Concepts: Inheritance

Inheritance.

What is it?

How does it work?

I’m not talking about possessions – but about the DNA that you receive from your parents, and their parents.

The reason that genetic genealogy works is because of inheritance. You inherit DNA from your parents in a known and predictable fashion.

Fortunately, we have more than one kind of DNA to use for genealogy.

Types of DNA

Females have 3 types of DNA and males have 4. These different types of DNA are inherited in various ways and serve different genealogical purposes.

Males Females
Y DNA Yes No
Mitochondrial DNA Yes Yes
Autosomal DNA Yes Yes
X Chromosome Yes, their mother’s only Yes, from both parents

Different Inheritance Paths

Different types of DNA are inherited from different ancestors, down different ancestral paths.

Inheritance Paths

The inheritance path for Y DNA is father to son and is inherited by the brother, in this example, from his direct male ancestors shown by the blue arrow. The sister does not have a Y chromosome.

The inheritance path for the red mitochondrial DNA for both the brother and sister is from the direct matrilineal ancestors, only, shown by the red arrow.

Autosomal DNA is inherited from all ancestral lines on both the father’s and mother’s side of your tree, as illustrated by the broken green arrow.

The X chromosome has a slightly different inheritance path, depending on whether you are a male or female.

Let’s take a look at each type of inheritance, how it works, along with when and where it’s useful for genealogy.

Autosomal DNA

Autosomal DNA testing is the most common. It’s the DNA that you inherit from both of your parents through all ancestral lines back in time several generations. Autosomal DNA results in matches at the major testing companies such as FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry, and 23andMe where testers view trees or other hints, hoping to determine a common ancestor.

How does autosomal DNA work?

22 autosomes

Every person has two each of 22 chromosomes, shown above, meaning one copy is contributed by your mother and one copy by your father. Paired together, they form the two-sided shape we are familiar with.

For each pair of chromosomes, you receive one from your father, shown with a blue arrow under chromosome 1, and one from your mother, shown in red. In you, these are randomly combined, so you can’t readily tell which piece comes from which parent. Therein lies the challenge for genealogy.

This inheritance pattern is the same for all chromosomes, except for the 23rd pair of chromosomes, at bottom right, which determined the sex of the child.

The 23rd chromosome pair is inherited differently for males and females. One copy is the Y chromosome, shown in blue, and one copy is the X, shown in red. If you receive a Y chromosome from your father, you’re a male. If you receive an X from your father, you’re a female.

Autosomal Inheritance

First, let’s talk about how chromosomes 1-22 are inherited, omitting chromosome 23, beginning with grandparents.

Inheritance son daughter

Every person inherits precisely half of each of their parents’ autosomal DNA. For example, you will receive one copy of your mother’s chromosome 1. Your mother’s chromosome 1 is a combination of her mother’s and father’s chromosome 1. Therefore, you’ll receive ABOUT 25% of each of your grandparents’ chromosome 1.

Inheritance son daughter difference

In reality, you will probably receive a different amount of your grandparent’s DNA, not exactly 25%, because your mother or father will probably contribute slightly more (or less) of the DNA of one of their parents than the other to their offspring.

Which pieces of DNA you inherit from your parents is random, and we don’t know how the human body selects which portions are and are not inherited, other than we know that large pieces are inherited together.

Therefore, the son and daughter won’t inherit the exact same segments of the grandparents’ DNA. They will likely share some of the same segments, but not all the same segments.

Inheritance maternal autosomalYou’ll notice that each parent carries more of each color DNA than they pass on to their own children, so different children receive different pieces of their parents’ DNA, and varying percentages of their grandparents’ DNA.

I wrote about a 4 Generation Inheritance Study, here.

Perspective

Keep in mind that you will only inherit half of the DNA that each of your parents carries.

Looking at a chromosome browser, you match your parents on all of YOUR chromosomes.

Inheritance parental autosomal

For example, this is me compared to my father. I match my father on either his mother’s side, or his father’s side, on every single location on MY chromosomes. But I don’t match ALL of my father’s DNA, because I only received half of what he has.

From your parents’ perspective, you only have half of their DNA.

Let’s look at an illustration.

Inheritance mom dad

Here is an example of one of your father’s pairs of chromosomes 1-22. It doesn’t matter which chromosome, the concepts are the same.

He inherited the blue chromosome from his father and the pink chromosome from his mother.

Your father contributed half of his DNA to you, but that half is comprised of part of his father’s chromosome, and part of his mother’s chromosome, randomly selected in chunks referred to as segments.

Inheritance mom dad segments

Your father’s chromosomes are shown in the upper portion of the graphic, and your chromosome that you inherited from you father is shown below.

On your copy of your father’s chromosome, I’ve darkened the dark blue and dark pink segments that you inherited from him. You did not receive the light blue and light pink segments. Those segments of DNA are lost to your line, but one of your siblings might have inherited some of those pieces.

Inheritance mom dad both segments

Now, I’ve added the DNA that you inherited from your Mom into the mixture. You can see that you inherited the dark green from your Mom’s father and the dark peach from your Mom’s mother.

Inheritance grandparents dna

These colored segments reflect the DNA that you inherited from your 4 grandparents on this chromosome.

I often see questions from people wondering how they match someone from their mother’s side and someone else from their father’s side – on the same segment.

Understanding that you have a copy of the same chromosome from your mother and one from your father clearly shows how this happens.

Inheritance match 1 2

You carry a chromosome from each parent, so you will match different people on the same segment. One match is to the chromosome copy from Mom, and one match is to Dad’s DNA.

Inheritance 4 gen

Here is the full 4 generation inheritance showing Match 1 matching a segment from your Dad’s father and Match 2 matching a segment from your Mom’s father.

Your Parents Will Have More Matches Than You Do

From your parents’ perspective, you will only match (roughly) half of the DNA with other people that they will match. On your Dad’s side, on segment 1, you won’t match anyone pink because you didn’t inherit your paternal grandmother’s copy of segment 1, nor did you inherit your maternal grandmother’s segment 1 either. However, your parents will each have matches on those segments of DNA that you didn’t inherit from them.

From your perspective, one or the other of your parents will match ALL of the people you match – just like we see in Match 1 and Match 2.

Matching you plus either of your parents, on the same segment, is exactly how we determine whether a match is valid, meaning identical by descent, or invalid, meaning identical by chance. I wrote about that in the article, Concepts: Identical by…Descent, State, Population and Chance.

Inheritance on chromosomes 1-22 works in this fashion. So does the X chromosome, fundamentally, but the X chromosome has a unique inheritance pattern.

X Chromosome

The X chromosome is inherited differently for males as compared to females. This is because the 23rd pair of chromosomes determines a child’s sex.

If the child is a female, the child inherits an X from both parents. Inheritance works the same way as chromosomes 1-22, conceptually, but the inheritance path on her father’s side is different.

If the child is a male, the father contributes a Y chromosome, but no X, so the only X chromosome a male has is his mother’s X chromosome.

Males inherit X chromosomes differently than females, so a valid X match can only descend from certain ancestors on your tree.

inheritance x fan

This is my fan chart showing the X chromosome inheritance path, generated by using Charting Companion. My father’s paternal side of his chart is entirely blank – because he only received his X chromosome from his mother.

You’ll notice that the X chromosome can only descend from any male though his mother – the effect being a sort of checkerboard inheritance pattern. Only the pink and blue people potentially contributed all or portions of X chromosomes to me.

This can actually be very useful for genealogy, because several potential ancestors are immediately eliminated. I cannot have any X chromosome segment from the white boxes with no color.

The X Chromsome in Action

Here’s an X example of how inheritance works.

Inheritance X

The son inherits his entire X chromosome from his mother. She may give him all of her father’s or mother’s X, or parts of both. It’s not uncommon to find an entire X chromosome inherited. The son inherits no X from his father, because he inherits the Y chromosome instead.

Inheritance X daughter

The daughter inherits her father’s X chromosome, which is the identical X chromosome that her father inherited from his mother. The father doesn’t have any other X to contribute to his daughter, so like her father, she inherits no portion of an X chromosome from her paternal grandfather.

The daughter also received segments of her mother’s X that her mother inherited maternally and paternally. As with the son, the daughter can receive an entire X chromosome from either her maternal grandmother or maternal grandfather.

This next illustration ONLY pertains to chromosome 23, the X and Y chromosomes.

Inheritance x y

You can see in this combined graphic that the Y is only inherited by sons from one direct line, and the father’s X is only inherited by his daughter.

X chromosome results are included with autosomal results at both Family Tree DNA and 23andMe, but are not provided at MyHeritage. Ancestry, unfortunately, does not provide segment information of any kind, for the X or chromosomes 1-22. You can, however, transfer the DNA files to Family Tree DNA where you can view your X matches.

Note that X matches need to be larger than regular autosomal matches to be equally as useful due to lower SNP density. I use 10-15 cM as a minimum threshold for consideration, equivalent to about 7 cM for autosomal matches. In other words, roughly double the rule of thumb for segment size matching validity.

Autosomal Education

My blog is full of autosomal educational articles and is fully keyword searchable, but here are two introductory articles that include information from the four major vendors:

When to Purchase Autosomal DNA Tests

Literally, anytime you want to work on genealogy to connect with cousins, prove ancestors or break through brick walls.

  • Purchase tests for yourself and your siblings if both parents aren’t living
  • Purchase tests for both parents
  • Purchase tests for all grandparents
  • Purchase tests for siblings of your parents or your grandparents – they have DNA your parents (and you) didn’t inherit
  • Test all older generation family members
  • If the family member is deceased, test their offspring
  • Purchase tests for estimates of your ethnicity or ancestral origins

Y DNA

Y DNA is only inherited by males from males. The Y chromosome is what makes a male, male. Men inherit the Y chromosome intact from their father, with no contribution from the mother or any female, which is why men’s Y DNA matches that of their father and is not diluted in each generation.

Inheritance y mtdna

If there are no adoptions in the line, known or otherwise, the Y DNA will match men from the same Y DNA line with only small differences for many generations. Eventually, small changes known as mutations accrue. After many accumulated mutations taking several hundred years, men no longer match on special markers called Short Tandem Repeats (STR). STR markers generally match within the past 500-800 years, but further back in time, they accrue too many mutations to be considered a genealogical-era match.

Family Tree DNA sells this test in 67 and 111 marker panels, along with a product called the Big Y-700.

The Big Y-700 is the best-of-class of Y DNA tests and includes at least 700 STR markers along with SNPs which are also useful genealogically plus reach further back in time to create a more complete picture.

The Big Y-700 test scans the entire useful portion of the Y chromosome, about 15 million base pairs, as compared to 67 or 111 STR locations.

67 and 111 Marker Panel Customers Receive:

  • STR marker matches
  • Haplogroup estimate
  • Ancestral Origins
  • Matches Map showing locations of the earliest known ancestors of matches
  • Haplogroup Origins
  • Migration Maps
  • STR marker results
  • Haplotree and SNPs
  • SNP map

Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA customers all receive options for Advanced Matching.

Big Y-700 customers receive, in addition to the above:

  • All of the SNP markers in the known phylotree shown publicly, here
  • A refined, definitive haplogroup
  • Their place on the Block Tree, along with their matches
  • New or unknown private SNPs that might lead to a new haplogroup, or genetic clan, assignment
  • 700+ STR markers
  • Matching on both the STR markers and SNP markers, separately

Y DNA Education

I wrote several articles about understanding and using Y DNA:

When to Purchase Y DNA Tests

The Y DNA test is for males who wish to learn more about their paternal line and match against other men to determine or verify their genealogical lineage.

Women cannot test directly, but they can purchase the Y DNA test for men such as fathers, brothers, and uncles.

If you are purchasing for someone else, I recommend purchasing the Big Y-700 initially.

Why purchase the Big Y-700, when you can purchase a lower level test for less money? Because if you ever want to upgrade, and you likely will, you have to contact the tester and obtain their permission to upgrade their test. They may be ill, disinterested, or deceased, and you may not be able to upgrade their test at that time, so strike while the iron is hot.

The Big Y-700 provides testers, by far, the most Y DNA data to work (and fish) with.

Mitochondrial DNA

Inheritance mito

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to both sexes of their children, but only females pass it on.

In your tree, you and your siblings all inherit your mother’s mitochondrial DNA. She inherited it from her mother, and your grandmother from her mother, and so forth.

Mitochondrial DNA testers at FamilyTreeDNA receive:

  • A definitive haplogroup, thought of as a genetic clan
  • Matching
  • Matches Map showing locations of the earliest know ancestors of matches
  • Personalized mtDNA Journey video
  • Mutations
  • Haplogroup origins
  • Ancestral origins
  • Migration maps
  • Advanced matching

Of course, Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA testers can join various projects.

Mitochondrial DNA Education

I created a Mitochondrial DNA page with a comprehensive list of educational articles and resources.

When to Purchase Mitochondrial DNA Tests

Mitochondrial DNA can be valuable in terms of matching as well as breaking down brick walls for women ancestors with no surnames. You can also use targeted testing to prove, or disprove, relationship theories.

Furthermore, your mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, like Y DNA haplogroups, provides information about where your ancestors came from by identifying the part of the world where they have the most matches.

You’ll want to purchase the mtFull sequence test provided by Family Tree DNA. Earlier tests, such as the mtPlus, can be upgraded. The full sequence test tests all 16,569 locations on the mitochondria and provides testers with the highest level matching as well as their most refined haplogroup.

The full sequence test is only sold by Family Tree DNA and provides matching along with various tools. You’ll also be contributing to science by building the mitochondrial haplotree of womankind through the Million Mito Project.

Combined Resources for Genealogists

You may need to reach out to family members to obtain Y and mitochondrial DNA for your various genealogical lines.

For example, the daughter in the tree below, a genealogist, can personally take an autosomal test along with a mitochondrial test for her matrilineal line, but she cannot test for Y DNA, nor can she obtain her paternal grandmother’s mitochondrial DNA directly by testing herself.

Hearts represent mitochondrial DNA, and stars, Y DNA.

Inheritance combined

However, our genealogist’s brother, father or grandfather can test for her father’s (blue star) Y DNA.

Her father or any of his siblings can test for her paternal grandmother’s (hot pink heart) mitochondrial DNA, which provides information not available from any other tester in this tree, except for the paternal grandmother herself.

Our genealogist’s paternal grandfather, and his siblings, can test for his mother’s (yellow heart) mitochondrial DNA.

Our genealogist’s maternal grandfather can test for his (green star) Y DNA and (red heart) mitochondrial DNA.

And of course, it goes without saying that every single generation upstream of the daughter, our genealogist, should all take autosomal DNA tests.

So, with several candidates, who can and should test for what?

Person Y DNA Mitochondrial Autosomal
Daughter No Y – can’t test Yes, her pink mother’s Yes – Test
Son Yes – blue Y Yes, his pink mother’s Yes – Test
Father Yes – blue Y Yes – his magenta mother’s Yes – Test
Paternal Grandfather Yes – blue Y – Best to Test Yes, his yellow mother’s – Test Yes – Test
Mother No Y – can’t test Yes, her pink mother’s Yes – Test
Maternal Grandmother No Y – can’t test Yes, her pink mother’s – Best to Test Yes – Test
Maternal Grandfather Yes – green Y – Test Yes, his red mother’s – Test Yes – Test

The best person/people to test for each of the various lines and types of DNA is shown bolded above…assuming that all people are living. Of course, if they aren’t, then test anyone else in the tree who carries that particular DNA – and don’t forget to consider aunts and uncles, or their children, as candidates.

If one person takes the Y and/or mitochondrial DNA test to represent a specific line, you don’t need another person to take the same test for that line. The only possible exception would be to confirm a specific Y DNA result matches a lineage as expected.

Looking at our three-generation example, you’ll be able to obtain a total of two Y DNA lines, three mitochondrial DNA lines, and 8 autosomal results, helping you to understand and piece together your family line.

You might ask, given that the parents and grandparents have all autosomally tested in this example, if our genealogist really needs to test her brother, and the answer is probably not – at least not today.

However, in cases like this, I do test the sibling, simply because I can learn and it may encourage their interest or preserve their DNA for their children who might someday be interested. We also don’t know what kind of advances the future holds.

If the parents aren’t both available, then you’ll want to test as many of your (and their) siblings as possible to attempt to recover as much of the parents’ DNA, (and matches) as possible.

Your family members’ DNA is just as valuable to your research as your own.

Increase Your Odds

Don’t let any of your inherited DNA go unused.

You can increase your odds of having autosomal matches by making sure you are in all 4 major vendor databases.

Both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage accept transfers from 23andMe and Ancestry, who don’t accept transfers. Transferring and matching is free, and their unlock fees, $19 at FamilyTreeDNA, and $29 at MyHeritage, respectively, to unlock their advanced tools are both less expensive than retesting.

You’ll find easy-to-follow step-by-step transfer instructions to and from the vendors in the article DNA File Upload-Download and Transfer Instructions to and from DNA Testing Companies.

Order

You can order any of the tests mentioned above by clicking on these links:

Autosomal:

Transfers

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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

Y DNA: Step-by-Step Big Y Analysis

Many males take the Big Y-700 test offered by FamilyTreeDNA, so named because testers receive the most granular haplogroup SNP results in addition to 700+ included STR marker results. If you’re not familiar with those terms, you might enjoy the article, STRs vs SNPs, Multiple DNA Personalities.

The Big Y test gives testers the best of both, along with contributing to the building of the Y phylotree. You can read about the additions to the Y tree via the Big Y, plus how it helped my own Estes project, here.

Some men order this test of their own volition, some at the request of a family member, and some in response to project administrators who are studying a specific topic – like a particular surname.

The Big Y-700 test is the most complete Y DNA test offered, testing millions of locations on the Y chromosome to reveal mutations, some unique and never before discovered, many of which are useful to genealogists. The Big Y-700 includes the traditional Y DNA STR marker testing along with SNP results that define haplogroups. Translated, both types of test results are compared to other men for genealogy, which is the primary goal of DNA testing.

Being a female, I often recruit males in my family surname lines and sponsor testing. My McNiel line, historic haplogroup R-M222, has been particularly frustrating both genealogically as well as genetically after hitting a brick wall in the 1700s. My McNeill cousin agreed to take a Big Y test, and this analysis walks through the process of understanding what those results are revealing.

After my McNeill cousin’s Big Y results came back from the lab, I spent a significant amount of time turning over every leaf to extract as much information as possible, both from the Big Y-700 DNA test itself and as part of a broader set of intertwined genetic information and genealogical evidence.

I invite you along on this journey as I explain the questions we hoped to answer and then evaluate Big Y DNA results along with other information to shed light on those quandaries.

I will warn you, this article is long because it’s a step-by-step instruction manual for you to follow when interpreting your own Big Y results. I’d suggest you simply read this article the first time to get a feel for the landscape, before working through the process with your own results. There’s so much available that most people leave laying on the table because they don’t understand how to extract the full potential of these test results.

If you’d like to read more about the Big Y-700 test, the FamilyTreeDNA white paper is here, and I wrote about the Big Y-700 when it was introduced, here.

You can read an overview of Y DNA, here, and Y DNA: The Dictionary of DNA, here.

Ok, get yourself a cuppa joe, settle in, and let’s go!

George and Thomas McNiel – Who Were They?

George and Thomas McNiel appear together in Spotsylvania County, Virginia records. Y DNA results, in combination with early records, suggest that these two men were brothers.

I wrote about discovering that Thomas McNeil’s descendant had taken a Y DNA test and matched George’s descendants, here, and about my ancestor George McNiel, here.

McNiel family history in Wilkes County, NC, recorded in a letter written in 1898 by George McNiel’s grandson tells us that George McNiel, born about 1720, came from Scotland with his two brothers, John and Thomas. Elsewhere, it was reported that the McNiel brothers sailed from Glasgow, Scotland and that George had been educated at the University of Edinburgh for the Presbyterian ministry but had a change of religious conviction during the voyage. As a result, a theological tiff developed that split the brothers.

George, eventually, if not immediately, became a Baptist preacher. His origins remain uncertain.

The brothers reportedly arrived about 1750 in Maryland, although I have no confirmation. By 1754, Thomas McNeil appeared in the Spotsylvania County, VA records with a male being apprenticed to him as a tailor. In 1757, in Spotsylvania County, the first record of George McNeil showed James Pey being apprenticed to learn the occupation of tailor.

If George and Thomas were indeed tailors, that’s not generally a country occupation and would imply that they both apprenticed as such when they were growing up, wherever that was.

Thomas McNeil is recorded in one Spotsylvania deed as being from King and Queen County, VA. If this is the case, and George and Thomas McNiel lived in King and Queen, at least for a time, this would explain the lack of early records, as King and Queen is a thrice-burned county. If there was a third brother, John, I find no record of him.

My now-deceased cousin, George McNiel, initially tested for the McNiel Y DNA and also functioned for decades as the family historian. George, along with his wife, inventoried the many cemeteries of Wilkes County, NC.

George believed through oral history that the family descended from the McNiel’s of Barra.

McNiel Big Y Kisumul

George had this lovely framed print of Kisimul Castle, seat of the McNiel Clan on the Isle of Barra, proudly displayed on his wall.

That myth was dispelled with the initial DNA testing when our line did not match the Barra line, as can be seen in the MacNeil DNA project, much to George’s disappointment. As George himself said, the McNiel history is both mysterious and contradictory. Amen to that, George!

McNiel Big Y Niall 9 Hostages

However, in place of that history, we were instead awarded the Niall of the 9 Hostages badge, created many years ago based on a 12 marker STR result profile. Additionally, the McNiel DNA was assigned to haplogroup R-M222. Of course, today’s that’s a far upstream haplogroup, but 15+ years ago, we had only a fraction of the testing or knowledge that we do today.

The name McNeil, McNiel, or however you spell it, resembles Niall, so on the surface, this made at least some sense. George was encouraged by the new information, even though he still grieved the loss of Kisimul Castle.

Of course, this also caused us to wonder about the story stating our line had originated in Scotland because Niall of the 9 Hostages lived in Ireland.

Niall of the 9 Hostages

Niall of the 9 Hostages was reportedly a High King of Ireland sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries. However, actual historical records place him living someplace in the mid-late 300s to early 400s, with his death reported in different sources as occurring before 382 and alternatively about 411. The Annals of the Four Masters dates his reign to 379-405, and Foras Feasa ar Eirinn says from 368-395. Activities of his sons are reported between 379 and 405.

In other words, Niall lived in Ireland about 1500-1600 years ago, give or take.

Migration

Generally, migration was primarily from Scotland to Ireland, not the reverse, at least as far as we know in recorded history. Many Scottish families settled in the Ulster Plantation beginning in 1606 in what is now Northern Ireland. The Scots-Irish immigration to the states had begun by 1718. Many Protestant Scottish families immigrated from Ireland carrying the traditional “Mc” names and Presbyterian religion, clearly indicating their Scottish heritage. The Irish were traditionally Catholic. George could have been one of these immigrants.

We have unresolved conflicts between the following pieces of McNeil history:

  • Descended from McNeil’s of Barra – disproved through original Y DNA testing.
  • Immigrated from Glasgow, Scotland, and schooled in the Presbyterian religion in Edinburgh.
  • Descended from the Ui Neill dynasty, an Irish royal family dominating the northern half of Ireland from the 6th to 10th centuries.

Of course, it’s possible that our McNiel/McNeil line could have been descended from the Ui Neill dynasty AND also lived in Scotland before immigrating.

It’s also possible that they immigrated from Ireland, not Scotland.

And finally, it’s possible that the McNeil surname and M222 descent are not related and those two things are independent and happenstance.

A New Y DNA Tester

Since cousin George is, sadly, deceased, we needed a new male Y DNA tester to represent our McNiel line. Fortunately, one such cousin graciously agreed to take the Big Y-700 test so that we might, hopefully, answer numerous questions:

  • Does the McNiel line have a unique haplogroup, and if so, what does it tell us?
  • Does our McNiel line descend from Ireland or Scotland?
  • Where are our closest geographic clusters?
  • What can we tell by tracing our haplogroup back in time?
  • Do any other men match the McNiel haplogroup, and what do we know about their history?
  • Does the Y DNA align with any specific clans, clan history, or prehistory contributing to clans?

With DNA, you don’t know what you don’t know until you test.

Welcome – New Haplogroup

I was excited to see my McNeill cousin’s results arrive. He had graciously allowed me access, so I eagerly took a look.

He had been assigned to haplogroup R-BY18350.

McNiel Big Y branch

Initially, I saw that indeed, six men matched my McNeill cousin, assigned to the same haplogroup. Those surnames were:

  • Scott
  • McCollum
  • Glass
  • McMichael
  • Murphy
  • Campbell

Notice that I said, “were.” That’s right, because shortly after the results were returned, based on markers called private variants, Family Tree DNA assigned a new haplogroup to my McNeill cousin.

Drum roll please!!!

Haplogroup R-BY18332

McNiel Big Y BY18332

Additionally, my cousin’s Big Y test resulted in several branches being split, shown on the Block Tree below.

McNIel Big Y block tree

How cool is this!

This Block Tree graphic shows, visually, that our McNiel line is closest to McCollum and Campbell testers, and is a brother clade to those branches showing to the left and right of our new R-BY18332. It’s worth noting that BY25938 is an equivalent SNP to BY18332, at least today. In the future, perhaps another tester will test, allowing those two branches to be further subdivided.

Furthermore, after the new branches were added, Cousin McNeill has no more Private Variants, which are unnamed SNPs. There were all utilized in naming additional tree branches!

I wrote about the Big Y Block Tree here.

Niall (Or Whoever) Was Prolific

The first thing that became immediately obvious was how successful our progenitor was.

McNiel Big Y M222 project

click to enlarge

In the MacNeil DNA project, 38 men with various surname spellings descend from M222. There are more in the database who haven’t joined the MacNeil project.

Whoever originally carried SNP R-M222, someplace between 2400 and 5900 years ago, according to the block tree, either had many sons who had sons, or his descendants did. One thing is for sure, his line certainly is in no jeopardy of dying out today.

The Haplogroup R-M222 DNA Project, which studies this particular haplogroup, reads like a who’s who of Irish surnames.

Big Y Match Results

Big Y matches must have no more than 30 SNP differences total, including private variants and named SNPs combined. Named SNPs function as haplogroup names. In other words, Cousin McNeill’s terminal SNP, meaning the SNP furthest down on the tree, R-BY18332, is also his haplogroup name.

Private variants are mutations that have occurred in the line being tested, but not yet in other lines. Occurrences of private variants in multiple testers allow the Private Variant to be named and placed on the haplotree.

Of course, Family Tree DNA offers two types of Y DNA testing, STR testing which is the traditional 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 marker testing panels, and the Big Y-700 test which provides testers with:

  • All 111 STR markers used for matching and comparison
  • Another 589+ STR markers only available through the Big Y test increasing the total STR markers tested from 111 to minimally 700
  • A scan of the Y chromosome, looking for new and known SNPs and STR mutations

Of course, these tests keep on giving, both with matching and in the case of the Big Y – continued haplogroup discovery and refinement in the future as more testers test. The Big Y is an investment as a test that keeps on giving, not just a one-time purchase.

I wrote about the Big Y-700 when it was introduced here and a bit later here.

Let’s see what the results tell us. We’ll start by taking a look at the matches, the first place that most testers begin.

Mcniel Big Y STR menu

Regular Y DNA STR matching shows the results for the STR results through 111 markers. The Big Y section, below, provides results for the Big Y SNPs, Big Y matches and additional STR results above 111 markers.

McNiel Big Y menu

Let’s take a look.

STR and SNP Testing

Of Cousin McNeil’s matches, 2 Big Y testers and several STR testers carry some variant of the Neal, Neel, McNiel, McNeil, O’Neil, etc. surnames by many spellings.

While STR matching is focused primarily on a genealogical timeframe, meaning current to roughly 500-800 years in the past, SNP testing reaches much further back in time.

  • STR matching reaches approximately 500-800 years.
  • Big Y matching reaches approximately 1500 years.
  • SNPs and haplogroups reach back infinitely, and can be tracked historically beyond the genealogical timeframe, shedding light on our ancestors’ migration paths, helping to answer the age-old question of “where did we come from.”

These STR and Big Y time estimates are based on a maximum number of mutations for testers to be considered matches paired with known genealogy.

Big Y results consider two men a match if they have 30 or fewer total SNP differences. Using NGS (next generation sequencing) scan technology, the targeted regions of the Y chromosome are scanned multiple times, although not all regions are equally useful.

Individually tested SNPs are still occasionally available in some cases, but individual SNP testing has generally been eclipsed by the greatly more efficient enriched technology utilized with Big Y testing.

Think of SNP testing as walking up to a specific location and taking a look, while NGS scan technology is a drone flying over the entire region 30-50 times looking multiple times to be sure they see the more distant target accurately.

Multiple scans acquiring the same read in the same location, shown below in the Big Y browser tool by the pink mutations at the red arrow, confirm that NGS sequencing is quite reliable.

McNiel Big Y browser

These two types of tests, STR panels 12-111 and the SNP-based Big Y, are meant to be utilized in combination with each other.

STR markers tend to mutate faster and are less reliable, experiencing frustrating back mutations. SNPs very rarely experience this level of instability. Some regions of the Y chromosome are messier or more complicated than others, causing problems with interpreting reads reliably.

For purposes of clarity, the string of pink A reads above is “not messy,” and “A” is very clearly a mutation because all ~39 scanned reads report the same value of “A,” and according to the legend, all of those scans are high quality. Multiple combined reads of A and G, for example, in the same location, would be tough to call accurately and would be considered unreliable.

You can see examples of a few scattered pink misreads, above.

The two different kinds of tests produce results for overlapping timeframes – with STR mutations generally sifting through closer relationships and SNPs reaching back further in time.

Many more men have taken the Y DNA STR tests over the last 20 years. The Big Y tests have only been available for the past handful of years.

STR testing produces the following matches for my McNiel cousin:

STR Level STR Matches STR Matches Who Took the Big Y % STR Who Took Big Y STR Matches Who Also Match on the Big Y
12 5988 796 13 52
25 6660 725 11 57
37 878 94 11 12
67 1225 252 21 23
111 4 2 50 1

Typically, one would expect that all STR matches that took the Big Y would match on the Big Y, since STR results suggest relationships closer in time, but that’s not the case.

  • Many STR testers who have taken the Big Y seem to be just slightly too distant to be considered a Big Y match using SNPs, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
  • However, this could easily be a function of the fact that STRs mutate both backward and forwards and may have simply “happened” to have mutated to a common value – which suggests a closer relationship than actually exists.
  • It could also be that the SNP matching threshold needs to be raised since the enhanced and enriched Big Y-700 technology now finds more mutations than the older Big Y-500. I would like to see SNP matching expanded to 40 from 30 because it seems that clan connections may be being missed. Thirty may have been a great threshold before the more sensitive Big Y-700 test revealed more mutations, which means that people hit that 30 threshold before they did with previous tests.
  • Between the combination of STRs and SNPs mutating at the same time, some Big Y matches are pushed just out of range.

In a nutshell, the correlation I expected to find in terms of matching between STR and Big Y testing is not what I found. Let’s take a look at what we discovered.

It’s worth noting that the analysis is easier if you are working together with at least your closest matches or have access via projects to at least some of their results. You can see common STR values to 111 in projects, such as surname projects. Project administrators can view more if project members have allowed access.

Unexpected Discoveries and Gotchas

While I did expect STR matches to also match on the Big Y, I don’t expect the Big Y matches to necessarily match on the STR tests. After all, the Big Y is testing for more deep-rooted history.

Only one of the McNiel Big Y matches also matches at all levels of STR testing. That’s not surprising since Big Y matching reaches further back in time than STR testing, and indeed, not all STR testers have taken a Big Y test.

Of my McNeill cousin’s closest Big Y matches, we find the following relative to STR matching.

Surname Ancestral Location Big Y Variant/SNP Difference STR Match Level
Scott 1565 in Buccleuch, Selkirkshire, Scotland 20 12, 25, 37, 67
McCollum Not listed 21 67 only
Glass 1618 in Banbridge, County Down, Ireland 23 12, 25, 67
McMichael 1720 County Antrim, Ireland 28 67 only
Murphy Not listed 29 12, 25, 37, 67
Campbell Scotland 30 12, 25, 37, 67, 111

It’s ironic that the man who matches on all STR levels has the most variants, 30 – so many that with 1 more, he would not have been considered a Big Y match at all.

Only the Campbell man matches on all STR panels. Unfortunately, this Campbell male does not match the Clan Campbell line, so that momentary clan connection theory is immediately put to rest.

Block Tree Matches – What They Do, and Don’t, Mean

Note that a Carnes male, the other person who matches my McNeill cousin at 111 STR markers and has taken a Big Y test does not match at the Big Y level. His haplogroup BY69003 is located several branches up the tree, with our common ancestor, R-S588, having lived about 2000 years ago. Interestingly, we do match other R-S588 men.

This is an example where the total number of SNP mutations is greater than 30 for these 2 men (McNeill and Carnes), but not for my McNeill cousin compared with other men on the same S588 branch.

McNiel Big Y BY69003

By searching for Carnes on the block tree, I can view my cousin’s match to Mr. Carnes, even though they don’t match on the Big Y. STR matches who have taken the Big Y test, even if they don’t match at the Big Y level, are shown on the Block Tree on their branch.

By clicking on the haplogroup name, R-BY69003, above, I can then see three categories of information about the matches at that haplogroup level, below.

McNiel Big Y STR differences

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By selecting “Matches,” I can see results under the column, “Big Y.” This does NOT mean that the tester matches either Mr. Carnes or Mr. Riker on the Big Y, but is telling me that there are 14 differences out of 615 STR markers above 111 markers for Mr. Carnes, and 8 of 389 for Mr. Riker.

In other words, this Big Y column is providing STR information, not indicating a Big Y match. You can’t tell one way or another if someone shown on the Block Tree is shown there because they are a Big Y match or because they are an STR match that shares the same haplogroup.

As a cautionary note, your STR matches that have taken the Big Y ARE shown on the block tree, which is a good thing. Just don’t assume that means they are Big Y matches.

The 30 SNP threshold precludes some matches.

My research indicates that the people who match on STRs and carry the same haplogroup, but don’t match at the Big Y level, are every bit as relevant as those who do match on the Big Y.

McNIel Big Y block tree menu

If you’re not vigilant when viewing the block tree, you’ll make the assumption that you match all of the people showing on the Block Tree on the Big Y test since Block Tree appears under the Big Y tools. You have to check Big Y matches specifically to see if you match people shown on the Block Tree. You don’t necessarily match all of them on the Big Y test, and vice versa, of course.

You match Block Tree inhabitants either:

  • On the Big Y, but not the STR panels
  • On the Big Y AND at least one level of STRs between 12 and 111, inclusive
  • On STRs to someone who has taken the Big Y test, but whom you do not match on the Big Y test

Big Y-500 or Big Y-700?

McNiel Big Y STR differences

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Looking at the number of STR markers on the matches page of the Block Tree for BY69003, above, or on the STR Matches page is the only way to determine whether or not your match took the Big Y-700 or the Big Y-500 test.

If you add 111 to the Big Y SNP number of 615 for Mr. Carnes, the total equals 726, which is more than 700, so you know he took the Big Y-700.

If you add 111 to 389 for Mr. Riker, you get 500, which is less than 700, so you know that he took the Big Y-500 and not the Big Y-700.

There are still a very small number of men in the database who did not upgrade to 111 when they ordered their original Big Y test, but generally, this calculation methodology will work. Today, all Big Y tests are upgraded to 111 markers if they have not already tested at that level.

Why does Big Y-500 vs Big Y-700 matter? The enriched chemistry behind the testing technology improved significantly with the Big Y-700 test, enhancing Y-DNA results. I was an avowed skeptic until I saw the results myself after upgrading men in the Estes DNA project. In other words, if Big Y-500 testers upgrade, they will probably have more SNPs in common.

You may want to contact your closest Big Y-500 matches and ask if they will consider upgrading to the Big Y-700 test. For example, if we had close McNiel or similar surname matches, I would do exactly that.

Matching Both the Big Y and STRs – No Single Source

There is no single place or option to view whether or not you match someone BOTH on the Big Y AND STR markers. You can see both match categories individually, of course, but not together.

You can determine if your STR matches took the Big Y, below, and their haplogroup, which is quite useful, but you can’t tell if you match them at the Big Y level on this page.

McNiel Big Y STR match Big Y

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Selecting “Display Only Matches With Big Y” means displaying matches to men who took the Big Y test, not necessarily men you match on the Big Y. Mr. Conley, in the example above, does not match my McNeill cousin on the Big Y but does match him at 12 and 25 STR markers.

I hope FTDNA will add three display options:

  • Select only men that match on the Big Y in the STR panel
  • Add an option for Big Y on the advanced matches page
  • Indicate men who also match on STRs on the Big Y match page

It was cumbersome and frustrating to have to view all of the matches multiple times to compile various pieces of information in a separate spreadsheet.

No Big Y Match Download

There is also no option to download your Big Y matches. With a few matches, this doesn’t matter, but with 119 matches, or more, it does. As more people test, everyone will have more matches. That’s what we all want!

What you can do, however, is to download your STR matches from your match page at levels 12-111 individually, then combine them into one spreadsheet. (It would be nice to be able to download them all at once.)

McNiel Big Y csv

You can then add your Big Y matches manually to the STR spreadsheet, or you can simply create a separate Big Y spreadsheet. That’s what I chose to do after downloading my cousin’s 14,737 rows of STR matches. I told you that R-M222 was prolific! I wasn’t kidding.

This high number of STR matches also perfectly illustrates why the Big Y SNP results were so critical in establishing the backbone relationship structure. Using the two tools together is indispensable.

An additional benefit to downloading STR results is that you can sort the STR spreadsheet columns in surname order. This facilitates easily spotting all spelling variations of McNiel, including words like Niel, Neal and such that might be relevant but that you might not notice otherwise.

Creating a Big Y Spreadsheet

My McNiel cousin has 119 Big Y-700 matches.

I built a spreadsheet with the following columns facilitating sorting in a number of ways, with definitions as follows:

McNiel Big Y spreadsheet

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  • First Name
  • Last Name – You will want to search matches on your personal page at Family Tree DNA by this surname later, so be sure if there is a hyphenated name to enter it completely.
  • Haplogroup – You’ll want to sort by this field.
  • Convergent – A field you’ll complete when doing your analysis. Convergence is the common haplogroup in the tree shared by you and your match. In the case of the green matches above, which are color-coded on my spreadsheet to indicate the closest matches with my McNiel cousin, the convergent haplogroup is BY18350.
  • Common Tree Gen – This column is the generations on the Block Tree shown to this common haplogroup. In the example above, it’s between 9 and 14 SNP generations. I’ll show you where to gather this information.
  • Geographic Location – Can be garnered from 4 sources. No color in that cell indicates that this information came from the Earliest Known Ancestor (EKA) field in the STR matches. Blue indicates that I opened the tree and pulled the location information from that source. Orange means that someone else by the same surname whom the tester also Y DNA matches shows this location. I am very cautious when assigning orange, and it’s risky because it may not be accurate. A fourth source is to use Ancestry, MyHeritage, or another genealogical resource to identify a location if an individual provides genealogical information but no location in the EKA field. Utilizing genealogy databases is only possible if enough information is provided to make a unique identification. John Smith 1700-1750 won’t do it, but Seamus McDougal (1750-1810) married to Nelly Anderson might just work.
  • STR Match – Tells me if the Big Y match also matches on STR markers, and if so, which ones. Only the first 111 markers are used for matching. No STR match generally means the match is further back in time, but there are no hard and fast rules.
  • Big Y Match – My original goal was to combine this information with the STR match spreadsheet. If you don’t wish to combine the two, then you don’t need this column.
  • Tree – An easy way for me to keep track of which matches do and do not have a tree. Please upload or create a tree.

You can also add a spreadsheet column for comments or contact information.

McNiel Big Y profile

You will also want to click your match’s name to display their profile card, paying particular attention to the “About Me” information where people sometimes enter genealogical information. Also, scan the Ancestral Surnames where the match may enter a location for a specific surname.

Private Variants

I added additional spreadsheet columns, not shown above, for Private Variant analysis. That level of analysis is beyond what most people are interested in doing, so I’m only briefly discussing this aspect. You may want to read along, so you at least understand what you are looking at.

Clicking on Private Variants in your Big Y Results shows your variants, or mutations, that are unnamed as SNPs. When they are named, they become SNPs and are placed on the haplotree.

The reference or “normal” state for the DNA allele at that location is shown as the “Reference,” and “Genotype” is the result of the tester. Reference results are not shown for each tester, because the majority are the same. Only mutations are shown.

McNiel Big Y private variants

There are 5 Private Variants, total, for my cousin. I’ve obscured the actual variant numbers and instead typed in 111111 and 222222 for the first two as examples.

McNiel Big Y nonmatching variants

In our example, there are 6 Big Y matches, with matches one and five having the non-matching variants shown above.

Non-matching variants mean that the match, Mr. Scott, in example 1, does NOT match the tester (my cousin) on those variants.

  • If the tester (you) has no mutation, you won’t have a Private Variant shown on your Private Variant page.
  • If the tester does have a Private Variant shown, and that variant shows ON their matches list of non-matching variants, it means the match does NOT match the tester, and either has the normal reference value or a different mutation. Explained another way, if you have a mutation, and that variant is listed on your match list of Non-Matching Variants, your match does NOT match you and does NOT have the same mutation.
  • If the match does NOT have the Private Variant on their list, that means the match DOES match the tester, and they both have the same mutation, making this Private Variant a candidate to be named as a new SNP.
  • If you don’t have a Private Variant listed, but it shows in the Non-Matching Variants of your match, that means you have the reference or normal value, and they have a mutation.

In example #1, above, the tester has a mutation at variant 111111, and 111111 is shown as a Non-Matching Variant to Mr. Scott, so Mr. Scott does NOT match the tester. Mr. Scott also does NOT match the tester at locations 222222 and 444444.

In example #5, 111111 is NOT shown on the Non-Matching Variant list, so Mr. Treacy DOES match the tester.

I have a terrible time wrapping my head around the double negatives, so it’s critical that I make charts.

On the chart below, I’ve listed the tester’s private variants in an individual column each, so 111111, 222222, etc.

For each match, I’ve copy and pasted their Non-Matching Variants in a column to the right of the tester’s variants, in the lavender region. In this example, I’ve typed the example variants into separate columns for each tester so you can see the difference. Remember, a non-matching variant means they do NOT match the tester’s mutation.

McNiel private variants spreadsheet

On my normal spreadsheet where the non-matching variants don’t have individuals columns, I then search for the first variant, 111111. If the variant does appear in the list, it means that match #1 does NOT have the mutation, so I DON’T put an X in the box for match #1 under 111111.

In the example above, the only match that does NOT have 111111 on their list of Non-Matching Variants is #5, so an X IS placed in that corresponding cell. I’ve highlighted that column in yellow to indicate this is a candidate for a new SNP.

You can see that no one else has the variant, 222222, so it truly is totally private. It’s not highlighted in yellow because it’s not a candidate to be a new SNP.

Everyone shares mutation 333333, so it’s a great candidate to become a new SNP, as is 555555.

Match #6 shares the mutation at 444444, but no one else does.

This is a manual illustration of an automated process that occurs at Family Tree DNA. After Big Y matches are returned, automated software creates private variant lists of potential new haplogroups that are then reviewed internally where SNPs are evaluated, named, and placed on the tree if appropriate.

If you follow this process and discover matches, you probably don’t need to do anything, as the automated review process will likely catch up within a few days to weeks.

Big Y Matches

In the case of the McNiel line, it was exciting to discover several private variants, mutations that were not yet named SNPs, found in several matches that were candidates to be named as SNPs and placed on the Y haplotree.

Sure enough, a few days later, my McNeill cousin had a new haplogroup assignment.

Most people have at least one Private Variant, locations in which they do NOT match another tester. When several people have these same mutations, and they are high-quality reads, the Private Variant qualifies to be added to the haplotree as a SNP, a task performed at FamilyTreeDNA by Michael Sager.

If you ever have the opportunity to hear Michael speak, please do so. You can watch Michael’s presentation at Genetic Genealogy Ireland (GGI) titled “The Tree of Mankind,” on YouTube, here, compliments of Maurice Gleeson who coordinates GGI. Maurice has also written about the Gleeson Y DNA project analysis, here.

As a result of Cousin McNeill’s test, six new SNPs have been added to the Y haplotree, the tree of mankind. You can see our new haplogroup for our branch, BY18332, with an equivalent SNP, BY25938, along with three sibling branches to the left and right on the tree.

McNiel Big Y block tree 4 branch

Big Y testing not only answers genealogical questions, it advances science by building out the tree of mankind too.

The surname of the men who share the same haplogroup, R-BY18332, meaning the named SNP furthest down the tree, are McCollum and Campbell. Not what I expected. I expected to find a McNeil who does match on at least some STR markers. This is exactly why the Big Y is so critical to define the tree structure, then use STR matches to flesh it out.

Taking the Big Y-700 test provided granularity between 6 matches, shown above, who were all initially assigned to the same branch of the tree, BY18350, but were subsequently divided into 4 separate branches. My McNiel cousin is no longer equally as distant from all 6 men. We now know that our McNiel line is genetically closer on the Y chromosome to Campbell and McCollum and further distant from Murphy, Scott, McMichael, and Glass.

Not All SNP Matches are STR Matches

Not all SNP matches are also STR matches. Some relationships are too far back in time. However, in this case, while each person on the BY18350 branches matches at some STR level, only the Campbell individual matches at all STR levels.

Remember that variants (mutations) are accumulating down both respective branches of the tree at the same time, meaning one per roughly every 100 years (if 100 is the average number we want to use) for both testers. A total of 30 variants or mutations difference, an average of 15 on each branch of the tree (McNiel and their match) would suggest a common ancestor about 1500 years ago, so each Big Y match should have a common ancestor 1500 years ago or closer. At least on average, in theory.

The Big Y test match threshold is 30 variants, so if there were any more mismatches with the Campbell male, they would not have been a Big Y match, even though they have the exact same haplogroup.

Having the same haplogroup means that their terminal SNP is identical, the SNP furthest down the tree today, at least until someone matches one of them on their Private Variants (if any remain unnamed) and a new terminal SNP is assigned to one or both of them.

Mutations, and when they happen, are truly a roll of the dice. This is why viewing all of your Big Y Block Tree matches is critical, even if they don’t show on your Big Y match list. One more variant and Campbell would have not been shown as a match, yet he is actually quite close, on the same branch, and matches on all STR panels as well.

SNPs Establish the Backbone Structure

I always view the block tree first to provide a branching tree structure, then incorporate STR matches into the equation. Both can equally as important to genealogy, but haplogroup assignment is the most accurate tool, regardless of whether the two individuals match on the Big Y test, especially if the haplogroups are relatively close.

Let’s work with the Block Tree.

The Block Tree

McNIel Big Y block tree menu

Clicking on the link to the Block Tree in the Big Y results immediately displays the tester’s branch on the tree, below.

McNiel Big Y block tree descent

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On the left side are SNP generation markers. Keep in mind that approximate SNP generations are marked every 5 generations. The most recent generations are based on the number of private variants that have not yet been assigned as branches on the tree. It’s possible that when they are assigned that they will be placed upstream someplace, meaning that placement will reduce the number of early branches and perhaps increase the number of older branches.

The common haplogroup of all of the branches shown here with the upper red arrow is R-BY3344, about 15 SNP generations ago. If you’re using 100 years per SNP generation, that’s about 1500 years. If you’re using 80 years, then 1200 years ago. Some people use even fewer years for calculations.

If some of the private variants in the closer branches disappear, then the common ancestral branch may shift to closer in time.

This tree will always be approximate because some branches can never be detected. They have disappeared entirely over time when no males exist to reproduce.

Conversely, subclades have been born since a common ancestor clade whose descendants haven’t yet tested. As more people test, more clades will be discovered.

Therefore, most recent common ancestor (MRCA) haplogroup ages can only be estimated, based on who has tested and what we know today. The tree branches also vary depending on whether testers have taken the Big Y-500 or the more sensitive Big Y-700, which detects more variants. The Y haplotree is a combination of both.

Big Y-500 results will not be as granular and potentially do not position test-takers as far down the tree as Big Y-700 results would if they upgraded. You’ll need to factor that into your analysis if you’re drawing genealogical conclusions based on these results, especially close results.

You’ll note that the direct path of descent is shown above with arrows from BY3344 through the first blue box with 5 equivalent SNPS, to the next white box, our branch, with two equivalent SNPs. Our McNeil ancestor, the McCollum tester, and the Campell tester have no unresolved private variants between them, which suggests they are probably closer in time than 10 generations back. You can see that the SNP generations are pushed “up” by the neighbor variants.

Because of the fact that private variants don’t occur on a clock cycle and occur in individual lines at an unsteady rate, we must use averages.

That means that when we look further “up” the tree, clicking generation by generation on the up arrow above BY3344, the SNP generations on the left side “adjust” based on what is beneath, and unseen at that level.

The Block Tree Adjusts

Note, in the example above, BY3344 is at SNP generation 15.

Next, I clicked one generation upstream, to R-S668.

McNiel Big Y block tree S668

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You can see that S668 is about 21 SNP generations upstream, and now BY3344 is listed as 20 generations, not 15. You can see our branch, BY3344, but you can no longer see subclades or our matches below that branch in this view.

You can, however, see two matches that descend through S668, brother branches to BY3344, red arrows at far right.

Clicking on the up arrow one more time shows us haplogroup S673, below, and the child branches. The three child branches on which the tester has matches are shown with red arrows.

McNiel Big Y S673

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You’ll immediately notice that now S668 is shown at 19 SNP generations, not 20, and S673 is shown at 20. This SNP generation difference between views is a function of dealing with aggregated and averaged private variants on combined lines and causes the SNP generations to shift. This is also why I always say “about.”

As you continue to click up the tree, the shifting SNP generations continue, reminding us that we can’t truly see back in time. We can only achieve approximations, but those approximations improve as more people test, and more SNPs are named and placed in their proper places on the phylotree.

I love the Block Tree, although I wish I could see further side-to-side, allowing me to view all of the matches on one expanded tree so I can easily see their relationships to the tester, and each other.

Countries and Origins

In addition to displaying shared averaged autosomal origins of testers on a particular branch, if they have taken the Family Finder test and opted-in to sharing origins (ethnicity) results, you can also view the countries indicated by testers on that branch along with downstream branches of the tree.

McNiel Big Y countries

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For example, the Countries tab for S673 is shown above. I can see matches on this branch with no downstream haplogroup currently assigned, as well as cumulative results from downstream branches.

Still, I need to be able to view this information in a more linear format.

The Block Tree and spreadsheet information beautifully augment the haplotree, so let’s take a look.

The Haplotree

On your Y DNA results page, click on the “Haplotree and SNPs” link.

McNIel Big Y haplotree menu

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The Y haplotree will be displayed in pedigree style, quite familiar to genealogists. The SNP legend will be shown at the top of the display. In some cases, “presumed positive” results occur where coverage is lacking, back mutations or read errors are encountered. Presumed positive is based on positive SNPs further down the tree. In other words, that yellow SNP below must read positive or downstream ones wouldn’t.

McNIel Big Y pedigree descent

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The tester’s branch is shown with the grey bar. To the right of the haplogroup-defining SNP are listed the branch and equivalent SNP names. At far right, we see the total equivalent SNPs along with three dots that display the Country Report. I wish the haplotree also showed my matches, or at least my matching surnames, allowing me to click through. It doesn’t, so I have to return to the Big Y page or STR Matches page, or both.

I’ve starred each branch through which my McNiell cousin descends. Sibling branches are shown in grey. As you’ll recall from the Block Tree, we do have matches on those sibling branches, shown side by side with our branch.

The small numbers to the right of the haplogroup names indicate the number of downstream branches. BY18350 has three, all displayed. But looking upstream a bit, we see that DF97 has 135 downstream branches. We also have matches on several of those branches. To show those branches, simply click on the haplogroup.

The challenge for me, with 119 McNeill matches, is that I want to see a combination of the block tree, my spreadsheet information, and the haplotree. The block tree shows the names, my spreadsheet tells me on which branches to look for those matches. Many aren’t easily visible on the block tree because they are downstream on sibling branches.

Here’s where you can find and view different pieces of information.

Data and Sources STR Matches Page Big Y Matches Page Block Tree Haplogroups & SNPs Page
STR matches Yes No, but would like to see who matches at which STR levels If they have taken Big Y test, but doesn’t mean they match on Big Y matching No
SNP matches *1 Shows if STR match has common haplogroup, but not if tester matches on Big Y No, but would like to see who matches at which STR level Big Y matches and STR matches that aren’t Big Y matches are both shown No, but need this feature – see combined haplotree/ block tree
Other Haplogroup Branch Residents Yes, both estimated and tested No, use block tree or click through to profile card, would like to see haplogroup listed for Big Y matches Yes, both Big Y and STR tested, not estimated. Cannot tell if person is Big Y match or STR match, or both. No individuals, but would like that as part of countries report, see combined haplotree/block tree
Fully Expanded Phylotree No No Would like ability to see all branches with whom any Big Y or STR match resides at one time, even if it requires scrolling Yes, but no match information. Matches report could be added like on Block Tree.
Averaged Ethnicities if Have FF Test No No Yes, by haplogroup branch No
Countries Matches map STR only No, need Big Y matches map Yes Yes
Earliest Known Ancestor Yes No, but can click through to profile card No No
Customer Trees Yes No, need this link No No
Profile Card Yes, click through Yes, click through Yes, click through No match info on this page
Downloadable data By STR panel only, would like complete download with 1 click, also if Big Y or FF match Not available at all No No
Path to common haplogroup No No, but would like to see matches haplogroup and convergent haplogroup displayed No, would like the path to convergent haplogroup displayed as an option No, see combined match-block -haplotree in next section

*1 – the best way to see the haplogroup of a Big Y match is to click on their name to view their profile card since haplogroup is not displayed on the Big Y match page. If you happen to also match on STRs, their haplogroup is shown there as well. You can also search for their name using the block tree search function to view their haplogroup.

Necessity being the mother of invention, I created a combined match/block tree/haplotree.

And I really, REALLY hope Family Tree DNA implements something like this because, trust me, this was NOT fun! However, now that it’s done, it is extremely useful. With fewer matches, it should be a breeze.

Here are the steps to create the combined reference tree.

Combo Match/Block/Haplotree

I used Snagit to grab screenshots of the various portions of the haplotree and typed the surnames of the matches in the location of our common convergent haplogroup, taken from the spreadsheet. I also added the SNP generations in red for that haplogroup, at far left, to get some idea of when that common ancestor occurred.

McNIel Big Y combo tree

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This is, in essence, the end-goal of this exercise. There are a few steps to gather data.

Following the path of two matches (the tester and a specific match) you can find their common haplogroup. If your match is shown on the block tree in the same view with your branch, it’s easy to see your common convergent parent haplogroup. If you can’t see the common haplogroup, it’s takes a few extra steps by clicking up the block tree, as illustrated in an earlier section.

We need the ability to click on a match and have a tree display showing both paths to the common haplogroup.

McNiel Big Y convergent

I simulated this functionality in a spreadsheet with my McNiel cousin, a Riley match, and an Ocain match whose terminal SNP is the convergent SNP (M222) between Riley and McNiel. Of course, I’d also like to be able to click to see everyone on one chart on their appropriate branches.

Combining this information onto the haplotree, in the first image, below, M222, 4 men match my McNeill cousin – 2 who show M222 as their terminal SNP, and 2 downstream of M222 on a divergent branch that isn’t our direct branch. In other words, M222 is the convergence point for all 4 men plus my McNeill cousin.

McNiel Big Y M222 haplotree

click to enlarge

In the graphic below, you can see that M222 has a very large number of equivalent SNPs, which will likely become downstream haplogroups at some point in the future. However, today, these equivalent SNPs push M222 from 25 generations to 59. We’ll discuss how this meshes with known history in a minute.

McNiel Big Y M222 block tree

click to enlarge

Two men, Ocain and Ransom, who have both taken the Big Y, whose terminal SNP is M222, match my McNiel cousin. If their common ancestor was actually 59 generations in the past, it’s very, very unlikely that they would match at all given the 30 mutation threshold.

On my reconstructed Match/Block/Haplotree, I included the estimated SNP generations as well. We are starting with the most distant haplogroups and working our way forward in time with the graphics, below.

Make no mistake, there are thousands more men who descend from M222 that have tested, but all of those men except 4 have more than 30 mutations total, so they are not shown as Big Y matches, and they are not shown individually on the Block Tree because they neither match on the Big Y or STR tests. However, there is a way to view information for non-matching men who test positive for M222.

McNiel Big Y M222 countries

click to enlarge

Looking at the Block Tree for M222, many STR match men took a SNP test only to confirm M222, so they would be shown positive for the M222 SNP on STR results and, therefore, in the detailed view of M222 on the Block tree.

Haplogroup information about men who took the M222 test and whom the tester doesn’t match at all are shown here as well in the country and branch totals for R-M222. Their names aren’t displayed because they don’t match the tester on either type of Y DNA test.

Back to constructing my combined tree, I’ve left S658 in both images, above and below, as an overlap placeholder, as we move further down, or towards current, on the haplotree.

McNiel Big Y combo tree center

click to enlarge

Note that BY18350, above, is also an overlap connecting below.

You’ll recall that as a result of the Big Y test, BY18350 was split and now has three child branches plus one person whose terminal SNP is BY18350. All of the men shown below were on one branch until Big Y results revealed that BY18350 needed to be split, with multiple new haplogroups added to the tree.

McNiel Big Y combo tree current

click to enlarge

Using this combination of tools, it’s straightforward for me to see now that our McNiel line is closest to the Campbell tester from Scotland according to the Big Y test + STRs.

Equal according to the Big Y test, but slightly more distant, according to STR matching, is McCollum. The next closest would be sibling branches. Then in the parent group of the other three, BY18350, we find Glass from Scotland.

In BY18350 and subgroups, we find several Scotland locations and one Northern Ireland, which was likely from Scotland initially, given the surname and Ulster Plantation era.

The next upstream parent haplogroup is BY3344, which looks to be weighted towards ancestors from Scotland, shown on the country card, below.

McNiel Big Y BY3344

click to enlarge

This suggests that the origins of the McNiel line was, perhaps, in Scotland, but it doesn’t tell us whether or not George and presumably, Thomas, immigrated from Ireland or Scotland.

This combined tree, with SNPs, surnames from Big Y matches, along with Country information, allows me to see who is really more closely related and who is further away.

What I didn’t do, and probably should, is to add in all of the STR matches who have taken the Big Y test, shown on their convergent branch – but that’s just beyond the scope of time I’m willing to invest, at least for now, given that hundreds of STR matches have taken the Big Y test, and the work of building the combined tree is all manual today.

For those reading this article without access to the Y phylogenetic tree, there’s a public version of the Y and mitochondrial phylotrees available, here.

What About Those McNiels?

No other known McNiel descendants from either Thomas or George have taken the Big Y test, so I didn’t expect any to match, but I am interested in other men by similar surnames. Does ANY other McNiel have a Big Y match?

As it turns out, there are two, plus one STR match who took a Big Y test, but is not a Big Y match.

However, as you can see on the combined match/block/haplotree, above, the closest other Big Y-matching McNeil male is found at about 19 SNP generations, or roughly 1900 years ago. Even if you remove some of the variants in the lower generations that are based on an average number of individual variants, you’re still about 1200 years in the past. It’s extremely doubtful that any surname would survive in both lines from the year 800 or so.

That McNeil tester’s ancestor was born in 1747 in Tranent, Scotland.

The second Big Y-matching person is an O’Neil, a few branches further up in the tree.

The convergent SNP of the two branches, meaning O’Neil and McNeill are at approximately the 21 generation level. The O’Neil man’s Neill ancestor is found in 1843 in Cookestown, County Tyrone, Ireland.

McNiel Big Y convergent McNeil lines

I created a spreadsheet showing convergent lines:

  • The McNeill man with haplogroup A4697 (ancestor Tranent, Scotland) is clearly closest genetically.
  • O’Neill BY91591, who is brother clades with Neel and Neal, all Irish, is another Big Y match.
  • The McNeill man with haplogroup FT91182 is an STR match, but not a Big Y match.

The convergent haplogroup of all of these men is DF105 at about the 22 SNP generation marker.

STRs

Let’s turn back to STR tests, with results that produce matches closer in time.

Searching my STR download spreadsheet for similar surnames, I discovered several surname matches, mining the Earliest Known Ancestor information, profiles and trees produced data as follows:

Ancestor STR Match Level Location
George Charles Neil 12, 25, match on Big Y A4697 1747-1814 Tranent, Scotland
Hugh McNeil 25 (tested at 67) Born 1800 Country Antrim, Northern Ireland
Duncan McNeill 12 (tested at 111) Married 1789, Argyllshire, Scotland
William McNeill 12, 25 (tested at 37) Blackbraes, Stirlingshire, Scotland
William McNiel 25 (tested at 67) Born 1832 Scotland
Patrick McNiel 25 (tested at 111) Trien East, County Roscommon, Ireland
Daniel McNeill 25 (tested at 67) Born 1764 Londonderry, Northern Ireland
McNeil 12 (tested at 67) 1800 Ireland
McNeill (2 matches) 25 (tested Big Y-  SNP FT91182) 1810, Antrim, Northern Ireland
Neal 25 – (tested Big Y, SNP BY146184) Antrim, Northern Ireland
Neel (2 matches) 67 (tested at 111, and Big Y) 1750 Ireland, Northern Ireland

Our best clue that includes a Big Y and STR match is a descendant of George Charles Neil born in Tranent, Scotland, in 1747.

Perhaps our second-best clue comes in the form of a 111 marker match to a descendant of one Thomas McNeil who appears in records as early as 1753 and died in 1761 In Rombout Precinct, Dutchess County, NY where his son John was born. This line and another match at a lower level both reportedly track back to early New Hampshire in the 1600s.

The MacNeil DNA Project tells us the following:

Participant 106370 descends from Isaiah McNeil b. 14 May 1786 Schaghticoke, Rensselaer Co. NY and d. 28 Aug 1855 Poughkeepsie, Dutchess Co., NY, who married Alida VanSchoonhoven.

Isaiah’s parents were John McNeal, baptized 21 Jun 1761 Rombout, Dutchess Co., NY, d. 15 Feb 1820 Stillwater, Saratoga Co., NY and Helena Van De Bogart.

John’s parents were Thomas McNeal, b.c. 1725, d. 14 Aug 1761 NY and Rachel Haff.

Thomas’s parents were John McNeal Jr., b. around 1700, d. 1762 Wallkill, Orange Co., NY (now Ulster Co. formed 1683) and Martha Borland.

John’s parents were John McNeal Sr. and ? From. It appears that John Sr. and his family were this participant’s first generation of Americans.

Searching this line on Ancestry, I discovered additional information that, if accurate, may be relevant. This lineage, if correct, and it may not be, possibly reaching back to Edinburgh, Scotland. While the information gathered from Ancestry trees is certainly not compelling in and of itself, it provides a place to begin research.

Unfortunately, based on matches shown on the MacNeil DNA Project public page, STR marker mutations for kits 30279, B78471 and 417040 when compared to others don’t aid in clustering or indicating which men might be related to this group more closely than others using line-marker mutations.

Matches Map

Let’s take a look at what the STR Matches Map tells us.

McNiel Big Y matches map menu

This 67 marker Matches Map shows the locations of the earliest known ancestors of STR matches who have entered location information.

McNiel Big Y matches mapMcNiel Big Y matches map legend

My McNeill cousin’s closest matches are scattered with no clear cluster pattern.

Unfortunately, there is no corresponding map for Big Y matches.

SNP Map

The SNP map provided under the Y DNA results allows testers to view the locations where specific haplogroups are found.

McNiel Big Y SNP map

The SNP map marks an area where at least two or more people have claimed their most distant known ancestor to be. The cluster size is the maximum amount of miles between people that is allowed in order for a marker indicating a cluster at a location to appear. So for example, the sample size is at least 2 people who have tested, and listed their most distant known ancestor, the cluster is the radius those two people can be found in. So, if you have 10 red dots, that means in 1000 miles there are 10 clusters of at least two people for that particular SNP. Note that these locations do NOT include people who have tested positive for downstream locations, although it does include people who have taken individual SNP tests.

Working my way from the McNiel haplogroup backward in time on the SNP map, neither BY18332 nor BY18350 have enough people who’ve tested, or they didn’t provide a location.

Moving to the next haplogroup up the tree, two clusters are formed for BY3344, shown below.

McNIel Big Y BY3344 map

S668, below.

McNiel Big Y S668 map

It’s interesting that one cluster includes Glasgow.

S673, below.

McNiel Big Y S673 map

DF85, below:

McNiel Big Y DF85 map

DF105 below:

McNiel BIg Y DF105 map

M222, below:

McNiel Big Y M222 map

For R-M222, I’ve cropped the locations beyond Ireland and Scotland. Clearly, RM222 is the most prevalent in Ireland, followed by Scotland. Wherever M222 originated, it has saturated Ireland and spread widely in Scotland as well.

R-M222

R-M222, the SNP initially thought to indicate Niall of the 9 Hostages, occurred roughly 25-59 SNP generations in the past. If this age is even remotely accurate, averaging by 80 years per generation often utilized for Big Y results, produces an age of 2000 – 4720 years. I find it extremely difficult to believe any semblance of a surname survived that long. Even if you reduce the time in the past to the historical narrative, roughly the year 400, 1600 years, I still have a difficult time believing the McNiel surname is a result of being a descendant of Niall of the 9 Hostages directly, although oral history does have staying power, especially in a clan setting where clan membership confers an advantage.

Surname or not, clearly, our line along with the others whom we match on the Big Y do descend from a prolific common ancestor. It’s very unlikely that the mutation occurred in Niall’s generation, and much more likely that other men carried M222 and shared a common ancestor with Niall at some point in the distant past.

McNiel Conclusion – Is There One?

If I had two McNiel wishes, they would be:

  • Finding records someplace in Virginia that connect George and presumably brothers Thomas and John to their parents.
  • A McNiel male from wherever our McNiel line originated becoming inspired to Y DNA test. Finding a male from the homeland might point the way to records in which I could potentially find baptismal records for George about 1720 and Thomas about 1724, along with possibly John, if he existed.

I remain hopeful for a McNiel from Edinburgh, or perhaps Glasgow.

I feel reasonably confident that our line originated genetically in Scotland. That likely precludes Niall of the 9 Hostages as a direct ancestor, but perhaps not. Certainly, one of his descendants could have crossed the channel to Scotland. Or, perhaps, our common ancestor is further back in time. Based on the maps, it’s clear that M222 saturates Ireland and is found widely in Scotland as well.

A great deal depends on the actual age of M222 and where it originated. Certainly, Niall had ancestors too, and the Ui Neill dynasty reaches further back, genetically, than their recorded history in Ireland. Given the density of M222 and spread, it’s very likely that M222 did, in fact, originate in Ireland or, alternatively, very early in Scotland and proliferated in Ireland.

If the Ui Neill dynasty was represented in the persona of the High King, Niall of the 9 Hostages, 1600 years ago, his M222 ancestors were clearly inhabiting Ireland earlier.

We may not be descended from Niall personally, but we are assuredly related to him, sharing a common ancestor sometime back in the prehistory of Ireland and Scotland. That man would sire most of the Irish men today and clearly, many Scots as well.

Our ancestors, whoever they were, were indeed in Ireland millennia ago. R-M222, our ancestor, was the ancestor of the Ui Neill dynasty and of our own Reverend George McNiel.

Our ancestors may have been at Knowth and New Grange, and yes, perhaps even at Tara.

Tara Niall mound in sun

Someplace in the mists of history, one man made a different choice, perhaps paddling across the channel, never to return, resulting in M222 descendants being found in Scotland. His descendants include our McNeil ancestors, who still slumber someplace, awaiting discovery.

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Concepts: Chromosome Browser – What Is It, How Do I Use It, and Why Do I Care?

The goal of genetic genealogy is to utilize DNA matches to verify known ancestors and identify unknown ancestors.

A chromosome browser is a tool that allows testers to visualize and compare their DNA on each chromosome with that of their genetic matches. How to utilize and interpret that information becomes a little more tricky.

I’ve had requests for one article with all the information in one place about chromosome browsers:

  • What they are
  • How and when to use them
  • Why you’d want to

I’ve included a feature comparison chart and educational resource list at the end.

I would suggest just reading through this article the first time, then following along with your own DNA results after you understand the basic landscape. Using your own results is the best way to learn anything.

What Does a Chromosome Browser Look Like?

Here’s an example of a match to my DNA at FamilyTreeDNA viewed on their chromosome browser.

browser example.png

On my first 16 chromosomes, shown above, my 1C1R (first cousin once removed,) Cheryl, matches me where the chromosomes are painted blue. My chromosome is represented by the grey background, and her matching portion by the blue overlay.

Cheryl matches me on some portion of all chromosomes except 2, 6, and 13, where we don’t match at all.

You can select any one person, like Cheryl, from your match list to view on a chromosome browser to see where they match you on your chromosomes, or you can choose multiple matches, as shown below.

browser multiple example.png

I selected my 7 closest matches that are not my immediate family, meaning not my parents or children. I’m the background grey chromosome, and each person’s match is painted on top of “my chromosome” in the location where they match me. You see 7 images of my grey chromosome 1, for example, because each of the 7 people being compared to me are shown stacked below one another.

Everyplace that Cheryl matches me is shown on the top image of each chromosome, and our matching segment is shown in blue. The same for the second red copy of the chromosome, representing Don’s match to me. Each person I’ve selected to match against is shown by their own respective color.

You’ll note that in some cases, two people match me in the same location. Those are the essential hints we are looking for. We’ll be discussing how to unravel, interpret, and use matches in the rest of this article.

browser MyHeritage example.png

The chromosome browser at MyHeritage looks quite similar. However, I have a different “top 7” matches because each vendor has people who test on their platform who don’t test or transfer elsewhere.

Each vendor that supports chromosome browsers (FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, and GedMatch) provides their own implementation, of course, but the fundamentals of chromosome browsers, how they work and what they are telling us is universal.

Why Do I Need a Chromosome Browser?

“But,” you might say, “I don’t need to compare my DNA with my matches because the vendors already tell me that I match someone, which confirms that we are related and share a common ancestor.”

Well, not exactly. It’s not quite that straightforward.

Let’s take a look at:

  • How and why people match
  • What matches do and don’t tell you
  • Both with and without a chromosome browser

In part, whether you utilize a chromosome browser or not depends on which of the following you seek:

  • A broad-brush general answer; yes or no, I match someone, but either I don’t know how are related, or have to assume why. There’s that assume word again.
  • To actually confirm and prove your ancestry, getting every ounce of value out of your DNA test.

Not everyone’s goals are the same. Fortunately, we have an entire toolbox with a wide range of tools. Different tools are better suited for different tasks.

People seeking unknown parents should read the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching because the methodology for identifying unknown parents is somewhat different than working with genealogy. This article focuses on genealogy, although the foundation genetic principles are the same.

If you’re just opening your DNA results for the first time, the article, First Steps When Your DNA Results are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water would be a great place to start.

Before we discuss chromosome browsers further, we need to talk about DNA inheritance.

Your Parents

Every person has 2 copies of each of their 22 chromosomes – one copy contributed by their mother and one copy contributed by their father. A child receives exactly half of the autosomal DNA of each parent. The DNA of each parent combines somewhat randomly so that you receive one chromosome’s worth of DNA from each of your parents, which is half of each parent’s total.

On each chromosome, you receive some portion of the DNA that each parent received from their ancestors, but not exactly half of the DNA from each individual ancestor. In other words, it’s not sliced precisely in half, but served up in chunks called segments.

Sometimes you receive an entire segment of an ancestor’s DNA, sometimes none, and sometimes a portion that isn’t equal to half of your parent’s segment.

browser inheritance.png

This means that you don’t receive exactly half of the DNA of each of your grandparents, which would be 25% each. You might receive more like 22% from one maternal grandparent and 28% from the other maternal grandparent for a total of 50% of the DNA you inherit from your parents. The other 50% of your DNA comes from the other parent, of course. I wrote about that here.

There’s one tiny confounding detail. The DNA of your Mom and Dad is scrambled in you, meaning that the lab can’t discern scientifically which side is which and can’t tell which pieces of DNA came from Mom and which from Dad. Think of a genetic blender.

Our job, using genetic genealogy, is to figure out which side of our family people who match us descend from – which leads us to our common ancestor(s).

Parallel Roads

For the purposes of this discussion, you’ll need to understand that the two copies you receive of each chromosome, one from each parent, have the exact same “addresses.” Think of these as parallel streets or roads with identical addresses on each road.

browser street.png

In the example above, you can see Dad’s blue chromosome and Mom’s red chromosome as compared to me. Of course, children and parents match on the full length of each chromosome.

I’ve divided this chromosome into 6 blocks, for purposes of illustration, plus the centromere where we generally find no addresses used for genetic genealogy.

In the 500 block, we see that the address of 510 Main (red bar) could occur on either Dad’s chromosome, or Mom’s. With only an address and nothing more, you have no way to know whether your match with someone at 510 Main is on Mom’s or Dad’s side, because both streets have exactly the same addresses.

Therefore, if two people match you, at the same address on that chromosome, like 510 Main Street, they could be:

  • Both maternal matches, meaning both descended from your mother’s ancestors, and those two people will also match each other
  • Both paternal matches, meaning both descended from your father’s ancestors, and those two people will also match each other
  • One maternal and one paternal match, and those two people will not match each other

Well then, how do we know which side of the family a match descends from, and how do we know if we share a common ancestor?

Good question!

Identical by Descent

If you and another person match on a reasonably sized DNA segment, generally about 7 cM or above, your match is probably “identical by descent,” meaning not “identical by chance.” In this case, then yes, a match does confirm that you share a common ancestor.

Identical by descent (IBD) means you inherited the piece of DNA from a common ancestor, inherited through the relevant parent.

Identical by chance (IBC) means that your mom’s and dad’s DNA just happens to have been inherited by you randomly in a way that creates a sequence of DNA that matches that other person. I wrote about both IBD and IBC here.

MMB stats by cM 2

This chart, courtesy of statistician Philip Gammon, from the article Introducing the Match-Maker-Breaker Tool for Parental Phasing shows the percentage of time we expect matches of specific segment sizes to be valid, or identical by descent.

Identical by Chance

How does this work?

How is a match NOT identical by descent, meaning that it is identical by chance and therefore not a “real” or valid match, a situation also known as a false positive?

browser inheritance grid.png

The answer involves how DNA is inherited.

You receive a chromosome with a piece of DNA at every address from both parents. Of course, this means you have two pieces of DNA at each address. Therefore people will match you on either piece of DNA. People from your Dad’s side will match you on the pieces you inherited from him, and people from your Mom’s side will match you on the pieces you inherited from her.

However, both of those matches have the same address on their parallel streets as shown in the illustration, above. Your matches from your mom’s side will have all As, and those from your dad’s side will have all Ts.

The problem is that you have no way to know which pieces you inherited from Mom and from Dad – at least not without additional information.

You can see that for 10 contiguous locations (addresses), which create an example “segment” of your DNA, you inherited all As from your Mom and all Ts from your Dad. In order to match you, someone would either need to have an A or a T in one of their two inherited locations, because you have an A and a T, both. If the other person has a C or a G, there’s no match.

Your match inherited a specific sequence from their mother and father, just like you did. As you can see, even though they do match you because they have either an A or a T in all 10 locations – the As and Ts did not all descend from either their mother or father. Their random inheritance of Ts and As just happens to match you.

If your match’s parents have tested, you won’t match either of their parents nor will they match either of your parents, which tells you immediately that this match is by chance (IBC) and not by descent (IBD), meaning this segment did not come from a common ancestor. It’s identical by chance and, therefore, a false positive.

If We Match Someone Else In Common, Doesn’t That Prove Identical by Descent?

Nope, but I sure wish it did!

The vendors show you who else you and your match both match in common, which provides a SUGGESTION as to your common ancestor – assuming you know which common ancestor any of these people share with you.

browser icw.png

However, shared matches are absolutely NOT a guarantee that you, your match, and your common matches all share the same ancestor, unless you’re close family. Your shared match could match you or your match through different ancestors – or could be identical by chance.

How can we be more confident of what matching is actually telling us?

How can we sort this out?

Uncertainties and Remedies

Here’s are 9 things you DON’T know, based on matching alone, along with tips and techniques to learn more.

  1. If your match to Person A is below about 20cM, you’ll need to verify that it’s a legitimate IBD match (not IBC). You can achieve this by determining if Person A also matches one of your parents and if you match one of Person A’s parents, if parents have tested.

Not enough parents have tested? An alternative method is by determining if you and Person A both match known descendants of the candidate ancestors ON THE SAME SEGMENT. This is where the chromosome browser enters the picture.

In other words, at least three people who are confirmed to descend from your presumptive common ancestor, preferably through at least two different children, must match on a significant portion of the same segment.

Why is that? Because every segment has its own unique genealogical history. Each segment can and often does lead to different ancestors as you move further back in time.

In this example, I’m viewing Buster, David, and E., three cousins descended from the same ancestral couple, compared to me on my chromosome browser. I’m the background grey, and they show in color. You can see that all three of them match me on at least some significant portion of the same segment of chromosome 15.

browser 3 cousins.png

If those people also match each other, that’s called triangulation. Triangulation confirms descent from a common ancestral source.

In this case, I already know that these people are related on my paternal side. The fact that they all match my father’s DNA and are therefore all automatically assigned to my paternal matching tab at Family Tree DNA confirms my paper-trail genealogy.

I wrote detailed steps for triangulation at Family Tree DNA, here. In a nutshell, matching on the same segment to people who are bucketed to the same parent is an automated method of triangulation.

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of having their parents tested, so testing other family members, finding common segments, and assigning people to their proper location in your tree facilitates confirmation of your genealogy (and automating triangulation.)

The ONLY way you can determine if people match you on the same segment, and match each other, is having segment information available to you and utilizing a chromosome browser.

browser MyHeritage triangulation.png

In the example above, the MyHeritage triangulation tool brackets matches that match you (the background grey) and who are all triangulated, meaning they all also match each other. In this case, the portion where all three people match me AND each other is bracketed. I wrote about triangulation at MyHeritage here.

  1. If you match several people who descend from the same ancestor, John Doe, for example, on paper, you CANNOT presume that your match to all of those people is due to a segment of DNA descended from John Doe or his wife. You may not match any of those people BECAUSE OF or through segments inherited from John Doe or his wife. You need segment information and a chromosome browser to view the location of those matches.

Assuming these are legitimate IBD matches, you may share another common line, known or unknown, with some or all of those matches.

It’s easy to assume that because you match and share matches in common with other people who believe they are descended from that same ancestor:

  • That you’re all matching because of that ancestor.
  • Even on the same segments.

Neither of those presumptions can be made without additional information.

Trust me, you’ll get yourself in a heap o’ trouble if you assume. Been there, done that. T-shirt was ugly.

Let’s look at how this works.

browser venn.png

Here’s a Venn diagram showing me, in the middle, surrounded by three of my matches:

  • Match 1 – Periwinkle, descends from Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy
  • Match 2 – Teal, descends from Joseph Bolton and Margaret Claxton
  • Match 3 – Mustard, descends from John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson

Utilizing a chromosome browser, autocluster software, and other tools, we can determine if those matches also match each other on a common segment, which means they triangulate and confirm common ancestral descent.

Of course, those people could match each other due to a different ancestor, not necessarily the one I share with them nor the ancestors I think we match through.

If they/we do all match because they descend from a common ancestor, they can still match each other on different segments that don’t match me.

I’m in the center. All three people match me, and they also match each other, shown in the overlap intersections.

Note that the intersection between the periwinkle (Match 1) and teal (Match 2) people, who match each other, is due to the wives of the children of two of my ancestors. In other words, their match to each other has absolutely nothing to do with their match to me. This was an “aha’ moment for me when I first realized this was a possibility and happens far more than I ever suspected.

The intersection of the periwinkle (Match 1) and mustard (Match 3) matches is due to the Dodson line, but on a different segment than they both share with me. If they had matched each other and me on the same segment, we would be all triangulated, but we aren’t.

The source of the teal (Match 2) to mustard (Match 3) is unknown, but then again, Match 3’s tree is relatively incomplete.

Let’s take a look at autocluster software which assists greatly with automating the process of determining who matches each other, in addition to who matches you.

  1. Clustering technology, meaning the Leeds method as automated by Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom help, but don’t, by themselves, resolve the quandary of HOW people match you and each other.

People in a colored cluster all match you and each other – but not necessarily on the same segment, AND, they can match each other because they are related through different ancestors not related to your ancestor. The benefit of autocluster software is that this process is automated. However, not all of your matches will qualify to be placed in clusters.

browser autocluster.png

My mustard cluster above includes the three people shown in the chromosome browser examples – and 12 more matches that can be now be researched because we know that they are all part of a group of people who all match me, and several of whom match each other too.

My matches may not match each other for a variety of reasons, including:

  • They are too far removed in time/generations and didn’t inherit any common ancestral DNA.
  • This cluster is comprised of some people matching me on different (perhaps intermarried) lines.
  • Some may be IBC matches.

Darker grey boxes indicate that those people should be in both clusters, meaning the red and mustard clusters, because they match people in two clusters. That’s another hint. Because of the grid nature of clusters, one person cannot be associated with more than 2 clusters, maximum. Therefore, people like first cousins who are closely related to the tester and could potentially be in many clusters are not as useful in clusters as they are when utilizing other tools.

  1. Clusters and chromosome browsers are much less complex than pedigree charts, especially when dealing with many people. I charted out the relationships of the three example matches from the Venn diagram. You can see that this gets messy quickly, and it’s much more challenging to visualize and understand than either the chromosome browser or autoclusters.

Having said that, the ultimate GOAL is to identify how each person is related to you and place them in their proper place in your tree. This, cumulatively with your matches, is what identifies and confirms ancestors – the overarching purpose of genealogy and genetic genealogy.

Let’s take a look at this particular colorized pedigree chart.

Browser pedigree.png

click to enlarge

The pedigree chart above shows the genetic relationship between me and the three matches shown in the Venn diagram.

Four descendants of 2 ancestral couples are shown, above; Joseph Bolton and Margaret Claxton, and John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson. DNA tells me that all 3 people match me and also match each other.

The color of the square (above) is the color of DNA that represents the DNA segment that I received and match with these particular testers. This chart is NOT illustrating how much DNA is passed in each generation – we already know that every child inherits half of the DNA of each parent. This chart shows match/inheritance coloring for ONE MATCHING SEGMENT with each match, ONLY.

Let’s look at Joseph Bolton (blue) and Margaret Claxton (pink). I descend through their daughter, Ollie Bolton, who married William George Estes, my grandfather. The DNA segment that I share with blue Match 2 (bottom left) is a segment that I inherited from Joseph Bolton (blue). I also carry inherited DNA from Margaret Claxton too, but that’s not the segment that I share with Match 2, which is why the path from Joseph Bolton to me, in this case, is blue – and why Match 2 is blue. (Just so you are aware, I know this segment descends from Joseph Bolton, because I also match descendants of Joseph’s father on this segment – but that generation/mtach is not shown on this pedigree chart.)

If I were comparing to someone else who I match through Margaret Claxton, I would color the DNA from Margaret Claxton to me pink in that illustration. You don’t have to DO this with your pedigree chart, so don’t worry. I created this example to help you understand.

The colored dots shown on the squares indicate that various ancestors and living people do indeed carry DNA from specific ancestors, even though that’s not the segment that matches a particular person. In other words, the daughter, Ollie, of Joseph Bolton and Margaret Claxton carries 50% pink DNA, represented by the pink dot on blue Ollie Bolton, married to purple William George Estes.

Ollie Bolton and William George Estes had my father, who I’ve shown as half purple (Estes) and half blue (Bolton) because I share Bolton DNA with Match 2, and Estes DNA with Match 1. Obviously, everyone receives half of each parent’s DNA, but in this case, I’m showing the path DNA descended for a specific segment shared with a particular match.

I’ve represented myself with the 5 colors of DNA that I carry from these particular ancestors shown on the pedigree chart. I assuredly will match other people with DNA that we’ve both inherited from these ancestors. I may match these same matches shown with DNA that we both inherited from other ancestors – for example, I might match Match 2 on a different segment that we both inherited from Margaret Claxton. Match 2 is my second cousin, so it’s quite likely that we do indeed share multiple segments of DNA.

Looking at Match 3, who knows very little about their genealogy, I can tell, based on other matches, that we share Dodson DNA inherited through Rutha Dodson.

I need to check every person in my cluster, and that I share DNA with on these same segment addresses to see if they match on my paternal side and if they match each other.

  1. At Family Tree DNA, I will be able to garner more information about whether or not my matches match each other by using the Matrix tool as well as by utilizing Phased Family Matching.

At Family Tree DNA, I determined that these people all match in common with me and Match 1 by using the “In Common With” tool. You can read more about how to use “In Common With” matching, here.

browser paternal.png

Family Matching phases the matches, assigning or bucketed them maternally or paternally (blue and red icons above), indicating, when possible, if these matches occur on the same side of your family. I wrote about the concept of phasing, here, and Phased Family Matching here and here.

Please note that there is no longer a limit on how distantly related a match can be in order to be utilized in Phased Family Matching, so long as it’s over the phase-matching threshold and connected correctly in your tree.

browser family tree dna link tree.png

Bottom line, if you can figure out how you’re related to someone, just add them into your tree by creating a profile card and link their DNA match to them by simply dragging and dropping, as illustrated above.

Linking your matches allows Family Matching to maternally or paternally assign other matches that match both you and your tree-linked matches.

If your matches match you on the same segment on the same parental side, that’s segment triangulation, assuming the matches are IBD. Phased Family Matching does this automatically for you, where possible, based on who you have linked in your tree.

For matches that aren’t automatically bucketed, there’s another tool, the Matrix.

browser matrix.png

In situations where your matches aren’t “bucketed” either maternally or paternally, the Matrix tool allows you to select matches to determine whether your matches also match each other. It’s another way of clustering where you can select specific people to compare. Note that because they also match each other (blue square) does NOT mean it’s on the same segment(s) where they match you. Remember our Venn diagram.

browser matrix grid.png

  1. Just because you and your matches all match each other doesn’t mean that they are matching each other because of the same ancestor. In other words, your matches may match each other due to another or unknown ancestor. In our pedigree example, you can see that the three matches match each other in various ways.
browser pedigree match.png

click to enlarge

  • Match 1 and Match 2 match each other because they are related through the green Jones family, who is not related to me.
  • Match 2 and Match 3 don’t know why they match. They both match me, but not on the same segment they share with each other.
  • Match 1 and Match 3 match through the mustard Dodson line, but not on the same segment that matches me. If we all did match on the same segment, we would be triangulated, but we wouldn’t know why Match 3 was in this triangulation group.
  1. Looking at a downloaded segment file of your matches, available at all testing vendors who support segment information and a chromosome browser, you can’t determine without additional information whether your matches also match each other.

browser chr 15.png

Here’s a group of people, above, that we’ve been working with on chromosome 15.

My entire match-list shows many more matches on that segment of chromosome 15. Below are just a few.

browser chr 15 all

Looking at seven of these people in the chromosome browser, we can see visually that they all overlap on part of a segment on chromosome 15. It’s a lot easier to see the amount of overlap using a browser as opposed to the list. But you can only view 7 at a time in the browser, so the combination of both tools is quite useful. The downloaded spreadsheet shows you who to select to view for any particular segment.

browser chr 15 compare.png

The critical thing to remember is that some matches will be from tyour mother’s side and some from your father’s side.

Without additional information and advanced tools, there’s no way to tell the difference – unless they are bucketed using Phased Family Matching at Family Tree DNA or bracketed with a triangulation bracket at MyHeritage.

At MyHeritage, this assumes you know the shared ancestor of at least one person in the triangulation group which effectively assigns the match to the maternal or paternal side.

Looking at known relatives on either side, and seeing who they also match, is how to determine whether these people match paternally or maternally. In this example below, the blue people are bucketed paternally through Phased Family Matching, the pink maternally, and the white rows aren’t bucketed and therefore require additional evaluation.

browser chr 15 maternal paternal.png

Additional research shows that Jonathan is a maternal match, but Robert and Adam are identical by chance because they don’t match either of my parents on this segment. They might be valid matches on other segments, but not this one.

browser chr 15 compare maternal paternal.png

  1. Utilizing relatives who have tested is a huge benefit, and why we suggest that everyone test their closest upstream relatives (meaning not children or grandchildren.) Testing all siblings is recommended if both parents aren’t available to test, because every child received different parts of their parents’ DNA, so they will match different relatives.

After deleting segments under 7 cM, I combine the segment match download files of multiple family members (who agree to allow me to aggregate their matches into one file for analysis) so that I can create a master match file for a particular family group. Sorting by match name, I can identify people that several of my cousins’ match.

browser 4 groups.png

This example is from a spreadsheet where I’ve combined the results of about 10 collaborating cousins to determine if we can break through a collective brick wall. Sorted by match name, this table shows the first 4 common matches that appear on multiple cousin’s match lists. Remember that how these people match may have nothing to do with our brick wall – or it might.

Note that while the 4 matches, AB, AG, ag, and A. Wayne, appear in different cousins’ match lists, only one shares a common segment of DNA: AB triangulates with Buster and Iona. This is precisely WHY you need segment information, and a chromosome browser, to visualize these matches, and to confirm that they do share a common DNA segment descended from a specific ancestor.

These same people will probably appear in autocluster groups together as well. It’s worth noting, as illustrated in the download example, that it’s much more typical for “in common with” matches to match on different segments than on the same segment. 

  1. Keep in mind that you will match both your mother and father on every single chromosome for the entire length of each chromosome.

browser parent matching.png

Here’s my kit matching with my father, in blue, and mother, in red on chromosomes 1 and 2.

Given that I match both of my parents on the full chromosome, inheriting one copy of my chromosome from each parent, it’s impossible to tell by adding any person at random to the chromosome browser whether they match me maternally or paternally. Furthermore, many people aren’t fortunate enough to have parents available for testing.

To overcome that obstacle, you can compare to known or close relatives. In fact, your close relatives are genetic genealogy gold and serve as your match anchor. A match that matches you and your close relatives can be assigned either maternally or paternally. I wrote about that here.

browser parent plus buster.png

You can see that my cousin Buster matches me on chromosome 15, as do both of my parents, of course. At this point, I can’t tell from this information alone whether Buster matches on my mother’s or father’s side.

I can tell you that indeed, Buster does match my father on this same segment, but what if I don’t have the benefit of my father’s DNA test?

Genealogy tells me that Buster matches me on my paternal side, through Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy. Given that Buster is a relatively close family member, I already know how Buster and I are related and that our DNA matches. That knowledge will help me identify and place other relatives in my tree who match us both on the same segment of DNA.

To trigger Phased Family Matching, I placed Buster in the proper place in my tree at Family Tree DNA and linked his DNA. His Y DNA also matches the Estes males, so no adoptions or misattributed parental events have occurred in the direct Estes patrilineal line.

browser family tree dna tree.png

I can confirm this relationship by checking to see if Buster matches known relatives on my father’s side of the family, including my father using the “in common with” tool.

Buster matches my father as well as several other known family members on that side of the family on the same segments of DNA.

browser paternal bucket.png

Note that I have a total of 397 matches in common with Buster, 140 of which have been paternally bucketed, 4 of which are both (my children and grandchildren), and 7 of which are maternal.

Those maternal matches represent an issue. It’s possible that those people are either identical by chance or that we share both a maternal and paternal ancestor. All 7 are relatively low matches, with longest blocks from 9 to 14 cM.

Clearly, with a total of 397 shared matches with Buster, not everyone that I match in common with Buster is assigned to a bucket. In fact, 246 are not. I will need to take a look at this group of people and evaluate them individually, their genealogy, clusters, the matrix, and through the chromosome browser to confirm individual matching segments.

There is no single perfect tool.

Every Segment Tells a Unique History

I need to check each of the 14 segments that I match with Buster because each segment has its own inheritance path and may well track back to different ancestors.

browser buster segments.png

It’s also possible that we have unknown common ancestors due to either adoptions, NPEs, or incorrect genealogy, not in the direct Estes patrilineal line, but someplace in our trees.

browser buster paint.png

The best way to investigate the history and genesis of each segment is by painting matching segments at DNAPainter. My matching segments with Buster are shown painted at DNAPainter, above. I wrote about DNAPainter, here.

browser overlap.png

By expanding each segment to show overlapping segments with other matches that I’ve painted and viewing who we match, we can visually see which ancestors that segment descends from and through.

browser dnapainter walk back.png

These roughly 30 individuals all descend from either Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy (grey), Elizabeth’s parents (dark blue), or her grandparents (burgundy) on chromosome 15.

As more people match me (and Buster) on this segment, on my father’s side, perhaps we’ll push this segment back further in time to more distant ancestors. Eventually, we may well be able to break through our end-of-line brick wall using these same segments by looking for common upstream ancestors in our matches’ trees.

Arsenal of Tools

This combined arsenal of tools is incredibly exciting, but they all depend on having segment information available and understanding how to use and interpret segment and chromosome browser match information.

One of mine and Buster’s common segments tracks back to end-of-line James Moore, born about 1720, probably in Virginia, and another to Charles Hickerson born about 1724. It’s rewarding and exciting to be able to confirm these DNA segments to specific ancestors. These discoveries may lead to breaking through those brick walls eventually as more people match who share common ancestors with each other that aren’t in my tree.

This is exactly why we need and utilize segment information in a chromosome browser.

We can infer common ancestors from matches, but we can’t confirm segment descent without specific segment information and a chromosome browser. The best we can do, otherwise, is to presume that a preponderance of evidence and numerous matches equates to confirmation. True or not, we can’t push further back in time without knowing who else matches us on those same segments, and the identity of their common ancestors.

The more evidence we can amass for each ancestor and ancestral couple, the better, including:

  • Matches
  • Shared “In Common With” Matches, available at all vendors.
  • Phased Family Matching at Family Tree DNA assigns matches to maternal or paternal sides based on shared, linked DNA from known relatives.
  • The Matrix, a Family Tree DNA tool to determine if matches also match each other. Tester can select who to compare.
  • ThruLines from Ancestry is based on a DNA match and shared ancestors in trees, but no specific segment information or chromosome browser. I wrote about ThruLines here and here.
  • Theories of Family Relativity, aka TOFR, at MyHeritage, based on shared DNA matches, shared ancestors in trees and trees constructed between matches from various genealogical records and sources. MyHeritage includes a chromosome browser and triangulation tool. I wrote about TOFR here and here.
  • Triangulation available through Phased Family Matching at Family Tree DNA and the integrated triangulation tool at MyHeritage. Triangulation between only 3 people at a time is available at 23andMe, although 23andMe does not support trees. See triangulation article links in the Resource Articles section below.
  • AutoClusters at MyHeritage (cluster functionality included), at Genetic Affairs (autoclusters plus tree reconstruction) and at DNAGedcom (including triangulation).
  • Genealogical information. Please upload your trees to every vendor site.
  • Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA confirmation, when available, through Family Tree DNA. I wrote about the 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy, here and the importance of Y DNA confirmation here, and how not having that information can trip you up.
  • Compiled segment information at DNAPainter allows you to combine segment information from various vendors, paint your maternal and paternal chromosomes, and visually walk segments back in time. Article with DNAPainter instructions is found here.

Autosomal Tool Summary Table

In order to help you determine which tool you need to use, and when, I’ve compiled a summary table of the types of tools and when they are most advantageous. Of course, you’ll need to read and understand about each tool in the sections above. This table serves as a reminder checklist to be sure you’ve actually utilized each relevant tool where and how it’s appropriate.

Family Tree DNA MyHeritage Ancestry 23andMe GedMatch
DNA Matches Yes Yes Yes Yes, but only highest 2000 minus whoever does not opt -in Yes, limited matches for free, more with subscription (Tier 1)
Download DNA Segment Match Spreadsheet Yes Yes No, must use DNAGedcom for any download, and no chromosome segment information Yes Tier 1 required, can only download 1000 through visualization options
Segment Spreadsheet Benefits View all matches and sort by segment, target all people who match on specific segments for chromosome browser View all matches and sort by segment, target all people who match on specific segments for chromosome browser No segment information but matches might transfer elsewhere where segment information is available View up to 2000 matches if matches have opted in. If you have initiated contact with a match, they will not drop off match list. Can download highest 1000 matches, target people who match on specific segments
Spreadsheet Challenges Includes small segments, I delete less than 7cM segments before using No X chromosome included No spreadsheet and no segment information Maximum of 2000 matches, minus those not opted in Download limited to 1000 with Tier 1, download not available without subscription
Chromosome Segment Information Yes Yes No, only total and longest segment, no segment address Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser Yes, requires $19 unlock if transfer Yes, requires $29 unlock or subscription if transfer No Yes Yes, some features require Tier 1 subscription
X Chromosome Included Yes No No Yes Yes, separate
Chromosome Browser Benefit Visual view of 7 or fewer matches Visual view of 7 or fewer matches, triangulation included if ALL people match on same portion of common segment No browser Visual view of 5 or fewer matches Unlimited view of matches, multiple options through comparison tools
Chromosome Browser Challenges Can’t tell whether maternal or paternal matches without additional info if don’t select bucketed matches Can’t tell whether maternal or paternal without additional info if don’t triangulate or you don’t know your common ancestor with at least one person in triangulation group No browser Can’t tell whether maternal or paternal without other information Can’t tell whether maternal or paternal without other information
Shared “In Common With” Matches Yes Yes Yes Yes, if everyone opts in Yes
Triangulation Yes, Phased Family Matching, plus chromosome browser Yes, included in chromosome browser if all people being compared match on that segment No, and no browser Yes, but only for 3 people if “Shared DNA” = Yes on Relatives in Common Yes, through multiple comparison tools
Ability to Know if Matches Match Each Other (also see autoclusters) Yes, through Matrix tool or if match on common bucketed segment through Family Matching Yes, through triangulation tool if all match on common segment No Yes, can compare any person to any other person on your match list Yes, through comparison tool selections
Autoclusters Can select up to 10 people for Matrix grid, also available for entire match list through Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom which work well Genetic Affairs clustering included free, DNAGedcom has difficulty due to timeouts No, but Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom work well No, but Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom work well Yes, Genetic Affairs included in Tier 1 for selected kits, DNAGedcom is in beta
Trees Can upload or create tree. Linking you and relatives who match to tree triggers Phased Family Matching Can upload or create tree. Link yourself and kits you manage assists Theories of Family Relativity Can upload or create tree. Link your DNA to your tree to generate ThruLines. Recent new feature allows linking of DNA matches to tree. No tree support but can provide a link to a tree elsewhere Upload your tree so your matches can view
Matching and Automated Tree Construction of DNA Matches who Share Common Ancestors with You Genetic Affairs for matches with common ancestors with you Not available Genetic Affairs for matches with common ancestors with you No tree support Not available
Matching and Automated Tree Construction for DNA Matches with Common Ancestors with Each Other, But Not With You Genetic Affairs for matches with common ancestors with each other, but not with you Not available Genetic Affairs for matches with common ancestors with each other, but not with you No tree support Not available
DNAPainter Segment Compilation and Painting Yes, bucketed Family Match file can be uploaded which benefits tester immensely. Will be able to paint ethnicity segments soon. Yes No segment info available, encourage your matches to upload elsewhere Yes, and can paint ethnicity segments from 23andMe, Yes, but only for individually copied matches or highest 1000.
Y DNA and Mitochondrial Matching Yes, both, includes multiple tools, deep testing and detailed matching No No No, base haplogroup only, no matching No, haplogroup only if field manually completed by tester when uploading autosomal DNA file

Transfer Your DNA

Transferring your DNA results to each vendor who supports segment information and accepts transfers is not only important, it’s also a great way to extend your testing collar. Every vendor has strengths along with people who are found there and in no other database.

Ancestry does not provide segment information nor a chromosome browser, nor accept uploads, but you have several options to transfer your DNA file for free to other vendors who offer tools.

23andMe does provide a chromosome browser but does not accept uploads. You can download your DNA file and transfer free to other vendors.

I wrote detailed upload/download and transfer instructions for each vendor, here.

Two vendors and one third party support transfers into their systems. The transfers include matching. Basic tools are free, but all vendors charge a minimal fee for unlocking advanced tools, which is significantly less expensive than retesting:

Third-party tools that work with your DNA results include:

All vendors provide different tools and have unique strengths. Be sure that your DNA is working as hard as possible for you by fishing in every pond and utilizing third party tools to their highest potential.

Resource Articles

Explanations and step by step explanations of what you will see and what to do, when you open your DNA results for the first time.

Original article about chromosomes having 2 sides and how they affect genetic genealogy.

This article explains what triangulation is for autosomal DNA.

Why some matches may not be valid, and how to tell the difference.

This article explains the difference between a match group, meaning a group of people who match you, and triangulation, where that group also matches each other. The concepts are sound, but this article relies heavily on spreadsheets, before autocluster tools were available.

Parental phasing means assigning segment matches to either your paternal or maternal side.

Updated, introductory article about triangulation, providing the foundation for a series of articles about how to utilize triangulation at each vendor (FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, GEDmatch, DNAPainter) that supports triangulation.

These articles step you through triangulation at each vendor.

DNAPainter facilitates painting maternally and paternally phased, bucketed matches from FamilyTreeDNA, a method of triangulation.

Compiled articles with instructions and ideas for using DNAPainter.

Autoclustering tool instructions.

How and why The Leeds Method works.

Step by step instructions for when and how to use FamilyTreeDNA’s chromosome browser.

Close family members are the key to verifying matches and identifying common ancestors.

This article details how much DNA specific relationships between people can expect to share.

Overview of transfer information and links to instruction articles for each vendor, below.

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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

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags, and other items

RootsTech 2020: It’s a Wrap

Before sharing photos and details about the last three days at RootsTech, I want to provide some general observations.

I expected the attendance to be down this year because of the concern about the Novel Corona Virus. There was a lot of hand-washing and sanitizer, but no hand-wringing.

I don’t think attendance was lagging at all. In fact, this show was larger, based on how my feet feel and general crowd observation than ever before. People appeared to be more engaged too.

According to RootsTech personnel, 4 major vendors pulled out the week before the show opened; 23andMe, LivingDNA, FindMyPast and a book vendor.

I doubt there’s much of a refund policy, so surely something happened in these cases. If you recall, LivingDNA and FindMyPast have a business relationship. 23andMe just laid off a number of people, but then again, so did Ancestry but you’d never know it based on the size of their booth and staffing here.

Family Search has really stepped up their game to modernize, capture stories, scan books and otherwise make genealogy interesting and attractive to everyone.

We got spoiled last year with the big DNA announcements at RootsTech, but nothing of that magnitude was announced this year. That’s not to say there weren’t vendor announcements, there were.

FamilyTreeDNA announced:

  • Their myOrigins Version 3.0 which is significantly updated by adding several worldwide populations, increasing the number from 24 to 90. I wrote about these features here.
  • Adding a myOrigins chromosome browser painted view. I am SOOO excited about this because it makes ethnicity actually useful for genealogy because we can compare specific ethnicity segments with genealogical matches. I can hardly wait.

RootsTech 2020 Sunny Paul

Sunny Morton with Family Tree Magazine interviewing Dr. Paul Maier, FamilyTreeDNA’s population geneticist. You can see the painted chromosome view on the screen behind Dr. Maier.

  • Providing, after initial release, a downloadable ethnicity estimate segment file.
  • Sponsorship of The Million Mito Project, a joint collaborative citizen science project to rewrite the mitochondrial tree of womankind includes team members Dr. Miguel Vilar, Lead Scientist of the National Geographic Genographic Project, Dr. Paul Maier, Population Geneticist at FamilyTreeDNA, Goran Runfeldt, Head of Research and Development at FamilyTreeDNA, and me, DNAeXplain, scientist, genetic genealogist, National Geographic Genographic Affiliate Researcher.

RootsTech 2020 Million Mito

I was honored to make The Million Mito Project announcement Saturday morning, but it was hard for me to contain my enthusiasm until Saturday. This initiative is super-exciting and I’ll be writing about the project, and how you can participate, as soon as I get home and recover just a bit.

  • Michael Sager, aka Mr. Big Y, announced additions to the Y Tree of Mankind in the Demo Theater, including a particularly impressive haplogroup D split.

Rootstech 2020 Sager

RootsTech 2020 Sager 2

RootsTech 2020 Sager hap d

In case anyone is counting, as of last week, the Y tree has 26,600+ named branches and over half a million detected (private variant) SNPs at FamilyTreeDNA waiting for additional testers to be placed on the tree. All I can say is WOW!!! In 2010, a decade ago, there were only 441 Y DNA branches on the entire Y tree. The Y tree has shot up from a twig to an evergreen. I think it’s actually a Sequoia and we just don’t know how large it’s going to grow to be.

RootsTech 2020 FTDNA booth

FamilyTreeDNA stepped up their game with a way-cool new booth that incorporated a lovely presentation area, greatly improved, which featured several guest presenters throughout the conference, including Judy Russell, below.

RootsTech 2020 Judy Russell

Yes, in case anyone is wondering, I DID ask permission to take Judy’s picture, AND to publish it in my article. Just sayin’😊

MyHeritage announced their new photo colorization, MyHeritage in Color, just before RootsTech. I wrote about it, here. At RootsTech MyHeritage had more announcements, including:

  • Enhancements coming soon to the photo colorization program. It was interesting to learn that the colorization project went live in less than 2 months from inception and resulted from an internal “hack-a-thon,” which in the technology industry is a fun think-tank sort of marathon endeavor where ideas flow freely in a competitive environment. Today, over a million photos have been colorized. People LOVE this feature.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage booth

One of their booth giveaways was a magnet – of your colorized ancestor’s photo. Conference attendees emailed the photo to a special email address and came by the booth a few minutes later to retrieve their photo magnet.

The photos on the board in front, above, are the colorized photos waiting for their family to pick them up. How fun!!!

  • Fan View for family trees which isn’t just a chart, but dynamic in that you can click on any person and they become the “center.” You can also add to your tree from this view.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage fan tree

One of the views is a colorful fan. If you sign on to your MyHeritage account, you’ll be asked if you’d like to see the new fan view. You can read about the new tree features on their blog, here.

  • The release of a MASSIVE 100-year US city directory digitization project that’s more than just imaging and indexing. If you’ve every used city directories, the unique abbreviations in each one will drive you batty. MyHeritage has solved that problem by providing the images, plus the “translation.” They’ve also used artificial intelligence to understand how to search further, incorporating things like spouse, address and more to provide you with not just one year or directory, but linear information that might allow you to infer the death of a spouse, for example. You can read their blog article, here.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage city directories

The MyHeritage booth incorporated a very cool feature this year about the Mayflower. Truthfully, I was quite surprised, because the Mayflower is a US thing. MyHeritage is working with folks in Leiden, Netherlands, where some Mayflower family members remained while others continued to what would become Plymouth Colony to prove the connection.

Rootstech 2020 MyHeritage Mayflower virtual

MyHeritage constructed a 3D area where you can sail with the Pilgrims.

I didn’t realize at first, but the chair swivels and as you move, your view in the 3D “goggles” changes to the direction on board the ship where you are looking.

RootsTech 2020 MyHeritage Mayflower virtual 2

The voyage in 1620 was utterly miserable – very rough with a great deal of illness. They did a good job of portraying that, but not “too much” if you get my drift. What you do feel is the utter smallness of the ship in the immense angry ocean.

I wonder how many descendants “sailed with their ancestors” on the virtual Mayflower. Do you have Mayflower ancestors? Mine are William Brewster, his wife, Mary and daughter, Patience along with Stephen Hopkins and his son, Gyles.

Ancestry’s only announcements were:

  • That they are “making things better” by listening and implementing improvements in the DNA area. I’ll forego any commentary because it would be based on their failure to listen and act (for years) about the absence of segment information and a chromosome browser. You’ve guessed it, that’s not mentioned.
  • That the WWII young man Draft Registration cards are now complete and online. Truthfully, I had no idea that the collection I was using online wasn’t complete, which I actually find very upsetting. Ancestry, assuming you actually are listening, how about warning people when they are using a partially complete collection, meaning what portion is and is not complete.
  • Listing content record additions planned for 2020 including the NYC birth index and other state and international records, some of which promise to be very useful. I wonder which states the statewide digitization projects pertain to and what that means, exactly.

OK, now we’re done with vendor announcements, so let’s just take a walk around the expo hall and see who and what we find. We might run into some people you know!

Walking Around

I sandwiched my walking around in-between my sessions. Not only did I present two RootsTech classes, but hosted the ToolMaker Meetup, attended two dinners, two lunches, announced The Million Mito Project, did two booth talks, one for FamilyTreeDNA and one for WikiTree, and I think something else I’ve forgotten about. Plus, all the planned and chance meetings which were absolutely wonderful.

Oh yes, and I attended a couple of sessions myself as an attendee and a few in the vendors booths too.

The great thing, or at least I think its great, is that most of the major vendors also have booth educational learning opportunities with presentation areas at their booths. Unfortunately, there is no centralized area where you can find out which booths have sessions, on what topics, when. Ditto for the Demo Theater.

Of course, that means booth presentations are also competing for your time with the regular sessions – so sometimes it’s really difficult to decide. It’s sort of like you’re awash in education for 4 days and you just can’t absorb enough. By Saturday, you’re physically and emotionally exhausted and you can’t absorb another iota, nor can you walk another step. But then you see someone you know and the pain in your feet is momentarily forgotten.

Please note that there were lots of other people that I saw and we literally passed, hugged and waved, or we were so engrossed in conversation that I didn’t realize until later that I had failed to take the photo. So apologies to all of those people.

RootsTech 2020 Amy Mags

I gave a presentation in the WikiTree booth about how to incorporate WikiTree into your 52 Ancestor stories, both as a research tool and as a way to bait the hook for cousins. Not to mention seeing if someone has already tested for Y or mtDNA, or candidates to do so.

That’s Amy Johnson Crow who started the 52 Ancestors challenge years ago, on the left and Mags Gaulden who writes at Grandma’s Genes and is a WikiTree volunteer (not to mention MitoY DNA.) Amy couldn’t stay for the presentation, so of course, I picked on her in her absence! I suspect her ears were burning. All in a good way of course.

RootsTech 2020 Kevin Borland

Kevin Borland of Borland Genetics, swabbing at the Family Tree DNA  booth, I hope for The Million Mito Project.

RootsTech 2020 Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz with MyHeritage at the blogger dinner. How about that advertising on his laptop lid. I need to do that with DNAexplain. Wonder where I can get one of those decals custom made.

RootsTech 2020 Hasani

Hasani Carter who I know from Facebook and who I discovered volunteering in a booth at RootsTech. I love to see younger people getting involved and to meet people in person. Love your dreads, Hasani.

RootsTech 2020 Randy Seaver

Cousin Randy Seaver who writes at Genea-Musings, daily, and has for YEARS. Believe it or not, he has published more than 13,000 articles, according to the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Dear Myrtle at RootsTech. What an incredible legacy.

If you don’t already subscribe (it’s free), you’re missing out. By the way, I discovered Randy was my cousin when I read one of his 52 Ancestors articles, recognizing that his ancestor and my ancestor had the same surname in the same place. He knew the connection. Those articles really work. Thanks Randy – it was so good to see you again.

RootsTech 2020 univ dundee

The University of Dundee booth, with Sylvia Valentine and Pat Whatley, was really fun.  As part of their history and genealogy curriculum (you an earn certificates, bachelors and masters degrees,) they teach paleography, which, in case you are unaware is the official word for deciphering “ancient handwriting.” You didn’t know that’s what you’d been doing did you?

RootsTech 2020 paleography

They provided ink and quills for people to try their own hand.

RootsTech 2020 Paleography 2

The end of the feather quill pen is uneven and scratchy. Pieces separate and splatter ink. You can’t “write,” you draw the letters very, very carefully and slowly. I must say, my “signature” is more legible than normal.

Rootstech 2020 scribe

I now have a lot more empathy for those scribes. It’s probably a good thing that early records are no worse than they are.

RootsTech 2020 Gilad Japhet

Gilad Japhet at the MyHeritage luncheon. I have attended other vendor sponsored (but paid by the attendee) lunches at RootsTech in the past and found them disappointing, especially for the cost. Now MyHeritage is the only sponsored lunch that I attend and I always enjoy it immensely. Yes, I arrived early and sat dead center in front.

I also have a confession to make – I was so very excited about being contacted by Mary Tan Hai’s son that I was finishing colorizing the photos part of the time while Gilad was talking. (I did warn him so he didn’t think I was being rude.) But it’s HIS fault because he made these doggone photos so wonderful – and let’s just say time was short to get the photos to Mary’s family. You can read this amazing story, here.

Gilad always shares part of his own personal family story, and this time was no different. He shared that his mother is turning 85 soon and that the family, meaning her children and grandchildren all teamed up to make her a lovely video. Trust me, it was and made us all smile.

I’m so grateful for a genealogy company run by a genealogist. Speaking of that, Gilad’s mother was a MyHeritage board member in the beginning. That beginning also included a story about how the MyHeritage name came to be, and how Gilad managed to purchase the domain for an unwilling seller. Once again, by proxy, his mother entered into the picture. If you have the opportunity to hear Gilad speak – do – you won’t be disappointed. You’ll hear him speak for sure if you attend MyHeritage LIVE in Tel Aviv this October.

RootsTech 2020 Paul Woodbury

Paul Woodbury who works for Legacy Tree Genealogists, has a degree in both family history and genetics from BYU. He’s standing with Scott Fisher (left). Paul’s an excellent researcher and the only way you can put him to work on your brick wall is through Legacy Tree Genealogists. If you contact them for a quote, tell them I referred you for a $50 discount.

Rootstech 2020 Toolmaker meetup

From The ToolMaker’s Meetup, at far left, Jonny Pearl of DNAPainter, behind me, Dana Leeds who created The Leeds Method, and at right, Rob Warthen, the man behind DNAGedcom. Thanks to Michelle Patient for the photo.

RootsTech 2020 Toolmaker meetup 2

The meetup was well received and afforded people an opportunity to meet and greet, ask questions and provide input.

RootsTech 2020 Campbell baby

In fact, we’re working on recruiting the next generation. I have to say, my “grandma” kicked in and I desperately wanted to hold this beautiful baby girl. What a lovely family. Of course, when I noticed the family name is Campbell, we had a discussion of a different nature, especially since my cousin, Kevin Campbell and I were getting ready to have lunch. We will soon find out if Heidi’s husband is our relative, which makes her and her daughter our relative too!

Rootstech 2020 Kevin Campbell

It was so much fun to sit and develop a research plan with Kevin Campbell. We’re related, somehow on the Campbell line – we just have to sort out when and where.

Bless Your Heart

The photo I cherish most from RootsTech 2020 is the one that’s not pictured here.

A very special gentleman told me, when I asked if we could take a picture together, after he paid me the lovely compliment of saying that my session was the best one he had ever attended, that he doesn’t “do pictures.” Not in years, literally. I thought he was kidding at first, but he was deadly seriously.

The next day, I saw him again a couple of times and we shares stories. Our lives are very different, yet they still intersected in amazing ways. I feel like I’ve known him forever.

Then on the last day, he attended my Million Mito presentation and afterwards came up and told me a new story. How he had changed his mind, and what prompted the change of heart. Now we have a wonderful, lovely photo together which I will cherish all the more because I know how special it is – and how wonderful that makes me feel.

To my friend – you know who you are – thank you! You have blessed my heart. Bless yours😊

The Show Floor

I think I actually got all the way through the show floor, but I’m not positive. In some cases, the “rows” weren’t straight or had dead ends due to large booths, and it was possible to miss an area. I didn’t get to every booth I wanted to. Some were busy, some I simply forgot to take photos.

RootsTech 2020 everything

You can literally find almost anything.

I focused on booths related to genetic genealogy, but not exclusively.

RootsTech 2020 DNAPainter

Jonny Perl and the DNAPainter booth. I’ve written lots of articles, here, about using DNAPainter, one of my very favorite tools.

RootsTech 2020 Rootstech store

The RootsTech store was doing a brisk business.

RootsTech 2020 DNA basics

The RootsTech show area itself had a DNA Basics area which I thought was brilliant in its simplicity.

Inheritance is show by jellybeans.

Rootstech 2020 dNA beans

Put a cup under the outlet and pull the lever.

Rootstech 2020 beans in cup

How many of which color you receive in your cup is random, although you get exactly the same number from the maternal and paternal side.

Now you know I wanted to count these, don’t you?

Rootstech 2020 JellyGenes

And they are of course, called, “JellyGenes.” Those must be deletions still laying in the bin.

RootsTech 2020 Wikitree

WikiTree booth and volunteers. I love WikiTree – it’s “one great tree” is not perfect but these are the people, along with countless others that inject the “quality” into the process.

RootsTech 2020 MitoYDNA

MitoYDNA with Kevin Borland standing in front of the sign.

RootsTech 2020 Crossley

This amazing artist whose name I didn’t get. I was just so struck by her work, painting her ancestor from the picture on her phone.

RootsTech 2020 painter

I wish I was this talented. I would love to have some of my ancestor’s painted. Hmm….

Rootstech 2020 GeneaCreations

Jeanette at GeneaCreations makes double helix zipper pulls, along with lots of other DNA bling, and things not so blingy for men. These are just SOOO cool.

RootsTech 2020 zipper pull

I particularly love my “What’s Your Haplogroup” t-shirt and my own haplogroup t-shirt. Yes, she does custom work. What’s your haplogroup? You can see those goodies here.

Around the corner, I found CelebrateDNA.

RootsTech 2020 Celebrate DNA

Is that a Viking wearing a DNA t-shirt?

Rootstech 2020 day of the dead

CelebrateDNA has some very cool “Day of the Dead” bags, t-shirts and mouse pads, in addition to their other DNA t-shirts. I bought an “Every day is Day of the Dead for Genealogists” mouse pad which will live permanently in my technology travel bag. You can see their other goodies, here.

RootsTech 2020 skeleton

Hey, I think I found a relative. Can we DNA test to see?

Rootstech 2020 Mayflower replica

The Mayflower Society had a fun booth with a replica model ship.

RootsTech 2020 Mayflower passengers

Along with the list of passengers perched on a barrel of the type that likely held food or water for the Pilgrims.

RootsTech 2020 Webinar Marathon

Legacy Family Tree Webinars is going to have a 24-hour Genealogy Webinar Marathon March 12-13. So, who is going to stay up for this?Iit’s free and just take a look at the speakers, and topics, here. I’m guessing lots of people will take advantage of this opportunity. You can also subscribe for more webinars, here.

On March 4th, I’m presenting a FREE webinar, “3 Genealogy DNA Case Studies and How I Solved Them,” so sign up and join in!

Rootstech 2020 street art

Food at RootsTech falls into two categories. Anything purchased in the convention center meaning something to stave off starvation, and some restaurant with friends – the emphasis being on friends.

A small group went for pizza one evening when we were too exhausted to do anything else. Outside I found this interesting street art – and inside Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana I had the best Margarita Pizza I think I’ve ever had.

Then, as if I wasn’t already stuffed to the gills, attached through a doorway in the wall is Capo Gelateria Italiana, creators of artisan gelato. I’ve died and gone to heaven. Seriously, it’s a good thing I don’t live here.

Rootstech 2020 gelatto

Who says you can’t eat ice cold gelato in the dead of winter, outside waiting for the Uber, even if your insides are literally shivering and shaking!! It was that good.

This absolutely MUST BE a RootsTech tradition.

Rootstech 2020 ribbons

That’s it for RootsTech 2020. Hope you’ve enjoyed coming along on this virtual journey and that you’ve found something interesting, perhaps a new hint or tool to utilize.

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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

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

DNAPainter: Painting “Bucketed” Family Tree DNA Maternal and Paternal Family Finder Matches in One Fell Swoop

DNAPainter has done it again, providing genealogists with a wonderful tool that facilitates separating your matches into maternal and paternal categories so that they can be painted on the proper chromosome – in one fell swoop no less.

Of course, the entire purpose of painting your chromosomes is to identify segments that descend from specific ancestors in order to push those lines back further in time genealogically. Identifying segments, confirming and breaking down brick walls is the name of the game.

DNA Painter New Import Tool

The new DNAPainter tool relies on Family Tree DNA’s Phased Family Matching which assigns your matches to maternal and paternal buckets. On your match list, at the top, you’ll see the following which indicates how many matches you have in total and how many people are assigned to each bucket.

DNAPainter FF import.png

Note that these are individual matches, not total matching segments – that number would be higher.

In order for Family Tree DNA to create bucketed matches for you, you’ll need to:

  • Either create a tree or upload a GEDCOM file
  • Attach your DNA kit to “you” in your tree
  • Attach all 4th cousins and closer with whom you match to their proper location on your tree

Yes, it appears that Family Tree DNA is now using 4th cousins, not just third cousins and closer, which provides for additional bucketed matches.

How reliable is bucketing?

Quite. Occasionally one of two issues arise which becomes evident if you actually compare the matches’ segments to the parent with whom they are bucketed:

  • One or more of your matches’ segments do match you and your parent, but additionally, one or more segments match you, but not your parent
  • The X chromosome is particularly susceptible to this issue, especially with lower cM matches
  • Occasionally, a match that is large enough to be bucketed isn’t, likely because no known, linked cousin shares that segment

Getting Started

Get started by creating or uploading your tree at Family Tree DNA.

DNAPainter mytree.png

After uploading your GEDCOM file or creating your tree at Family Tree DNA, click on the “matches” icon at the top of the tree to link yourself and your relatives to their proper places on your tree. Your matches will show in the box below the helix icon.

DNAPainter FF matches.png

I created an example “twin” for myself to use for teaching purposes by uploading a file from Ancestry, so I’m going to attach that person to my tree as my “Evil Twin.” (Under normal circumstances, I do not recommend uploading duplicate files of anyone.)

DNAPainter FF matches link.png

Just drag and drop the person on your match list on top of their place on the tree.

DNAPainter Ff sister.png

Here I am as my sister, Example Adoptee.

I’ve wished for a very, very long time that there was a way to obtain a list of segment matches sorted by maternal and paternal bucket without having to perform spreadsheet gymnastics, and now there is, at DNAPainter.

DNAPainter does the heavy-lifting so you don’t have to.

What Does DNAPainter Do with Bucketed Matches?

When you are finished uploading two files at DNAPainter, you’ll have:

  • Maternal groups of triangulated matches
  • Paternal groups of triangulated matches
  • Matches that could not be assigned based on the bucketing. Some (but not all) of these matches will be identical by chance – typically roughly 15-20% of your match list. You can read about identical by chance, here.

I’ll walk you through the painting process step by step.

First, you need to be sure your relatives are connected to your tree at Family Tree DNA so that you have matches assigned to your maternal and paternal buckets. The more relatives you connect, per the instructions in the previous section, the more matching people will be able to be placed into maternal or paternal buckets.

Painting Bucketed Matches at DNAPainter

I wrote basic articles about how to use DNAPainter here. If you’re unfamiliar with how to use DNAPainter or it’s new to you, now would be a good time to read those articles. This next section assumes that you’re using DNAPainter. If not, go ahead, register, and set up a profile. One profile is free for everyone, but multiple profiles require a subscription.

First, make a duplicate of the profile that you’re working with. This DNAPainter upload tool is in beta.

DNAPainter duplicate profile.png

Since I’m teaching and experimenting, I am using a fresh, new profile for this experiment. If it works successfully, I’ll duplicate my working profile, just in case something goes wrong or doesn’t generate the results I expect, and repeat these steps there.

Second, at Family Tree DNA, Download a fresh copy of your complete matching segment file. This “Download Segments” link is found at the top right of the chromosome browser page.

DNAPainter ff download segments.png

Third, download your matches at the bottom left of the actual matches page. This file hold information about your matches, such as which ones are bucketed, but no segment information. That’s in the other file.

DNAPainter csv.png

Name both of these files something you can easily identify and that tells them apart. I called the first one “Segments” in front of the file name and the second one “Matches” in front of the file name.

Fourth, at DNAPainter, you’ll need to import your entire downloaded segment file that you just downloaded from Family Tree DNA. I exclude segments under 7cM because they are about 50% identical by chance.

DNAPainter import instructions

click to enlarge

Select the segment file you just named and click on import.

DNAPainter both.png

At this point, your chromosomes at DNAPainter will look like this, assuming you’re using a new profile with nothing else painted.

Let’s expand chromosome 1 and see what it looks like.

DNAPainter chr 1 both.png

Note that all segments are painted over both chromosomes, meaning both the maternal and paternal copies of chromosome 1, partially shown above, because at this point, DNAPainter can’t tell which people match on the maternal and which people match on the paternal sides. The second “matches” file from Family Tree DNA has not yet been imported into DNAPainter, which tells DNAPainter which matches are on the maternal and which are on the paternal chromosomes.

If you’re not workign with a new profile, then you’ll also see the segments you’ve already painted. DNAPainter attempts to NOT paint segments that appear to have previously been painted.

Fifth, at DNAPainter, click on the “Import mat/pat info from ftDNA” link on the left which will provide you with a page to import the matches file information. This is the file that has maternal and paternal sides specified for bucketed matches. DNAPainter needs both the segment file, which you already imported, and the matches file.

DNAPainter import bucket

click to enlarge

After the second import, the “matches” file, my matches are magically redistributed onto their appropriate chromosomes based on the maternal and paternal bucketing information.

I love this tool!

At this point, you will have three groups of matches, assuming you have people assigned to your maternal and paternal buckets.

  • A “Shared” group for people who are related to both of your parents, or who aren’t designated as a bucketed match to either parent
  • Maternal group (pink chromosome)
  • Paternal group (blue chromosome)

It’s Soup!!!

I’m so excited. Now my matches are divided into maternal and paternal chromosome groups.

DNAPainter import complete.png

Just so you know, I changed the colors of my legend at DNAPainter using “edit group,” because all three groups were shades of pink after the import and I wanted to be able to see the difference clearly.

DNAPainter legend.png

Your Painted Chromosomes

Let’s take a look at what we have.

DNAPainter both, mat, pat.png

There’s still pink showing, meaning undetermined, which gets painted over both the maternal and paternal chromosomes, but there’s also a lot of magenta (maternal) and blue (paternal) showing now too as a result of bucketing.

Let’s look at chromosome 1.

DNAPainter chr 1 all.png

This detail, which is actually a summary, shows that the bucketed maternal (magenta) and paternal (blue) matches have actually covered most of the chromosome. There are still a few areas without coverage, but not many.

For a genealogist, this is beautiful!!!

How many matches were painted?

DNAPainter paternal total.png

DNAPainter maternal total.png

Expanding chromosome 1, and scrolling to the maternal portion, I can now see that I have several painted maternal segments, and almost the entire chromosome is covered.

Here’s the exciting part!

DNAPainter ch1 1 mat expanded.png

I stared the relatives I know, on the painting, above and on the pedigree chart, below. The green group descends through Hiram Ferverda and Eva Miller, the yellow group through Antoine Lore and Rachel Hill. The blue group is Acadian, upstream of Antoine Lore.

DNAPainter maternal pedigree.png

Those ancestors are shown by star color on my pedigree chart.

I can now focus on the genealogies of the other unstarred people to see if their genealogy can push those segments back further in time to older ancestors.

On my Dad’s side, the first part of chromosome 1 is equally as exciting.

DNAPainter chr 1 pat expanded.png

The yellow star only pushed this triangulated group back only to my grandparents, but the green star is from a cousin descended from my great-grandparents. The red star matches are even more exciting, because my common ancestor with Lawson is my brick wall – Marcus Younger and his wife, Susanna, surname unknown, parents of Mary Younger.

DNAPainter paternal pedigree.png

I need to really focus hard on this cluster of 12 people because THEIR common ancestors in their trees may well provide the key I need to push back another generation – through the brick wall. That is, after all, the goal of genetic genealogy.

Woohoooo!

Manual Spreadsheet Compare

Because I decided to torture myself one mid-winter day, and night, I wanted to see how much difference there is between the bucketed matches that I just painted and actual matches that I’ve identified by downloading my parents’ segment match files and mine and comparing them manually against each other. I removed any matches in my file that were not matches to my parent, in addition to me, then painted the rest.

I’ll import the resulting manual spreadsheet into the same experimental DNAPainter profile so we can view matches that were NOT painted previously. DNAPainter does not paint matches previously painted, if it can tell the difference. Since both of these files are from downloads, without the name of the matches being in any way modified, DNAPainter should be able to recognize everyone and only paint new segment matches.

Please note here that the PERSON unquestionably belongs bucketed to the parental side in question, but not all SEGMENTS necessarily match you and your parent. Some will not, and those are the segments that I removed from my spreadsheet.

DNAPainter manual spreadsheet example.png

Here’s a made-up example where I’ve combined my matches and my mother’s matches in one spreadsheet in order to facilitate this comparison. I colored my Mom’s matches green so they are easy to see when comparing to my own, then sorting by the match name.

Person 1 matches me and Mom both, at 10 cM on chromosome 1. Person 1 is assigned to my maternal side due to the matches above 9 cM, the lowest threshold at Family Tree DNA for bucketing.

In this example, we can see that Person 1 matches me and Mom (colored green), both, on the segment on chromosome 1. That match, bracketed by red, is a valid, phased, match and should be painted.

However, Person 1 also matches me, but NOT Mom on chromosome 2. Because Person 1 is bucketed to mother, this segment on chromosome 2 will also be painted to my maternal chromosome 2 using the DNAPainter import. The only way to sort this out is to do the comparison manually.

The same holds true for the X match shown. The two segments shown in red should NOT be painted, but they will be unless you are willing to compare you and your parents’ matches manually, you will just have to evaluate segments individually when you see that you’re working in a cluster where matches have been assigned through the mass import tool.

If you choose to compare the spreadsheets manually to assure that you’re not painting segments like the red ones above, DNAPainter provides instructions for you to create your own mass upload template, which is what I did after removing any segment matches of people that were not “in common” between me and mother on the same chromosomal segment, like the red ones, above.

Please note that if you delete the erroneous segments and later reimport your bucketed matches, they will appear again. I’m more inclined to leave them, making a note.

I did not do a manual comparison of my father’s side of the tree after discovering just how little difference was found on my mother’s side, and how much effort was involved in the manual comparison.

Creating a Mass Upload Template and File

DNAPainter custom mass upload.png

The instructions for creating your own mass upload file are provided by DNAPainter – please follow them exactly.

In my case, after doing the manual spreadsheet compare with my mother, only a total of 18 new segments were imported that were not previously identified by bucketing.

Three of those segments were over 15cM, but the rest were smaller. I expected there would be more. Family Tree DNA is clearly doing a great job with maternal and paternal bucketing assignments, but they can’t do it without known relatives that have also tested and are linked to your tree. The very small discrepancy is likely due to matches with cousins that I have not been able to link on my tree.

The great news is that because DNAPainter recognizes already-painted segments, I can repeat this anytime and just paint the new segments, without worrying about duplicates.

  • The information above pertains to segments that should have been painted, but weren’t.
  • The information below pertains to segments that were painted, but should not have been.

I did not keep track of how many segments I deleted that would have erroneously been painted. There were certainly more than 18, but not an overwhelming number. Enough though to let me know to be careful and confirm the segment match individually before using any of the mass uploaded matches for hypothesis or conclusions.

Given that this experiment went well, I created a copy of my “real” profile in order to do the same import and see what discoveries are waiting!

Before and After

Before I did the imports into my “real” file (after making a copy, of course,) I had painted 82% of my DNA using 1700 segments. Of course, each one of those segments in my original profile is identified with an ancestor, even if they aren’t very far back in time.

Although I didn’t paint matches in common with my mother before this mass import, each of my matches in common with my mother are in common with one or the other of my maternal grandparents – and by using other known matches I can likely push the identity of those segments further back in time.

Status Percent Segments Painted
Before mass Phased Family Match bucketed import 82 1700
After mass Phased Family Match bucketed import 88 7123
After additional manual matches with my mother added 88 7141

While I did receive 18 additional matching segments by utilizing the manually intensive spreadsheet matching and removal process, I did not receive enough more matches to justify the hours and hours of work. I won’t be doing that anymore with Family Tree DNA files since they have so graciously provided bucketing and DNAPainter can leverage that functionality.

Those hours will be much better spent focusing on unraveling the ancestors whose stories are told in clusters of triangulated matches.

I Love The Import Tool, But It’s Not Perfect

Keep in mind that the X chromosome needs a match of approximately twice the size of a regular chromosome to be as reliable. In other words, a 14 cM threshold for the X chromosome is roughly equivalent to a 7 cM match for any other chromosome. Said another way, a 7 cM match on the X is about equal to a 3.5 cM match on any other chromosome.

X matches are not created equal.

The SNP density on the X chromosome is about half that of the other chromosomes, making it virtually impossible to use the same matching criteria. I don’t encourage using matches of less than 500 SNPs unless you know you’re in a triangulated group and WITH at least a few larger, proven matches on that segment of the X chromosome.

Having said that, X matches, due to their unique inheritance path can persist for many generations and be extremely useful. You can read about working with the X chromosome here and here.

I noticed when I was comparing segments in the manual spreadsheet that I had to remove many X matches with people who had identical matches on other chromosomes with me and my mother. In other words, just because they matched my mother and me exactly on one chromosome, that phasing did not, by default, extend to matching on other segments.

I checked my manually curated file and discovered that I had a total of seven X matches that should have been, and were, painted because they matched me and Mom both.

DNAPainter X spreadsheet example.png

However, there were many that didn’t match me and Mom both, matching only me, that were painted because that person was bucketed (assigned) to my maternal side because a different segment phased to mother correctly.

On the X chromosome, here’s what happened.

DNAPainter maternal X.png

You can see that a lot more than 7 bright red matches were painted – 26 more to be exact. That’s because if an individual is bucketed on your maternal or paternal side, it’s presumed that all of the matching segments come from the same ancestor and are legitimate, meaning identical by descent and not by chance. They aren’t. Every single segment has an inheritance path and story of its own – and just because one segment triangulates does NOT mean that other segments that match that person will triangulate as well.

The X chromosome is the worst case scenario of course, because these 7 cM segments are actually as reliable as roughly 3.5 cM segments on any other chromosome, which is to say that more than 50% of them will be incorrect. However, some will be accurate and those will match me and mother both. 21% of the X matches to people who phased and triangulated on other chromosomes were accurate – 79% were not. Thankfully, we have phasing, bucketing and tools like this to be able to tell the difference so we can utilize the 21% that are accurate. No one wants to throw the baby out with the bath water, nor do we want to chase after phantoms.

Keep in mind that Phased Family Matching, like any other tool, is just that, a tool and needs some level of critical analysis.

Every Segment Has Its Own Story

We know that every single DNA segment has an independent inheritance path and story of its own. (Yes, I’ve said that several time now because it’s critically important so that you don’t wind up barking up the wrong tree, literally, pardon the pun.)

In the graphic above of my painted X chromosome matches, only the six matches with green stars are on the hand-curated match list. One had already been painted previously. The balance of the bright red matches were a part of the mass import and need to be deleted. Additionally, one of the accurate matches did not upload for some reason, so I’ll add that one manually.

I suggest that you go ahead and paint your bucketed segments, but understand that you may have a red herring or two in your crop of painted segment matches.

As you begin to work with these clusters of matches, check your matching segments with your parents (or other family members who were used in bucketing) and make sure that all the segments that have been painted by bulk upload actually match on all of the same segments.

If you have a parent that tested, there is no need to see if you and your match match other relatives on that same side. If your match does not match you and your parent on some significant overlapping portion of that same segment, the match is invalid. DNA does not “skip generations.”

If you don’t have a parent that has tested, your known relatives are your salvation, and the key to bucketed matches.

The great news is that you can easily see that a bulk match was painted from the coloring of the batch import. As you discover the relevant genealogy and confirm that all segments actually match your parent (or another family member, if you don’t have parents to test,) move the matching person to the appropriately colored ancestral group.

I further recommend that you hand curate the X chromosome using a spreadsheet. The nature of the X makes depending on phased matching too risky, especially with a tool like DNAPainter that can’t differentiate between a legitimate and non-legitimate match. The X chromosome matches are extraordinarily valuable because they can be useful in ways that other chromosomes can’t be due to the X’s unique inheritance path.

What About You?

If you don’t have your DNA at Family Tree DNA and you have tested elsewhere, you can transfer your DNA file for free, allowing you to see your matches and use many of the Family Tree DNA tools. However, to access the chromosome browser, which you’ll need for DNA painting, you’ll need to purchase the unlock for $19, but that’s still a lot less than retesting.

Here are transfer instructions for transferring your DNA file from 23andMe, Ancestry or MyHeritage.

If you have not purchased a Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA and don’t have a DNA file to transfer, you can order a test here.

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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

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Big Y News and Stats + Sale

I must admit – this past January when FamilyTreeDNA announced the Big Y-700, an upgrade from the Big Y-500 product, I was skeptical. I wondered how much benefit testers would really see – but I was game to purchase a couple upgrades – and I did. Then, when the results came back, I purchased more!

I’m very pleased to announce that I’m no longer skeptical. I’m a believer.

The Big Y-700 has produced amazing results – and now FamilyTreeDNA has decoupled the price of the BAM file in addition to announcing substantial sale prices for their Thanksgiving Sale.

I’m going to discuss sale pricing for products other than the Big Y in a separate article because I’d like to focus on the progress that has been made on the phylogenetic tree (and in my own family history) as a result of the Big Y-700 this year.

Big Y Pricing Structure Change

FamilyTreeDNA recently anounced some product structure changes.

The Big Y-700 price has been permanently dropped by $100 by decoupling the BAM file download from the price of the test itself. This accomplishes multiple things:

  • The majority of testers don’t want or need the BAM file, so the price of the test has been dropped by $100 permanently in order to be able to price the Big Y-700 more attractively to encourage more testers. That’s good for all of us!!!
  • For people who ordered the Big Y-700 since November 1, 2019 (when the sale prices began) who do want the BAM file, they can purchase the BAM file separately through the “Add Ons and Upgrades” page, via the “Upgrades” tab for $100 after their test results are returned. There will also be a link on the Big Y-700 results page. The total net price for those testers is exactly the same, but it represents a $100 permanent price drop for everyone else.
  • This BAM file decoupling reduces the initial cost of the Big Y-700 test itself, and everyone still has the option of purchasing the BAM file later, which will make the Big Y-700 test more affordable. Additionally, it allows the tester who wants the BAM file to divide the purchase into two pieces, which will help as well.
  • The current sale price for the Big Y-700 for the tester who has taken NO PREVIOUS Y DNA testing is now just $399, formerly $649. That’s an amazing price drop, about 40%, in the 9 months since the Big Y-700 was introduced!
  • Upgrade pricing is available too, further down in this article.
  • If you order an upgrade from any earlier Big Y to the Big Y-700, you receive an upgraded BAM file because you already paid for the BAM file when you ordered your initial Big Y test.
  • The VCF file is still available for download at no additional cost with any Big Y test.
  • There is no change in the BAM file availability for current customers. Everyone who ordered before November 1, 2019 will be able to download their BAM file as always.

The above changes are permanent, except for the sale price.

2019 has been a Banner Year

I know how successful the Big Y-700 has been for kits and projects that I manage, but how successful has it been overall, in a scientific sense?

I asked FamilyTreeDNA for some stats about the number of SNPs discovered and the number of branches added to the Y phylotree.

Drum roll please…

Branches Added This Year Total Tree Branches Variants Added to Tree This Year Total Variants Added to Tree
2018 6,259 17,958 60,468 132.634
2019 4,394 22.352 32,193 164,827

The tests completed in 2019 are only representative for 10 months, through October, and not the entire year.

Haplotree Branches

Not every SNP discovered results in a new branch being added to the haplotree, but many do. This chart shows the number of actual branches added in 2018 and 2019 to date.

Big Y 700 haplotree branches.png

These stats, provided by FamilyTreeDNA, show the totals in the bottom row, which is a cumulative branch number total, not a monthly total. At the end of October 2019, the total number of individual branches were 22,352.

Big Y 700 haplotree branches small.png

This chart, above, shows some of the smaller haplogroups.

Big Y 700 haplotree branches large.png

This chart shows the larger haplogroups, including massive haplogroup R.

Haplotree Variants

The number of variants listed below is the number of SNPs that have been discovered, named and placed on the tree. You’ll notice that these numbers are a lot larger than the number of branches, above. That’s because roughly 168,000 of these are equivalent SNPs, meaning they don’t further branch the tree – at least not yet. These 168K variants are the candidates to be new branches as more people test and the tree can be further split.

Big Y 700 variants.png

These numbers also don’t include Private Variants, meaning SNPs that have not yet been named.

If you see Private Variants listed in your Big Y results, when enough people have tested positive for the same variant, and it makes sense, the variants will be given a SNP name and placed on the tree.

Big Y 700 variants small.png

The smaller haplogroups variants again, above, followed by the larger, below.

Big Y 700 variants large.png

Upgrades from the Big Y, or Big Y-500 to Big Y-700

Based on what I see in projects, roughly one third of the Big Y and Big Y-500 tests have upgraded to the Big Y-700.

For my Estes line, I wondered how much value the Big Y-700 upgrade would convey, if any, but I’m extremely glad I upgraded several kits. As a result of the Big Y-700, we’ve further divided the sons of Abraham, born in 1747. This granularity wasn’t accomplished by STR testing and wasn’t accomplished by the Big Y or Big Y-500 testing alone – although all of these together are building blocks. I’m ECSTATIC since it’s my own ancestral line that has the new lineage defining SNP.

Big Y 700 Estes.png

Every Estes man descended from Robert born in 1555 has R-BY482.

The sons of the immigrant, Abraham, through his father, Silvester, all have BY490, but the descendants of Silvester’s brother, Robert, do not.

Moses, son of Abraham has ZS3700, but the rest of Abraham’s sons don’t.

Then, someplace in the line of kit 831469, between Moses born in 1711 and the present-day tester, we find a new SNP, BY154784.

Big Y 700 Estes block tree.png

Looking at the block tree, we see the various SNPs that are entirely Estes, except for one gentleman who does not carry the Estes surname. I wrote about the Block Tree, here.

Without Big Y testing, none of these SNPs would have been found, meaning we could never have split these lines genealogically.

Every kit I’ve reviewed carries SNPs that the Big Y-700 has been able to discern that weren’t discovered previously.

Every. Single. One.

Now, even someone who hasn’t tested Y DNA before can get the whole enchilada – meaning 700+ STRs, testing for all previously discovered SNPs, and new branch defining SNPs, like my Estes men – for $399.

If a new Estes tester takes this test, without knowing anything about his genealogy, I can tell him a great deal about where to look for his lineage in the Estes tree.

Reduced Prices

FamilyTreeDNA has made purchasing the Big Y-700 outright, or upgrading, EXTREMELY attractive.

Test Price
Big Y-700 purchase with no previous Y DNA test

 

$399
Y-12 upgrade to Big Y-700 $359
Y-25 upgrade to Big Y-700 $349
Y-37 upgrade to Big Y-700 $319
Y-67 upgrade to Big Y-700 $259
Y-111 upgrade to Big Y-700 $229
Big Y or Big Y-500 upgrade to Big Y-700 $189

Note that the upgrades include all of the STR markers as yet untested. For example, the 12-marker to Big Y-700 includes all of the STRs between 25 and 111, in addition to the Big Y-700 itself. The Big Y-700 includes:

  • All of the already discovered SNPs, called Named Variants, extending your haplogroup all the way to the leaf at the end of your branch
  • Personal and previously undiscovered SNPs called Private Variants
  • All of the untested STR markers inclusive through 111 markers
  • A minimum of a total of 700 STR markers, including markers above 111 that are only available through Big Y-700 testing

With the refinements in the Big Y test over the past few years, and months, the Big Y is increasingly important to genealogy – equally or more so than traditional STR testing. In part, because SNPs are not prone to back mutations, and are therefore more stable than STR markers. Taken together, STRs and SNPs are extremely informative, helping to break down ancestral brick walls for people whose genealogy may not reach far back in time – and even those who do.

If you are a male and have not Y DNA tested, there’s never been a better opportunity. If you are a female, find a male on a brick wall line and sponsor a scholarship.

Click here to order or upgrade!

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Thank you so much.

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Crossovers: Frequency and Inheritance Statistics – Male Versus Female Matters

Recently, a reader asked if I had any crossover statistics.

They were asking about the number of crossovers, meaning divisions on each chromosome, of the parent’s DNA when a child is created. In other words, how many segments of your maternal and paternal grandparent’s DNA do you inherit from your mother and father – and are those numbers somehow different?

Why would someone ask that question, and how is it relevant for genealogists?

What is a Crossover and Why is it Important?

We know that every child receives half of their autosomal DNA from their father, and half from their mother. Conversely that means that each parent can only give their child half of their own DNA that they received from their parents. Therefore, each parent has to combine some of the DNA from their father’s chromosome and their mother’s chromosome into a new chromosome that they contribute to their child.

Crossovers are breakpoints that are created when the DNA of the person’s parents is divided into pieces before being recombined into a new chromosome and passed on to the person’s child.

I’m going to use the following real-life scenario to illustrate.

Crossover pedigree.png

The colors of the people above are reflected on the chromosome below where the DNA of the blue daughter, and her red and green parents are compared to the DNA of the tester. The tester is shown as the gray background chromosomes in the chromosome browser. The backgroud person is whose results we are looking at.

My granddaughter has tested her DNA, as have her parents and 3 of her 4 grandparents along with 2 great-grandparents, shown as red and green in the diagram above.

Here’s an example utilizing the FamilyTreeDNA chromosome browser.

Crossover example chr 1.png

On my granddaughter’s chromosome 1, on the chromosome brower above, we see two perfect examples of crossovers.

There’s no need to compare her DNA against that of her parent, the son in the chart above, because we already know she matches the full length of every chromosome with both of her parents.

However, when comparing my granddaughter’s DNA against the grandmother (blue) and her grandmother’s parents, the great-grandmother shown in red and great-grandfather shown in green, we can see that the granddaughter received her blue segments from the grandmother.

The grandmother had to receive that entire blue segment from either her mother, in red, or her father, in green. So, every blue segment must have an exactly matching red segment, green segment or combination of both.

The first red box at left shows that the blue segment was inherited partially from the grandmother’s red mother and green father. We know that because the tester matches the red great-grandmother on part of that blue segment and the green great-grandfather on a different part of the entire blue segment that the tester inherited from her blue grandmother.

The middle colored region, not boxed, shows the entire blue segment was inherited from the red great-grandmother and the blue grandmother passed that intact through her son to her granddaughter.

The third larger red boxed area encompassing the entire tested region to the right of the centromere was inherited by the granddaughter from her grandmother (blue segment) but it was originally from the blue grandmother’s red mother and green father.

The Crossover

The areas on this chromosome where the blue is divided between the red and green, meaning where the red and green butt up against each other is called a crossover. It’s literally where the DNA of the blue daughter crosses over between DNA contributed by her red mother and green father.

Crossover segments.png

In other words, the crossover where the DNA divided between the blue grandmother’s parents when the grandmother’s son was created is shown by the dark arrows above. The son gave his daughter that exact same segment from his mother and it’s only by comparing the tester’s DNA against her great-grandparents that we can see the crossover.

Crossover 4 generations.png

What we’re really seeing is that the segments inherited by the grandmother from her parents two different chromosomes were combined into one segment that the grandmother gave to her son. The son inherited the green piece and the red piece on his maternal chromosome, which he gave intact to his daughter, which is why the daughter matches her grandmother on that entire blue segment and matches her great-grandparents on the red and green pieces of their individual DNA.

Inferred Matching Segments

Crossover untested grandfather.png

The entirely uncolored regions are where the tester does not match her blue grandmother and where she would match her grandfather, who has not tested, instead of her blue grandmother.

The testers father only received his DNA from his mother and father, and if his daughter does not match his mother, then she must match his untested father on that segment.

Looking at the Big Inheritance Picture

The tester’s full autosomal match between the blue grandmother, red great-grandmother and green great-grandfather is shown below.

Crossover autosomes.png

In light of the discussion that follows, it’s worth noting that chromosomes 4 and 20 (orange arrows) were passed intact from the blue grandmother to the tester through two meiosis (inheritance) events. We know this because the tester matches the green great-grandfather’s DNA entirely on these two chromosomes that he passed to his blue daughter, her son and then the tester.

Let’s track this for chromosomes 4 and 20:

  • Meiosis 1 –The tester matches her blue grandmother, so we know that there was no crossover on that segment between the father and the tester.
  • Meiosis 2 – The tester matches her green great-grandfather along the entire chromosome, proving that it was passed intact from the grandmother to the tester’s father, her son.
  • What we don’t know is whether there were any crossovers between the green great-grandfather when he passed his parent or parents DNA to the blue grandmother, his daughter. In order to determine that, we would need at least one of the green great-grandfather’s parents, which we don’t have. We don’t know if the green great-grandfather passed on his maternal or paternal copy of his chromosome, or parts of each to the blue great-grandmother, his daughter.

Meiosis Events and the Tree

So let’s look at these meiosis or inheritance events in a different way, beginning at the bottom with the pink tester and counting backwards, or up the tree.

Crossover meiosis events.png

By inference, we know that chromosomes 11, 16 and 22 (purple arrows) were also passed intact, but not from the blue grandmother. The tester’s father passed his father’s chromosome intact to his daughter. That’s the untested grandfather again. We know this because the tester does not match her blue grandmother at all on either of these three chromosomes, so the tester must match her untested grandfather instead, because those are the only two sources of DNA for the tester’s father.

A Blip, or Not?

If you’ve noticed that chromosome 14 looks unusual, in that the tester matches her grandmother’s blue segment, but not either of her great-grandparents, which is impossible, give yourself extra points for your good eye.

In this case, the green great-grandfather’s kit was a transfer kit in which that portion of chromosome 14 was not included or did not read accurately. Given that the red great-grandmother’s kit DID read in that region and does not match the tester, we know that chromosome 14 would actually have a matching green segment exactly the size of the blue segment.

However, in another situation where we didn’t know of an issue with the transfer kit, it is also possible that the granddaughter matched a small segment of the blue grandmother’s DNA where they were identical by chance. In that case, chromosome 14 would actually have been passed to the tester intact from her father’s father, who is untested.

Every Segment has a Story

Looking at this matching pattern and our ability to determine the source of the DNA back several generations, originating from great-grandparents, I hope you’re beginning to get a sense of why understanding crossovers better is important to genealogists.

Every single segment has a story and that story is comprised of crossovers where the DNA of our ancestors is combined in their offspring. Today, we see the evidence of these historical genetic meiosis or division/recombination events in the start and end points of matches to our genetic cousins. Every start and end point represents a crossover sometime in the past.

What else can we tell about these events and how often they occur?

Of the 22 autosomes, not counting the X chromosome which has a unique inheritance pattern, 17 chromosomes experienced at least one crossover.

What does this mean to me as a genealogist and how can I interpret this type of information?

Philip Gammon

You may remember our statistician friend Philip Gammon. Philip and I have collaborated before authoring the following articles where Philip did the heavy lifting.

I discussed crossovers in the article Concepts – DNA Recombination and Crossovers, also in collaboration with Philip, and showed several examples in a Four Generation Inheritance Study.

If you haven’t read those articles, now might be a good time to do so, as they set the stage for understanding the rest of this article.

The frequency of chromosome segment divisions and their resulting crossovers are key to understanding how recombination occurs, which is key to understanding how far back in time a common ancestor between you and a match can expect to be found.

In other words, everything we think we know about relationships, especially more distant relationships, is predicated on the rate that crossovers occur.

The Concepts article references the Chowdhury paper and revealed that females average about 42 crossovers per child and males average about 27 but these quantities refer to the total number of crossovers on all 22 autosomes and reveal nothing about the distribution of the number of crossovers at the individual chromosome level.

Philip Gammon has been taking a closer look at this particular issue and has done some very interesting crossover simulations by chromosome, which are different sizes, as he reports beginning here.

Crossover Statistics by Philip Gammon

For chromosomes there is surprisingly little information available regarding the variation in the number of crossovers experienced during meiosis, the process of cell division that results in the production of ova and sperm cells. In the scientific literature I have been able to find only one reference that provides a table showing a frequency distribution for the number of crossovers by chromosome.

The paper Broad-Scale Recombination Patterns Underlying Proper Disjunction in Humans by Fledel-Alon et al in 2009 contains this information tucked away at the back of the “Supplementary methods, figures, and tables” section. It was likely not produced with genetic genealogists in mind but could be of great interest to some. The columns X0 to X8 refer to the number of crossovers on each chromosome that were measured in parental transmissions. Separate tables are shown for male and female transmissions because the rates between the two sexes differ significantly. Note that it’s the gender of the parent that matters, not the child. The sample size is quite small, containing only 288 occurrences for each gender.

A few years ago I stumbled across a paper titled Escape from crossover interference increases with maternal age by Campbell et al 2015. This study investigated the properties of crossover placement utilising family groups contained within the database of the direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe. In total more than 645,000 well-supported crossover events were able to be identified. Although this study didn’t directly report the observed frequency distribution of crossovers per chromosome, it did produce a table of parameters that accurately described the distribution of inter-crossover distances for each chromosome.

By introducing these parameters into a model that I had developed to implement the equations described by Housworth and Stahl in their 2003 paper Crossover Interference in Humans I was able to derive tables depicting the frequency of crossovers. The following results were produced for each chromosome by running 100,000 simulations in my crossover model:

Crossover transmissions from female to child.png

Transmissions from female parent to child, above.

Crossover transmissions male to child.png

Transmissions from male parent to child.

To be sure that we understand what these tables are revealing let’s look at the first row of the female table. The most frequent outcome for chromosome #1 is that there will be three crossovers and this occurs 27% of the time. There were instances when up to 10 crossovers were observed in a single meiosis but these were extremely rare. Cells that are blank recorded no observations in the 100,000 simulations. On average there are 3.36 crossovers observed on chromosome #1 in female to child transmissions i.e. the female chromosome #1 is 3.36 Morgans (336 centimorgans) in genetic length.

Blaine Bettinger has since examined crossover statistics using crowdsourced data in The Recombination Project: Analyzing Recombination Frequencies Using Crowdsourced Data, but only for females. His sample size was 250 maternal transmissions and Table 2 in the report presents the results in the same format as the tables above. There is a remarkable degree of conformity between Blaine’s measurements and the output from my simulation model and also to the earlier Fledel-Alon et al study.

The diagrams below are a typical representation of the chromosomes inherited by a child.

Crossovers inherited from mother.jpg

The red and orange (above) are the set of chromosomes inherited from the mother and the aqua and green (below) from the father. The locations where the colours change identify the crossover points.

It’s worth noting that all chromosomes have a chance of being passed from parent to child without recombination. These probabilities are found in the column for zero crossovers.

In the picture above the mother has passed on two red chromosomes (#14 and #20) without recombination from one of the maternal grandparents. No yellow chromosomes were passed intact.

Similarly, below, the father has passed on a total of five chromosomes that have no crossover points. Blue chromosomes #15, #18 and #21 were passed on intact from one paternal grandparent and green chromosomes #4 and #20 from the other.

Crossovers inherited from father.jpg

It’s quite a rare event for one of the larger chromosomes to be passed on without recombination (only a 1.4% probability for chromosome #1 in female transmissions) but occurs far more frequently in the smaller chromosomes. In fact, the male chromosome #21 is passed on intact more often (50.6% of the time) than containing DNA from both of the father’s parents.

However, there is nothing especially significant about chromosome #21.

The same could be said for any region of similar genetic length on any of the autosomes i.e. the first 52 cM of chromosome #1 or the middle 52 cM of chromosome #10 etc. From my simulations I have observed that on average 2.8 autosomes are passed down from a mother to child without a crossover and an average of 5.1 autosomes from a father to child.

In total (from both parents), 94% of offspring will inherit between 4 and 12 chromosomes containing DNA exclusively from a single grandparent. In the 100,000 simulations the child always inherited at least one chromosome without recombination.

Back to Roberta

If you have 3 generations who have tested, you can view the crossovers in the grandchild as compared to either one or two grandparents.

If the child doesn’t match one grandparent, even if their other grandparent through that parent hasn’t tested, you can certainly infer that any DNA where the grandchild doesn’t match the available grandparent comes from the non-tested “other” grandparent on that side.

Let’s Look at Real-Life Examples

Using the example of my 2 granddaughters, both of their parents and 3 of their 4 grandparents have tested, so I was able to measure the crossovers that my granddaughters experienced from all 4 of their grandparents.

Maternal Crossovers Granddaughter 1 Granddaughter 2 Average
Chromosome 1 6 2 3.36
Chromosome 2 4 2 3.17
Chromosome 3 3 2 2.71
Chromosome 4 2 2 2.59
Chromosome 5 2 1 2.49
Chromosome 6 4 2 2.36
Chromosome 7 3 1 2.23
Chromosome 8 2 2 2.11
Chromosome 9 3 1 1.95
Chromosome 10 4 2 2.08
Chromosome 11 3 0 1.93
Chromosome 12 3 3 2.00
Chromosome 13 1 1 1.52
Chromosome 14 3 1 1.38
Chromosome 15 4 1 1.44
Chromosome 16 2 2 1.58
Chromosome 17 2 2 1.53
Chromosome 18 2 0 1.40
Chromosome 19 2 1 1.18
Chromosome 20 0 1 1.19
Chromosome 21 0 1 0.74
Chromosome 22 1 0 0.78
Total 56 30 41.71

Looking at these results, it’s easy to see just how different inheritance between two full siblings can be. Granddaughter 1 has 56 crossovers through her mother, significantly more than the average of 41.71. Granddaughter 2 has 30, significantly less than average.

The average of the 2 girls is 43, very close to the total average of 41.71.

Note that one child received 2 chromosomes intact from her mother, and the other received 3.

Paternal Crossovers Granddaughter 1 Granddaughter 2 Average
Chromosome 1 2 2 1.98
Chromosome 2 3 2 1.85
Chromosome 3 2 2 1.64
Chromosome 4 0 1 1.46
Chromosome 5 1 2 1.46
Chromosome 6 2 1 1.41
Chromosome 7 1 2 1.36
Chromosome 8 1 1 1.23
Chromosome 9 1 3 1.26
Chromosome 10 3 2 1.30
Chromosome 11 0 1 1.20
Chromosome 12 1 1 1.32
Chromosome 13 2 1 1.02
Chromosome 14 1 0 0.97
Chromosome 15 1 2 1.01
Chromosome 16 0 1 1.02
Chromosome 17 0 0 1.06
Chromosome 18 1 1 0.98
Chromosome 19 1 1 1.00
Chromosome 20 0 0 0.99
Chromosome 21 0 0 0.52
Chromosome 22 0 0 0.63
Total 23 26 26.65

Granddaughter 2 had slightly more paternal crossovers than did granddaughter 1.

One child received 7 chromosomes intact from her father, and the other received 5.

Chromosome Granddaughter 1 Maternal Granddaughter 1 Paternal
Chromosome 1 6 2
Chromosome 2 4 3
Chromosome 3 3 2
Chromosome 4 2 0
Chromosome 5 2 1
Chromosome 6 4 2
Chromosome 7 3 1
Chromosome 8 2 1
Chromosome 9 3 1
Chromosome 10 4 3
Chromosome 11 3 0
Chromosome 12 3 1
Chromosome 13 1 2
Chromosome 14 3 1
Chromosome 15 4 1
Chromosome 16 2 0
Chromosome 17 2 0
Chromosome 18 2 1
Chromosome 19 2 1
Chromosome 20 0 0
Chromosome 21 0 0
Chromosome 22 1 0
Total 56 23

Comparing each child’s maternal and paternal crossovers side by side, we can see that Granddaughter 1 has more than double the number of maternal as compared to paternal crossovers, while Granddaughter 2 only had slightly more.

Chromosome Granddaughter 2 Maternal Granddaughter 2 Paternal
Chromosome 1 2 2
Chromosome 2 2 2
Chromosome 3 2 2
Chromosome 4 2 1
Chromosome 5 1 2
Chromosome 6 2 1
Chromosome 7 1 2
Chromosome 8 2 1
Chromosome 9 1 3
Chromosome 10 2 2
Chromosome 11 0 1
Chromosome 12 3 1
Chromosome 13 1 1
Chromosome 14 1 0
Chromosome 15 1 2
Chromosome 16 2 1
Chromosome 17 2 0
Chromosome 18 0 1
Chromosome 19 1 1
Chromosome 20 1 0
Chromosome 21 1 0
Chromosome 22 0 0
Total 30 26

Granddaughter 2 has closer to the same number of maternal and paternal of crossovers, but about 8% more maternal.

Comparing Maternal and Paternal Crossover Rates

Given that males clearly have a much, much lower crossover rate, according to the Philip’s chart as well as the evidence in just these two individual cases, over time, we would expect to see the DNA segments significantly LESS broken up in male to male transmissions, especially an entire line of male to male transmissions, as compared to female to female linear transmissions. This means we can expect to see larger intact shared segments in a male to male transmission line as compared to a female to female transmission line.

  G1 Mat G2 Mat Mat Avg G1 Pat G2 Pat Pat Avg
Gen 1 56 30 41.71 23 26 26.65
Gen 2 112 60 83.42 46 52 53.30
Gen 3 168 90 125.13 69 78 79.95
Gen 4 224 120 166.84 92 104 106.60

Using the Transmission rates for Granddaughter 1, Granddaughter 2, and the average calculated by Philip, it’s easy to see the cumulative expected average number of crossovers vary dramatically in every generation.

By the 4th generation, the maternal crossovers seen in someone entirely maternally descended at the rate of Grandchild 1 would equal 224 crossovers meaning that the descendant’s DNA would be divided that many times, while the same number of paternal linear divisions at 4 generations would only equal 92.

Yet today, we would never look at 2 people’s DNA, one with 224 crossovers compared to one with 92 crossovers and even consider the possibility that they are both only three generations descended from an ancestor, counting the parents as generation 1.

What Does This Mean?

The number of males and females in a specific line clearly has a direct influence on the number of crossovers experienced, and what we can expect to see as a result in terms of average segment size of inherited segments in a specific number of generations.

Using Granddaughter 1’s maternal crossover rate as an example, in 4 generations, chromosome 1 would have incurred a total of 24 crossovers, so the DNA would be divided into in 25 pieces. At the paternal rate, only 8 crossovers so the DNA would be in 9 pieces.

Chromosome 1 is a total of 267 centimorgans in length, so dividing 267 cM by 25 would mean the average segment would only be 10.68 cM for the maternal transmission, while the average segment divided by 9 would be 29.67 cM in length for the paternal transmission.

Given that the longest matching segment is a portion of the estimated relationship calculation, the difference between a 10.68 cM maternal linear segment match and a 29.67 paternal linear cM segment match is significant.

While I used the highest and lowest maternal and paternal rates of the granddaughters, the average would be 19 and 29, respectively – still a significant difference.

Maternal and Paternal Crossover Average Segment Size

Each person has an autosomal total of 3374 cM on chromosomes 1-22, excluding the X chromosome, that is being compared to other testers. Applying these calculations to all 22 autosomes using the maternal and paternal averages for 4 generations, dividing into the 3374 total we find the following average segment centiMorgan matches:

Crossovers average segment size.png

Keep in mind, of course, that the chart above represents 3 generations in a row of either maternal or paternal crossovers, but even one generation is significant.

The average size segment of a grandparent’s DNA that a child receives from their mother is 80.89 cM where the average segment of a grandparent’s DNA inherited from their father is 1.57 times larger at 126.6 cM.

Keep the maternal versus paternal inheritance path in mind as you evaluate matches to cousins with identified common ancestors, especially if the path is entirely or mostly maternal or paternal.

For unknown matches, just keep in mind that the average that vendors calculate and use to predict relationships, because they can’t and don’t have “inside knowledge” about the inheritance path, may or may not be either accurate or average. They do the best they can do with the information they have at hand.

Back to Philip again who provides us with additional information.

Maternal Versus Paternal Descent

Along a predominantly maternal path the DNA is likely to be inherited in more numerous smaller segments while along a predominantly paternal path it will likely be in fewer but larger segments. So matches who descend paternally from a common ancestor and carry the surname are not likely to carry more DNA from that common male ancestor than someone who descends from a mixed or directly maternal line. In fact, someone descending from an ancestor down an all-male path is more likely to inherit no DNA at all from that ancestor than someone descending down an all-female path. This is because the fewer segments there are the higher the risk is that a person won’t pass on any of them. Of course, there’s also a greater chance that all of the segments could be passed on. Fewer segments leads to more variation in the amount of DNA inherited but not a higher average amount of DNA inherited.

Gammon 3X great-grandparents.png

The chart above shows the spread in the amount of DNA inherited from a 3xgreat-grandparent, down all-maternal, all-paternal and down all possible paths. The average in each case is 3.125% i.e. 1 part in 32 but as expected the all-paternal path shows much more variation. Compared to the all-maternal path, on the all-paternal you are more likely to inherit either less than 2.0% or more than 5.0%. In 50,000 simulations there were 14 instances where a 3xgreat-grandchild did not inherit any DNA down the all-paternal path. There were no cases of zero DNA inherited down the all-maternal path.

One way to think about this is to consider a single chromosome. If at least one crossovers occurs in the meiosis some DNA from each grandparent will be passed down to the grandchild but when it is passed on without recombination, as occurs more frequently in paternal than maternal meiosis, all of the DNA from one grandparent is passed on but none at all from the other. When this happens, there is no bias toward either the grandfather’s or the grandmother’s chromosome being passed on. It’s just as likely that the segment coming down the all-paternal path will be lost entirely as it is that it will be passed on in full.

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