suggest joining the Facebook DNAGedcom User Group.

Rootsfinder

I have not had a chance to work with Rootsfinder beyond the very basics, but Rootsfinder provides genetic network displays for people that you match, as well as triangulated views. Genetic networks visualizations are great ways to discern patterns. The tool creates match or triangulation groups automatically for you.

Training videos are available at the website and you can join the Rootsfinder DNA Tools group at Facebook.

Chips and Imputation

Illumina, the chip maker that provides the DNA chips that most vendors use to test changed from the OmniExpress to the GSA chip during the past year. Older chips have been available, but won’t be forever.

The newer GSA chip is only partially compatible with the OmniExpress chip, providing limited overlap between the older and the new results. This has forced the vendors to use imputation to equalize the playing field between the chips, so to speak.

This has also caused a significant hardship for GedMatch who is now in the position of trying to match reasonably between many different chips that sometimes overlap minimally. GedMatch introduced Genesis as a sandbox beta version previously, but are now in the process of combining regular GedMatch and Genesis into one. Yes, there are problems and matching challenges. Patience is the key word as the various vendors and GedMatch adapt and improve their required migration to imputation.

DNA Central

In June Blaine Bettinger announced DNACentral, an online monthly or yearly subscription site as well as a monthly newsletter that covers news in the genetic genealogy industry.

Many educators in the industry have created seminars for DNACentral. I just finished recording “Getting the Most out of Y DNA” for Blaine.

Even though I work in this industry, I still subscribed – initially to show support for Blaine, thinking I might not get much out of the newsletter. I’m pleased to say that I was wrong. I enjoy the newsletter and will be watching sessions in the Course Library and the Monthly Webinars soon.

If you or someone you know is looking for “how to” videos for each vendor, DNACentral offers “Now What” courses for Ancestry, MyHeritage, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Living DNA in addition to topic specific sessions like the X chromosome, for example.

Social Media

2018 has seen a huge jump in social media usage which is both bad and good. The good news is that many new people are engaged. The bad news is that people often given faulty advice and for new people, it’s very difficult (nigh on impossible) to tell who is credible and who isn’t. I created a Help page for just this reason.

You can help with this issue by recommending subscribing to these three blogs, not just reading an article, to newbies or people seeking answers.

Always feel free to post links to my articles on any social media platform. Share, retweet, whatever it takes to get the words out!

The general genetic genealogy social media group I would recommend if I were to select only one would be Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques. It’s quite large but well-managed and remains positive.

I’m a member of many additional groups, several of which are vendor or interest specific.

Genetic Snakeoil

Now the bad news. Everyone had noticed the popularity of DNA testing – including shady characters.

Be careful, very VERY careful who you purchase products from and where you upload your DNA data.

If something is free, and you’re not within a well-known community, then YOU ARE THE PRODUCT. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it sounds shady or questionable, it’s probably that and more, or less.

If reputable people and vendors tell you that no, they really can’t determine your Native American tribe, for example, no other vendor can either. Just yesterday, a cousin sent me a link to a “tribe” in Canada that will, “for $50, we find one of your aboriginal ancestors and the nation stamps it.” On their list of aboriginal people we find one of my ancestors who, based on mitochondrial DNA tests, is clearly NOT aboriginal. Snake oil comes in lots of flavors with snake oil salesmen looking to prey on other people’s desires.

When considering DNA testing or transfers, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions, where your DNA is going, who is doing what with it, and your recourse. Yes, read every single word of those terms and conditions. For more about legalities, check out Judy Russell’s blog.

Recommended Vendors

All those DNA tests look yummy-good, but in terms of vendors, I heartily recommend staying within the known credible vendors, as follows (in alphabetical order).

For genetic genealogy for ethnicity AND matching:

  • 23andMe
  • Ancestry
  • Family Tree DNA
  • GedMatch (not a vendor because they don’t test DNA, but a reputable third party)
  • MyHeritage

You can read about Which DNA Test is Best here although I need to update this article to reflect the 2018 additions by MyHeritage.

Understand that both 23andMe and Ancestry will sell your DNA if you consent and if you consent, you will not know who is using your DNA, where, or for what purposes. Neither Family Tree DNA, GedMatch, MyHeritage, Genographic Project, Insitome, Promethease nor LivingDNA sell your DNA.

The next group of vendors offers ethnicity without matching:

  • Genographic Project by National Geographic Society
  • Insitome
  • LivingDNA (currently working on matching, but not released yet)

Health (as a consumer, meaning you receive the results)

Medical (as a contributor, meaning you are contributing your DNA for research)

  • 23andMe
  • Ancestry
  • DNA.Land (not a testing vendor, doesn’t test DNA)

There are a few other niche vendors known for specific things within the genetic genealogy community, many of whom are mentioned in this article, but other than known vendors, buyer beware. If you don’t see them listed or discussed on my blog, there’s probably a reason.

What’s Coming in 2019

Just like we couldn’t have foreseen much of what happened in 2018, we don’t have access to a 2019 crystal ball, but it looks like 2019 is taking off like a rocket. We do know about a few things to look for:

  • MyHeritage is waiting to see if envelope and stamp DNA extractions are successful so that they can be added to their database.
  • www.totheletterDNA.com is extracting (attempting to) and processing DNA from stamps and envelopes for several people in the community. Hopefully they will be successful.
  • LivingDNA has been working on matching since before I met with their representative in October of 2017 in Dublin. They are now in Beta testing for a few individuals, but they have also just changed their DNA processing chip – so how that will affect things and how soon they will have matching ready to roll out the door is unknown.
  • Ancestry did a 2018 ethnicity update, integrating ethnicity more tightly with Genetic Communities, offered genetic traits and made some minor improvements this year, along with adding one questionable feature – showing your matches the location where you live as recorded in your profile. (23andMe subsequently added the same feature.) Ancestry recently said that they are promising exciting new tools for 2019, but somehow I doubt that the chromosome browser that’s been on my Christmas list for years will be forthcoming. Fingers crossed for something new and really useful. In the mean time, we can download our DNA results and upload to MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch for segment matching, as well as utilize Ancestry’s internal matching tools. DNA+tree matching, those green leaf shared ancestor hints, is still their strongest feature.
  • The Family Tree DNA Conference for Project Administrators will be held March 22-24 in Houston this year, and I’m hopeful that they will have new tools and announcements at that event. I’m looking forward to seeing many old friends in Houston in March.

Here’s what I know for sure about 2019 – it’s going to be an amazing year. We as a community and also as individual genealogists will be making incredible discoveries and moving the ball forward. I can hardly wait to see what quandaries I’ve solved a year from now.

What mysteries do you want to unravel?

I’d like to offer a big thank you to everyone who made 2018 wonderful and a big toast to finding lots of new ancestors and breaking down those brick walls in 2019.

Happy New Year!!!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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 Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

World Families Network, Ysearch and Mitosearch Bite the Dust – Thanks So Much GDPR

It’s a sad month.

The core foundation of genetic genealogy is sharing.

GDPR is NOT about sharing easily, and the GDPR hoops are onerous, to be charitable. I wrote about GDPR in the articles GDPR – It’s a Train and It’s a Comin’ and Common Sense and GDPR.

One might say GDPR is at cross purposes with genealogy. It probably wasn’t intended that way, but so far, we’ve lost several resources due to GDPR, and it’s still not here yet.

Add to the death list World Families Network, Ysearch and Mitosearch.

The cost of GDPR compliance, necessary attorney fees along with with the risk of the horrific fines of up to 4 million Euro is just too much for a small business or a non-profit. Additionally, non-EU businesses are required to retain a European Representative company that agrees to absorb some level of the risk for non-compliance. Try finding a company to do that. Not to mention the pain-in-the-butt-factor of the hoops that they would have to jump through if so much as one person complained. Bottom line – not worth it.

Thanks so much GDPR.

World Families Network

Terry Barton, founder of World Families Network, a Y DNA project management company that consists primarily of Terry and his wife, sent an e-mail to the administrators of the projects they host saying that WFN is retiring and shutting down on May 23rd, two days before the GDPR date.

Here’s part of the e-mail to WFN administrators from Terry:

We will delete the project sections of the WorldFamilies site on May 23, 2018, so please copy any information that you wish to save. You may wish to make a copy of your Home, Results, Patriarch, Discussion or other project pages. We can provide an empty excel spread sheet with columns preset to copy/paste your results page on request. For the other pages, you may want to copy/paste your info into a Word document. (Note: we won’t be able to “rescue” you if you miss the deadline, so please don’t wait too long.)

The projects hosted at World Families Network (WFN) will revert to their project pages at Family Tree DNA, so all is not lost, BUT, the information on the Patriarch’s pages as well as some of the information on the actual DNA results pages at WFN does not come directly from Family Tree DNA. Some WFN sites are not fed from the Family Tree DNA project pages at all, so fields like “Earliest Ancestor” at WFN may be blank at Family Tree DNA. That, of course, can be remedied, but won’t happen automatically.

Many of the projects managed by WFN were abandoned, meaning they have no administrator. Some have administrators that preferred the WFN format to the Family Tree DNA format. One of the most popular features was the Patriarchs page where lineages of men with the project surname were listed. This feature was put in place before trees were available at Family Tree DNA – but the Patriarchs format serves as a one-glance resource and can be connected to the kit numbers on the DNA pages.

Please, please, please do two things:

  • Visit the WFN surname links here for projects and scan the projects shown with “project site,” meaning they are WFN hosted, to see if any include your ancestral surnames. If SO, visit that WFN project site by clicking the link and record any information relevant to your family.

  • Consider adopting projects relevant to your surname. Most of these projects will need to be spruced up at Family Tree DNA, meaning they will need to be grouped and the Patriarch’s page will need to be copied onto one of the several available project pages at Family Tree DNA. Many of these projects are small and you can easily preserve information. Terry provides a list of orphaned projects here, but I don’t know if it’s current. I would reach out to Family Tree DNA at groups@familytreedna.com about any project listed as having a project site at WFN. Some projects have an administrator listed, but they are no longer active.

For project administrators considering a private website, be aware per the GDPR requirements that you will constantly have to monitor the privacy settings at Family Tree DNA and assure that you are not displaying information for anyone who has selected, or changed their project setting from public to “project only.” Family Tree DNA automatically removes the project members data from a public display when they change settings or leave projects.

Ysearch and Mitosearch

On May 10th, on their Forum, a Family Tree DNA representative announced that Ysearch and Mitosearch will be shut down by month end. These databases were established in 2003 by Family Tree DNA for free, open sharing.

While this announcement doesn’t state that it’s because of GDPR, that correlation probably isn’t coincidence.

These two data bases have been on life support for some time now. They have been less immediately useful since other testing companies stopped Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, meaning that you could see all of your new matches at Family Tree DNA.

One of their biggest benefits, even for Family Tree DNA customers, was that these were the two databases where everyone could compare actual marker values, not just see if they matched and genetic distance.

Unfortunately, Ysearch and Mitosearch were the only locations left for people who uploaded from those now-defunct databases. Of the 219,410 records in the Ysearch database, 25,521 are from sources other than Family Tree DNA.

Originally, there were four public databases. The other two have been gone for some time, with these being the last two resources to go. This is truly a tragedy for the genetic genealogy community, because unlike the WFN departure where the projects are still available at Family Tree DNA – there is no alternative resource to Ysearch and Mitosearch. Gone is gone – especially for the 25,000+ results archived there from companies that are also gone meaning Relative Genetics, Oxford Ancestors, Ancestry’s now defunct Y DNA, Sorenson and others.

Recently, Family Tree DNA fixed the captcha issue, but the sites are still not fully functional. I tried to retrieve information by searching by surname at Ysearch, and the search failed with an error. I don’t know if the problem now is the actual data base or the fact that the site is overwhelmed by people trying to do exactly what I was trying to do.

As someone in the Family Tree DNA forum thread said:
“GDPR: The gift from Europe that just keeps on giving.”

Thank You

As sad as I am to see both of these resources go, I want to publicly thank Terry and Marilyn Barton for their 14 years of service to the genetic genealogy community and wish them well in their retirement. Hopefully they will have time to solve their own genealogy mysteries now.

I also want to thank Family Tree DNA for establishing both Ysearch and Mitosearch, and maintaining these sites as long as they have. Few companies would have established a platform for their customers to compare results with their competitors’ products which speaks to their early and ongoing commitment to genealogy.

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Disclosure

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 Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

DNA Testing Strategy for Adoptees and People with Uncertain Parentage

Adoptees aren’t the only people who don’t know who their parents are.  There are many people who don’t know the identity of one of their two parents…and it’s not always the father.  Just this week, I had someone who needed to determine which of two sisters was her mother.  Still, the “who’s your Daddy” crowd, aside from adoptees, is by far the largest.

The DNA testing strategy for both of these groups of people is the same, with slight modifications for male or female. Let’s take a look.

Males have three kinds of DNA that can be tested and then compared to other participants’ results.  The tests for these three kinds of DNA provide different kinds of information which is useful in different ways.  For example, Y DNA testing may give you a surname, if you’re a male, but the other two types of tests can’t do that, at least not directly.

Females only have two of those kinds of DNA that can be tested.  Females don’t have a Y chromosome, which is what makes males male genetically.

adopted pedigree

If you look at this pedigree chart, you can see that the Y chromosome, in blue, is passed from the father to the son, but not to daughters.  It’s passed intact, meaning there is no admixture from the mother, who doesn’t have a Y chromosome, because she is female.  The Y chromosome is what makes males male.

The second type of DNA testing is mitochondrial, represented by the red circles.  It is passed from the mother to all of her children, of both genders, intact – meaning her mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the mtDNA of the father.  Woman pass their mtDNA on to their children, men don’t.

Therefore when you test either the Y or the mtDNA, you get a direct line view right down that branch of the family tree – and only that direct line on that branch of the tree.  Since there is no admixture from spouses in any generation, you will match someone exactly or closely (allowing for an occasional mutation or two) from generations ago.  Now, that’s the good and the bad news – and where genealogical sleuthing comes into play.

On the chart above, the third kind of DNA testing, autosomal DNA, tests your DNA from all of your ancestors, meaning all of those boxes with no color, not just the blue and red ones, but it does include the blue and red ancestors too.  However, autosomal DNA (unlike Y and mtDNA) is diluted by half in each generation, because you get half of your autosomal DNA from each parent, so only half of the parents DNA gets passed on to each child.

Let’s look at how these three kinds of DNA can help you identify your family members.

Y DNA

Since the Y DNA typically follows the paternal surname, it can be extremely helpful for males who are searching for their genetic surname.  For example, if your biological father’s surname is Estes, assuming he is not himself adopted or the product of a nonpaternal event (NPE) which I like to refer to as undocumented adoptions, his DNA will match that of the Estes ancestral line.  So, if you’re a male, an extremely important test will be the Y DNA test from Family Tree DNA, the only testing company to offer this test.

Let’s say that you have no idea who your bio-father is, but when your results come back you see a preponderance of Estes men whom you match, as well as your highest and closest matches being Estes.

By highest, I mean on the highest panel you tested – in this case 111 markers.  And by closest, I mean with the smallest genetic distance, or number of mutations difference.  On the chart below, this person matches only Estes males at 111 markers, and one with only 1 mutation difference (Genetic Distance.)  Please noted that I’ve redacted first names.

Hint for Mr. Hilbert, below – there is a really good chance that you’re genetically Estes on the direct paternal side – that blue line.

Estes match ex

The next step will be to see which Estes line you match the most closely and begin to work from there genealogically.  In this case, that would be the first match with only one difference.  Does your match have a tree online?  In this case, they do – as noted by the pedigree chart icon.  Contact this person.  Where did their ancestors live?  Where did their descendants move to?  Where were you born?  How do the dots connect?

The good news is, looking at their DNA results, you can see that your closest match has also tested autosomally, indicated by the FF icon, so you can check to see if you also match them on the Family Finder test utilizing the Advanced Matching Tool.  That will help determine how close or distantly related you are to the tester themselves.  This gives you an idea how far back in their tree you would have to look for a common ancestor.

Another benefit is that your haplogroup identifies your deep ancestral clan, for lack of a better word.  In other words, you’ll know if your paternal ancestor was European, Asian, Native American or African – and that can be a hugely important piece of information.  Contrary to what seems intuitive, the ethnicity of your paternal (or any) ancestor is not always what seems evident by looking in the mirror today.

Y DNA – What to order:  From Family Tree DNA, the 111 marker Y DNA test.  This is for males only.  Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide this testing.  Can you order fewer markers, like 37 or 67?  Yes, but it won’t provide you with as much information or resolution as ordering 111 markers.  You can upgrade later, but you’ll curse yourself for that second wait.

FTDNA Y

Mitochondrial DNA

Males and females both can test for mitochondrial DNA.  Matches point to a common ancestor directly up the matrilineal side of your family – your mother, her mother, her mother – those red circles on the chart.  These matches are more difficult to work with genealogically, because the surnames change in every generation.  Occasionally, you’ll see a common “most distant ancestor” between mitochondrial DNA matches.

Your mitochondrial DNA is compared at three levels, but the most accurate and detailed is the full sequence level which tests all 16,569 locations on your mitochondria.  The series of mutations that you have forms a genetic signature, which is then compared to others.  The people you match the most closely at the full sequence level are the people with whom you are most likely to be genealogically related to a relevant timeframe.

You also receive your haplogroup designation with mitochondrial DNA testing which will place you within an ethnic group, and may also provide more assistance in terms of where your ancestors may have come from.  For example, if your haplogroup is European and you match only people from Norway….that’s a really big hint.

Using the Advanced Matching Tool, you can also compare your results to mitochondrial matches who have taken the autosomal Family Finder test to see if you happen to match on both tests.  Again, that’s not a guarantee you’re a close relative on the mitochondrial side, but it’s a darned good hint and a place to begin your research.

Mitochondrial DNA – What to Order:  From Family Tree DNA, the mitochondrial full sequence test.  This is for males and females both.  Family Tree DNA is the only company that provides this testing.

FTDNA mtDNA

Autosomal DNA

Y and mitochondrial DNA tests one line, and only one line – and shoots like a laser beam right down that line, telling you about the recent and deep history of that particular lineage.  In other words, those tests are deep and not wide.  They can tell you nothing about any of your other ancestors – the ones with no color on the pedigree chart diagram – because you don’t inherit either Y or mtDNA from those ancestors.

Autosomal DNA, on the other hand tends to be wide but not deep.  By this I mean that autosomal DNA shows you matches to ancestors on all of your lines – but only detects relationships back a few generations.  Since each child in each generation received half of their DNA from each parent – in essence, the DNA of each ancestor is cut in half (roughly) in each generation.  Therefore, you carry 50% of the DNA of your parents, approximately 25% of each grandparent, 12.5% of the DNA of each great-grandparent, and so forth.  By the time you’re back to the 4th great-grandparents, you carry only about 1% of the DNA or each of your 64 direct ancestors in that generation.

What this means is that the DNA testing can locate common segments between you and your genetic cousins that are the same, and if you share the same ancestors,  you can prove that this DNA in fact comes from a specific ancestor.  The more closely you are related, the more DNA you will share.

Another benefit that autosomal testing provides is an ethnicity prediction.  Are these predictions 100% accurate?  Absolutely not!  Are they generally good in terms of identifying the four major ethnic groups; African, European, Asian and Native American?  Yes, so long at the DNA amounts you carry of those groups aren’t tiny.  So you’ll learn your major ethnicity groups.  You never know, there may be a surprise waiting for you.

FTDNA myOrigins

The three vendors who provide autosomal DNA testing and matching all provide ethnicity estimates as well, and they aren’t going to agree 100%.  That’s the good news and often makes things even more interesting.  The screen shot below is the same person at Ancestry as the person above at Family Tree DNA.

Ancestry ethnicity

If you’re very lucky, you’ll test and find an immediate close match – maybe even a parent, sibling or half-sibling.  It does happen, but don’t count on it.  I don’t want you to be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.  Just remember, after you test, your DNA is fishing for you 24X7, every single hour of every single day.

If you’re lucky, you may find a close relative, like an uncle or first cousin.  You share a common grandparent with a first cousin, and that’s pretty easy to narrow down.  Here’s an example of matching from Family Tree DNA.

FTDNA close match

If you’re less lucky, you’ll match distantly with many people, but by using their trees, you’ll be able to find common ancestors and then work your way forward, based on how closely you match these individuals, to the current.

Is that a sometimes long process?  Yes.  Can it be done?  Absolutely.

If you are one of the “lottery winner” lucky ones, you’ll have a close match and you won’t need to do the in-depth genealogy sleuthing.  If you are aren’t quite as lucky, there are people and resources to help you, along with educational resources.  www.dnaadoption.com provides tools and education to teach you how to utilize autosomal DNA tools and results.

Of course, you won’t know how lucky or unlucky you are unless you test.  Your answer, or pieces of your answer, may be waiting for you.

Unlike Y and mtDNA testing, Family Tree DNA is not the only company to provide autosomal of testing, although they do provide autosomal DNA testing through their Family Finder test.

There are two additional companies that provide this type of testing as well, 23andMe and Ancestry.com.  You should absolutely test with all three companies, or make sure your results are in all three data bases.  That way you are fishing in all of the available ponds directly.

If you have to choose between testing companies and only utilize one, it would be a very difficult choice.  All three have pros and cons.  I wrote about that here.  The only thing I would add to what I had to say in the comparison article is that Family Tree DNA is the only one of the three that is not trying to obtain your consent to sell your DNA out the back door to other entities.  They don’t sell your DNA, period.  You don’t have to grant that consent to either Ancestry or 23andMe, but be careful not to click on anything you don’t fully understand.

Family Tree DNA accepts transfers of autosomal data into their data base from Ancestry.  They also accept transfers from 23andMe if you tested before December of 2013 when 23andMe reduced the number of locations they test on their V4 chip

Autosomal DNA:  What to Order

Ancestry.com’s DNA product at www.ancestry.com – they only have one and it’s an autosomal DNA test

23andMe’s DNA product at www.23andMe.com – they only have one and it’s an autosomal DNA test

Family Tree DNA – either transfer your data from Ancestry or 23andMe (if you tested before December 2013), or order the Family Finder test. My personal preference is to simply test at Family Tree DNA to eliminate any possibility of a file transfer issue.

FTDNA FF

Third Party Autosomal Tools

The last part of your testing strategy will be to utilize various third party tools to help you find matches, evaluate and analyze results.

GedMatch

At GedMatch, the first thing you’ll need to do is to download your raw autosomal data file from either Ancestry or Family Tree DNA and upload the file to www.gedmatch.com.  You can also download your results from 23andMe, but I prefer to utilize the files from either of the other two vendors, given a choice, because they cover about 200,000 additional DNA locations that 23andMe does not.

Ancestry.com provides you with no tools to do comparisons between your DNA and your matches.  In other words, no chromosome browser or even information like how much DNA you share.  I wrote about that extensively in this article, and I don’t want to belabor the point here, other than to say that GedMatch levels the playing field and allows you to eliminate any of the artificial barriers put in place by the vendors.  Jim Bartlett just wrote a great article about the various reasons why you’d want to upload your data to Gedmatch.

GedMatch provides you with many tools to show to whom you are related, and how.  Used in conjunction with pedigree charts, it is an invaluable tool.  Now, if we could just convince everyone to upload their files.  Obviously, not everyone does, so you’ll still need to work with your matches individually at each of the vendors and at GedMatch.

GedMatch is funded by donations or an inexpensive monthly subscription for the more advanced tools.

DNAGEDCOM.com

Another donation based site is www.dnagedcom.com which offers you a wide range of analytical tools to assist with making sense of your matches and their trees.  DNAGEDCOM works closely with the adoption community and focuses on the types of solutions they need to solve their unique types of genealogy puzzles.  While everyone else is starting in the present and working their way back, adoptees are starting with the older generations and piecing them together to come forward to present.  Their tools aren’t just for adoptees though.  Tools such as the Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer are great for anyone.  Visit the site and take a look.

Third Party Y and Mitochondrial Tools – YSearch and MitoSearch

Both www.ysearch.org and www.mitosearch.org are free data bases maintained separately from Family Tree DNA, but as a courtesy by Family Tree DNA.  Ysearch shows only a maximum of 100 markers for Y DNA and Mitosearch doesn’t show the coding region of the mitochondrial DNA, but they do allow users to provide their actual marker values for direct comparison, in addition to other tools.

Furthermore, some people who tested at other firms, when other companies were doing Y and mtDNA testing, have entered their results here, so you may match with people who aren’t matches at Family Tree DNA.  Those other data bases no longer exist, so Ysearch or Mitosearch is the only place you have a prayer of matching anyone who tested elsewhere.

You can also adjust the match threshold so that you can see more distant matches than at Family Tree DNA.  You can download your results to Ysearch and Mitosearch from the bottom of your Family Tree DNA matches page.

Mitosearch upload

Answer the questions at Mito or Ysearch, and then click “Save Information.”  When you receive the “500” message that an error has occurred at the end of the process, simply close the window.  Your data has been added to the data base and you can obtain your ID number by simply going back to your match page at Family Tree DNA and clicking on the “Upload to Ysearch” or Mitosearch link again on the bottom of your matches page.  At that point, your Y or mitosearch ID will be displayed.  Just click on “Search for Genetic Matches” to continue matching.

Get Going!

Now that you have a plan, place your orders and in another 6 to 8 weeks, you’ll either solve the quandry or at least begin to answer your questions.  Twenty years ago you couldn’t have begun to unravel your parentage using DNA.  Now, it’s commonplace.  Your adventure starts today.

Oh, and congratulations, you’ve just become a DNA detective!

I wish you success on your journey – answers, cousins, siblings and most importantly, your genetic family.  Hopefully, one day it will be you writing to me telling me how wonderful it was to meet your genetic family for the first time, and what an amazing experience it was to look across the dinner table and see someone who looks like you.

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Thank you so much.

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Mitochondrial DNA Smartmatching – The Rest of the Story

Sometimes, a match is not a match.  I know, now I’ve gone and ruined your day…

One of the questions that everyone wants the answer to when looking at matches, regardless of what kind of DNA testing we’re talking about, is “how long ago?”  How long ago did I share a common ancestor with my match?  Seems like a pretty simple question doesn’t it?

The answer, especially with mitochondrial DNA is not terribly straightforward.  A perfect example of this fell into my lap this week, and I’m sharing it with you.

Mitochondrial DNA – A Short Primer

There are three regions that are tested in mitochondrial DNA testing for genealogy.  The HVR1 and HVR2 regions are tested at most testing companies, and at Family Tree DNA, the rest of the mitochondria, called the coding region, is tested as well with the full mitochondrial sequence test.  This is the mitochondrial equivalent of Paul Harvey’s “the rest of the story,” and of course we all know that the real story is always in “the rest of the story” or he wouldn’t be telling us about it!

Many times, the rest of the story is critically important.  In mitochondrial DNA, it’s the only way to obtain your full haplogroup designation.  If you don’t want to just be haplogroup J or A or H, you can test the coding region by taking the full sequence test and find out that you’re J1c2 or A2 or H21, and discover the story that goes with that haplogroup.  Guaranteed, it’s a lot more specific than the one that goes with simple J, A or H.  Often it’s the difference between where your ancestor was 2000 years ago and 20,000 years ago – and they probably covered a lot of territory in 18,000 years!

Let’s take a quick look at mitochondrial DNA.

To begin with, the HVR1 and HVR2 regions are called HVR for a reason – it’s short for hypervariable.  And of course, that means they vary, or mutate, a lot more rapidly, as compared to the coding region of the mitochondrial DNA.

In layman’s terms, think of a clock.  No, not a digital clock, an old-fashioned alarm clock.

alarm clock

The entire mitochondrial DNA has 16,569 locations.  The HVR1 and HVR2 regions take up the space on the clock face from 5 till until 5 after the hour.   The rest is the coding region – the mitochondrial “rest of the story.”  The coding region mutates much slower than the two HVR regions.

Just to be sure we’re on the same page, let’s talk for just a minute about how mitochondrial haplogroup assignments work.  For a detailed discussion of haplogroup assignments and how they are done, see Bill Hurst’s discussion here.

Generally a base haplogroup can be reasonably assigned by HVR1 region testing, but not always.  Sometimes they change with full sequence testing – so what you think you know may not be the end result.

My full haplogroup is J1c2f.  My base haplogroup is J.  I’m on the first branch of J, J1.  On branch J1, I’m on the third stick, c, J1c.  On the third stick J1c, I’m on the second twig, J1c2.  On the second twig, J1c2, I’m leaf f, or J1c2f.  Each of these branches of haplogroup J is determined by a specific mutation that happened long ago and was then passed to all of that person’s offspring, between them and me today.  The question is always, how long ago?

Mutation Rates – How Long Ago is Long Ago?

While we have a tip calculator at Family Tree DNA for Y-line DNA to predict how long ago 2 Y-line matches shared a most recent common ancestor, we don’t have anything similar for mitochondrial DNA, partly because of the great variation in the mutation rates for the various regions of mitochondrial DNA.  Family Tree DNA does provide guidelines for the HVR1 region, but they are so broad as to be relatively useless genealogically.  For example, at the 50th percentile, you are likely to have a common ancestor with someone whom you match exactly on the HVR1 mutations in 52 generations, or about 1300 years ago, in the year 713.  Wait, I know just who that is in my family tree!

These estimates do not take into account the HVR2 or coding regions.

I did some research jointly with another researcher not long ago attempting to determine the mutation rate for those regions, and we found estimates that ranged from 500 years to several thousand years per mutation occurrence and it wasn’t always clear in the publications whether they were referring to the entire mitochondria or just certain portions.  And then there are those pesky hot-spots that for some reason mutate a whole lot faster than other locations.  We’re not even going there.  Suffice it to say there is a wide divergence in opinion among academics, so we probably won’t be seeing any type of mito-tip calculator anytime soon.

Enter SmartMatching

Family Tree DNA does their best to make our matches useful to us and to eliminate matches that we know aren’t genealogically relevant.

For example, this week, I was working on a client’s DNA Report.  Let’s call him Joe.  Joe is haplogroup J1c2.  I am haplogroup J1c2f.  J1c2f has one additional haplogroup defining mutation, in the coding region, that J1c2 does not have.

Joe and I did not show as matches at Family Tree DNA, even though our HVR1 and HVR2 regions are exact matches.  Now, for a minute, that gave me a bit of a start.  In fact, I didn’t even realize that we were exact matches until I was working with his results at MitoSearch and recognized my own User ID.

I had to think for a minute about why we would not be considered matches at Family Tree DNA, and I was just about ready to submit a bug report, when I realized the answer was my extended haplogroup.  This, by the way, is the picture-perfect example of why you need full sequence testing.

Family Tree DNA knows that we both tested at the full sequence level.  They know that with a different haplogroup, we don’t share a common ancestor in hundreds to thousands of years, so it doesn’t matter if we match exactly on the HVR1 and HVR2 levels, we DON’T match on a haplogroup defining mutation, which, in this case, happens to be in the coding region, found only with full sequence testing.  Even if we have only one mismatch at the full sequence level, if it’s a haplogroup defining marker, we are not considered matches.  Said a different way, if our only difference was location 9055 and 9055 was NOT a haplogroup defining mutation, we would have been considered a match on all three levels – exact matches at the HVR1 and HVR2 levels and a 1 mutation difference at the full sequence level.  So how a mutation is identified, whether it’s haplogroup defining or not, is critical.

In our case, I carry a mutation at marker 9055 in the coding region that defines haplogroup J1c2f.  Joe doesn’t have this mutation, so he is not J1c2f, just J1c2.  So we don’t match.

So – How Long Ago for Me and Joe?

Dr. Behar in his “Copernican Reassessment of the Mitochondrial DNA Tree,” which has become the virtual Bible of mitochondrial DNA, estimates that the J1c2f haplogroup defining mutation at location 9055 occurred about 2000 years ago, plus or minus another 3000 years, which means my ancestor who had that mutation could have lived as long ago as 5000 years.

The mutations that define haplogroup J1c2 occurred about 9800 years ago, plus or minus another 2000.  So we know that Joe and I share a common ancestor about 7,800 – 11,800 years ago and our lines diverged sometime between then and 2,000 – 5,000 years ago.  So, in round numbers our common ancestor lived between 2,000 and 9,800 years ago.  Not much chance of identifying that person!

The ability to eliminate “near-misses” where the HVR1+HVR2 matches but the people aren’t in the same haplogroup, which is extremely common in haplogroup H, is actually a very useful feature that Family Tree DNA nicknamed SmartMatching.  With over 1000 matches at the HVR1 level, more than 200 at the HVR1+HVR2 level and another 50+ at the full sequence level, Joe certainly didn’t need to have any “misleading” matches included that could have been eliminating by a logic process.

So while Joe and I match, technically, if you only look at the HVR1 and HVR2 levels, we don’t really match, and that’s not evident at MitoSearch or at Ancestry or anyplace else that does not take into consideration both full sequence AND haplogroup defining mutations.  Family Tree DNA is the only company that does this.

It’s interesting to think about the fact that 2 people can match exactly at the HVR1+HVR2 levels, but the distance of the relationship can be vastly different.  I also match my mother on the HVR1+HVR2 levels, exactly, and our common ancestor is her.  So the distance to a common ancestor with an exact HVR1+HVR2 match can be anyplace from one generation (Mom) to thousands of years (Joe), and there is no way to tell the difference without full sequence testing and in this case, SmartMatching.

And that, my friends, is the rest of the story!

Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

Every day, I receive e-mails very similar to this one.

“My family has always said that we were part Native American.  I want to prove this so that I can receive help with money for college.”

The reasons vary, and not everyone wants to prove their heritage in order to qualify for some type of assistance.  Some want to find their tribe and join to reclaim their lost heritage.  Some want to honor their persecuted and hidden ancestors, undoing some of the wickedness of the past, and some simply seek the truth.  Regardless of why, they are all searching for information lost to them.

I’d like to talk about three topics in proving Native Ancestry.  First, I’d like to do some myth-busting.  Second, I’d like to talk a little about conventional research and third, I’d like to discuss what DNA can, and can’t, do for you.

As you read this blog, please click on the links.  I’m not going to repeat something I’ve already covered elsewhere.

Myth-Busting

Myth 1 – Free College

There is no free college for Native Americans.  There are sometimes scholarships and grants available, mostly by the individual tribes themselves, for their official members.

Myth 2 – Joining a Tribe

Many people think that if they can only figure out which tribe their ancestor descends from, they can join.  This is untrue.  Each tribe is a sovereign nation, and they get to determine their criteria for membership.  Most tribes require a specific percentage of Native “blood,” called blood quantum, in addition to being able to document which tribal member you descend from.  Some tribes require as much as 25% Native heritage, and most require at least 1/16th Native heritage, which is one great-great grandparent.  If you don’t know who in your family was a tribal member it’s unlikely that you would be able to meet the blood quantum requirement.

Myth 3 – DNA Testing Will Reveal my Tribe

Generally, DNA testing does not provide us with the information needed to determine a tribe, although it can clearly tell, using y-line or mitochondrial DNA testing, whether your direct paternal or maternal line was or was not Native.  Sometimes you will be able to infer a tribe based on your matches and their documented history, but the definition of tribes, their names and locations have changed over time.  We are working on improving this ability, but the science simply isn’t there yet and the number of Native people who have tested remains small.

Simply put, most federally recognized tribes aren’t interested in more tribal members.  More members mean a smaller piece of the pie for existing members.  The pot of resources, whatever resources you’re discussing, is only so large and it must be shared by all tribal members.

What is a Tribe?

Tribes in the US fall into two categories.  When most people think about tribes they are talking about federally recognized tribes.  Those are tribes that have some continuity with the past, such as they have always been a tribe, or they still retain tribal lands, etc., and the federal government recognizes them as such.  These are the tribes that qualify for government programs and many own casinos.  As you might imagine, with the influx of casino money, the desire to join a tribe has increased significantly.

The second category is non-federally recognized tribes.  Some are state recognized and others, not at all.  State recognition does not in any way guarantee federal or state funding and there are no universal standards for state recognition.  In other words, your mileage may vary, widely.  Non-federally recognized tribes are often run as non-profit entities.  In many cases, these tribes will help people research and document their genealogy and may be more open to tribal membership for those connecting with their Native heritage.

Be aware that some “tribes” that fall into the non-federally recognized category may be less than ethical.  Some tend to come and go.  In one case, to apply to join, one had to provide information such as social security numbers and a complete family pedigree including your children. In some cases, membership is very expensive, hundreds of dollars, but is available to almost anyone for the right price.  When evaluating tribes that are not federally recognized, if something sounds fishy, it probably is.  Caution is the watchword.

In general, the federally recognized tribes do not feel kindly towards the non-federally recognized tribes and view them as “fake,” interlopers trying to get part of that pie.  Of course, the non-federally recognized tribes feel differently; that they are reclaiming their heritage denied them.  Native American politics is nothing new and is fraught with landmines.

No federally recognized tribes, to the best of my knowledge, have considered DNA testing as a criteria for membership.  No federally recognized tribe has endorsed or participated in DNA testing that I’m aware of.  This does not mean that individuals have not privately tested.

Traditional Genealogy Research

Given the criteria for membership in federally recognized tribes, traditional genealogy is the only way to obtain the type of information required.  If your family history includes a tribal name, and east of the Mississippi, that most often is Cherokee, contact the various Cherokee tribes to inquire about membership criteria.  If the membership criteria is 25% blood quantum, and you must live on the reservation, you’re toast…..no need to continue that line of research if your goal is to join the tribe.

If your goal is simply to find your Native ancestor, that’s another matter entirely.  Begin by using the traditional research tools.

First, look at where your ancestor or that family line was located.  Did they migrate from elsewhere?  How were they listed in the census?  Was someone listed as other than white, indicating mixed race?  Check the records where they lived, tax records and others to see if there is any indication of non-European heritage.  Remember that your non-white ancestor would have retained their “darker” countenance for at least 2 generations after being admixed.  Many Native people were admixed very early.

So first, check the normal genealogy records and look for hints and traces of non-European ancestry.

Second, turn to Native resources that might reflect the Native people in the areas where your family is or was found.  The Access Genealogy site is absolutely wonderful and has an amazingly complete set of records including searchable tribal rolls.  In addition, I add information almost daily to the Native Heritage Project at www.nativeheritageproject.com, which is searchable.  There are many more resources including several collections at Ancestry.com.

Hopefully, these records will help narrow your focus in your family tree to a particular person or two, not just a general branch.  Family rumors like “Grandma was a Cherokee Princess” are particularly unuseful.  What they more likely mean is that there was indeed some Native ancestry someplace in her line.  Cherokee has become a generic word like Kleenex.  It may also have meant that Indian heritage was claimed to cover much less desirable African heritage.  Institutionalized discrimination existed against any people of color in pre-1967 America, but Indians generally retained some rights that people of African ancestry did not.  Laws varied by state and time.  Take a look at my blog about Anti-Miscegenation Laws and when they were overturned.

Now, let’s look at DNA testing to see what it can do for you.

DNA Testing to Prove Native Ancestry

There are three types of DNA testing that you can do to prove Native Ancestry.  Two are very focused on specific family lines, and one is much more general.

  • Mitochondrial for your direct maternal line.
  • Y-line for your direct paternal line – if you are a male. Sorry ladies.
  • Autosomal to test your ethnic mix and one direct marker test for Native ancestors.

On a pedigree chart, these genealogical lines look like this:

adopted pedigree

You can see the path that the blue Y chromosome takes down the paternal line to the brother and the path the red mitochondrial DNA takes down the maternal line to both the brother and the sister.  Autosomal tests the DNA of all of the 16 ancestral lines shown here, but in a different sort of way.

Let’s look at each type of testing separately.

Y-Line DNA – For Paternal Line Testing for Males

The Y-line testing tests the Y chromosome which is passed intact from father to son with no DNA from the mother. This is the blue square on the pedigree chart. In this way, it remains the same in each generation, allowing us to compare it to others with a similar surname to see if we are from the same “Smith” family, for example, or to others with different surnames, in the case of adoption or Native heritage.  Native American genetics isn’t terribly different than adoptees in this situation, because different English surnames were adopted by various family members, into the late 1800s and sometimes into the early 1900s, depending on the location.

Y-line DNA can tell you whether or not you descend from a common male genealogically when compared to another testing participant.  Small mutations do take place and accumulate over time, and we depend on those so that we don’t all “look alike” genetically.  It can also tell you by identifying your deep ancestral clan, called a haplogroup, whether or not you descend from early Native Americans who were here before contact with Europeans.  For that matter, it can also tell you if you descend from those of African, European or Asian ancestry.

Scientists know today that there are only two primary haplogroups indicating deep ancestry that are found among Native American males who were here prior to contact with Indo-Europeans, and those haplogroups are C and Q3.  It is not accurate to say that all C and Q3 individuals exist only in the American Native population, but the American Native population is part of the larger group worldwide that comprises C and Q3.  We find some haplogroup C and Q3 in Europe but none in African populations, although we do learn more every single day in this infant science.

This sometimes becomes confusing, because the single most common male haplogroup among current Cherokee tribal members who have tested is R1b.  How can this be, you ask?  Clearly, one of three possibilities exists:

  1. The Cherokee (or those tribes who were assimilated into the Cherokee) adopted a European male into the tribe or a European male fathered a child that was subsequently raised as Cherokee.
  2. The R1b ancestor was not adopted into the tribe, maintained their European/American identity but married a Cherokee individual woman and their descendants are recognized as Cherokee today.
  3. There is some level of R1b admixture in the Native population that preceded contact with Europeans that we have not yet identified.

Because of the unique haplogroups for Native Americans who preceded European contact, Y-line is the only way to positively confirm that a specific line is or is not of Native American descent.  This obviously applies to all of the individuals in the pedigree chart who directly descend from the oldest known ancestor in this paternal line.

Y-line testing does not indicate anything about the contributions of the other ancestors in this family tree.  In other words, you could be 3/4th Native, with only the direct paternal line being European, and this test would tell you nothing at all about those other three Native lines.

When ordering DNA tests at Family Tree DNA, which is where I recommend that you test, everyone is encouraged to join projects.  There are several types of projects, but to begin with, you should join your surname project.  Not only does this group you with others whom you are likely to match, but this also assures that you receive the project based discounts.  I blogged about how to find and join relevant projects.

You can test at 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 marker “locations” on the Y chromosome. I generally recommend 37 or 67 to begin which gives you enough to work with but isn’t terribly expensive.  At Family Tree DNA, you can always upgrade later, but it’s less expensive in total to test more initially.

Family Tree DNA provides significant tools for Y-line DNA as well as Mitochondrial DNA. At Family Tree DNA, for all their tests, you are provided with the e-mail addresses of your matches. At Ancestry and 23andMe, you contact matches through their internal message system. My experience has been that direct e-mails have a better response rate.

The person looking for Native Heritage will be most interested in their haplogroup designation.  If your haplogroup is either Q or C, you’ll want to join your haplogroup project, minimally, as well as other relevant Native American projects, and work with the administrators for further testing.  Remember, neither haplogroup Q nor C are always Native, so deeper testing may be in order.  You may also match others with confirmed Native heritage, including a tribe.

If the haplogroup is not Native, then you’ll have to take a look at possible reasons why.

One can never interpret non-Native haplogroup results of any one line to answer the much broader questions of, “do I have Native heritage”, “how much” and “where?”  What you can do at that point is to continue to test other lines in order to discover the identity of your Native American ancestor.

Obviously, the Y-line test is only for males. Ladies, I feel your pain. However, these next tests are for both sexes.

Mitochondrial DNA – For Direct Maternal Line Testing for Both Sexes

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by all children from their mother only, with no admixture from the father. Women obtain their mitochondrial DNA from their mother, who got it from their mother, on up the line into infinity. This is the red circle on the right hand side of the pedigree chart. Like Y-line DNA, mitochondrial DNA is passed intact from one generation to the next, except for an occasional mutation that allows us to identify family members and family lines.

Unfortunately, it does not follow any surname. In fact the surname changes with every generation when women marry. This makes it more challenging to work with genealogically, but certainly not impossible. Because of the surname changes in every generation, there are no “surname” projects for mitochondrial DNA, per se, but there are other types of projects.  For example, the Mothers of Acadia project is using mitochondrial DNA to reconstruct the Acadian families including those of Native American heritage.

There are three levels of testing you can take for mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA, which is where I recommend that you test. The mtDNA, the mtDNAPlus and the Full Sequence. The mtDNA test is a starter test that will provide you with a base haplogroup, but will leave people searching for Native ancestry needing a more complete test for full haplogroup identification confirming Native ancestry. I strongly recommend the full sequence test, but if the budget just won’t allow that, then the mtDNAPlus will do until you can afford to upgrade. Family Tree DNA is the only major lab that tests the full sequence region, plus, they have the largest matching data base in the industry.

To put this in perspective for you, the mtDNA and the mtDNAPlus tests both test about 10% of your mitochondrial DNA and the full sequence test tests all of your 16,569 mitochondrial locations. You can then compare them with other people who have taken any of those 3 tests.  Pricing for the mtDNAPlus is currently $139 and the full sequence is $199.

MtDNA testing is not as popular as Y-line testing because it’s more difficult to use genealogically as last names change every generation.  When you look at your matches, you have no idea whatsoever if you might be related to these people in a genealogically relevant time frame by looking at their last names.  Those who have invested the effort to collaboratively work on their mtDNA matches, assuming a full sequence match and a shared geographical history as well, have been pleasantly surprised by what they’ve found.

A haplogroup assigning deep ancestry is provided through mitochondrial testing, so like the Y-line, depending on the haplogroup assigned, you will know if your ancestors were here before European contact.  Maternal haplogroups that indicate Native heritage include A, B, C, D and X.  Like Y-line DNA testing, none of these haplogroups are exclusive to Native Americans, so a full sequence level test will be required to confirm a Native American subgroup.

After you receive your results, you can enter the mtDNA and mtDNAPlus portions into public data bases. There are no public data bases for the full sequence segment because there may be medical implications in some of those mutations, so they are not displayed publicly although they are compared privately within the Family Tree DNA data base. You will want to enter your data and check for matches at www.mitosearch.org (upload directly from your matches page at Family Tree DNA), www.smgf.org and www.ancestry.com, although beware of Ancestry’s accuracy issues.

Update: As of 2019, mitosearch and SMGF no longer exist and Ancestry no longer sells Y and mitochondrial DNA tests, having destroyed their database.

Testing the Y-line and mitochondrial DNA individually gives us a great deal of very specific information about 2 lines in your pedigree chart.  The best method of identifying Native American ancestors is indeed to test as many lines on your DNA pedigree chart using this methodology as possible.  Let’s take a minute to look at how to create a DNA pedigree chart.

DNA Pedigree Chart

If your Y-line and mitochondrial DNA have proven not to be Native, that doesn’t mean that the rest of your lines aren’t.

Let’s take a look at how to create a DNA pedigree chart so that you can focus your Y-line and mitochondrial DNA testing for other lines.

The purpose of a DNA pedigree chart is to provide guidance in terms of inheritance and also to provide a way of documenting your progress.  My chart is shown below, as an example.

DNA Pedigree

You can see the Y-line of my father and the mitochondrial line of my mother, on both ends of the pedigree chart.  At the top of each line, I have recorded the haplogroup information for each family.  Color coding each line helps in tracking descendants who would carry the DNA of the ancestor of that line.  For example, my mother’s father’s mother’s line is the yellow Miller line.  I need to find a daughter of my grandfather’s sisters, or their children, or their daughter’s children, to test for that mitochondrial DNA line.  Which reminds me, I need to call my cousin.  Family reunions, picnics and holidays are great for this type of thing.  Sadly, so are funerals.

I blogged about how to put together your own DNA pedigree chart. If you’re Native and adopted, then refer to the adoptee blog instead, or in addition.

But sometimes, we can’t find the right people in order to test, so we move to autosomal testing to help us fill in the blanks.

Autosomal Testing – For Both Sexes – The Rest of the Story 

Autosomal DNA testing tests all of your 23 pairs of chromosomes that you inherit from both of your parents. You get half of each chromosome from each parent. You can see this pattern on the pedigree chart, represented by all of the 16 genealogical lines. Therefore, as you move up that tree, you should have inherited about 25% of your DNA from each grandparent, about 12.5% of your DNA from each great-grandparent, as have all of their other great-grandchildren.

Therefore beginning with your parents, you carry the following approximate amount of DNA from each of these ancestors. I say approximate, because while you do receive exactly 50% of your DNA from each parent, there is no guarantee that their parents DNA was admixed in your parents such that you receive exactly 25% from each grandparent, but it’s close.  You can see the percentages in the chart below.

Generation Relationship % of Their DNA You Carry

1

Parents

50

2

Grandparents

25

3

Great-grandparents

12.5

4

GG-grandparents

6.25

5

GGG-grandparents

3.125

6

GGGG-grandparents

1.56

7

GGGGG-Grandparents

0.78

Given this chart, if the Native percentage is back beyond 6 generations and drops below the 1% threshold, it’s extremely difficult to discern today.

Autosomal testing will pick up relationships reliably back to about the 6th or 7th generations, and sporadically beyond that.

Autosomal testing provides you minimally with two things.  First, with a list of “cousin matches” by percentage and estimated relationship.  Second, percentages of ethnicity.  It’s this second part that’s most important for the person seeking to prove Native American heritage.

Percentages of Ethnicity

As the field of genetic genealogy has moved forward, research has begun to indicate that certain autosomal markers are found in higher or lower frequencies in different ethnic populations.

For example, if someone has the Duffy Null allele, or genetic marker, we know they positively have African admixture.  We don’t know how much African admixture, or from which line, or when that individual with African admixture entered their family tree, but we know for sure they existed.

Attempting to determine the population frequency of varying markers and what that means relative to other populations is the key to this analysis.  Few markers are simply present or absent in populations, but are found in varying frequencies.  Some populations are widely studied in the research literature, and others are virtually untouched.  Thousands have only been recently discovered as part of the National Geographic, Genographic project.

The process of compiling this information in a meaningful manner so that it can be analyzed is a formidable task, as the information is often found in nearly inaccessible academic and forensic research publications.  It’s difficult to determine sometimes if the DNA analysis of 29 individuals in a small village in northern Italy is, for example, representative of that village as a whole, of northern Italy, or more broadly for all of Italy.  Is it representative of Italy today or Italy historically?  These and other similar questions have to be answered fully before the data from autosomal testing can be useful and reliable.

Let’s take a look at all 3 of the contemporary autosomal tests and what they have to offer.

Note: as of 2019, MyHeritage is also a major player in the autosomal DNA testing space.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA sells the Family Finder test. Right now it is priced at $79 or bundled with attractive pricing with either the Y-line or mitochondrial DNA tests. I often like to use this tool in conjunction with the Y-line and mitochondrial DNA tests to see, if you match someone closely, whether you are actually related to them in a recent timeframe or if it is further back. Family Tree DNA is the only one of the autosomal testing companies that has the ability to do this type of advanced comparison.  Compared to 23andMe and Geno 2.0, they are the only ones to offer traditional Y-line and mitochondrial DNA testing which provides individual marker results and matches.

In addition to a list of autosomal matches, you will receive your breakdown of ethnicity, by percent.  The results below are for the same man with Native ancestry whose Geno 2.0 results are shown in the Geno 2.0 – First Peek blog.

native pop finder

You can read more about the Family Tree DNA autosomal product on their FAQ.

23andMe

Another company that sells autosomal testing is www.23andme.com. In addition to a list of cousins, you also receive admixture percentages, and their specialty, health traits.  You also receive a paternal and maternal haplogroup, but with no markers for personal comparison.  These Y-line and mitochondrial results are not as accurate at the Geno 2.0 nor the Family Tree DNA Y-line and mitochondrial DNA full sequence tests.

Be aware that while people who test at Family Tree DNA are interested in genealogy, the typical person at 23andMe tested for the health portion, not the genealogy portion, and may not answer contact requests or may know very little about their family history.

Right now, their test is $99, and you can download your results and upload them to Family Tree DNA for an additional $89, making the total price similar to the Family Tree DNA test. However, you need to be somewhat technically savvy to complete the download/upload process.

23andMe recently released a new version of their software which added quite a bit of resolution after years of being woefully behind.  Native American wasn’t even a category previously.

Ancestry

Ancestry.com recently introduced an autosomal test.  You receive matches and ethnicity percentages.  However, their ethnicity percentages have significant issues and I would not recommend them at this time.  Their cousin matches come with no analysis tools.  So for now, just skip Ancestry and concentrate on the other resources.

One Last Autosomal Test

One marker value in particular, known as D9S919 is present in about 30% of the Native people.  The value of 9 at this marker is not known to be present in any other ethnic group, so this mutation occurred after the Native people migrated across Beringia into the Americas, but long enough ago to be present in many descendants.  You can test this marker individually at Family Tree DNA, which is the only lab that offers this test.  If you have the value of 9 at this marker, it confirms Native heritage, but if you don’t carry 9, it does NOT disprove Native heritage.  After all, many Native people don’t carry it.

To order this test, for existing Family Tree DNA clients, click on the “Order Upgrade” orange button on the right hand side of your personal page, then on “Advanced Test”, then enter “autosomal” in the drop down box, then you will see the list below. D9S919 is the last one and it costs $15.  There may be a $10 one time transfer fee as well if your DNA sample is not in the Houston lab.

native d9s919 order

Swimming in Many Pools

As you can see there are lots of tools available to you that can be used individually or in conjunction with each other.  Like anything else, the more work and effort you are willing to devote to the search, the more likely you are to be successful.

Most people test their Y-line and mitochondrial DNA, not just for Native ancestry, but to learn more about the lines they can test for themselves without reaching out to other family members.

Use your DNA pedigree chart to plan who to ask in your extended family to test for which lines.

Plan to test with multiple autosomal testing companies.  Autosomal testing in particular is still in its infancy. I like to use the results of multiple companies, especially when you are dealing with small amounts of admixture.  They use different markers, combinations, analysis tools and reference populations, so you can expect slightly different results.  One company may pick up slight minority admixture while another may not.  This has happened repeatedly with both my Native and African minority admixture.

GedMatch

After you obtain your results from either Family Tree DNA or 23andMe, you’ll want to download your raw data results and then upload the file to www.gedmatch.com. This is a privately run “donation” site, not associated with any of the testing companies, meaning there is no subscription or fee to use the tools, but they do appreciate and are funded by donations.

After uploading your results you can utilize several admixture tools to compare and contrast your results.

Getting Help

If you’re struggling with working through your family possibilities for who to test, I do offer a DNA Test Plan service.

If you would like a Personalized DNA Report for Y-line or mitochondrial results, those are available as well.

If you have what amounts to a quick question that I can answer in less than an hour, including prep, I offer the Quick Consult service.

For more extensive consulting, contact me.  You can see my services here.

In Summary

Finding our Native ancestors is a way to pay homage to their lives and to the culture that was stripped from their descendants, ironically, by using their own DNA that has been gifted from them to us.  Native people, after contact with Europeans were marginalized, and that’s the best that can be said.  Many were killed, either intentionally or by European diseases, or enslaved.  The results are that Native people left few if any individual records and those that might be available often can’t be identified or linked to them personally.  For those who cannot unearth their Native ancestry using conventional genealogical means, genetic testing is the last hope left.  Fortunately, the tools and our knowledge improve every day.  We’re making great strides with what we can do, enlarging what was a pinhole into a keyhole, allowing us to peer into the past.  So, click your heels, order your tests and let’s see where your DNA takes you.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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I’m Adopted and I Don’t Know Where to Start

This is one of the two most common querys that I receive.

I’ve addressed some of the adoptee resources in a previous blog, but in this one, I’m going to be very specific about which tests do what, what to expect, how to use them, where to purchase the tests and how much they cost in general terms.  Remember when reading this, it’s meant as a guideline and you should always check current products and prices before purchasing.

We all begin with genetic genealogy to answer questions, but adoptees have a special circumstance wherein they generally know nothing at all about their birth parents.  Today’s query told me that her birth certificate doesn’t even include a race.

First, all adoptees need to read my post on Adoptee Resources.  I’m not an expert on how to deal with all of the bureaucratic and paperwork nightmares involved, which of course vary by state, but there are people who specialize in this and they have groups to help.  Take advantage of them.  Also, throughout the rest of this blog, be sure to click on the links.  I’m not restating things that I’ve already covered elsewhere.

Now, let’s look at the 3 kinds of DNA testing that can benefit adoptees and just how they might use the results.

There are three kinds of DNA testing that you can do.

  • Mitochondrial for your direct maternal line.
  • Y-line for your direct paternal line – if you are a male.  Sorry ladies.
  • Autosomal to test your ethnic mix and to find cousins related to you on any line.

On a pedigree chart, these genealogical lines look like this:

adopted pedigree

You can see the path that the Y chromosome takes down the paternal line to the brother and the path the mitochondrial DNA takes down the maternal line to both the brother and the sister.  Autosomal tests the DNA of all of the 16 ancestral lines shown here, but in a different sort of way.

Let’s look at each one separately.

Y-Line DNA – For Paternal Line Testing for Males

The Y-line testing tests the Y chromosome which is passed intact from father to son with no DNA from the mother.  This is the blue square on the pedigree chart.  In this way, it remains the same in each generation, allowing us to compare it to others with a similar surname to see if we are from the same “Smith” family, for example, or to others with different surnames, in the case of adoption.  Small mutations do take place and accumulate over time, and we depend on those so that we don’t all “look alike.”

The good news is that using comparison tools, we can determine a genetic surname in about one third of the cases.  That’s pretty good odds for someone who started with no information at all.

Looking at the Estes surname project as an example, you can see in this colorized version that there are mutations shown, in color, even within family groups.

You can test at 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 marker “locations” on the Y chromosome.  In order to look for strong results you’re going to need to test at a minimum of 37 markers, preferably 67 or 111.  At Family Tree DNA, which is where I recommend that you test, you can always upgrade later, but it’s less expensive in total to test more initially, plus you may well need the information to know who you match at the highest levels.  Right now, 37 markers cost $119 and 67 markers are $199, but a sale is currently underway.  You can also join the adoptee project to obtain the best pricing by joining a project.

Family Tree DNA also provides significant tools for Y-line DNA as well as Mitochondrial DNA as well.  You can see both Family Tree and Ancestry results compared on this blog, which shows you how to use both companies’ tools.  At Family Tree DNA, for all their tests, you are provided with the e-mail addresses of your matches.  At Ancestry and 23andMe, you contact matches through thier internal message system.  My experience has been that direct e-mails have a better response rate.

You can also order a DNA Report from my company, DNAeXplain, or directly from your personal page at Family Tree DNA, if you need assistance understanding either Y-line or mitochondrial DNA results and wringing every possible tidbit from the available tools.

Obviously, the Y-line test is only for males.  Ladies, I feel your pain.  However, these next tests are for both sexes.

Mitochondrial DNA – For Direct Maternal Line Testing for Both Sexes

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by all children from their mother only, with no admixture from the father.  Women obtain their mitochondrial DNA from their mother, who got it from their mother, on up the line into infinity.  This is the red circle on the right hand side of the pedigree chart.  Like Y-line DNA, mitochondrial DNA is passed intact from one generation to the next, except for an occasional mutation that allows us to identify family members and family lines.

Unfortunately, it does not follow any surname.  In fact the surname changes with every generation when women marry.  This makes it more challenging to work with genealogically, but certainly not impossible. Because of the surname changes in every generation, there are no “surname” projects for mitochondrial DNA, but the Mothers of Acadia project is using mitochondrial DNA to reconstruct the Acadian families.

There are three levels of testing you can take for mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA, which is where I recommend that you test.  The mtDNA, the mtDNAPlus and the Full Sequence.  The mtDNA test is a starter test that will only leave adoptees needing more.  I strongly recommend the full sequence test, but if the budget just won’t allow that, then the mtDNAPlus will do until you can afford to upgrade.  Family Tree DNA is the only major lab that tests the full sequence region, plus, they have the largest matching data base in the industry.

To put this in perspective for you, the mtDNA and the mtDNAPlus tests both test about 10% of your mitochondrial DNA and the full sequence test tests all of your 16,569 mitochondrial locations.  You can then compare them with other people who have taken any of those 3 tests.  For adoptees, you’ll need the power of the full sequence test.  Pricing for the mtDNAPlus is currently $139 and the full sequence is $199.

After you receive your results, you can enter the mtDNA and mtDNAPlus portions into public data bases.  There are no public data bases for the full sequence segment because there may be medical implications in some of those mutations, so they are not displayed publicly although they are compared privately within the Family Tree DNA data base.  You will want to enter your data and check for matches at www.mitosearch.org (upload directly from your matches page at Family Tree DNA), www.smgf.org and www.ancestry.com, although beware of Ancestry’s accuracy issues.

Update: Please note that as of 2019, Family Tree DNA is the only company providing mitochondrial DNA testing and matching. The rest are now obsolete.

If you match someone on either the Y-line or mitochondrial DNA, you may want to do some additional testing to see if you are closely related or if you are related back in time many generations.  The good news is that autosomal testing is what you need and there are three autosomal pools to swim in, increasing your chances of a “hit.”

Autosomal Testing – The Rest of the Story – For Both Sexes

If there was a DNA test created for adoptees, this is it.  This test can be used alone or in conjunction with the Y-line or mitochondrial DNA testing at Family Tree DNA.  They are the only lab to have this advanced matching capability.

Autosomal DNA testing tests all of your 23 pairs of chromosomes that you inherit from both of your parents.  You get half of each chromosome from each parent.  You can see this pattern on the pedigree chart, represented by all of the 16 genealogical lines.  Therefore, as you move up that tree, you should have inherited about 25% of your DNA from each grandparent, about 12.5% of your DNA from each great-grandparent, as have all of their other great-grandchildren.

So, if you were to take an autosomal test, and another one of your grandparents grandchildren tested, you would match them at some predictable percentage of your DNA.  You can see the “cheat-sheet” we use below, courtesy of the ISOGG wiki.

You can see that your grandparents other grandchildren are your first cousins, and you share approximately 12.5% of your autosomal DNA with them.  Therefore, if you match someone at 12.5%, you are either first cousins, great-grandchildren/great-grandparents or another relative with 12.5 in their “box” below, as compared to you.

adopted cheat chart

For an adoptee, this is the literal Holy Grail.  You can match someone at the 25% level, or even the 50% level.  Yes, siblings have found each other this way, although not to misset your expectations, it’s rare.  Much more common are matches at smaller percentages, but even so, if you match someone who is cooperative, it’s not too difficult to work with their pedigree chart to get some idea who your parents might be.  And even if you can’t figure that out, you know you are biologically related to them, something most adoptees have never experienced before aside from their own children.

The adoptee group and others are working on tools and standard procedures for adoptees, as there are ways to work with this information.  I have also blogged about the basics of what autosomal DNA gives you, and how to use it.

There are three testing companies that sell autosomal DNA testing.  I strongly suggest that you use all three of them, plus download your results to www.gedmatch.com and learn to use those tools, or work with someone on your behalf.

Family Tree DNA sells the Family Finder test.  Right now it is priced at $199 or bundled with attractive pricing with either the Y-line or mitochondrial DNA tests.  For adoptees, I often like to use this tool in conjunction with the Y-line and mitochondrial DNA tests to see, if you match someone closely, whether you are actually related to them in a recent timeframe or if it is further back.  Autosomal testing will pick up relationships reliably back to about the 6th or 7th generations, and sporadically beyond that.  In addition to a list of matches, you will receive your breakdown of ethnicity, by percent.  The admixture portions are improving, but just use them as a guideline, especially for percentages below 10%, and that goes for all three companies, in general.

Another company that sells autosomal testing is www.23andme.com.  In addition to a list of cousins, you also receive admixture percentages, and their specialty, health traits.  For adoptees, this may be particularly important as well.  Be aware that while people who test at Family Tree DNA are interested in genealogy, the typical person at 23andMe tested for the health portion, not the genealogy portion, and may not answer contact requests or may know very little about their family history.  However, that doesn’t negate the possibility that you may find a very close match and you’ll never know if you don’t test.  Right now, their test is $99, and you can download your results and upload them to Family Tree DNA for an additional $89, making the total price similar to the Family Tree DNA test.  However, you need to be somewhat technically savvy to complete the download/upload process.

The third company is www.ancestry.com.  Compared to either Family Tree DNA or 23andMe, their tools are sorely lacking, but they too offer a list of matches and ethnicity.  I suggest that you simply ignore their ethnicity calculations at this point in time as they are quite misleading.  The good news about Ancestry subscribers, which is who you’ll be matching, is that they too are quite interested in genealogy.  Unfortunately, you don’t have the data tools you’ll need to see how you match.  Again, that does not negate the importance of a close match, so I recommend fishing in this pool even though it certainly doesn’t stand up to either of the other two companies.  Their price fluctuates but is floating someplace around $129.  Also be aware to access the full feature set of matches including trees, you will need to subscribe to Ancestry as well in some capacity, so the test price is not the only cost involved.  Be sure to read their fine print first.

After you obtain your results from either Family Tree DNA or 23andMe, you’ll want to download your raw data results and then upload the file to www.gedmatch.com.  This is “donation” site, meaning there is no subscription or fee to use the tools, but they do appreciate donations.  Ancestry does not provide your raw data, but has stated that they will sometime in 2013.

While this suite of tools does not replace that missing information locked away in a file someplace, or worse, it does provide adoptees with hope where none may have existed before.  Various kinds of DNA testing can provide answers, and relatives, both close and distant.  You can also work with these tools with other adoptees and those who specialize in genetic genealogy to unlock those doors.

Remember, the longest journey begins with a single step.  Bon Voyage!

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Disclosure

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 Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Working with Mitochondrial DNA Results

I recently received this query.  It made me smile.  I receive a lot of e-mails similar to this.

“I always thought I was an intelligent woman but I am absolutely stymied on how to proceed with the DNA results from Family Tree DNA.

My mtDNA has 65 pages of HVR1 and HVR2 matches.  What does this mean?  Is there somewhere I can find a step by step procedural on how to proceed after getting DNA testing and how to apply it to genealogical research?  What should I do first?”

These are all good questions.  Unfortunately, mitochondrial DNA is more difficult to use genealogically because of the name changes in every generation.  What we really need is a big centralized data base someplace where we an enter our mitochondrial line names to see if anyone in that line has tested, but that data base doesn’t exist.  That data base would provide the same type of function for mitochondrial DNA that surname projects do for paternal lines.  If you want to know if your Johnson Y-line has tested, you just go and look in the Johnson project.  You can’t do that with mitochondrial DNA, so it’s everyone for themselves.  This means we need to be sure we do everything we can to help ourselves which gives us the best odds for success.  My Dad used to say that luck was 99% elbow grease!

What this lady didn’t say was whether or not she had tested to the full sequence level or just to the HVR1+HVR2 level.  From what she did say, I’m betting that she is haplogroup H, the most common haplogroup in Europe, carried by about 50% of the people, and that she did not get her full sequence tested.  If you are haplogroup H, and you have any HVR2 matches at all, the only reasonable way to sort out who is related in a genealogical timeframe is to take the full sequence test.  Otherwise, trying to work with 65 pages of matches is kind of like swatting at flies.

However, not everyone is reasonable, and maybe few of the people you match have taken the full sequence test.  Even if you have taken the full sequence test, there is nothing you can do about those who haven’t and you’d like to be able to use the results you have to see if anyone is a genealogical match to you.

In my experience, a short, less than one page, e-mail sent to your matches with some very specific information is the best way to garner a response.  No one wants to have to sort through a rambling e-mail, so organize it concisely so that the person receiving the e-mail can immediately see the relevant information.  What you’re hoping is that they will take a look and say “Hey, I know that ancestor,” or maybe “My ancestor is from that location too.”

In my case, I have 222 HVR1+HVR2 matches, but no full sequence matches.  Many of my HVR1+HVR2 matches have taken the full sequence test, and I know they are NOT matches to me at the full sequence level, so I don’t need to send them the e-mail.  They’ve been eliminated.

On the list above, there are only 4 people are showing as matches who did not take the full sequence (FMS) test, so they will receive the following e-mail message with relevant information about each generational ancestor, including name, birth and death years and locations, spouses name and where they lived if it wasn’t where they were born or died:

Hello <their name>,

At Family Tree DNA, you and I show as mitochondrial DNA matches at the HVR1+HVR2 level.  This means that someplace back in time, we shared a common ancestor.  I have tested at the full sequence level as well, so if you were to upgrade we could confirm that we continue to match, and in a genealogically relevant timeframe, or we would know that we don’t, and we can discontinue our search because our common ancestor was hundreds to thousands of years ago. 

I’m hopeful that perhaps we can identify our common ancestor, or perhaps just a common location. 

My ancestors on my maternal, mitochondrial line, are as follows: 

  • Me
  • My mother
  • My mother’s mother – Edith Barbara Lore born 1888 Indianapolis, Indiana, died 1960 Rochester, Indiana, married to John Ferverda, lived in Silver Lake, Indiana
  • Edith’s mother – Nora Kirsch born 1866 Dearborn County, Indiana died 1949 Lockport, NY, married Curtis Benjamin Lore, lived in Rushville and Wabash, Indiana
  • Nora’s mother – Barbara Drechsel (also spelled Drexler) born 1848 Goppmannsbuhl, Bayern, Germany, died 1930 Wabash, Indiana, married Jacob Kirsch, lived in Aurora, Indiana
  • Barbara’s mother – Barbara Mehlheimer born 1823 Goppsmannbuhl, Bayern, Germany, died 1906 Aurora, Dearborn County, Indiana, married George Drechsel
  • Barbara’s mother – Elisabetha Mehlheimer, born about 1800 probably in Goppmannsbuhl, Germany, died before 1851

Goppmannsbuhl is a small village outside Speichersdorf, close to Bayreuth and the Czech border, not too far from Nuremburg in Germany.  You can see the location on the Google map below.

https://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=G%C3%B6ppmannsb%C3%BChl,+Speichersdorf,+Germany&aq=1&oq=goppmann&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=43.25835,101.513672&vpsrc=0&t=h&ie=UTF8&split=0&hq=&hnear=G%C3%B6ppmannsb%C3%BChl,+95469+Speichersdorf,+Oberfranken,+Bayern,+Germany&z=16&iwloc=A

Do any of these families or locations look familiar to you?  Sometimes even if we can’t find a common ancestor, we discover that our ancestors were from the same general area.  Where does your mitochondrial DNA line come from?

Roberta Estes

You’ll note that I did three things here.  I mentioned major landmarks nearby that might be familiar to people, including the Czech border.  At least one of my matches is from Czech Republic and if I don’t mention how close my ancestors lived to that border, people from there will see Germany and dismiss any possible match.  I also included a map that people can click on.  Sometimes that helps.  Lastly, I clearly show the mitochondrial path so that if they don’t understand how that works, they can use my example – me to mother to her mother, etc.  You’d be amazed at how many people are unclear about this.

Oh, and one last thing, I don’t include the information about my mother.  She is deceased, but they just don’t need that.

While we are waiting for replies, we can upload our  information to Mitosearch and continue our search there.  You can do that by clicking on the “upload to Mitosearch” link on the bottom of your Matches page at Family Tree DNA, or you can enter your results manually if you tested elsewhere.  We can also upload our GEDCOM files to both locations.  That makes it easier for potential matches to see if there is anything relevant.

For the most part, you’ll find the same people at Mitosearch that you’ll find at Family Tree DNA.  There are a few exceptions, but generally, people who test elsewhere either don’t know about Mitosearch or aren’t motivated to add their information there.  In some cases, I think people get discouraged and don’t do what they can to find out about their matches.  Case in point is that I seldom receive query e-mails about potential matches, and no, it’s not because I send them an e-mail immediately.  You know, the cobblers kids and no shoes:)

The great thing about Mitosearch is that you can click on the User ID to see information provided by your matches when they were uploading or entering their information.  There are various search criteria. I always select the option to compare me only to those who have tested both the HVR1 and HVR2 regions, and only show me people who match in both.

Here’s my entry.

Unfortunately, in Y-search, Mitosearch’s companion data base, you can search by surname, but Mitosearch doesn’t contain that feature.  Not only does YSearch give you matches, but it also provides you with a list of pedigree charts that the name appears in.  For names like Smith, this probably isn’t terribly useful, but for Mehlheimer, one match would be a goldmine.

I click through the User Ids of all my exact matches.  An exact match is when both “differences” columns equal zero.

If you want to know more about your mitochondrial DNA and the secrets it holds for you, you can purchase a Personalized DNA Report.

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