Imputation Analysis Utilizing Promethease

We know in the genetics industry that imputation is either coming or already here for genetic genealogy. I recently wrote two articles, here and here, explaining imputation and its (apparent) effects on matching – or at least the differences between vendors who do and don’t utilize imputation on the segments that are set forth as matches.

I will be writing shortly about my experience utilizing DNA.Land, a vendor who encourages testers to upload their files to be shared with medical researchers. In return, DNA.Land provides matching information and ethnicity – but they do impute results that you don’t have based on“typical” DNA that is generally inherited with the DNA you do have.

Aside from my own curiosity and interest in health, I have been attempting to determine the relative accuracy of imputation.

Promethease is a third party site that provides consumers who upload their autosomal DNA files with published information about their SNPs, mutations, either bad, good or neither, meaning just information. This makes Promethease the perfect avenue for comparing the accuracy of the imputed data provided by DNA.Land compared against the data provided by Promethease generated from files from vendors who do not impute.

Even better, I can directly compare the autosomal file from Family Tree DNA that I uploaded to DNA.Land with my resulting DNA.Land file after DNA.Land imputed another 38 million locations. I can also compare the DNA.Land results to an extensive exome test that provided results for some 50 million locations.

Uploading all of the files from various testing vendors separately to Promethease allows me to see which of the mutations imputed by DNA.Land are accurate when compared to actual DNA tests, and if the imputed mutations are accurate when the same location was tested by any vendor.

In addition to the typical genetic genealogy vendors, I’ve also had my DNA exome sequenced, which includes the 50 million locations in humans most likely to mutate.  This means those locations should be the locations most likely to be imputed by DNA.Land.

Finally, at Promethease, I can combine my results from all the vendors where I actually tested to provide the greatest coverage of actually tested locations, and then compare to DNA.Land – providing the most comprehensive comparison.

I will utilize the testing vendors’ actual results to check the DNA.Land imputed results.

Let’s see what the results produce.

The Test Process

The method I used for this comparison was to upload my Family Tree DNA autosomal raw data file to DNA.Land. DNA.Land then took the 700,000+ locations that I did test for at Family Tree DNA, and imputed more than 38 million additional locations, raising my tested and imputed number of locations to about 39 million.

Then, I downloaded and uploaded my huge DNA.Land file, utilizing the Promethease instructions.

In order to do a comparison against the imputed data that DNA.Land provided, I uploaded files from the following vendors individually, one at a time, to Promethease to see which versions of the files provided which results – meaning which mutations the files produced by actual testing at vendors could confirm in the DNA.Land imputed results.

  • DNA.Land (imputed)
  • Genos – Exome testing of 50 million medically relevant locations
  • Ancestry V1 test
  • Ancestry V2 test
  • Family Tree DNA
  • 23andMe V3 test
  • 23andMe V4 test
  • Combined file of all non-imputed vendor files

Promethease provides a wonderful feature that enables users to combine multiple vendors’ files into one run. As a final test, I combined all of my non-imputed files into one run in order to compare all of my non-imputed results, together, with DNA.Land’s imputed results.

Promethease provides results that fall into 3 categories:

  • Bad – red
  • Good – green
  • Grey – “not set” – neither bad nor good, just information

Promethease does not provide diagnoses of any form, just information from the published literature about various mutations and genetic markers and what has been found in research, with links to the sources through SNPedia.

Results

I compiled the following chart with the results of each individual file, plus a combined file made up of all of the non-imputed files.

The results are quite interesting.

The combined run that included all of the vendors files except for DNA.Land provided more “bad” results than the imputed DNA.Land file. 

I expected that the Genos exome test would have covered all of the locations tested by the three genetic genealogy vendors, but clearly not, given that the combined run provides more results than the Genos exome run by itself. In fact, the total locations reported is 80,607 for the combined run and the Genos run alone was only 45,595.

DNA.Land only imputed 34,743 locations that returned results.

Comparison for Accuracy

Now, the question is whether the DNA.Land imputed results are accurate.

Due to the sheer number of results, I focused only on the “bad” results, the ones that would be most concerning, to get an idea of how many of the DNA.Land results were tested in the original uploaded file (from FTDNA) and how many were imputed. Of the imputed locations, I determined how many are accurate by comparing the DNA.Land results to the combined testing results. My hope, is, of course, that most of the locations found in the DNA.Land imputed file are also to be found in one of the files tested at the vendors, and therefore covered in the combined file run.

I combined my results from the following 3 runs into a common spreadsheet, color coding each result differently:

  • First, I wanted to see the locations reported as “bad” that were actually tested at FTDNA. By comparing the FTDNA locations with the DNA.Land imputed file, we know that DNA.Land was NOT imputing those locations, and conversely, that they WERE imputing the rest of the locations.
  • Second, I wanted to know if locations imputed by DNA.Land and reported as “bad” had been tested by any testing company, and if DNA.Land’s imputation was accurate as compared to an actual test.

You can read more about how Promethease reports results, here.

I’m showing two results in the spreadsheet example, below.

White row=FTDNA test result
Yellow row =DNA.Land result
Blue row=combined test result

These two examples show two mutations that are ranked as “bad” for the same condition. This result really only tells me that I metabolize some things slower than other people. Reading the fine print tells me this as well:

The proportion of slow and rapid metabolizers is known to differ between different ethnic populations. In general, the slow metabolizer phenotype is most prevalent (>80%) in Northern Africans and Scandinavians, and lowest (5%) in Canadian Eskimos and Japanese. Intermediate frequencies are seen in Chinese populations (around 20% slow metabolizers), whereas 40 – 60% of African-Americans and most non-Scandinavian Caucasians are slow metabolizers.[PMID 16416399]

Many of you are probably slow metabolizers too.

I used this example to illustrate that not everything that is “bad” is going to keep you awake at night.

The first mutation, gs140 is found in the DNA.Land file, but there is no corresponding white row, representing the original Family Tree DNA report, meaning that DNA.Land imputed the result. GS140 is, however, tested by some vendor in the combined file. The results do match (verified by actually comparing the results individually) and therefore, the DNA.Land imputation was accurate as noted in the DNA.Land Analysis column at far right.

In the second example, gs154 is reported by DNA.Land, but since it’s also reported by Family Tree DNA in the white row, we know that this value was NOT imputed by DNA.Land, because this was part of the originally uploaded file. Therefore, in the Analysis column, I labeled this result as “tested at FTDNA.”

Analysis

I analyzed each of the rows of “bad” results found in the DNA.Land file by comparing them first to the FTDNA file and then the Combined file. In some cases, I needed to return to the various vendor results to see which vendor had done the testing on a specific location in order to verify the result from the individual run.

So, how did DNA.Land do with imputing data as compared with actual tested results?

# Results % Comment
Tested, not Imputed 171 38.6 This “bad” location was tested at FTDNA and uploaded, so we know it was reported accurately at DNA.Land and not imputed.
Total Imputed* 272 61.4 Meaning total of “bad” results not tested at FTDNA, so not uploaded to DNA.Land, therefore imputed.
Imputed Correctly 259 95.22 This result was verified to match a tested location in the combined run.
Imputed, but not tested elsewhere 6 2.21 Accuracy cannot be confirmed.
Conflict 3 1.10 DNA.Land results cannot be verified due to an error of some sort – two of these three are probably accurate.
Imputed Incorrectly 4 1.47 Confirmed by the combined run where the location was actually tested at multiple vendor(s).
Not reported, and should have been 1 0.37 4 other vendor tests showed this mutation, including FTDNA which was uploaded to DNA.Land. Therefore these locations should have been reported by the DNA.Land file.

*The total number of “bad” results was 443, 171 that were tested and 272 that were imputed. Note that the percentages of imputations shown below the “Total Imputed” number of 272 are calculated based on the number of locations imputed, not on the total number of locations reported.

Concerns, Conflicts and Errors

It’s worth noting that my highest imputed “bad” risk from DNA.Land was not tested elsewhere, so cannot be verified, which concerns me.

On the three results where a conflict exists, all 3 locations were tested at multiple other vendors, and the results at the other vendors where the results were actually tested show different results from each other, which means that the DNA.Land result cannot be verified as accurate. Clearly, an error exists in at least one of the other tests.

In one conflict case, this error has occurred at 23andMe on either their V3 or V4 chip, where the results do not match each other.

In a second conflict case, two of the other vendors agree and the DNA.Land imputation is likely accurate, as it matches 2 of the three other vendor tests.

In the third conflict case, the Ancestry V2 test confirms one of the 23andMe results, which matches the DNA.Land results, so the DNA.Land result is likely accurate.

Of the 4 results that were confirmed to be imputed incorrectly, all locations were tested at multiple vendors. In two cases, the location was confirmed on two other tests and in the other two cases, the location was tested at three vendors. The testing vendor’s results all matched each other.

Summary

Overall, given the problems found with both DNA.Land and MyHeritage, who both impute, relative to genetic genealogy matching, I was surprised to find that the DNA.Land imputed health results were relatively accurate.

I expected the locations reported in the FTDNA file to be reported accurately by DNA.Land, because that data was provided to them. In one case, it was not.

Of the 272 “bad” results imputed, 259, or 95.22% could be verified as accurate.

Six could not be verified, and three were in conflict, but of those, it’s likely that two of the three were imputed accurately by DNA.Land. The third can’t be verified. This totals 3.31% of the imputed results that are ambiguous.

Only 1.47% were imputed incorrectly. If you add the .37% for the location that was not reported and should have been, and make the leap of assumption that the one of three in conflict is in error, DNA.Land is still just over a 2% confirmed error rate.

I can see why Illumina would represent to the vendors that imputation technology is “very accurate.” “Very” of course is relative, pardon the pun, in genetic genealogy, to how well matching occurs, not only when the new GSA chip is compared to another GSA chip, but when the new GSA version is compared to the older OmniExpress version. For backards compatibility between the chip versions, imputation must be utilized. Thanks a lot Illumina (said in my teenage sarcastic voice).

Since DNA.Land accepts files from all the vendors on all chips, for DNA.Land to be able to compare all locations in all vendors’ files against each other, the “missing” data in each file must be imputed. MyHeritage is doing something similar (having hired one of the DNA.Land developers), and both vendors have problems with genetic genealogy matching.

This begs the question of why the matching is demonstrably so poor for genetic genealogy. I’ve written about this phenomenon here, Kitty Cooper wrote about it here and Leah Larkin here.

Based on this comparison, each individual DNA.Land imputed file would contain about a 2% error rate of incorrectly imputed data, assuming the error rate is the same across the entire file, so a combined total of 4% for two individuals, if you’re just looking at individual SNPs. Perhaps entire segments are being imputed incorrectly, given that we know that DNA is inherited in segments. If that is the case, and these individual SNPs are simply small parts of entire segments that are imputed incorrectly, they might account for an equal number of false positive matches. In other words, if 10 segments are imputed incorrectly for me, that’s 10 segments reporting false positive matches I’ll have when paired against anyone who receives the same imputed data. However, that doesn’t explain the matches that are legitimate (on tested segments) and aren’t found by the imputing vendors, and it doesn’t explain an erroneous match rate that appears to be significantly higher than the 2-4% per cent found in this comparison.

I’ll be writing about the DNA.Land matching comparison experience shortly.

I would strongly prefer that medical research be performed on fully tested individuals. I realize that the cost of encouraging consumers to upload their data, and then imputing additional information is much less expensive than actual testing. However, accuracy is an issue and a 2% error rare, if someone is dealing with life-saving and life-threatening research could be a huge margin of error, from the beginning of the project, based on faulty imputation – which could be eliminated by simply testing people. This seems like an unnecessary risk and faulty research just waiting to happen. This error rate is on top of the actual sequencing error rate, but sequencing errors will be found in different locations in individuals, not on the same imputed segment assigned to multiple people in population groups. Imputation errors could be cumulative in one location, appearing as a hot spot when in reality, it’s an imputation error.

As related to genetic genealogy, I don’t think imputation and genetic genealogy are good bedfellows. DNA.Land’s matching was even worse when it was initially introduced, which is one reason I’ve waited so long to upload and write about the service.

Unfortunately, with Illumina obsoleting the OmniExpress chip, we’re not going to have a choice, sooner than later. All vendors who utilized the OmniExpress chip are being forced off, either onto the GSA chip or to an Exome or full sequence chip. The cost of sequencing for anything other than the GSA chip is simply more than the genetic genealogy market will stand, not to mention even larger compatibility issues. My Genos Exome test cost $499 just a few months ago and still sells for that price today.

The good news is that utilizing imputation, we will still receive matches, just less accurate matches when comparing the new chip to older versions, and when using imputation.

New testers will never know the difference. Testers not paying close attention won’t notice or won’t realize either. That leaves the rest of us “old timers” who want increased accuracy and specification, not less, flapping in the wind along with the vendors who don’t sell our test results into the medical arena and have no reason to move to the new GSA platform other than Illumina obsoleting the OmniExpress chip.

Like I said, thanks Illumina.

Promethease 2017

For those who aren’t acquainted with Promethease, they are a service that provides a comprehensive “health” report based on autosomal DNA results uploaded from the major testing companies.  You receive an informational report about your genetic health risks and some traits as reported in numerous academic studies that are archived and categorized relative to genetic information.

Quoting Promethease, they say:

Promethease is a literature retrieval system that builds a personal DNA report based on connecting a file of DNA genotypes to the scientific findings cited in SNPedia.

Please note that if you took the 23andMe test for health information, Promethease provides you with exponentially more information – and you can utilize your 23andMe file to obtain that information. If you tested at any of the other major vendors, you can utilize those reports as well, either separately or together.

I originally wrote about Promethease in December of 2013. At that time, I uploaded the files from various testing vendors to Promethease one by one and compared the results. Four years in this industry is forever, so I’m doing this again to share my results. There is a lot more information available from Promethease, and the testing vendors files have changed too.

This time, I’m uploading my Exome data, a very different DNA test than consumers receive at the typical genetic genealogy testing companies. You can read about this test in the article, Genos – A Medically Focused DNA Exome Test.

Keep in mind that even if you uploaded your autosomal file before and received results, Promethease adds new references as they become available, so your information from a couple years ago is out of date. The good news is that Promethease is very inexpensive, typically between $5 and $10.

What Does Promethease Do?

Promethease reports raw information, meaning that they do not massage or interpret this information for you. In other words, for a particular disease or trait, if there are 10 articles that report on that particular DNA location, based on your SNPs (one from Mom and one from Dad,) 2 information sources might indicate a possible increased risk, 5 might be neither good nor bad, and 3 might indicate a possible lower risk. Promethease shows you all 10, not distilling the 10 into a compilation or summary of your risk factors.

Promethease is NOT DIAGNOSTIC. Only a physician can diagnose complex illnesses correctly, incorporating genetic information.

I should note here that very few mutations are absolute, with a few notable exceptions like Huntington’s Chorea. In most cases, just because you have a specific mutation indicating an elevated risk, does NOT means you’ll ever get that disease. Other factors such as lifestyle, nutrition and environment are involved, as well as elements we don’t yet understand today.

Important

If you decide to submit your information to Promethease, it’s very important for you to understand and take the following points into consideration:

  • The DNA tests you are uploading are not medical tests. They do not test all possible locations. Furthermore, occasionally, tests run by different vendors produce different results at specific locations. Those differing results can and do produce conflicting information about traits or mutations associated with that location.
  • Testing errors occur.
  • Promethease results are not diagnostic, only informational.
  • If you are concerned about your health, either before or after testing, you should take the results and your concerns to your physician for interpretation in your particular situation. (I am not a doctor. This is common sense.)
  • The field of genetics, including medical genetics, is undergoing a steep learning curve. Very little is cast in concrete. Sometimes we learn that what we thought we knew previously was incorrect.
  • You cannot “unsee” what you will learn about your own genes and mutations. Be sure you really want to know before you participate in this type of learning.

Having said all of that, let me share some interesting information about my results with you.

My Results

I recently uploaded my Genos Exome test, which tests a LOT more locations than any of the typical genetic genealogy tests – 50 million as compared to less than 1 million in the typical genealogy autosomal tests. I utilized Genos results on purpose, after developing a DVT (deep vein thrombosis – a blood clot) in my leg after a fall and after a flight, both. I wanted to see if I carry any genetic propensity for developing DVTs, or if it had just been a combination of circumstantial factors other than genetics. I discovered that I don’t carry any known genetic predisposition to DVTs or other clotting issues. Neither did my parents, at least not that I know of.

Promethease returned a total of 45,595 locations with informational results of some type, meaning those locations had been found in medical or academic literature housed at SNPedia.

Of those locations, 41,766 were “good,” 104 were “bad,” and 3,725 were “not set” meaning neither good nor bad.

The great news is that you don’t need to read all of the results, but can search or see any results that are relevant for any particular word. So you can sort for “clot,” “thrombosis” or even something like “kidney” or “liver,” in addition to seeing and sorting information in various other ways.

Most everyone looks at their “bad” mutations first. Fortunately, most people don’t have many and often bad doesn’t really mean “bad,” simply a slight elevated risk.

The Process

When considering whether or not to utilize Promethease, you might want to take a look at the video provided on their main web page.

Of course, to proceed, you’ll need to actually READ the legal verbiage and click that you accept to proceed.

Please click on any image to enlarge.

Promethease said this, and I said this, but I want to say it again.

You may discover things that will worry you. You may find conflicting information about a trait or mutation. You cannot “unsee” this once you’ve seen it.

Vendor Upload Files

You can upload your results from any of the vendors, noted above, as well as see example reports. Occasionally when a vendor changes something in their file, or changes testing chips, there will be a delay while Promethease makes adaptations. As I write this today, Promethease is working to handle the 23andMe V5 chip which is the new Illumina GSA chip.

One VERY interesting feature is that you can upload your results from multiple vendors and Promethease will combine them to provide you with one report. This costs a little more – mine was $17.  If I didn’t taken the Exome test, I would have uploaded all of my other files for combination.

Actually, after I uploaded my Exome file and ran the results, I did upload the rest. I’ll be publishing an article shortly with the results of that comparison titled “Imputation Analysis Utilizing Promethease.”

I would NOT utilize files from vendors that impute DNA data and include imputed information in your download data file. Of the vendors listed, I know that today MyHeritage makes use of imputed data on their site, but only downloads your actual tested locations, so their file would be fine to use.

DNA.Land facilitates uploads from other vendors, then imputes additional results, allowing you to download the imputed data file. I would not suggest using this file.

At this link, Promethease discusses imputation and says that some results from imputed information will be unreliable. I would recommend AGAINST using the imputed data. You will have no idea which results are from your real test and from the imputed data, that isn’t actually yours.

If you choose to use an imputed file, I would suggest that you also separately run the same file that you uploaded to DNA.Land in order to see which of your report locations are real and which are imputed by comparing the results of the two separate runs.

Promethease provides information, shown below, about the various vendors and vendor files. Note that some are not accepted, and some are less reliable.

It’s interesting that the Family Tree DNA Big Y test is accepted in addition to their Family Finder autosomal test.

The Results

Processing takes about 20 minutes and you will receive an e-mail when processing is complete with a link to both view and download your report. Click “download” which provides a zip file. Results are only held on the Promethease website for 45 days unless you make a selection to retain your results on the website to enable future processing.

Promethease provides a nice tutorial, both via their video and onscreen as well.

Click the link in the e-mail to see your results.

Promethease results are color coded with red being a probable pathogenic result (meaning potentially concerning, or bad), green being a good or protective result and grey meaning not assigned as bad or good – just information.

In total, I had the following categories of results utilizing my Genos file:

  • Probably Pathogenic, red – 104
  • Not Set, grey – 3725
  • Protective, green – 41,766

Please note that while red equals bad, that’s a relative thing. For example, having a “bad” mutation that MAY elevate your risk to 1.2% from 1% isn’t really terribly concerning. Most of my “bad” mutations fall into this category, and may have good offsetting mutations for the same condition. So, no jumping to conclusions allowed and no panicking, please.

Here’s my first result. It’s grey.

Whew, I’m a female!

You can see that I have 45,595 results returned, 10 being shown on the screen and the rest of the 45,595 being held in reserve and visible by sorting any number of ways, including by key word in the search box shown top right above. Below, lots of other sort options.

Here’s an example of a “grey” result when I searched for “eye color.”

You can see that this genotype, or result, as described, influences eye color.  I carry the nucleotides G and G, noted beside the rs id, where an A is required for the propensity to blue or grey eyes.

From this information, we know that my children received a G from me, because that’s all I have to give them, but if they received an A from their father, their eyes could be blue or grey.

Caution

If you don’t want to know, and I mean really know about your medically connected mutations, don’t utilize Promethease.

If you are prone to anxiety or worry, this might not be for you. If you are a hypochondriac, for Heaven’s sake, don’t use Promethease.

If you do want to know, run Promethease occasionally, because new SNPs are being added to the data base regularly.

Be cautious about introducing this entire report into your medical record, especially given that the state of health care and pre-existing condition coverage is uncertain in the future in the US. However, be vigilant and inform your physician of anything that might be relevant to your conditions or treatment, or especially any variants that might help them diagnose a condition or tailor medications.

While I am providing an informational article about this product, I am not specifically recommending or suggesting that anyone utilize Promethease.  That is an individual decision that everyone needs to make personally after weighing all the factors listed above, plus any not mentioned.

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Standard Disclosure

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When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

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Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

The Day My Ancestors (and Chocolate) Tried to Kill Me

Yes, seriously.

I know it sounds like a tall tale, but it isn’t.  It’s a true story, I swear.  And less than a month old.

It was a trap.

A trap, I’m telling you – set by ancestors and baited with…chocolate.

If you’ve been reading my blog long, you’ll know that I’ve been involved in genealogical tourism since long before that term existed.

One of the things I dearly love to do is go back to where my ancestors lived, find their land, maybe their house, their church and understand their lives by immersion as best I can from the distance of time.

Earlier this month, I returned for my second trip to the Netherlands with Dutch genealogist, Yvette Hoitink.

Yvette replied to a comment I had made in an article on my blog about the hopelessness of my Dutch lines, back in August of 2012. Those lines were absolutely NOT hopeless, as I ‘ve come to discover through Yvette’s research, and I probably know more about these lines now than I do about many colonial lines. If you know how to work with Dutch records, know the language and history – the records in the Netherlands are fantastic. Of course, I can’t read the language, or the script, so Yvette is absolutely indispensable. Yes, I’ll share her. No, you can’t have her all to yourself😊 I’m permanently inked into her schedule.

Yvette had found absolutely amazing records, and items, and locations – enough to lure me back once again. And yes, you will hear about each and every one of these in my 52 Ancestors series, but today’s topic is, um, er, a bit different. It’s about a near death experience – literally.

The Island of Vlieland

On my second day in the Netherlands, we visited the island of Vlieland, about 30 miles off of the coast of the Netherlands in the North Sea.

Please note that you can click any image to enlarge.

You can see, on the map above, that Vlieland, outlined in red, is part of an island chain. Vlieland at one time used to be connected to its southern neighbor, Texel.

By zooming out, you can see evidence that this chain at one historic time connected to the part of Holland where Amsterdam is now located. Based on Amsterdam’s location, you can also see why any ship leaving Amsterdam for the new world had to slip between the islands of Texel and Vlieland.

Geography is so important, because in one of my ancestral lines, my ancestor died on the ship after leaving Amsterdam and was buried on the island of Texel. But I digress and will resume that story in the 52 Ancestor’s series. Take a moment to imagine how thrilled I was to be standing there, on Vlieland, looking at Texel – some 4000 miles from home.

Island Enchantment

I happen to have a penchant for islands, almost a primal magnetic draw. Always have, and maybe now I know why. I love the isolation and charm – and in this case, the fact that my ancestors lived on Vlieland back in the early 1600s. The closest port on the mainland was Harlingen, and sure enough, my ancestor married a merchant in Harlingen in 1665.  Seventy-seven years later, in 1742, her grandson had a daughter, whose birth Yvette found documented in the very most unusual birth record EVER – a silver inscribed birth spoon.

Just one picture – I can’t resist. Ok, maybe two.

Courtesy Yvette Hoitink

Yvette took this lovely photo of me looking dreamily at that birth spoon, as well as the photo below. The Fries Scheepvaart Museum where the spoon is housed was beyond helpful and had removed it from the case prior to our visit so I could hold it and “commune” up close and personal. I can’t even begin to describe this moment to you – connecting back in time to that lovely celebration. Perhaps Yvette’s photo describes it better than I ever could.

Courtesy Yvette Hoitink

Birth spoon of Geertje Gerrijts Heslinga, born 15 December 1742. Geertje’s great-grandmother, Janke Gerrits, was born and lived on the island of Vlieland, leaving the island to marry Teunis Foppes in Harlingen on March 18, 1665.  Photos and research courtesy Yvette Hoitink.

Island Life

If I have a bit of wanderlust in my soul, I’m blaming it on my ancestors. Mariners, people who lived on an island being swallowed by the sea – tell me those people didn’t have a “adventure” gene, if there is such a thing. They were clearly free spirits, in every sense of the word.

The island of Vlieland looks out into the expansive sea, a remote world of hope, opportunity and sometimes, death. Separated from the mainland in the horrible storm surge flood of December 14, 1287, on neither side of the island can you see the mainland, not even in the distance to the east. At night, the sky in the summer never darkens entirely. It’s on the same latitude with Newfoundland in Canada.

By Garli (talk) (Uploads) – Garli (talk) (Uploads), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40196314

Today, as then, accommodations exist for visitors. As ships arrived from near and far, Vlieland welcomed them. Ships and passengers had yet another day’s sailing to the mainland.

Only one village exists on the island, Oost-Vlieland (East Vlieland) as the little village of West Vlieland was swallowed by the sea in 1736. Today, a few mom and pop hotels dot the lovely, serene maritime landscape. Suffice it to say, Vlieland is off the beaten path, even in peak season. Let’s just say I couldn’t even find a touristy t-shirt saying Vlieland.

Life is different on Vlieland. This is the view from breakfast, across the deck.

The blanket? In case you get chilled from the ever-present sea breeze. Provided by the hotel restaurant, which is often filled with locals and not tourists.

In fact, there’s a stack of blankets on a chest near the restrooms just waiting for anyone who is chilly.

You can also find a bookcase with children’s games as well as board games and books for anyone to borrow or use while visiting.  The winters are probably very long on Vlieland.

The sparrow, eating my breakfast leftovers? People on Vlieland don’t worry about things like doors and screens, or birds. They exist in harmony with nature, including birds that come right in to eat with you. Yes, inside.

People in Holland are very laid back about things Americans are very up-tight about – and some vice-versa.  Cultures are so interesting.

I could barely wait to start the day, because we were going to walk down the very streets where my ancestor walked. Where she grew up.  Where her parents and sister lived as well.  I was going to walk in her footsteps.

The main street of town looks much like it did in the time my ancestor lived here. Even though we don’t (yet) know exactly which house they lived in, it was assuredly one of the houses in the village and likely still remains. We started at one end and walked to the other, past shops, houses, the town hall, the church and cemetery, of course.

In Europe, everyone walks or rides bicycles.  There just isn’t room for vehicles and many areas, especially historic regions, simply don’t allow them. No one feels inconvenienced or cares.

This house, built in 1662, was here when my ancestor, Janke, and her family walked this street.

Down the street, just a hair, we find the local bakery flying the white flag and seats in front for weary walkers, or excited eaters enjoying their delightful wares. Can you tell that I went inside?

Just take a look at their creative cookies. A joy to behold.

The entire bakery is full of wonderful delights.

Westers Bakery has the best, and I mean the very best, bar none, chocolate “thingy” in the world.

Thingy, you ask?

Well, I don’t know exactly what it is.

It’s kind of a cake brownie hybrid, dusted with more dark chocolate and maybe powdered sugar, that isn’t terribly sweet. Something like a brownie texturally, but not exactly. And it was nearly my doom.

This, you see, is where the trouble started. Well, actually in front of the bakery.

I initially bought one chocolate thingy, but one wasn’t enough, shared between the three of us, so I was going back for more. That’s when I fell into the trap.

See these things? They are called cobblestones and they are medieval torture devices with which our ancestors paved the streets, but today are used to lure unsuspecting descendants to their doom.

On my way hurrying back to the bakery, lured by the chocolate with which the trap had been cunningly set, I tripped on a cobblestone. Well, actually, it reached right up and grabbed the toe of my shoe, I’m sure. In any event, after a very undignified dance that I’m extremely grateful no one filmed, I decided that the best plan of attack, or descent, was to tuck and roll since it was obvious that I was going down.

My goal, at that moment, was temporarily distracted from chocolate to trying not to break any bones, hit my head or break my glasses.  Any one of which would have ruined the vacation entirely AND interfered with chocolate acquisition.

So, down I went, on the cobblestones. I hit pretty hard, since I had been nearly running as I tried to regain my balance. I found myself on the hard, uneven, cobblestones which were poking painfully into various body parts, taking a body part census one by one – “does it move? Is anything broken?,” to which, thankfully, the answer was “I can move it and it doesn’t seem to be broken.” But some parts hurt, a lot. Cobblestones are very unforgiving. Do not try this at home!

Then, of course, I had to attempt to regain my composure. It’s just so embarrassing to find yourself on the ground, stone cold sober.

As I lay there on the ground, still taking inventory of my various body parts, when my husband finally figured out I’d gone missing and came back to fetch me, I told him to go inside and buy that doggone chocolate, lest someone else purchase it and the bakery would run out! I mean, I didn’t sacrifice my dignity for nothing, after all!!!

Yes, I really did do that, and so did he. Here’s proof. He’s holding the white bag from the bakery.

My chocoholic friends will be proud.

I skinned my knee and I knew it would be bruised. I’ve been scuffed and bruised before. I used to be a mountain backpacker. I’ve even been sewed up by a guide on a raft on the Snake river using glacial melt riverwater as the only numbing agent available, plus a beer. So, I’m tough and I wasn’t going to let a little thing like a skinned knee put a damper on the trip.

So, I did what any person with Dutch mariner resolution running in their veins would have done. I got up, brushed myself off and kept on walking.

And because I’m either stubborn, or stupid, or both, here’s me about 5 minutes later having my photo taken with a goat statue in the street trying to pretend that nothing happened. Note the fact that I can’t bend the knee. I think the goat’s name was Lucifer and he was laughing at me, but I can’t be sure.

Guaranteed, I wasn’t smiling as much later, once reality (and swelling) set in.

Decisions

Yvette and I discussed options. There is no doctor on the island. The island folk, an extremely independent bunch, tell you that the doctor and the vet is one and the same person. I have no idea if they are kidding or not, but perseverance and time seemed like they would do the job and there was no need to displace Fido’s rabies shot with my knee non-emergency.

There is limited ferry service to the mainland, plus, we had a schedule and things to do.

The knee was painful, but didn’t seem to be “broken,” so there was no point disrupting our plans. I just limped and winced and carried on. That resilient, tenacious Dutch blood.

The River Cruise

As the days passed, the leg seemed to be getting worse, not better. I’ll spare you the pictures, but I began messaging with a person who works in medicine in the US. I was black and blue and swollen to my ankle and there was nothing I could do to get comfortable. I was tired because I couldn’t sleep well. Everything hurt.

By this time, Jim and I had embarked on a Viking River Cruise – and there is really no deviation from that schedule. The only option is to get left behind.

My medical resource in the states began to question whether I had a blood clot in the leg. Is there heat to the touch? Does it hurt? More questions. There was swelling and severe bruising, but no heat to the touch and no pain in just one place – it hurt everyplace. So, I thought the answer was no.

Things Turn Serious

My medical resource told me in no uncertain terms that the results of clots in the leg, if they break free, can be pulmonary embolisms, heart attacks and strokes – and are often fatal. Silent killers.

I’m not afraid of death, but I’m terrified of being disabled, an invalid, a stroke victim. I’ve seen that more times in my family than I care to recall.

However, it’s important to keep moving, so I walked up and down more cobblestone streets in small picturesque villages along the Rhine River. I even climbed rocks at a medieval castle. I kept moving, because I thought that’s what I should be doing.

I also got the opportunity to find three different pharmacies, in various countries that spoke little or no English.

Pharmacies in Europe only dispense drugs, not like general purpose stores here. And they aren’t open on weekends, evenings or holidays. Trying to find one on a walking tour of a medieval village during their “summer holiday” is a challenge, trust me.

Two days past the continental divide, in the wonderful medieval town of Passau, I found this lovely pharmacy, known there as an apotheke. And no, the pharmacist did not speak any English.

Even the pharmacy was located in a historic building, color coded on the outside as to the medieval function of the inhabitant, and complete with ceiling murals. You can see that this building had been an apothecary since at least 1589.

Insurance

My medical resource “encouraged me,” which is putting it mildly, to go have a doppler scan done of my leg for blood clots. I realized, about this time, that my insurance is not valid outside the US.

That is no anomaly – but the way much or most US insurance policies work.

Didn’t know that? Well, I never really thought about it either.

Just as an example, here’s Blue Cross’s web page about coverage outside of the US.

Notice that some policies cover emergency services, but what about admissions? And if your insurance policy doesn’t cover you, what does the local hospital do with you?

I just happen, by accident, to know that answer for the UK where their citizens and unfortunate visitors are all covered by socialized medicine, but outside of the UK, I have no idea. None, nada. And I wasn’t in the UK. By that time we were in Germany, Austria and Hungary.

You could easily go bankrupt with a hospital admission.

Not to mention the language barrier issue.

Believe me, I was in no hurry to discover the answer to any of these things first hand.

If you’re wondering about travel insurance, we did have a policy through Viking for that portion of our trip which covered cancellation for any reason.  For ocean-going ships, they agree to airlift you off of a boat, etc., a medical evacuation – but I had no clue about this type of problem on an inland river cruise.

Travel insurance also covers cancellation of a trip, but we were already on the trip when I discovered the magnitude of the problem.

In fact, by this time, we were within a week of leaving for home.  Surely I could just gut it out.

I was tired, tired of pain, tired of limping around, and tired of staying in my cabin with my leg elevated. I also contracted an upper respiratory infection, which normally would have been an annoyance, but when you’re already feeling crummy was sort of the last straw.

I was extremely glad to be coming home. Not exactly the way I had planned to spend or end the vacation of a lifetime visiting my ancestors’ homelands.

The Plane

Suffice it to say, I will never, ever, in my lifetime fly Air France again. As God is my witness.

I flew Delta from the US to the Netherlands and the Airbus had 6 seats across with one aisle. The same plane on the Air France trip back had 8 seats across with two aisles and people were packed in like sardines. Talk about one miserable flight. In addition, some piece of equipment was bolted to the floor in in my leg space, under the seat in front of me.

Did I mention that blood clots in the legs (DVTs or deep vein thrombosis) are nicknamed “economy class syndrome” and there is currently a lawsuit seeking to require the FAA to do something about “the incredible shrinking airline seat.” CNN Money reports that a group named:

Flyers Rights had said it’s concerned that small airline seats are actually a safety hazard, putting passengers at risk for conditions like deep vein thrombosis. That’s a potentially fatal condition that can cause blood clots in people’s legs.

Hmmm….you think???

The Clot

I arrived home late Saturday, and the leg was worse on Sunday. Not more painful, just more swelling, in the foot and ankle which had not been swollen before. By Monday morning, I was waiting on my doctor’s doorstep and later that morning, I was in the hospital. I spent a lovely day there, and yes indeed, I did have a clot in my leg.

Most of my life, I have never presented for diseases or health issues like anyone else. Sometimes unique is not a good thing, especially when your symptoms are different from the norm.

The location of the clot itself was not painful. The injury was in the front of my leg but the clot was in the back of the calf. The actual clot location was not red or swollen. But it was there, and life-threatening.

They told me, in absolutely no uncertain terms, as they started the blood thinners, that I was lucky to be alive and un-impaired – unless of course you consider my innate stubbornness as an impairment.

I learned that clots, once formed, take about 6 months to dissolve and reabsorb into your body – and the entire time you are a walking time bomb, hoping the clot doesn’t decide to break free and make a mad dash for someplace else in your body like a batter running for home plate.

I’m updating my will, just in case.

Who is at Risk?

Everyone is at risk for blood clots. Everyone needs to be able to clot so we don’t bleed to death from a hangnail.

If you sustain an injury, you are at risk for a clot leaving its source of origin, so be vigilant. Clots often form in legs, are known at DVTs (deep vein thrombosis), but not always. And people over 30 are at higher risk than younger people.

Risks include:

  • Sitting for extended periods, especially in cramped quarters
  • Crossing your legs
  • Wearing constrictive clothing from the waist down
  • Long car or plane trips
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Smoking
  • Surgery
  • Age
  • Immobility
  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine

More than 400,000 Americans develop DVTs each year. Of those, when clots break loose and lodge in the lungs, more than one third of the people die, and those deaths exceed the number who die from AIDS and breast cancer, combined.

Certainly not a trivial problem.

Please see this article by WedMD about preventing clots during travel.

Air travel, in particular, increases the risk of clots. According to the American Association of Hematology, your risk of developing a blood clot during air travel is increased by the following:

  • Use of oral contraceptives
  • Pregnancy
  • Cancer
  • Recent surgery
  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • History of previous blood clots
  • Restrictive seats
  • Genetic predisposition to blood clots

Yes, your genes play a part here too.

Let’s take a look.

About the Genetics

At one time, on the V3 version of their product, before the FDA issue in November 2013, 23andMe reported on susceptibility for DVTs. In the V3 report, three genes were tested. People who tested under the V3 version can find their information about DVTs in their archived health reports. I had no increased susceptibility in either of the three genetic locations tested.

23andMe no longer provides information as detailed in the current version, but they do provide something in the V4 version.

People who tested more recently under the V4 platform, since November 2013, receive the results from two locations associated with clotting.

You’ll find this under “Reports, “ then “Genetic Health Risks” then “Hereditary Thrombophilia” where only two genes are tested and reported to consumers.

23andMe follows this information by stating, more than once, that this test is limited, does NOT test for all possible variants and that the variants are most commonly found in people of European descent.

They also emphatically state that other factors, such as lifestyle and environment can influence blood clotting, and that even if you don’t have the variant, you can still potentially develop clots. I’m the perfect example of that.

Interestingly, they state that about 1 in 20 people of European descent carry one of these genetic variants.

One in 20 is a LOT of people.

I wanted to know more.

Next, I utilized Promethease.com to see if I carried any additional known high risk clotting variants. I uploaded my Genos Exome file, because that test offers the greatest coverage of all the autosomal tests I’ve taken. However, you can upload autosomal raw data from tests at Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and/or 23andMe. Yes, that “and” was supposed to be in there. You can upload multiple files for Promethease to combine in order to provide you with the most comprehensive report possible. The cost is $5 for one file or up to $10 for multiple or large files. Very inexpensive.

One note, I don’t recommend that you use the imputed dna.land file, because imputed DNA is not your DNA, but presumed additional DNA based on what most people carry in various locations – added to your test.

I’ll be writing once again about Promethease shortly, but the answer is, no, I don’t have any high or increased risk variants in the 6 locations that Promethease reports on relative to clotting.

While this is somewhat of a relief, please do understand that medical discoveries continue to be made every single day, and it’s likely that there are clotting variants yet to be discovered.

If you have questions about the medical or genetic aspect of blood clots, DVTs and risk, especially related to flying, talk to your doctor. My physician provided me with some advice, but every person’s advice from their physician will differ based on their own individual circumstances that include variables such as age, medication and other diagnoses.

While the lack of known genetic clotting risk removes one worrisome factor, that doesn’t mean the risk from clots is removed, nor does an increased risk mean that one of those pesky clots will attack you.

What’s Next?

I’m going to be fine. I’m too darned stubborn for anything else. Plus, I’m following doctor’s orders. Yes, really.

There’s nothing to motivate compliance like knowing the grim reaper is eyeing you with unholy desire.

I’m still planning to go to Dublin in October (assuming the doctor says I can go) – and I will NOT be flying Air France, guaranteed. Furthermore, I will be upgrading to business class where I can easily stand up every hour and move freely.

In deference to my seatmates, I’ll be attempting to reserve an aisle seat.

I will also be getting a prescription pair of support hose to help prevent clots. BTW – support hose are NOT just for woman. Men, no one will know that you are wearing them except for the TSA agent when you get the lucky strip search.

Considerations

Why am I sharing this with you? I don’t want you to find yourself in a similar situation, so I’m compiling a list of travel considerations that everyone should think about and prepare for when they are planning an adventure, especially out of the country and particularly in a location where the native language is not English.

  • Car Insurance – is likely not valid outside of the US, including our neighboring Canada and Mexico. Check before leaving and see what you need to do if taking your vehicle out of the country. If you’re renting a car, your auto insurance (probably) won’t cover that either, so take the extra insurance offered at the car rental location.
  • Understand what documentation you will need to return to the US – and what you can and cannot bring across the border in either direction.
  • Health Insurance – is yours valid out of the country, and for what, where and under what circumstances?
  • Health Insurance – what steps do you need to take if a problem arises, and is there a 24-hour international 800 number?
  • What kind of health care do the places where you will be traveling have?
  • What happens to travelers with health emergencies in the locations where you will be traveling?
  • What kind of arrangements does your tour operator provide? For example, cruises at sea have an on-board ship’s doctor. On my river cruise, there wasn’t even aspirin, Tylenol or motion sickness medication available on board.
  • What will you do if you need to communicate with someone in another language? Note that iPhones have language translation apps.
  • If you are on an organized tour, what will happen to you should you and a travel companion have to leave the tour? Will you be able to catch up, and how? What kind of assistance will the travel company or tour operator provide you to rejoin the tour again?
  • Consider trip insurance that provides you with the ability to cancel the trip. Understand the provisions, meaning under what circumstances, and when, you can cancel.
  • Understand the provisions of your trip insurance for unexpected happenings during the trip – what is covered and what is not.
  • I don’t know that trip insurance is available for privately arranged flights and hotel stays – meaning those not made through cruise agencies and tour operators. I do know that I’ve since discovered that my hotel reservations made through booking.com and for my airfare booked through the airlines three months in advance for October are both nonrefundable/nontransferrable – even two months in advance. Situations like this make travel arrangements something you need to think twice about, and balance the need for booking early to procure rooms or a seat on the flight, versus waiting and not risking the entire amount of the flight and hotel reservation if something goes wrong between now and then. Makes optional travel much less appealing, doesn’t it.
  • Does your travel companion, if you have one, know your health history, prescriptions you are taking and diagnoses? If not, carry a one page document with you which could be translated into another language – including the phone number and name of your primary care physician.
  • If you have a health issue, does your travel companion’s travel insurance cover them during the time that they are accompanying you? Does yours? They won’t be admitted to a hospital, but will have to be staying unexpectedly in a hotel, in a location where they aren’t the least bit familiar.
  • When you fly, get up and walk every hour on the hour. Yes, seriously. It doesn’t matter how much you irritate your seat mates. Do butt squeezes (on yourself, not your seatmate) and move your legs.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine within 24 hours of your flight. Do drink water during the trip. Wear compression hose, but not ones that bind at the top of the hose.
  • Notify your credit card companies that you will be traveling, when and where to avoid issues when charging.  This is good advice traveling within the US too.
  • Check here for more tips.

If you think there is any possibility that you have a health issue, especially a blood clot – don’t wait. I was insanely lucky. I thought I was OK, but I wasn’t. My leg did not get better within the time it should have, and the leg swelled below the knee area where the injury was sustained. Clots are silent killers – lurking stealthily until they strike with vicious, disabling and often fatal results.

The Last Word

There’s something else extremely unique about the island of Vlieland.

Poetry.

And tire tracks.

Actually, poetry in tire tracks. Inscribed in the actual tire tread.

Special tires have been created to reflect the poetry of island poet, Gerda Posthumus.

You can find this poetry along the deserted beaches, on the “other side” of the protective dune.

This photo shows the poetry on the deserted beach, and the island of Texel in the distance where my ancestor is buried.

What an utterly beautiful and jaw dropping discovery.

Who expects to discover poetry in tire tracks on a deserted beach on an island 30 miles out to sea?

How prescient, with Texel in the distance.

The poem?

According to Yvette, it says:

What makes the deepest impression

Will be touched by the water.

Let no man disturb.

The sea will have the last word.

Yes, indeed, the sea.

Just ask my ancestor, buried on Texel.

Or my ancestors buried on Vlieland, perhaps in the part of the island consumed by the sea, where the original Anabaptist Mennonite community was located.

The sea, reaching across time immemorial – touching them, then, in death.

Touching my ancestor, in life, as Janke Gerrits rode on the ship to her new life on the mainland as a bride preparing to marry in 1665.

Three generations later her great-granddaughter’s birth was commemorated with that lovely silver spoon. In another four generations, her descendants climbed aboard a ship, once again, still as Mennonites, sailing on to America to begin a new life in Indiana.

And then, three more generations later, there’s me, yet alive, thankfully, having returned to find those ancestors who “reached out” to me in their own special way. Was it, perhaps, Janke Gerrits who was born on Vlieland who tripped me up, saying, “Hey, look, it’s me. I’m here. Right HERE.This house. Whoa! Stop!”  Oops.

Wouldn’t it be something if that toe-grabbing ancestor trap baited with chocolate thingys was in front of her house?

Time, with the help of Yvette, will tell.

______________________________________________________________________

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When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

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Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

Which DNA Test is Best?

If you’re reading this article, congratulations. You’re a savvy shopper and you’re doing some research before purchasing a DNA test. You’ve come to the right place.

The most common question I receive is asking which test is best to purchase. There is no one single best answer for everyone – it depends on your testing goals and your pocketbook.

Testing Goals

People who want to have their DNA tested have a goal in mind and seek results to utilize for their particular purpose. Today, in the Direct to Consumer (DTC) DNA market space, people have varied interests that fall into the general categories of genealogy and medical/health.

I’ve approached the question of “which test is best” by providing information grouped into testing goal categories.  I’ve compared the different vendors and tests from the perspective of someone who is looking to test for those purposes – and I’ve created separate sections of this article for each interest..

We will be discussing testing for:

  • Ethnicity – Who Am I? – Breakdown by Various World Regions
  • Adoption – Finding Missing Parents or Close Family
  • Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification
  • Medical/Health

We will be reviewing the following test types:

  • Autosomal
  • Y DNA (males only)
  • Mitochondrial DNA

I have included summary charts for each section, plus an additional chart for:

  • Additional Vendor Considerations

If you are looking to select one test, or have limited funds, or are looking to prioritize certain types of tests, you’ll want to read about each vendor, each type of test, and each testing goal category.

Each category reports information about the vendors and their products from a different perspective – and only you can decide which of these perspectives and features are most important to you.

You might want to read this short article for a quick overview of the 4 kinds of DNA used for genetic genealogy and DTC testing and how they differ.

The Big 3

Today, there are three major players in the DNA testing market, not in any particular order:

Each of these companies offers autosomal tests, but each vendor offers features that are unique. Family Tree DNA and 23andMe offer additional tests as well.

In addition to the Big 3, there are a couple of new kids on the block that I will mention where appropriate. There are also niche players for the more advanced genetic genealogist or serious researcher, and this article does not address advanced research.

In a nutshell, if you are serious genealogist, you will want to take all of the following tests to maximize your tools for solving genealogical puzzles. There is no one single test that does everything.

  • Full mitochondrial sequence that informs you about your matrilineal line (only) at Family Tree DNA. This test currently costs $199.
  • Y DNA test (for males only) that informs you about your direct paternal (surname) line (only) at Family Tree DNA. This test begins at $169 for 37 markers.
  • Family Finder, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching at Family Tree DNA. This test currently costs $89.
  • AncestryDNA, an autosomal test at Ancestry.com that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. (Do not confuse this test with Ancestry by DNA, which is not the same test and does not provide the same features.) This test currently costs $99, plus the additional cost of a subscription for full feature access. You can test without a subscription, but nonsubscribers can’t access all of the test result features provided to Ancestry subscribers.
  • 23andMe Ancestry Service test, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. The genealogy version of this test costs $99, the medical+genealogy version costs $199.

A Word About Third Party Tools

A number of third party tools exist, such as GedMatch and DNAGedcom.com, and while these tools are quite useful after testing, these vendors don’t provide tests. In order to use these sites, you must first take an autosomal DNA test from a testing vendor. This article focuses on selecting your DNA testing vendor based on your testing goals.

Let’s get started!

Ethnicity

Many people are drawn to DNA testing through commercials that promise to ‘tell you who you are.” While the allure is exciting, the reality is somewhat different.

Each of the major three vendors provide an ethnicity estimate based on your autosomal DNA test, and each of the three vendors will provide you with a different result.

Yep, same person, different ethnicity breakdowns.

Hopefully, the outcomes will be very similar, but that’s certainly not always the case. However, many people take one test and believe those results wholeheartedly. Please don’t. You may want to read Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages to see how varied my own ethnicity reports are at various vendors as compared to my known genealogy.

The technology for understanding “ethnicity” from a genetic perspective is still very new. Your ethnicity estimate is based on reference populations from around the world – today. People and populations move, and have moved, for hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of years. Written history only reaches back a fraction of that time, so the estimates provided to people today are not exact.

That isn’t to criticize any individual vendor. View each vendor’s results not as gospel, but as their opinion based on their reference populations and their internal proprietary algorithm of utilizing those reference populations to produce your ethnicity results.

To read more about how ethnicity testing works, and why your results may vary between vendors or not be what you expected, click here.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from testing, only to be sure consumers understand the context of what they will be receiving. Generally speaking, these results are accurate at the continental level, and less accurate within continents, such as European regional breakdowns.

All three testing companies provide additional features or tools, in addition to your ethnicity estimates, that are relevant to ethnicity or population groups.

Let’s look at each company separately.

Ethnicity – Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity tool is called myOrigins and provides three features or tools in addition to the actual ethnicity estimate and associated ethnicity map.

Please note that throughout this article you can click on any image to enlarge.

On the myOrigins ethnicity map page, above, your ethnicity percentages and map are shown, along with two additional features.

The Shared Origins box to the left shows the matching ethnic components of people on your DNA match list. This is particularly useful if you are trying to discover, for example, where a particular minority admixture comes from in your lineage. You can select different match types, for example, immediate relatives or X chromosome matches, which have special inheritance qualities.

Clicking on the apricot (mitochondrial DNA) and green (Y DNA) pins in the lower right corner drops the pins in the locations on your map of the most distant ancestral Y and mitochondrial DNA locations of the individuals in the group you have selected in the Shared Origins match box. You may or may not match these individuals on the Y or mtDNA lines, but families tend to migrate in groups, so match hints of any kind are important.

A third unique feature provided by Family Tree DNA is Ancient Origins, a tool released with little fanfare in November 2016.

Ancient Origins shows the ancient source of your European DNA, based on genome sequencing of ancient DNA from the locations shown on the map.

Additionally, Family Tree DNA hosts an Ancient DNA project where they have facilitated the upload of the ancient genomes so that customers today can determine if they match these ancient individuals.

Kits included in the Ancient DNA project are shown in the chart below, along with their age and burial location. Some have matches today, and some of these samples are included on the Ancient Origins map.

Individual Approx. Age Burial Location Matches Ancient Origins Map
Clovis Anzick 12,500 Montana (US) Yes No
Linearbandkeramik 7,500 Stuttgart, Germany Yes Yes
Loschbour 8,000 Luxembourg Yes Yes
Palaeo-Eskimo 4,000 Greenland No No
Altai Neanderthal 50,000 Altai No No
Denisova 30,000 Siberia No No
Hinxton-4 2,000 Cambridgeshire, UK No No
BR2 3,200 Hungary Yes Yes
Ust’-Ishim 45,000 Siberia Yes No
NE1 7,500 Hungary Yes Yes

Ethnicity – Ancestry

In addition to your ethnicity estimate, Ancestry also provides a feature called Genetic Communities.

Your ethnicity estimate provides percentages of DNA found in regions shown on the map by fully colored shapes – green in Europe in the example above. Genetic Communities show how your DNA clusters with other people in specific regions of the world – shown with dotted clusters in the US in this example.

In my case, my ethnicity at Ancestry shows my European roots, illustrated by the green highlighted areas, and my two Genetic Communities are shown by yellow and red dotted regions in the United States.

My assigned Genetic Communities indicate that my DNA clusters with other people whose ancestors lived in two regions; The Lower Midwest and Virginia as well as the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana.

Testers can then view their DNA matches within that community, as well as a group of surnames common within that community.

The Genetic Communities provided for me are accurate, but don’t expect all of your genealogical regions to be represented in Genetic Communities. For example, my DNA is 25% German, and I don’t have any German communities today, although ancestry will be adding new Genetic Communities as new clusters are formed.

You can read more about Genetic Communities here and here.

Ethnicity – 23andMe

In addition to ethnicity percentage estimates, called Ancestry Composition, 23andMe offers the ability to compare your Ancestry Composition against that of your parent to see which portions of your ethnicity you inherited from each parent, although there are problems with this tool incorrectly assigning parental segments.

Additionally, 23andMe paints your chromosome segments with your ethnic heritage, as shown below.

You can see that my yellow Native American segments appear on chromosomes 1 and 2.

In January 2017, 23andMe introduced their Ancestry Timeline, which I find to be extremely misleading and inaccurate. On my timeline, shown below, they estimate that my most recent British and Irish ancestor was found in my tree between 1900 and 1930 while in reality my most recent British/Irish individual found in my tree was born in England in 1759.

I do not view 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline as a benefit to the genealogist, having found that it causes people to draw very misleading conclusions, even to the point of questioning their parentage based on the results. I wrote about their Ancestry Timeline here.

Ethnicity Summary

All three vendors provide both ethnicity percentage estimates and maps. All three vendors provide additional tools and features relevant to ethnicity. Vendors also provide matching to other people which may or may not be of interest to people who test only for ethnicity. “Who you are” only begins with ethnicity estimates.

DNA test costs are similar, although the Family Tree DNA test is less at $89. All three vendors have sales from time to time.

Ethnicity Vendor Summary Chart

Ethnicity testing is an autosomal DNA test and is available for both males and females.

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Ethnicity Test Included with $89 Family Finder test Included with $99 Ancestry DNA test Included with $99 Ancestry Service
Percentages and Maps Yes Yes Yes
Shared Ethnicity with Matches Yes No Yes
Additional Feature Y and mtDNA mapping of ethnicity matches Genetic Communities Ethnicity phasing against parent (has issues)
Additional Feature Ancient Origins Ethnicity mapping by chromosome
Additional Feature Ancient DNA Project Ancestry Timeline

 

Adoption and Parental Identity

DNA testing is extremely popular among adoptees and others in search of missing parents and grandparents.

The techniques used for adoption and parental search are somewhat different than those used for more traditional genealogy, although non-adoptees may wish to continue to read this section because many of the features that are important to adoptees are important to other testers as well.

Adoptees often utilize autosomal DNA somewhat differently than traditional genealogists by using a technique called mirror trees. In essence, the adoptee utilizes the trees posted online of their closest DNA matches to search for common family lines within those trees. The common family lines will eventually lead to the individuals within those common trees that are candidates to be the parents of the searcher.

Here’s a simplified hypothetical example of my tree and a first cousin adoptee match.

The adoptee matches me at a first cousin level, meaning that we share at least one common grandparent – but which one? Looking at other people the adoptee matches, or the adoptee and I both match, we find Edith Lore (or her ancestors) in the tree of multiple matches. Since Edith Lore is my grandmother, the adoptee is predicted to be my first cousin, and Edith Lore’s ancestors appear in the trees of our common matches – that tells us that Edith Lore is also the (probable) grandmother of the adoptee.

Looking at the possibilities for how Edith Lore can fit into the tree of me and the adoptee, as first cousins, we fine the following scenario.

Testing the known child of daughter Ferverda will then provide confirmation of this relationship if the known child proves to be a half sibling to the adoptee.

Therefore, close matches, the ability to contact matches and trees are very important to adoptees. I recommend that adoptees make contact with www.dnaadoption.com. The volunteers there specialize in adoptions and adoptees, provide search angels to help people and classes to teach adoptees how to utilize the techniques unique to adoption search such as building mirror trees.

For adoptees, the first rule is to test with all 3 major vendors plus MyHeritage. Family Tree DNA allows you to test with both 23andMe and Ancestry and subsequently transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, but I would strongly suggest adoptees test on the Family Tree DNA platform instead. Your match results from transferring to Family Tree DNA from other companies, except for MyHeritage, will be fewer and less reliable because both 23andMe and Ancestry utilize different chip technology.

For most genealogists, MyHeritage is not a player, as they have only recently entered the testing arena, have a very small data base, no tools and are having matching issues. I recently wrote about MyHeritage here. However, adoptees may want to test with MyHeritage, or upload your results to MyHeritage if you tested with Family Tree DNA, because your important puzzle-solving match just might have tested there and no place else. You can read about transfer kit compatibility and who accepts which vendors’ tests here.

Adoptees can benefit from ethnicity estimates at the continental level, meaning that regional (within continent) or minority ethnicity should be taken with a very large grain of salt. However, knowing that you have 25% Jewish heritage, for example, can be a very big clue to an adoptee’s search.

Another aspect of the adoptees search that can be relevant is the number of foreign testers. For many years, neither 23andMe, nor Ancestry tested substantially (or at all) outside the US. Family Tree DNA has always tested internationally and has a very strong Jewish data base component.

Not all vendors report X chromosome matches. The X chromosome is important to genetic genealogy, because it has a unique inheritance path. Men don’t inherit an X chromosome from their fathers. Therefore, if you match someone on the X chromosome, you know the relationship, for a male, must be from their mother’s side. For a female, the relationship must be from the mother or the father’s mother’s side. You can read more about X chromosome matching here.

Neither Ancestry nor MyHeritage have chromosome browsers which allow you to view the segments of DNA on which you match other individuals, which includes the X chromosome.

Adoptee Y and Mitochondrial Testing

In addition to autosomal DNA testing, adoptees will want to test their Y DNA (males only) and mitochondrial DNA.

These tests are different from autosomal DNA which tests the DNA you receive from all of your ancestors. Y and mitochondrial DNA focus on only one specific line, respectively. Y DNA is inherited by men from their fathers and the Y chromosome is passed from father to son from time immemorial. Therefore, testing the Y chromosome provides us with the ability to match to current people as well as to use the Y chromosome as a tool to look far back in time. Adoptees tend to be most interested in matching current people, at least initially.

Working with male adoptees, I have a found that about 30% of the time a male will match strongly to a particular surname, especially at higher marker levels. That isn’t always true, but adoptees will never know if they don’t test. An adoptee’s match list is shown at 111 markers, below.

Furthermore, utilizing the Y and mitochondrial DNA test in conjunction with autosomal DNA matching at Family Tree DNA helps narrows possible relatives. The Advanced Matching feature allows you to see who you match on both the Y (or mitochondrial) DNA lines AND the autosomal test, in combination.

Mitochondrial DNA tests the matrilineal line only, as women pass their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on. Family Tree DNA provides matching and advanced combination matching/searching for mitochondrial DNA as well as Y DNA. Both genders of children carry their mother’s mitochondrial DNA. Unfortunately, mitochondrial DNA is more difficult to work with because of the surname changes in each generation, but you cannot be descended from a woman, or her direct matrilineal ancestors if you don’t substantially match her mitochondrial DNA.

Some vendors state that you receive mitochondrial DNA with your autosomal results, which is only partly accurate. At 23andMe, you receive a haplogroup but no detailed results and no matching. 23andMe does not test the entire mitochondria and therefore cannot provide either advanced haplogroup placement nor Y or mitochondrial DNA matching between testers.

For additional details on the Y and Mitochondrial DNA tests themselves and what you receive, please see the Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA section.

Adoption Summary

Adoptees should test with all 4 vendors plus Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

  • Ancestry – due to their extensive data base size and trees
  • Family Tree DNA – due to their advanced tools, chromosome browser, Y and mitochondrial DNA tests (Ancestry and 23andMe participants can transfer autosomal raw data files and see matches for free, but advanced tools require either an unlock fee or a test on the Family Tree DNA platform)
  • 23andMe – no trees and many people don’t participate in sharing genetic information
  • MyHeritage – new kid on the block, working through what is hoped are startup issues
  • All adoptees should take the full mitochondrial sequence test.
  • Male adoptees should take the 111 marker Y DNA test, although you can start with 37 or 67 markers and upgrade later.
  • Y and mitochondrial tests are only available at Family Tree DNA.

Adoptee Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage
Autosomal DNA – Males and Females
Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes – problems
Relationship Estimates* Yes – May be too close Yes – May be too distant Yes – Matches may not be sharing Yes –  problematic
International Reach Very strong Not strong but growing Not strong Small but subscriber base is European focused
Trees Yes Yes No Yes
Tree Quantity 54% have trees, 46% no tree (of my first 100 matches) 56% have trees, 44% no tree or private (of my first 100 matches) No trees ~50% don’t have trees or are private (cannot discern private tree without clicking on every tree)
Data Base Size Large Largest Large – but not all opt in to matching Very small
My # of Matches on 4-23-2017 2,421 23,750 1,809 but only 1,114 are sharing 75
Subscription Required No No for partial, Yes for full functionality including access to matches’ trees, minimal subscription for $49 by calling Ancestry No No for partial, Yes for full functionality
Other Relevant Tools New Ancestor Discoveries
Autosomal DNA Issues Many testers don’t have trees Many testers don’t have trees Matching opt-in is problematic, no trees at all Matching issues, small data base size is problematic, many testers don’t have trees
Contact Methodology E-mail address provided to matches Internal message system – known delivery issues Internal message system Internal message system
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes No
Y-DNA – Males Only
Y DNA STR Test Yes- 37, 67, and 111 markers No No No
Y Haplogroup Yes as part of STR test plus additional testing available No Yes, basic level but no additional testing available, outdated haplogroups No
Y Matching Yes No No No
Advanced Matching Between Y and Autosomal Yes No No No
Mitochondrial DNA- Males and Females
Test Yes, partial and full sequence No No No
Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Yes, included in test No Yes, basic but full haplogroup not available, haplogroup several versions behind No
Advanced Matching Between Mitochondrial and Autosomal Yes No No No

Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification

People who want to take a DNA test to find cousins, to learn more about their genealogy, to verify their genealogy research or to search for unknown ancestors and break down brick walls will be interested in various types of testing

Test Type Who Can Test
Y DNA – direct paternal line Males only
Mitochondrial DNA – direct matrilineal line Males and Females
Autosomal – all lines Males and Females

Let’s begin with autosomal DNA testing for genealogy which tests your DNA inherited from all ancestral lines.

Aside from ethnicity, autosomal DNA testing provides matches to other people who have tested. A combination of trees, meaning their genealogy, and their chromosome segments are used to identify (through trees) and verify (through DNA segments) common ancestor(s) and then to assign a particular DNA segment(s) to that ancestor or ancestral couple. This process, called triangulation, then allows you to assign specific segments to particular ancestors, through segment matching among multiple people. You then know that when another individual matches you and those other people on the same segment, that the DNA comes from that same lineage. Triangulation is the only autosomal methodology to confirm ancestors who are not close relatives, beyond the past 2-3 generations or so.

All three vendors provide matching, but the tools they include and their user interfaces are quite different. 

Genealogy – Autosomal –  Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA entered DNA testing years before any of the others, initially with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Because of the diversity of their products, their website is somewhat busier, but they do a good job of providing areas on the tester’s personal landing page for each of the products and within each product, a link for each feature or function.

For example, the Family Finder test is Family Tree DNA’s autosomal test. Within that product, tools provided are:

  • Matching
  • Chromosome Browser
  • Linked Relationships
  • myOrigins
  • Ancient Origins
  • Matrix
  • Advanced Matching

Unique autosomal tools provided by Family Tree DNA are:

  • Linked Relationships that allows you to connect individuals that you match to their location in your tree, indicating the proper relationship. Phased Family Matching uses these relationships within your tree to indicate which side of your tree other matches originate from.
  • Phased Family Matching shows which side of your tree, maternal, paternal or both, someone descends from, based on phased DNA matching between you and linked relationship matches as distant as third cousins. This allows Family Tree DNA to tell you whether matches are paternal (blue icon), maternal (red icon) or both (purple icon) without a parent’s DNA. This is one of the best autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, shown below.

  • In Common With and Not In Common With features allow you to sort your matches in common with another individual a number of ways, or matches not in common with that individual.
  • Filtered downloads provide the downloading of chromosome data for your filtered match list.
  • Stackable filters and searches – for example, you can select paternal matches and then search for a particular surname or ancestral surname within the paternal matches.
  • Common ethnicity matching through myOrigins allows you to see selected groups of individuals who match you and share common ethnicities.
  • Y and mtDNA locations of autosomal matches are provided on your ethnicity map through myOrigins.
  • Advanced matching tool includes Y, mtDNA and autosomal in various combinations. Also includes matches within projects where the tester is a member as well as by partial surname.
  • The matrix tool allows the tester to enter multiple people that they match in order to see if those individuals also match each other. The matrix tool is, in combination with the in-common-with tool and the chromosome browser is a form of pseudo triangulation, but does not indicate that the individuals match on the same segment.

  • Chromosome browser with the ability to select different segment match thresholds to display when comparing 5 or fewer individuals to your results.
  • Projects to join which provide group interaction and allow individuals to match only within the project, if desired.

To read more about how to utilize the various autosomal tools at Family Tree DNA, with examples, click here.

Genealogy – Autosomal – Ancestry

Ancestry only offers autosomal DNA testing to their customers, so their page is simple and straightforward.

Ancestry is the only testing vendor (other than MyHeritage who is not included in this section) to require a subscription for full functionality, although if you call the Ancestry support line, a minimal subscription is available for $49. You can see your matches without a subscription, but you cannot see your matches trees or utilize other functions, so you will not be able to tell how you connect to your matches. Many genealogists have Ancestry subscriptions, so this is minimally problematic for most people.

However, if you don’t realize you need a subscription initially, the required annual subscription raises the effective cost of the test quite substantially. If you let your subscription lapse, you no longer have access to all DNA features. The cost of testing with Ancestry is the cost of the test plus the cost of a subscription if you aren’t already a subscriber.

This chart, from the Ancestry support center, provides details on which features are included for free and which are only available with a subscription.

Unique tools provided by Ancestry include:

  • Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) which indicate a match with whom you share a common ancestor in your tree connected to your DNA, allowing you to display the path of you and your match to the common ancestor. In order to take advantage of this feature, testers must link their tree to their DNA test. Otherwise, Ancestry can’t do tree matching.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the single most useful DNA tool at Ancestry. Subscription required.

  • DNA Circles, example below, are created when several people whose DNA matches also share a common ancestor. Subscription required.

  • New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs), which are similar to Circles, but are formed when you match people descended from a common ancestor, but don’t have that ancestor in your tree. The majority of the time, these NADs are incorrect and are, when dissected and the source can be determined, found to be something like the spouse of a sibling of your ancestor. I do not view NADs as a benefit, more like a wild goose chase, but for some people these could be useful so long as the individual understands that these are NOT definitely ancestors and only hints for research. Subscription required.
  • Ancestry uses a proprietary algorithm called Timber to strip DNA from you and your matches that they consider to be “too matchy,” with the idea that those segments are identical by population, meaning likely to be found in large numbers within a population group – making them meaningless for genealogy. The problem is that Timber results in the removal of valid segments, especially in endogamous groups like Acadian families. This function is unique to Ancestry, but many genealogists (me included) don’t consider Timber a benefit.
  • Genetic Communities shows you groups of individuals with whom your DNA clusters. The trees of cluster members are then examined by Ancestry to determine connections from which Genetic Communities are formed. You can filter your DNA match results by Genetic Community.

Genealogy – Autosomal – 23and Me

Unfortunately, the 23andMe website is not straightforward or intuitive. They have spent the majority of the past two years transitioning to a “New Experience” which has resulted in additional confusion and complications when matching between people on multiple different platforms. You can take a spin through the New Experience by clicking here.

23andMe requires people to opt-in to sharing, even after they have selected to participate in Ancestry Services (genealogy) testing, have opted-in previously and chosen to view their DNA Relatives. Users on the “New Experience” can then either share chromosome data and results with each other individually, meaning on a one by one basis, or globally by a one-time opt-in to “open sharing” with matches. If a user does not opt-in to both DNA Relatives and open sharing, sharing requests must be made individually to each match, and they must opt-in to share with each individual user. This complexity and confusion results in an approximate sharing rate of between 50 and 60%. One individual who religiously works their matches by requesting sharing now has a share rate of about 80% of their matches in the data base who HAVE initially selected to participate in DNA Relatives. You can read more about the 23andMe experience at this link.

Various genetic genealogy reports and tools are scattered between the Reports and Tools tabs, and within those, buried in non-intuitive locations. If you are going to utilize 23andMe for matching and genealogy, in addition to the above link, I recommend Kitty Cooper’s blogs about the new DNA Relatives here and on triangulation here. Print the articles, and use them as a guide while navigating the 23andMe site.

Note that some screens (the Tools, DNA Relatives, then DNA tab) on the site do not display/work correctly utilizing Internet Explorer, but do with Edge or other browsers.

The one genealogy feature unique to 23andMe is:

  • Triangulation at 23andMe allows you to select a specific match to compare your DNA against. Several pieces of information will be displayed, the last of which, scrolling to the bottom, is a list of your common relatives with the person you selected.

In the example below, I’ve selected to see the matches I match in common with known family member, Stacy Den (surnames have been obscured for privacy reasons.)  Please note that the Roberta V4 Estes kit is a second test that I took for comparison purposes when the new V4 version of 23andMe was released.  Just ignore that match, because, of course I match myself as a twin.

If an individual does not match both you and your selected match, they will not appear on this list.

In the “relatives in common” section, each person is listed with a “shared DNA” column. For a person to be shown on this “in common” list, you obviously do share DNA with these individuals and they also share with your match, but the “shared DNA” column goes one step further. This column indicates whether or not you and your match both share a common DNA segment with the “in common” person.

I know this is confusing, so I’ve created this chart to illustrate what will appear in the “Shared DNA” column of the individuals showing on the list of matches, above, shared between me and Stacy Den.

Clicking on “Share to see” sends Sarah a sharing request for her to allow you to see her segment matches.

Let’s look at an example with “yes” in the Shared DNA column.

Clicking on the “Yes” in the Shared DNA column of Debbie takes us to the chromosome browser which shows both your selected match, Stacy in my case, and Debbie, the person whose “yes” you clicked.

All three people, meaning me, Stacy and Debbie share a common DNA segment, shown below on chromosome 17.

What 23andMe does NOT say is that these people. Stacy and Debbie, also match each other, in addition to matching me, which means all three of us triangulate.

Because I manage Stacy’s kit at 23andMe, I can check to see if Debbie is on Stacy’s match list, and indeed, Debbie is on Stacy’s match list and Stacy does match both Debbie and me on chromosome 17 in exactly the same location shown above, proving unquestionably that the three of us all match each other and therefore triangulate on this segment. In our case, it’s easy to identify our common relative whose DNA all 3 of us share.

Genealogy – Autosomal Summary

While all 3 vendors offer matching, their interfaces and tools vary widely.

I would suggest that Ancestry is the least sophisticated and has worked hard to make their tools easy for the novice working with genetic genealogy. Their green leaf DNA+Tree Matching is their best feature, easy to use and important for the novice and experienced genealogist alike.  Now, if they just had that chromosome browser so we could see how we match those people.

Ancestry’s Circles, while a nice feature, encourage testers to believe that their DNA or relationship is confirmed by finding themselves in a Circle, which is not the case.

Circles can be formed as the result of misinformation in numerous trees. For example, if I were to inaccurately list Smith as the surname for one of my ancestor’s wives, I would find myself in a Circle for Barbara Smith, when in fact, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that her surname is Smith. Yet, people think that Barbara Smith is confirmed due to a Circle having been formed and finding themselves in Barbara Smith’s Circle. Copying incorrect trees equals the formation of incorrect Circles.

It’s also possible that I’m matching people on multiple lines and my DNA match to the people in any given Circle is through another common ancestor entirely.

A serious genealogist will test minimally at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, who provides a chromosome browser and other tools necessary to confirm relationships and shared DNA segments.

Family Tree DNA is more sophisticated, so consequently more complex to use.  They provide matching plus numerous other tools. The website and matching is certainly friendly for the novice, but to benefit fully, some experience or additional education is beneficial, not unlike traditional genealogy research itself. This is true not just for Family Tree DNA, but GedMatch and 23andMe who all three utilize chromosome browsers.

The user will want to understand what a chromosome browser is indicating about matching DNA segments, so some level of education makes life a lot easier. Fortunately, understanding chromosome browser matching is not complex. You can read an article about Match Groups and Triangulation here. I also have an entire series of Concepts articles, Family Tree DNA offers a webinar library, their Learning Center and other educational resources are available as well.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor to provide Phased Family Matches, meaning that by connecting known relatives who have DNA tested to your tree, Family Tree DNA can then identify additional matches as maternal, paternal or both. This, in combination with pseudo-phasing are very powerful matching tools.

23andMe is the least friendly of the three companies, with several genetic genealogy unfriendly restrictions relative to matching, opt-ins, match limits and such. They have experienced problem after problem for years relative to genetic genealogy, which has always been a second-class citizen compared to their medical research, and not a priority.

23andMe has chosen to implement a business model where their customers must opt-in to share segment information with other individuals, either one by one or by opting into open sharing. Based on my match list, roughly 60% of my actual DNA matches have opted in to sharing.

Their customer base includes fewer serious genealogists and their customers often are not interested in genealogy at all.

Having said that, 23andMe is the only one of the three that provides actual triangulated matches for users on the New Experience and who have opted into sharing.

If I were entering the genetic genealogy testing space today, I would test my autosomal DNA at Ancestry and at Family Tree DNA, but I would probably not test at 23andMe. I would test both my Y DNA (if a male) and mitochondrial at Family Tree DNA.

Thank you to Kitty Cooper for assistance with parent/child matching and triangulation at 23andMe.

Genealogy Autosomal Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Matching Yes Yes Yes – each person has to opt in for open sharing or authorize sharing individually, many don’t
Estimated Relationships Yes Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser Yes No – Large Issue Yes
Chromosome Browser Threshold Adjustment Yes No Chromosome Browser No
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes
Trees Yes Yes – subscription required so see matches’ trees No
Ability to upload Gedcom file Yes Yes No
Ability to search trees Yes Yes No
Subscription in addition to DNA test price No No for partial, Yes for full functionality, minimal subscription for $49 by calling Ancestry No
DNA + Ancestor in Tree Matches No Yes – Leaf Hints – subscription required – Best Feature No
Phased Parental Side Matching Yes – Best Feature No No
Parent Match Indicator Yes No Yes
Sort or Group by Parent Match Yes Yes Yes
In Common With Tool Yes Yes Yes
Not In Common With Tool Yes No No
Triangulated Matches No – pseudo with ICW, browser and matrix No Yes – Best Feature
Common Surnames Yes Yes – subscription required No
Ability to Link DNA Matches on Tree Yes No No
Matrix to show match grid between multiple matches Yes No No
Match Filter Tools Yes Minimal Some
Advanced Matching Tool Yes No No
Multiple Test Matching Tool Yes No multiple tests No multiple tests
Ethnicity Matching Yes No Yes
Projects Yes No No
Maximum # of Matches Restricted No No Yes – 2000 unless you are communicating with the individuals, then they are not removed from your match list
All Customers Participate Yes Yes, unless they don’t have a subscription No – between 50-60% opt-in
Accepts Transfers from Other Testing Companies Yes No No
Free Features with Transfer Matching, ICW, Matrix, Advanced Matching No transfers No transfers
Transfer Features Requiring Unlock $ Chromosome Browser, Ethnicity, Ancient Origins, Linked Relationships, Parentally Phased Matches No Transfers No transfers
Archives DNA for Later Testing Yes, 25 years No, no additional tests available No, no additional tests available
Additional Tool DNA Circles – subscription required
Additional Tool New Ancestor Discoveries – subscription required
Y DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Mitochondrial DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Advanced Testing Available Yes No No
Website Intuitive Yes, given their many tools Yes, very simple No
Data Base Size Large Largest Large but many do not test for genealogy, only test for health
Strengths Many tools, multiple types of tests, phased matching without parent DNA + Tree matching, size of data base Triangulation
Challenges Website episodically times out No chromosome browser or advanced tools Sharing is difficult to understand and many don’t, website is far from intuitive

 

Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA

Two indispensable tools for genetic genealogy that are often overlooked are Y and mitochondrial DNA.

The inheritance path for Y DNA is shown by the blue squares and the inheritance path for mitochondrial DNA is shown by the red circles for the male and female siblings shown at the bottom of the chart.

Y-DNA Testing for Males

Y DNA is inherited by males only, from their father. The Y chromosome makes males male. Women instead inherit an X chromosome from their father, which makes them female. Because the Y chromosome is not admixed with the DNA of the mother, the same Y chromosome has been passed down through time immemorial.

Given that the Y chromosome follows the typical surname path, Y DNA testing is very useful for confirming surname lineage to an expected direct paternal ancestor. In other words, an Estes male today should match, with perhaps a few mutations, to other descendants of Abraham Estes who was born in 1647 in Kent, England and immigrated to the colony of Virginia.

Furthermore, that same Y chromosome can look far back in time, thousands of years, to tell us where that English group of Estes men originated, before the advent of surnames and before the migration to England from continental Europe. I wrote about the Estes Y DNA here, so you can see an example of how Y DNA testing can be used.

Y DNA testing for matching and haplogroup identification, which indicates where in the world your ancestors were living within the past few hundred to few thousand years, is only available from Family Tree DNA. Testing can be purchased for either 37, 67 or 111 markers, with the higher marker numbers providing more granularity and specificity in matching.

Family Tree DNA provides three types of Y DNA tests.

  • STR (short tandem repeat) testing is the traditional Y DNA testing for males to match to each other in a genealogically relevant timeframe. These tests can be ordered in panels of 37, 67 or 111 markers and lower levels can be upgraded to higher levels at a later date. An accurate base haplogroup prediction is made from STR markers.
  • SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) testing is a different type of testing that tests single locations for mutations in order to confirm and further refine haplogroups. Think of a haplogroup as a type of genetic clan, meaning that haplogroups are used to track migration of humans through time and geography, and are what is utilized to determine African, European, Asian or Native heritage in the direct paternal line. SNP tests are optional and can be ordered one at a time, in groups called panels for a particular haplogroup or a comprehensive research level Y DNA test called the Big Y can be ordered after STR testing.
  • The Big Y test is a research level test that scans the entire Y chromosome to determine the most refined haplogroup possible and to report any previously unknown mutations (SNPs) that may define further branches of the Y DNA tree. This is the technique used to expand the Y haplotree.

You can read more about haplogroups here and about the difference between STR markers and SNPs here, here and here.

Customers receive the following features and tools when they purchase a Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test at 23andMe. The 23andMe Y DNA information is included in their Ancestry Services test. The Family Tree DNA Y DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. You can click here to read about the difference in the technology between Y DNA testing at Family Tree DNA and at 23andMe. Ancestry is not included in this comparison because they provide no Y DNA related information.

Y DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of STR panel marker testing Yes, in panels of 37, 67 and 111 markers No
Test panel (STR) marker results Yes Not tested
Haplogroup assignment Yes – accurate estimate with STR panels, deeper testing available Yes –base haplogroup by scan – haplogroup designations are significantly out of date, no further testing available
SNP testing to further define haplogroup Yes – can purchase individual SNPs, by SNP panels or Big Y test No
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees available for your matches Yes No
E-mail of matches provided Yes No
Calculator tool to estimate probability of generational distance between you and a match Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic projects No
Ability to search Y matches Yes No Y matching
Ability to search matches within projects Yes No projects
Ability to search matches by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer result location on tree Yes, detailed with every branch Yes, less detailed, subset
Terminal SNP used to determine haplogroup Yes Yes, small subset available
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins – match ancestral location summary by haplogroup, by test level Yes No
SNP map showing worldwide locations of any selected SNP Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the paternal line, by test panel Yes No
Big Y – full scan of Y chromosome for known and previously unknown mutations (SNPs) Yes No
Big Y matching Yes No
Big Y matching known SNPs Yes No
Big Y matching novel variants (unknown or yet unnamed SNPs) Yes No
Filter Big Y matches Yes No
Big Y results Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

Mitochondrial DNA Testing for Everyone

Mitochondrial DNA is contributed to both genders of children by mothers, but only the females pass it on. Like the Y chromosome, mitochondrial DNA is not admixed with the DNA of the other parent. Therefore, anyone can test for the mitochondrial DNA of their matrilineal line, meaning their mother’s mother’s mother’s lineage.

Matching can identify family lines as well as ancient lineage.

You receive the following features and tools when you purchase a mitochondrial DNA test from Family Tree DNA or the Ancestry Services test from 23andMe. The Family Tree DNA mitochondrial DNA information requires specific tests and is not included in the Family Finder test. The 23andMe mitochondrial information is provided with the Ancestry Services test. Ancestry is omitted from this comparison because they do not provide any mitochondrial information.

Mitochondrial DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA 23andMe
Varying levels of testing Yes, mtPlus and Full Sequence No
Test panel marker results Yes, in two formats, CRS and RSRS No
Rare mutations, missing and extra mutations, insertions and deletions reported Yes No
Haplogroup assignment Yes, most current version, Build 17 Yes, partial and out of date version
Matching to other participants Yes No
Trees of matches available to view Yes No
E-mail address provided to matches Yes No
Earliest known ancestor information Yes No
Projects Surname, haplogroup and geographic available No
Ability to search matches Yes No
Ability to search matches within project Yes No projects
Ability to search match by partial surname Yes No
Haplotree and customer location on tree No Yes
Mutations used to determine haplogroup provided Yes No
Haplogroup Map Migration map Heat map
Ancestral Origins – summary by ancestral location of others you match, by test level Yes No
Haplogroup Origins –match ancestral location summary by haplogroup Yes No
Matches map showing mapped locations of your matches most distant ancestor in the maternal line, by test level Yes No
Advanced matching for multiple test types Yes No
DNA is archived so additional tests or upgrades can be ordered at a later date Yes, 25 years No

 

Overall Genealogy Summary

Serious genealogists should test with at least two of the three major vendors, being Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, with 23andMe coming in as a distant third.

No genetic genealogy testing regimen is complete without Y and mitochondrial DNA for as many ancestral lines as you can find to test. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you’ll never know if you don’t test.

Unfortunately, many people, especially new testers, don’t know Y and mitochondrial DNA testing for genetic genealogy exists, or how it can help their genealogy research, which is extremely ironic since these were the first tests available, back in 2000.

You can read about finding Y and mitochondrial information for various family lines and ancestors and how to assemble a DNA Pedigree Chart here.

You can also take a look at my 52 Ancestors series, where I write about an ancestor every week. Each article includes some aspect of DNA testing and knowledge gained by a test or tests, DNA tool, or comparison. The DNA aspect of these articles focuses on how to use DNA as a tool to discover more about your ancestors.

 

Testing for Medical/Health or Traits

The DTC market also includes health and medical testing, although it’s not nearly as popular as genetic genealogy.

Health/medical testing is offered by 23andMe, who also offers autosomal DNA testing for genealogy.

Some people do want to know if they have genetic predispositions to medical conditions, and some do not. Some want to know if they have certain traits that aren’t genealogically relevant, but might be interesting – such as whether they carry the Warrior gene or if they have an alcohol flush reaction.

23andMe was the first company to dip their toes into the water of Direct to Consumer medical information, although they called it “health,” not medicine, at that time. Regardless of the terminology, information regarding Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for example, were provided for customers. 23andMe attempted to take the raw data and provide the consumer with something approaching a middle of the road analysis, because sometimes the actual studies provide conflicting information that might not be readily understood by consumers.

The FDA took issue with 23andMe back in November of 2013 when they ordered 23andMe to discontinue the “health” aspect of their testing after 23andMe ignored several deadlines. In October 2015, 23andMe obtained permission to provide customers with some information, such as carrier status, for 36 genetic disorders.

Since that time, 23andMe has divided their product into two separate tests, with two separate prices. The genealogy only test called Ancestry Service can be purchased separately for $99, or the combined Health + Ancestry Service for $199.

If you are interested in seeing what the Health + Ancestry test provides, you can click here to view additional information.

However, there is a much easier and less expensive solution.

If you have taken the autosomal test from 23andMe, Ancestry or Family Tree DNA, you can download your raw data file from the vendor and upload to Promethease to obtain a much more in-depth report than is provided by 23andMe, and much less expensively – just $5.

I reviewed the Promethease service here. I found the Promethease reports to be very informative and I like the fact that they provide information, both positive and negative for each SNP (DNA location) reported. Promethease avoids FDA problems by not providing any interpretation or analysis, simply the data and references extracted from SNPedia for you to review.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you should be sure you really want to know before you delve into medical testing. Some mutations are simply indications that you could develop a condition that you will never develop or that is not serious. Other mutations are not so benign. Promethease provides this candid page before you upload your data.

Different files from different vendors provide different results at Promethease, because those vendors test different SNP locations in your DNA. At the Promethease webpage, you can view examples.

Traits

Traits fall someplace between genealogy and health. When you take the Health + Ancestry test at 23andMe, you do receive information about various traits, as follows:

Of course, you’ll probably already know if you have several of these traits by just taking a look in the mirror, or in the case of male back hair, by asking your wife.

At Family Tree DNA, existing customers can order tests for Factoids (by clicking on the upgrade button), noted as curiosity tests for gene variants.

Family Tree DNA provides what I feel is a great summary and explanation of what the Factoids are testing on their order page:

“Factoids” are based on studies – some of which may be controversial – and results are not intended to diagnose disease or medical conditions, and do not serve the purpose of medical advice. They are offered exclusively for curiosity purposes, i.e. to see how your result compared with what the scientific papers say. Other genetic and environmental variables may also impact these same physiological characteristics. They are merely a conversational piece, or a “cocktail party” test, as we like to call it.”

Test Price Description
Alcohol Flush Reaction $19 A condition in which the body cannot break down ingested alcohol completely. Flushing, after consuming one or two alcoholic beverages, includes a range of symptoms: nausea, headaches, light-headedness, an increased pulse, occasional extreme drowsiness, and occasional skin swelling and itchiness. These unpleasant side effects often prevent further drinking that may lead to further inebriation, but the symptoms can lead to mistaken assumption that the people affected are more easily inebriated than others.
Avoidance of Errors $29 We are often angry at ourselves because we are unable to learn from certain experiences. Numerous times we have made the wrong decision and its consequences were unfavorable. But the cause does not lie only in our thinking. A mutation in a specific gene can also be responsible, because it can cause a smaller number of dopamine receptors. They are responsible for remembering our wrong choices, which in turn enables us to make better decisions when we encounter a similar situation.
Back Pain $39 Lumbar disc disease is the drying out of the spongy interior matrix of an intervertebral disc in the spine. Many physicians and patients use the term lumbar disc disease to encompass several different causes of back pain or sciatica. A study of Asian patients with lumbar disc disease showed that a mutation in the CILP gene increases the risk of back pain.
Bitter Taste Perception $29 There are several genes that are responsible for bitter taste perception – we test 3 of them. Different variations of this gene affect ability to detect bitter compounds. About 25% of people lack ability to detect these compounds due to gene mutations. Are you like them? Maybe you don’t like broccoli, because it tastes too bitter?
Caffeine Metabolism $19 According to the results of a case-control study reported in the March 8, 2006 issue of JAMA, coffee is the most widely consumed stimulant in the world, and caffeine consumption has been associated with increased risk for non-fatal myocardial infarction. Caffeine is primarily metabolized by the cytochrome P450 1A2 in the liver, accounting for 95% of metabolism. Carriers of the gene variant *1F allele are slow caffeine metabolizers, whereas individuals homozygous for the *1A/*1A genotype are rapid caffeine metabolizers.
Earwax Type $19 Whether your earwax is wet or dry is determined by a mutation in a single gene, which scientists have discovered. Wet earwax is believed to have uses in insect trapping, self-cleaning and prevention of dryness in the external auditory canal of the ear. It also produces an odor and causes sweating, which may play a role as a pheromone.
Freckling $19 Freckles can be found on anyone no matter what the background. However, having freckles is genetic and is related to the presence of the dominant melanocortin-1 receptor MC1R gene variant.
Longevity $49 Researchers at Harvard Medical School and UC Davis have discovered a few genes that extend lifespan, suggesting that the whole family of SIR2 genes is involved in controlling lifespan. The findings were reported July 28, 2005 in the advance online edition of Science.
Male Pattern Baldness $19 Researchers at McGill University, King’s College London and GlaxoSmithKline Inc. have identified two genetic variants in Caucasians that together produce an astounding sevenfold increase of the risk of male pattern baldness. Their results were published in the October 12, 2008 issue of the Journal of Nature Genetics.
Monoamine Oxidase A (Warrior Gene) $49.50 The Warrior Gene is a variant of the gene MAO-A on the X chromosome. Recent studies have linked the Warrior Gene to increased risk-taking and aggressive behavior. Whether in sports, business, or other activities, scientists found that individuals with the Warrior Gene variant were more likely to be combative than those with the normal MAO-A gene. However, human behavior is complex and influenced by many factors, including genetics and our environment. Individuals with the Warrior Gene are not necessarily more aggressive, but according to scientific studies, are more likely to be aggressive than those without the Warrior Gene variant. This test is available for both men and women, however, there is limited research about the Warrior Gene variant amongst females. Additional details about the Warrior Gene genetic variant of MAO-A can be found in Sabol et al, 1998.
Muscle Performance $29 A team of researchers, led by scientists at Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth College, have identified and tested a gene that dramatically alters both muscle metabolism and performance. The researchers say that this finding could someday lead to treatment of muscle diseases, including helping the elderly who suffer from muscle deterioration and improving muscle performance in endurance athletes.
Nicotine Dependence $19 In 2008, University of Virginia Health System researchers have identified a gene associated with nicotine dependence in both Europeans and African Americans.

Many people are interested in the Warrior Gene, which I wrote about here.

At Promethease, traits are simply included with the rest of the conditions known to be associated with certain SNPs, such as baldness, for example, but I haven’t done a comparison to see which traits are included.

 

Additional Vendor Information to Consider

Before making your final decision about which test or tests to purchase, there are a few additional factors you may want to consider.

As mentioned before, Ancestry requires a subscription in addition to the cost of the DNA test for the DNA test to be fully functional.

One of the biggest issues, in my opinion, is that both 23andMe and Ancestry sell customer’s anonymized DNA information to unknown others. Every customer authorizes the sale of their information when they purchase or activate a kit – even though very few people actually take the time to read the Terms and Conditions, Privacy statements and Security documents, including any and all links. This means most people don’t realize they are authorizing the sale of their DNA.

At both 23andMe and Ancestry, you can ALSO opt in for additional non-anonymized research or sale of your DNA, which you can later opt out of. However, you cannot opt out of the lower level sale of your anonymized DNA without removing your results from the data base and asking for your sample to be destroyed. They do tell you this, but it’s very buried in the fine print at both companies. You can read more here.

Family Tree DNA does not sell your DNA or information.

All vendors can change their terms and conditions at any time. Consumers should always thoroughly read the terms and conditions including anything having to do with privacy for any product they purchase, but especially as it relates to DNA testing.

Family Tree DNA archives your DNA for later testing, which has proven extremely beneficial when a family member has passed away and a new test is subsequently introduced or the family wants to upgrade a current test.  Had my mother’s DNA not been archived at Family Tree DNA, I would not have Family Finder results for her today – something I thank Mother and Family Tree DNA for every single day.

Family Tree DNA also accepts transfer files from 23andMe, Ancestry and very shortly, MyHeritage – although some versions work better than others. For details on which companies accept which file versions, from which vendors, and why, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

If you tested on a compatible version of the 23andMe Test (V3 between December 2010 and November 2013) or the Ancestry V1 (before May 2016) you may want to transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA for free and pay only $19 for full functionality, as opposed to taking the Family Finder test. Family Tree DNA does accept later versions of files from 23andMe and Ancestry, but you will receive more matches if you test on the same chip platform that Family Tree DNA utilizes instead of doing a transfer.

Additional Vendor Considerations Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Subscription required in addition to cost of DNA test No Yes for full functionality, partial functionality is included without subscription, minimum subscription is $49 by calling Ancestry No
Customer Support Good and available Available, nice but often not knowledgeable about DNA Poor
Sells customer DNA information No Yes Yes
DNA raw data file available to download Yes Yes Yes
DNA matches file available to download including match info and chromosome match locations Yes No Yes
Customers genealogically focused Yes Yes Many No
Accepts DNA raw data transfer files from other companies Yes, most, see article for specifics No No
DNA archived for later testing Yes, 25 years No No
Beneficiary provision available Yes No No

 

Which Test is Best For You?

I hope you now know the answer as to which DNA test is best for you – or maybe it’s multiple tests for you and other family members too!

DNA testing holds so much promise for genealogy. I hesitate to call DNA testing a miracle tool, but it often is when there are no records. DNA testing works best in conjunction with traditional genealogical research.

There are a lot of tests and options.  The more tests you take, the more people you match. Some people test at multiple vendors or upload their DNA to third party sites like GedMatch, but most don’t. In order to make sure you reach those matches, which may be the match you desperately need, you’ll have to test at the vendor where they tested. Otherwise, they are lost to you. That means, of course, that eventually, if you’re a serious genealogist, you’ll be testing at all 3 vendors.  Don’t forget about Y and mitochondrial tests at Family Tree DNA.

Recruit family members to test and reach out to your matches.  The more you share and learn – the more is revealed about your ancestors. You are, after all, the unique individual that resulted from the combination of all of them!

Update: Vendor prices updated June 22, 2017.

______________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure will now appear at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 850 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

Promethease – Genetic Health Information Alternative

People are beginning to ask about how they can obtain some of the health information that they were previously receiving from 23andMe.  For $5, at Promethease,  you can upload any of the autosomal files from either Family Tree DNA, 23andMe or Ancestry.com.  They will process your raw data and provide you with a report that is available to download from their server for 45 days.  They also e-mail you a copy.

At Promethease, your raw data file is deleted within 24 hours of completion of your report, and your report file will be deleted after 45 days, so be sure to download your report for future reference.  Currently they process about 20,000 genotypes, or SNPs.  They do note that they update their data base regularly from SNPedia, fed from PubMed publications.  Therefore your report in the future will include SNPs that won’t be in your report today and what we’ve learned about those SNPs may differ as well.

They have also noted that you receive different items in your report based on which vendor’s full data file you submit.  That’s true.  I uploaded all 3 of my raw data files, from Ancestry, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA and ran Promethease against each of them.  While 23andMe optimized their chip for medical and health results, Family Tree DNA intentionally removed some medically relevant data in order to avoid any FDA type of issues.  It’s unknown how Ancestry treats medically significant SNPs, but I’m running all 3 vendor’s files to view differences.

  • The Promethease report utilizing the 23andMe raw data file reported on 20,080 genotypes.
  • The Promethease report utilizing the Family Tree DNA raw data file reported on 8179 genotypes.
  • The Promethease report utilizing the Ancestry raw data file reported on 10,498 genotypes.

To start the process of uploading your file and running your report, visit:

https://promethease.com/ondemand

Of course, you’ll need to take care of housekeeping, sign up and pay.

You will then be asked to select an ethnicity.  I always hate this question, because I’m more than one and the categories never fit.  If you don’t fit any category well, select the closest.   Promethease says it only affects the sort order.  That was a relief to me, as I always wonder what I’m missing by making one selection over another.

While the report actually runs, which takes about 15-20 minutes, amuse yourself by watching the video about how to download, read and understand your results.  Or you could write a blog, like me!

Promethease instructional video

You can review this video at any time by visiting the original link.  It does make more sense after you have your report in hand.

My report only took 8 minutes to run, and according to the front page of my report, they analyzed over 20,000 SNPs or known mutation locations.  I’m excited to see what my report holds.

One of the reasons I’ve been interested in this type of DNA reporting is that my mother was “diagnosed” with Parkinson’s Disease. I put diagnosed in quotes, because Parkinson’s is a diagnosis of exclusion, for which there is no specific diagnostic test, meaning the diagnosis is one made after other alternative diseases for which there are tests, are excluded.  However, she never had some of the traditional symptoms, like the specific walking gait typical in Parkinson’s patients, nor some of the other symptoms, nor were the Parkinson’s medications effective in controlling her hand tremors. Her father also had the same tremors, which I’ve always suspected was Familial Tremor, not Parkinson’s.  I wanted to see if Mom or I carried elevated risk for Parkinson’s.  Mom’s DNA was archived at Family Tree DNA, so I could run the Family Finder test even though she had passed away by the time autosomal testing was available.  So I uploaded and ran her file at Promethease too, and compared with my own.

So, let’s look at my report based on the 23andMe raw data file.

Promethease report

At this point, you have to choose to click on “Bad News” or “Good News” first.  Someone should do a study about whether you select bad or good is genetically influenced.

In my case, I was interested to see if my “bad news” was the same “bad news” that 23andMe provided.  My top “bad news” item is indeed the same item that is reported at 23andMe.  Having said that, there are a lot more and different items here that were not reported at 23andMe.  After looking at the varied results from Promethease, I suspect that 23andMe was trying to distill data on my behalf.

However, Promethease does not attempt to analyze your results.  Some mutations are known to be connected to multiple conditions, so they simply tell you that.  In some cases, you will have some negative and some positive mutations for the same disease.  Again, they simply inform you, complete with a reference.  It’s worth noting that for one disease I’m particularly interested in, Parkinson’s, I have a lot of conflicting data, pages worth.  This just goes to show how complex interpreting this information really is, and shows that genetic predisposition, positive or negative, with only a few exceptions, is not genetic predetermination.

My good news made me feel really good.  I’m at decreased risk of frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  I’m optimistic and empathetic.  I wonder if this has anything to do with selecting the bad news option first – I knew I had the good news to look forward to.  Get the bad stuff over with and get on with it…

Ironically, some of my good news items are in direct conflict with some of my bad news items.  And yes, some are Parkinson’s, which has apparently been more heavily studied that some other diseases.  Hopefully, the decreased and elevated risks will cancel each other out and I’ll just be average.

However, when running my Ancestry data file at Promethease, one of my elevated risks was Parkinson’s, based on the SNPs discovered in the 23andMe research, which conflicts directly with the information provided based on the 23andMe raw data file.  Searching further, different SNPs have been reported to either be associated with increased or decreased incidence of the disease – and I carry some of each – but none are extremely elevated.

So where does this leave me in terms of whether Mom had Parkinson’s, or not?  There is nothing to indicate an extremely high risk of Parkinson’s.  Some indicators are for elevated risk, some for reduced risk.  Compared to the one condition I know she had, which has a very highly elevated risk in all 3 reports, the Parkinson’s risk is simply unremarkable and doesn’t stand out.  Bottom line – I still don’t know for sure, but I still don’t think she had Parkinson’s.  Had I found highly elevated risk factors,  I would have rethought my opinion.

Many diseases have multiple genetic components along with other external factors.  Of course, not all studies report the same findings, and this report is based on academic medical studies.

Rarely are genetic predispositions more than just that, a slightly increased or decreased probability.  Few are fatal and some are more of a life sentence than a death sentence.  Having said this, there are notable exceptions, and if you really don’t want to know a worst case scenario, or aren’t prepared to deal with the results, don’t participate in DNA testing or reporting for medical or health information.  If you have reason to suspect your family may carry one of the genetic terminal illnesses, visit your doctor for advice.

And speaking of physicians, much of this information, such as the information about how certain medications are metabolized could be critically important.  In my case, I’m actually taking one of the mediations that is referenced where I have a decreased sensitivity.  Yep, I knew that, but now I can provide this information to my physician.

For those who tend to worry and borrow trouble they don’t yet have, running this type of report might not be a good idea.  It’s certainly not for hypochondriacs – IMHO.  It’s a personal choice, and a very inexpensive one at that, so financially available to everyone.  If what it contains is going to worry you, don’t do it.  I noticed that there are several anxiety categories in these reports – but then you have to run the report to see if you carry them – kind of a catch 22 if you tend to be anxious and worry.

My personal perspective is that there may be information here that is valuable to me, or to my physicians, or to my children.  The worst “bad news” item I already knew about through 23andMe, but I also anticipated that condition, without genetic testing, because my mother had this same disease in old age.  I’m not referring now to the Parkinson’s, but a vision related condition that she definitely did have.  This item was also consistently reported at a high degree of risk utilizing the data files of 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.  Thankfully, it is an old age problem and one that can be treated, if not cured today.  The Promethease reports, along with 23andMe’s report, have simply reinforced that I need to be proactive and vigilant and to eat lots of veggies.  The good news is that many items include preventative measures in the verbiage or associated studies that your Promethease report links to at SNPedia.

How does this report compare to the 23andMe experience, assuming 23andMe was still an option or might be again in the future for health information?  The 23andMe customer interface is much smoother and more user friendly.  It seems to be focused on more “fun” and less “worry.”  The Promethease report is that, a report, although they do a great job making it interactive.  There is no sugar coating – just the facts Ma’am.  And I think it’s actually much easier to use.  You can easily search by disease, by category, and the searches actually work.

Promethease differs in another way too.  Personally I like the idea that my data is mine, I’m in complete control of it, and it’s not being sold by Promethease out the back door for studies or purposes I might not be too thrilled about.  I don’t want my DNA to be used to patent genes that cause the tests for the condition to be restricted to the patentee at dramatically inflated prices.  While the Supreme Court determined that genes can’t be patented in the case of the BRCA breast cancer genes, the fight continues with lawsuits being filed, and 23andMe holds a Parkinson’s patent that was obtained by utilizing customer data.   Nor do I want my data to be used to patent the technology for “designer babies.”  If my DNA is going to be utilized for research, I want the ability to authorize that use, specifically.

Therefore, I feel much better about uploading a raw data file from an autosomal test at a firm like Family Tree DNA, who NEVER sells or otherwise divulges my data without first requesting permission.  I thereby maintain complete control over my genetic results, rather than utilizing companies who either sell (or otherwise utilize) my results or reserve the right to do so.  This is the case with both 23andMe and Ancestry.com, and to be clear, they have never claimed otherwise.?????????????????????????????

And oh, I forgot to mention…I am just so relieved….I have a decreased risk of baldness….

2013’s Dynamic Dozen – Top Genetic Genealogy Happenings

dna 8 ball

Last year I wrote a column at the end of the year titled  “2012 Top 10 Genetic Genealogy Happenings.”  It’s amazing the changes in this industry in just one year.  It certainly makes me wonder what the landscape a year from now will look like.

I’ve done the same thing this year, except we have a dozen.  I couldn’t whittle it down to 10, partly because there has been so much more going on and so much change – or in the case of Ancestry, who is noteworthy because they had so little positive movement.

If I were to characterize this year of genetic genealogy, I would call it The Year of the SNP, because that applies to both Y DNA and autosomal.  Maybe I’d call it The Legal SNP, because it is also the year of law, court decisions, lawsuits and FDA intervention.  To say it has been interesting is like calling the Eiffel Tower an oversized coat hanger.

I’ll say one thing…it has kept those of us who work and play in this industry hopping busy!  I guarantee you, the words “I’m bored” have come out of the mouth of no one in this industry this past year.

I’ve put these events in what I consider to be relatively accurate order.  We could debate all day about whether the SNP Tsunami or the 23andMe mess is more important or relevant – and there would be lots of arguing points and counterpoints…see…I told you lawyers were involved….but in reality, we don’t know yet, and in the end….it doesn’t matter what order they are in on the list:)

Y Chromosome SNP Tsunami Begins

The SNP tsumani began as a ripple a few years ago with the introduction at Family Tree DNA of the Walk the Y program in 2007.  This was an intensively manual process of SNP discovery, but it was effective.

By the time that the Geno 2.0 chip was introduced in 2012, 12,000+ SNPs would be included on that chip, including many that were always presumed to be equivalent and not regularly tested.  However, the Nat Geo chip tested them and indeed, the Y tree became massively shuffled.  The resolution to this tree shuffling hasn’t yet come out in the wash.  Family Tree DNA can’t really update their Y tree until a publication comes out with the new tree defined.  That publication has been discussed and anticipated for some time now, but it has yet to materialize.  In the mean time, the volunteers who maintain the ISOGG tree are swamped, to say the least.

Another similar test is the Chromo2 introduced this year by Britain’s DNA which scans 15,000 SNPs, many of them S SNPs not on the tree nor academically published, adding to the difficulty of figuring out where they fit on the Y tree.  While there are some very happy campers with their Chromo2 results, there is also a great deal of sloppy science, reporting and interpretation of “facts” through this company.  Kind of like Jekyll and Hyde.  See the Sloppy Science section.

But Walk the Y, Chromo2 and Geno 2.0, are only the tip of the iceburg.  The new “full Y” sequencing tests brought into the marketspace quietly in early 2013 by Full Genomes and then with a bang by Family Tree DNA with the their Big Y in November promise to revolutionize what we know about the Y chromosome by discovering thousands of previously unknown SNPs.  This will in effect swamp the Y tree whose branches we thought were already pretty robust, with thousands and thousands of leaves.

In essence, the promise of the “fully” sequenced Y is that what we might term personal or family SNPs will make SNP testing as useful as STR testing and give us yet another genealogy tool with which to separate various lines of one genetic family and to ratchet down on the time that the most common recent ancestor lived.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/03/31/new-y-dna-haplogroup-naming-convention/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/11/10/family-tree-dna-announces-the-big-y/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/11/16/what-about-the-big-y/

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/11/first-look-at-full-genomes-y-sequencing.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-first-look-at-britainsdna-chromo-2-y.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/11/yseqnet-new-company-offering-single-snp.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-y-chromosome-sequence.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-confusion-of-snps.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-simplified-y-tree-and-common-standard.html

23andMe Comes Unraveled

The story of 23andMe began as the consummate American dotcom fairy tale, but sadly, has deteriorated into a saga with all of the components of a soap opera.  A wealthy wife starts what could be viewed as an upscale hobby business, followed by a messy divorce and a mystery run-in with the powerful overlording evil-step-mother FDA.  One of the founders of 23andMe is/was married to the founder of Google, so funding, at least initially wasn’t an issue, giving 23andMe the opportunity to make an unprecedented contribution in the genetic, health care and genetic genealogy world.

Another way of looking at this is that 23andMe is the epitome of the American Dream business, a startup, with altruism and good health, both thrown in for good measure, well intentioned, but poorly managed.  And as customers, be it for health or genealogy or both, we all bought into the altruistic “feel good” culture of helping find cures for dread diseases, like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer by contributing our DNA and responding to surveys.

The genetic genealogy community’s love affair with 23andMe began in 2009 when 23andMe started focusing on genealogy reporting for their tests, meaning cousin matches.  We, as a community, suddenly woke up and started ordering these tests in droves.  A few months later, Family Tree DNA also began offering this type of testing as well.  The defining difference being that 23andMe’s primary focus has always been on health and medical information with Family Tree DNA focused on genetic genealogy.  To 23andMe, the genetic genealogy community was an afterthought and genetic genealogy was just another marketing avenue to obtain more people for their health research data base.  For us, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

For awhile, this love affair went along swimmingly, but then, in 2012, 23andMe obtained a patent for Parkinson’s Disease.  That act caused a lot of people to begin to question the corporate focus of 23andMe in the larger quagmire of the ethics of patenting genes as a whole.  Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, discussed this here.  It’s difficult to defend 23andMe’s Parkinson’s patent while flaying alive Myriad for their BRCA patent.  Was 23andMe really as altruistic as they would have us believe?

Personally, this event made me very nervous, but I withheld judgment.  But clearly, that was not the purpose for which I thought my DNA, and others, was being used.

But then came the Designer Baby patent in 2013.  This made me decidedly uncomfortable.  Yes, I know, some people said this really can’t be done, today, while others said that it’s being done anyway in some aspects…but the fact that this has been the corporate focus of 23andMe with their research, using our data, bothered me a great deal.  I have absolutely no issue with using this information to assure or select for healthy offspring – but I have a personal issue with technology to enable parents who would select a “beauty child,” one with blonde hair and blue eyes and who has the correct muscles to be a star athlete, or cheerleader, or whatever their vision of their as-yet-unconceived “perfect” child would be.  And clearly, based on 23andMe’s own patent submission, that is the focus of their patent.

Upon the issuance of the patent, 23andMe then said they have no intention of using it.  They did not say they won’t sell it.  This also makes absolutely no business sense, to focus valuable corporate resources on something you have no intention of using?  So either they weren’t being truthful, they lack effective management or they’ve changed their mind, but didn’t state such.

What came next, in late 2013 certainly points towards a lack of responsible management.

23andMe had been working with the FDA for approval the health and medical aspect of their product (which they were already providing to consumers prior to the November 22nd cease and desist order) for several years.  The FDA wants assurances that what 23andMe is telling consumers is accurate.  Based on the letter issued to 23andMe on November 22nd, and subsequent commentary, it appears that both entities were jointly working towards that common goal…until earlier this year when 23andMe mysteriously “somehow forgot” about the FDA, the information they owed them, their submissions, etc.  They also forgot their phone number and their e-mail addresses apparently as well, because the FDA said they had heard nothing from them in 6 months, which backdates to May of 2013.

It may be relevant that 23andMe added the executive position of President and filled it in June of 2013, and there was a lot of corporate housecleaning that went on at that time.  However, regardless of who got housecleaned, the responsibility for working with the FDA falls squarely on the shoulders of the founders, owners and executives of the company.  Period.  No excuses.  Something that critically important should be on the agenda of every executive management meeting.   Why?  In terms of corporate risk, this was obviously a very high risk item, perhaps the highest risk item, because the FDA can literally shut their doors and destroy them.  There is little they can do to control or affect the FDA situation, except to work with the FDA, meet deadlines and engender goodwill and a spirit of cooperation.  The risk of not doing that is exactly what happened.

It’s unknown at this time if 23andMe is really that corporately arrogant to think they could simply ignore the FDA, or blatantly corporately negligent or maybe simply corporately stupid, but they surely betrayed the trust and confidence of their customers by failing to meet their commitments with and to the FDA, or even communicate with them.  I mean, really, what were they thinking?

There has been an outpouring of sympathy for 23andme and negative backlash towards the FDA for their letter forcing 23andMe to stop selling their offending medical product, meaning the health portion of their testing.  However, in reality, the FDA was only meting out the consequences that 23andMe asked for.  My teenage kids knew this would happen.  If you do what you’re not supposed to….X, Y and Z will, or won’t, happen.  It’s called accountability.  Just ask my son about his prom….he remembers vividly.  Now why my kids, or 23andMe, would push an authority figure to that point, knowing full well the consequences, utterly mystifies me.  It did when my son was a teenager and it does with 23andMe as well.

Some people think that the FDA is trying to stand between consumers and their health information.  I don’t think so, at least not in this case.  Why I think that is because the FDA left the raw data files alone and they left the genetic genealogy aspect alone.  The FDA knows full well you can download your raw data and for $5 process it at a third party site, obtaining health related genetic information.  The difference is that Promethease is not interpreting any data for you, only providing information.

There is some good news in this and that is that from a genetic genealogy perspective, we seem to be safe, at least for now, from government interference with the testing that has been so productive for genetic genealogy.  The FDA had the perfect opportunity to squish us like a bug (thanks to the opening provided by 23andMe,) and they didn’t.

The really frustrating aspect of this is that 23andMe was a company who, with their deep pockets in Silicon Valley and other investors, could actually afford to wage a fight with the FDA, if need be.  The other companies who received the original 2010 FDA letter all went elsewhere and focused on something else.  But 23andMe didn’t, they decided to fight the fight, and we all supported their decision.  But they let us all down.  The fight they are fighting now is not the battle we anticipated, but one brought upon themselves by their own negligence.  This battle didn’t have to happen, and it may impair them financially to such a degree that if they need to fight the big fight, they won’t be able to.

Right now, 23andMe is selling their kits, but only as an ancestry product as they work through whatever process they are working through with the FDA.  Unfortunately, 23andMe is currently having some difficulties where the majority of matches are disappearing from some testers records.  In other cases, segments that previously matched are disappearing.  One would think, with their only revenue stream for now being the genetic genealogy marketspace that they would be wearing kid gloves and being extremely careful, but apparently not.  They might even consider making some of the changes and enhancements we’ve requested for so long that have fallen on deaf ears.

One thing is for sure, it will be extremely interesting to see where 23andMe is this time next year.  The soap opera continues.

I hope for the sake of all of the health consumers, both current and (potentially) future, that this dotcom fairy tale has a happy ending.

Also, see the Autosomal DNA Comes of Age section.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/10/05/23andme-patents-technology-for-designer-babies/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/10/07/a-new-patent-for-23andme-creates-controversy/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/11/13/genomics-law-review-discusses-designing-children/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/06/11/andy-page-fills-new-president-position-at-23andme/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/11/25/fda-orders-23andme-to-discontinue-testing/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/11/26/now-what-23andme-and-the-fda/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/06/23andme-suspends-health-related-genetic-tests/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/11/26/fooling-with-fda/

Supreme Court Decision – Genes Can’t Be Patented – Followed by Lawsuits

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court determined that genes cannot be patented.  Myriad Genetics held patents on two BRCA genes that predisposed people to cancer.  The cost for the tests through Myriad was about $3000.  Six hours after the Supreme Court decision, Gene By Gene announced that same test for $995.  Other firms followed suit, and all were subsequently sued by Myriad for patent infringement.  I was shocked by this, but as one of my lawyer friends clearly pointed out, you can sue anyone for anything.  Making it stick is yet another matter.  Many firms settle to avoid long and very expensive legal battles.  Clearly, this issue is not yet resolved, although one would think a Supreme Court decision would be pretty definitive.  It potentially won’t be settled for a long time.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/06/13/supreme-court-decision-genes-cant-be-patented/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/06/14/our-dna-cant-be-patented/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/09/07/message-from-bennett-greenspan-free-my-genes/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/06/13/new-press-release-from-dnatraits-regarding-the-supreme-courts-holding-in-myriad/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/08/18/testing-firms-land-counterpunch/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/07/11/myriad-sues-genetic-testing-firms/

Gene By Gene Steps Up, Ramps Up and Produces

As 23andMe comes unraveled and Ancestry languishes in its mediocrity, Gene by Gene, the parent company of Family Tree DNA has stepped up to the plate, committed to do “whatever it takes,” ramped up the staff both through hiring and acquisitions, and is producing results.  This is, indeed, a breath of fresh air for genetic genealogists, as well as a welcome relief.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/08/07/gene-by-gene-acquires-arpeggi/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/05/family-tree-dna-listens-and-acts/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/10/family-tree-dnas-family-finder-match-matrix-released/

http://www.haplogroup.org/ftdna-family-finder-matches-get-new-look/

http://www.haplogroup.org/ftdna-family-finder-new-look-2/

http://www.haplogroup.org/ftdna-family-finder-matches-new-look-3/

Autosomal DNA Comes of Age

Autosomal DNA testing and analysis has simply exploded this past year.  More and more people are testing, in part, because Ancestry.com has a captive audience in their subscription data base and more than a quarter million of those subscribers have purchased autosomal DNA tests.  That’s a good thing, in general, but there are some negative aspects relative to Ancestry, which are in the Ancestry section.

Another boon to autosomal testing was the 23andMe push to obtain a million records.  Of course, the operative word here is “was” but that may revive when the FDA issue is resolved.  One of the down sides to the 23andMe data base, aside from the fact that it’s not genealogist friendly, is that so many people, about 90%, don’t communicate.  They aren’t interested in genealogy.

A third factor is that Family Tree DNA has provided transfer ability for files from both 23andMe and Ancestry into their data base.

Fourth is the site, GedMatch, at www.gedmatch.com which provides additional matching and admixture tools and the ability to match below thresholds set by the testing companies.  This is sometimes critically important, especially when comparing to known cousins who just don’t happen to match at the higher thresholds, for example.  Unfortunately, not enough people know about GedMatch, or are willing to download their files.  Also unfortunate is that GedMatch has struggled for the past few months to keep up with the demand placed on their site and resources.

A great deal of time this year has been spent by those of us in the education aspect of genetic genealogy, in whatever our capacity, teaching about how to utilize autosomal results. It’s not necessarily straightforward.  For example, I wrote a 9 part series titled “The Autosomal Me” which detailed how to utilize chromosome mapping for finding minority ethnic admixture, which was, in my case, both Native and African American.

As the year ends, we have Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry who offer the autosomal test which includes the relative-matching aspect.  Fortunately, we also have third party tools like www.GedMatch.com and www.DNAGedcom.com, without which we would be significantly hamstrung.  In the case of DNAGedcom, we would be unable to perform chromosome segment matching and triangulation with 23andMe data without Rob Warthen’s invaluable tool.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/06/21/triangulation-for-autosomal-dna/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/07/13/combining-tools-autosomal-plus-y-dna-mtdna-and-the-x-chromosome/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/07/26/family-tree-dna-levels-the-playing-field-sort-of/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/08/03/kitty-coopers-chromsome-mapping-tool-released/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/09/29/why-dont-i-match-my-cousin/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/10/03/family-tree-dna-updates-family-finder-and-adds-triangulation/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/10/21/why-are-my-predicted-cousin-relationships-wrong/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/05/family-tree-dna-listens-and-acts/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/09/chromosome-mapping-aka-ancestor-mapping/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/10/family-tree-dnas-family-finder-match-matrix-released/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/15/one-chromosome-two-sides-no-zipper-icw-and-the-matrix/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/06/02/the-autosomal-me-summary-and-pdf-file/

DNAGedcom – Indispensable Third Party Tool

While this tool, www.dnagedcom.com, falls into the Autosomal grouping, I have separated it out for individual mention because without this tool, the progress made this year in autosomal DNA ancestor and chromosomal mapping would have been impossible.  Family Tree DNA has always provided segment matching boundaries through their chromosome browser tool, but until recently, you could only download 5 matches at a time.  This is no longer the case, but for most of the year, Rob’s tool saved us massive amounts of time.

23andMe does not provide those chromosome boundaries, but utilizing Rob’s tool, you can obtain each of your matches in one download, and then you can obtain the list of who your matches match that is also on your match list by requesting each of those files separately.  Multiple steps?  Yes, but it’s the only way to obtain this information, and chromosome mapping without the segment data is impossible

A special hats off to Rob.  Please remember that Rob’s site is free, meaning it’s donation based.  So, please donate if you use the tool.

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/01/brought-to-you-by-adoptiondna.html

I covered www.Gedmatch.com in the “Best of 2012” list, but they have struggled this year, beginning when Ancestry announced that raw data file downloads were available.  GedMatch consists of two individuals, volunteers, who are still struggling to keep up with the required processing and the tools.  They too are donation based, so don’t forget about them if you utilize their tools.

Ancestry – How Great Thou Aren’t

Ancestry is only on this list because of what they haven’t done.  When they initially introduced their autosomal product, they didn’t have any search capability, they didn’t have a chromosome browser and they didn’t have raw data file download capability, all of which their competitors had upon first release.  All they did have was a list of your matches, with their trees listed, with shakey leaves if you shared a common ancestor on your tree.  The implication, was, and is, of course, that if you have a DNA match and a shakey leaf, that IS your link, your genetic link, to each other.  Unfortunately, that is NOT the case, as CeCe Moore documented in her blog from Rootstech (starting just below the pictures) as an illustration of WHY we so desperately need a chromosome browser tool.

In a nutshell, Ancestry showed the wrong shakey leaf as the DNA connection – as proven by the fact that both of CeCe’s parents have tested at Ancestry and the shakey leaf person doesn’t match the requisite parent.  And there wasn’t just one, not two, but three instances of this.  What this means is, of course, that the DNA match and the shakey leaf match are entirely independent of each other.  In fact, you could have several common ancestors, but the DNA at any particular location comes only from one on either Mom or Dad’s side – any maybe not even the shakey leaf person.

So what Ancestry customers are receiving is a list of people they match and possible links, but most of them have no idea that this is the case, and blissfully believe they have found their genetic connection.  They have found a genealogical cousin, and it MIGHT be the genetic connection.  But then again, they could have found that cousin simply by searching for the same ancestor in Ancestry’s data base.  No DNA needed.

Ancestry has added a search feature, allowed raw data file downloads (thank you) and they have updated their ethnicity predictions.  The ethnicity predictions are certainly different, dramatically different, but equally as unrealistic.  See the Ethnicity Makeovers section for more on this.  The search function helps, but what we really need is the chromosome browser, which they have steadfastly avoided promising.  Instead, they have said that they will give us “something better,” but nothing has materialized.

I want to take this opportunity, to say, as loudly as possible, that TRUST ME IS NOT ACCEPTABLE in any way, shape or form when it comes to genetic matching.  I’m not sure what Ancestry has in mind by the way of “better,” but it if it’s anything like the mediocrity with which their existing DNA products have been rolled out, neither I nor any other serious genetic genealogist will be interested, satisfied or placated.

Regardless, it’s been nearly 2 years now.  Ancestry has the funds to do development.  They are not a small company.  This is obviously not a priority because they don’t need to develop this feature.  Why is this?  Because they can continue to sell tests and to give shakey leaves to customers, most of whom don’t understand the subtle “untruth” inherent in that leaf match – so are quite blissfully happy.

In years past, I worked in the computer industry when IBM was the Big Dog against whom everyone else competed.  I’m reminded of an old joke.  The IBM sales rep got married, and on his wedding night, he sat on the edge of the bed all night long regaling his bride in glorious detail with stories about just how good it was going to be….

You can sign a petition asking Ancestry to provide a chromosome browser here, and you can submit your request directly to Ancestry as well, although to date, this has not been effective.

The most frustrating aspect of this situation is that Ancestry, with their plethora of trees, savvy marketing and captive audience testers really was positioned to “do it right,” and hasn’t, at least not yet.  They seem to be more interested in selling kits and providing shakey leaves that are misleading in terms of what they mean than providing true tools.  One wonders if they are afraid that their customers will be “less happy” when they discover the truth and not developing a chromosome browser is a way to keep their customers blissfully in the dark.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/03/21/downloading-ancestrys-autosomal-dna-raw-data-file/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/03/24/ancestry-needs-another-push-chromosome-browser/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/10/17/ancestrys-updated-v2-ethnicity-summary/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/06/21/new-search-features-at-ancestrydna-and-a-sneak-peek-at-new-ethnicity-estimates/

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/03/ancestrydna-raw-data-and-rootstech.html

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/09/15/dna-disappointment/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/09/13/ancestrydna-begins-rollout-of-update/

Ancient DNA

This has been a huge year for advances in sequencing ancient DNA, something once thought unachievable.  We have learned a great deal, and there are many more skeletal remains just begging to be sequenced.  One absolutely fascinating find is that all people not African (and some who are African through backmigration) carry Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA.  Just this week, evidence of yet another archaic hominid line has been found in Neanderthal DNA and on Christmas Day, yet another article stating that type 2 Diabetes found in Native Americans has roots in their Neanderthal ancestors. Wow!

Closer to home, by several thousand years is the suggestion that haplogroup R did not exist in Europe after the ice age, and only later, replaced most of the population which, for males, appears to have been primarily haplogroup G.  It will be very interesting as the data bases of fully sequenced skeletons are built and compared.  The history of our ancestors is held in those precious bones.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/01/10/decoding-and-rethinking-neanderthals/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/07/04/ancient-dna-analysis-from-canada/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/07/10/5500-year-old-grandmother-found-using-dna/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/10/25/ancestor-of-native-americans-in-asia-was-30-western-eurasian/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/11/12/2013-family-tree-dna-conference-day-2/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/11/22/native-american-gene-flow-europe-asia-and-the-americas/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/05/400000-year-old-dna-from-spain-sequenced/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/10/16/identifying-otzi-the-icemans-relatives/

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/12/recordings-of-royal-societys-ancient.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/02/richard-iii-king-is-found.html

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/22/sequencing-of-neanderthal-toe-bone-reveals-unknown-hominin-line/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/26/native-americans-neanderthal-and-denisova-admixture/

http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2013/12/ancient-dna-what-2013-has-brought.html

Sloppy Science and Sensationalist Reporting

Unfortunately, as DNA becomes more mainstream, it becomes a target for both sloppy science or intentional misinterpretation, and possibly both.  Unfortunately, without academic publication, we can’t see results or have the sense of security that comes from the peer review process, so we don’t know if the science and conclusions stand up to muster.

The race to the buck in some instances is the catalyst for this. In other cases, and not in the links below, some people intentionally skew interpretations and results in order to either fulfill their own belief agenda or to sell “products and services” that invariably report specific findings.

It’s equally as unfortunate that much of these misconstrued and sensationalized results are coming from a testing company that goes by the names of BritainsDNA, ScotlandsDNA, IrelandsDNA and YorkshiresDNA. It certainly does nothing for their credibility in the eyes of people who are familiar with the topics at hand, but it does garner a lot of press and probably sells a lot of kits to the unwary.

I hope they publish their findings so we can remove the “sloppy science” aspect of this.  Sensationalist reporting, while irritating, can be dealt with if the science is sound.  However, until the results are published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, we have no way of knowing.

Thankfully, Debbie Kennett has been keeping her thumb on this situation, occurring primarily in the British Isles.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/08/24/you-might-be-a-pict-if/

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-british-genetic-muddle-by-alistair.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/12/setting-record-straight-about-sara.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/09/private-eye-on-britainsdna.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/07/private-eye-on-prince-williams-indian.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/06/britainsdna-times-and-prince-william.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/03/sense-about-genealogical-dna-testing.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/03/sense-about-genetic-ancestry-testing.html

Citizen Science is Coming of Age

Citizen science has been slowing coming of age over the past few years.  By this, I mean when citizen scientists work as part of a team on a significant discovery or paper.  Bill Hurst comes to mind with his work with Dr. Doron Behar on his paper, A Copernican Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA from its Root or what know as the RSRS model.  As the years have progressed, more and more discoveries have been made or assisted by citizen scientists, sometimes through our projects and other times through individual research.  JOGG, the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, which is currently on hiatus waiting for Dr. Turi King, the new editor, to become available, was a great avenue for peer reviewed publication.  Recently, research projects have been set up by citizen scientists, sometimes crowd-funded, for specific areas of research.  This is a very new aspect to scientific research, and one not before utilized.

The first paper below includes the Family Tree DNA Lab, Thomas and Astrid Krahn, then with Family Tree DNA and Bonnie Schrack, genetic genealogist and citizen scientist, along with Dr. Michael Hammer from the University of Arizona and others.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/03/26/family-tree-dna-research-center-facilitates-discovery-of-ancient-root-to-y-tree/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/04/10/diy-dna-analysis-genomeweb-and-citizen-scientist-2-0/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/06/27/big-news-probable-native-american-haplogroup-breakthrough/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/07/22/citizen-science-strikes-again-this-time-in-cameroon/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/11/30/native-american-haplogroups-q-c-and-the-big-y-test/

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/03/citizen-science-helps-to-rewrite-y.html

Ethnicity Makeovers – Still Not Soup

Unfortunately, ethnicity percentages, as provided by the major testing companies still disappoint more than thrill, at least for those who have either tested at more than one lab or who pretty well know their ethnicity via an extensive pedigree chart.

Ancestry.com is by far the worse example, swinging like a pendulum from one extreme to the other.  But I have to hand it to them, their marketing is amazing.  When I signed in, about to discover that my results had literally almost reversed, I was greeted with the banner “a new you.”  Yea, a new me, based on Ancestry’s erroneous interpretation.  And by reversed, I’m serious.  I went from 80% British Isles to 6% and then from 0% Western Europe to 79%. So now, I have an old wrong one and a new wrong one – and indeed they are very different.  Of course, neither one is correct…..but those are just pesky details…

23andMe updated their ethnicity product this year as well, and fine tuned it yet another time.  My results at 23andMe are relatively accurate.  I saw very little change, but others saw more.  Some were pleased, some not.

The bottom line is that ethnicity tools are not well understood by consumers in terms of the timeframe that is being revealed, and it’s not consistent between vendors, nor are the results.  In some cases, they are flat out wrong, as with Ancestry, and can be proven.  This does not engender a great deal of confidence.  I only view these results as “interesting” or utilize them in very specific situations and then only using the individual admixture tools at www.Gedmatch.com on individual chromosome segments.

As Judy Russell says, “it’s not soup yet.”  That doesn’t mean it’s not interesting though, so long as you understand the difference between interesting and gospel.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/08/05/autosomal-dna-ancient-ancestors-ethnicity-and-the-dandelion/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/10/04/ethnicity-results-true-or-not/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/09/15/dna-disappointment/

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/09/my-updated-ethnicity-results-from.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Cruwysnews+%28Cruwys+news%29

https://dna-explained.com/2013/10/17/ancestrys-updated-v2-ethnicity-summary/

https://dna-explained.com/2013/10/19/determining-ethnicity-percentages/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/09/12/ancestrydna-launches-new-ethnicity-estimate/

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-first-look-at-chromo-2-all-my.html

Genetic Genealogy Education Goes Mainstream

With the explosion of genetic genealogy testing, as one might expect, the demand for education, and in particular, basic education has exploded as well.

I’ve written a 101 series, Kelly Wheaton wrote a series of lessons and CeCe Moore did as well.  Recently Family Tree DNA has also sponsored a series of free Webinars.  I know that at least one book is in process and very near publication, hopefully right after the first of the year.  We saw several conferences this year that provided a focus on Genetic Genealogy and I know several are planned for 2014.  Genetic genealogy is going mainstream!!!  Let’s hope that 2014 is equally as successful and that all these folks asking for training and education become avid genetic genealogists.

https://dna-explained.com/2013/08/10/ngs-series-on-dna-basics-all-4-parts/

https://sites.google.com/site/wheatonsurname/home

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2012/08/getting-started-in-dna-testing-for.html

https://dna-explained.com/2013/12/17/free-webinars-from-family-tree-dna/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/06/09/the-first-dna-day-at-the-southern-california-genealogy-society-jamboree/

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/06/the-first-ever-independent-genetic.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/10/genetic-genealogy-comes-to-ireland.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/03/wdytya-live-day-3-part-2-new-ancient.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/03/who-do-you-think-you-are-live-day-3.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/03/who-do-you-think-you-are-live-2013-days.html

http://genealem-geneticgenealogy.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-surnames-handbook-guide-to-family.html

http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Beginners%27_guides_to_genetic_genealogy

A Thank You in Closing

I want to close by taking a minute to thank the thousands of volunteers who make such a difference.  All of the project administrators at Family Tree DNA are volunteers, and according to their website, there are 7829 projects, all of which have at least one administrator, and many have multiple administrators.  In addition, everyone who answers questions on a list or board or on Facebook is a volunteer.  Many donate their time to coordinate events, groups, or moderate online facilities.  Many speak at events or for groups.  Many more write articles for publications from blogs to family newsletters.  Additionally, there are countless websites today that include DNA results…all created and run by volunteers, not the least of which is the ISOGG site with the invaluable ISOGG wiki.  Without our volunteer army, there would be no genetic genealogy community.  Thank you, one and all.

2013 has been a banner year, and 2014 holds a great deal of promise, even without any surprises.  And if there is one thing this industry is well known for….it’s surprises.  I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store for us!!!  All I can say is hold on tight….