DNA: In Search of…Full and Half-Siblings

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

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

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

All Parties Need to Test

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

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

My first questions when someone comments in this vein are:

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

Sibling Scenarios

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

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

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

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

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

Full and Half-Siblings

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

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

Caution

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

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

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

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

On the other hand, it may.

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

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

Congratulations, You Have a Sibling!

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

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

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

Let’s start with DNAPainter.

DNAPainter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship Probability Calculator

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

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

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

Vendors

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

Sibling Matches at Ancestry

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

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

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

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

Ancestry never stipulates full or half.

The following relationship is a half-sibling at Ancestry.

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

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

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

Sibling Matches at 23andMe

23andMe does identify full versus half-siblings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GEDMatch shows both half and fully identical regions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sibling Matches at FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA does identify full siblings.

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

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

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

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

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

Sibling Matches at MyHeritage

MyHeritage indicates brother or sister for full siblings

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

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

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

View Close Known Relationships

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

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

Let’s start with the simplest situation first.

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

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

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

Here’s an example.

Close Relationships at FamilyTreeDNA

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

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

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

Now let’s make this a little more difficult.

No Parents, No Problem

Let’s say neither of your parents has tested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Close Relationships at Ancestry

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

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

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

Close Relationships at MyHeritage

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

Now, THIS is interesting.

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

Close Relationships at 23andMe

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

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

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

More Tools Are Available

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

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

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

X Matching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Men pass no X chromosome to sons.

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

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

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

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

The full siblings, Melody, and Cinderella:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a summary chart for sibling X matching.

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

Here’s the information presented in a different way.

DOES match X summary:

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

Does NOT match X summary:

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

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

X Matching at FamilyTreeDNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Y DNA and Mitochondrial DNA

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

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

Y DNA

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

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

Y DNA at FamilyTreeDNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Y DNA at 23andMe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitochondrial DNA

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

Mitochondrial DNA at 23andMe

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

Mitochondrial DNA at FamilyTreeDNA

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

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

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

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

I wrote about heteroplasmies, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sibling Summary and Checklist

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

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

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

Additional Resources

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

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

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

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

Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FamilyTreeDNA DISCOVER™ Launches – Including Y DNA Haplogroup Ages

FamilyTreeDNA just released an amazing new group of public Y DNA tools.

Yes, a group of tools – not just one.

The new Discover tools, which you can access here, aren’t just for people who have tested at FamilyTreeDNA . You don’t need an account and it’s free for everyone. All you need is a Y DNA haplogroup – from any source.

I’m going to introduce each tool briefly because you’re going to want to run right over and try Discover for yourself. In fact, you might follow along with this article.

Y DNA Haplogroup Aging

The new Discover page provides seven beta tools, including Y DNA haplogroup aging.

Haplogroup aging is THE single most requested feature – and it’s here!

Discover also scales for mobile devices.

Free Beta Tool

Beta means that FamilyTreeDNA is seeking your feedback to determine which of these tools will be incorporated into their regular product, so expect a survey.

If you’d like changes or something additional, please let FamilyTreeDNA know via the survey, their support line, email or Chat function.

OK, let’s get started!

Enter Your Haplogroup

Enter your Y DNA haplogroup, or the haplogroup you’re interested in viewing.

If you’re a male who has tested with FamilyTreeDNA , sign on to your home page and locate your haplogroup badge at the lower right corner.

If you’re a female, you may be able to test a male relative or find a haplogroup relevant to your genealogy by visiting your surname group project page to locate the haplogroup for your ancestor.

I’ll use one of my genealogy lines as an example.

In this case, several Y DNA testers appear under my ancestor, James Crumley, in the Crumley DNA project.

Within this group of testers, we have two different Big Y haplogroups, and several estimated haplogroups from testers who have not upgraded to the Big Y.

If you’re a male who has tested at either 23andMe or LivingDNA, you can enter your Y DNA haplogroup from that source as well. Those vendors provide high-level haplogroups.

The great thing about the new Discover tool is that no matter what haplogroup you enter, there’s something for you to enjoy.

I’m going to use haplogroup I-FT272214, the haplogroup of my ancestor, James Crumley, confirmed through multiple descendants. His son John’s descendants carry haplogroup I-BY165368 in addition to I-FT272214, which is why there are two detailed haplogroups displayed for this grouping within the Crumley haplogroup project, in addition to the less-refined I-M223.

Getting Started

When you click on Discover, you’ll be asked to register briefly, agree to terms, and provide your email address.

Click “View my report” and your haplogroup report will appear.

Y DNA Haplogroup Report

For any haplogroup you enter, you’ll receive a haplogroup report that includes 7 separate pages, shown by tabs at the top of your report.

Click any image to enlarge

The first page you’ll see is the Haplogroup Report.

On the first page, you’ll find Haplogroup aging. The TMRCA (time to most recent common ancestor) is provided, plus more!

The report says that haplogroup I-FT272214 was “born,” meaning the mutation that defines this haplogroup, occurred about 300 years ago, plus or minus 150 years.

James Crumley was born about 1710. We know his sons carry haplogroup I-FT272214, but we don’t know when that mutation occurred because we don’t have upstream testers. We don’t know who his parents were.

Three hundred years before the birth of our Crumley tester would be about 1670, so roughly James Crumley’s father’s generation, which makes sense.

James’ son John’s descendants have an additional mutation, so that makes sense too. SNP mutations are known to occur approximately every 80 years, on average. Of course, you know what average means…may not fit any specific situation exactly.

The next upstream haplogroup is I-BY100549 which occurred roughly 500 years ago, plus or minus 150 years. (Hint – if you want to view a haplogroup report for this upstream haplogroup, just click on the haplogroup name.)

There are 5 SNP confirmed descendants of haplogroup I-FT272214 claiming origins in England, all of whom are in the Crumley DNA project.

Haplogroup descendants mean this haplogroup and any other haplogroups formed on the tree beneath this haplogroup.

Share

If you scroll down a bit, you can see the share button on each page. If you think this is fun, you can share through a variety of social media resources, email, or copy the link.

Sharing is a good way to get family members and others interested in both genealogy and genetic genealogy. Light the spark!

I’m going to be sharing with collaborative family genealogy groups on Facebook and Twitter. I can also share with people who may not be genealogists, but who will think these findings are interesting.

If you keep scrolling under the share button or click on “Discover More” you can order Y DNA tests if you’re a biological male and haven’t already taken one. The more refined your haplogroup, the more relevant your information will be on the Discover page as well as on your personal page.

Scrolling even further down provides information about methods and sources.

Country Frequency

The next tab is Country Frequency showing the locations where testers with this haplogroup indicate that their earliest known ancestors are found.

The Crumley haplogroup has only 5 people, which is less than 1% of the people with ancestors from England.

However, taking a look at haplogroup R-M222 with many more testers, we see something a bit different.

Ireland is where R-M222 is found most frequently. 17% of the men who report their ancestors are from Ireland belong to haplogroup R-M222.

Note that this percentage also includes haplogroups downstream of haplogroup R-M222.

Mousing over any other location provides that same information for that area as well.

Seeing where the ancestors of your haplogroup matches are from can be extremely informative. The more refined your haplogroup, the more useful these tools will be for you. Big Y testers will benefit the most.

Notable Connections

On the next page, you’ll discover which notable people have haplogroups either close to you…or maybe quite distant.

Your first Notable Connection will be the one closest to your haplogroup that FamilyTreeDNA was able to identify in their database. In some cases, the individual has tested, but in many cases, descendants of a common ancestor tested.

In this case, Bill Gates is our closest notable person. Our common haplogroup, meaning the intersection of Bill Gates’s haplogroup and my Crumley cousin’s haplogroup is I-L1195. The SNP mutation that defines haplogroup I-L1145 occurred about 4600 years ago. Both my Crumley cousin and Bill Gates descend from that man.

If you’re curious and want to learn more about your common haplogroup, remember, you can enter that haplogroup into the Discover tool. Kind of like genetic time travel. But let’s finish this one first.

Remember that CE means current era, or the number of years since the year “zero,” which doesn’t technically exist but functions as the beginning of the current era. Bill Gates was born in 1955 CE

BCE means “before current era,” meaning the number of years before the year “zero.” So 2600 BCE is approximately 4600 years ago.

Click through each dot for a fun look at who you’re “related to” and how distantly.

This tool is just for fun and reinforces the fact that at some level, we’re all related to each other.

Maybe you’re aware of more notables that could be added to the Discover pages.

Migration Map

The next tab provides brand spanking new migration maps that show the exodus of the various haplogroups out of Africa, through the Middle East, and in this case, into Europe.

Additionally, the little shovel icons show the ancient DNA sites that date to the haplogroup age for the haplogroup shown on the map, or younger. In our case, that’s haplogroup I-M223 (red arrow) that was formed about 16,000 years ago in Europe, near the red circle, at left. These haplogroup ancient sites (shovels) would all date to 16,000 years ago or younger, meaning they lived between 16,000 years ago and now.

Click to enlarge

By clicking on a shovel icon, more information is provided. It’s very interesting that I-L1145, the common haplogroup with Bill Gates is found in ancient DNA in Cardiff, Wales.

This is getting VERY interesting. Let’s look at the rest of the Ancient Connections.

Ancient Connections

Our closest Ancient Connection in time is Gen Scot 24 (so name in an academic paper) who lived in the Western Isles of Scotland.

These ancient connections are more likely cousins than direct ancestors, but of course, we can’t say for sure. We do know that the first man to develop haplogroup I-L126, about 2500 years ago, is an ancestor to both Gen Scot 24 and our Crumley ancestor.

Gen Scot 24 has been dated to 1445-1268 BCE which is about 3400 years ago, which could actually be older than the haplogroup age. Remember that both dating types are ranges, carbon dating is not 100% accurate, and ancient DNA can be difficult to sequence. Haplogroup ages are refined as more branches are discovered and the tree grows.

The convergence of these different technologies in a way that allows us to view the past in the context of our ancestors is truly amazing.

All of our Crumley cousin’s ancient relatives are found in Ireland or Scotland with the exception of the one found in Wales. I think, between this information and the haplogroup formation dates, it’s safe to say that our Crumley ancestors have been in either Scotland or Ireland for the past 4600 years, at least. And someone took a side trip to Wales, probably settled and died there.

Of course, now I need to research what was happening in Ireland and Scotland 4600 years ago because I know my ancestors were involved.

Suggested Projects

I’m EXTREMELY pleased to see suggested projects for this haplogroup based on which projects haplogroup members have joined.

You can click on any of the panels to read more about the project. Remember that not everyone joins a project because of their Y DNA line. Many projects accept people who are autosomally related or descend from the family through the mitochondrial line, the direct mother’s line.

Still, seeing the Crumley surname project would be a great “hint” all by itself if I didn’t already have that information.

Scientific Details

The Scientific Details page actually has three tabs.

The first tab is Age Estimate.

The Age Estimate tab provides more information about the haplogroup age or TMRCA (Time to Most Recent Common Ancestor) calculations. For haplogroup I-FT272214, the most likely creation date, meaning when the SNP occurred, is about 1709, which just happens to align well with the birth of James Crumley about 1710.

However, anyplace in the dark blue band would fall within a 68% confidence interval (CI). That would put the most likely years that the haplogroup-defining SNP mutation took place between 1634 and 1773. At the lower end of the frequency spectrum, there’s a 99% likelihood that the common ancestor was born between 1451 and 1874. That means we’re 99% certain that the haplogroup defining SNP occurred between those dates. The broader the date range, the more certain we can be that the results fall into that range.

The next page, Variants, provides the “normal” or ancestral variant and the derived or mutated variant or SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) in the position that defines haplogroup I-FT272214.

The third tab displays FamilyTreeDNA‘s public Y DNA Tree with this haplogroup highlighted. On the tree, we can see this haplogroup, downstream haplogroups as well as upstream, along with their country flags.

Your Personal Page

If you have already taken a DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA, you can find the new Discover tool conveniently located under “Additional Tests and Tools.”

If you are a male and haven’t yet tested, then you’ll want to order a Y DNA test or upgrade to the Big Y for the most refined haplogroup possible.

Big Y tests and testers are why the Y DNA tree now has more than 50,000 branches and 460,000 variants. Testing fuels growth and growth fuels new tools and possibilities for genealogists.

What Do You Think?

Do you like these tools?

What have you learned? Have you shared this with your family members? What did they have to say? Maybe we can get Uncle Charley interested after all!

Let me know how you’re using these tools and how they are helping you interpret your Y DNA results and assist your genealogy.

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Identify Your Ancestors – Follow Nested Ancestral Segments

I don’t think that we actively think about our DNA segments as nested ancestors, like Russian Matryoshka dolls, but they are.

That’s exactly why segment information is critical for genealogists. Every segment, and every portion of a segment, has an incredibly important history. In fact, you could say that the further back in time we can track a segment, the more important it becomes.

Let’s see how to unveil nested segments. I’ll use my chromosome 20 as an example because it’s a smaller chromosome. But first, let’s start with my pedigree chart.

Pedigree

Click images to enlarge.

Before we talk about nested segments that originated with specific ancestors, it’s important to take a look at the closest portion of my maternal pedigree chart. My DNA segments came from and through these people. I’ll be working with the first 5 generations, beginning with my mother as generation #1.

Generation 1 – Parents

In the first generation, we receive a copy of each chromosome from each parent. I have a copy of chromosome 20 from my mother and a copy from my father.

At FamilyTreeDNA, you can see that I match my mother on the entire tested region of each chromosome.

Therefore, the entire length of each of my chromosomes is assigned to both mother and father because I received a copy from each parent. I’m fortunate that my mother’s DNA was able to be tested before she passed away.

We see that each copy of chromosome 20 is a total of 110.20 cM long with 17,695 SNPs.

Of course, my mother inherited the DNA on her chromosome 20 from multiple ancestors whose DNA combined in her parents, a portion of which was inherited by my mother. Mom received one chromosome from each of her parents.

I inherited only one copy of each chromosome (In this case, chromosome 20) from Mom, so the DNA of her two parents was divided and recombined so that I inherited a portion of my maternal chromosome 20 from both of my maternal grandparents.

Identifying Maternal and Paternal Matches

Associating matches with your maternal or paternal side is easy at FamilyTreeDNA because their Family Finder matching does it automatically for you if you upload (or create) a tree and link matches that you can identify to their proper place in your tree.

FamilyTreeDNA then uses that matching segment information from known, identified relatives in your tree to place people who match you both on at least one significant-sized segment in the correct maternal, paternal, (or both) buckets. That’s triangulation, and it happens automatically. All you have to do is click on the Maternal tab to view your triangulated maternal matches. As you can see, I have 1432 matches identified as maternal. 

Some other DNA testing companies and third-party tools provide segment information and various types of triangulation information, but they aren’t automated for your entire match list like Family Finder matching at FamilyTreeDNA.

You can read about triangulation in action at MyHeritage, here, 23andMe, here, GEDmatch, here, and DNAPainter, which we’ll use, here. Genetic Affairs AutoKinship tool incorporates triangulation, as does their AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch. I’ve compiled a reference resource for triangulation, here.

Every DNA testing vendor has people in their database that haven’t tested anyplace else. Your best strategy for finding nested segments and identifying matches to specific ancestors is to test at or transfer your DNA file to every vendor plus GEDmatch where people who test at Ancestry sometimes upload for matching. Ancestry does not provide segment information or a chromosome browser so you’ll sometimes find Ancestry testers have uploaded to GEDmatch, FamilyTreeDNA  or MyHeritage where segment information is readily available. I’ve created step-by-step download/upload instructions for all vendors, here.

Generation 2 – Grandparents

In the second generation, meaning that of my grandparents, I inherited portions of my maternal and paternal grandmother’s and grandfather’s chromosomes.

My maternal and paternal chromosomes can be divided into two pieces or groups each, one for each grandparent.

Using DNAPainter, we can see my father’s chromosome 20 on top and my mother’s on the bottom. I have previously identified segments assigned to specific ancestors which are represented by different colors on these chromosomes. You can read more about how to use DNAPainter, here.

We can divide the DNA inherited from each parent into the DNA inherited from each grandparent based on the trees of people we match. If we test cousins from each side, assigning segments maternally or paternally becomes much, much easier. That’s exactly why I’ve tested several.

For the rest of this article, I’m focusing only on my mother’s side because the concepts and methods are the same regardless of whether you’re working on your maternal side or your paternal side.

Using DNAPainter, I expanded my mother’s chromosome 20 in order to see all of the people I’ve painted on my mother’s side.

DNAPainter allows us to paint matching segments from multiple testing vendors and assign them to specific ancestors as we identify common ancestors with our matches.

Based on these matches, I’ve divided these maternal matches into two categories:

  • Maternal grandmother, meaning my mother’s mother, bracketed in red boxes
  • Maternal grandfather, meaning my mother’s father, bracketed in black boxes.

The text and arrows in these graphics refer to the colors of the brackets/boxes, and NOT the colors of the segments beside people’s names. For example, if you look at the large black box at far right, you’ll see several people, with their matching segments identified by multiple colored bars. The different colored segments (bars) mean I’ve associated the match with different ancestors in multiple or various levels of generations.

Generation 3 – Great-grandparents

Within those maternal and paternal grandparent segments, more nested information is available.

The black Ferverda grandfather segments are further divided into black, from Hiram Ferverda, and gold from his wife Eva Miller. The same concept applies to the red grandmother segments which are now divided into red representing Nora Kirsch and purple representing Curtis Lore, her husband.

While I have only been able to assign the first four segments (at the top) to one person/ancestor, there’s an entire group of matches who share the grouping of segments at right, in gold, descended through Eva Miller. The Miller line is Brethren and Mennonite with lots of testers, so this is a common pattern in my DNA matches.

Eva Miller, the gold ancestor, has two parents, Margaret Elizabeth Lentz and John David Miller, so her segments would come from those two sides.

Generation 4 and 5 – Fuschia Segment

I was able to track the segment shown in fuschia indicated by the blue arrow to Jacob Lentz and his wife Fredericka Ruhle, German immigrant ancestors. Other people in this same match (triangulation) group descend from Margaret Elizabeth Lentz and John David Miller – but that fuschia match is the one that shows us where that segment originated. This allows us to assign that entire gold/blue bracketed set of segments to a specific ancestor or ancestral couple because they triangulate, meaning they all match me and each other.

Therefore, all of the segments that match with the fuschia segment also track back to Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle, or to their ancestors. We would need people who descend from Jacob’s parents and/or Fredericka’s parents to determine the origins of that segment.

In other words, we know all of these people share a common source of that segment, even if we don’t yet know exactly who that common ancestor was or when they lived. That’s what the process of tracking back discovers.

To be very clear, I received that segment through Jacob and Fredericka, but some of those matches who I have not been able to associate with either Jacob or Fredericka may descend from either Jacob or Fredericka’s ancestors, not Jacob and Fredericka themselves. Connecting the dots between Jacob/Fredericka and their ancestors may be enlightening as to the even older source of that segment.

Let’s take a look at nested segments on my pedigree chart.

Nested Pedigree

Click to enlarge.

You can see the progression of nesting on my pedigree chart, using the same colors for the brackets/boxes. The black Ferverda box at the grandparent level encompasses the entire paternal side of my mother’s ancestry, and the red includes her mother’s entire side. This is identical to the DNAPainter graphic, just expressed on my pedigree chart instead of my chromosome 20.

Then the black gets broken into smaller nested segments of black, gold and fuschia, while the red gets broken into red and purple.

If I had more matches that could be assigned to ancestors, I would have even more nested levels. Of course, if I was using all of my chromosomes, not just 20, I would be able to go back further as well.

You can see that as we move further back in time, the bracketed areas assigned to each color become smaller and smaller, as do the actual segments as viewed on my DNAPainter chromosomes.

Segments Get Progressively Smaller

You can see in the pedigree chart and segment painting above that the segments we inherit from specific ancestors divide over time. As we move further and further back in our tree, the segments inherited from any specific ancestor get smaller and smaller too.

Dr. Paul Maier in the MyOrigins 3.0 White Paper provides this informative graphic that shows the reduction in segments and the number of ancestors whose DNA we carry reaching back in time.

I refer to this as a porcupine chart.

Eventually, we inherit no segments from red ancestors, and the pieces of DNA that we inherit from the distant blue ancestors become so small and fragmented that they cannot be positively identified as coming from a specific ancestor when compared to and matched with other people. That’s why vendors don’t show small segment matches, although different vendors utilize different segment thresholds.

The debate about how small is too small continues, but the answer is not simply segment size alone. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

As segments become smaller, the probability, or chances that we match another person by chance (IBC) increases. Proof that someone shares a specific ancestor, especially when dealing with increasingly smaller segments is a function of multiple factors, such as tree completeness for both people, shared matches, parental match confirmation, and more. I wrote about What Constitutes Proof, here.

In the Family Finder Matching White Paper, Dr. Maier provides this chart reflecting IBD (Identical By Descent) and IBC (Identical By Chance) segments and the associated false positivity rate. That means how likely you are to match someone on a segment of that size by chance and NOT because you both share the DNA from a common ancestor.

I wrote Concepts: Identical by Descent, State, Population and Chance to help you better understand how this works.

In the chart below, I’ve combined the generations, relationships, # of ancestors, assuming no duplicates, birth year range based on an approximate 30-year generation, percent of DNA assuming exactly half of each ancestor’s DNA descends in each generation (which we know isn’t exactly accurate), and the average amount of total inherited cMs using that same assumption.

Note that beginning with the 7th generation, on average, we can expect to inherit less than 1% of the DNA of an ancestor, or approximately 55 total cM which may be inherited in multiple segments.

The amount of actual cMs inherited in each generation can vary widely and explains why, beginning with third cousins, some people won’t share DNA from a common ancestor above the various vendor matching thresholds. Yet, other cousins several generations removed will match. Inheritance is random.

Parallel Inheritance

In order to match someone else descended from that 11th generation ancestor, BOTH you AND your match will need to have inherited the exact SAME DNA segment, across 11 generations EACH in order to match. This means that 11 transmission events for each person will need to have taken place in parallel with that identical segment being passed from parent to child in each line. For 22 rolls of the genetic dice in a row, the same segment gets selected to be passed on.

You can see why we all need to work to prove that distant matches are valid.

The further back in time we work, the more factors we must take into consideration, and the more confirming proof is needed that a match with another individual is a result of a shared ancestor.

Having said that, shared distant matches ARE the key to breaking through brick-wall ancestors. We just need to be sure we are chasing the real deal and not a red herring.

Exciting Possibilities

The most exciting possibility is that some segments are actually passed intact for several generations, meaning those segments don’t divide into segments too small for matching.

For example, the 22 cM fuschia segment that tracks through generations 4 and 5 to Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Ruhle has been passed either intact or nearly intact to all of those people who stack up and match each other and me on that segment. 22 cM is definitely NOT a small segment and we know that it descended from either Jacob or Fredericka, or perhaps combined segments from each. In any case, if someone from the Lentz line in Germany tested and matched me on that segment (and by inference, the rest of these people too), we would know that segment descended to me from Jacob Lentz – or at least the part we match on if we don’t match on the entire segment.

This is exactly what nested segments are…breadcrumbs to ancestors.

Part of that 22cM segment could be descended from Jacob and part from Fredericka. Then of Jacob’s portion, for example, pieces could descend from both his mother and father.

This is why we track individual segments back in time to discern their origin.

The Promise of the Future

The promise of the future is when a group of other people triangulate on a reasonably sized segment AND know where it came from. When we match that triangulation group, their identified segment may well help break down our brick walls because we match all of them on that same segment.

It is exactly this technique that has helped me identify a Womack segment on my paternal line. I still haven’t identified our common ancestor, but I have confirmed that the Womacks and my Moore/Rice family interacted as neighbors 8 generations ago and likely settled together in Amelia county, migrating from eastern Virginia. In time, perhaps I’ll be able to identify the common Womack ancestor and the link into either my Moore or Rice lines.

I’m hoping for a similar breakthrough on my mother’s side for Philip Jacob Miller’s wife, Magdalena, 7 generations back in my tree. We know Magdalena was Brethren and where they lived when they took up housekeeping. We don’t know who her parents were. However, there are thousands of Miller descendants, so it’s possible that eventually, we will be able to break down that brick wall by using nested segments – ours and people who descend from Magdalena’s siblings, aunts, and uncles.

Whoever those people were, at least some of their descendants will likely match me and/or my cousins on at least one nested Miller segment that will be the same segment identified to their ancestors.

Genealogy is a team sport and solving puzzles using nested segments requires that someone out there is working on identifying triangulated segments that track to their common ancestors – which will be my ancestors too. I have my fingers crossed that someone is working on that triangulation group and I find them or they find me. Of course, I’m working to triangulate and identify my segments to specific ancestors – hoping for a meeting in the middle – that much-desired bridge to the past.

By the time you’ve run out of other records, nested segments are your last chance to identify those elusive ancestors. 

Do you have genealogical brick walls that nested segments could solve?

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A Triangulation Checklist Born From the Question; “Why NOT Use Close Relatives for Triangulation?”

One of my readers asked why we don’t use close relatives for triangulation.

This is a great question because not using close relatives for triangulation seems counter-intuitive.

I used to ask my kids and eventually my students and customers if they wanted the quick short answer or the longer educational answer.

The short answer is “because close relatives are too close to reliably form the third leg of the triangle.” Since you share so much DNA with close relatives, someone matching you who is identical by chance can also match them for exactly the same reason.

If you trust me and you’re good with that answer, wonderful. But I hope you’ll keep reading because there’s so much to consider, not to mention a few gotchas. I’ll share my methodology, techniques, and workarounds.

We’ll also discuss absolutely wonderful ways to utilize close relatives in the genetic genealogical process – just not for triangulation.

At the end of this article, I’ve provided a working triangulation checklist for you to use when evaluating your matches.

Let’s go!

The Step-by-Step Educational Answer😊

Some people see “evidence” they believe conflicts with the concept that you should not use close relatives for triangulation. I understand that, because I’ve gone down that rathole too, so I’m providing the “educational answer” that explains exactly WHY you should not use close relatives for triangulation – and what you should do.

Of course, we need to answer the question, “Who actually are close relatives?”

I’ll explain the best ways to best utilize close relatives in genetic genealogy, and why some matches are deceptive.

You’ll need to understand the underpinnings of DNA inheritance and also of how the different vendors handle DNA matching behind the scenes.

The purpose of autosomal DNA triangulation is to confirm that a segment is passed down from a particular ancestor to you and a specific set of your matches.

Triangulation, of course, implies 3, so at least three people must all match each other on a reasonably sized portion of the same DNA segment for triangulation to occur.

Matching just one person only provides you with one path to that common ancestor. It’s possible that you match that person due to a different ancestor that you aren’t aware of, or due to chance recombination of DNA.

It’s possible that your or your match inherited part of that DNA from your maternal side and part from your paternal side, meaning that you are matching that other person’s DNA by chance.

I wrote about identical by descent (IBD), which is an accurate genealogically meaningful match, and identical by chance (IBC) which is a false match, in the article Concepts – Identical by…Descent, State, Population and Chance.

I really want you to understand why close relatives really shouldn’t be used for triangulation, and HOW close relative matches should be used, so we’re going to discuss all of the factors that affect and influence this topic – both the obvious and little-understood.

  • Legitimate Matches
  • Inheritance and Triangulation
  • Parental Cross-Matching
  • Parental Phasing
  • Automatic Phasing at FamilyTreeDNA
  • Parental Phasing Caveats
  • Pedigree Collapse
  • Endogamy
  • How Many Identical-by-Chance Matches Will I Have?
  • DNA Doesn’t Skip Generations (Seriously, It Doesn’t)
  • Your Parents Have DNA That You Don’t (And How to Use It)
  • No DNA Match Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Related
  • Imputation
  • Ancestry Issues and Workarounds
  • Testing Close Relatives is VERY Useful – Just Not for Triangulation
  • Triangulated Matches
  • Building Triangulation Evidence – Ingredients and a Recipe
  • Aunts/Uncles
  • Siblings
  • How False Positives Work and How to Avoid Them
  • Distant Cousins Are Best for Triangulation & Here’s Why
  • Where Are We? A Triangulation Checklist for You!
  • The Bottom Line

Don’t worry, these sections are logical and concise. I considered making this into multiple articles, but I really want it in one place for you. I’ve created lots of graphics with examples to help out.

Let’s start by dispelling a myth.

DNA Doesn’t Skip Generations!

Recently, someone emailed to let me know that they had “stopped listening to me” in a presentation when I said that if a match did not also match one of your parents, it was a false match. That person informed me that they had worked on their tree for three years at Ancestry and they have “proof” of DNA skipping generations.

Nope, sorry. That really doesn’t happen, but there are circumstances when a person who doesn’t understand either how DNA works, or how the vendor they are using presents DNA results could misunderstand or misinterpret the results.

You can watch my presentation, RootsTech session, DNA Triangulation: What, Why and How, for free here. I’m thrilled that this session is now being used in courses at two different universities.

DNA really doesn’t skip generations. You CANNOT inherit DNA that your parents didn’t have.

Full stop.

Your children cannot inherit DNA from you that you don’t carry. If you don’t have that DNA, your children and their descendants can’t have it either, at least not from you. They of course do inherit DNA from their other parent.

I think historically, the “skipping generations” commentary was connected to traits. For example, Susie has dimples (or whatever) and so did her maternal grandmother, but her mother did not, so Susie’s dimples were said to have “skipped a generation.” Of course, we don’t know anything about Susie’s other grandparents, if Susie’s parents share ancestors, recessive/dominant genes or even how many genetic locations are involved with the inheritance of “dimples,” but I digress.

DNA skipping generations is a fallacy.

You cannot legitimately match someone that your parent does not, at least not through that parent’s side of the tree.

But here’s the caveat. You can’t match someone one of your parents doesn’t with the rare exception of:

  • Relatively recent pedigree collapse that occurs when you have the same ancestors on both sides of your tree, meaning your parents are related, AND
  • The process of recombination just happened to split and recombine a segment of DNA in segments too small for your match to match your parents individually, but large enough when recombined to match you.

We’ll talk about that more in a minute.

However, the person working with Ancestry trees can’t make this determination because Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information. Ancestry also handles DNA differently than other vendors, which we’ll also discuss shortly.

We’ll review all of this, but let’s start at the beginning and explain how to determine if our matches are legitimate, or not.

Legitimate Matches

Legitimate matches occur when the DNA of your ancestor is passed from that ancestor to their descendants, and eventually to you and a match in an unbroken pathway.

Unbroken means that every ancestor between you and that ancestor carried and then passed on the segment of the ancestor’s DNA that you carry today. The same is true for your match who carries the same segment of DNA from your common ancestor.

False positive matches occur when the DNA of a male and female combine randomly to look like a legitimate match to someone else.

Thankfully, there are ways to tell the difference.

Inheritance and Triangulation

Remember, you inherit two copies of each of your chromosomes 1-22, one copy from your mother and one from your father. You inherit half of the DNA that each parent carries, but it’s mixed together in you so the labs can’t readily tell which nucleotide, A, C, T, or G you received from which parent. I’m showing your maternal and paternal DNA in the graphic below, stacked neatly together in a column – but in reality, it could be AC in one position and CA in the next.

For matching all that matters is the nucleotide that matches your match is present in one of those two locations. In this case, A for your mother’s side and C for your father’s side. If you’re interested, you can read more about that in the article, Hit a Genealogy Home Run Using Your Double-Sided Two-Faced Chromosomes While Avoiding Imposters.

You can see in this example that you inherited all As from your Mom and all Cs from your Dad.

  • A legitimate maternal match would match you on all As on this particular example segment.
  • A legitimate paternal match would match you on all Cs on this particular segment.
  • A false positive match will match you on some random combination of As and Cs that make it look like they match you legitimately, but they don’t.
  • A false positive match will NOT match either your mother or your father.

To be very clear, technically a false positive match DOES match your DNA – but they don’t match your DNA because you share a common ancestor with your match. They match you because random recombination on their side causes you to match each other by chance.

In other words, if part of your DNA came from your Mom’s side and part from your Dad’s but it randomly fell in the correct positional order, you’d still match someone whose DNA was from only their mother or father’s side. That’s exactly the situation shown above and below.

Looking at our example again, it’s evident that your identical by chance (IBC) match’s A locations (1, 3, 5, 7 & 9) will match your Mom. C locations (2, 4, 6 8, & 10) will match your Dad, but the nonmatching segments interleaved in-between that match alternating parents will prevent your match from matching either of your parents. In other words, out of 10 contiguous locations in our example, your IBC match has 5 As alternated with 5 Cs, so they won’t match either of your parents who have 10 As or 10 Cs in a row.

This recombination effect can work in either direction. Either or both matching people’s DNA could be randomly mixed causing them to match each other, but not their parents.

Regardless of whose DNA is zigzagging back and forth between maternal and paternal, the match is not genealogical and does not confirm a common ancestor.

This is exactly why triangulation works and is crucial.

If you legitimately match a third person, shown below, on your maternal side, they will match you, your first legitimate maternal match, and your Mom because they carry all As. But they WON’T match the person who is matching you because they are identical by chance, shown in grey below.

The only person your identical by chance match matches in this group is you because they match you because of the chance recombination of parental DNA.

That third person WILL also match all other legitimate maternal matches on this segment.

In the graphic above, we see that while the grey identical by chance person matches you because of the random combination of As from your mother and Cs from your father, your legitimate maternal matches won’t match your identical by chance match.

This is the first step in identifying false matches.

Parental Cross-Matching

Removing the identical by chance match, and adding in the parents of your legitimate maternal match, we see that your maternal match, above, matches you because you both have all As inherited from one parent, not from a combination of both parents.

We know that because we can see the DNA of both parents of both matches in this example.

The ideal situation occurs when two people match and they have both had their parents tested. We need to see if each person matches the other person’s parents.

We can see that you do NOT match your match’s father and your match does NOT match your father.

You do match your match’s mother and your match does match your mother. I refer to this as Parental Cross-matching.

Your legitimate maternal matches will also match each other and your mother if she is available for testing.

All the people in yellow match each other, while the two parents in gray do not match any of your matches. An entire group of legitimate maternal matches on this segment, no matter how many, will all match each other.

If another person matches you and the other yellow people, you’ll still need to see if you match their parents, because if not, that means they are matching you on all As because their two parents DNA combined just happened, by chance, to contribute an A in all of those positions.

In this last example, your new match, in green, matches you, your legitimate match and both of your mothers, BUT, none of the four yellow people match either of the new match’s parents. You can see that the new green match inherited their As from the DNA of their mother and father both, randomly zigzagging back and forth.

The four yellow matches phase parentally as we just proved with cross matching to parents. The new match at first glance appears to be a legitimate match because they match all of the yellow people – but they aren’t because the yellow people don’t match the green person’s parents.

To tell the difference between legitimate matches and identical by chance matches, you need two things, in order.

  • Parental matching known as parental phasing along with parental cross-matching, if possible, AND
  • Legitimate identical by descent (IBD) triangulated matches

If you have the ability to perform parental matching, called phasing, that’s the easiest first step in eliminating identical by chance matches. However, few match pairs will have parents for everyone. You can use triangulation without parental phasing if parents aren’t available.

Let’s talk about both, including when and how close relatives can and cannot be used.

Parental Phasing

The technique of confirming your match to be legitimate by your match also matching one of your parents is called parental phasing.

If we have the parents of both people in a match pair available for matching, we can easily tell if the match does NOT match either parent. That’s Parental Cross Matching. If either match does NOT match one of the other person’s parents, the match is identical by chance, also known as a false positive.

See how easy that was!

If you, for example, is the only person in your match pair to have parents available, then you can parentally phase the match on your side if your match matches your parents. However, because your match’s parents are unavailable, your match to them cannon tbe verified as legitimate on their side. So you are not phased to their parents.

If you only have one of your parents available for matching, and your match does not match that parent, you CANNOT presume that because your match does NOT match that parent, the match is a legitimate match for the other, missing, parent.

There are four possible match conditions:

  • Maternal match
  • Paternal match
  • Matches neither parent which means the match is identical by chance meaning a false positive
  • Matches both parents in the case of pedigree collapse or endogamy

If two matching people do match one parent of both matches (parental cross-matching), then the match is legitimate. In other words, if we match, I need to match one of your parents and you need to match one of mine.

It’s important to compare your matches’ DNA to generationally older direct family members such as parents or grandparents, if that’s possible. If your grandparents are available, it’s possible to phase your matches back another generation.

Automatic Phasing at FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA automatically phases your matches to your parents if you test that parent, create or upload a GEDCOM file, and link your test and theirs to your tree in the proper places.

FamilyTreeDNA‘s Family Matching assigns or “buckets” your matches maternally and paternally. Matches are assigned as maternal or paternal matches if one or both parents have tested.

Additionally, FamilyTreeDNA uses triangulated matches from other linked relatives within your tree even if your parents have not tested. If you don’t have your parents, the more people you identify and link to your tree in the proper place, the more people will be assigned to maternal and paternal buckets. FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor that does this. I wrote about this process in the article, Triangulation in Action at Family Tree DNA.

Parental Phasing Caveats

There are very rare instances where parental phasing may be technically accurate, but not genealogically relevant. By this, I mean that a parent may actually match one of your matches due to endogamy or a population level match, even if it’s considered a false positive because it’s not relevant in a genealogical timeframe.

Conversely, a parent may not match when the segment is actually legitimate, but it’s quite rare and only when pedigree collapse has occurred in a very specific set of circumstances where both parents share a common ancestor.

Let’s take a look at that.

Pedigree Collapse

It’s not terribly uncommon in the not-too-distant past to find first cousins marrying each other, especially in rather closely-knit religious communities. I encounter this in Brethren, Mennonite and Amish families often where the community was small and out-marrying was frowned upon and highly discouraged. These families and sometimes entire church congregations migrated cross-country together for generations.

When pedigree collapse is present, meaning the mother and father share a common ancestor not far in the past, it is possible to inherit half of one segment from Mom and the other half from Dad where those halves originated with the same ancestral couple.

For example, let’s say the matching segment between you and your match is 12 cM in length, shown below. You inherited the blue segment from your Dad and the neighboring peach segment from Mom – shown just below the segment numbers. You received 6 cM from both parents.

Another person’s DNA does match you, shown in the bottom row, but they are not shown on the DNA match list of either of your parents. That’s because the DNA segments of the parents just happened to recombine in 6 cM pieces, respectively, which is below the 7 cM matching threshold of the vendor in this example.

If the person matched you at 12 cM where you inherited 8 cM from one parent and 4 from the other, that person would show on one parent’s match list, but not the other. They would not be on the parent’s match list who contributed only 4 cM simply because the DNA divided and recombined in that manner. They would match you on a longer segment than they match your parent at 8 cM which you might notice as “odd.”

Let’s look at another example.

click to enlarge image

If the matching segment is 20 cM, the person will match you and both of your parents on different pieces of the same segment, given that both segments are above 7 cM. In this case, your match who matches you at 20 cM will match each of your parents at 10 cM.

You would be able to tell that the end location of Dad’s segment is the same as the start location of Mom’s segment.

This is NOT common and is NOT the “go to” answer when you think someone “should” match your parent and does not. It may be worth considering in known pedigree collapse situations.

You can see why someone observing this phenomenon could “presume” that DNA skipped a generation because the person matches you on segments where they don’t match your parent. But DNA didn’t skip anything at all. This circumstance was caused by a combination of pedigree collapse, random division of DNA, then random recombination in the same location where that same DNA segment was divided earlier. Clearly, this sequence of events is not something that happens often.

If you’ve uploaded your DNA to GEDmatch, you can select the “Are your parents related?” function which scans your DNA file for runs of homozygosity (ROH) where your DNA is exactly the same in both parental locations for a significant distance. This suggests that because you inherited the exact same sequence from both parents, that your parents share an ancestor.

If your parents didn’t inherit the same segment of DNA from both parents, or the segment is too short, then they won’t show as “being related,” even if they do share a common ancestor.

Now, let’s look at the opposite situation. Parental phasing and ROH sometimes do occur when common ancestors are far back in time and the match is not genealogically relevant.

Endogamy

I often see non-genealogical matching occur when dealing with endogamy. Endogamy occurs when an entire population has been isolated genetically for a long time. In this circumstance, a substantial part of the population shares common DNA segments because there were few original population founders. Much of the present-day population carries that same DNA. Many people within that population would match on that segment. Think about the Jewish community and indigenous Americans.

Consider our original example, but this time where much of the endogamous population carries all As in these positions because one of the original founders carried that nucleotide sequence. Many people would match lots of other people regardless of whether they are a close relative or share a distant ancestor.

People with endogamous lines do share relatives, but that matching DNA segment originated in ancestors much further back in time. When dealing with endogamy, I use parental phasing as a first step, if possible, then focus on larger matches, generally 20 cM or greater. Smaller matches either aren’t relevant or you often can’t tell if/how they are.

At FamilyTreeDNA, people with endogamy will find many people bucketed on the “Both” tab meaning they triangulate with people linked on both sides of the tester’s tree.

An example of a Jewish person’s bucketed matches based on triangulation with relatives linked in their tree is shown above.

Your siblings, their children, and your children will be related on both your mother’s and father’s sides, but other people typically won’t be unless you have experienced either pedigree collapse where you are related both maternally and paternally through the same ancestors or you descend from an endogamous population.

How Many Identical-by-Chance Matches Will I Have?

If you have both parents available to test, and you’re not dealing with either pedigree collapse or endogamy, you’ll likely find that about 15-20% of your matches don’t match your parents on the same segment and are identical by chance.

With endogamy, you’ll have MANY more matches on your endogamous lines and you’ll have some irrelevant matches, often referred to as “false positive” matches even though they technically aren’t, even using parental phasing.

Your Parents Have DNA That You Don’t

Sometimes people are confused when reviewing their matches and their parent’s match to the same person, especially when they match someone and their parent matches them on a different or an additional segment.

If you match someone on a specific segment and your parents do not, that’s a false positive FOR THAT SEGMENT. Every segment has its own individual history and should be evaluated individually. You can match someone on two segments, one from each parent. Or three segments, one from each parent and one that’s identical by chance. Don’t assume.

Often, your match will match both you and your parent on the same segment – which is a legitimate parentally phased match.

But what if your match matches your parent on a different segment where they don’t match you? That’s a false positive match for you.

Keep in mind that it is possible for one of your matches to match your parent on a separate or an additional segment that IS legitimate. You simply didn’t inherit that particular segment from your parent.

That’s NOT the same situation as someone matching you that does NOT match one of your parents on the same segment – which is an identical by chance or false match.

Your parent having a match that does not match you is the reverse situation.

I have several situations where I match someone on one segment, and they match my parent on the same segment. Additionally, that person matches my parent on another segment that I did NOT inherit from that parent. That’s perfectly normal.

Remember, you only inherit half of your parent’s DNA, so you literally did NOT inherit the other half of their DNA. Your mother, for example, should have twice as many matches as you on her side because roughly half of her matches won’t match you.

That’s exactly why testing your parents and close family members is so critical. Their matches are as valid and relevant to your genealogy as your own. The same is true for other relatives, such as aunts and uncles with whom you share ALL of the same ancestors.

You need to work with your family member’s matches that you don’t share.

No DNA Match Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Related

Some people think that not matching someone on a DNA test is equivalent to saying they aren’t related. Not sharing DNA doesn’t mean you’re not related.

People are often disappointed when they don’t match someone they think they should and interpret that to mean that the testing company is telling them they “aren’t related.” They are upset and take issue with this characterization. But that’s not what it means.

Let’s analyze this a bit further.

First, not sharing DNA with a second cousin once removed (2C1R) or more distant does NOT mean you’re NOT related to that person. It simply means you don’t share any measurable DNA ABOVE THE VENDOR THRESHOLD.

All known second cousins match, but about 10% of third cousins don’t match, and so forth on up the line with each generation further back in time having fewer cousins that match each other.

If you have tested close relatives, check to see if that cousin matches your relatives.

Second, it’s possible to match through the “other” or unexpected parent. I certainly didn’t think this would be the case in my family, because my father is from Appalachia and my mother’s family is primarily from the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, and New England. But I was wrong.

All it took was one German son that settled in Appalachia, and voila, a match through my mother that I surely thought should have been through my father’s side. I have my mother’s DNA and sure enough, my match that I thought should be on my father’s side matches Mom on the same segment where they match me, along with several triangulated matches. Further research confirmed why.

I’ve also encountered situations where I legitimately match someone on both my mother’s and father’s side, on different segments.

Third, imputation can be important for people who don’t match and think they should. Imputation can also cause matching segment length to be overreported.

Ok, so what’s imputation and why do I care?

Imputation

Every DNA vendor today has to use some type of imputation.

Let me explain, in general, what imputation is and why vendors use it.

Over the years, DNA processing vendors who sell DNA chips to testing companies have changed their DNA chips pretty substantially. While genealogical autosomal tests test about 700,000 DNA locations, plus or minus, those locations have changed over time. Today, some of these chips only have 100,000 or so chip locations in common with chips either currently or previously utilized by other vendors.

The vendors who do NOT accept uploads, such as 23andMe or Ancestry, have to develop methods to make their newest customers on their DNA processing vendor’s latest chip compatible with their first customer who was tested on their oldest chip – and all iterations in-between.

Vendors who do accept transfers/uploads from other vendors have to equalize any number of vendors’ chips when their customers upload those files.

Imputation is the scientific way to achieve this cross-platform functionality and has been widely used in the industry since 2017.

Imputation, in essence, fills in the blanks between tested locations with the “most likely” DNA found in the human population based on what’s surrounding the blank location.

Think of the word C_T. There are a limited number of letters and words that are candidates for C_T. If you use the word in a sentence, your odds of accuracy increase dramatically. Think of a genetic string of nucleotides as a sentence.

Imputation can be incorrect and can cause both false positive and false negative matches.

For the most part, imputation does not affect close family matches as much as more distant matches. In other words, imputation is NOT going to cause close family members not to match.

Imputation may cause more distant family members not to match, or to have a false positive match when imputation is incorrect.

Imputation is actually MUCH less problematic than I initially expected.

The most likely effect of imputation is to cause a match to be just above or below the vendor threshold.

How can we minimize the effects of imputation?

  • Generally, the best result will be achieved if both people test at the same vendor where their DNA is processed on the same chip and less imputation is required.
  • Upload the results of both people to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA. If your match results are generally consistent at those vendors, imputation is not a factor.
  • GEDmatch does not use imputation but attempts to overcome files with low overlapping regions by allowing larger mismatch areas. I find their matches to be less accurate than at the various vendors.

Additionally, Ancestry has a few complicating factors.

Ancestry Issues

AncestryDNA is different in three ways.

  • Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information so it’s impossible to triangulate or identify the segment or chromosome where people match. There is no chromosome browser or triangulation tool.
  • Ancestry down-weights and removes some segments in areas where they feel that people are “too matchy.” You can read Ancestry’s white papers here and here.

These “personal pileup regions,” as they are known, can be important genealogically. In my case, these are my mother’s Acadian ancestors. Yes, this is an endogamous population and also suffers from pedigree collapse, but since this is only one of my mother’s great-grandparents, this match information is useful and should not be removed.

  • Ancestry doesn’t show matches in common if the shared segments are less than 20cM. Therefore, you may not see someone on a shared match list with a relative when they actually are a shared match.

If two people both match a third person on less than a 20 cM segment at Ancestry, the third person won’t appear on the other person’s shared match list. So, if I match John Doe on 19 cM of DNA, and I looked at the shared matches with my Dad, John Doe does NOT appear on the shared match list of me and my Dad – even though he is a match to both of us at 19 cM.

The only way to determine if John Doe is a shared match is to check my Dad’s and my match list individually, which means Dad and I will need to individually search for John Doe.

Caveat here – Ancestry’s search sometimes does not work correctly.

Might someone who doesn’t understand that the shared match list doesn’t show everyone who shares DNA with both people presume that the ancestral DNA of that ancestor “skipped a generation” because John Doe matches me with a known ancestor, and not Dad on our shared match list? I mean, wouldn’t you think that a shared match would be shown on a tab labeled “Shared Matches,” especially since there is no disclaimer?

Yes, people can be forgiven for believing that somehow DNA “skipped” a generation in this circumstance, especially if they are relatively inexperienced and they don’t understand Ancestry’s anomalies or know that they need to or how to search for matches individually.

Even if John Doe does match me and Dad both, we still need to confirm that it’s on the same segment AND it’s a legitimate match, not IBC. You can’t perform either of these functions at Ancestry, but you can elsewhere.

Ancestry WorkArounds

To obtain this functionality, people can upload their DNA files for free to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage, companies that do provide full shared DNA reporting (in common with) lists of ALL matches and do provide segment information with chromosome browsers. Furthermore, both provide triangulation in different ways.

Matching is free, but an inexpensive unlock is required at both vendors to access advanced tools such as Family Matching (bucketing) and triangulation at Family Tree DNA and phasing/triangulation at MyHeritage.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at FamilyTreeDNA, here.

MyHeritage actually brackets triangulated segments for customers on their chromosome browser, including parents, so you get triangulation and parental phasing at the same time if you and your parent have both tested or uploaded your DNA file to MyHeritage. You can upload, for free, here.

In this example, my mother is matching to me in red on the entire length of chromosome 18, of course, and three other maternal cousins triangulate with me and mother inside the bracketed portion of chromosome 18. Please note that if any one of the people included in the chromosome browser comparison do not triangulate, no bracket is drawn around any others who do triangulate. It’s all or nothing. I remove people one by one to see if people triangulate – or build one by one with my mother included.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at MyHeritage, here.

People can also upload to GEDmatch, a third-party site. While GEDmatch is less reliable for matching, you can adjust your search thresholds which you cannot do at other vendors. I don’t recommend routinely working below 7 cM. I occasionally use GEDmatch to see if a pedigree collapse segment has recombined below another vendor’s segment matching threshold.

Do NOT check the box to prevent hard breaks when selecting the One-to-One comparison. Checking that box allows GEDmatch to combine smaller matching segments into mega-segments for matching.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at GEDmatch, here.

Transferring/Uploading Your DNA 

If you want to transfer your DNA to one of these vendors, you must download the DNA file from one vendor and upload it to another. That process does NOT remove your DNA file from the vendor where you tested, unless you select that option entirely separately.

I wrote full step-by-step transfer/upload instructions for each vendor, here.

Testing Close Relatives Is VERY Useful – Just Not for Triangulation

Of course, your best bet if you don’t have your parents available to test is to test as many of your grandparents, great-aunts/uncles, aunts, and uncles as possible. Test your siblings as well, because they will have inherited some of the same and some different segments of DNA from your parents – which means they carry different pieces of your ancestors’ DNA.

Just because close relatives don’t make good triangulation candidates doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. Close relatives are golden because when they DO share a match with you, you know where to start looking for a common ancestor, even if your relative matches that person on a different segment than you do.

Close relatives are also important because they will share pieces of your common ancestor’s DNA that you don’t. Their matches can unlock the answers to your genealogy questions.

Ok, back to triangulation.

Triangulated Matches

A triangulated match is, of course, when three people all descended from a common ancestor and match each other on the same segment of DNA.

That means all three people’s DNA matches each other on that same segment, confirming that the match is not by chance, and that segment did descend from a common ancestor or ancestral couple.

But, is this always true? You’re going to hate this answer…

“It depends.”

You knew that was coming, didn’t you! 😊

It depends on the circumstances and relationships of the three people involved.

  • One of those three people can match the other two by chance, not by descent, especially if two of those people are close relatives to each other.
  • Identical by chance means that one of you didn’t inherit that DNA from one single parent. That zigzag phenomenon.
  • Furthermore, triangulated DNA is only valid as far back as the closest common ancestor of any two of the three people.

Let’s explore some examples.

Building Triangulation Evidence – Ingredients and a Recipe

The strongest case of triangulation is when:

  • You and at least two additional cousins match on the same segment AND
  • Descend through different children of the common ancestral couple

Let’s look at a valid triangulated match.

In this first example, the magenta segment of DNA is at least partially shared by four of the six cousins and triangulates to their common great-grandfather. Let’s say that these cousins then match with two other people descended from different children of their great-great-great-grandparents on this same segment. Then the entire triangulation group will have confirmed that segment’s origin and push the descent of that segment back another two generations.

These people all coalesce into one line with their common great-grandparents.

I’m only showing 3 generations in this triangulated match, but the concept is the same no matter how many generations you reach back in time. Although, over time, segments inherited from any specific ancestor become smaller and smaller until they are no longer passed to the next generation.

In this pedigree chart, we’re only tracking the magenta DNA which is passed generation to generation in descendants.

Eventually, of course, those segments become smaller and indistinguishable as they either aren’t passed on at all or drop below vendor matching thresholds.

This chart shows the average amount of DNA you would carry from each generational ancestor. You inherit half of each parent’s DNA, but back further than that, you don’t receive exactly half of any ancestor’s DNA in any generation. Larger segments are generally cut in two and passed on partially, but smaller segments are often either passed on whole or not at all.

On average, you’ll carry 7 cM of your eight-times-great-grandparents. In reality, you may carry more or you may not carry any – and you are unlikely to carry the same segment as any random other descendants but we know it happens and you’ll find them if enough (or the right) descendants test.

Putting this another way, if you divide all of your approximate 7000 cM of DNA into 7 cM segments of equal length – you’ll have 1000 7 cM segments. So will every other descendant of your eight-times-great-grandparent. You can see how small the chances are of you both inheriting that same exact 7 cM segment through ten inheritance/transmission events, each. Yet it does happen.

I have several triangulated matches with descendants of Charles Dodson and his wife, Anne through multiple of their 9 (or so) children, ten generations back in my tree. Those triangulated matches range from 7-38 cM. It’s possible that those three largest matches at 38 cM could be related through multiple ancestors because we all have holes in our trees – including Anne’s surname.

Click to enlarge image

It helps immensely that Charles Dodson had several children who were quite prolific as well.

Of course, the further back in time, the more “proof” is necessary to eliminate other unknown common ancestors. This is exactly why matching through different children is important for triangulation and ancestor confirmation.

The method we use to confirm the common ancestor is that all of the descendants who match the tester on the same segment all also match each other. This greatly reduces the chances that these people are matching by chance. The more people in the triangulation group, the stronger the evidence. Of course, parental phasing or cross-matching, where available is an added confirmation bonus.

In our magenta inheritance example, we saw that three of the males and one of the females from three different descendants of the great-grandparents all carry at least a portion of that magenta segment of great-grandpa’s DNA.

Now, let’s take a look at a different scenario.

Why can’t siblings or close relatives be used as two of the three people needed for triangulation?

Aunts and Uncles

We know that the best way to determine if a match is valid is by parental phasing – your match also matching to one of your parents.

If both parents aren’t available, looking for close family matches in common with your match is the next hint that genealogists seek.

Let’s say that you and your match both match your aunt or uncle in common or their children.

You and your aunts or uncles matching DNA only pushes your common ancestor back to your grandparents.

At that point, your match is in essence matching to a segment that belongs to your grandparents. Your matches’ DNA, or your grandparents’ DNA could have randomly recombined and you and your aunt/cousins could be matching that third person by chance.

Ok, then, what about siblings?

Siblings

The most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of you and someone who also matches your sibling is your parents. Therefore, you and your sibling actually only count as one “person” in this scenario. In essence, it’s the DNA of your parent(s) that is matching that third person, so it’s not true triangulation. It’s the same situation as above with aunts/uncles, except the common ancestor is closer than your grandparents.

The DNA of your parents could have recombined in both siblings to look like a match to your match’s family. Or vice versa. Remember Parental Cross-Matching.

If you and a sibling inherited EXACTLY the same segment of your Mom’s and Dad’s DNA, and you match someone by chance – that person will match your sibling by chance as well.

In this example, you can see that both siblings 1 and 2 inherited the exact same segments of DNA at the same locations from both of their parents.

Of course, they also inherited segments at different locations that we’re not looking at that won’t match exactly between siblings, unless they are identical twins. But in this case, the inherited segments of both siblings will match someone whose DNA randomly combined with green or magenta dots in these positions to match a cross-section of both parents.

How False Positives Work and How to Avoid Them

We saw in our first example, displayed again above, what a valid triangulated match looks like. Now let’s expand this view and take a look more specifically at how false positive matches occur.

On the left-hand (blue) side of this graphic, we see four siblings that descend through their father from Great-grandpa who contributed that large magenta segment of DNA. That segment becomes reduced in descendants in subsequent generations.

In downstream generations, we can see gold, white and green segments being added to the DNA inherited by the four children from their ancestor’s spouses. Dad’s DNA is shown on the left side of each child, and Mom’s on the right.

  • Blue Children 1 and 2 inherited the same segments of DNA from Mom and Dad. Magenta from Dad and green from Mom.
  • Blue Child 3 inherited two magenta segments from Dad in positions 1 and 2 and one gold segment from Dad in position 3. They inherited all white segments from Mom.
  • Blue Child 4 inherited all gold segments from Dad and all white segments from Mom.

The family on the blue left-hand side is NOT related to the pink family shown at right. That’s important to remember.

I’ve intentionally constructed this graphic so that you can see several identical by chance (IBC) matches.

Child 5, the first pink sibling carries a white segment in position 1 from Dad and gold segments in positions 2 and 3 from Dad. From Mom, they inherited a green segment in position 1, magenta in position 2 and green in position 3.

IBC Match 1 – Looking at the blue siblings, we see that based on the DNA inherited from Pink Child 5’s parents, Pink Child 5 matches Blue Child 4 with white, gold and gold in positions 1-3, even though they weren’t inherited from the same parent in Blue Child 4. I circled this match in blue.

IBC Match 2 – Pink Child 5 also matches Blue Children 1 and 2 (red circles) because Pink Child 5 has green, magenta, and green in positions 1-3 and so do Blue Children 1 and 2. However, Blue Children 1 and 2 inherited the green and magenta segments from Mom and Dad respectively, not just from one parent.

Pink Child 5 matches Blue Children 1, 2 and 4, but not because they match by descent, but because their DNA zigzags back and forth between the blue children’s DNA contributed by both parents.

Therefore, while Pink Child 5 matches three of the Blue Children, they do not match either parent of the Blue Children.

IBC Match 3 – Pink Child 6 matches Blue Child 3 with white, magenta and gold in positions 1-3 based on the same colors of dots in those same positions found in Blue Child 3 – but inherited both paternally and maternally.

You can see that if we had the four parents available to test, that none of the Pink Children would match either the Blue Children’s mother or father and none of the Blue Children would match either of the Pink Children’s mother or father.

This is why we can’t use either siblings or close family relatives for triangulation.

Distant Cousins Are Best for Triangulation & Here’s Why

When triangulating with 3 people, the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) intersection of the closest two people is the place at which triangulation turns into only two lines being compared and ceases being triangulation. Triangle means 3.

If siblings are 2 of the 3 matching people, then their parents are essentially being compared to the third person.

If you, your aunt/uncle, and a third person match, your grandparents are the place in your tree where three lines converge into two.

The same holds true if you’re matching against a sibling pair on your match’s side, or a match and their aunt/uncle, etc.

The further back in your tree you can push that MRCA intersection, the more your triangulated match provides confirming evidence of a common ancestor and that the match is valid and not caused by random recombination.

That’s exactly what the descendants of Charles Dodson have been able to do through triangulation with multiple descendants from several of his children.

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that the reason autosomal DNA testing uses hundreds/thousands of base pairs in a comparison window and not 3 or 6 dots like in my example is that the probability of longer segments of DNA simply randomly matching by chance is reduced with length and SNP density which is the number of SNP locations tested within that cM range.

Hence a 7 cM/500 SNP minimum is the combined rule of thumb. At that level, roughly half of your matches will be valid and half will be identical by chance unless you’re dealing with endogamy. Then, raise your threshold accordingly.

Ok, So Where are We? A Triangulation Checklist for You!

I know this has been a relatively long educational article, but it’s important to really understand that testing close relatives is VERY important, but also why we can’t effectively use them for triangulation.

Here’s a handy-dandy summary matching/triangulation checklist for you to use as you work through your matches.

  • You inherit half of each of your parents’ DNA. There is no other place for you to obtain or inherit your DNA. There is no DNA fairy sprinkling you with DNA from another source:)
  • DNA does NOT skip generations, although in occasional rare circumstances, it may appear that this happened. In this situation, it’s incumbent upon you, the genealogist, to PROVE that an exception has occurred if you really believe it has. Those circumstances might be pedigree collapse or perhaps imputation. You’ll need to compare matches at vendors who provide a chromosome browser, triangulation, and full shared match list information. Never assume that you are the exception without hard and fast proof. We all know about assume, right?
  • Your siblings inherit half of your parents’ DNA too, but not the same exact half of your parent’s DNA that you other siblings did (unless they are identical twins.) You may inherit the exact same DNA from either or both of your parents on certain segments.
  • Your matches may match your parents on different or an additional segment that you did not inherit.
  • Every segment has an individual history. Evaluate every matching segment separately. One matching segment with someone could be maternal, one paternal, and one identical by chance.
  • You can confirm matches as valid if your match matches one of your parents, and you match one of your match’s parents. Parental Phasing is when your match matches your parent. Parental Cross-Matching is when you both match one of each other’s parents. To be complete, both people who match each other need to match one of the parents of the other person. This rule still holds even if you have a known common ancestor. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been fooled.
  • 15-20% (or more with endogamy) of your matches will be identical by chance because either your DNA or your match’s DNA aligns in such a way that while they match you, they don’t match either of your parents.
  • Your siblings, aunts, and uncles will often inherit the same DNA as you – which means that identical by chance matches will also match them. That’s why we don’t use close family members for triangulation. We do utilize close family members to generate common match hints. (Remember the 20 cM shared match caveat at Ancestry)
  • While your siblings, aunts, and uncles are too close to use for triangulation, they are wonderful to identify ancestral matches. Some of their matches will match you as well, and some will not because your close family members inherited segments of your ancestor’s DNA that you did not. Everyone should test their oldest family members.
  • Triangulate your close family member’s matches separately from your own to shed more light on your ancestors.
  • Endogamy may interfere with parental phasing, meaning you may match because you and/or your match may have inherited some of the same DNA segment(s) from both sides of your tree and/or more DNA than might otherwise be expected.
  • Pedigree collapse needs to be considered when using parental phasing, especially when the same ancestor appears on both sides of your family tree. You may share more DNA with a match than expected.
  • Conversely, with pedigree collapse, your match may not match your parents, or vice versa, if a segment happens to have recombined in you in a way that drops the matching segments of your parents beneath the vendor’s match threshold.
  • While you will match all of your second cousins, you will only match approximately 90% of your third cousins and proportionally fewer as your relationship reaches further back in time.
  • Not being a DNA match with someone does NOT mean you’re NOT related to them, unless of course, you’re a second cousin (2C) or closer. It simply means you don’t carry any common ancestral segments above vendor thresholds.
  • At 2C or closer, if you’re not a DNA match, other alternative situations need to be considered – including the transfer/upload of the wrong person’s DNA file.
  • Imputation, a scientific process required of vendors may interfere with matching, especially in more distant relatives who have tested on different platforms.
  • Imputation artifacts will be less obvious when people are more closely related, meaning closer relatives can be expected to match on more and larger segments and imputation errors make less difference.
  • Imputation will not cause close relatives, meaning 2C or closer, to not match each other.
  • In addition to not supporting segment matching information, Ancestry down-weights some segments, removes some matching DNA, and does not show shared matches below 20cM, causing some people to misinterpret their lack of common matches in various ways.
  • To resolve questions about matching issues at Ancestry, testers can transfer/upload their DNA files to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, and GEDmatch and look for consistent matches on the same segment. Start and end locations may vary to some extent between vendors, but the segment size should be basically in the same location and roughly the same size.
  • GEDmatch does not use imputation but allows larger non-matching segments to combine as a single segment which sometimes causes extremely “generous” matches. GEDmatch matching is less reliable than FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage, but you can adjust the matching thresholds.
  • The best situation for matching is for both people to test at the same vendor who supports and provides segment data and a chromosome browser such as 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, or MyHeritage.
  • Siblings cannot be used for triangulation because the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) between you and your siblings is your parents. Therefore, the “three” people in the triangulation group is reduced to two lines immediately.
  • Uncles and aunts should not be used for triangulation because the most recent common ancestors between you and your aunts and uncles are your grandparents.
  • Conversely, you should not consider triangulating with siblings and close family members of your matches as proof of an ancestral relationship.
  • A triangulation group of 3 people is only confirmation as far back as when two of those people’s lines converge and reach a common ancestor.
  • Identical by chance (IBC) matching occurs when DNA from the maternal and paternal sides are mixed positionally in the child to resemble a maternal/paternal side match with someone else.
  • Identical by chance DNA admixture (when compared to a match) could have occurred in your parents or grandparent’s generation, or earlier, so the further back in time that people in a triangulation group reach, the more reliable the triangulation group is likely to be.
  • The larger the segments and/or the triangulation group, the stronger the evidence for a specific confirmed common ancestor.
  • Early families with a very large number of descendants may have many matching and triangulated members, even 9 or 10 generations later.
  • While exactly 50% of each ancestor’s DNA is not passed in each generation, on average, you will carry 7 cM of your ancestors 10 generations back in your tree. However, you may carry more, or none.
  • The percentage of matching descendants decreases with each generation beyond great-grandparents.
  • The ideal situation for triangulation is a significant number of people, greater than three, who match on the same reasonably sized segment (7 cM/500 SNP or larger) and descend from the same ancestor (or ancestral couple) through different children whose spouses in descendant generations are not also related.
  • This means that tree completion is an important factor in match/triangulation reliability.
  • Triangulating through different children of the ancestral couple makes it significantly less likely that a different unknown common ancestor is contributing that segment of DNA – like an unknown wife in a descendant generation.

Whew!!!

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line.

  1. Don’t use close relatives to triangulate.
  2. Use parents for Parental Phasing.
  3. Use Parental Cross-Matching when possible.
  4. Use close relatives to look for shared common matches that may lead to triangulation possibilities.
  5. Triangulate your close relatives’ DNA in addition to your own for bonus genealogical information. They will match people that you don’t.
  6. For the most reliable triangulation results, use the most distant relatives possible, descended through different children of the common ancestral couple.
  7. Keep this checklist of best practices, cautions, and caveats handy and check the list as necessary when evaluating the strength of any match or triangulation group. It serves as a good reminder for what to check if something seems “off” or unusual.

Feel free to share and pass this article (and checklist) on to your genealogy buddies and matches as you explain triangulation and collaborate on your genealogy.

Have fun!!!

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Thank you so much.

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RootsTech Connect 2021: Comprehensive DNA Session List

I wondered exactly how many DNA sessions were at RootsTech this year and which ones are the most popular.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t easily view a list of all the sessions, so I made my own. I wanted to be sure to include every session, including Tips and Tricks and vendor sessions that might only be available in their booths. I sifted through every menu and group and just kept finding more and more buried DNA treasures in different places.

I’m sharing this treasure chest with you below. And by the way, this took an entire day, because I’ve listed the YouTube direct link AND how many views each session had amassed today.

Two things first.

RootsTech Sessions

As you know, RootsTech was shooting for TED talk format this year. Roughly 20-minute sessions. When everything was said and done, there were five categories of sessions:

  • Curated sessions are approximately 20-minute style presentations curated by RootsTech meaning that speakers had to submit. People whose sessions were accepted were encouraged to break longer sessions into a series of two or three 20-minute sessions.
  • Vendor booth videos could be loaded to their virtual boots without being curated by RootsTech, but curated videos by their employees could also be loaded in the vendor booths.
  • DNA Learning Center sessions were by invitation and provided by volunteers. They last generally between 10-20 minutes.
  • Tips and Tricks are also produced by volunteers and last from 1 to 15 minutes. They can be sponsored by a company and in some cases, smaller vendors and service providers utilized these to draw attention to their products and services.
  • 1-hour sessions tend to be advanced and not topics could be easily broken apart into a series.

Look at this amazing list of 129 DNA or DNA-related sessions that you can watch for free for the next year. Be sure to bookmark this article so you can refer back easily.

Please note that I started compiling this list for myself and I’ve shortened some of the session names. Then I realized that if I needed this, so do you.

Top 10 Most-Viewed Sessions

I didn’t know whether I should list these sessions by speaker name, or by the most views, so I’m doing a bit of both.

Drum roll please…

The top 10 most viewed sessions as of today are:

Speaker/Vendor Session Title Type Link Views
Libby Copeland How Home DNA Testing Has Redefined Family History Curated Session https://youtu.be/LsOEuvEcI4A 13,554
Nicole Dyer Organize Your DNA Matches in a Diagram Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/UugdM8ATTVo 6175
Roberta Estes DNA Triangulation: What, Why, and How 1 hour https://youtu.be/nIb1zpNQspY 6106
Tim Janzen Tracing Ancestral Lines in the 1700s Using DNA Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/bB7VJeCR6Bs 5866
Amy Williams Ancestor Reconstruction: Why, How, Tools Curated Session https://youtu.be/0D6lAIyY_Nk 5637
Drew Smith Before You Test Basics Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/wKhMRLpefDI 5079
Nicole Dyer How to Interpret a DNA Cluster Chart Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/FI4DaWGX8bQ 4982
Nicole Dyer How to Evaluate a ThruLines Hypothesis Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/ao2K6wBip7w 4823
Kimberly Brown Why Don’t I Match my Match’s Matches DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/A8k31nRzKpc 4593
Rhett Dabling, Diahan Southard Understanding DNA Ethnicity Results Curated Session https://youtu.be/oEt7iQBPfyM 4287

Libby Copeland must be absolutely thrilled. I noticed that her session was featured over the weekend in a highly prominent location on the RootsTech website.

Sessions by Speaker

The list below includes the English language sessions by speaker. I apologize for not being able to discern which non-English sessions are about DNA.

Don’t let a smaller number of views discourage you. I’ve watched a few of these already and they are great. I suspect that sessions by more widely-known speakers or ones whose sessions were listed in the prime-real estate areas have more views, but what you need might be waiting just for you in another session. You don’t have to pick and choose and they are all here for you in one place.

Speaker/Vendor Session Title Type Link Views
Alison Wilde SCREEN Method: A DNA Match Note System that Really Helps DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/WaNnh_v1rwE 791
Amber Brown Genealogist-on-Demand: The Help You Need on a Budget You Can Afford Curated Session https://youtu.be/9KjlD6GxiYs 256
Ammon Knaupp Pattern of Genetic Inheritance DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/Opr7-uUad3o 824
Amy Williams Ancestor Reconstruction: Why, How, Tools Curated Session https://youtu.be/0D6lAIyY_Nk 5637
Amy Williams Reconstructing Parent DNA and Analyzing Relatives at HAPI-DNA, Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/MZ9L6uPkKbo 1021
Amy Williams Reconstructing Parent DNA and Analyzing Relatives at HAPI-DNA, Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/jZBVVvJmnaU 536
Ancestry DNA Matches Curated Session https://youtu.be/uk8EKXLQYzs 743
Ancestry ThruLines Curated Session https://youtu.be/RAwimOgNgUE 1240
Ancestry Ancestry DNA Communities: Bringing New Discoveries to Your Family History Research Curated Session https://youtu.be/depeGW7QUzU 422
Andre Kearns Helping African Americans Trace Slaveholding Ancestors Using DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/mlnSU5UM-nQ 2211
Barb Groth I Found You: Methods for Finding Hidden Family Members Curated Session https://youtu.be/J93hxOe_KC8 1285
Beth Taylor DNA and Genealogy Basics DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/-LKgkIqFhL4 967
Beth Taylor What Do I Do With Cousin Matches? DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/LyGT9B6Mh00 1349
Beth Taylor Using DNA to Find Unknown Relatives DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/WGJ8IfuTETY 2166
David Ouimette I Am Adopted – How Do I Use DNA to Find My Parents? Curated Session https://youtu.be/-jpKgKMLg_M 365
Debbie Kennett Secrets and Surprises: Uncovering Family History Mysteries through DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/nDnrIWKmIuA 2899
Debbie Kennett Genetic Genealogy Meets CSI Curated Session https://youtu.be/sc-Y-RtpEAw 589
Diahan Southard What is a Centimorgan Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/uQcfhPU5QhI 2923
Diahan Southard Using the Shared cM Project DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/b66zfgnzL0U 3172
Diahan Southard Understanding Ethnicity Results DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/8nCMrf-yJq0 1587
Diahan Southard Problems with Shared Centimorgans DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/k7j-1yWwGcY 2494
Diahan Southard 4 Next Steps for Your DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/poRyCaTXvNg 3378
Diahan Southard Your DNA Questions Answered Curated Session https://youtu.be/uUlZh_VYt7k 3454
Diahan Southard You Can Do the DNA – We Can Help Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/V5VwNzcVGNM 763
Diahan Southard What is a DNA Match? Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/Yt_GeffWhC0 314
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips for DNA Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/WokgGVRjwvk 3348
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips for Y DNA Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/QyH69tk-Yiw 620
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips about mtDNA testing Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/6d-FNY1gcmw 2142
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips about Ethnicity Results Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/nZFj3zCucXA 1597
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips about Which DNA Test to Take Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/t–4R8H8q0U 2043
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips about When Your Matches Don’s Respond Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/LgHtM3nS60o 3009
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Using Known Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/z1SVq8ME42A 118
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: MRCA/DNA and the Paper Trail Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/JB0cVyk-Y4Q 80
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Start With Known Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/BSNhaQCNtAo 68
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Additional Tools Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/PqNPBLQSBGY 140
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Ancestry ThruLines Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/KWayyAO8p_c 335
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: MyHeritage Theory of Relativity Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/Et2TVholbAE 80
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Who to Test Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/GyWOO1XDh6M 111
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Genetics vs Genealogy Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/Vf0DC5eW_vA 294
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Centimorgan Definition Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/nQF935V08AQ 201
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Shared Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/AYcR_pB6xgA 233
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Case Study – Finding an MRCA Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/YnlA9goeF7w 256
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Why Use DNA Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/v-o4nhPn8ww 266
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Finding Known Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/n3N9CnAPr18 688
Diana Elder Using DNA Ethnicity Estimates in Your Research Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/aJgUK3TJqtA 1659
Diane Elder Using DNA in a Client Research Project to Solve a Family Mystery 1 hour https://youtu.be/ysGYV6SXxR8 1261
Donna Rutherford DNA and the Settlers of Taranaki, New Zealand Curated Session https://youtu.be/HQxFwie4774 214
Drew Smith Before You Test Basics Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/wKhMRLpefDI 5079
Drew Smith Before You Test Basics Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/Dopx04UHDpo 2769
Drew Smith Before You Test Basics Part 3 Curated Session https://youtu.be/XRd2IdtA-Ng 2360
Elena Fowler Whakawhanaungatanga Using DNA – It’s Complicated (Māori heritage) Curated Session https://youtu.be/6XTPMzVnUd8 470
Elena Fowler Whakawhanaungatanga Using DNA – FamilyTreeDNA (Māori heritage) Curated Session https://youtu.be/fM85tt5ad3A 269
Elena Fowler Whakawhanaungatanga Using DNA – Ancestry (Māori heritage) Curated Session https://youtu.be/-byO6FOfaH0 191
Esmee Mortimer-Taylor Living DNA: Anathea Ring – Her Story Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/MTE4UFKyLRs 189
Esmee Mortimer-Taylor Living DNA: Coretta Scott King Academy – DNA Results Reveal Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/CK1EYcuhqmc 82
Fonte Felipe Ethnic Filters and DNA Matches: The Way Forward to Finding Your Lineage Curated Session https://youtu.be/mt2Rv2lpj7o 553
FTDNA – Janine Cloud Big Y: What is it? Why Do I Need It? Curated Session https://youtu.be/jiDcjWk4cVI 2013
FTDNA – Sherman McRae Using DNA to Find Ancestors Lost in Slavery Curated Session https://youtu.be/i3VKwpmttBI 738
Jerome Spears Elusive Distant African Cousins: Using DNA, They Can Be Found Curated Session https://youtu.be/fAr-Z78f_SM 335
Karen Stanbary Ruling Out Instead of Ruling In: DNA and the GPS in Action 1 hour https://youtu.be/-WLhIHlSyLE 548
Katherine Borges DNA and Lineage Societies Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/TBYGyLHHAOI 451
Kimberly Brown Why Don’t I Match my Match’s Matches DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/A8k31nRzKpc 4593
Kitty Munson Cooper Basics of Unknown Parentage Research Using DNA Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/2f3c7fJ74Ig 2931
Kitty Munson Cooper Basics of Unknown Parentage Research Using DNA Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/G7h-LJPCywA 1222
Lauren Vasylyev Finding Cousins through DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/UN7WocQzq78 1979
Lauren Vasylyev, Camille Andrus Finding Ancestors Through DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/4rbYrRICzrQ 3919
Leah Larkin Untangling Endogamy Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/0jtVghokdbg 2291
Leah Larkin Untangling Endogamy Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/-rXLIZ0Ol-A 1441
Liba Casson-Budell Shining a Light on Jewish Genealogy Curated Session https://youtu.be/pHyVz94024Y 162
Libby Copeland How Home DNA Testing Has Redefined Family History Curated Session https://youtu.be/LsOEuvEcI4A 13,554
Linda Farrell Jumpstart your South African research Curated Session https://youtu.be/So7y9_PBRKc 339
Living DNA How to do a Living DNA Swab Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/QkbxhqCw7Mo 50
Lynn Broderick Ethical Considerations Using DNA Results Curated Session https://youtu.be/WMcRiDxPy2k 249
Mags Gaulden Importance and Benefits of Y DNA Testing DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/MVIiv0H7imI 1032
Maurice Gleeson Using Y -DNA to Research Your Surname Curated Session https://youtu.be/Ir4NeFH_aJs 1140
Melanie McComb Georgetown Memory Project: Preserving the Stories of the GU272 Curated Session https://youtu.be/Fv0gHzTHwPk 320
Michael Kennedy What Can You Do with Your DNA Test? DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/rKOjvkqYBAM 616
Michelle Leonard Understanding X-Chromosome DNA Matching Curated Session https://youtu.be/n784kt-Xnqg 775
MyHeritage How to Analyze DNA Matches on MH Curated Session https://youtu.be/gHRvyQYrNds 1192
MyHeritage DNA – an Overview Curated Session https://youtu.be/AIRGjEOg_xo 389
MyHeritage Advanced DNA Tools Curated Session https://youtu.be/xfZUAjI5G_I 762
MyHeritage How to Get Started with Your DNA Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/rU_dq1vt6z4 1901
MyHeritage How to Filter and Sort Your DNA Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/aJ7dRwMTt90 1008
Nicole Dyer How to Interpret a DNA Cluster Chart Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/FI4DaWGX8bQ 4982
Nicole Dyer How to Evaluate a ThruLines Hypothesis Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/ao2K6wBip7w 4823
Nicole Dyer Organize Your DNA Matches in a Diagram Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/UugdM8ATTVo 6175
Nicole Dyer Research in the Southern States Curated Session https://youtu.be/Pouw_yPrVSg 871
Olivia Fordiani Understanding Basic Genetic Genealogy DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/-kbGOFiwH2s 810
Pamela Bailey Information Wanted: Reuniting an American Family Separated by Slavery Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/DPCJ4K8_PZw 105
Patricia Coleman Getting Started with DNA Painter DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/Yh_Bzj6Atck 1775
Patricia Coleman Adding MyHeritage Data to DNA Painter DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/rP9yoCGjkLc 458
Patricia Coleman Adding 23andMe Data to DNA Painter DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/pJBAwe6s0z0 365
Penny Walters Mixing DNA with Paper Trail DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/PP4SjdKuiLQ 2693
Penny Walters Collaborating with DNA Matches When You’re Adopted DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/9ioeCS22HlQ 1222
Penny Walters Differences in Ethnicity Between My 6 Children DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/RsrXLcXRNfs 400
Penny Walters Differences in DNA Results Between My 6 Children DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/drnzW3FXScI 815
Penny Walters Ethical Dilemmas in DNA Testing DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/PRPoc0nB4Cs 437
Penny Walters Adoption – Background Context Curated Session https://youtu.be/qC1_Ln8WCNg 1054
Penny Walters Adoption – Utilizing DNA Testing to Construct a Bio Family Tree Curated Session https://youtu.be/zwJ5QofaGTE 941
Penny Walters Adoption – Ethical Dilemmas and Varied Consequences of Looking for Bio Family Curated Session https://youtu.be/ZLcHHTSfCIE 576
Penny Walters I Want My Mummy: Ancient and Modern Egypt Curated Session https://youtu.be/_HRO50RtzFk 311
Rebecca Whitman Koford BCG: Brief Step-by-Step Tour of the BCG Website Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/YpV9bKG6sXk 317
Renate Yarborough Sanders DNA Understanding the Basics DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/bX_flUQkBEA 2713
Renate Yarborough Sanders To Test or Not to Test DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/58-qzvN4InU 1048
Rhett Dabling Finding Ancestral Homelands Through DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/k9zixg4uL1I 505
Rhett Dabling, Diahan Southard Understanding DNA Ethnicity Results Curated Session https://youtu.be/oEt7iQBPfyM 4287
Richard Price Finding Biological Family Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/L9C-SGVRZLM 101
Robert Kehrer Will They Share My DNA (Consent, policies, etc.) DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/SUo-jpTaR1M 480
Robert Kehrer What is a Centimorgan? DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/dopniLw8Fho 1194
Roberta Estes DNA Triangulation: What, Why and How 1 hour https://youtu.be/nIb1zpNQspY 6106
Roberta Estes Mother’s Ancestors DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/uUh6WrVjUdQ 3074
Robin Olsen Wirthlin How Can DNA Help Me Find My Ancestors? Curated Session https://youtu.be/ZINiyKsw0io 1331
Robin Olsen Wirthlin DNA Tools Bell Curve Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/SYorGgzY8VQ 1207
Robin Olsen Wirthlin DNA Process Trees Guide You in Using DNA in Family History Research Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/vMOQA3dAm4k 1708
Shannon Combs-Bennett DNA Basics Made Easy DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/4JcLJ66b0l4 1560
Shannon Combs-Bennett DNA Brick Walls DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/vtFkT_PSHV0 450
Shannon Combs-Bennett Basics of Genetic Genealogy Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/xEMbirtlBZo 2263
Shannon Combs-Bennett Basics of Genetic Genealogy Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/zWMPja1haHg 1424
Steven Micheleti, Joanna Mountain Genetic Consequences of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/xP90WuJpD9Q 2284
Steven Micheleti, Joanna Mountain Genetic Consequences of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/McMNDs5sDaY 742
Thom Reed How Can Connecting with Ancestors Complete Us? Curated Session https://youtu.be/gCxr6W-tkoY 392
Tim Janzen Tracing Ancestral Lines in the 1700s Using DNA Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/bB7VJeCR6Bs 5866
Tim Janzen Tracing Ancestral Lines in the 1700s Using DNA Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/scOtMyFULGI 3008
Ugo Perego Strengths and Limitations of Genetic Testing for Family History DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/XkBK1y-LVaE 480
Ugo Perego A Personal Genetic Journey DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/Lv9CSU50xCc 844
Ugo Perego Discovering Native American Ancestry through DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/L1cs748ctx0 884
Ugo Perego Mitochondrial DNA: Our Maternally-Inherited Family History Curated Session https://youtu.be/Z5bPTUzewKU 599
Vivs Laliberte Introduction to Y DNA DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/rURyECV5j6U 752
Yetunde Moronke Abiola 6% Nigerian: Tracing my Missing Nigerian Ancestor Curated Session https://youtu.be/YNQt60xKgyg 494

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Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going and What’s Important?

Not only have we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, thankfully, we’re at the 20-year, two-decade milestone. The point at which genetics was first added to the toolbox of genealogists.

It seems both like yesterday and forever ago. And yes, I’ve been here the whole time,  as a spectator, researcher, and active participant.

Let’s put this in perspective. On New Year’s Eve, right at midnight, in 2005, I was able to score kit number 50,000 at Family Tree DNA. I remember this because it seemed like such a bizarre thing to be doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But hey, we genealogists are what we are.

I knew that momentous kit number which seemed just HUGE at the time was on the threshold of being sold, because I had inadvertently purchased kit 49,997 a few minutes earlier.

Somehow kit 50,000 seemed like such a huge milestone, a landmark – so I quickly bought kits, 49,998, 49,999, and then…would I get it…YES…kit 50,000. Score!

That meant that in the 5 years FamilyTreeDNA had been in business, they had sold on an average of 10,000 kits per year, or 27 kits a day. Today, that’s a rounding error. Then it was momentous!

In reality, the sales were ramping up quickly, because very few kits were sold in 2000, and roughly 20,000 kits had been sold in 2005 alone. I know this because I purchased kit 28,429 during the holiday sale a year earlier.

Of course, I had no idea who I’d test with that momentous New Year’s Eve Y DNA kit, but I assuredly would find someone. A few months later, I embarked on a road trip to visit an elderly family member with that kit in tow. Thank goodness I did, and they agreed and swabbed on the spot, because they are gone today and with them, the story of the Y line and autosomal DNA of their branch.

In the past two decades, almost an entire generation has slipped away, and with them, an entire genealogical library held in their DNA.

Today, more than 40 million people have tested with the four major DNA testing companies, although we don’t know exactly how many.

Lots of people have had more time to focus on genealogy in 2020, so let’s take a look at what’s important? What’s going on and what matters beyond this month or year?

How has this industry changed in the last two decades, and where it is going?

Reflection

This seems like a good point to reflect a bit.

Professor Dan Bradley reflecting on early genetic research techniques in his lab at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College in Dublin. Photo by Roberta Estes

In the beginning – twenty years ago, there were two companies who stuck their toes in the consumer DNA testing water – Oxford Ancestors and Family Tree DNA. About the same time, Sorenson Genomics and GeneTree were also entering that space, although Sorenson was a nonprofit. Today, of those, only FamilyTreeDNA remains, having adapted with the changing times – adding more products, testing, and sophistication.

Bryan Sykes who founded Oxford Ancestors announced in 2018 that he was retiring to live abroad and subsequently passed away in 2020. The website still exists, but the company has announced that they have ceased sales and the database will remain open until Sept 30, 2021.

James Sorenson died in 2008 and the assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, including the Sorenson database, were sold to Ancestry in 2012. Eventually, Ancestry removed the public database in 2015.

Ancestry dabbled in Y and mtDNA for a while, too, destroying that database in 2014.

Other companies, too many to remember or mention, have come and gone as well. Some of the various company names have been recycled or purchased, but aren’t the same companies today.

In the DNA space, it was keep up, change, die or be sold. Of course, there was the small matter of being able to sell enough DNA kits to make enough money to stay in business at all. DNA processing equipment and a lab are expensive. Not just the equipment, but also the expertise.

The Next Wave

As time moved forward, new players entered the landscape, comprising the “Big 4” testing companies that constitute the ponds where genealogists fish today.

23andMe was the first to introduce autosomal DNA testing and matching. Their goal and focus was always medical genetics, but they recognized the potential in genealogists before anyone else, and we flocked to purchase tests.

Ancestry settled on autosomal only and relies on the size of their database, a large body of genealogy subscribers, and a widespread “feel-good” marketing campaign to sell DNA kits as the gateway to “discover who you are.”

FamilyTreeDNA did and still does offer all 3 kinds of tests. Over the years, they have enhanced both the Y DNA and mitochondrial product offerings significantly and are still known as “the science company.” They are the only company to offer the full range of Y DNA tests, including their flagship Big Y-700, full sequence mitochondrial testing along with matching for both products. Their autosomal product is called Family Finder.

MyHeritage entered the DNA testing space a few years after the others as the dark horse that few expected to be successful – but they fooled everyone. They have acquired companies and partnered along the way which allowed them to add customers (Promethease) and tools (such as AutoCluster by Genetic Affairs), boosting their number of users. Of course, MyHeritage also offers users a records research subscription service that you can try for free.

In summary:

One of the wonderful things that happened was that some vendors began to accept compatible raw DNA autosomal data transfer files from other vendors. Today, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch DO accept transfer files, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

The transfers and matching are free, but there are either minimal unlock or subscription plans for advanced features.

There are other testing companies, some with niche markets and others not so reputable. For this article, I’m focusing on the primary DNA testing companies that are useful for genealogy and mainstream companion third-party tools that complement and enhance those services.

The Single Biggest Change

As I look back, the single biggest change is that genetic genealogy evolved from the pariah of genealogy where DNA discussion was banned from the (now defunct) Rootsweb lists and summarily deleted for the first few years after introduction. I know, that’s hard to believe today.

Why, you ask?

Reasons varied from “just because” to “DNA is cheating” and then morphed into “because DNA might do terrible things like, maybe, suggest that a person really wasn’t related to an ancestor in a lineage society.”

Bottom line – fear and misunderstanding. Change is exceedingly difficult for humans, and DNA definitely moved the genealogy cheese.

From that awkward beginning, genetic genealogy organically became a “thing,” a specific application of genealogy. There was paper-trail traditional genealogy and then the genetic aspect. Today, for almost everyone, genealogy is “just another tool” in the genealogist’s toolbox, although it does require focused learning, just like any other tool.

DNA isn’t separate anymore, but is now an integral part of the genealogical whole. Having said that, DNA can’t solve all problems or answer all questions, but neither can traditional paper-trail genealogy. Together, each makes the other stronger and solves mysteries that neither can resolve alone.

Synergy.

I fully believe that we have still only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Inheritance

As we talk about the various types of DNA testing and tools, here’s a quick graphic to remind you of how the different types of DNA are inherited.

  • Y DNA is inherited paternally for males only and informs us of the direct patrilineal (surname) line.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by everyone from their mothers and informs us of the mother’s matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line.
  • Autosomal DNA can be inherited from potentially any ancestor in random but somewhat predictable amounts through both parents. The further back in time, the less identifiable DNA you’ll inherit from any specific ancestor. I wrote about that, here.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

Where should we be focused today and where is this industry going? What tools and articles popped up in 2020 to help further our genealogy addiction? I already published the most popular articles of 2020, here.

This industry started two decades ago with testing a few Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA markers, and we were utterly thrilled at the time. Both tests have advanced significantly and the prices have dropped like a stone. My first mitochondrial DNA test that tested only 400 locations cost more than $800 – back then.

Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA are still critically important to genetic genealogy. Both play unique roles and provide information that cannot be obtained through autosomal DNA testing. Today, relative to Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, the biggest challenge, ironically, is educating newer genealogists about their potential who have never heard about anything other than autosomal, often ethnicity, testing.

We have to educate in order to overcome the cacophony of “don’t bother because you don’t get as many matches.”

That’s like saying “don’t use the right size wrench because the last one didn’t fit and it’s a bother to reach into the toolbox.” Not to mention that if everyone tested, there would be a lot more matches, but I digress.

If you don’t use the right tool, and all of the tools at your disposal, you’re not going to get the best result possible.

The genealogical proof standard, the gold standard for genealogy research, calls for “a reasonably exhaustive search,” and if you haven’t at least considered if or how Y
DNA
and mitochondrial DNA along with autosomal testing can or might help, then your search is not yet exhaustive.

I attempt to obtain the Y and mitochondrial DNA of every ancestral line. In the article, Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates, I described several methodologies to find appropriate testing candidates.

Y DNA – 20 Years and Still Critically Important

Y DNA tracks the Y chromosome for males via the patrilineal (surname) line, providing matching and historical migration information.

We started 20 years ago testing 10 STR markers. Today, we begin at 37 markers, can upgrade to 67 or 111, but the preferred test is the Big Y which provides results for 700+ STR markers plus results from the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome in order to provide the most refined results. This allows genealogists to use STR markers and SNP results together for various aspects of genealogy.

I created a Y DNA resource page, here, in order to provide a repository for Y DNA information and updates in one place. I would encourage anyone who can to order or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test which provides critical lineage information in addition to and beyond traditional STR testing. Additionally, the Big Y-700 test helps build the Y DNA haplotree which is growing by leaps and bounds.

More new SNPs are found and named EVERY SINGLE DAY today at FamilyTreeDNA than were named in the first several years combined. The 2006 SNP tree listed a grand total of 459 SNPs that defined the Y DNA tree at that time, according to the ISOGG Y DNA SNP tree. Goran Rundfeldt, head of R&D at FamilyTreeDNA posted this today:

2020 was an awful year in so many ways, but it was an unprecedented year for human paternal phylogenetic tree reconstruction. The FTDNA Haplotree or Great Tree of Mankind now includes:

37,534 branches with 12,696 added since 2019 – 51% growth!
defined by
349,097 SNPs with 131,820 added since 2019 – 61% growth!

In just one year, 207,536 SNPs were discovered and assigned FT SNP names. These SNPs will help define new branches and refine existing ones in the future.

The tree is constructed based on high coverage chromosome Y sequences from:
– More than 52,500 Big Y results
– Almost 4,000 NGS results from present-day anonymous men that participated in academic studies

Plus an additional 3,000 ancient DNA results from archaeological remains, of mixed quality and Y chromosome coverage at FamilyTreeDNA.

Wow, just wow.

These three new articles in 2020 will get you started on your Y DNA journey!

Mitochondrial DNA – Matrilineal Line of Humankind is Being Rewritten

The original Oxford Ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA test tested 400 locations. The original Family Tree DNA test tested around 1000 locations. Today, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is standard, testing the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria.

Mitochondrial DNA tracks your mother’s direct maternal, or matrilineal line. I’ve created a mitochondrial DNA resource page, here that includes easy step-by-step instructions for after you receive your results.

New articles in 2020 included the introduction of The Million Mito Project. 2021 should see the first results – including a paper currently in the works.

The Million Mito Project is rewriting the haplotree of womankind. The current haplotree has expanded substantially since the first handful of haplogroups thanks to thousands upon thousands of testers, but there is so much more information that can be extracted today.

Y and Mitochondrial Resources

If you don’t know of someone in your family to test for Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA for a specific ancestral line, you can always turn to the Y DNA projects at Family Tree DNA by searching here.

The search provides you with a list of projects available for a specific surname along with how many customers with that surname have tested. Looking at the individual Y DNA projects will show the earliest known ancestor of the surname line.

Another resource, WikiTree lists people who have tested for the Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA lines of specific ancestors.

Click on images to enlarge

On the left side, my maternal great-grandmother’s profile card, and on the right, my paternal great-great-grandfather. You can see that someone has tested for the mitochondrial DNA of Nora (OK, so it’s me) and the Y DNA of John Estes (definitely not me.)

MitoYDNA, a nonprofit volunteer organization created a comparison tool to replace Ysearch and Mitosearch when they bit the dust thanks to GDPR.

MitoYDNA accepts uploads from different sources and allows uploaders to not only match to each other, but to view the STR values for Y DNA and the mutation locations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions of mitochondrial DNA. Mags Gaulden, one of the founders, explains in her article, What sets mitoYDNA apart from other DNA Databases?.

If you’ve tested at nonstandard companies, not realizing that they didn’t provide matching, or if you’ve tested at a company like Sorenson, Ancestry, and now Oxford Ancestors that is going out of business, uploading your results to mitoYDNA is a way to preserve your investment. PS – I still recommend testing at FamilyTreeDNA in order to receive detailed results and compare in their large database.

CentiMorgans – The Word of Two Decades

The world of autosomal DNA turns on the centimorgan (cM) measure. What is a centimorgan, exactly? I wrote about that unit of measure in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab.

Fortunately, new tools and techniques make using cMs much easier. The Shared cM Project was updated this year, and the results incorporated into a wonderfully easy tool used to determine potential relationships at DNAPainter based on the number of shared centiMorgans.

Match quality and potential relationships are determined by the number of shared cMs, and the chromosome browser is the best tool to use for those comparisons.

Chromosome Browser – Genetics Tool to View Chromosome Matches

Chromosome browsers allow testers to view their matching cMs of DNA with other testers positioned on their own chromosomes.

My two cousins’ DNA where they match me on chromosomes 1-4, is shown above in blue and red at Family Tree DNA. It’s important to know where you match cousins, because if you match multiple cousins on the same segment, from the same side of your family (maternal or paternal), that’s suggestive of a common ancestor, with a few caveats.

Some people feel that a chromosome browser is an advanced tool, but I think it’s simply standard fare – kind of like driving a car. You need to learn how to drive initially, but after that, you don’t even think about it – you just get in and go. Here’s help learning how to drive that chromosome browser.

Triangulation – Science Plus Group DNA Matching Confirms Genealogy

The next logical step after learning to use a chromosome browser is triangulation. If fact, you’re seeing triangulation above, but don’t even realize it.

The purpose of genetic genealogy is to gather evidence to “prove” ancestral connections to either people or specific ancestors. In autosomal DNA, triangulation occurs when:

  • You match at least two other people (not close relatives)
  • On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA (generally 7 cM or greater)
  • And you can assign that segment to a common ancestor

The same two cousins are shown above, with triangulated segments bracketed at MyHeritage. I’ve identified the common ancestor with those cousins that those matching DNA segments descend from.

MyHeritage’s triangulation tool confirms by bracketing that these cousins also match each other on the same segment, which is the definition of triangulation.

I’ve written a lot about triangulation recently.

If you’d prefer a video, I recorded a “Top Tips” Facebook LIVE with MyHeritage.

Why is Ancestry missing from this list of triangulation articles? Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or segment information. Therefore, you can’t triangulate at Ancestry. You can, however, transfer your Ancestry DNA raw data file to either FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch, all three of which offer triangulation.

Step by step download/upload transfer instructions are found in this article:

Clustering Matches and Correlating Trees

Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, we can no longer depend on the major vendors to provide all of the tools that genealogists want and need.

Of course, I would encourage you to stay with mainstream products being used by a significant number of community power users. As with anything, there is always someone out there that’s less than honorable.

2020 saw a lot of innovation and new tools introduced. Maybe that’s one good thing resulting from people being cooped up at home.

Third-party tools are making a huge difference in the world of genetic genealogy. My favorites are Genetic Affairs, their AutoCluster tool shown above, DNAPainter and DNAGedcom.

These articles should get you started with clustering.

If you like video resources, here’s a MyHeritage Facebook LIVE that I recorded about how to use AutoClusters:

I created a compiled resource article for your convenience, here:

I have not tried a newer tool, YourDNAFamily, that focuses only on 23andMe results although the creator has been a member of the genetic genealogy community for a long time.

Painting DNA Makes Chromosome Browsers and Triangulation Easy

DNAPainter takes the next step, providing a repository for all of your painted segments. In other words, DNAPainter is both a solution and a methodology for mass triangulation across all of your chromosomes.

Here’s a small group of people who match me on the same maternal segment of chromosome 1, including those two cousins in the chromosome browser and triangulation sections, above. We know that this segment descends from Philip Jacob Miller and his wife because we’ve been able to identify that couple as the most distant ancestor intersection in all of our trees.

It’s very helpful that DNAPainter has added the functionality of painting all of the maternal and paternal bucketed matches from Family Tree DNA.

All you need to do is to link your known matches to your tree in the proper place at FamilyTreeDNA, then they do the rest by using those DNA matches to indicate which of the rest of your matches are maternal and paternal. Instructions, here. You can then export the file and use it at DNAPainter to paint all of those matches on the correct maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an article providing all of the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources.

DNA Matches Plus Trees Enhance Genealogy

Of course, utilizing DNA matching plus finding common ancestors in trees is one of the primary purposes of genetic genealogy – right?

Vendors have linked the steps of matching DNA with matching ancestors in trees.

Genetic Affairs take this a step further. If you don’t have an ancestor in your tree, but your matches have common ancestors with each other, Genetic Affairs assembles those trees to provide you with those hints. Of course, that common ancestor might not be relevant to your genealogy, but it just might be too!

click to enlarge

This tree does not include me, but two of my matches descend from a common ancestor and that common ancestor between them might be a clue as to why I match both of them.

Ethnicity Continues to be Popular – But Is No Shortcut to Genealogy

Ethnicity is always popular. People want to “do their DNA” and find out where they come from. I understand. I really do. Who doesn’t just want an answer?

Of course, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to people who test for that purpose with high expectations. Hopefully, ethnicity will pique their curiosity and encourage engagement.

All four major vendors rolled out updated ethnicity results or related tools in 2020.

The future for ethnicity, I believe, will be held in integrated tools that allow us to use ethnicity results for genealogy, including being able to paint our ethnicity on our chromosomes as well as perform segment matching by ethnicity.

For example, if I carry an African segment on chromosome 1 from my father, and I match one person from my mother’s side and one from my father’s side on that same segment – one or the other of those people should also have that segment identified as African. That information would inform me as to which match is paternal and which is maternal

Not only that, this feature would help immensely tracking ancestors back in time and identifying their origins.

Will we ever get there? I don’t know. I’m not sure ethnicity is or can be accurate enough. We’ll see.

Transition to Digital and Online

Sometimes the future drags us kicking and screaming from the present.

With the imposed isolation of 2020, conferences quickly moved to an online presence. The genealogy community has all pulled together to make this work. The joke is that 2020’s most used phrase is “can you hear me?” I can vouch for that.

Of course while the year 2020 is over, the problem isn’t and is extending at least through the first half of 2021 and possibly longer. Conferences are planned months, up to a year, in advance and they can’t turn on a dime, so don’t even begin to expect in-person conferences until either late in 2021 or more likely, 2022 if all goes well this year.

I expect the future will eventually return to in-person conferences, but not entirely.

Finding ways to be more inclusive allows people who don’t want to or can’t travel or join in-person to participate.

I’ve recorded several sessions this year, mostly for 2021. Trust me, these could be a comedy, mostly of errors😊

I participated in four MyHeritage Facebook LIVE sessions in 2020 along with some other amazing speakers. This is what “live” events look like today!

Screenshot courtesy MyHeritage

A few days ago, I asked MyHeritage for a list of their LIVE sessions in 2020 and was shocked to learn that there were more than 90 in English, all free, and you can watch them anytime. Here’s the MyHeritage list.

By the way, every single one of the speakers is a volunteer, so say a big thank you to the speakers who make this possible, and to MyHeritage for the resources to make this free for everyone. If you’ve ever tried to coordinate anything like this, it’s anything but easy.

Additonally, I’ve created two Webinars this year for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Geoff Rasmussen put together the list of their top webinars for 2020, and I was pleased to see that I made the top 10! I’m sure there are MANY MORE you’d be interested in watching. Personally, I’m going to watch #6 yet today! Also, #9 and #22. You can always watch new webinars for free for a few days, and you can subscribe to watch all webinars, here.

The 2021 list of webinar speakers has been announced here, and while I’m not allowed to talk about something really fun that’s upcoming, let’s just say you definitely have something to look forward to in the springtime!

Also, don’t forget to register for RootsTech Connect which is entirely online and completely free, February 25-27, here.

Thank you to Penny Walters for creating this lovely graphic.

There are literally hundreds of speakers providing sessions in many languages for viewers around the world. I’ve heard the stats, but we can’t share them yet. Let me just say that you will be SHOCKED at the magnitude and reach of this conference. I’m talking dumbstruck!

During one of our zoom calls, one of the organizers says it feels like we’re constructing the plane as we’re flying, and I can confirm his observation – but we are getting it done – together! All hands on deck.

I’ll be presenting an advanced session about triangulation as well as a mini-session in the FamilySearch DNA Resource Center about finding your mother’s ancestors. I’ll share more information as it’s released and I can.

Companies and Owners Come & Go

You probably didn’t even notice some of these 2020 changes. Aside from the death of Bryan Sykes (RIP Bryan,) the big news and the even bigger unknown is the acquisition of Ancestry by Blackstone. Recently the CEO, Margo Georgiadis announced that she was stepping down. The Ancestry Board of Directors has announced an external search for a new CEO. All I can say is that very high on the priority list should be someone who IS a genealogist and who understands how DNA applies to genealogy.

Other changes included:

In the future, as genealogy and DNA testing becomes ever more popular and even more of a commodity, company sales and acquisitions will become more commonplace.

Some Companies Reduced Services and Cut Staff

I understand this too, but it’s painful. The layoffs occurred before Covid, so they didn’t result from Covid-related sales reductions. Let’s hope we see renewed investment after the Covid mess is over.

In a move that may or may not be related to an attempt to cut costs, Ancestry removed 6 and 7 cM matches from their users, freeing up processing resources, hardware, and storage requirements and thereby reducing costs.

I’m not going to beat this dead horse, because Ancestry is clearly not going to move on this issue, nor on that of the much-requested chromosome browser.

Later in the year, 23andMe also removed matches and other features, although, to their credit, they have restored at least part of this functionality and have provided ethnicity updates to V3 and V4 kits which wasn’t initially planned.

It’s also worth noting that early in 2020, 23andMe laid off 100 people as sales declined. Since that time, 23andMe has increasingly pushed consumers to pay to retest on their V5 chip.

About the same time, Ancestry also cut their workforce by about 6%, or about 100 people, also citing a slowdown in the consumer testing market. Ancestry also added a health product.

I’m not sure if we’ve reached market saturation or are simply seeing a leveling off. I wrote about that in DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons.

Of course, the pandemic economy where many people are either unemployed or insecure about their future isn’t helping.

The various companies need some product diversity to survive downturns. 23andMe is focused on medical research with partners who pay 23andMe for the DNA data of customers who opt-in, as does Ancestry.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage provide subscription services for genealogy records.

FamilyTreeDNA is part of a larger company, GenebyGene whose genetics labs do processing for other companies and medical facilities.

A huge thank you to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA for NOT reducing services to customers in 2020.

Scientific Research Still Critical & Pushes Frontiers

Now that DNA testing has become a commodity, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that DNA testing is still a scientific endeavor that requires research to continue to move forward.

I’m still passionate about research after 20 years – maybe even more so now because there’s so much promise.

Research bleeds over into the consumer marketplace where products are improved and new features created allowing us to better track and understand our ancestors through their DNA that we and our family members inherit.

Here are a few of the research articles I published in 2020. You might notice a theme here – ancient DNA. What we can learn now due to new processing techniques is absolutely amazing. Labs can share files and information, providing the ability to “reprocess” the data, not the DNA itself, as more information and expertise becomes available.

Of course, in addition to this research, the Million Mito Project team is hard at work rewriting the tree of womankind.

If you’d like to participate, all you need to do is to either purchase a full sequence mitochondrial DNA kit at FamilyTreeDNA, or upgrade to the full sequence if you tested at a lower level previously.

Predictions

Predictions are risky business, but let me give it a shot.

Looking back a year, Covid wasn’t on the radar.

Looking back 5 years, neither Genetic Affairs nor DNAPainter were yet on the scene. DNAAdoption had just been formed in 2014 and DNAGedcom which was born out of DNAAdoption didn’t yet exist.

In other words, the most popular tools today didn’t exist yet.

GEDmatch, founded in 2010 by genealogists for genealogists was 5 years old, but was sold in December 2019 to Verogen.

We were begging Ancestry for a chromosome browser, and while we’ve pretty much given up beating them, because the horse is dead and they can sell DNA kits through ads focused elsewhere, that doesn’t mean genealogists still don’t need/want chromosome and segment based tools. Why, you’d think that Ancestry really doesn’t want us to break through those brick walls. That would be very bizarre, because every brick wall that falls reveals two more ancestors that need to be researched and spurs a frantic flurry of midnight searching. If you’re laughing right now, you know exactly what I mean!

Of course, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser, it would cost development money for no additional revenue and their customer service reps would have to be able to support it. So from Ancestry’s perspective, there’s no good reason to provide us with that tool when they can sell kits without it. (Sigh.)

I’m not surprised by the management shift at Ancestry, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see several big players go public in the next decade, if not the next five years.

As companies increase in value, the number of private individuals who could afford to purchase the company decreases quickly, leaving private corporations as the only potential buyers, or becoming publicly held. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because investment dollars are infused into new product development.

What we desperately need, and I predict will happen one way or another is a marriage of individual tools and functions that exist separately today, with a dash of innovation. We need tools that will move beyond confirming existing ancestors – and will be able to identify ancestors through our DNA – out beyond each and every brick wall.

If a tester’s DNA matches to multiple people in a group descended from a particular previously unknown couple, and the timing and geography fits as well, that provides genealogical researchers with the hint they need to begin excavating the traditional records, looking for a connection.

In fact, this is exactly what happened with mitochondrial DNA – twice now. A match and a great deal of digging by one extremely persistent cousin resulting in identifying potential parents for a brick-wall ancestor. Autosomal DNA then confirmed that my DNA matched with 59 other individuals who descend from that couple through multiple children.

BUT, we couldn’t confirm those ancestors using autosomal DNA UNTIL WE HAD THE NAMES of the couple. DNA has the potential to reveal those names!

I wrote about that in Mitochondrial DNA Bulldozes Brick Wall and will be discussing it further in my RootsTech presentation.

The Challenge

We have most of the individual technology pieces today to get this done. Of course, the combined technological solution would require significant computing resources and processing power – just at the same time that vendors are desperately trying to pare costs to a minimum.

Some vendors simply aren’t interested, as I’ve already noted.

However, the winner, other than us genealogists, of course, will be the vendor who can either devise solutions or partner with others to create the right mix of tools that will combine matching, triangulation, and trees of your matches to each other, even if you don’t’ share a common ancestor.

We need to follow the DNA past the current end of the branch of our tree.

Each triangulated segment has an individual history that will lead not just to known ancestors, but to their unknown ancestors as well. We have reached critical mass in terms of how many people have tested – and more success would encourage more and more people to test.

There is a genetic path over every single brick wall in our genealogy.

Yes, I know that’s a bold statement. It’s not future Jetson’s flying-cars stuff. It’s doable – but it’s a matter of commitment, investment money, and finding a way to recoup that investment.

I don’t think it’s possible for the one-time purchase of a $39-$99 DNA test, especially when it’s not a loss-leader for something else like a records or data subscription (MyHeritage and Ancestry) or a medical research partnership (Ancestry and 23andMe.)

We’re performing these analysis processes manually and piecemeal today. It’s extremely inefficient and labor-intensive – which is why it often fails. People give up. And the process is painful, even when it does succeed.

This process has also been made increasingly difficult when some vendors block tools that help genealogists by downloading match and ancestral tree information. Before Ancestry closed access, I was creating theories based on common ancestors in my matches trees that weren’t in mine – then testing those theories both genetically (clusters, AutoTrees and ThruLines) and also by digging into traditional records to search for the genetic connection.

For example, I’m desperate to identify the parents of my James Lee Clarkson/Claxton, so I sorted my spreadsheet by surname and began evaluating everyone who had a Clarkson/Claxton in their tree in the 1700s in Virginia or North Carolina. But I can’t do that anymore now, either with a third-party tool or directly at Ancestry. Twenty million DNA kits sold for a minimum of $79 equals more than 1.5 billion dollars. Obviously, the issue here is not a lack of funds.

Including Y and mitochondrial DNA resources in our genetic toolbox not only confirms accuracy but also provides additional hints and clues.

Sometimes we start with Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA, and wind up using autosomal and sometimes the reverse. These are not competing products. It’s not either/or – it’s *and*.

Personally, I don’t expect the vendors to provide this game-changing complex functionality for free. I would be glad to pay for a subscription for top-of-the-line innovation and tools. In what other industry do consumers expect to pay for an item once and receive constant life-long innovations and upgrades? That doesn’t happen with software, phones nor with automobiles. I want vendors to be profitable so that they can invest in new tools that leverage the power of computing for genealogists to solve currently unsolvable problems.

Every single end-of-line ancestor in your tree represents a brick wall you need to overcome.

If you compare the cost of books, library visits, courthouse trips, and other research endeavors that often produce exactly nothing, these types of genetic tools would be both a godsend and an incredible value.

That’s it.

That’s the challenge, a gauntlet of sorts.

Who’s going to pick it up?

I can’t answer that question, but I can say that 23andMe can’t do this without supporting extensive trees, and Ancestry has shown absolutely no inclination to support segment data. You can’t achieve this goal without segment information or without trees.

Among the current players, that leaves two DNA testing companies and a few top-notch third parties as candidates – although – as the past has proven, the future is uncertain, fluid, and everchanging.

It will be interesting to see what I’m writing at the end of 2025, or maybe even at the end of 2021.

Stay tuned.

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Y DNA Resources and Repository

I’ve created a Y DNA resource page with the information in this article, here, as a permanent location where you can find Y DNA information in one place – including:

  • Step-by-step guides about how to utilize Y DNA for your genealogy
  • Educational articles and links to the latest webinars
  • Articles about the science behind Y DNA
  • Ancient DNA
  • Success stories

Please feel free to share this resource or any of the links to individual articles with friends, genealogy groups, or on social media.

If you haven’t already taken a Y DNA test, and you’re a male (only males have a Y chromosome,) you can order one here. If you also purchase the Family Finder, autosomal test, those results can be used to search together.

What is Y DNA?

Y DNA is passed directly from fathers to their sons, as illustrated by the blue arrow, above. Daughters do not inherit the Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is what makes males, male.

Every son receives a Y chromosome from his father, who received it from his father, and so forth, on up the direct patrilineal line.

Comparatively, mitochondrial DNA, the pink arrow, is received by both sexes of children from the mother through the direct matrilineal line.

Autosomal DNA, the green arrow, is a combination of randomly inherited DNA from many ancestors that is inherited by both sexes of children from both parents. This article explains a bit more.

Y DNA has Unique Properties

The Y chromosome is never admixed with DNA from the mother, so the Y chromosome that the son receives is identical to the father’s Y chromosome except for occasional minor mutations that take place every few generations.

This lack of mixture with the mother’s DNA plus the occasional mutation is what makes the Y chromosome similar enough to match against other men from the same ancestors for hundreds or thousands of years back in time, and different enough to be useful for genealogy. The mutations can be tracked within extended families.

In western cultures, the Y chromosome path of inheritance is usually the same as the surname, which means that the Y chromosome is uniquely positioned to identify the direct biological patrilineal lineage of males.

Two different types of Y DNA tests can be ordered that work together to refine Y DNA results and connect testers to other men with common ancestors.

FamilyTreeDNA provides STR tests with their 37, 67 and 111 marker test panels, and comprehensive STR plus SNP testing with their Big Y-700 test.

click to enlarge

STR markers are used for genealogy matching, while SNP markers work with STR markers to refine genealogy further, plus provide a detailed haplogroup.

Think of a haplogroup as a genetic clan that tells you which genetic family group you belong to – both today and historically, before the advent of surnames.

This article, What is a Haplogroup? explains the basic concept of how haplogroups are determined.

In addition to the Y DNA test itself, Family Tree DNA provides matching to other testers in their database plus a group of comprehensive tools, shown on the dashboard above, to help testers utilize their results to their fullest potential.

You can order or upgrade a Y DNA test, here. If you also purchase the Family Finder, autosomal test, those results can be used to search together.

Step-by-Step – Using Your Y DNA Results

Let’s take a look at all of the features, functions, and tools that are available on your FamilyTreeDNA personal page.

What do those words mean? Here you go!

Come along while I step through evaluating Big Y test results.

Big Y Testing and Results

Why would you want to take a Big Y test and how can it help you?

While the Big Y-500 has been superseded by the Big Y-700 test today, you will still be interested in some of the underlying technology. STR matching still works the same way.

The Big Y-500 provided more than 500 STR markers and the Big Y-700 provides more than 700 – both significantly more than the 111 panel. The only way to receive these additional markers is by purchasing the Big Y test.

I have to tell you – I was skeptical when the Big Y-700 was introduced as the next step above the Big Y-500. I almost didn’t upgrade any kits – but I’m so very glad that I did. I’m not skeptical anymore.

This Y DNA tree rocks. A new visual format with your matches listed on their branches. Take a look!

Educational Articles

I’ve been writing about DNA for years and have selected several articles that you may find useful.

What kinds of information are available if you take a Y DNA test, and how can you use it for genealogy?

What if your father isn’t available to take a DNA test? How can you determine who else to test that will reveal your father’s Y DNA information?

Family Tree DNA shows the difference in the number of mutations between two men as “genetic distance.” Learn what that means and how it’s figured in this article.

Of course, there were changes right after I published the original Genetic Distance article. The only guarantees in life are death, taxes, and that something will change immediately after you publish.

Sometimes when we take DNA tests, or others do, we discover the unexpected. That’s always a possibility. Here’s the story of my brother who wasn’t my biological brother. If you’d like to read more about Dave’s story, type “Dear Dave” into the search box on my blog. Read the articles in publication order, and not without a box of Kleenex.

Often, what surprise matches mean is that you need to dig further.

The words paternal and patrilineal aren’t the same thing. Paternal refers to the paternal half of your family, where patrilineal is the direct father to father line.

Just because you don’t have any surname matches doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of what you’re thinking.

Short tandem repeats (STRs) and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) aren’t the same thing and are used differently in genealogy.

Piecing together your ancestor’s Y DNA from descendants.

Haplogroups are something like our pedigree charts.

What does it mean when you have a zero for a marker value?

There’s more than one way to break down that brick wall. Here’s how I figured out which of 4 sons was my ancestor.

Just because you match the right line autosomally doesn’t mean it’s because you descend from the male child you think is your ancestor. Females gave their surnames to children born outside of a legal marriage which can lead to massive confusion. This is absolutely why you need to test the Y DNA of every single ancestral line.

When the direct patrilineal line isn’t the line you’re expecting.

You can now tell by looking at the flags on the haplotree where other people’s ancestral lines on your branch are from. This is especially useful if you’ve taken the Big Y test and can tell you if you’re hunting in the right location.

If you’re just now testing or tested in 2018 or after, you don’t need to read this article unless you’re interested in the improvements to the Big Y test over the years.

2019 was a banner year for discovery. 2020 was even more so, keeping up an amazing pace. I need to write a 2020 update article.

What is a terminal SNP? Hint – it’s not fatal😊

How the TIP calculator works and how to best interpret the results. Note that this tool is due for an update that incorporates more markers and SNP results too.

You can view the location of the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA ancestors of people whose ethnicity you match.

Tools and Techniques

This free public tree is amazing, showing locations of each haplogroup and totals by haplogroup and country, including downstream branches.

Need to search for and find Y DNA candidates when you don’t know anyone from that line? Here’s how.

Yes, it’s still possible to resolve this issue using autosomal DNA. Non-matching Y DNA isn’t the end of the road, just a fork.

Science Meets Genealogy – Including Ancient DNA

Haplogroup C was an unexpected find in the Americas and reaches into South America.

Haplogroup C is found in several North American tribes.

Haplogroup C is found as far east as Nova Scotia.

Test by test, we made progress.

New testers, new branches. The research continues.

The discovery of haplogroup A00 was truly amazing when it occurred – the base of the phylotree in Africa.

The press release about the discovery of haplogroup A00.

In 2018, a living branch of A00 was discovered in Africa, and in 2020, an ancient DNA branch.

Did you know that haplogroups weren’t always known by their SNP names?

This brought the total of SNPs discovered by Family Tree DNA in mid-2018 to 153,000. I should contact the Research Center to see how many they have named at the end of 2020.

An academic paper split ancient haplogroup D, but then the phylogenetic research team at FamilyTreeDNA split it twice more! This might not sound exciting until you realize this redefines what we know about early man, in Africa and as he emerged from Africa.

Ancient DNA splits haplogroup P after analyzing the remains of two Jehai people from West Malaysia.

For years I doubted Kennewick Man’s DNA would ever be sequenced, but it finally was. Kennewick Man’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is X2a and his Y DNA was confirmed to Q-M3 in 2015.

Compare your own DNA to Vikings!

Twenty-seven Icelandic Viking skeletons tell a very interesting story.

Irish ancestors? Check your DNA and see if you match.

Ancestors from Hungary or Italy? Take a look. These remains have matches to people in various places throughout Europe.

The Y DNA story is no place near finished. Dr. Miguel Vilar, former Lead Scientist for National Geographic’s Genographic Project provides additional analysis and adds a theory.

Webinars

Y DNA Webinar at Legacy Family Tree Webinars – a 90-minute webinar for those who prefer watching to learn! It’s not free, but you can subscribe here.

Success Stories and Genealogy Discoveries

Almost everyone has their own Y DNA story of discovery. Because the Y DNA follows the surname line, Y DNA testing often helps push those lines back a generation, or two, or four. When STR markers fail to be enough, we can turn to the Big Y-700 test which provides SNP markers down to the very tip of the leaves in the Y DNA tree. Often, but not always, family-defining SNP branches will occur which are much more stable and reliable than STR mutations – although SNPs and STRs should be used together.

Methodologies to find ancestral lines to test, or maybe descendants who have already tested.

DNA testing reveals an unexpected mystery several hundred years old.

When I write each of my “52 Ancestor” stories, I include genetic information, for the ancestor and their descendants, when I can. Jacob was special because, in addition to being able to identify his autosomal DNA, his Y DNA matches the ancient DNA of the Yamnaya people. You can read about his Y DNA story in Jakob Lenz (1748-1821), Vinedresser.

Please feel free to add your success stories in the comments.

What About You?

You never know what you’re going to discover when you test your Y DNA. If you’re a female, you’ll need to find a male that descends from the line you want to test via all males to take the Y DNA test on your behalf. Of course, if you want to test your father’s line, your father, or a brother through that father, or your uncle, your father’s brother, would be good candidates.

What will you be able to discover? Who will the earliest known ancestor with that same surname be among your matches? Will you be able to break down a long-standing brick wall? You’ll never know if you don’t test.

You can click here to upgrade an existing test or order a Y DNA test.

Share the Love

You can always forward these articles to friends or share by posting links on social media. Who do you know that might be interested?

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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 Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Free Y DNA Webinar at Legacy Family Tree Webinars

I just finished recording a new, updated Y DNA webinar, “Wringing Every Drop out of Y DNA” for Legacy Family Tree Webinars and it’s available for viewing now.

This webinar is packed full of information about Y DNA testing. We discuss the difference between STR markers, SNPs and the Big Y test. Of course, the goal is to use these tests in the most advantageous way for genealogy, so I walk you through each step. There’s so much available that sometimes people miss critical pieces!

FamilyTreeDNA provides a wide variety of tools for each tester in addition to advanced matching which combines Y DNA along with the Family Finder autosomal test. Seeing who you match on both tests can help identify your most recent common ancestor! You can order or upgrade to either or both tests, here.

During this 90 minute webinar, I covered several topics.

There’s also a syllabus that includes additional resources.

At the end, I summarized all the information and show you what I’ve done with my own tree, illustrating how useful this type of testing can be, even for women.

No, women can’t test directly, but we can certainly recruit appropriate men for each line or utilize projects to see if our lines have already tested. I provide tips and hints about how to successfully accomplish that too.

Free for a Limited Time

Who doesn’t love FREE???

The “Squeezing Every Drop out of Y DNA” webinar is free to watch right now, and will remain free through Wednesday, October 14, 2020. On the main Legacy Family Tree Webinar page, here, just scroll down to the “Webinar Library – New” area to see everything that’s new and free.

If you’re a Legacy Farmily Tree Webinar member, all webinars are included with your membership, of course. I love the great selection of topics, with more webinars being added by people you know every week. This is the perfect time to sign up, with fall having arrived in all its golden glory and people spending more time at home right now.

More than 4000 viewers have enjoyed this webinar since yesterday, and I think you will too. Let’s hope lots of people order Y DNA tests so everyone has more matches! You just never know who’s going to be the right match to break down those brick walls or extend your line back a few generations or across the pond, perhaps.

You can view this webinar after October 14th as part of a $49.95 annual membership. If you’d like to join, click here and use the discount code ydna10 through October 13th.

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Thank you so much.

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Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates

I utilize DNA matches in various ways, some of which are a little unusual. In many cases, I mine autosomal DNA matches to search for people whose Y and mitochondrial DNA can provide descendants, including me and them, with additional insights into our common ancestors.

Y and mitochondrial DNA connects testers to their ancestors in ways that autosomal cannot. It’s a different type of DNA, not combined with the DNA of the other parent, so it’s not diluted and halved in each generation like autosomal DNA. Y and mitochondrial lines each descend from only one ancestral line, rich in historical information, with the ability to reach far back in time along with the ability to connect testers recently.

You First

The very first thing you can do to further your own research is to test yourself in three ways:

  • Autosomal DNA – Test at all 4 primary testing vendors, meaning FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry and 23andMe. The reason for testing at (or transferring to) multiple vendors is because they each have a unique focus and tools. Perhaps more importantly, they each have different people in their databases. Each testing company has benefits. FamilyTreeDNA has people who tested as long as 20 years ago and are no longer available for testing. MyHeritage has many European testers and you’ll find matches there that you won’t find elsewhere if your ancestors came from Europe. Ancestry has the largest database, but fewer advanced tools.
  • Full Sequence Mitochondrial DNA Available at FamilyTreeDNA, this test allows focus solely on your matrilineal line, meaning your mother’s mother’s mother’s line directly without confusion introduced by DNA from other lines.
  • Y DNA – For males only, also available at FamilyTreeDNA, provides focus on the direct patrilineal, or surname, line.

Obviously, if you haven’t upgraded your own Y and mitochondrial DNA tests to the highest level possible, the first thing you can do is to test or upgrade to the highest level where you receive the most refined amount of information.

(There’s a sale at FamilyTreeDNA right now, lasting until August 31, 2020, so it’s a great time to upgrade or order Y and mitochondrial. Check it out here.)

Different Kinds of DNA Serve Different Genealogical Purposes

Let’s look, briefly at how the various types of DNA tests benefit genealogy. Autosomal tests that you and family members can take will help you find other family members to test for specific Y and mitochondrial DNA lines.

Remember that you can test family members in addition to yourself, so if you’re a female, you may want to recruit your father or an uncle or brother to represent your patrilineal line DNA. If you’d like to read a brief article about the different types of DNA and their benefits, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is a good resource.

Y and Mito Pedigree.png

In this image, you can see that if you’re a male you can test for both your Y (blue-square) and mitochondrial DNA (red-circle) ancestral lines. If you’re a female, you can test only your mitochondrial DNA because females don’t have a Y chromosome. Both males and females, of course, can test (green) autosomal DNA which reveals a different type of connection to all of your ancestral lines, but with autosomal, you have to figure out which people match you on which lines.

Y and mitochondrial DNA provides you with a different type of information about laser-focused specific lines that you can’t obtain through autosomal testing, and reaches back in time far beyond the curtain when surnames were adopted.

personal pedigree

You personally can only test for the red-circle mitochondrial DNA line, and perhaps the blue-square Y DNA line if you’re a male. Unless you find family members to test for the Y and mitochondrial DNA of your ancestors, you’re leaving valuable information unresearched. That means all those colored boxes and squares that aren’t blue or red.

I’ve solved MANY brick walls using both Y and mitochondrial DNA, often in conjunction with autosomal.

Let’s take a look at each type of DNA testing a little more in-depth, so that you understand how each one works and why they are important to genealogy.

The Specifics

Y DNA – Y DNA descends through the direct male paternal line and is inherited by men only. You match against other Y DNA testers, hopefully finding surname links.

The Big Y test and upgrade at FamilyTreeDNA provides testers with all 111 traditional STR markers, plus another 589+ STRs available only in the Big Y test, plus a scan of the balance of the rest of the Y chromosome that is useful for genealogy. SNP results are increasingly being used for genealogy, in addition to STRs.

SNPs group men into genetic lineages and STRs help with defining and refining the closest generations when matching to each other. Often, the benefits of these two tests overlap, which is why I recommend that males test to the Big Y-700 level which provides 700+ STR markers plus all SNPs with mutations that define ancestral lineages.

Y DNA haplogroups, derived from SNPs, reveal the geographic part of the world where the lineage originated, such as Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa, as well as a migration path across the continents based on where SNPs are and were historically found. Ancient DNA samples are being added to the database.

If you or a family member took an earlier Y DNA test, you can upgrade to the Big Y-700 today which provides you with matching for both the STR markers and separately, SNP markers, along with other genealogical tools.

You can order or upgrade your Y DNA here. Don’t forget family members accounts you may control. They may agree to have their kit upgraded too.

To upgrade, sign in to your account, and click on your desired upgrade level under Y DNA testing.

ymt y upgrade.png

Then click on upgrades.

ymt upgrade.png

I wrote about Y DNA in these recent articles:

I have more Y DNA articles planned for the future.

You can search for additional articles by going to the main page of this blog and enter “Y DNA” into the search box for additional articles already published.

Many features such as the matches maps, haplogroup origins and ancestral origins pages are the same for Y DNA results as mitochondrial DNA results. You can view mitochondrial articles here.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – Mitochondrail DNA descends through the direct matrilineal line to both sexes of children. Everyone has mitochondrial DNA and it is inherited matrilineally by you from your mother, from her mother, from her mother, etc.

The FMS or full mitochondrial sequence DNA test tests the entire mitochondria that provides information about your direct matrilineal line. Family Tree DNA provides matching, which can sometimes lead to genealogical breakthroughs such as when I identified Lydia Brown, the mother of my Phoebe Crumley and then a couple years later, her mother, Phoebe Cole – via mitochondrial DNA. Those discoveries led us to her mother, Mary Mercy Kent, via genealogy records. All we needed was to punch our way through that initial brick wall – and mitochondrial DNA was our battering ram.

Additionally, you’ll receive a full haplogroup designation which allows you to look back in time before the advent of surnames and identifies the location where your ancestral line came from. For those seeking confirmation of Native American heritage, Y and mitochondrial DNA provides unquestionable proof and doesn’t wash out in time as autosomal DNA does.

Mitochondrial DNA includes haplogroups, matching and other genealogical tools.

You can order or upgrade you or a family member’s mitochondrial DNA here.

To upgrade, sign in to your account, and click on the desired upgrade level.

ymt mt upgrade

Then click on Upgrade if you’re upgrading or Add On if you’re ordering a new product for yourself.

ymt add ons upgrades.png

I wrote several mitochondrial DNA articles and compiled them into a summary article for your convenience.

Autosomal DNA – With autosomal DNA testing, you test once and there’s not an upgrade unless the vendor changes DNA testing platforms, which is rare. Each of the four vendors compares your DNA with all other people who’ve taken that test, or transferred from other companies. They match you with descendants from all of your ancestral lines. While the Y and mtDNA tests look back deeply in time as well as recently on one specific line, the autosomal tests are broad but not deep, spanning all ancestral lines, but limited to approximately 10 generations.

Each autosomal vendor has unique benefits and focus as well as shortcomings. I’ve listed the major points for each vendor relative to searching for Y and mitochondrial
DNA testing candidates. It’s important to understand the advantages of each vendor because it will help you understand the testers you are most likely to find in each database and may help focus your search.

FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder

  • Because FamilyTreeDNA archives customer’s DNA for 25 years, many people who tested Y or mitochondrial DNA 20 years ago and are now deceased upgraded to autosomal tests when they became available, or have been upgraded by family members since. These early testers often reach back another generation or so into the past to people born a century ago.
  • Advanced autosomal matching integrates with Y and mitochondrial DNA along with surname and other projects
  • Phased Family Matching provides the ability to link family members that match you to your tree which allows Family Tree DNA to group matches as paternal or maternal by utilizing matching segments to the same side of your family
  • Genetic Affairs, a third-party tool available for testers, builds common trees by reading the trees of your matches and comparing their trees with your own to identify common ancestors.
  • Genetic Affairs builds trees and pedigrees of your matches by searching for common ancestors in your MATCHES trees, even if you have no tree or don’t share those ancestors in your tree. This functionality includes Y and mitochondrial DNA if you have tested. This facilitates discovery of common ancestors of the people who you match, which may well lead you to ancestral discoveries as well.
  • Genetic Affairs offers clustering of your shared matches.
  • DNA file transfers are accepted from other vendors, free, with a $19 one time fee to unlock advanced tools.
  • Family Tree DNA has tested people worldwide, with a few location exceptions, since inception in the year 2000.
  • No direct triangulation, but Phased Family Matching provides maternal and paternal side triangulation when matches can be grouped into maternal and paternal sides.
  • Matches and segment match information are available for download.
  • The great thing about the advanced matching tool at Family Tree DNA is that it facilitates searching for people who match you on different kinds of tests, so it helps determine the potential closeness or distance of Y and mitochondrial relationships.

MyHeritage

Ancestry

  • Ancestry has the largest database, but did not begin testing until 2012 and did not test widely outside of the US/UK for some time. They now sell tests in 34 countries. Their testers are primarily focused in the US, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, and diaspora, with some overlap into Europe.
  • Ancestry offers ThruLines, a tool that connects testers whose DNA matches with common ancestors in their trees.
  • Ancestry does not provide a chromosome browser, a tool provided by the other three primary testing companies, nor do they provide triangulation or matching segment location information necessary to confirm that you match on the same segment with other people.
  • Ancestry has issued cease and desist orders to third party tools that perform functions such as clustering, autotrees, autopedigrees or downloading of matches. Ancestry does not provide these types of features for their users.
  • Ancestry does not accept transfers, so if you want to be in Ancestry’s database, you must test with Ancestry.
  • No Y or mitochondrial DNA testing available.
  • Match list is not available for download.

23andMe

  • The primary focus of 23andMe has always been health testing, so many people who test at 23andMe are not interested in genealogy.
  • 23andMe tests are sold in about 50 countries, but not worldwide.
  • 23andMe provides a chromosome browser, triangulation, segment information and a beta genetically constructed tree for close matches.
  • 23andMe does NOT support a genealogical tree either uploaded or created on their site, making tree comparisons impossible.
  • Genetic Affairs AutoCluster works at 23andMe, but AutoTree and AutoPedigree do not because 23andMe does not support trees.
  • 23andMe does make match files available for downloading.
  • No Y or mitochondrial DNA full testing or matching, but basic haplogroups are provided.
  • 23andMe caps matches at 2000, less any matches that have opted out of matching. My matches currently number 1770.
  • 23andMe does not accept transfers from other vendors, so if you want to be in their database, you must test with 23andMe.

Reaching Out to Find Testers

Unfortunately, we only carry the mitochondrial DNA of our mother and only men carry the Y DNA of their father. That means if we want to obtain that DNA information about our other family lines, we have to find people who descend appropriately from the ancestor in question and test that person.

I’ll share with you how I search for people who descend from each ancestor. After finding that person, I explain the situation, why the different kinds of tests are important, and offer a testing scholarship for the Y or mtDNA test at Family Tree DNA if they have not already taken that test. If they’ve tested their autosomal DNA elsewhere. I also explain that they can transfer their autosomal DNA file for free too and will receive new matches.

Here’s an article with links to upload/download instructions for each testing company. Feel free to share.

Each DNA testing company has different features, but you can use all of the companies to find people descended in the appropriate way from each ancestor. It’s easier if you know how to utilize each vendor’s tools to optimize your chances of success. I’m going to step you through the search process with hints and tips for each vendor.

Finding Y DNA and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at FamilyTreeDNA

Because FamilyTreeDNA tests for both Y and mitochondrial DNA and has for 20 years, you stand a better chance of finding a candidate there who may have already tested, so that’s where I always begin.

Y DNA

Let’s say, for example, that I need to find a male descendant of my Ferverda line in order to ask them to test for Y DNA. The person can be descended from either a close relative, if I know of one, or a more distant relative that I don’t know, but need to find through searching other ways.

Search for Surnames and Projects at Family Tree DNA

First, search the FamilyTreeDNA website for your goal surname among existing testers, and then the appropriate surname project to see if your line has already tested.

ymt ferverda

On the main page, here, scroll down to until you see the prompt, above, and enter the surname. Be sure to consider alternate spellings too.

ymt ferverda search.png

In this case, I see that there is a Ferverda surname project with 18 people, and scrolling on down, that 4 people with this specific surname have tested.

ymt results.png

However, searching for an alternate spelling, the way it’s spelled in the Netherlands, I find that another 10 people have tested.

ymt ferwerda

Of course, some may be females, but they probably know males by that surname.

First, I’m going to check the Ferverda DNA project to see if a Ferverda male from my line has tested, and if so, to what level.

Click on the project link in the search results to see the DNA Project.

ymt admin.png

Note two things. First, the administrator’s name, as you may need this later. If you click on their name, their email address is displayed.

Second, click on DNA Results and select Y DNA if you’re presented with a choice. If the project has a public facing page, and most do, you’ll see something like the following information.

ymt project

Hey look, it’s my lucky day, given that both of these men descend from my ancestor. I happen to know that they have both taken the Big Y test, because I’m the project administrator, but you won’t know that. One way to get an idea is if they have less than the full 111 markers showing, they probably haven’t taken the Big Y, because a 111 upgrade is included in the Big Y test today.

You have three options at this point to contact one of these men:

  • See if the people are on your own autosomal DNA match list, or the match lists of kits from that family that you manage. If so, you can view their email address and contact them. If you haven’t yet tested autosomally, meaning the Family Finder test, at Family Tree DNA, you can transfer autosomal tests from elsewhere, for free, which means you will be viewing matches within hours or a couple days. Otherwise, you can order a Family Finder test, of course.
  • If the person with the Ferverda or Ferwerda surname is not on your Family Finder match list, reach out to the project administrator with a note to the person you want to contact and ask the administrator to forward your email to the project member.
  • If the administrator doesn’t answer, contact Family Tree DNA support and make the same request.

Checking Family Finder, one of those people is on my match list and I’m pretty sure it’s the right person, because when I click on his profile, not only does the haplogroup match the DNA project, but so does the ancestor.

ymt ferverda profile.png

Searching Family Finder

If there isn’t a DNA project match you can identify as your direct line ancestor, you can search your Family Finder matches for the surname to find a male with that surname. If your match has a tree, see if your ancestor or ancestral line is showing, then note whether they have taken a Y DNA test. They may have taken a Y test, but have not joined a project or not entered any “earliest known ancestor.” You can see which tests they’ve taken by looking at the little tabs above their profile on their tree, or on their profile card.

ymt ferverda tree

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Regardless, you’re now in touch with a potential contact.

Don’t dismiss females with that surname, or people who show that surname in their ancestral surname list. Women with the surname you’re looking for may have husbands, fathers, brothers or uncles who descend from the line you are seeking.

ymt search field.png

Utilize Genetic Affairs

My ace in the hole at FamilyTreeDNA is the Genetic Affairs AutoTree and AutoPedigree function.

Genetic Affairs is a third-party tool that you can use to assist with analysis of your matches at FamilyTreeDNA.

ymt genetic affairs

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At Genetic Affairs, selecting AutoTree generates trees where common ancestors of you and your matches, or your matches to each other, are displayed.

Your goal is to identify people descended from a common ancestor either directly paternally through all males for Y DNA or through all females to the current generation, which can be males, for mitochondrial DNA.

This article provides step-by-step instructions for the Genetic Affairs AutoTree and AutoPedigree functions.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA lineages are a bit more challenging because the surname changes every generation and DNA projects are unlikely to help.

The AutoTree/AutoPedigree report through Genetic Affairs serves the same purpose for mitochondrial DNA – building trees that intersect with a common ancestor. I generally drop the “minimum size of the largest DNA segment shared with the match” to 7 cM for this report. My goal running this report for this purpose isn’t to analyze autosomal DNA, but to find testing candidates based on how my matches descend from a specific ancestor, so I want to include as many matches as possible.

Family Finder Can Refine Y and mtDNA Information

In some cases, a Family Finder test can refine a potential relationship between two people who match on either Y DNA or mitochondrial. Additionally, you may want to encourage, or gift, specific matches with an upgrade to see if they continue to match you at higher testing levels.

Let’s say that two men match closely on a Y DNA test, but you’d like to know how far back the common ancestor lived.

ymt y matches.png

In this instance, you can see that the second match has taken a BIg Y and a Family Finder test, but the exact match (genetic distance of 0) has not. If the first individual cannot provide much genealogy, having them take a Family Finder test would help at least rule out a relationship through second cousins and would give you at least some idea how far back in time your common ancestor may have lived. If you do match on Family Finder, you receive an estimate of your relationship and can check the match level possibilities using the DNAPainter Shared cM Tool. If they upgrade to the Big Y-700 test, you may be able to differentiate your line from theirs, or confirm when and where a split occurred – or that there is no split.

This same autosomal testing scenario works for mitochondrial DNA.

For people who have taken both tests, Family Finder plus either Y or mitochondrial DNA, the Advanced Matching menu allows you to select combinations of tests and projects to query.

ymt advanced

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Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at MyHeritage

MyHeritage provides a wonderful tool called Theories of Family Relativity (TOFR) which finds common ancestors between you and your DNA matches, even if the ancestor is not in both trees, so long as a path exists between the two testers’ trees using other trees or research documents, such as census records. Of course, you’ll need to verify accuracy.

ymt tofr.png

At MyHeritage, select DNA Matches, then “Has Theory of Family Relativity.”

ymt mh ferverda

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You can see that I have 65 matches with a Theory of Family Relativity. Additionally, I can then search by surname.

ymt mh ferverda tree.png

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If I am looking for a Ferverda Y DNA candidate, I’ve found one thanks to this TOFR.

If you don’t find a tree where your match descends from your ancestor in the desired way, you can also widen the search by de-selecting Theories of Family Relativity and instead selecting SmartMatchs or shared surname combined with the name of your ancestor. There are many search and filter combinations available.

Let’s look at a mitochondrial DNA example where I’m searching for a descendant of Elizabeth Speaks who married Samuel Clarkson/Claxton.

ymt smartmatches

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In this case, I have one SmartMatch, which means that someone by the name of Elizabeth Speaks is found in my matches tree. I need to look to see if it’s the RIGHT Elizabeth Speaks and if my match descends through all females to the current generation. If so, I’ve found my mitochondrial DNA candidate and I can leave them a message.

You can also view SmartMatches (without a DNA match) from your own tree.

I can go to that person in my tree, click on their profile, and see how many SmartMatches I have. Clicking on 13 SmartMatches allows me to view those matches and I can click through to the connected trees.

ymt mt speaks.png

I can also click on “research this person” to discover more.

If you’re still not successful, don’t give up quite yet, because you can search in the records for trees that shows the person whom you seek. A SmartMatch is only created if the system thinks it’s the same person in both trees. Computers are far from perfect.

ymt mh trees

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Narrow the search as much as possible to make it easier to find the right individual, and then view the trees for descent in the proper manner.

Another wonderful tool at MyHeritage is the Genetic Affairs AutoCluster tool, built-in for MyHeritage users.

ymt mh cluster.png

The above cluster shows that one person carries the surname of Elizabeth’s husband. Viewing the accompanying spreadsheet for the AutoCluster run reveals that indeed, I’ve already identified a couple of matches as descendants of the desired ancestral couple. The spreadsheet shows links to their trees, my notes and more.

ymt cluster ss

Clusters show you where to look. Without the cluster, I had only identified two people as descendants of this ancestral couple. I found several more candidates to evaluate and two mitochondrial candidates are found in this cluster.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at 23andMe

23andMe is a little more tricky because they don’t support either uploaded or created user trees which makes finding descendants of a particular ancestor quite challenging.

However, 23andMe attempts to create a tree of your closer relatives genetically. which you can find under “DNA Relatives,” under the Ancestry tab, then “Family Tree” at the top.

I’ve added the names of my ancestors when I can figure out who the match is. Please note that this “created tree” is seldom exactly accurate, but there are often enough hints that you’ll be able to piece together at least some of the rest.

Here’s part of my “created” tree at 23andMe. I’m at far right.

ymt23 tree.png

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If you’re a genealogist, your eyes are going to glaze over about now, because the “people” aren’t in the correct locations – with maternal and paternal sides of the tree swapped. Also, please note, the locations in which they place people are estimates AND 23andMe does NOT take into account or provide for half-relationships.

That said, you can still obtain candidates for Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

In this case, I’m searching for a mitochondrial DNA candidate for Evaline Miller, my grandfather’s mother or a Y DNA candidate for the Ferverda line.

I can tell by the surname of the male match, Ferverda, that he probably descends through a son, making him a Y DNA candidate.

Both Cheryl and Laura are possible mitochondrial DNA candidates for Evaline Miller, based on this tree, depending of course on how they actually do descend.

I can contact all of my matches, but in the event that they don’t answer, I’m not entirely out of luck. If I can determine EXACTLY how the match descends, and they descend appropriately for mitochondrial DNA, I can view the match to see at least a partial haplogroup. Since 23andMe only uses relatively close matches when constructing your tree, I’m relatively likely to recognize the names of the testers and may have them in my genealogy program.

By clicking on the Ferverda male, I can see that his Y haplogroup is I-Z58. That’s not nearly as refined as the Y DNA information at Family Tree DNA, but it’s something if I have nothing else and he doesn’t answer my query that would include the offer of a Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA.

ymt 23 hap

You can search at 23andMe by surname, but unless your match has entered their ancestral surnames and you recognize surnames that fit together, without a tree, unless your match answers your query, it’s very difficult to determine how you connect.

ymt 23 search.png

You can also view “Relatives in Common,” hoping to recognize someone you know as a common match.

ymt relatives in common

Please note that 23andMe does allow testers to enter a link to a tree, but few do.

ymt tree link.png

It’s worth checking, and be sure to enter your own tree link location.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at Ancestry

Ancestry’s ThruLines provides an excellent tool to find both Y and mitochondrial DNA participants.

Ancestry organizes their ThruLines by ancestor.

ymt thrulines

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Select your desired Ancestor, someone whose DNA you seek. Clearly, Y DNA candidates are very easy because you simply choose any male ancestor in the correct line with the surname and look for a male match with the appropriate surname.

In this case, I’m selecting Martha Ruth Dodson, because I need her mitochondrial DNA.

ymt dodson.png

By clicking on her “card” I then see my matches assigned to her ThruLine.

Ymt ancestry thruline

Obviously, for mitochondrial DNA, I’m looking for someone descended through all females, so Martha’s daughter, Elizabeth Estes’s son Robert won’t work, but her daughter, Louisa Vannoy, at left is the perfect candidate. Thankfully, my cousin whom I match, at bottom left is descended through all females to the current generation, which can be male or female, so is a mitochondrial DNA candidate.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates in Trees in General

I’ve utilized the combination of trees and DNA matches at FamilyTreeDNA through Genetic Affairs, Ancestry and MyHeritage, but you can also simply search for people who descend from the same ancestor based on their tree alone at the vendors who support trees as part of genealogical records. This includes both Ancestry and MyHeritage but also sites like Geneanet which is becoming increasingly popular, especially in Europe. (I have not worked extensively with Geneanet yet but plan to take it for a test drive soon.)

My reason for utilizing DNA matches+trees first is that the person has already been introduced to the concept that DNA can help with genealogy, and has obviously embraced DNA testing at least once. Not only that, with the assist of a Theory of Family Relativity, ThruLine or genetic Affairs automation tools, it’s much easier to find appropriate candidates.

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at WikiTree

If you reach beyond DNA testing companies, WikiTree provides a valuable feature which allows people to specify that they descend from a particular ancestor, and if they have DNA tested, how they descend – including Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal.

Here’s an example on the profile of John Y. Estes at WikiTree, one of my Estes ancestors.

ymt wiki.png

If someone descends appropriately for either Y or mitochondrial DNA line, and has taken that test, their information is listed.

In this case, there are two Y DNA testers and two autosomal, but no mitochondrial DNA which would have descended from John’s mother, of course.

You can click on the little green arrow icon to see how any DNA tested person descends from the ancestor whose profile you are accessing.

ymt wiki compare

Of course, the same surname for males is a good indication that the man in question is descended from that paternal line, but check to be sure, because some males took their mother’s surname for various reasons.

Here’s my line-of-descent from John Y. Estes. I can click on anyone else whose DNA information is listed as well to see how they descend from John. If they descend from John through all females, then they obviously descend from his wife though all females too which means they are a mitochondrial DNA candidate for her.

ymt wiki relationship.png

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Clicking on autosomal testers may reveal someone appropriately descended from the ancestor in question.

You can then click on any ancestor shown to view their profile, and any DNA tested descendants.

By clicking on name of the descendant whose DNA test you are interested in, you’ll be able to view their profile. Look for the Collaboration section where you can send them a private message that will be delivered by email from WikiTree.

ymt collaborate

Finding Y and Mitochondrial DNA Candidates at GedMatch

One final avenue to find Y and mitochondrial DNA candidates is through GedMatch, It’s probably the least useful option, though, because the major vendors all have some sort of tree function, except for 23andMe, and for some reason, many people have not uploaded GEDCOM files (trees) to GEDmatch.

Therefore, if you can find someone on GedMatch that tested elsewhere perhaps, such as LivingDNA who also provides a base haplogroup, or 23andMe, and they uploaded a GEDCOM file (tree) to GedMatch, you can utilize the GEDmatch “Find common ancestors” automated tree-matching functionality.

gedmatch mrca matches

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GEDmatch produces a list of your matches with common ancestors in their trees, allowing you to select the appropriate ancestor or lineage.

I wrote step-by-step instructions in the article, GEDmatch Introduces Automated Tree Matching.

Additionally, GEDmatch includes the Genetic Affairs AutoCluster tool in their Tier1 subscription offering,

ymt gedmatch.png

Gedmatch users who know their Y and mitochondrial haplogroup can enter that information in their profile and it will be reflected on the autosomal match list.

ymt gedmatch hap

Summary Chart

In summary, each testing vendor has a different focus and unique tools that can be used to search for Y and mitochondrial DNA candidates. Additionally, two other resources, WikiTree and GEDmatch, although not DNA testing vendors, can lead to discovering Y and mtDNA candidates as well.

I’ve created a quick-reference chart.

  Family Tree DNA MyHeritage Ancestry 23andMe Wikitree GEDmatch
Y DNA Test Yes No No No, partial haplogroup provided No test, listed by ancestor No, user entered
mtDNA Test Yes No No No, partial haplogroup provided No test, listed by ancestor No, user entered
DNA Projects Yes No No No Some Some
Strengths other than mentioned categories 20 year worldwide customer base, phased family matching European focus, SmartMatches, wide variety of filters Largest autosomal database Genetic tree beta DNA by ancestor May include users not found elsewhere who tested outside the major companies
Drawbacks No direct triangulation or tree matching No Genetic Affairs AutoTree or AutoPedigree Can’t download matches, no triangulation, clusters, AutoTree, or AutoPedigree No trees, 2000 match limit “One tree” may be incorrect Few trees, no AutoTree or AutoPedigree
Clustering Genetic Affairs Included in advanced tools No, prohibited Genetic Affairs N/A Included in Tier1
Genetic Affairs AutoTree & AutoPedigree Yes No No No, no tree support N/A No
Tree matching between users No, through Genetic Affairs Theories of Family Relativity ThruLines No Not directly MRCA common ancestors in Tier1

Now it’s your turn. Which Y and mitochondrial DNA lines can you find today?

Happy Hunting!

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

Thank you so much.

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Native American & Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments

Ethnicity is always a ticklish subject. On one hand we say to be leery of ethnicity estimates, but on the other hand, we all want to know who our ancestors were and where they came from. Many people hope to prove or disprove specific theories or stories about distant ancestors.

Reasons to be cautious about ethnicity estimates include:

  • Within continents, like Europe, it’s very difficult to discern ethnicity at the “country” level because of thousands of years of migration across regions where borders exist today. Ethnicity estimates within Europe can be significantly different than known and proven genealogy.
  • “Countries,” in Europe, political constructs, are the same size as many states in the US – and differentiation between those populations is almost impossible to accurately discern. Think of trying to figure out the difference between the populations of Indiana and Illinois, for example. Yet we want to be able to tell the difference between ancestors that came from France and Germany, for example.

Ethnicity states over Europe

  • All small amounts of ethnicity, even at the continental level, under 2-5%, can be noise and might be incorrect. That’s particularly true of trace amounts, 1% or less. However, that’s not always the case – which is why companies provide those small percentages. When hunting ancestors in the distant past, that small amount of ethnicity may be the only clue we have as to where they reside at detectable levels in our genome.

Noise in this case is defined as:

  • A statistical anomaly
  • A chance combination of your DNA from both parents that matches a reference population
  • Issues with the reference population itself, specifically admixture
  • Perhaps combinations of the above

You can read about the challenges with ethnicity here and here.

On the Other Hand

Having restated the appropriate caveats, on the other hand, we can utilize legitimate segments of our DNA to identify where our ancestors came from – at the continental level.

I’m actually specifically referring to Native American admixture which is the example I’ll be using, but this process applies equally as well to other minority or continental level admixture as well. Minority, in this sense means minority ethnicity to you.

Native American ethnicity shows distinctly differently from African and European. Sometimes some segments of DNA that we inherit from Native American ancestors are reported as Asian, specifically Siberian, Northern or Eastern Asian.

Remember that the Native American people arrived as a small group via Beringia, a now flooded land bridge that once connected Siberia with Alaska.

beringia map

By Erika Tamm et al – Tamm E, Kivisild T, Reidla M, Metspalu M, Smith DG, et al. (2007) Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders. PLoS ONE 2(9): e829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000829. Also available from PubMed Central., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16975303

After that time, the Native American/First Nations peoples were isolated from Asia, for the most part, and entirely from Europe until European exploration resulted in the beginning of sustained European settlement, and admixture beginning in the late 1400s and 1500s in the Americas.

Family Inheritance

Testing multiple family members is extremely useful when working with your own personal minority heritage. This approach assumes that you’d like to identify your matches that share that genetic heritage because they share the same minority DNA that you do. Of course, that means you two share the same ancestor at some time in the past. Their genealogy, or your combined information, may hold the clue to identifying your ancestor.

In my family, my daughter has Native American segments that she inherited from me that I inherited from my mother.

Finding the same segment identified as Native American in several successive generations eliminates the possibility that the chance combination of DNA from your father and mother is “appearing” as Native, when it isn’t.

We can use segment information to our benefit, especially if we don’t know exactly who contributed that DNA – meaning which ancestor.

We need to find a way to utilize those Native or other minority segments genealogically.

23andMe

Today, the only DNA testing vendor that provides consumers with a segment identification of our ethnicity predictions is 23andMe.

If you have tested at 23andMe, sign in and click on Ancestry on the top tab, then select Ancestry Composition.

Minority ethnicity ancestry composition.png

Scroll down until you see your painted chromosomes.

Minority ethnicity chromosome painting.png

By clicking on the region at left that you want to see, the rest of the regions are greyed out and only that region is displayed on your chromosomes, at right.

Minority ethnicity Native.png

According to 23andMe, I have two Native segments, one each on chromosomes 1 and 2. They show these segments on opposite chromosomes, meaning one (the top for example) would be maternal or paternal, and the bottom one would be the opposite. But 23andMe apparently could not tell for sure because neither my mother nor father have tested there. This placement also turned out to be incorrect. The above image was my initial V3 test at 23andMe. My later V4 results were different.

Versions May Differ

Please note that your ethnicity predictions may be different based on which test you took which is dictated by when you took the test. The image above is my V3 test that was in use at 23andMe between 2010 and November 2013, and the image below is my V4 test in use between November 2013 and August 2017.

23andMe apparently does not correct original errors involving what is known as “strand swap” where the maternal and paternal segments are inverted during analysis. My V4 test results are shown below, where the strands are correctly portrayed.

Minority ethnicity Native V4.png

Note that both Native segments are now on the lower chromosome “side” of the pair and the position on the chromosome 1 segment has shifted visually.

Minority ethnicity sides.png

I have not tested at 23andMe on the current V5 GSA chip, in use since August 9, 2017, but perhaps I should. The results might be different yet, with the concept being that each version offers an improvement over earlier versions as science advances.

If your parents have tested, 23andMe makes adjustments to your ethnicity estimates accordingly.

Although my mother can’t test at 23andMe, I happen to already know that these Native segments descend from my mother based on genealogical and genetic analysis, combined. I’m going to walk you through the process.

I can utilize my genealogy to confirm or refute information shown by 23andMe. For example, if one of those segments comes from known ancestors who were living in Germany, it’s clearly not Native, and it’s noise of some type.

We’re going to utilize DNAPainter to determine which ancestors contributed your minority segments, but first you’ll need to download your ethnicity segments from 23andMe.

Downloading Ethnicity Segment Data

Downloading your ethnicity segments is NOT THE SAME as downloading your raw DNA results to transfer to another vendor. Those are two entirely different files and different procedures.

To download the locations of your ethnicity segments at 23andMe, scroll down below your painted ethnicity segments in your Ancestry Composition section to “View Scientific Details.”

MInority ethnicity scientific details.png

Click on View Scientific Details and scroll down to near the bottom and then click on “Download Raw Data.” I leave mine at the 50% confidence level.

Minority ethnicity download raw data.png

Save this spreadsheet to your computer in a known location.

In the spreadsheet, you’ll see columns that provide the name of the segment, the chromosome copy number (1 or 2) and the chromosome number with start and end locations.

Minority ethnicity download.png

You really don’t care about this information directly, but DNAPainter does and you’ll care a lot about what DNAPainter does for you.

DNAPainter

I wrote introductory articles about DNAPainter:

If you’re not familiar with DNAPainter, you might want to read these articles first and then come back to this point in this article.

Go ahead – I’ll wait!

Getting Started

If you don’t have a DNAPainter account, you’ll need to create one for free. Some features, such as having multiple profiles are subscription based, but the functionality you’ll need for one profile is free.

I’ve named this example profile “Ethnicity Demo.” You’ll see your name where mine says “Ethnicity Demo.”

Minority ethnicity DNAPainter.png

Click on “Import 23andme ancestry composition.”

You will copy and paste all the spreadsheet rows in the entire downloaded 23andMe ethnicity spreadsheet into the DNAPainter text box and make your selection, below. The great news is that if you discover that your assumption about copy 1 being maternal or paternal is incorrect, it’s easy to delete the ethnicity segments entirely and simply repaint later. Ditto if 23andMe changes your estimate over time, like they have mine.

Minority ethnicity DNAPainter sides.png

I happen to know that “copy 2” is maternal, so I’ve made that selection.

You can then see your ethnicity chromosome segments painted, and you can expand each one to see the detail. Click on “Save Segments.”

MInority ethnicity DNAPainter Native painting

Click to enlarge

In this example, you can see my Native segments, called by various names at different confidence levels at 23andMe, on chromosome 1.

Depending on the confidence level, these segments are called some mixture of:

  • East Asian & Native American
  • North Asian & Native American
  • Native American
  • Broadly East Asian & Native American

It’s exactly the same segment, so you don’t really care what it’s called. DNAPainter paints all of the different descriptions provided by 23andMe, at all confidence levels as you can see above.

The DNAPainter colors are different from 23andMe colors and are system-selected. You can’t assign the colors for ethnicity segments.

Now, I’m moving to my own profile that I paint with my ancestral segments. To date, I have 78% of my segments painted by identifying cousins with known common ancestors.

On chromosomes 1 and 2, copy 2, which I’ve determined to be my mother’s “side,” these segments track back to specific ancestors.

Minority ethnicity maternal side

Click to enlarge

Chromosome 1 segments, above, track back to the Lore family, descended from Antoine (Anthony) Lore (Lord) who married Rachel Hill. Antoine Lore was Acadian.

Minority ethnicity chromosome 1.png

Clicking on the green segment bar shows me the ancestors I assigned when I painted the match with my Lore family member whose name is blurred, but whose birth surname was Lore.

The Chromosome 2 segment, below, tracks back to the same family through a match to Fred.

Minority ethnicity chromosome 2.png

My common ancestors with Fred are Honore Lore and Marie Lafaille who are the parents of Antoine Lore.

Minority ethnicity common ancestor.png

There are additional matches on both chromosomes who also match on portions of the Native segments.

Now that I have a pointer in the ancestral direction that these Native American segments arrived from, what can traditional genealogy and other DNA information tell me?

Traditional Genealogy Research

The Acadian people were a mixture of English, French and Native American. The Acadians settled on the island of Nova Scotia in 1609 and lived there until being driven out by the English in 1755, roughly 6 or 7 generations later.

Minority ethnicity Acadian map.png

The Acadians intermarried with the Mi’kmaq people.

It had been reported by two very qualified genealogists that Philippe Mius, born in 1660, married two Native American women from the Mi’kmaq tribe given the name Marie.

The French were fond of giving the first name of Marie to Native women when they were baptized in the Catholic faith which was required before the French men were allowed to marry the Native women. There were many Native women named Marie who married European men.

Minority ethnicity Native mitochondrial tree

Click to enlarge

This Mius lineage is ancestral to Antoine Lore (Lord) as shown on my pedigree, above.

Mitochondrial DNA has revealed that descendants from one of Philippe Mius’s wives, Marie, carry haplogroup A2f1a.

However, mitochondrial tests of other descendants of “Marie,” his first wife, carry haplogroup X2a2, also Native American.

Confusion has historically existed over which Marie is the mother of my ancestor, Francoise.

Karen Theroit Reader, another professional genealogist, shows Francoise Mius as the last child born to the first Native wife before her death sometime after 1684 and before about 1687 when Philippe remarried.

However, relative to the source of Native American segments, whether Francoise descends from the first or second wife doesn’t matter in this instance because both are Native and are proven so by their mitochondrial DNA haplogroups.

Additionally, on Antoine’s mother’s side, we find a Doucet male, although there are two genetic male Doucet lines, one of European origin, haplogroup R-L21, and one, surprisingly, of Native origin, haplogroup C-P39. Both are proven by their respective haplogroups but confusion exists genealogically over who descends from which lineage.

On Antoine’s mother’s side, there are several unidentified lineages, any one or multiples of which could also be Native. As you can see, there are large gaps in my tree.

We do know that these Native segments arrived through Antoine Lore and his parents, Honore Lore and Marie LaFaille. We don’t know exactly who upstream contributed these segments – at least not yet. Painting additional matches attributable to specific ancestral couples will eventually narrow the candidates and allow me to walk these segments back in time to their rightful contributor.

Segments, Traditional Research and DNAPainter

These three tools together, when using continent-level segments in combination with painting the DNA segments of known cousins that match specific lineages create a triangulated ethnicity segment.

When that segment just happens to be genealogically important, this combination can point the researchers in the right direction knowing which lines to search for that minority ancestor.

If your cousins who match you on this segment have also tested with 23andMe, they should also be identified as Native on this same segment. This process does not apply to intracontinental segments, meaning within Europe, because the admixture is too great and the ethnicity predictions are much less reliable.

When identifying minority admixture at the continental level, adding Y and mitochondrial DNA testing to the mix in order to positively identify each individual ancestor’s Y and mitochondrial DNA is very important in both eliminating and confirming what autosomal DNA and genealogy records alone can’t do. The base haplogroup as assigned at 23andMe is a good start, but it’s not enough alone. Plus, we only carry one line of mitochondrial DNA and only males carry Y DNA, and only their direct paternal line.

We need Y and mitochondrial DNA matching at FamilyTreeDNA to verify the specific lineage. Additionally, we very well may need the Y and mitochondrial DNA information that we don’t directly carry – but other cousins do. You can read about Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, here.

I wrote about creating a personal DNA pedigree chart including your ancestors’ Y and mitochondrial DNA here. In order to find people descended from a specific ancestor who have DNA tested, I utilize:

  • WikiTree resources and trees
  • Geni trees
  • FamilySearch trees
  • FamilyTreeDNA autosomal matches with trees
  • AncestryDNA autosomal matches and their associated trees
  • Ancestry trees in general, meaning without knowing if they are related to a DNA match
  • MyHeritage autosomal matches and their trees
  • MyHeritage trees in general

At both MyHeritage and Ancestry, you can view the trees of your matches, but you can also search for ancestors in other people’s trees to see who might descend appropriately to provide a Y or mitochondrial DNA sample. You will probably need a subscription to maximize these efforts. My Heritage offers a free trial subscription here.

If you find people appropriately descended through WikiTree, Geni or FamilySearch, you’ll need to discuss DNA testing with them. They may have already tested someplace.

If you find people who have DNA tested through your DNA matches with trees at Ancestry and MyHeritage, you’ll need to offer a Y or mitochondrial DNA test to them if they haven’t already tested at FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor who provides the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests at the higher resolution level, beyond base haplogroups, required for matching and for a complete haplogroup designation.

If the person has taken the Family Finder autosomal test at FamilyTreeDNA, they may have already tested their Y DNA and mtDNA, or you can offer to upgrade their test.

Projects

Checking projects at FamilyTreeDNA can be particularly useful when trying to discover if anyone from a specific lineage has already tested. There are many, special interest projects such as the Acadian AmerIndian Ancestry project, the American Indian project, haplogroup projects, surname projects and more.

You can view projects alphabetically here or you can click here to scroll down to enter the surname or topic you are seeking.

Minority ethnicity project search.png

If the topic isn’t listed, check the alphabetic index under Geographical Projects.

23andMe Maternal and Paternal Sides

If possible, you’ll want to determine which “side” of your family your minority segments originate come from, unless they come from both. you’ll want to determine whether chromosome side one 1 or 2 is maternal, because the other one will be paternal.

23andMe doesn’t offer tree functionality in the same way as other vendors, so you won’t be able to identify people there descended from your ancestors without contacting each person or doing other sleuthing.

Recently, 23andMe added a link to FamilySearch that creates a list of your ancestors from their mega-shared tree for 7 generations, but there is no tree matching or search functionality. You can read about the FamilySearch connection functionality here.

So, how do you figure out which “side” is which?

Minority ethnicity minority segment.png

The chart above represents the portion of your chromosomes that contains your minority ancestry. Initially, you don’t know if the minority segment is your mother’s pink chromosome or your father’s blue chromosome. You have one chromosome from each parent with the exact same addresses or locations, so it’s impossible to tell which side is which without additional information. Either the pink or the blue segment is minority, but how can you tell?

In my case, the family oral history regarding Native American ancestry was from my father’s line, but the actual Native segments wound up being from my mother, not my father. Had I made an assumption, it would have been incorrect.

Fortunately, in our example, you have both a maternal and paternal aunt who have tested at 23andMe. You match both aunts on that exact same segment location – one from your father’s side, blue, and one from your mother’s side, pink.

You compare your match with your maternal aunt and verify that indeed, you do match her on that segment.

You’ll want to determine if 23andMe has flagged that segment as Native American for your maternal aunt too.

You can view your aunt’s Ancestry Composition by selecting your aunt from the “Your Connections” dropdown list above your own ethnicity chromosome painting.

Minority ethnicity relative connections.png

You can see on your aunt’s chromosomes that indeed, those locations on her chromosomes are Native as well.

Minority ethnicity relative minority segments.png

Now you’ve identified your minority segment as originating on your maternal side.

Minority ethnicity Native side.png

Let’s say you have another match, Match 1, on that same segment. You can easily tell which “side” Match 1 is from. Since you know that you match your maternal aunt on that minority segment, if Match 1 matches both you and your maternal aunt, then you know that’s the side the match is from – AND that person also shares that minority segment.

You can also view that person’s Ancestry Composition as well, but shared matching is more reliable,especially when dealing with small amounts of minority admixture.

Another person, Match 2, matches you on that same segment, but this time, the person matches you and your paternal aunt, so they don’t share your minority segment.

Minority ethnicity match side.png

Even if your paternal aunt had not tested, because Match 2 does not match you AND your maternal aunt, you know Match 2 doesn’t share your minority segment which you can confirm by checking their Ancestry Composition.

Download All of Your Matches

Rather than go through your matches one by one, it’s easiest to download your entire match list so you can see which people match you on those chromosome locations.

Minority ethnicity download aggregate data.png

You can click on “Download Aggregate Data” at 23andMe, at the bottom of your DNA Relatives match list to obtain all of your matches who are sharing with you. 23andMe limits your matches to 2000 or less, the actual number being your highest 2000 matches minus the people who aren’t sharing. I have 1465 matches showing and that number decreases regularly as new testers at 23andMe are focused on health and not genealogy, meaning lower matches get pushed off the list of 2000 match candidates.

You can quickly sort the spreadsheet to see who matches you on specific segments. Then, you can check each match in the system to see if that person matches you and another known relative on the minority segments or you can check their Ancestry Composition, or both.

If they share your minority segment, then you can check their tree link if they have one, included in the download, their Family Search information if included on their account, or reach out to them to see if you might share a known ancestor.

The key to making your ethnicity segment work for you is to identify ancestors and paint known matches.

Paint Those Matches

When searching for matches whose DNA you can attribute to specific ancestors, be sure to check at all 4 places that provide segment information that you can paint:

At GedMatch, you’ll find some people who have tested at the other various vendors, including Ancestry, but unfortunately not everyone uploads. Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information, so you won’t be able to paint those matches directly from Ancestry.

If your Ancestry matches transfer to GedMatch, FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage you can view your match and paint your common segments. At GedMatch, Ancestry kit numbers begin with an A. I use my Ancestry kit matches at GedMatch to attempt to figure out who that match is at Ancestry in order to attempt to figure out the common ancestor.

To Paint, You Must Test

Of course, in order to paint your matches that you find in various databases, you need to be in those data bases, meaning you either need to test there or transfer your DNA file.

Transfers

If you’d like to test your DNA at one vendor and download the file to transfer to another vendor, or GedMatch, that’s possible with both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage who both accept uploads.

You can transfer kits from Ancestry and 23andMe to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage for free, although the chromosome browsers, advanced tools and ethnicity require an unlock fee (or alternatively a subscription at MyHeritage). Still, the free transfer and unlock for $19 at FamilyTreeDNA or $29 at MyHeritage is less than the cost of testing.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet.

DNA vendor transfer cheat sheet 2019

From time to time, as vendor file formats change, the ability to transfer is temporarily interrupted, but it costs nothing to try a transfer to either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, or better yet, both.

In each of these articles, I wrote about how to download your data from a specific vendor and how to upload from other vendors if they accept uploads.

Summary Steps

In order to use your minority ethnicity segments in your genealogy, you need to:

  1. Test at 23andMe
  2. Identify which parental side your minority ethnicity segments are from, if possible
  3. Download your ethnicity segments
  4. Establish a DNAPainter account
  5. Upload your ethnicity segments to DNAPainter
  6. Paint matches of people with whom you share known common ancestors utilizing segment information from 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and AncestryDNA matches who have uploaded to GedMatch
  7. If you have not tested at either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, upload your 23andMe file to either vendor for matching, along with GedMatch
  8. Focus on those minority segments to determine which ancestral line they descend through in order to identify the ancestor(s) who provided your minority admixture.

Have fun!

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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