Whole Genome Sequencing – Is It Ready for Prime Time?

Dante Labs is offering a whole genomes test for $199 this week as an early Black Friday special.

Please note that just as I was getting ready to push the publish button on this article, Veritas Genetics also jumped on the whole sequencing bandwagon for $199 for the first 1000 testers Nov. 19 and 20th. In this article, I discuss the Dante Labs test. I have NOT reviewed Veritas, their test nor terms, so the same cautions discussed below apply to them and any other company offering whole genome sequencing. The Veritas link is here.

Update – Veritas provides the VCF file for an additional $99, but does not provide FASTQ or BAM files, per their Tweet to me.

I have no affiliation with either company.

$199 (US) is actually a great price for a whole genome test, but before you click and purchase, there are some things you need to know about whole genome sequencing (WGS) and what it can and can’t do for you. Or maybe better stated, what you’ll have to do with your own results before you can utilize the information for genealogical purposes.

The four questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • Why do you want to consider whole genome testing?
  • What question(s) are you trying to answer?
  • What information do you seek?
  • What is your testing goal?

I’m going to say this once now, and I’ll say it again at the end of the article.

Whole genome sequencing tests are NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR GENEALOGICAL DNA TESTS for mitochondrial, Y or autosomal testing. Whole genome sequencing is not a genealogy magic bullet.

There are both pros and cons of this type of purchase, as with most everything. Whole genome tests are for the most experienced and technically savvy genetic genealogists who understand both working with genetics and this field well, who have already taken the vendors’ genealogy tests and are already in the Y, mitochondrial and autosomal comparison data bases.

If that’s you or you’re interested in medical information, you might want to consider a whole genome test.

Let’s start with some basics.

What Is Whole Genome Sequencing?

Whole Genome Sequencing will sequence most of your genome. Keep in mind that humans are more than 99% identical, so the only portions that you’ll care about either medically or genealogically are the portions that differ or tend to mutate. Comparing regions where you match everyone else tells you exactly nothing at all.

Exome Sequencing – A Subset of Whole Genome

Exome sequencing, a subset of whole genome sequencing is utilized for medical testing. The Exome is the region identified as the portions most likely to mutate and that hold medically relevant information. You can read about the benefits and challenges of exome testing here.

I have had my Exome sequenced twice, once at Helix and once at Genos, now owned by NantOmics. Currently, NantOmics does not have a customer sign-in and has acquired my DNA sequence as part of the absorption of Genos. I’ll be writing about that separately. There is always some level of consumer risk in dealing with a startup.

I wrote about Helix here. Helix sequences your Exome (plus) so that you can order a variety of DNA based or personally themed products from their marketplace, although I’m not convinced about the utility of even the legitimacy of some of the available tests, such as the “Wine Explorer.”

On the other hand, the world-class The National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project now utilizes Helix for their testing, as does Spencer Well’s company, Insitome.

You can also pay to download your Exome sequence data separately for $499.

Autosomal Testing for Genealogy

Both whole genome and Exome testing are autosomal testing, meaning that they test chromosomes 1-22 (as opposed to Y and mitochondrial DNA) but the number of autosomal locations varies vastly between the various types of tests.

The locations selected by the genealogy testing companies are a subset of both the whole genome and the Exome. The different vendors that compare your DNA for genealogy generally utilize between 600,000 and 900,000 chip-specific locations that they have selected as being inclined to mutate – meaning that we can obtain genealogically relevant information from those mutations.

Some vendors (for example, 23andMe and Ancestry) also include some medical SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) on their chips, as both have formed medical research alliances with various companies.

Whole genome and Exome sequencing includes these same locations, BUT, the whole genome providers don’t compare the files to other testers nor reduce the files to the locations useful for genealogical comparisons. In other words, they don’t create upload files for you.

The following chart is not to scale, but is meant to convey the concept that the Exome is a subset of the whole genome, and the autosomal vendors’ selected SNPs, although not the same between the companies, are all subsets of the Exome and full genome.

I have not had my whole genome sequenced because I have seen no purpose for doing so, outside of curiosity.

This is NOT to imply that you shouldn’t. However, here are some things to think about.

Whole Genome Sequencing Questions

Coverage – Medical grade coverage is considered to be 30X, meaning an average of 30 scans of every targeted location in your genome. Some will have more and some will have less. This means that your DNA is scanned thirty different times to minimize errors. If a read error happens once or twice, it’s unlikely that the same error will happen several more times. You can read about coverage here and here.

Genomics Education Programme [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.

Here’s an example where the read length of Read 1 is 18, and the depth of the location shown in light blue is 4, meaning 4 actual reads were obtained. If the goal was 30X, then this result would be very poor. If the goal was 4X then this location is a high quality result for a 4X read.

In the above example, if the reference value, meaning the value at the light blue location for most people is T, then 4 instances of a T means you don’t have a mutation. On the other hand, if T is not the reference value, then 4 instances of T means that a mutation has occurred in that location.

Dante Labs coverage information is provided from their webpage as follows:

Other vendors coverage values will differ, but you should always know what you are purchasing.

Ownership – Who owns your data? What happens to your DNA itself (the sample) and results (the files) under normal circumstances and if the company is sold. Typically, the assets of the company, meaning your information, are included during any acquisition.

Does the company “share, lease or sell” your information as an additional revenue stream with other entities? If so, do they ask your permission each and every time? Do they perform internal medical research and then sell the results? What, if anything, is your DNA going to be used for other than the purpose for which you purchased the test? What control do you exercise over that usage?

Read the terms and conditions carefully for every vendor before purchasing.

File Delivery – Three types of files are generated during a whole genome test.

The VCF (Variant Call Format) which details your locations that are different from the reference file. A reference file is the “normal” value for humans.

A FASTQ file which includes the nucleotide sequence along with a corresponding quality score. Mutations in a messy area or that are not consistent may not be “real” and are considered false positives.

The BAM (Binary Alignment Map) file is used for Y DNA SNP alignment. The output from a BAM file is displayed in Family Tree DNA’s Big Y browser for their customers. Are these files delivered to you? If so, how? Family Tree DNA delivers their Big Y DNA BAM files as free downloads.

Typically whole genome data is too large for a download, so it is sent on a disc drive to you. Dante provides this disc for BAM and FASTQ files for 59 Euro ($69 US) plus shipping. VCF files are available free, but if you’re going to order this product, it would be a shame not to receive everything available.

Version – Discoveries are still being made to the human genome. If you thought we’re all done with that, we’re not. As new regions are mapped successfully, the addresses for the rest change, and a new genomic map is created. Think of this as street addresses and a new cluster of houses is now inserted between existing houses. All of the houses are periodically renumbered.

Today, typically results are delivered in either of two versions: hg19(GRVH37) or hg38(GRCH38). What happens when the next hg (human genome) version is released?

When you test with a vendor who uses your data for comparison as a part of a product they offer, they must realign your data so that the comparison will work for all of their customers (think Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, for example), but a vendor who only offers the testing service has no motivation to realign your output file for you. You only pay for sequencing, not for any after-the-fact services.

Platform – Multiple sequencing platforms are available, and not all platforms are entirely compatible with other competing platforms. For example, the Illumina platform and chips may or may not be compatible with the Affymetrix platform (now Thermo Fisher) and chips. Ask about chip compatibility if you have a specific usage in mind before you purchase.

Location – Where is your DNA actually being sequenced? Are you comfortable having your DNA sent to that geographic location for processing? I’m personally fine with anyplace in either the US, Canada or most of Europe, but other locations maybe not so much. I’d have to evaluate the privacy policies, applicable laws, non-citizen recourse and track record of those countries.

Last but perhaps most important, what do you want to DO with this file/information?

Utilization

What you receive from whole genome sequencing is files. What are you going to do with those files? How can you use them? What is your purpose or goal? How technically skilled are you, and how well do you understand what needs to be done to utilize those files?

A Specific Medical Question

If you have a particular question about a specific medical location, Dante allows you to ask the question as soon as you purchase, but you must know what question to ask as they note below.

You can click on their link to view their report on genetic diseases, but keep in mind, this is the disease you specifically ask about. You will very likely NOT be able to interpret this report without a genetic counselor or physician specializing in this field.

Take a look at both sample reports, here.

Health and Wellness in General

The Dante Labs Health and Wellness Report appears to be a collaborative effort with Sequencing.com and also appears to be included in the purchase price.

I uploaded both my Exome and my autosomal DNA results from the various testing companies (23andMe V3 and V4, Ancestry V1 and V2, Family Tree DNA, LivingDNA, DNA.Land) to Promethease for evaluation and there was very little difference between the health-related information returned based on my Exome data and the autosomal testing vendors. The difference is, of course, that the Exome coverage is much deeper (and therefore more reliable) because that test is a medical test, not a consumer genealogy test and more locations are covered. Whole genome testing would be more complete.

I wrote about Promethease here and here. Promethease does accept VCF files from various vendors who provide whole genome testing.

None of these tests are designed or meant for medical interpretation by non-professionals.

Medical Testing

If you plan to test with the idea that should your physician need a genetics test, you’re already ahead of the curve, don’t be so sure. It’s likely that your physician will want a genetics test using the latest technology, from their own lab, where they understand the quality measures in place as well as how the data is presented to them. They are unlikely to accept a test from any other source. I know, because I’ve already had this experience.

Genealogical Comparisons

The power of DNA testing for genealogy is comparing your data to others. Testing in isolation is not useful.

Mitochondrial DNA – I can’t tell for sure based on the sample reports, but it appears that you receive your full sequence haplogroup and probably your mutations as well from Dante. They don’t say which version of mitochondrial DNA they utilize.

However, without the ability to compare to other testers in a database, what genealogical benefit can you derive from this information?

Furthermore, mitochondrial DNA also has “versions,” and converting from an older to a newer version is anything but trivial. Haplogroups are renamed and branches sawed from one part of the mitochondrial haplotree and grafted onto another. A testing (only) vendor that does not provide comparisons has absolutely no reason to update your results and can’t be expected to do so. V17 is the current build, released in February 2016, with the earlier version history here.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor who tests your full sequence mitochondrial DNA, compares it to other testers and updates your results when a new version is released. You can read more about this process, here and how to work with mtDNA results here.

Y DNA – Dante Labs provides BAM files, but other whole genome sequencers may not. Check before you purchase if you are interested in Y DNA. Again, you’ll need to be able to analyze the results and submit them for comparison. If you are not capable of doing that, you’ll need to pay a third party like either YFull or FGS (Full Genome Sequencing) or take the Big Y test at Family Tree DNA who has the largest Y Database worldwide and compares results.

Typically whole genome testers are looking for Y DNA SNPs, not STR values in BAM files. STR (short tandem repeat) values are the results that you receive when you purchase the 37, 67 or 111 tests at Family Tree DNA, as compared to the Big Y test which provides you with SNPs in order to resolve your haplogroup at the most granular level possible. You can read about the difference between SNPs and STRs here.

As with SNP data, you’ll need outside assistance to extract your STR information from the whole genome sequence information, none of which will be able to be compared with the testers in the Family Tree DNA data base. There is also an issue of copy-count standardization between vendors.

You can read about how to work with STR results and matches here and Big Y results here.

Autosomal DNA – None of the major providers that accept transfers (MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, GedMatch) accept whole genome files. You would need to find a methodology of reducing the files from the whole genome to the autosomal SNPs accepted by the various vendors. If the vendors adopt the digital signature technology recently proposed in this paper by Yaniv Erlich et al to prevent “spoofed files,” modified files won’t be accepted by vendors.

Summary

Whole genome testing, in general, will and won’t provide you with the following:

Desired Feature Whole Genome Testing
Mitochondrial DNA Presumed full haplogroup and mutations provided, but no ability for comparison to other testers. Upload to Family Tree DNA, the only vendor doing comparisons not available.
Y DNA Presume Y chromosome mostly covered, but limited ability for comparison to other testers for either SNPs or STRs. Must utilize either YFull or FGS for SNP/STR analysis. Upload to Family Tree DNA, the vendor with the largest data base not available when testing elsewhere.
Autosomal DNA for genealogy Presume all SNPs covered, but file output needs to be reduced to SNPs offered/processed by vendors accepting transfers (Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, GedMatch) and converted to their file formats. Modified files may not be accepted in the future.
Medical (consumer interest) Accuracy is a factor of targeted coverage rate and depth of actual reads. Whole genome vendors may or may not provide any analysis or reports. Dante does but for limited number of conditions. Promethease accepts VCF files from vendors and provides more.
Medical (physician accepted) Physician is likely to order a medical genetics test through their own institution. Physicians may not be willing to risk a misdiagnosis due to a factor outside of their control such as an incompatible human genome version.
Files VCF, FASTQ and BAM may or may not be included with results, and may or may not be free.
Coverage Coverage and depth may or may not be adequate. Multiple extractions (from multiple samples) may or may not be included with the initial purchase (if needed) or may be limited. Ask.
Updates Vendors who offer sequencing as a part of a products that include comparison to other testers will update your results version to the current reference version, such as hg38 and mitochondrial V17. Others do not, nor can they be expected to provide that service.
Version Inquire as to the human genome (hg) version or versions available to you, and which version(s) are acceptable to the third party vendors you wish to utilize. When the next version of the human genome is released, your file will no longer be compatible because WGS vendors are offering sequencing only, not results comparisons to databases for genealogy.
Ownership/Usage Who owns your sample? What will it be utilized for, other than the service you ordered, by whom and for what purposes? Will you we able to authorize or decline each usage?
Location Where geographically is your DNA actually being sequenced and stored? What happens to your actual DNA sample itself and the resulting files? This may not be the location where you return your swab kit.

The Question – Will I Order?

The bottom line is that if you are a genealogist, seeking genetic information for genealogical purposes, you’re much better off to test with the standard and well know genealogy vendors who offer compatibility and comparisons to other testers.

If you are a pioneer in this field, have the technical ability required to make use of a whole genome test and are willing to push the envelope, then perhaps whole genome sequencing is for you.

I am considering ordering the Dante Labs whole genome test out of simple curiosity and to upload to Promethease to determine if the whole genome test provides me with something potentially medically relevant (positive or negative) that autosomal and Exome testing did not.

I’m truly undecided. Somehow, I’m having trouble parting with the $199 plus $69 (hard drive delivery by request when ordering) plus shipping for this limited functionality. If I was a novice genetic genealogist or was not a technology expert, I would definitely NOT order this test for the reasons mentioned above.

A whole genome test is not in any way a genealogical replacement for a full sequence mitochondrial test, a Y STR test, a Y SNP test or an autosomal test along with respective comparison(s) in the data bases of vendors who don’t allow uploads for these various functions.

The simple fact that 30X whole genome testing is available for $199 plus $69 plus shipping is amazing, given that 15 years ago that same test cost 2.7 billion dollars. However, it’s still not the magic bullet for genealogy – at least, not yet.

Today, the necessary integration simply doesn’t exist. You pay the genealogy vendors not just for the basic sequencing, but for the additional matching and maintenance of their data bases, not to mention the upgrading of your sequence as needed over time.

If I had to choose between spending the money for the WGS test or taking the genealogy tests, hands down, I’d take the genealogy tests because of the comparisons available. Comparison and collaboration is absolutely crucial for genealogy. A raw data file buys me nothing genealogically.

If I had not previously taken an Exome test, I would order this test in order to obtain the free Dante Health and Wellness Report which provides limited reporting and to upload my raw data file to Promethease. The price is certainly right.

However, keep in mind that once you view health information, you cannot un-see it, so be sure you do really want to know.

What do you plan to do? Are you going to order a whole genome test?

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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 900 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, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Family Tree DNA’s PUBLIC Y DNA Haplotree

It’s well known that as a result of Big Y testing that Family Tree DNA has amassed a huge library of Y DNA full sequence results that have revealed new SNPs, meaning new haplotree branches, for testers. That’s how the Y haplotree is built. I wrote about this in the article, Family Tree DNA Names 100,000 New Y DNA SNPs.

Up until now, the tree was only available on each tester’s personal pages, but that’s not the case anymore.

Share the Wealth

Today, Family Tree DNA has made the tree public. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU Family Tree DNA.

To access the tree, click here, but DON’T sign in. Scroll to the bottom of the page. Keep scrolling, and scrolling…until you see the link under Community that says “Y-DNA Haplotree.” Click there.

The New Public Haplotree

The new public haplotree is amazing.

This tree isn’t just for people who took the Big Y test, but includes anyone who has a haplogroup confirming SNP OR took the Big Y test. Predicted haplogroups, of course, aren’t included.

Each branch includes the location of the most recent known ancestor of individuals who carry that terminal SNP, shown with a flag.

The branches are color coded by the following:

  • Light blue = haplogroup root branches
  • Teal or blue/green = branches with no descendants
  • Dark blue = branches that aren’t roots and that do have at least one descendant branch

The flag location is determined by the most distant known ancestor, so if you don’t have a “Most Distant Known Ancestor” completed, with a location, please, please, complete that field by clicking on “Manage Personal Information” beneath your profile picture on your personal page, then on Genealogy, shown below. Be sure to click on Save when you’re finished!

View Haplotree By

Viewing the haplotree is not the same as searching. “View by” is how the tree is displayed.

Click on the “View By” link to display the options: country, surnames or variant.

You can view by the country (flags), which is the default, the surname or the variants.

Country view, with the flags, is the default. Surname view is shown below.

The third view is variant view. By the way, a variant is another word for SNP. For haplogroup R-M207, there are 8,202 variants, meaning SNPs occurring beneath, or branches.

Reports

On any of the branch links, you’ll see three dots at the far right.

To view reports by country or surname, click on the dots to view the menu, then click on the option you desire.

Country statistics above, surname below. How cool is this!

Searching

The search function is dependent on the view currently selected. If you are in the surname view, then the search function says “Search by Surname” which allows you to enter a surname. I entered Estes.

If I’m not currently on the haplogroup R link, the system tells me that there are 2 Estes results on R. If I’m on the R link, the system just tells me how many results it found for that surname on this branch and if there are others on other branches.

The tree then displays the direct path between R-M207 (haplogroup R root) and the Estes branch.

…lots of branches in-between…

The great thing about this is that I can now see the surnames directly above my ancestral surname, if they meet the criteria to be displayed.

Display criteria is that two people match on the same branch AND that they both have selected public sharing. Requiring two surnames per branch confirms that result.

If you want to look at a specific variant, you can enter that variant name (BY490) in the search box and see the surnames associated with the variant. The click on “View by” to change the view from country (maps) to surnames to variants.

Change from country to surname.

And from surname to variants.

What geeky fun!!!

Go to Branch Name

If you want to research a specific branch, you can go there directly by utilizing the “Go to Branch Name” function, but you must enter the haplogroup in front of the branch name. R-BY490 for example.

When you’re finished with this search, REMOVE THE BRANCH NAME from the search box, if you’re going to do any other searches, or the system thinks you’re searching within that branch name.

My Result Isn’t Showing

In order for your results to be included on the tree, you must have fulfilled all 3 of these criteria:

  • Taken either a SNP or Big Y test
  • Opted in for public sharing
  • More than one result for that branch with the same exact surname

If you think your results should be showing and they aren’t, check your privacy settings by clicking the orange “Manage Personal Information” under your profile picture on your main page, then on the Privacy and Sharing tab.

Still not showing? See if you match another male of the same surname on the Big Y or SNP test at the same level.

If your surname isn’t included, you can recruit testers from that branch of your family.

How Can I Use This?

I’m like a kid with a new toy.

If any of your family surnames are rather unique, search to see if they are on the tree.

Hey look, my Vannoy line is on haplogroup I! Hmmm, clear the schedule, I’m going to be busy all day!

Every haplogroup has a story – and that story belongs to the men, and their families, who carry that haplogroup! I gather the haplogroups for each of my family surnames and this public tree just made this task much, MUCH easier.

Discovering More

If the testers have joined the appropriate surname project, you may also be able to find them in that project to see if they descend from a common line with you. To check and see, click here and then scroll down to the “Search Surname” section of the main Family Tree DNA webpage and enter the surname.

You can see if there is a project for your surname, and if not, your surname may be included in other projects.

Click on any of those links to view the project or contact the (volunteer) project administrators.

Want to search for another surname, the project search box is shown at the right in this view.

What gems can you find?

Want to Test?

If you are a male and you want to take the Big Y test or order a haplogroup confirming SNP, or you are a female who would like to sponsor a test for a male with a surname you’re interested in, you can purchase the Big Y test, here. As a bonus, you will also receive all of the STR markers for genealogical comparison as well.

Wonder what you can learn? You will be searching for matches to other males with the same surname. You can learn about your history. Confirm your ancestral line. Learn where they came from. You can help the scientific effort and contribute to the tree. For more information, read the article, Working with Y DNA – Your Dad’s Story.

Have fun!!!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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 900 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, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

 

 

 

 

Family Tree DNA Names 100,000 New Y DNA SNPs

Recently, Family Tree DNA named 100,000 new SNPs on the Y DNA haplotree, bringing their total to over 153,000. Given that Family Tree DNA does the majority of the Y DNA NGS “full sequence” testing in the industry with their Big Y product, it’s not at all surprising that they have discovered these new SNPs, currently labeled as “Unnamed Variants” on customers’ Big Y Results pages.

The surprising part was twofold:

Family Tree DNA single-handedly propelled science forward with the introduction of the Big Y test. They likely have performed more NGS Y chromosome tests than the entire rest of the world combined. Assuredly, they have commercially.

Originally, in the early 2000s, a new SNP wasn’t named until there were three independent instances of discovery. That pre-NGS “rule” didn’t take into account three men from the same family line because very few men had been tested at that point in time, let alone multiple men from the same family. This type of testing was originally only done in an academic environment. A caveat was put into place by Family Tree DNA when they started discovering SNPs that the 3 individuals had to be from separate family lines and the SNP in question had to be verified by Sanger sequencing before being considered for name assignment and tree placement. At that time, they were pushing the scientific envelope.

In recent years, that criteria changed to two individuals. With this new development, the SNP is being named with one reliable occurrence, BUT, the SNP still is not being placed on the tree without two high quality occurrences.

Naming the SNPs early while awaiting that second occurrence allows discussion about the validity of that particular finding. Family Tree DNA was not the first to move to this practice.

Some time ago, two other firms began analyzing the BAM files produced by Family Tree DNA for an additional analysis fee. Those firms began naming SNPs before three occurrences had been documented, a practice which has been well-accepted by the genetic genealogy community. Everyone seems to be anxious to see their SNP(s) named and placed on the tree, although there is little consensus or standardization about the criteria to place a SNP on the tree or the line between high, medium and low quality SNP read results.

The definition of a new haplogroup, meaning a high quality named SNP, is a new branch in the Y tree. Every new SNP mutation has the potential to be carried for many generations – or to go extinct in one or two.

As the industry has matured, SNP naming procedures have evolved too.

How SNP Names Are Assigned

The lab or entity that discovers a SNP gets to name the SNP. That means that their abbreviation is appended to the beginning of the SNP number, thereby in essence crediting that entity for the discovery. Clearly more conservative namers can’t append their initials to nearly as many SNPs as aggressive namers.

Here’s a list of the naming entities, maintained by ISOGG.

In 2006, the first year that ISOGG compiled a SNP tree, the number of Y DNA haplogroups was 460, including singletons, not tens of thousands. No one would ever have believed this SNP tsunami would happen, let alone in such a short time.

Naming SNPs

Family Tree DNA waiting to name SNPs until 3 were discovered in unrelated family lines, and requiring confirmation by Sanger sequencing allowed the analysis entities to “discover” and name the SNP with their own preceding prefix by implementing less stringent naming criteria. It also increased the possibility of dual naming, a phenomenon that occurs when multiple entities name the same SNP about the same time.

Some people who maintain trees list all of these equivalent SNPs that were named for the exact same mutation, at the same time. Family Tree DNA does not. If the same SNP is named more than once, Family Tree DNA selects one to name the tree branch – in the example below, ZP58. Checking YBrowse, this SNP was also named FGC11161 and ZP56.2.

However, you can see, that SNP ZP58 has several other SNPs keeping it company on the same branch, at least for now.

The FGC SNPs above are only assigned as branch equivalents of ZP58 until a discovery is made that will further divide this branch into two or more branches. That’s how the tree is built.

Sometimes defining a unique SNP is not as straightforward as one would think, especially not utilizing scan technology.

While YFull doesn’t do testing, Full Genomes Corporation does. All of the YFull named SNPs are a result of interpreting BAM files of individuals who have tested elsewhere and naming SNPs that the testing labs didn’t name.

Today, YBrowse, also maintained by ISOGG in conjunction with Thomas Krahn shows the following three organizations with the highest named SNP totals:

  • Family Tree DNA – BY and L prefixes, (L from before the Big Y test) – 153,902
  • YFull – Y prefix – 133,571 (plus 6447 YP SNPs submitted by citizen scientists for verification)
  • Full Genomes Corporation – FGC prefix – 81,363

Just because a SNP is named doesn’t mean that it has been placed on the haplotree. Today, Family Tree DNA has just over 14,100 branches on their tree, with a total of 102,104 SNPs (from all naming sources) placed on their tree. That number increases daily as the following placement criteria is met:

  • Read quality confirmed by the lab
  • Two or more instances of the SNP

SNPs Applied to Family History

All SNPs discovered through the Big Y process and named by Family Tree DNA begin with BY, so my Estes lineage is BY490. This mutation (SNP) occurred since Robert Eastye born in 1555, because one of his son’s descendants carries only BY482 and the descendants of another son carry BY490.

In the pedigree above, kit 166011, to the far right is BY482 and the rest are all BY490, which is one mutation below BY482 on the haplotree.

This means of course that the mutation BY490, occurred someplace between the common ancestor of all of these men, Robert Eastye born in 1555, and Abraham Estes born in 1647. All of Abraham’s descendants carry BY490 along with BY482, but kit 166011 does not. Therefore, we know within two generations of when BY490 occurred. Furthermore, if someone descended from one of Abraham’s brothers (Robert, Silvester, Thomas, Richard, Nicholas or John,) represented on this chart by Richard, we could tell from that result if the mutation occurred between Robert and Silvester, or between Silvester and Abraham.

Unnamed Variants Versus Named SNPs

As it turns out, reserving a location for the Unnamed Variants in the SNP tree is much like making a dinner reservation. It’s yours to claim, assuming everyone shows up.

In the case of Unnamed Variants, Family Tree DNA reserved the SNP name and the SNP will be placed on the tree as soon as a second occurrence is discovered and the SNP is entirely vetted for quality and accuracy. Palindromic and high repeat regions were excluded unless manually verified.

While this article isn’t going to delve into how to determine read quality, every SNP placed on the tree at Family Tree DNA is individually evaluated to assure that they are not being placed erroneously or that a “mutation” isn’t really a misalignment or read issue.

Currently, Family Tree DNA is working their way through the entire haplotree, placing SNPs in the correct location. As you can see, they have more than 100,000 to go and more SNPs are discovered every day.

In the case of the Estes men, you can see their branch placement in the much larger tree.

As we learn more, sometimes branch placements move.

Is Your Unnamed Variant on the List?

ISOGG maintains an index of BY SNPs. BY of course equates to Big Y.

Before using the index, you first need to sign on to your Family Tree DNA account and look at your Unnamed Variants on your Big Y personal page.

If you don’t have any Unnamed Variants, that means all of your Unnamed Variants have already been named. Congratulations!

If you do have Unnamed Variants, click on the position number to take a look on the browser.

This unnamed variant result is clearly a valid read, with almost every forward and reverse read showing the same mutation, all high-quality reads and no “messy” areas nearby that might suggest an alignment issue. You can read more about how to work with your Big Y results in the article, Working With the New Big Y Results (hg38).

Next, go to the ISOGG BY Index page and enter the position number of the variant in the search box – in this case, 13311600.

In this case, 13311600 is not included in the BY Index because YFull already beat Family Tree DNA to the punch and named this SNP.

How do I know that? Because after seeing that there was no result for 13311600 on the ISOGG page, I checked YBrowse.

You can utilize YBrowse to see if an Unnamed Variant has previously been named. You can see the SNP name, Y93760, directly above the left side of the red bar below. The “Y” of course tells you that YFull was the naming entity. (Note that you can click on any image to enlarge.)

YBrowse is more fussy and complex to use than doing the simple ISOGG search. You only need to utilize YBrowse if your Unnamed Variant isn’t listed in the BY ISOGG search tool.

To use YBrowse successfully, you must enter the search in the format of “chrY:13311600..1311600” without the quotation marks and where the number is the variant location, and then click search.

The next Unnamed Variant, 14070341, is included in the ISOGG search list, so no need to utilize YBrowse for this one.

To see the new name that this SNP will be awarded when/if it’s placed on the tree, click on the link “BY SNPs 100K.” You’ll see the page, below.

Then, scroll down or use your browser search to find the variant location.

There we go – this variant will be named BY105782 as soon as Family Tree DNA places it on the tree! I’ll be watching!

Where will it be located on the tree, and will it be the new Estes terminal SNP, meaning the SNP that defines our haplogroup? I can’t wait to find out! It’s so much fun to be a part of scientific discovery.

If you’re a male and haven’t taken the Big Y test, it’s on sale now for Father’s Day. You can play a role in scientific discovery too. Does your Y DNA carry undiscovered SNPs?

A big thank you to Family Tree DNA for making resources available to answer questions about their new SNPs and naming processes.

___________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears 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 900 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, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Family Tree DNA’s Y-500 is Free for Big Y Customers

Did you notice something new on your Y DNA results page at Family Tree DNA this week? If not quite yet, you will soon if you have taken the Big Y test. There’s a surprise waiting for you. You can sign in here to take a look.

The first thing you might notice is that the Big Y has been renamed to the Big Y500. However, the results I want you to take a look at aren’t under the Big Y500 tab, but on your regular Y DNA Y-STR Results tab. Click to take a look

In the past, 5 panels of Y DNA STR markers have been available:

  • Panel 1 – 1-12 markers
  • Panel 2 – 13-25 markers
  • Panel 3 – 26-37 markers
  • Panel 4 – 38-67 markers
  • Panel 5 – 68-111 markers

Now, a 6th panel has been added:

  • Panel 6 – 112-550 markers

However, there is a difference between the first 5 panels and the 6th panel.

Why is it Called the Y500?

If there is a total of 550 markers reported, why is this product called the Y500?

That’s a great question with an even greater answer.

Family Tree DNA actually tests for a total of 550 markers. Values for markers between 112 and 550 are provided FOR FREE when you take a Big Y test.

Family Tree DNA guarantees that you will receive at least a total of 500 markers, or they will rerun your Big Y test at no cost to you to obtain enough additional markers to reach 500. (The 500 number assumes that you have all 111 STR markers. If you have not tested all of the STR panels, the number will be lower by the number of STR values you haven’t tested. This means that if you took the Y67, but not the Y111, your 500 guarantee number would be 500-44, where 44 is the number of markers in the Y111 panel that you have not yet ordered.)

The best part?

The markers above 111 are ENTIRELY FREE with a Big Y test – for both existing customers who have already taken that test, and all future customers too. Yes, you read that right. If you took the Big Y previously, you are receiving the markers in panel 6, 112-550 absolutely free.

How does it get better than free?

The Big Y Uses a Different Technology

There is a difference between the first 111 markers and the markers from 112-550, meaning that they are read using different technologies

The results for the first 111 STR markers are produced using a technology that targets these specific areas and is very accurate.

The results for the 112-550 markers is produced using next generation sequencing (NGS) on a different testing platform than the Y-111 results. NGS, utilized for the Big Y, scans the Y chromosome rather than targeting specific locations. This scanning process is repeated several times, with values at specific locations recorded.

Scanning

Using NGS technology, your DNA is scanned multiple times, with the number of scans, such as 25 or 30, referred to as the coverage level. The goal is for multiple/most/all scans to find the same value at the same location consistently. Because of the nature of scanning technology, this sometimes doesn’t happen, for various reasons, including “no-calls” which is when for some reason, the scans simply can’t get a reliable read at that location in your DNA. No calls are typical and occur at low levels in everyone’s scan.

Here’s an example from a Big Y scan viewing the actual results using the Big Y chromosome browser.

The blue bars are forward reads and the green bars are reverse reads. Dark blue and dark green bars indicate high quality scans. Medium blue and green are medium quality scans and faintly colored bars indicate poor quality. If you take a look at where the little black arrow at the top is pointing, you can see that a T is the expected value at that location.

When the expected value as determined in the human reference genome is found at that location, nothing is recorded in that column. However, when a different result is discovered, like A in this case, it’s noted and highlighted with pink. We can see that there are 5 As on forward and reverse strands of high quality, then a low quality read, 6 more high quality reads, followed by two reads that show the expected value (nothing recorded) and then three more high quality A reads.

The goal is to determine what actual value resides at that location, and when that value is determined, it’s referred to as a “call.”

For a “call” to be made, meaning the determination of the actual value in that position, the person or software making the call must take several quality factors into consideration.

In this case, the number of high quality reads indicating the derived (mutation) value of “A” allows this location to be definitively called as “A.” Because several other men previously tested have A at this location, a SNP name has already been assigned to this mutation – in this case, A126 in haplogroup R.

However, if you look to the right and left of the arrow to the next two browser locations that contain mutations, you can see in both cases that there are less than half of the column locations that are marked as pink with derived values (mutations), meaning those not expected when compared to the reference model.

These types of locations which are neither clearly ancestral (reference model) nor derived values are when value judgements come into play in terms of deciding which value, the ancestral or derived, is actually present in the DNA of the person being tested.

Some people will call a SNP with only one mutation reported out of 20 or 30 scans. Some people will call a SNP with 2 scans; some with 5, and so forth. Generally, Family Tree DNA uses a minimum threshold of 5 high quality scans to call a mutation value.

Now, let’s talk about how STR values, meaning results displayed in those locations between 112-550, are found in your Big Y NGS data file. You can read about the difference between SNPs and STRs in the article, STRs vs SNPs, Multiple DNA Personalities.

STRs

Short tandem repeats, known as STR values, are the numbers reported in your STR panels. These are stutters of DNA, kind of like the copy machine got stuck in that one area for a few copies.

For example, in haplogroup R, for this person, the value of 13, meaning 13 repeats of a particular sequence, is found at marker DYS393.

Repeated sequences are in essence inserted in-between SNPs in some DNA regions, and the number of repeats reported in STR marker panels is the number of stutters, or repeats, of a particular repeated sequence.

That sounds simpler than it is, because how to count a sequence isn’t always the same. Let’s look at an example showing 20 consecutive DNA positions.

The actual values are shown in the value row. However, these values can be counted in a number of different ways. I’ve also added a “stray read” at location 13 which causes confusion.

At location 13, we show a value of G which does not fit into the repeat pattern. How do we interpret that, and what do we do with it?

The repeat pattern itself is a matter of where you start counting, and how you count.

I’ve color coded the repeats with blue and yellow. Incomplete repeats are red. The stray G in location 13 is green, because it breaks the repeat sequence.

In example 1, we start counting with T in position 1, and there are clearly 3 repeated groups of TACG before we hit our stray G in position 13, which stops the repeat pattern. However, after the stray G, there is one more full repeat sequence of TACG. Do we ignore the G and count the 4th TACG as part of the group, or do we count only the first 3 complete TACG sequences? The total number of repeats could be counted as either 3 or 4, depending on how we interpret the stray G in location 13.

In example 2, we start counting with the GTAC, because I was simulating a reverse read where we start at the end and work backwards. In this case, we clearly have 2 reads, then our stray G which occurs in the middle of a read. Do we ignore that stray G and call the rest of the blue GTAC surrounding the G as a repeat? That blue repeat group is followed by another yellow group. Do we count it at all, or do we simply stop with the marker count of 2 because the G is in the way and breaks the sequence? This repeat sequence could be counted as either 2, 3 or 4, depending on what you do with the G and the following sequence group, both.

Examples 3 and 4 follow the same concept and have the same questions.

All STR sequences face the issue of where to start reading. Where you begin reading can affect the number of repeat counts you wind up with, even without our stray G in position 13.

STR markers obtained from NGS sequencing face this same challenge, but it’s complicated by the issue of no-reads and the call variance that we saw in the chromosome browser where the same location is sometimes called differently on different scans, meaning we really can’t tell which is the actual value. What do we do with those?

All of this is complicated by the fact that some regions of the Y chromosome simply do not produce valid or reliable information. Different (groups of) people define this unreliable region as starting and ending in different locations. Therefore different people analyzing the same information often arrive at different answers to the same question or use marker locations that others don’t.

I suspect all of this may fall into the category of trivia you never wanted to know, but now you’ll understand why you may find different (sometimes strongly held) opinions of what is “right” when two geeky types are arguing strongly about a particular STR value as your eyes glaze over…

Here’s the bottom line – if you’re using results called by the same vendor, you don’t have to worry about whether you and someone else are being accurately compared. You and everyone else at that vendor will have your results reported using the same technology and calling methodology.

Family Tree DNA has always taken a more conservative approach, because they only want to report to customers what they know to be accurate.

You will not see low confidence values on your reports, nor calls from an unreliable region. Genealogists cannot reach reliable genealogical conclusions using unreliable data.

The Big Y 500

Because of the nature of scanned STR results, Family Tree DNA can’t guarantee that you will have a reliable read at every location. In fact, few people will have values at every location. The technology for the Y-111 markers provides a very high level of accuracy and Family Tree DNA will provide results for every 1-111 location unless you actually have a deletion, meaning no DNA in that location. However, the values of markers 112-550 are taken from the Big Y NGS scan.

Therefore, some Big Y customers will have a few markers above 111 that show a “-“ instead of results, such as FTY945 and FTY1025, shown below. A value of “0” found in markers 1-111 means that there is actually no DNA in that location, and it’s not a read error. No DNA at a specific location is heritable, meaning it can serve as a line-marker mutation, while a “no call” means that the scan couldn’t read that genetic address. No calls cannot be compared to others and should be ignored.

Before someone starts to complain about having markers with “no reads,” remember that Family Tree DNA is providing up to 439 additional markers available FOR FREE to customers who have taken (or will take) the Big Y test.

That’s right, there is no charge for these new markers. You are guaranteed 389 additional markers, but you may actually receive as many as 439, depending on how well your DNA reads. The kits I’ve checked have only been missing a couple of marker values, so these kits received 437 additional markers, far above the guaranteed 389.

Right now, matching is not included for the 112-550 markers. Matching above 111 markers may be challenging because while Family Tree DNA does guarantee that you’ll have at least 389 new marker values, those won’t be the same markers above 111 for everyone. In a worst-case scenario, you could mismatch with someone on as many as 100 markers above 111 panel, simply because both you and the person you are matching against are both missing 50 different markers each, for a total of 100 markers mismatching.

Additionally, not everyone has tested all 111 STR markers, and you will receive your 112-550 values if you have taken the Big Y test regardless of whether or not you’ve tested all 111 STR markers.

Matching

Matching on the first 111 markers is reliable because you will have an accurate value, even if the value is 0. Having no DNA at a specific location is a valid result and can be compared to other testers.

With different markers between 112 and 550 missing for different men, matching becomes very tricky. Specifically, how do we interpret mismatches? How many mismatches to we allow to still be considered a reasonable match?

Matching is an entirely different prospect when integrating the markers between 112 and 550 into the equation with a potential of up to 100 mismatching locations in that range simply from no-reads.

I had presumed that Family Tree DNA would offer matching on these additional markers. Presume is a dangerous word, I know. Matching is not offered right now, and given the complexities, I don’t know if matching as we know it will be the future or not, how reliable it would be, or how Family Tree DNA would compensate for the missing STR information that differs with each person’s test.

Furthermore, I’m not quite sure what they would do with two men who haven’t both tested to the same STR level, meaning panels 1-5, but have taken the Big Y so have values for 112-550.

Big Y Purchases

Here’s the status of Big Y tests, today:

  • New Big Y purchase if you have done no Y DNA testing at all – you will now be able to purchase a Big Y without having to previously purchase any STR markers. The 111 STR markers are now bundled into the Big Y purchase, which makes the Big Y appear more expensive than before when the STR markers had to be purchased separately before you could order a Big Y test. The Big Y plus all 111 STR markers is now $649 during the DNA Day Sale, regularly $799.
  • Already tested through 111 STRs – the Big Y is only $349 on sale right now, and $449 regularly, both significantly discounted from just a few months ago.
  • Existing customers who have taken some level of Y STR test but not the Big Y – will have to upgrade their STR test to the 111 level when ordering the Big Y. Those tests are discounted appropriately, shown in the table below.
  • Existing customers who have not tested their STR markers to 111, but have already taken the Big Y – will receive marker values from 112-550. However, they will only receive the Y STR markers below 112 for panels they have paid for. This means that if you have only tested to 37 markers, you will have results for locations 1-37, not for 38-111, but will have results for locations that read from 112-550. This would be the perfect time to upgrade so that you have a complete marker set.

Right now, Family Tree DNA is having their DNA Day Sale and it’s a great time to purchase a Big Y or to upgrade your STR markers if you don’t have the full 111. The sale pricing shown is valid through April 28th. You can click here to order.

____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears 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 900 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, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

 

Glossary – Terminal SNP

What is a Terminal SNP?

It sounds fatal doesn’t it, but don’t worry, it’s not.

The phrase Terminal SNP is generally used in conjunction with discussing Y DNA testing and haplogroup identification.

SNPs Define Haplogroups

In a nutshell, SNPs, single nucleotide polymorphisms, are the mutations that define different haplogroups. Haplogroups reach far back in time on the direct paternal, generally the surname, line.

SNPs, mutations that define haplogroups are considered to be “once in the lifetime of mankind” events that divide one haplogroup into two subgroups, or branches.

A haplogroup can be thought of as the ancient genetic clan of males – specifically their Y DNA. You might want to read the article, What is a Haplogroup?

If you test your Y DNA with Family Tree DNA, you’ll notice that you receive an estimated haplogroup with the regular Y DNA tests which test STR, or short tandem repeat, markers. STRs are the markers tested in the 37, 67 or 111 marker tests. You can read about the difference between STRs and SNPs in the article, STRs vs SNPs, Multiple DNA Personalities.

STR markers are used for more recent genealogical testing and comparison, while haplogroups reach further back in time.

An estimated haplogroup as provided by Family Tree DNA is based on STR matches to people who have done SNP testing. Estimated haplogroups are quite accurate, as far as they go. However, by necessity, they aren’t deep haplogroups, meaning they aren’t the leaves on the end of the twigs of the branch of your haplotree. Estimated haplogroups are the big branches.

In essence, what a haplogroup provided with STR testing tells you is the name of the town and the main street through town. To get to your house, you may need to turn on a few side streets.

Haplotree

The haplotree, back in the ancient days of 2002 used to hold less than 100 haplogroups, each main branch called by a different letter of the alphabet. The main branches or what is referred to as the core backbone is shown in this graphic from Wikipedia.

Today, the haplotree shown for each Y DNA tester on their personal page at Family Tree DNA, has tens of thousands of branches. No, that’s not a misprint.

The haplotree is the phylogenetic tree that defines all of the branches of mankind and groups them into increasingly refined “clans” or groups, the further down the tree you go.

In other words, Y Adam is at the root, then his “sons” who, due to specific mutations, formed different base haplogroups. As more mutations occurred in the son’s descendants’ lines, more haplogroups were born. Multiply that over tens of thousands of years, and you have lots of branches and twigs and even leaves on the branches of this tree of humanity.

Let’s look at the terminal SNP of my cousin, John, on his Haplotree and SNP page at Family Tree DNA.

John’s terminal SNP is R-BY490. R indicates the main branch and BY490 is the name of the SNP that is the further down the tree – his leaf, for lack of a better definition.

In John’s case, we know this is the smallest leaf on his branch, because he took the Big Y test which reads all of his SNPs on the Y chromosome.

Haplogroup R is quite large with thousands of branches and leaves – each one with its own distinct history that is an important part of your genealogy. Tracking where and when these mutations happened tells you the migration history of your paternal ancestor.

How else would you ever know?

How Do I Discover My Terminal SNP?

Sometimes “terminal SNP” is used to mean the SNP for which a man has most recently tested. It may NOT mean that he has tested for all of the available SNPs. What this really means is that when someone gives you a terminal SNP name, or you see one listed someplace, you’ll need to ask about the depth of the testing undergone by the man in question.

Let’s look at an example.

I’ve condensed John’s tree into only the SNPs for which he tested positive. The entire tree includes SNPs that John tested negative for, and their branches which are not relevant to John – although we certainly didn’t know that they weren’t relevant before he tested. However, he may want to reference the large and accurate scientific tree, so all information is provided to John. It’s like seeing a map that includes all roads, not just the one you’re traveling.

I’ve created a descendant chart style tree below. Y line Adam is the first male. Some several thousands of years later, his descendant had a mutation that created haplogroup R defined by the SNP M207, in yellow.

John, based on his STR matches, was predicted to be R-M269. On his results page, that’s the estimated haplogroup that was showing when his results were first returned.

If you had asked John about his terminal SNP, he would have probably told you R-M269. At that time, to the best of his knowledge, that WAS his terminal SNP – but it wasn’t really.

John could choose three ways to test for additional SNPs to discover his actual terminal SNP.

  • One by One

John could selectively test one SNP at a time to see if he was positive, meaning that he has that mutation. SNPs cost $39 each to test, as of the time this article was written. Of course, John could also be negative for that SNP, meaning he doesn’t have the SNP, and therefore does not descend from that line. That’s good information too, but then John would have to select another branch to test by purchasing the SNP associated with that new branch.

If John had selected any of the SNPs on the list above to test, he would have tested positive. So, let’s say John decided to test L21, a major branch. If he tested positive, that means that all of the branches directly above L21, between L21 and M207, are also positive, by inference.

At that point, John would tell you that his terminal SNP is L21, but it isn’t actually.

  • SNP Packs

Now, John wants to purchase a more cost-effective SNP pack, because he can test 100 or more SNP locations by purchasing one SNP pack for $99. That’s a great value, so John purchases the SNP pack offered on his personal page. A SNP pack tests selective SNPs all over the relevant portion of the tree in an attempt to place a man on a relatively low branch. These SNPs are selected to find an appropriate branch, not the appropriate leaf. They confirm (or disprove) SNPs that have already been discovered.

Let’s say, in John’s case, the SNP pack moves him down to R-ZP21. If you asked him now about his terminal SNP, he would probably tell you R-ZP21, but it still isn’t actually.

SNP packs are great and do move people down the tree, but the only way to move to the end of the twigs is the Big Y test.

  • The Big Y Test

The Big Y test tests for all known SNPs as well as what were called Novel Variants and are now called Unnamed Variants which are new SNPs discovered that are as yet unnamed. You may have a new SNP in your line waiting to be discovered. The Estes family has one dating from sometime before 1495 that, to date, has only been found in Estes descendant males from that common ancestor who was born in 1495.

The Big Y test, at $575, scans virtually the entire Y chromosome in order to place testers on the lowest leaf of the tree. You can’t get there any other way with certainty and you’ll never know if you have any as yet undiscovered SNPs or leaves unless you take the Big Y.

In John’s case, that leaf was 4 more branches below R-ZP21, at R-BY490.

PS – the Big Y is on sale right now, before Christmas 2017, for $475 PLUS it includes a free STR upgrade to 111 markers. Click here to read about this savings.

Even better, this one-time-use code is good for $50 off, in addition to the BIg Y sale prices and free 111 upgrade. R29VZACWPG6X  If that coupon has been redeemed already, click here for additional coupons.

Why Does a Terminal SNP Matter?

Haplogroup R-M269 is the most common haplogroup of European men.

Looking at the SNP map, you can see that there are so many map locations as to color the map of the UK entirely red.

Genealogically, this isn’t helpful at all.

However, looking now at DF49, below, we see many fewer locations, suggesting perhaps that men with this terminal SNP are clustered in particular areas.

SNPS further down John’s personal haplotree tell an increasingly focused and granular story, each step moving closer in time.

Summary

Men generally want to discover their terminal SNP with the hope that they can learn something interesting about the migration of their ancestors before the genesis of surnames.

Perhaps they will discover that they match all men with McSurnames, suggesting perhaps a Scottish origin. Or maybe their terminal SNP is only found in a mountainous region of Germany, or perhaps their Big Y matches all have patronymic surnames from Scandinavia.

Big Y testing is also a community sourced citizen science effort to expand the Y haplotree – and quite successfully. The vast majority of SNPs on the publicly available ISOGG Y tree today are from individual testers, not from academic studies.

Haplogroups, and therefore terminal SNPs are the only way we have to peek back behind the veil of time.

If you’re interested in discovering your terminal SNP, you’ll be money ahead to simply purchase the Big Y up front and skip individual SNP testing along with SNP packs. In addition to discovering your terminal SNP, you are also matched to other men who have taken the Big Y test.

You can order the Big Y, individual SNPs or SNP packs by clicking on this link, signing on to your account, and then clicking on the blue “Upgrade” button, either in the Y DNA section, shown below, or in the upper right hand corner of your personal page.

______________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears 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.

Working with Y DNA – Your Dad’s Story

Have you ever wondered why you would want to test your Y DNA? What would a Y DNA test tell you about which ancestors? What would it mean to you and how would it help your genealogy?

If you’re like most genealogists, you want to know every single tidbit you can discover about your ancestors – and Y DNA not only tells males about people they match that are currently living and share ancestors with them at some point in time, but it also reaches back beyond the range of what genealogy in the traditional sense can tell us – past the time when surnames were adopted, peering into the misty veil of the past!

If you aren’t a male, you can’t directly test your Y DNA, because you don’t have a Y chromosome, but that’s OK, because your father or brother or another family member who does carry the same Y chromosome (and surname) as your father may well be willing to test.

What Is Y DNA?

Y DNA a special type of DNA that tells the direct story of your father’s surname line heritage – all the way back as far as we can go – beyond genealogy– to the man from whom we are all descended that we call “Y line Adam.” In the pedigree chart below, Y DNA is represented by the people with blue squares – generally the surname line.

Y DNA is never mixed with the mother’s DNA, so the Y DNA of the blue line of ancestors above remains unbroken and intact and the Y DNA is passed from father to only their male children. The Y chromosome is what makes males male, so females never inherit a Y chromosome. Of course, that means females can’t take Y DNA tests, so they have to ask a family member to test who carries the Y chromosome of the line they are interested in.

Because the surname doesn’t typically change for males between generations, this test is particularly powerful in identifying specific lineages of the male’s surname.  For men looking to identify their paternal line, Y DNA testing is extremely powerful!

Y DNA testing is a great way to determine which ancestral line of a given surname a male descends from.

Want to see how this works?  Family Tree DNA provides 13 great tools for every Y DNA customer. Let’s take a look!

Haplogroup

Everyone who tests their Y DNA at Family Tree DNA receives a haplogroup assignment. Think of a haplogroup as your genetic clan. Haplogroups have a history and a pedigree chart, just like people do. Haplogroups and their branches can identify certain groups of people, such as people of African descent, European, Asian, Jewish and Native American.

While the Y DNA is passed intact with no admixture from the mother, occasionally mutations do happen, and it’s those historical mutations that form clans and branches of clans as generation after generation is born and continues to migrate to new areas.

If you take any Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA, you will receive a haplogroup prediction. In the following example, the gentleman received haplogroup C-P39 as his haplgroup prediction.

Haplogroup predictions from Family Tree DNA are very accurate. They are basic in nature, but detailed enough to identify the continent where your ancestors are found as well as sometimes identifying groups like Jewish or Native American. To receive a more refined haplogroup, additional tests are available (individual SNPs, SNP panels and the Big Y), which confirm the original haplogroup assignment and give you the opportunity to find the smallest branch of the haplotree upon which you reside as a leaf.

Let’s look at an example.

Y haplogroup C arose in Asia and subgroups are found today in parts of Asia, Europe and among Native American men.

Recently, by utilizing the Big Y test, an advanced specialized test that scans the majority of the Y chromosome for mutations, the haplogroup C tree was extended by several branches at Family Tree DNA.

With regular STR marker testing, which is the Y DNA test you purchase from Family Tree DNA,  this particular haplogroup C male had his base haplogroup of C identified along with the additional branch of C-P39. With additional advanced testing of some type, such as individual SNP testing, panels of SNPs available for some haplogroups, or the Big Y test – testers can learn more about their haplogroups – and with the Big Y, virtually everything there is to know about their Y chromosome.

However, until testers receive their regular STR results for their markers, advanced tests aren’t available to order, because testers don’t yet know into which haplogroup, or clan, they will be placed.

The haplogroup C Y-DNA project at Family Tree DNA provides a map of the most distant known ancestors of Haplogroup C members, including all branches, shown below.

Hapologroup C-P39, a Native American subgroup, is found in a much more restricted geography in the Haplogroup C-P39 project, below.

Tools at Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, your Y haplogroup is shown in the upper right hand corner on your personal page dashboard.

In the Y DNA section, additional tools are shown. Let’s look at each tool and what it can tell you about your direct paternal line.

You can always navigate to the Dashboard or any other option by clicking on the myFTDNA button on the upper left hand corner and then the Y DNA dropdown.

Matches

The first place most people look is at their Matches page. In the case of our example, he has twenty three 111 marker matches ranging from one person with a genetic distance of 1, meaning one mutation difference, to several with 6 mutations difference. The fewer mutations, in general, the most likely the closer in time your most recent common ancestor with your match.

You can see by just looking at the matches below why entering the name of your earliest known ancestor (under Manage Personal Information, Account Settings, Genealogy) is so important!!! That’s the first thing people see and the best indication of a common ancestor. I always include a name, birth/death date and location.

In this case, it’s very clear the common ancestor of most, if not all, of these men is Germain Doucet born in 1641 in Port Royal, Nova Scotia. And before you ask, yes, it’s rather unusual to have an entire list of men descended from one man, but it’s clearly not unheard of.

As you can see, many of these matches (names obscured for privacy) have trees attached to their results and several have also taken the autosomal Family Finder test.

The different Y-DNA haplogroups listed to the right are a function of the “Terminal SNP,” meaning the SNP that tested positive furthest out towards the tip of the branch of the tree. Four matches have had additional SNP testing which shows their terminal SNP to be either Z30754 or M217.

This gentleman can then view his 67, 37, 25 and 12 marker matches by clicking on that dropdown.

He can also e-mail any of his matches by clicking on the envelope icon or view their trees by clicking on the pedigree icon.

Results

Next, let’s look at the Y-STR results for 67 markers. This page should really probably say “raw results,” because as many people say, “it’s just a page of numbers.”

This page shows your values and mutations at specific markers – in other words, what makes you both different from other people and the same as people you match, which means you share a common ancestor at some point in time in the not too distant past.

The beauty of these numbers, is, of course, in what they tell us in context of matching other people. You can’t have matches without these numbers. You also can’t have maps or anything else without the raw mutation information.

HaploTree and SNP Page

STR markers show mutations in recent timeframes, generally within the past 500-800 years, but SNPs take you back into antiquity – just like your family pedigree chart – working from closest to further back in time .

Your Haplotree and SNP page shows you the tree for your haplogroup – in this case C – designated by SNP M216, shown at the very top, along with all branches of the tree. The branches and leaves are color coded based on whether you have tested for that particular SNP, and if so, whether you were positive, meaning you carry the mutation, or negative, meaning you don’t.

SNP Map

The SNP map shows you cluster locations worldwide where any selected SNP is found.

Matches Maps

One of my favorite tools is the Matches Map because it shows the most distant ancestor for all of your matches that have provided that information.

Hint: you MUST enter the geographic information through the link at the bottom of this map (below) for YOUR ancestor to be displayed on THIS map and also on the maps of your matches.

You can also display your match list by clicking on the link beneath the map. You can click on the pins on the map to display the accompanying information.

Note the legend, as your exact matches are shown in red, 1 step mutations in orange, 2 steps in yellow, and so forth. Be sure to look for clusters, and note that if there are multiple people listed in the same location, their pins will stack on top of each other.

For example, in this case, the orange pin shown has two people’s ancestors in that location, including this tester, and a relevant cluster is clearly shown in Nova Scotia.

Migration and Frequency Maps

Are you wondering how your ancestor and his ancestors arrived where you first find them?

The haplogroup Migration Maps shows you the path from Africa to wherever they are found – in this case, the Americas.

The Frequency Map then shows you how much of the New World population is branches of haplogroup C.

Haplogroup Origins

The Haplogroup Origins tool shows the distribution of the haplogroup, by region, by match type and count.  Please note that you can click on any graphic to enlarge.

For example, this person has one 111 marker C-Z30765 match in Canada.

Ancestral Origins

The Ancestral Origins page shows matches by country along with any comments. These matches don’t have any comments, but comments might be Ashkenazi or MDKO (most distant known origin) when US is given.

Advanced Matching Combines Tools

Another of my favorite tools is the Advanced Matching tool, available under the Tools and Apps tab.

Advanced Matches is a wonderful tool that allows you to combine test types. For example, let’s say that you want to know if any of the people you match on the Y DNA test are also showing up as a match on the Family Finder test. You could further limit match results by project as well.

Be sure to click on “show only people I match in all selected tests” or you’ll receive the combined list of all matches, not just the people who match on BOTH tests, which is what you want.

In this example, I’ve selected 12 markers and Family Finder, because I know I’m going to find a few matches for illustration.

Of course, for adoptees, finding someone with whom you match closely on the Family Finder test AND match exactly (or nearly) on the Y DNA test would be very suggestive of a patrilineal common ancestor in a recent timeframe.

Projects

We started our discussion about Y DNA haplogroups by referencing two different haplogroup C projects. Family Tree DNA has over 9000 projects for you to select from.  The good news is that you really don’t have to limit your selections, because you can join an unlimited number of projects.

Thankfully, you don’t have to browse through all the available projects.

  • Haplogroup projects are categorized by Y or mtDNA and then by subgroup where appropriate.
  • Surname projects exist as well and are searchable for your genealogy lines.
  • Geographical projects cover everything else, from geographies such as the Denmark project to the American Indian project.

Some projects focus on Y DNA, some on mtDNA and some include both.  Additionally, some projects welcome people with autosomal results that pertain to that family surname or region.  Every project is run by one or more volunteer administrators that define the focus of the project.

To help people select relevant projects, project administrators can enter surnames that pertain to their project so that Family Tree DNA can match your surname to the project list to provide you with a menu of candidate projects to join.

Of course, you’ll need to read the project description for each project to see if the project actually pertains to you. You can see what is available for other surnames by utilizing the “Search by Surname” function, at the bottom of the menu.

You can also scroll down and browse in a number of ways in addition to surname.

All testers should join their haplogroup project so that everyone can benefit from collaboration.

You can join and manage your projects from your home page by clicking on the Projects tab on the upper left, shown below.

Y DNA Summary

I hope this overview has provided you with some good reasons to test your Y DNA or to better understand your results if you’ve already tested.

If you are a male and are interested in testing a line that is not your surname line, or if you are a female and you can’t test, you can find a male who descends from the ancestral line in question through all males and recruit that gentleman to test.  You can also check existing surname projects to see if someone from your line has already tested.

Y DNA holds the secrets of your patrilineal line. You never know what you don’t know unless you test. You don’t know what kind of surprises are waiting for you – and let’s face it, our ancestors are always full of surprises!

Y DNA Order Options

Family Tree DNA is the only company that offers this type of testing.  Ordering options include 37, 67 and 111 marker tests. You can also order 12 and 25 marker tests within projects. I suggest testing at the highest level the budget will allow, but no less than 37 markers. Most people have matches. Some people have a lot of matches and need the 111 marker test to more fully refine their matches to just the ones that may be genealogically relevant.

You can always upgrade later to a higher marker level later, but the combined original test plus upgrade cost more separately than just purchasing the larger test out the gate. It’s really a personal decision based on your goals and your budget.

Discounts

If you have never tested at Family Tree DNA, you can obtain a discount any day of the week by joining through your surname project. Just click here and then enter your surname into the Project Search box, shown upper right below.  I’ve typed Estes for purposes of illustration.

You will be shown a list of projects (at left above) where the various project administrators have indicated that someone with your surname might be interest in their project. Read the project descriptions, then click on the resulting project that best suits your situation – generally your surname – Estes above for example. You will automatically be joined to the project you select when you order a product, shown below. After you order, you can join multiple projects.

Next, click on the test level you wish to order.

By virtue of comparison, the project pricing for 37, 67 and 111 markers, above, saves you $20 off the regular price if you don’t order through a project.

If you already have a kit number at Family Tree DNA and have ordered other products, you can sign in, upgrade and order your Y DNA test by clicking here.

Happy ancestor hunting!

______________________________________________________________________

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.

Native American Y Haplogroup C-P39 Sprouts Branches!

I am extremely pleased to provide an update on the Haplogroup C-P39 Native American Y DNA project. Marie Rundquist and I as co-administrators have exciting discoveries to share.

As it so happens, this announcement comes almost exactly on the 4th anniversary of the founding of this project at Family Tree DNA. We couldn’t celebrate in a better way!

Native American Y DNA Haplogroups

Haplogroup C is one of two core Native American male haplogroups. Of the two, haplogroup Q is much more prevalent, while haplogroup C is rare. Only some branches of both haplogroup Q and haplogroup C are Native American, with other branches of both haplogroups being Asian and European.

C-P39 is the Native American branch of haplogroup C, and because of its rarity, until now, very little was known. There were no known branches.

In February 2016, Marie Rundquist created a focused project testing plan to upgrade at least one man from each family line to the full 111 markers along with a Big Y test in order to determine if further differentiation could be achieved in the C-P39 haplogroup lineage.

Haplogroup C-P39 Sprouts Branches

In November 2016, Marie presented preliminary research findings at the International Genetic Genealogy Conference in Houston, Texas, with a final evaluation being completed and submitted to Family Tree DNA for review in March 2017. As a result, Marie provides the following press release:

April 29, 2017: Based on a recent “Big Y” DNA novel variant submission from the C-P39 Y DNA project, the Y Tree has been updated by Family Tree DNA scientists. With this latest update, in addition to the C-P39 SNP that distinguishes this haplogroup, there are now new, long-awaited, downstream SNPs and subclades, as reflected in the Y Tree that offer new avenues for research by members of this rare, Native American haplogroup. A summary of new C-P39 Y DNA project subclades follows:

  • North American Appalachian Region: C-P39+ C-BY1360+
  • North American Canada – Multiple Surnames: C-P39+ C-Z30765+
  • North American Canada – Multiple Surnames: C-P39+ C-Z30750+
  • North American Canada: Acadia (Nova Scotia): C-P39+ C-Z30750+
  • North American Canada: Acadia (Nova Scotia): C-P39+ C-Z30754+
  • North American Southwest Region: CP39+ C-Z30747+

The following SNP (BY18405+) was found to have been shared only by two C-P39 project members in the entire Big Y system, as reported here:

  • North American Canada Newfoundland: C-P39+ C-BY18405+
  • North American Canada: Gaspe, QC: C-P39+ C-BY18405+

The ancestors of two families represented in the study, one in the Pacific Northwest and another in the North American Southwest did not experience any mutations in the New World and Big Y results are within the current genetic boundaries of the C-P39 SNP haplogroup as noted.

The Family Tree DNA C-P39 Y DNA Project is managed by Roberta Estes, Administrator, Marie Rundquist, Co-Administrator, and Dr. David Pike, Project Advisor. The “Big Y” DNA test is a product of Family Tree DNA.

Reference: https://www.familytreedna.com/public/ydna_C-P39

The New Tree

The new C-P39 tree at Family Tree DNA is shown, below, including all the new SNPs below P39, a grand total of eight new branches on the C-P39 tree.

It’s just so beautiful to see this in black and white – well, green, black and white. It’s really an amazing accomplishment for citizen scientists to be contributing at this level to the field of genetics.

Beneath C-P39, several sub-branches develop.

  • BY1360 which is represented by a gentleman from Appalachia.
  • BY736 which is represented by two downstream SNPs that include the surnames of both King and Brooms from Canada.
  • Z30747 which is represented by a Garcia from the southwest US, following by downstream subgroup Z30750 represented by a Canadian gentleman, and SNP Z30754 represented by the Acadian Doucette family from Nova Scotia.

This haplotree suggests that the SNP carried by the gentleman from Appalachia is the oldest, with the other sub-branches descending from their common ancient lineage. As you might guess, this isn’t exactly what we had anticipated, but therein lies the thrill of discovery and the promise of science.

The Next Step

Just like with traditional genealogy, this discovery begets more questions. Now, testing needs to be done on additional individuals to see if we can further tease apart relationships and perhaps identify patterns to suggest a migration path. This testing will come, in part, from STR marker testing along with Big Y testing for some lines not yet tested at that level.

We’re also hopeful, of course, that anyone who carries haplogroup C-P39 or any downstream branch will join the C-P39 project. Collaboration is key to discovery.

Contributing

If you would like to donate to the C-P39 project general fund to play a critical role in the next steps of discovery, we would be eternally grateful. At this point, we need to fund at least 4 additional Big Y tests, plus several 111 marker upgrades, totaling about $3000. You can contribute to the project general fund at this link:

https://www.familytreedna.com/group-general-fund-contribution.aspx?g=Y-DNAC-P39

Thank you in advance – every little bit helps!

Kudos

I want to personally congratulate Marie for her hard work and dedication over the past year to bring this monumental discovery and tree update to fruition. It’s truly an incredible accomplishment representing countless hours of behind the scenes work.

Marie and I would both like to thank all of our participants, individuals who contributed funds to the testing, Dr. David Pike as a project advisor and, of course, Family Tree DNA, without whom none of this would be possible.

DNA Testing for Native Heritage

If you are male and have not yet Y DNA tested, but believe that you have a Native ancestor on your direct paternal (surname) line, please order at least the 37 marker test at Family Tree DNA. Your results and who you match will tell that story!

People with Native heritage on any ancestral line are encouraged to join the American Indian Project at Family Tree DNA. If you have tested elsewhere, you can download your results to Family Tree DNA for free.

For additional information about DNA testing for Native American heritage, please read Proving Native American Ancestry Using 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.

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The Best and Worst of 2015 – Genetic Genealogy Year in Review

2015 Best and Worst

For the past three years I’ve written a year-in-review article. You can see just how much the landscape has changed in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 versions.

This year, I’ve added a few specific “award” categories for people or firms that I feel need to be specially recognized as outstanding in one direction or the other.

In past years, some news items, announcements and innovations turned out to be very important like the Genographic Project and GedMatch, and others, well, not so much. Who among us has tested their full genome today, for example, or even their exome?  And would you do with that information if you did?

And then there are the deaths, like the Sorenson database and Ancestry’s own Y and mitochondrial data base. I still shudder to think how much we’ve lost at the corporate hands of Ancestry.

In past years, there have often been big new announcements facilitated by new technology. In many ways, the big fish have been caught in a technology sense.  Those big fish are autosomal DNA and the Big Y types of tests.  Both of these have created an avalanche of data and we, personally and as a community, are still trying to sort through what all of this means genealogically and how to best utilize the information.  Now we need tools.

This is probably illustrated most aptly by the expansion of the Y tree.

The SNP Tsunami Growing Pains Continue

2015 snp tsunami

Going from 800+ SNPs in 2012 to more than 35,000 SNPs today has introduced its own set of problems. First, there are multiple trees in existence, completely or partially maintained by different organizations for different purposes.  Needless to say, these trees are not in sync with each other.  The criteria for adding a SNP to the tree is decided by the owner or steward of that tree, and there is no agreement as to the definition of a valid SNP or how many instances of that SNP need to be in existence to be added to the tree.

This angst has been taking place for the most part outside of the public view, but it exists just the same.

For example, 23andMe still uses the old haplogroup names like R1b which have not been used in years elsewhere. Family Tree DNA is catching up with updating their tree, working with haplogroup administrators to be sure only high quality, proven SNPs are added to branches.  ISOGG maintains another tree (one branch shown above) that’s publicly available, utilizing volunteers per haplogroup and sometimes per subgroup.  Other individuals and organizations maintain other trees, or branches of trees, some very accurate and some adding a new “branch” with as little as one result.

The good news is that this will shake itself out. Personally, I’m voting for the more conservative approach for public reference trees to avoid “pollution” and a lot of shifting and changing downstream when it’s discovered that the single instance of a SNP is either invalid or in a different branch location.  However, you have to start with an experimental or speculative tree before you can prove that a SNP is where it belongs or needs to be moved, so each of the trees has its own purpose.

The full trees I utilize are the Family Tree DNA tree, available for customers, the ISOGG tree and Ray Banks’ tree which includes locations where the SNPs are found when the geographic location is localized. Within haplogroup projects, I tend to use a speculative tree assembled by the administrators, if one is available.  The haplogroup admins generally know more about their haplogroup or branch than anyone else.

The bad news is that this situation hasn’t shaken itself out yet, and due to the magnitude of the elephant at hand, I don’t think it will anytime soon. As this shuffling and shaking occurs, we learn more about where the SNPs are found today in the world, where they aren’t found, which SNPs are “family” or “clan” SNPs and the timeframes in which they were born.

In other words, this is a learning process for all involved – albeit a slow and frustrating one. However, we are making progress and the tree becomes more robust and accurate every year.

We may be having growing pains, but growing pains aren’t necessarily a bad thing and are necessary for growth.

Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who work on these trees, and in particular, to Alice Fairhurst who has spearheaded the ISOGG tree for the past nine years. Alice retired from that volunteer position this year and is shown below after receiving two much-deserved awards for her service at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November.

2015 ftdna fairhurst 2

Best Innovative Use of Integrated Data

2015 smileDr. Maurice Gleeson receives an award this year for the best genealogical use of integrated types of data. He has utilized just about every tool he can find to wring as much information as possible out of Y DNA results.  Not only that, but he has taken great pains to share that information with us in presentations in the US and overseas, and by creating a video, noted in the article below.  Thanks so much Maurice.

Making Sense of Y Data

Estes pedigree

The advent of massive amounts of Y DNA data has been both wonderful and perplexing. We as genetic genealogists want to know as much about our family as possible, including what the combination of STR and SNP markers means to us.  In other words, we don’t want two separate “test results” but a genealogical marriage of the two.

I took a look at this from the perspective of the Estes DNA project. Of course, everyone else will view those results through the lens of their own surname or haplogroup project.

Estes Big Y DNA Results
http://dna-explained.com/2015/03/26/estes-big-y-dna-results/

At the Family Tree DNA Conference in November, James Irvine and Maurice Gleeson both presented sessions on utilizing a combination of STR and SNP data and various tools in analyzing their individual projects.

Maurice’s presentation was titled “Combining SNPs, STRs and Genealogy to build a Surname Origins Tree.”
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/building-a-mutation-history-tree

Maurice created a wonderful video that includes a lot of information about working with Y DNA results. I would consider this one of the very best Y DNA presentations I’ve ever seen, and thanks to Maurice, it’s available as a video here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvyHY4R6DwE&feature=youtu.be

You can view more of Maurice’s work at:
http://gleesondna.blogspot.com/2015/08/genetic-distance-genetic-families.html

James Irvine’s presentation was titled “Surname Projects – Some Fresh Ideas.” http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/y-dna-surname-projects-some-fresh-ideas

Another excellent presentation discussing Y DNA results was “YDNA maps Scandinavian Family Trees from Medieval Times and the Viking Age” by Peter Sjolund.
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/ydna-maps-scandinavian-family-trees-from-medieval-times-and-the-viking-age

Peter’s session at the genealogy conference in Sweden this year was packed. This photo, compliments of Katherine Borges, shows the room and the level of interest in Y-DNA and the messages it holds for genetic genealogists.

sweden 2015

This type of work is the wave of the future, although hopefully it won’t be so manually intensive. However, the process of discovery is by definition laborious.  From this early work will one day emerge reproducible methodologies, the fruits of which we will all enjoy.

Haplogroup Definitions and Discoveries Continue

A4 mutations

Often, haplogroup work flies under the radar today and gets dwarfed by some of the larger citizen science projects, but this work is fundamentally important. In 2015, we made discoveries about haplogroups A4 and C, for example.

Haplogroup A4 Unpeeled – European, Jewish, Asian and Native American
http://dna-explained.com/2015/03/05/haplogroup-a4-unpeeled-european-jewish-asian-and-native-american/

New Haplogroup C Native American Subgroups
http://dna-explained.com/2015/03/11/new-haplogroup-c-native-american-subgroups/

Native American Haplogroup C Update – Progress
http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/25/native-american-haplogroup-c-update-progress/

These aren’t the only discoveries, by any stretch of the imagination. For example, Mike Wadna, administrator for the Haplogroup R1b Project reports that there are now over 1500 SNPs on the R1b tree at Family Tree DNA – which is just about twice as many as were known in total for the entire Y tree in 2012 before the Genographic project was introduced.

The new Y DNA SNP Packs being introduced by Family Tree DNA which test more than 100 SNPs for about $100 will go a very long way in helping participants obtain haplogroup assignments further down the tree without doing the significantly more expensive Big Y test. For example, the R1b-DF49XM222 SNP Pack tests 157 SNPs for $109.  Of course, if you want to discover your own private line of SNPs, you’ll have to take the Big Y.  SNP Packs can only test what is already known and the Big Y is a test of discovery.

                       Best Blog2015 smile

Jim Bartlett, hands down, receives this award for his new and wonderful blog, Segmentology.

                             Making Sense of Autosomal DNA

segmentology

Our autosomal DNA results provide us with matches at each of the vendors and at GedMatch, but what do we DO with all those matches and how to we utilize the genetic match information? How to we translate those matches into ancestral information.  And once we’ve assigned a common ancestor to a match with an individual, how does that match affect other matches on that same segment?

2015 has been the year of sorting through the pieces and defining terms like IBS (identical by state, which covers both identical by population and identical by chance) and IBD (identical by descent). There has been a lot written this year.

Jim Bartlett, a long-time autosomal researcher has introduced his new blog, Segmentology, to discuss his journey through mapping ancestors to his DNA segments. To the best of my knowledge, Jim has mapped more of his chromosomes than any other researcher, more than 80% to specific ancestors – and all of us can leverage Jim’s lessons learned.

Segmentology.org by Jim Bartlett
http://dna-explained.com/2015/05/12/segmentology-org-by-jim-bartlett/

When you visit Jim’s site, please take a look at all of his articles. He and I and others may differ slightly in the details our approach, but the basics are the same and his examples are wonderful.

Autosomal DNA Testing – What Now?
http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/07/autosomal-dna-testing-101-what-now/

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – Tips and Tricks for Contact Success
http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/11/autosomal-dna-testing-101-tips-and-tricks-for-contact-success/

How Phasing Works and Determining IBS vs IBD Matches
http://dna-explained.com/2015/01/02/how-phasing-works-and-determining-ibd-versus-ibs-matches/

Just One Cousin
http://dna-explained.com/2015/01/11/just-one-cousin/

Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching
http://dna-explained.com/2015/01/17/demystifying-autosomal-dna-matching/

A Study Using Small Segment Matching
http://dna-explained.com/2015/01/21/a-study-utilizing-small-segment-matching/

Finally, A How-To Class for Working with Autosomal Results
http://dna-explained.com/2015/02/10/finally-a-how-to-class-for-working-with-autosomal-dna-results/

Parent-Child Non-Matching Autosomal DNA Segments
http://dna-explained.com/2015/05/14/parent-child-non-matching-autosomal-dna-segments/

A Match List Does Not an Ancestor Make
http://dna-explained.com/2015/05/19/a-match-list-does-not-an-ancestor-make/

4 Generation Inheritance Study
http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/23/4-generation-inheritance-study/

Phasing Yourself
http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/27/phasing-yourself/

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum
http://dna-explained.com/2015/09/25/autosomal-dna-matching-confidence-spectrum/

Earlier in the year, there was a lot of discussion and dissention about the definition of and use of small segments. I utilize them, carefully, generally in conjunction with larger segments.  Others don’t.  Here’s my advice.  Don’t get yourself hung up on this.  You probably won’t need or use small segments until you get done with the larger segments, meaning low-hanging fruit, or unless you are doing a very specific research project.  By the time you get to that point, you’ll understand this topic and you’ll realize that the various researchers agree about far more than they disagree, and you can make your own decision based on your individual circumstances. If you’re entirely endogamous, small segments may just make you crazy.  However, if you’re chasing a colonial American ancestor, then you may need those small segments to identify or confirm that ancestor.

It is unfortunate, however, that all of the relevant articles are not represented in the ISOGG wiki, allowing people to fully educate themselves. Hopefully this can be updated shortly with the additional articles, listed above and from Jim Bartlett’s blog, published during this past year.

Recreating the Dead

James Crumley overlapping segments

James and Catherne Crumley segments above, compliments of Kitty Cooper’s tools

As we learn more about how to use autosomal DNA, we have begun to reconstruct our ancestors from the DNA of their descendants. Not as in cloning, but as in attributing DNA found in multiple descendants that originate from a common ancestor, or ancestral couple.  The first foray into this arena was GedMatch with their Lazarus tool.

Lazarus – Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again
http://dna-explained.com/2015/01/14/lazarus-putting-humpty-dumpty-back-together-again/

I have taken a bit of a different proof approach wherein I recreated an ancestor, James Crumley, born in 1712 from the matching DNA of roughly 30 of his descendants.
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/roberta-estes-crumley-y-dna

I did the same thing, on an experimental smaller scale about a year ago with my ancestor, Henry Bolton.
http://dna-explained.com/2014/11/10/henry-bolton-c1759-1846-kidnapped-revolutionary-war-veteran-52-ancestors-45/

This is the way of the future in genetic genealogy, and I’ll be writing more about the Crumley project and the reconstruction of James Crumley in 2016.

                         Lump Of Coal Award(s)2015 frown

This category is a “special category” that is exactly what you think it is. Yep, this is the award no one wants.  We have a tie for the Lump of Coal Award this year between Ancestry and 23andMe.

               Ancestry Becomes the J.R. Ewing of the Genealogy World

2015 Larry Hagman

Attribution : © Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com

Some of you may remember J.R. Ewing on the television show called Dallas that ran from 1978 through 1991. J.R. Ewing, a greedy and unethical oil tycoon was one of the main characters.  The series was utterly mesmerizing, and literally everyone tuned in.  We all, and I mean universally, hated J.R. Ewing for what he unfeelingly and selfishly did to his family and others.  Finally, in a cliffhanger end of the season episode, someone shot J.R. Ewing.  OMG!!!  We didn’t know who.  We didn’t know if J.R. lived or died.  Speculation was rampant.  “Who shot JR?” was the theme on t-shirts everyplace that summer.  J.R. Ewing, over time, became the man all of America loved to hate.

Ancestry has become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world for the same reasons.

In essence, in the genetic genealogy world, Ancestry introduced a substandard DNA product, which remains substandard years later with no chromosome browser or comparison tools that we need….and they have the unmitigated audacity to try to convince us we really don’t need those tools anyway. Kind of like trying to convince someone with a car that they don’t need tires.

Worse, yet, they’ve introduced “better” tools (New Ancestor Discoveries), as in tools that were going to be better than a chromosome browser.  New Ancestor Discoveries “gives us” ancestors that aren’t ours. Sadly, there are many genealogists being led down the wrong path with no compass available.

Ancestry’s history of corporate stewardship is abysmal and continues with the obsolescence of various products and services including the Sorenson DNA database, their own Y and mtDNA database, MyFamily and most recently, Family Tree Maker. While the Family Tree Maker announcement has been met with great gnashing of teeth and angst among their customers, there are other software programs available.  Ancestry’s choices to obsolete the DNA data bases is irrecoverable and a huge loss to the genetic genealogy community.  That information is lost forever and not available elsewhere – a priceless, irreplaceable international treasure intentionally trashed.

If Ancestry had not bought up nearly all of the competing resources, people would be cancelling their subscriptions in droves to use another company – any other company. But there really is no one else anymore.  Ancestry knows this, so they have become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world – uncaring about the effects of their decisions on their customers or the community as a whole.  It’s hard for me to believe they have knowingly created such wholesale animosity within their own customer base.  I think having a job as a customer service rep at Ancestry would be an extremely undesirable job right now.  Many customers are furious and Ancestry has managed to upset pretty much everyone one way or another in 2015.

AncestryDNA Has Now Thoroughly Lost Its Mind
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/ancestrydna-has-now-thoroughly-lost-its-mind/

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/kenny-kenny-kenny/

Dear Kenny – Any Suggestions for our New Ancestor Discoveries?
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/dear-kenny-any-suggestions-for-our-new-ancestor-discoveries/

RIP Sorenson – A Crushing Loss
http://dna-explained.com/2015/05/15/rip-sorenson-a-crushing-loss/

Of Babies and Bathwater
http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/17/of-babies-and-bathwater/

Facts Matter
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/

Getting the Most Out of AncestryDNA
http://dna-explained.com/2015/02/02/getting-the-most-out-of-ancestrydna/

Ancestry Gave Me a New DNA Ancestor and It’s Wrong
http://dna-explained.com/2015/04/03/ancestry-gave-me-a-new-dna-ancestor-and-its-wrong/

Testing Ancestry’s Amazing New Ancestor DNA Claim
http://dna-explained.com/2015/04/07/testing-ancestrys-amazing-new-ancestor-dna-claim/

Dissecting AncestryDNA Circles and New Ancestors
http://dna-explained.com/2015/04/09/dissecting-ancestrydna-circles-and-new-ancestors/

Squaring the Circle
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/03/29/squaring-the-circle/

Still Waiting for the Holy Grail
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/04/05/still-waiting-for-the-holy-grail/

A Dozen Ancestors That Aren’t aka Bad NADs
http://dna-explained.com/2015/04/14/a-dozen-ancestors-that-arent-aka-bad-nads/

The Logic and Birth of a Bad NAD (New Ancestor Discovery)
http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/12/the-logic-and-birth-of-a-bad-nad-new-ancestor-discovery/

Circling the Shews
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/24/circling-the-shews/

Naughty Bad NADs Sneak Home Under Cover of Darkness
http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/24/naughty-bad-nads-sneak-home-under-cover-of-darkness/

Ancestry Shared Matches Combined with New Ancestor Discoveries
http://dna-explained.com/2015/08/28/ancestry-shared-matches-combined-with-new-ancestor-discoveries/

Ancestry Shakey Leaf Disappearing Matches: Now You See Them – Now You Don’t
http://dna-explained.com/2015/09/24/ancestry-shakey-leaf-disappearing-matches-now-you-see-them-now-you-dont/

Ancestry’s New Amount of Shared DNA – What Does It Really Mean?
http://dna-explained.com/2015/11/06/ancestrys-new-amount-of-shared-dna-what-does-it-really-mean/

The Winds of Change
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/11/08/the-winds-of-change/

Confusion – Family Tree Maker, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com
http://dna-explained.com/2015/12/13/confusion-family-tree-maker-family-tree-dna-and-ancestry-com/

DNA: good news, bad news
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/01/11/dna-good-news-bad-news/

Check out the Alternatives
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/12/09/check-out-the-alternatives/

GeneAwards 2015
http://www.tamurajones.net/GeneAwards2015.xhtml

23andMe Betrays Genealogists

2015 broken heart

In October, 23andMe announced that it has reached an agreement with the FDA about reporting some health information such as carrier status and traits to their clients. As a part of or perhaps as a result of that agreement, 23andMe is dramatically changing the user experience.

In some aspects, the process will be simplified for genealogists with a universal opt-in. However, other functions are being removed and the price has doubled.  New advertising says little or nothing about genealogy and is entirely medically focused.  That combined with the move of the trees offsite to MyHeritage seems to signal that 23andMe has lost any commitment they had to the genetic genealogy community, effectively abandoning the group entirely that pulled their collective bacon out of the fire. This is somehow greatly ironic in light of the fact that it was the genetic genealogy community through their testing recommendations that kept 23andMe in business for the two years, from November of 2013 through October of 2015 when the FDA had the health portion of their testing shut down.  This is a mighty fine thank you.

As a result of the changes at 23andMe relative to genealogy, the genetic genealogy community has largely withdrawn their support and recommendations to test at 23andMe in favor of Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.

Kelly Wheaton, writing on the Facebook ISOGG group along with other places has very succinctly summed up the situation:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153873250057922/

You can also view Kelly’s related posts from earlier in December and their comments at:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153830929022922/
and…
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153828722587922/

My account at 23andMe has not yet been converted to the new format, so I cannot personally comment on the format changes yet, but I will write about the experience in 2016 after my account is converted.

Furthermore, I will also be writing a new autosomal vendor testing comparison article after their new platform is released.

I Hate 23andMe
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/i-hate-23andme/

23andMe to Get Makeover After Agreement With FDA
http://dna-explained.com/2015/10/21/23andme-to-get-a-makeover-after-agreement-with-fda/

23andMe Metamorphosis
http://throughthetreesblog.tumblr.com/post/131724191762/the-23andme-metamorphosis

The Changes at 23andMe
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-changes-at-23andme/

The 23and Me Transition – The First Step
http://dna-explained.com/2015/11/05/the-23andme-transition-first-step-november-11th/

The Winds of Change
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/11/08/the-winds-of-change/

Why Autosomal Response Rate Really Does Matter
http://dna-explained.com/2015/02/24/why-autosomal-response-rate-really-does-matter/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
http://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/

Now…and not now
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/12/06/now-and-not-now/

                             Cone of Shame Award 2015 frown

Another award this year is the Cone of Shame award which is also awarded to both Ancestry and 23andMe for their methodology of obtaining “consent” to sell their customers’, meaning our, DNA and associated information.

Genetic Genealogy Data Gets Sold

2015 shame

Unfortunately, 2015 has been the year that the goals of both 23andMe and Ancestry have become clear in terms of our DNA data. While 23andMe has always been at least somewhat focused on health, Ancestry never was previously, but has now hired a health officer and teamed with Calico for medical genetics research.

Now, both Ancestry and 23andMe have made research arrangements and state in their release and privacy verbiage that all customers must electronically sign (or click through) when purchasing their DNA tests that they can sell, at minimum, your anonymized DNA data, without any further consent.  And there is no opt-out at that level.

They can also use our DNA and data internally, meaning that 23andMe’s dream of creating and patenting new drugs can come true based on your DNA that you submitted for genealogical purposes, even if they never sell it to anyone else.

In an interview in November, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki said the following:

23andMe is now looking at expanding beyond the development of DNA testing and exploring the possibility of developing its own medications. In July, the company raised $79 million to partly fund that effort. Additionally, the funding will likely help the company continue with the development of its new therapeutics division. In March, 23andMe began to delve into the therapeutics market, to create a third pillar behind the company’s personal genetics tests and sales of genetic data to pharmaceutical companies.

Given that the future of genetic genealogy at these two companies seems to be tied to the sale of their customer’s genetic and other information, which, based on the above, is very clearly worth big bucks, I feel that the fact that these companies are selling and utilizing their customer’s information in this manner should be fully disclosed. Even more appropriate, the DNA information should not be sold or utilized for research without an informed consent that would traditionally be used for research subjects.

Within the past few days, I wrote an article, providing specifics and calling on both companies to do the following.

  1. To minimally create transparent, understandable verbiage that informs their customers before the end of the purchase process that their DNA will be sold or utilized for unspecified research with the intention of financial gain and that there is no opt-out. However, a preferred plan of action would be a combination of 2 and 3, below.
  2. Implement a plan where customer DNA can never be utilized for anything other than to deliver the services to the consumers that they purchased unless a separate, fully informed consent authorization is signed for each research project, without coercion, meaning that the client does not have to sign the consent to obtain any of the DNA testing or services.
  3. To immediately stop utilizing the DNA information and results from customers who have already tested until they have signed an appropriate informed consent form for each research project in which their DNA or other information will be utilized.

And Now Ancestry Health
http://dna-explained.com/2015/06/06/and-now-ancestry-health/

Opting Out
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/26/opting-out/

Ancestry Terms of Use Updated
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/07/ancestry-terms-of-use-updated/

AncestryDNA Doings
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/05/ancestrydna-doings/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
http://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/

23andMe and Ancestry and Selling Your DNA Information
http://dna-explained.com/2015/12/30/23andme-ancestry-and-selling-your-dna-information/

                      Citizen Science Leadership Award   2015 smile

The Citizen Science Leadership Award this year goes to Blaine Bettinger for initiating the Shared cM Project, a crowdsourced project which benefits everyone.

Citizen Scientists Continue to Push the Edges of the Envelope with the Shared cM Project

Citizen scientists, in the words of Dr. Doron Behar, “are not amateurs.” In fact, citizen scientists have been contributing mightily and pushing the edge of the genetic genealogy frontier consistently now for 15 years.  This trend continues, with new discoveries and new ways of viewing and utilizing information we already have.

For example, Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project was begun in March and continues today. This important project has provided real life information as to the real matching amounts and ranges between people of different relationships, such as first cousins, for example, as compared to theoretical match amounts.  This wonderful project produced results such as this:

2015 shared cM

I don’t think Blaine initially expected this project to continue, but it has and you can read about it, see the rest of the results, and contribute your own data here. Blaine has written several other articles on this topic as well, available at the same link.

Am I Weird or What?
http://dna-explained.com/2015/03/07/am-i-weird-or-what/

Jim Owston analyzed fourth cousins and other near distant relationships in his Owston one-name study:
https://owston.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/an-analysis-of-fourth-cousins-and-other-near-distant-relatives/

I provided distant cousin information in the Crumley surname study:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/roberta-estes-crumley-y-dna

I hope more genetic genealogists will compile and contribute this type of real world data as we move forward. If you have compiled something like this, the Surname DNA Journal is peer reviewed and always looking for quality articles for publication.

Privacy, Law Enforcement and DNA

2015 privacy

Unfortunately, in May, a situation by which Y DNA was utilized in a murder investigation was reported in a sensationalist “scare” type fashion.  This action provided cause, ammunition or an excuse for Ancestry to remove the Sorenson data base from public view.

I find this exceedingly, exceedingly unfortunate. Given Ancestry’s history with obsoleting older data bases instead of updating them, I’m suspecting this was an opportune moment for Ancestry to be able to withdraw this database, removing a support or upgrade problem from their plate and blame the problem on either law enforcement or the associated reporting.

I haven’t said much about this situation, in part because I’m not a lawyer and in part because the topic is so controversial and there is no possible benefit since the damage has already been done. Unfortunately, nothing anyone can say or has said will bring back the Sorenson (or Ancestry) data bases and arguments would be for naught.  We already beat this dead horse a year ago when Ancestry obsoleted their own data base.  On this topic, be sure to read Judy Russell’s articles and her sources as well for the “rest of the story.”

Privacy, the Police and DNA
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/02/08/privacy-the-police-and-dna/

Big Easy DNA Not So Easy
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/03/15/big-easy-dna-not-so-easy/

Of Babies and Bathwater
http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/17/of-babies-and-bathwater/

Facts Matter
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/

Genetic genealogy standards from within the community were already in the works prior to the Idaho case, referenced above, and were subsequently published as guidelines.

Announcing Genetic Genealogy Standards
http://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2015/01/10/announcing-genetic-genealogy-standards/

The standards themselves:
http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Genetic-Genealogy-Standards.pdf

Ancient DNA Results Continue to Amass

“Moorleiche3-Schloss-Gottorf” by Commander-pirx at de.wikipedia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ancient DNA is difficult to recover and even more difficult to sequence, reassembling tiny little blocks of broken apart DNA into an ancient human genome.

However, each year we see a few more samples and we are beginning to repaint the picture of human population movement, which is different than we thought it would be.

One of the best summaries of the ancient ancestry field was Michael Hammer’s presentation at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November titled “R1B and the Peopling of Europe: an Ancient DNA Update.” His slides are available here:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/r1b-and-the-people-of-europe-an-ancient-dna-update

One of the best ongoing sources for this information is Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog. He covered most of the new articles and there have been several.  That’s the good news and the bad news, all rolled into one. http://dienekes.blogspot.com/

I have covered several that were of particular interest to the evolution of Europeans and Native Americans.

Yamnaya, Light Skinned Brown Eyed….Ancestors?
http://dna-explained.com/2015/06/15/yamnaya-light-skinned-brown-eyed-ancestors/

Kennewick Man is Native American
http://dna-explained.com/2015/06/18/kennewick-man-is-native-american/

Botocudo – Ancient Remains from Brazil
http://dna-explained.com/2015/07/02/botocudo-ancient-remains-from-brazil/

Some Native had Oceanic Ancestors
http://dna-explained.com/2015/07/22/some-native-americans-had-oceanic-ancestors/

Homo Naledi – A New Species Discovered
http://dna-explained.com/2015/09/11/homo-naledi-a-new-species-discovered/

Massive Pre-Contact Grave in California Yields Disappointing Results
http://dna-explained.com/2015/10/20/mass-pre-contact-native-grave-in-california-yields-disappointing-results/

I know of several projects involving ancient DNA that are in process now, so 2016 promises to be a wonderful ancient DNA year!

Education

2015 education

Many, many new people discover genetic genealogy every day and education continues to be an ongoing and increasing need. It’s a wonderful sign that all major conferences now include genetic genealogy, many with a specific track.

The European conferences have done a great deal to bring genetic genealogy testing to Europeans. European testing benefits those of us whose ancestors were European before immigrating to North America.  This year, ISOGG volunteers staffed booths and gave presentations at genealogy conferences in Birmingham, England, Dublin, Ireland and in Nyköping, Sweden, shown below, photo compliments of Catherine Borges.

ISOGG volunteers

Several great new online educational opportunities arose this year, outside of conferences, for which I’m very grateful.

DNA Lectures YouTube Channel
http://dna-explained.com/2015/04/26/dna-lectures-youtube-channel/

Allen County Public Library Online Resources
http://dna-explained.com/2015/06/03/allen-county-public-library-online-resources/

DNA Data Organization Tools and Who’s on First
http://dna-explained.com/2015/09/08/dna-data-organization-tools-and-whos-on-first/

Genetic Genealogy Educational Resource List
http://dna-explained.com/2015/12/03/genetic-genealogy-educational-resource-list/

Genetic Genealogy Ireland Videos
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHnW2NAfPIA2KUipZ_PlUlw

DNA Lectures – Who Do You Think You Are
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7HQSiSkiy7ujlkgQER1FYw

Ongoing and Online Classes in how to utilize both Y and autosomal DNA
http://www.dnaadoption.com/index.php?page=online-classes

Education Award

2015 smile Family Tree DNA receives the Education Award this year along with a huge vote of gratitude for their 11 years of genetic genealogy conferences. They are the only testing or genealogy company to hold a conference of this type and they do a fantastic job.  Furthermore, they sponsor additional educational events by providing the “theater” for DNA presentations at international events such as the Who Do You Think You Are conference in England.  Thank you Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA Conference

ftdna 2015

The Family Tree DNA Conference, held in November, was a hit once again. I’m not a typical genealogy conference person.  My focus is on genetic genealogy, so I want to attend a conference where I can learn something new, something leading edge about the science of genetic genealogy – and that conference is definitely the Family Tree DNA conference.

Furthermore, Family Tree DNA offers tours of their lab on the Monday following the conference for attendees, and actively solicits input on their products and features from conference attendees and project administrators.

2015 FTDNA lab

Family Tree DNA 11th International Conference – The Best Yet
http://dna-explained.com/2015/11/18/2015-family-tree-dna-11th-international-conference-the-best-yet/

All of the conference presentations that were provided by the presenters have been made available by Family Tree DNA at:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA?utm_campaign=website&utm_source=sendgrid.com&utm_medium=email

2016 Genetic Genealogy Wish List

2015 wish list

In 2014, I presented a wish list for 2015 and it didn’t do very well.  Will my 2015 list for 2016 fare any better?

  • Ancestry restores Sorenson and their own Y and mtDNA data bases in some format or contributes to an independent organization like ISOGG.
  • Ancestry provides chromosome browser.
  • Ancestry removes or revamps Timber in order to restore legitimate matches removed by Timber algorithm.
  • Fully informed consent (per research project) implemented by 23andMe and Ancestry, and any other vendor who might aspire to sell consumer DNA or related information, without coercion, and not as a prerequisite for purchasing a DNA testing product. DNA and information will not be shared or utilized internally or externally without informed consent and current DNA information will cease being used in this fashion until informed consent is granted by customers who have already tested.
  • Improved ethnicity reporting at all vendors including ancient samples and additional reference samples for Native Americans.
  • Autosomal Triangulation tools at all vendors.
  • Big Y and STR integration and analysis enhancement at Family Tree DNA.
  • Ancestor Reconstruction
  • Mitochondrial and Y DNA search tools by ancestor and ancestral line at Family Tree DNA.
  • Improved tree at Family Tree DNA – along with new search capabilities.
  • 23andMe restores lost capabilities, drops price, makes changes and adds features previously submitted as suggestions by community ambassadors.
  • More tools (This is equivalent to “bring me some surprises” on my Santa list as a kid.)

My own goals haven’t changed much over the years. I still just want to be able to confirm my genealogy, to learn as much as I can about each ancestor, and to break down brick walls and fill in gaps.

I’m very hopeful each year as more tools and methodologies emerge.  More people test, each one providing a unique opportunity to match and to understand our past, individually and collectively.  Every year genetic genealogy gets better!  I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy and Ancestrally Prosperous New Year!

2015 happy new year

Estes Big Y DNA Results

In late 2013, a new Y DNA product called the Big Y was introduced by Family Tree DNA.  The goal of this new test was to read virtually all of the Y chromosome that was useful for genealogical purposes.

I decided to wait and see how useful this tool actually was, and how to effectively use the information before delving into a family study, in part, because the individuals tests are quite expensive. We began our Estes Big Y family study in 2014 and I have now completed a report for family members.  With their permission, I’m sharing this information with the hope that other groups will see the potential in combining STR and full sequence SNP testing for family groups.

The temptation, of course, especially in the case of the Estes lineage is to see if we could reach back further in time to see if we can connect with, confirm or dispel the persistent myth that the Estes line is descended from the d’Este family line of Italy.  Of course, if there was a direct line male from that family that existed, or was willing to test, that would answer the question in a heartbeat but that’s not the case.

The belief that the Estes family was descended from the d’Este’s is an old one and not just limited to the American Estes family or the Estes family itself.

Long-time Estes researcher and archivist, David Powell, gathered several instances where various families in England used the d’Este name, at least one of which was suggested by King James himself.

King James I of England and Scotland (reigned from 1603 to 1625) was convinced that a gentleman in his service by the name of East was in fact a descendent of the d’Este family and suggested he change his name to Este. One did not gainsay a suggestion from the king in those days!

Even earlier, the English printer Thomas East (1540-1608) used the names East, Est, Este and Easte and hinted at a connection with the d’Este family, although his motivations were much more obvious – he made his fame publishing Italian music in England and suggesting a connection to the d’Este’s would certainly not have adversely affected his sales! Thomas’ son, Michael (1580-1680), who was a composer in his own right, also used the names East, Est, Este and Easte.

Somewhat more recent was the case of Sir Augustus d’Este (1794-1848), who despite the surname, was pure English. Augustus was son of the Duke of Sussex and the daughter of the Earl of Dunmore. The marriage of his parents was without the King’s consent and he (George III) subsequently annulled the marriage, thus making Augustus illegitimate *after* his birth.  After the annulment, Augustus and his sister were given the name d’Este by their father, a name that was “anciently belonging to the House of Brunswick”. There were several other instances where English aristocrats named Este or East changed their name to d’Este, including one family in the 1800’s that changed their name from East and claimed the non-existent title “Baron d’Este.”

The Big Y test holds out the promise, or at least the possibility, of being able to connect the outside limits of the standard genealogy Y DNA STR tests and bridge the hundreds to a couple thousand year gap between STR testing and haplogroup definitions.

In our case, we needed to know where our ancestors were and what they were doing, genetically, between about 500BC and 1495AD when we both find them (coming forward in time) and lose them (going backward in time) in Deal, Kent, England.

Had they been in Kent forever, without a surname or with a surname, but not reflected in the available records, or had they truly been royalty on the continent and recently immigrated?

In the article, Nycholas Ewstas (c1495-1533) English Progenitor, I found and compiled the various list of Estes/d’Este ancestral stories.  The most reasonable seems to be found in David Powell’s article, “Origins of the Estes/Eastes Family Name,” as follows:

“…Francesco of Este, who was the son of Marquis Leonello [1407-1450], left Ferrara [1471] to go and live in Burgundy, by the will of Duke Ercole [Francesco’s uncle, who succeeded Leonello] .. and, in order that he should go at once, he gave him horses and clothes and 500 ducats more; and this was done because His Excellency had some suspicions of him .. ‘Francesco .. went to Burgundy and afterward to England’. These were the words written on the back of the picture of Francesco found in a collection of paintings near Ferrara.”

Many of the details are similar to earlier stories. But why would Francesco flee Italy? In 1471 Francesco’s brother, Ericolo, led a revolt in an attempt to overthrow Duke Ercole. The attempt was unsuccessful and in typical royal tradition, Ericolo lost his head and Francesco exiled, if only because he was Ericolo’s brother. Did Francesco really travel to England? The only evidence for this is the writing in the back of the painting, the existence of which is unconfirmed. Essentially the same story is told by Charles Estes in his book:

“.. Francesco Esteuse (born c.1440), the illegitimate son of Leonnello d’Este. Francesco was living in Burgundy. In the time of Duke Borso he came to Ferrara, and at Borso’s death was declared rebellious by Ercole because of efforts made by his brother, Ericolo, to seize power. Francesco returned to Burgundy and was heard of no more from that time (1471). As the time coincided with that when Edward conquered [sic] England with the aid of Burgundy, it was possible that Francesco followed Edward and after Edward’s victory made England his home.”

I checked with the Metropolitan Museum of Art who indicated no such notation on the painting and provided additional information showing that it’s likely that Francesco died in Burgundy.

If Francesco was the progenitor of the Estes family of Kent, who were mariners, the family in one generation, in essence, in one fell swoop, went from royalty to peasantry in Kent.  Nicholas was born in 1495 and two other Estes men, Richard and Thomas, found nearby, born about the same time.  Extremely unlikely, but not impossible.

The d’Este family of Italy was said by Edward Gibbon in his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to originate from the Roman Attii family, which migrated from Rome to Este to defend Italy against Goths. However there is no evidence to support this hypothesis.

The names of the early members of the family indicate that a Frankish origin is much more likely. The first known member of the house was Margrave Adalbert of Mainz, known only as father of Oberto I, Count palatine of Italy, who died around 975. Oberto’s grandson Albert Azzo II, Margrave of Milan (996–1097) built a castle at Este, near Padua, below, and named himself after it.

Este Castle

The city of Mainz is the capital of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. It was the capital of the Electorate of Mainz at the time of the Holy Roman Empire which began in 962. In antiquity Mainz was a Roman fort city which commanded the west bank of the Rhine and formed part of the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire; it was founded as a military post by the Romans in the late 1st century BC and became the provincial capital of Germania Superior.

Mainz Germany

The city is located on the river Rhine at its confluence with the Main opposite Wiesbaden, in the western part of the Frankfurt Rhine-Main.  The painting above shows Mainz looking toward the Rhine, across the old part of the city, in 1890.

There is absolutely no question that the Romans occupied Mainz as the remnants of architectural structures such as Roman City gates from the 4th century and Roman aqueducts (below) permeate the landscape yet today.

Mainz Roman aquaducts

The town of Frankfurt was adjacent Mainz and the name of Frankfurt on Main is derived from the Franconofurd of the Germanic tribe of the Franks plus Furt, meaning ford,  where the river was shallow enough to be crossed by wading. The Alemanni and Franks lived there and by 794 Charlemagne presided over an imperial assembly and church synod, at which Franconofurd (-furt -vurd) was first mentioned.

The Franks and the Alemanni were both Germanic tribes.  The Alemanni were found in what is today German Swabis and Baden, French Alsace, German-speaking Switzerland and Austrian Voralberg.  Their name means “all men” as they were a Germanic confederation tribe.  One historian, Walafrid Strabo, a monk of the Abbey of St Gall wrote in the 9th century that only foreigners called the Alemanni by that name, that they called themselves the Suebi.

This map shows the approximate location of the original Frankish tribes in the third century.

Frankish Tribes 3rd Century

“Carte des peuples francs (IIIe siècle)” by Odejea – Own work, d’après : Patrick Peron, Laurence Charlotte Feiffer, Les Francs (tome 1 – A la conquête de la Gaule), Armand Collon Editeur, Paris, 1987, isbn 2-200-37070-6. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Franks, who eventually conquered the Alemanni, were found predominately in northeastern Europe in what is now Belgium and the Netherlands along the lower and middle Rhine, extending into what is now France.

Another source claims that the Italian d’Este family roots were found as the Marquis of Sicily, affiliated with Lombardy, which was ruled by the Lombards. If this is true, the Lombards were also descendants of the Suebi, having originated in Scandinavia, and the Franks defeated the Lombards as well, so either way, the DNA would appear in the same locale.

Lombard Migration

“Lombard Migration” by Castagna – Own elaboration from Image: Europe satellite orthographic.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Relative to the Estes family of Kent, if they do descend from the d’Este family of Italy, based on this information, their Y DNA should look like and correlate with that of either Italians or Germanic tribes such as the Franks and the Suebi.

Aside from answering this origins question that has burned for years, what other types of information might we learn from Big Y testing?

  • Does the Estes family have any mutations that are unique? In other words, specific SNP mutations have evolved in the Estes family and would, in combination with other SNPs and STRs, identify us uniquely. Someday, in hundreds of years, as we have many descendants, these individual SNPs found only in our family line will define our own haplogroup.
  • What other families are the closest to the Estes family?
  • When and where did we “split” with those other families? Does their family history help define or identify ours?
  • Can SNP mutations in combination with STR mutations help identify specific lineages within the Estes family? This is particularly important for people who don’t know which ancestral line they descend from.

These same questions would be relevant for any family interested in doing a Big Y DNA study.

The Estes family is fortunate that we have several people who are interested in the deep history of the family, and were willing to pay for the Big Y test, along with the full 111 marker Y STR tests to facilitate our research and understanding.

The Estes family is first found in Kent, England in 1495 with Nicholas whose name was spelled variably, as were all names at that time.  Estes is spelled in many ways such as Ewstas, Eustace, Estes, Eastes, Estice and more.  I am using Estes for consistency.

I have created a pedigree chart of sorts to show the descent of the Estes Big Y testers.

Estes pedigree

Robert Estes and Anne Woodward had two sons, Silvester and Robert, who have descendants Big Y testing today.

Silvester had two sons, Richard and Abraham who have descendants who have Y DNA tested, but only Abraham’s descendants have taken the Big Y test.  Robert had son Matthew whose descendant also took the Big Y test.  Note that Abraham and Matthew are shown in green which indicates that they immigrated to America.  Richard, in blue, between Abraham and Matthew did not immigrate and his descendants did not take the Big Y test.

Of Abraham’s sons, we have Y DNA tested descendants from 7 sons, but only descendants of 5 sons are participating in the Big Y project.  We are uncertain of the direct lineage of kit 199378 as noted by the ? with Elisha’s name in his ancestry.  We know positively from his DNA results that he is biologically an Estes, but he could be descended from a different son.

We are also very fortunate that we have been able through several volunteers and professional genealogists to document the Estes line reliably both back in time into Kent and forward in time to current through several lines.

The Estes DNA project is somewhat unique in the fact that we have 10, 11 and 12 generations to work with in each line.  Our closest participants are 7th cousins and our furthest, 10th cousins once removed.  We have a total of 65 separate DNA transmission events that have occurred, counting each birth in each line as one transmission event, introducing the possibility of either STR mutations or new SNPS in each new generation.

STR mutations show up in the traditional 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 marker panels.  SNP mutations  show up in the Big Y report as either SNPs or Novel Variants which is a newly discovered SNP that has not yet been assigned an official SNP name, assuming is isn’t just a family occurrence.

Let’s look at the STR markers first.

All of our participants except one extended to 111 markers and that individual tested at 67.  Of the 111 markers, 97 marker locations have identical marker values in all participants, so have no mutations in any line since our common ancestor lived.  Of course, this means that our common ancestor carried this same value at this DNA location.

I created a virtual Estes ancestor, in green, below, by utilizing the most common values of the descendants and compared everyone against that ancestor.  Of course, this is a bit skewed because we have several descendants of Silvester’s line through Abraham and only one descendant of Robert through Matthew.

Estes ancestral Y

The reconstructed or triangulated ancestral value is shown in green, at the top, and the results that don’t match that value are highlighted.  I can’t show all 111 markers here, but enough that you get the idea.  You can see all of the Estes STR test results on the Estes DNA project page.

Comparing against the recreated ancestor, Matthew’s descendant, kit 166011, only has 7 mutations difference from our recreated Estes Y ancestor.  At 111 markers, this averages out to about one STR mutation every 1.5-2 generations.

The chart below shows Matthew’s descendant kit, 166011, compared to all of Abraham’s descendants.  Matthew’s descendant, of course, is the kit furthest genealogically from Abraham’s descendants.

The number in the intersecting cells shows the number of mutations at both 67 and 111 markers compared to kit 166011.

Kit Numbers 9993 13805 244708 366707 199378
166011 at 67 6 6 6 6 5
166011 at 111 10 10 11 11 No test

When compared to each other, and not the ancestral values, kits 244708 and 366707 are not shown as matches to kit 166011 at 111 markers at Family Tree DNA, but are at 67 markers.  When possible, I match participants to a recreated ancestor (on my spreadsheet) as opposed to matching to each other within a surname project, because it gives us a common starting point, providing a more realistic picture of how the DNA mutated to be what it is today in each line.

The Kent Estes Y DNA falls within haplogroup R-L21.  From Eupedia, here’s a map of where haplogroup R-L21 is found.

R-L21

L21 is known for being Celtic, not Germanic, meaning not the same as Franks and Suebi.  Scholars are not unified in their interpretation of the maximum influence of the Celts.  Some show no influence at all in Italy, some show a slight eastern coastal influence and this genetic maps shows a Sicilian influence.

However, because nothing in genealogy can every be straightforward, and people are always migrating from place to place, there is one known exception.

According to Barry Cunliffe’s book, “The Celts, a Very Short Introduction”, in 391 BC Celts “who had their homes beyond the Alps streamed through the passes in great strength and seized the territory that lay between the Appennine mountains and the Alps” according to Diodorus Siculus. The Po Valley and the rest of northern Italy (known to the Romans as Cisalpine Gaul) was inhabited by Celtic-speakers.  While Este is somewhat north of this region, Este history indicates that there were fights with the Celts and then assimilation to some extent, so all is not entirely black and white.

The descendants of these invading Celts, having inhabited Italy for approximately 2500 years would be expected, today, to have some defining mutations that would differentiate them from their more northern European kinsmen and they would form a cluster or subgroup, perhaps a sub-haplogroup.

However, if the d’Este family was from the Mainz region of Germany, then Celtic influence in the Po Valley is irrelevant to their Y DNA.  Unfortunately, because this history is cast in warm jello, at best, we need to consider all possibilities.

The various haplogroup project administrators are working very hard to analyze all of the Big Y results within their haplogroup projects and to make sense of them.  By making sense of them, I mean in regards to the haplogroup and haplotree as a whole, not as individuals.  The point of individual testing is to provide information that citizen scientists can utilize to flesh out the haplotree, which in turn fleshes out the history of our ancestors.  So it’s a symbiotic relationship.

The Y DNA haplotree has gone from about 800 branches to 12,000 branches with the announcement of the Genographic 2.0 test in July of 2012 to over 35,000 SNPs that the Big Y is compared against.  And that doesn’t count the thousands of new SNPs discovered and yet unnamed and unplaced on the tree.

This scientific onslaught has been termed the “SNP tsumani” and it truly is.  It’s one of those wonderful, terrible, events – simply because there is so much good information it overwhelms us.  Fortunately, the force of the tsunami is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the haplotree is broken into haplogroups and subgroups and many volunteer administrators are working feverishly to assemble the results in a reasonable manner, determining what is a leaf, a twig and a branch of the tree.

Mike Walsh is one of the administrators who maintains the L21 project and tree and has been extremely helpful in this process, providing both guidance and analysis.  The project administrators have access to the results of all of the project participants, something individuals don’t have, so the project administrator’s assistance and perspective is invaluable.  We’d be lost without them

Mike has created an extended tree of the R-L21 haplogroup

R-L21 tree crop

The Estes men are here, in the DF49 group indicated by the red arrow.

The Estes men have tested positive for SNPs which include:

  • L21
  • DF13
  • DF49

Downstream, meaning closer in time to us, the haplogroup DF49 project administrator, Peter M. Op den Velde Boots, has created a tree rooted from the DF49 mutation.

I’m pleased to say that we are on that tree as well, towards the right hand side.  The ZP SNPs on this tree are placeholder names created by the administrator so he could create a tree until an official name is issued for Z SNP locations.

DF49 tree crop2

The interesting thing is that Mike Walsh had predicted that both the Estes and a few other surnames would fall into a common subgroup based on our unusual values at three different STR markers:

  • 460<=10
  • 413=23,24
  • 534>=17

Surnames that fell into Mike’s cluster based on Y STR marker values include:

  • Gallagher (Ireland)
  • Churchville (Ireland)
  • Killeen/Killian (Ireland)
  • Hall (England)
  • Mahon (Ireland)
  • Estes (England)

We’re seeing a lot of Irish names, and Ireland was settled by Celtic people.

Initially, the Estes men matched each other fairly closely, but had many differences from any other individuals who had tested.  I have bolded the Matthew descendant kit that is the furthest from the other men who descend from Abraham.

SNP Differences With Other Estes Men

John 244708 Edward 13805 Garmon 9993 Emory III366707 Howard 166011 Dennis 199378
John 244708 x 1 (Z2001) 0 2 (Z2001, F1314) 1 (Z2001) 2 (Z2001, PF682)
Edward 13805 1 (Z2001) x 0 1 (F1314) 0 0
Garmon 9993 0 0 x 1 (F1314) 0 0
Emory III 366707 2 (Z2001, F1314) 1 (F1314) 1 (F1314) x 1 (F1314) 1 (F1314)
Howard 166011 1 (Z2001) 0 0 1 (F1314) x 0
Dennis 199378 2 (Z2001, PF682) 0 0 1 (F1314) 0 x

SNPs are haplogroup subgroup defining mutations.  SNPs with a number assigned, as shown above, prefixed by a capital letter, means that the SNP has been registered and the originating letter indicates the lab in which it was found.  SNPs discovered in Big Y testing are prefixed by BY for example.

Not all SNPs with numbers assigned have been placed on the haplogroup tree, nor will they all be placed on the tree.  Some may be determined to be private or personal SNPs or not widespread enough to be of general interest.  One certainly doesn’t want the tree to become so subdivided that family members with the same surname and known ancestor wind up in different haplogroups, appearing to not be related.  Or maybe we have to redefine how we think of a haplogroup.

Case in point, these men with known, proven common Estes ancestors have differences on three SNPs, shown in the columns, below.

Estes Men Unique SNP Mutations

Z2001 F1314 PF682
John 244708 Yes No Yes
Garmon 9993 ? No ?
Edward 13805 No No ?
Emory III 366707 No Yes ?
Dennis 199378 No No No
Howard 166011 No No ?

What does this mean?

This means that John has developed two SNP mutations that none of the other Estes men have, unless some of the men with no-callls at that location, indicated by a ?, have that mutation.  The common ancestor of all of the Estes participants except Howard is Abraham Estes, so SNP Z2001 and PF682 have occurred in John’s line someplace since Abraham.

PF682 is quite interesting in that two Estes men, both descendants of Abraham did have results for this location, one with an ancestral value (Dennis) and one with a derived, or mutated, value (John.)  What is so interesting is that the four other men had ambiguous or unclear results at this location. In this case, I would simply disregard this SNP entirely since the results of reading this location seem to be unreliable.

Emory III, also a descendant of Abraham has developed a mutation at location F1314.

In these cases, these SNPs would fall into the category of line marker mutations that are found in that family’s line, but not in the other Estes lines.  These are similar to STR line marker mutations as well.

The next type of SNP mutation reported in the Big Y results are called Novel Variants.  Novel Variants are SNPs that haven’t yet been named, because they have just recently been discovered in the past few months in the testing process.  The Big Y test compares everyone against a data base of 36,288 known SNPs.  The balance of mutations found, called novel variants, are discoveries in the testing process.

Shared Novel Variants Between Estes Men

John 244708 Edward 13805 Garmon 9993 Emory III 366707 Howard 166011 Dennis 199378
John 244708 x 88 84 89 89 84
Edward 13805 88 x 84 88 89 85
Garmon 9993 84 84 x 83 84 81
Emory III 366707 89 88 83 x 89 87
Howard 166011 89 89 84 89 x 86
Dennis 199378 84 85 81 87 86 x

In essence, the Estes family has 30 differences from the DF49 base.  Translated, that means that in essence, our Estes family line broke away from the DF49 parent haplogroup about twice as long ago as the infamous M222 subclade named after Niall of the Nine Hostages.  So, our ancestor was the ancestor of Niall of the Nine Hostages too, some 4000 years or so ago.

Finally, a Gallagher male tested, and the Gallagher and Estes families share a block of DNA that no one else shares that is comprised of 18 different individual mutations.  As these things go, this is a huge number.

The numbers below are “addresses” on the Y chromosome because SNP names have not yet been assigned.  The first letter listed is the ancestral value and the second is the mutated value found in the Estes/Gallagher combined group.

  • 07457863-C-T
  • 07618400-G-A
  • 07738519-G-A
  • 07956143-A-G
  • 08432298-A-G
  • 14005952-AATAAATAA-A
  • 14029772-C-T
  • 15436998-C-T
  • 15549360-A-C
  • 16286264-C-T
  • 17833232-TT-T
  • 18417378-G-A
  • 18638729-A-G
  • 19402586-G-A
  • 22115259-T-C
  • 22445270-G-A
  • 22445271-A-G
  • 23560522-G-A

This DNA will very likely define a new subclade of haplogroup R and has been submitted to obtain SNP names for these mutation locations for the Estes/Gallagher subclade.  Unfortunately, they will not call it the Estes/Gallagher subclade, but we can for now:)

The Estes line still shares another dozen SNPs between themselves that are not yet shared by any other surname.  At this point, those are considered family SNPs, but if others test and those SNPs are found outside the Estes family, they too will receive SNP names and become a new subclade.

So how long ago did all of this happen?  When did we split, genetically, from the people who would become the Gallaghers?

The estimates for the number of average years per SNP creation vary, but range from 110 to 170.  Utilizing this range, when comparing how long ago the Gallagher and the Estes family shared a common ancestor, we find that our common ancestor lived between 1320 and 2040 years ago.  What we don’t know is whether that ancestor lived on continental Europe or in the British Isles.  Certainly, this was before the adoption of surnames.

Another interesting aspect of this testing is that the Estes and Gallagher families don’t match above 12 markers, but they do match at 12 markers with one mutation difference.  If the Estes and Gallagher participants weren’t in the same haplogroup project, they wouldn’t even see this match since they do have 1 difference at 12 markers and only exact 12 marker matches are shown outside of projects.  This shows that sometimes very basic STR testing can reach far back in time if (multiple) mutations haven’t occurred in those first 12 markers.

I was interested to check the TIP calculator to see how closely in terms of generations the calculator expected the common ancestor to be at the 50th percentile, meaning the point at which the common ancestors is equally as likely to be earlier as later.  The calculator indicated that 17 generations was at the 50th percentile, so about 425 to 510 years ago, allowing 25-30 years per generation.  At 24 generations, or 600-720 years, which is as far as the calculator reaches, the likelihood of a common ancestor was still only at 68% and the TIP calculator would reach the 100th percentile at about the 34th generation, or 850-1020 years – if it reached that far.

It’s interesting to compare the results of the two tools.  Both agree that the common ancestor is far back in time, and extrapolating now, very likely before the advent or surnames.  The SNP estimate of 1320-2040 does not overlap with the STR estimate of 850-1020 – although in all fairness, a 12 marker TIP estimate is expecting a lot in terms of this kind of extrapolation.

After the Gallagher and Estes lines split, probably between 1300 and 2000 years ago, or between 700AD and the time of Christ, did the Estes men then find their way to Italy by the year 900 when the d’Este family is unquestionably found in Italy, and back again to Europe before we find Nicholas in Kent in 1495AD?  It’s possible, but quite unlikely.  We also have found absolutely no DNA, either utilizing STR markers or SNPs that suggest any connection with any line in or near Italy.

The Estes line is and was unquestionably L21, a haplogroup closely allied with the Celts for the past 4,000 to 5,000 years, with no indication of an Italian branch.  Unless very unexpected new data arises, I think the Estes family can put the d’Este family story away, at least as far as cold storage – unless new data arises in the form of a proven male Y-line d’Este descendant testing or matching Italian L21 DNA participants.

As it turns out, the DNA was simply the final blow to the d’Este story.  As I worked with English and European historical records, and in particular records of wealthy nobles and lesser nobles, I came to realize that children were an asset of the families to be married off for political and social favor.  This sounds terrible by today’s cultural standards, but by the standards of the times in which our ancestors were living, politically advantageously arranged marriages were the best way to provide for your children’s well-being as well as your own.  What this means to us is that no royal d’Este family member would ever have fallen into the working, peasant class.  Even if they weren’t loved or even liked, they were still valuable and would simply have been married off far away.  Our Estes family was a group of hard-working mariners in Deal, certainly not nobility.  And now we know, they were Celts in Europe before they were Deal mariners.

Our more realistic claim to royalty, albeit very distant, lies in the fact that our ancestors were also the ancestors of the Irish King, Niall of the Nine Hostages, King of Tara who died about the year 405 and was the progenitor of the Ui Neill family that dominated Ireland from the 6th to the 10th centuries.  Niall of the Nine Hostages and his descendants were very prolific, with about 3 million people being descendants.  This means that the Estes family is distant cousins to just about everyone.  It indeed, is a very small world, made smaller by the connections we can now make via DNA.

celtic tree