Elizabeth Warren’s Native American DNA Results: What They Mean

Elizabeth Warren has released DNA testing results after being publicly challenged and derided as “Pochahontas” as a result of her claims of a family story indicating that her ancestors were Native America. If you’d like to read the specifics of the broo-haha, this Washington Post Article provides a good summary, along with additional links.

I personally find name-calling of any type unacceptable behavior, especially in a public forum, and while Elizabeth’s DNA test was taken, I presume, in an effort to settle the question and end the name-calling, what it has done is to put the science of genetic testing smack dab in the middle of the headlines.

This article is NOT about politics, it’s about science and DNA testing. I will tell you right up front that any comments that are political or hateful in nature will not be allowed to post, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. Unfortunately, these results are being interpreted in a variety of ways by different individuals, in some cases to support a particular political position. I’m presenting the science, without the politics.

This is the first of a series of two articles.

I’m dividing this first article into four sections, and I’d ask you to read all four, especially before commenting. A second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will follow shortly about how to get the most out of an ethnicity test when hunting for Native American (or other minority, for you) ethnicity.

Understanding how the science evolved and works is an important factor of comprehending the results and what they actually mean, especially since Elizabeth’s are presented in a different format than we are used to seeing. What a wonderful teaching opportunity.

  • Family History and DNA Science – How this works.
  • Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy
  • Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results
  • Questions and Answers – These are the questions I’m seeing, and my science-based answers.

My second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will include:

  • Potential – This isn’t all that can be done with ethnicity results. What more can you do to identify that Native ancestor?
  • Resources with Step by Step Instructions

Now, let’s look at Elizabeth’s results and how we got to this point.

Family Stories and DNA

Every person that grows up in their biological family hears family stories. We have no reason NOT to believe them until we learn something that potentially conflicts with the facts as represented in the story.

In terms of stories handed down for generations, all we have to go on, initially, are the stories themselves and our confidence in the person relating the story to us. The day that we begin to suspect that something might be amiss, we start digging, and for some people, that digging begins with a DNA test for ethnicity.

My family had that same Cherokee story. My great-grandmother on my father’s side who died in 1918 was reportedly “full blooded Cherokee” 60 years later when I discovered she had existed. Her brothers reportedly went to Oklahoma to claim headrights land. There were surely nuggets of truth in that narrative. Family members did indeed to go Oklahoma. One did own Cherokee land, BUT, he purchased that land from a tribal member who received an allotment. I discovered that tidbit later.

What wasn’t true? My great-grandmother was not 100% Cherokee. To the best of my knowledge now, a century after her death, she wasn’t Cherokee at all. She probably wasn’t Native at all. Why, then, did that story trickle down to my generation?

I surely don’t know. I can speculate that it might have been because various people were claiming Native ancestry in order to claim land when the government paid tribal members for land as reservations were dissolved between 1893 and 1914. You can read more about that in this article at the National Archives about the Dawes Rolls, compiled for the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole for that purpose.

I can also speculate that someone in the family was confused about the brother’s land ownership, especially since it was Cherokee land.

I could also speculate that the confusion might have resulted because her husband’s father actually did move to Oklahoma and lived on Choctaw land.

But here is what I do know. I believed that story because there wasn’t any reason NOT to believe it, and the entire family shared the same story. We all believed it…until we discovered evidence through DNA testing that contradicted the story.

Before we discuss Elizabeth Warren’s actual results, let’s take a brief look at the underlying science.

Enter DNA Testing

DNA testing for ethnicity was first introduced in a very rudimentary form in 2002 (not a typo) and has progressed exponentially since. The major vendors who offer tests that provide their customers with ethnicity estimates (please note the word estimates) have all refined their customer’s results several times. The reference populations improve, the vendor’s internal software algorithms improve and population genetics as a science moves forward with new discoveries.

Note that major vendors in this context mean Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, the Genographic Project and Ancestry. Two newer vendors include MyHeritage and LivingDNA although LivingDNA is focused on England and MyHeritage, who utilizes imputation is not yet quite up to snuff on their ethnicity estimates. Another entity, GedMatch isn’t a testing vendor, but does provide multiple ethnicity tools if you upload your results from the other vendors. To get an idea of how widely the results vary, you can see the results of my tests at the different vendors here and here.

My initial DNA ethnicity test, in 2002, reported that I was 25% Native American, but I’m clearly not. It’s evident to me now, but it wasn’t then. That early ethnicity test was the dinosaur ages in genetic genealogy, but it did send me on a quest through genealogical records to prove that my family member was indeed Native. My father clearly believed this, as did the rest of the family. One of my early memories when I was about four years old was attending a (then illegal) powwow with my Dad.

In order to prove that Elizabeth Vannoy, that great-grandmother, was Native I asked a cousin who descends from her matrilineally to take a mitochondrial DNA test that would unquestionably provide the ethnicity of her matrilineal line – that of her mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line. If she was Native, her haplogroup would be a derivative either A, B, C, D or X. Her mitochondrial DNA was European, haplogroup J, clearly not Native, so Elizabeth Vannoy was not Native on that line of her family. Ok, maybe through her dad’s line then. I was able to find a Vanoy male descendant of her father, Joel Vannoy, to test his Y DNA and he was not Native either. Rats!

Tracking Elizabeth Vannoy’s genealogy back in time provided no paper-trail link to any Native ancestors, but there were and are still females whose surnames and heritage we don’t know. Were they Native or part Native? Possibly. Nothing precludes it, but nothing (yet) confirms it either.

Unexpected Results

DNA testing is notorious for unveiling unexpected results. Adoptions, unknown parents, unexpected ethnicities, previously unknown siblings and half-siblings and more.

Ethnicity is often surprising and sometimes disappointing. People who expect Native American heritage in their DNA sometimes don’t find it. Why?

  • There is no Native ancestor
  • The Native DNA has “washed out” over the generations, but they did have a Native ancestor
  • We haven’t yet learned to recognize all of the segments that are Native
  • The testing company did not test the area that is Native

Not all vendors test the same areas of our DNA. Each major company tests about 700,000 locations, roughly, but not the same 700,000. If you’re interested in specifics, you can read more about that here.

50-50 Chance

Everyone receives half of their autosomal DNA from each parent.

That means that each parent contributes only HALF OF THEIR DNA to a child. The other half of their DNA is never passed on, at least not to that child.

Therefore, ancestral DNA passed on is literally cut in half in each generation. If your parent has a Native American DNA segment, there is a 50-50 chance you’ll inherit it too. You could inherit the entire segment, a portion of the segment, or none of the segment at all.

That means that if you have a Native ancestor 6 generations back in your tree, you share 1.56% of their DNA, on average. I wrote the article, Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? to explain how this works.

These calculations are estimates and use averages. Why? Because they tell us what to expect, on average. Every person’s results will vary. It’s entirely possible to carry a Native (or other ethnic) segment from 7 or 8 or 9 generations ago, or to have none in 5 generations. Of course, these calculations also presume that the “Native” ancestor we find in our tree was fully Native. If the Native ancestor was already admixed, then the percentages of Native DNA that you could inherit drop further.

Why Call Ethnicity an Estimate?

You’ve probably figured out by now that due to the way that DNA is inherited, your ethnicity as reported by the major testing companies isn’t an exact science. I discussed the methodology behind ethnicity results in the article, Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum.

It is, however, a specialized science known as Population Genetics. The quality of the results that are returned to you varies based on several factors:

  • World Region – Ethnicity estimates are quite accurate at the continental level, plus Jewish – meaning African, Indo-European, Asian, Native American and Jewish. These regions are more different than alike and better able to be separated.
  • Reference Population – The size of the population your results are being compared to is important. The larger the reference population, the more likely your results are to be accurate.
  • Vendor Algorithm – None of the vendors provide the exact nature of their internal algorithms that they use to determine your ethnicity percentages. Suffice it to say that each vendor’s staff includes population geneticists and they all have years of experience. These internal differences are why the estimates vary when compared to each other.
  • Size of the Segment – As with all genetic genealogy, bigger is better because larger segments stand a better chance of being accurate.
  • Academic Phasing – A methodology academics and vendors use in which segments of DNA that are known to travel together during inheritance are grouped together in your results. This methodology is not infallible, but in general, it helps to group your mother’s DNA together and your father’s DNA together, especially when parents are not available for testing.
  • Parental Phasing – If your parents test and they too have the same segment identified as Native, you know that the identification of that segment as Native is NOT a factor of chance, where the DNA of each of your parents just happens to fall together in a manner as to mimic a Native segment. Parental phasing is the ability to divide your DNA into two parts based on your parent’s DNA test(s).
  • Two Chromosomes – You have two chromosomes, one from your mother and one from your father. DNA testing can’t easily separate those chromosomes, so the exact same “address” on your mother’s and father’s chromosomes that you inherited may carry two different ethnicities. Unless your parents are both from the same ethnic population, of course.

All of these factors, together, create a confidence score. Consumers never see these scores as such, but the vendors return the highest confidence results to their customers. Some vendors include the capability, one way or another, to view or omit lower confidence results.

Parental Phasing – Identical by Descent

If you’re lucky enough to have your parents, or even one parent available to test, you can determine whether that segment thought to be Native came from one of your parents, or if the combination of both of your parent’s DNA just happened to combine to “look” Native.

Here’s an example where the “letters” (nucleotides) of Native DNA for an example segment are shown at left. If you received the As from one of your parents, your DNA is said to be phased to that parent’s DNA. That means that you in fact inherited that piece of your DNA from your mother, in the case shown below.

That’s known as Identical by Descent (IBD). The other possibility is what your DNA from both of your parents intermixed to mimic a Native segment, shown below.

This is known as Identical by Chance (IBC).

You don’t need to understand the underpinnings of this phenomenon, just remember that it can happen, and the smaller the segment, the more likely that a chance combination can randomly happen.

Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy

Elizabeth Warren’s genealogy, is reported to the 5th generation by WikiTree.

Elizabeth’s mother, Pauline Herring’s line is shown, at WikiTree, as follows:

Notice that of Elizabeth Warren’s 16 great-great-great grandparents on her mother’s side, 9 are missing.

Paper trail being unfruitful, Elizabeth Warren, like so many, sought to validate her family story through DNA testing.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results

Elizabeth Warren didn’t test with one of the major vendors. Instead, she went directly to a specialist. That’s the equivalent of skipping the family practice doctor and going to the Mayo Clinic.

Elizabeth Warren had test results interpreted by Dr. Carlos Bustamante at Stanford University. You can read the actual report here and I encourage you to do so.

From the report, here are Dr. Bustamante’s credentials:

Dr. Carlos D. Bustamante is an internationally recognized leader in the application of data science and genomics technology to problems in medicine, agriculture, and biology. He received his Ph.D. in Biology and MS in Statistics from Harvard University (2001), was on the faculty at Cornell University (2002-9), and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010. He is currently Professor of Biomedical Data Science, Genetics, and (by courtesy) Biology at Stanford University. Dr. Bustamante has a passion for building new academic units, non-profits, and companies to solve pressing scientific challenges. He is Founding Director of the Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics (CEHG) and Inaugural Chair of the Department of Biomedical Data Science. He is the Owner and President of CDB Consulting, LTD. and also a Director at Eden Roc Biotech, founder of Arc-Bio (formerly IdentifyGenomics and BigData Bio), and an SAB member of Imprimed, Etalon DX, and Digitalis Ventures among others.

He’s no lightweight in the study of Native American DNA. This 2012 paper, published in PLOS Genetics, Development of a Panel of Genome-Wide Ancestry Informative Markers to Study Admixture Throughout the Americas focused on teasing out Native American markers in admixed individuals.

From that paper:

Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) are commonly used to estimate overall admixture proportions efficiently and inexpensively. AIMs are polymorphisms that exhibit large allele frequency differences between populations and can be used to infer individuals’ geographic origins.

And:

Using a panel of AIMs distributed throughout the genome, it is possible to estimate the relative ancestral proportions in admixed individuals such as African Americans and Latin Americans, as well as to infer the time since the admixture process.

The methodology produced results of the type that we are used to seeing in terms of continental admixture, shown in the graphic below from the paper.

Matching test takers against the genetic locations that can be identified as either Native or African or European informs us that our own ancestors carried the DNA associated with that ethnicity.

Of course, the Native samples from this paper were focused south of the United States, but the process is the same regardless. The original Native American population of a few individuals arrived thousands of years ago in one or more groups from Asia and their descendants spread throughout both North and South America.

Elizabeth’s request, from the report:

To analyze genetic data from an individual of European descent and determine if there is reliable evidence of Native American and/or African ancestry. The identity of the sample donor, Elizabeth Warren, was not known to the analyst during the time the work was performed.

Elizabeth’s test included 764,958 genetic locations, of which 660,173 overlapped with locations used in ancestry analysis.

The Results section says after stating that Elizabeth’s DNA is primarily (95% or greater) European:

The analysis also identified 5 genetic segments as Native American in origin at high confidence, defined at the 99% posterior probability value. We performed several additional analyses to confirm the presence of Native American ancestry and to estimate the position of the ancestor in the individual’s pedigree.

The largest segment identified as having Native American ancestry is on chromosome 10. This segment is 13.4 centiMorgans in genetic length, and spans approximately 4,700,000 DNA bases. Based on a principal components analysis (Novembre et al., 2008), this segment is clearly distinct from segments of European ancestry (nominal p-value 7.4 x 10-7, corrected p-value of 2.6 x 10-4) and is strongly associated with Native American ancestry.

The total length of the 5 genetic segments identified as having Native American ancestry is 25.6 centiMorgans, and they span approximately 12,300,000 DNA bases. The average segment length is 5.8 centiMorgans. The total and average segment size suggest (via the method of moments) an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the pedigree at approximately 8 generations before the sample, although the actual number could be somewhat lower or higher (Gravel, 2012 and Huff et al., 2011).

Dr. Bustamante’s Conclusion:

While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European, the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.

I was very pleased to see that Dr. Bustamante had included the PCA (Principal Component Analysis) for Elizabeth’s sample as well.

PCA analysis is the scientific methodology utilized to group individuals to and within populations.

Figure one shows the section of chromosome 10 that showed the largest Native American haplotype, meaning DNA block, as compared to other populations.

Remember that since Elizabeth received a chromosome from BOTH parents, that she has two strands of DNA in that location.

Here’s our example again.

Given that Mom’s DNA is Native, and Dad’s is European in this example, the expected results when comparing this segment of DNA to other populations is that it would look half Native (Mom’s strand) and half European (Dad’s strand.)

The second graphic shows Elizabeth’s sample and where it falls in the comparison of First Nations (Canada) and Indigenous Mexican individuals. Given that Elizabeth’s Native ancestor would have been from the United States, her sample falls where expected, inbetween.

Let’s take a look at some of the questions being asked.

Questions and Answers

I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions and questions regarding these results. Let’s take them one by one:

Question – Can these results prove that Elizabeth is Cherokee?

Answer – No, there is no test, anyplace, from any lab or vendor, that can prove what tribe your ancestors were from. I wrote an article titled Finding Your American Indian Tribe Using DNA, but that process involves working with your matches, Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, and genealogy.

Q – Are these results absolutely positive?

A – The words “absolutely positive” are a difficult quantifier. Given the size of the largest segment, 13.4 cM, and that there are 5 Native segments totaling 25.6 cM, and that Dr. Bustamante’s lab performed the analysis – I’d say this is as close to “absolutely positive” as you can get without genealogical confirmation.

A 13.4 cM segment is a valid segment that phases to parents 98% of the time, according to Philip Gammon’s work, here, and 99% of the time in my own analysis here. That indicates that a 13.4 cM segment is very likely a legitimately ancestral segment, not a match by chance. The additional 4 segments simply increase the likelihood of a Native ancestor. In other words, for there NOT to be a Native ancestor, all 5 segments, including the large 13.4 cM segment would have to be misidentified by one of the premier scientists in the field.

Q – What did Dr. Bustamante mean by “evidence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor?”

A – Unadmixed means that the Native person was fully Native, meaning not admixed with European, Asian or African DNA. Admixture, in this context, means that the individual is a mixture of multiple ethnic groups. This is an important concept, because if you discover that your ancestor 4 generations ago was a Cherokee tribal member, but the reality was that they were only 25% Native, that means that the DNA was already in the process of being divided. If your 4th generation ancestor was fully Native, you would receive about 6.25% of their DNA which would be all Native. If they were only 25% Native, that means that while you will still receive about 6.25% of their DNA but only one fourth of that 6.25% is possibly Native – so 1.56%. You could also receive NONE of their Native DNA.

Q – Is this the same test that the major companies use?

A – Yes and no. The test itself was probably performed on the same Illumina chip platform, because the chips available cover the markers that Bustamante needed for analysis.

The major companies use the same reference data bases, plus their own internal or private data bases in addition. They do not create PCA models for each tester. They do use the same methodology described by Dr. Bustamante in terms of AIMs, along with proprietary algorithms to further define the results. Vendors may also use additional internal tools.

Q – Did Dr. Bustamante use more than one methodology in his analysis? What if one was wrong?

A – Yes, he utilized two different methodologies whose results agreed. The global ancestry method evaluates each location independently of any surrounding genetic locations, ignoring any correlation or relationship to neighboring DNA. The second methodology, known as the local ancestry method looks at each location in combination with its neighbors, given that DNA pieces are known to travel together. This second methodology allows comparisons to entire segments in reference populations and is what allows the identification of complete ancestral segments that are identified as Native or any other population.

Q – If Elizabeth’s DNA results hadn’t shown Native heritage, would that have proven that she didn’t have Native ancestry?

A – No, not definitively, although that is a possible reason for ethnicity results not showing Native admixture. It would have meant that either she didn’t have a Native ancestor, the DNA washed out, or we cannot yet detect those segments.

Q – Does this qualify Elizabeth to join a tribe?

A – No. Every tribe defines their own criteria for membership. Some tribes embrace DNA testing for paternity issues, but none, to the best of my knowledge, accept or rely entirely on DNA results for membership. DNA results alone cannot identify a specific tribe. Tribes are societal constructs and Native people genetically are more alike than different, especially in areas where tribes lived nearby, fought and captured other tribe’s members.

Q – Why does Dr. Bustamante use words like “strong probability” instead of absolutes, such as the percentages shown by commercial DNA testing companies?

A – Dr. Bustamante’s comments accurately reflect the state of our knowledge today. The vendors attempt to make the results understandable and attractive for the general population. Most vendors, if you read their statements closely and look at your various options indicate that ethnicity is only an estimate, and some provide the ability to view your ethnicity estimate results at high, medium and low confidence levels.

Q – Can we tell, precisely, when Elizabeth had a Native ancestor?

A – No, that’s why Dr. Bustamante states that Elizabeth’s ancestor was approximately 8 generations ago, and in the range of 6-10 generations ago. This analysis is a result of combined factors, including the total centiMorgans of Native DNA, the number of separate reasonably large segments, the size of the longest segment, and the confidence score for each segment. Those factors together predict most likely when a fully Native ancestor was present in the tree. Keep in mind that if Elizabeth had more than one Native ancestor, that too could affect the time prediction.

Q – Does Dr. Bustamante provide this type of analysis or tools for the general public?

A – Unfortunately, no. Dr. Bustamante’s lab is a research facility only.

Roberta’s Summary of the Analysis

I find no omissions or questionable methods and I agree with Dr. Bustamante’s analysis. In other words, yes, I believe, based on these results, that Elizabeth had a Native ancestor further back in her tree.

I would love for every tester to be able to receive PCA results like this.

However, an ethnicity confirmation isn’t all that can be done with Elizabeth’s results. Additional tools and opportunities are available outside of an academic setting, at the vendors where we test, using matching and other tools we have access to as the consuming public.

We will look at those possibilities in a second article, because Elizabeth’s results are really just a beginning and scratch the surface. There’s more available, much more. It won’t change Elizabeth’s ethnicity results, but it could lead to positively identifying the Native ancestor, or at least the ancestral Native line.

Join me in my next article for Possibilities, Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test.

In the mean time, you might want to read my article, Native American DNA Resources.

RootsTech Day 4 – My Inner Child…and Genealogist

Who scheduled the party last night from 8-11 and then breakfast this morning at 7AM, anyway? Did they think they were being funny? And that breakfast is in the furthest possible corner room of the conference center, not my hotel. I suppose showing up in jammies would be frowned upon, although I see that at Walmart all the time…but I digress.

Yes, the sun was just peeking out on the way to the MyHeritage Friends breakfast. You’ll just have to forgive me for no photos at that breakfast. My brain was just not working yet. I’m fine at 2AM, but 7AM, to me, is like the middle of the night to most people.

The MyHeritage Friends breakfast was to facilitate communication between the company and the community with a representative of MyHeritage at every table to answer questions and listen. Feedback was really positive, overall.

FamilySearch and LivingDNA sponsored breakfasts too, but the only one I attended was todays. Meal events are by invitation (or ticket purchase) only because let’s face it, they have to control the number of attendees and companies generally view these meals as a give-and-take public relations event.

After the breakfast, the expo hall wasn’t open. Nothing was open yet. I went back to the hotel to prep for what turned out to be an entire day of embracing my inner child.

My plan was to visit the Family History Library, but before I did, I still had not managed to connect with at least two people or vendors I wanted to talk to.

Remember my friend Josh Hall from day 1?  Upon returning to the conference center, I spotted Josh and let’s just say that he looked very interesting.

I asked Josh what was up with the new makeup design. I did recall that he has a 2 year old at home, but, even so, this isn’t exactly what I expected to see Josh wearing – although his makeup color was coordinated perfectly with his outfit.

Josh told me the conference was sponsoring free face painting, given that Saturday was Family Day – and offered to show me where this was happening. He said adults could be painted too and suggested this might be a good idea for me.  Now you all know how straight-laced, reserved and non-adventurous I am. Right?

I’ve never had my face painted, but there’s a first time for everything and it sounded like fun.

No one expects me to behave normally anyway!

There were an entire group of face painters at the bottom of the entry stairs.  The wait was only about 10 minutes, which, compared to later, was NOTHING.

At the bottom of the steps, you selected your design elements so that you were ready for the face painter when it was your turn.

The face-painter’s station looks like this.

My face painter, Denise Cold whose business is Painted Party, is actually an artist who teaches face painting as well as hosting parties.

First, she applied a “base” of some type to my skin. I know they were trying not to do custom work, but when I showed Denise my double helix necklace and told her why I wanted a helix incorporated, she said it was no problem at all.

Denise and I together with the result – it was amazing.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this. The double helix curves behind the flower and out the bottom again.

I had so much fun wearing this all day!

If you want to see a closeup, here goes…

The next place I stopped was the WikiTree booth to get two words in edgewise with Mags Gaulden.

I met her at the Family Tree DNA conference in November and she, like me, is a DNA junkie.

WikiTree is a great collaborative resource. I’ve given WikiTree volunteers permission to experiment with my tree and their tools including any DNA results they need. Haplogroups and DNA results are populated up trees, if the user provides their DNA information, and is confirmed when multiple individuals from the common ancestor have tested with confirming results.

I’m not terribly cracked up about collaborative trees in general, but WikiTree does provide volunteer dispute resolution based on documentation and sources.  Be still my heart!

I just love this photo of Mags and me, clearly in our element.  I can’t wait to see Mags again in November at this year’s Family Tree DNA conference.

By the way, today’s DNA outfit is my ethnicity painted on my chromosomes utilizing the GedMatch ethnicity results, made into a tunic.

And yes, someone did give me a “dork” ribbon.  They didn’t have any “DNA” or “nerd” ribbons.  Hmmm, an idea I might have to do for next year!  What do you think?

No, wait…I said I’m not going to RootsTech again…

I forgot.

The next place I wanted to find was the WordPress booth.

If you don’t know, this blog is a WordPress blog – meaning it uses the WordPress blogging platform. I’ve written about how to blog using WordPress.

I specifically wanted to ask a couple question, so I was very pleased to meet Happiness Engineer, Anna.

Yes, that is actually what they call their engineers and customer support people.  And I have to tell you, they earn this title and they are AWESOME.

I’ve had a number of people mention that they’d like to migrate an existing blog off of the Blogger platform, and WordPress says they provide a very easy migration tool now.

I also had a couple suggestions for enhancing WordPress, and maybe, just maybe, we might work on something collaboratively focused specifically for genealogists.

Now, I’m finally ready for the big adventure.

The Family History Library

I intentionally waited until Saturday to visit the Family History Library (FHL). I’m really not a fan of extremely large crowds. I knew that on Saturday, RootsTech opens the doors to all LDS and children for free, in addition to the paid conference attendees, and Saturday would be even more crowded and insane that Wed-Fri had already been.

One of the RootsTech people told me later on Saturday that they had more than 40,000 people.

I also hoped that RootsTech just down the street meant there would be fewer people at the FHL, which is located just about a block and a half from the convention center.

On the way, I walked by the Contemporary Art Museum, and not all art was inside.

No, I don’t know why. It’s art, there doesn’t have to be a why.

Across from the FHL is Temple Square. I did not have time for a tour. Somehow the tree in front seems fitting.

In front of the library are trees that drop these seed pods. Of course spring is approaching (or was that day, even though winter returned on Sunday) and the seeds will soon be scattered to the wind, nestling in fertile soil.

These seeds are just like we are, members of families – seeds, scattered to the wind, rooted elsewhere and then coming home to the library to find our ancestors.

Yes, I know, sappy, but that’s how I was feeling.

I’m not Mormon, but I’m a 40-year genealogist this year.  I’ve never been to Salt Lake City before. Visiting the FHL is kind of like the pilgrimage to Mecca for genealogists.

For me, this is a big deal.

You KNEW I was going to take the obligatory selfie, of course, in front of that iconic doorway to the past.

Come on in with me!

The library is 5 floors in total, and the entryway hosts exhibits and interactive displays to engage people and generate interest.

How do you like this tree created to absorb sound?  I needed this kind of “family tree” in my house when I had young children.

Why California has more Robertas than any other state is beyond me.

Of more interest to family historians is that today, there are more Estes individuals in Texas than anyplace else. Good place to look for Estes DNA testers. That’s actually not at all what I would have expected, but then again, Texas was, for a long time, a destination location for much of Appalachia.

Now, on to the research floors.

Tom and Chris, my friends so kindly assisting with my German family research had prepared for me a list of records to review. Since films can no longer be ordered in to the local Family History Centers, and not everything is available online (not to mention, indexed) in SLC, in the interim there is no option other than either going physically to SLC yourself, or paying someone else to do so on your behalf.

I spent the first hour talking to one helpful volunteer after another, and by the time I had talked to 4 volunteers and unpacked my laptop bag 4 times, I was finally in the right place for the in-house-only CD reader and then the HD (high density) collection.

Everyone was super friendly and smiled at me. It was only when I remembered that my face was painted that I realized that maybe they weren’t exactly smiling at me, but laughing or at least being amused.  Not one of them said a word. I was struck by how very nice everyone was, not only in the FHC, but in Salt Lake overall.

Let’s just say that 4 hours later, I know several “good candidate” places that my German families weren’t. I keep reminding myself that negative evidence is evidence too – but that’s somehow a bitter pill to swallow.

Nope, not here either. Back to the drawing board.

After I finished with my depressing research, I grabbed a quick bite at the restaurant next door, JB’s, which is surprisingly reasonably priced. That food was far better at less than half the price, and much quicker than the hotel food.

From there, I wanted to say a final goodbye to a couple of folks at RootsTech before the doors closed, so I popped back into the conference center for just a few minutes.

Another family focused event was cultural dancing throughout the day. When I wandered by, a Native dancer was “fancy dancing,” typically performed at powwows, explaining the culture and significance of the dance to several viewers, mostly children.

The dancer’s regalia (they aren’t called costumers) was beautiful. I’m glad to see children (and adults) being educated about cultures other than the one most familiar.

As I walked back to the hotel, the sun was beginning to set over the mountains in the distance.

This scene would be very different from what greeted me a few hours later, the following morning.

What a difference a few hours can make. You certainly can’t see the mountains now.

Sunday was spent making my way home, dealing with delayed flights and other inconveniences. It’s almost midnight now. I’ve been home for almost three hours – and man-alive am I glad to be here.

RootsTech Evaluation

  • Am I glad I went?

Yes, but that’s only after discovering I had to make lemonade out of the situation.

  • Was I disappointed?

Incredibly so, given that check-in was horrendous with hours-long lines followed by sessions that were too full to attend, some full to capacity hours in advance.

  • Did I enjoy the expo hall?

Yes, absolutely! I visited with the vendors and other attendees. For me, this was the saving grace of attending RootsTech. It’s an awfully expensive “reunion” though.

  • Did I get my money’s worth for the ticket?

Absolutely not. If all you can only attend if the expo portion due to overbooking and overcrowding, then they need to sell an expo-only ticket. They have to do something about the two and a half hour check-in wait.

  • Would I recommend RootsTech to others?

Only as long as expectations are set correctly. If you tend towards claustrophobia or don’t do well in large crowded situations or those requiring massive patience, this isn’t the conference for you.

  • What am I going to do about this?

I’m putting together a list of ideas that RootsTech may find useful. I’m not a big fan of complaining without offering solutions. I’ll publish as soon as I assemble the list. If you have ideas, comments or suggestions, please leave them in the comments section.

Day 2 RootsTech – Vendors, Visits and MyHeritage is Smokin’ Hot

This morning view just doesn’t get old!

Across the rooftop, you can see two churches in front of the mountain.

Day 2 was jam packed, and that’s without attending any sessions. I did hear through the RootsTech grapevine that some of the afternoon sessions did have a few seats available. Of course, you would need to select the right sessions.

There’s a lot of very unhappy rumbling here about the conference: lines, full sessions, lack of signage, etc.

I spent the day doing four things:

  • Visiting vendor booths
  • Talking to people
  • MyHeritage Lunch
  • Vendor appointments

Let’s take a look at each of the four.

Visiting Booths

There are probably hundreds of booths. Some quite large, of course, like FamilySearch (show sponsor), Ancestry and the other big players, to Mom and Pop shops.

I managed to visit maybe half of the booths today. I’ll try for the other half tomorrow. I am going to make myself absent for part of the day to visit the Family History Library.

I noticed a LOT of vendors offering products to digitize and catalog your photos. Others encouraged recording memories and of course, given that we’re in Salt Lake, there was lots of focus on the Mormon faith and many obviously local vendors.

In addition to the sessions, there was a vendor demo area in the rear of the hall. I wandered past a couple of times, but the two vendors I saw didn’t really catch my eye.

At the Legacy Tree Genealogists booth, I found Jessica Taylor (at left, beside me), Paul Woodbury and Amber Brown (far right). (I apologize for not getting the lady’s name at the far left.) Jessica is the owner and founder of Legacy Tree Genealogists, Paul Woodbury is the amazing genetic genealogist that specializes in adoptee and missing parent family reconstruction and Amber Brown is their marketing representative. They were kind enough to give me with a RootsTech survival basket. I’ve never been to a conference before where you needed one of these, and by the end of the day, I was extremely grateful.

A really big thank you Jessica and crew!

Next, I ran into my old friend, Peter Roberts, at the conference as a volunteer for WikiTree, a free site for you to upload your family tree and collaborate with other genealogists. I’ve known Peter for years from the Family Tree DNA annual conference where he is the project administrator for the Bahamas DNA Project.

Peter took the time to sit down with me and explain some of the new DNA features at WikiTree that include Y DNA, mitochondrial, autosomal and most recently, the ability to link your WikiTree tree to your DNAPainter profile. WikiTree utilizes various types of DNA information to support or disprove ancestral connections.

Peter and I also discussed that putting information like links to any articles or blog posting you have written about your ancestors into the description area about each ancestor would be a great idea! I was thinking about the 52 Ancestors series, of course.

I briefly met Chris Whitten, founder of WikiTree, but I wasn’t quick enough to grab a photo.

Speaking of DNAPainter, Jony Pearl, from England, won the Innovation Showcase with DNAPainter. I’ve been using this extremely useful tool for about a month now, and I have an article half written. I’ll be finishing it as soon as I get home. You’re going to love this tool!

Congratulations Jony! Well deserved.

This conference has lots of beginners. FamilySearch had a very large area called the Discovery Zone. Just walking past, I did notice people entirely engrossed and making discoveries.

One of the Discovery Zone areas encouraged you to take your photo, or a group photo, with a backdrop of your choice.

I couldn’t resist. Plus, it’s free and the results are messaged to your phone immediately.

I was amazed to find this backdrop, given that I have actually stood in exactly this place in Germany – in real life. In fact, I can tell you there are two lovely lace shops just past that clock tower arch, one on either side of the street, and a quilt shop just beyond. In fact it was right here that the quilt shop-owner’s husband came riding up on his bicycle to deliver our purchases at the end of the day.

A few minutes later, I came across MYndVault, a digital cloud storage solution that includes servers stores in the granite mountain.

To prove his point, the founder of MYndVault was giving little boxes of granite – well, chocolate that looked like granite anyway. The chocolate was great – and everyone needs to think about this type of “inheritance issue.” It’s not just cloud storage, but an electronic directive that lists your personal representative, things like social media accounts and passwords. Obviously, I suggested that he add a specific field for DNA results at vendors, but there is already ample room to include this in non-specific fields.

There were lots of “charts” vendors in attendance, but I particularly liked this one from BranchesArt.

I’ve been wanting to meet Lara Diamond, who blogs at Lara’s Jewnealogy. Lara is Jewish and specializes in endogamous DNA and the inherent frustrations therein.

The lovely thing about meeting in person is that you actually get to talk to the individual. Lara tested with 23andMe initially and it was that test (before the FDA restricted the information they could provide to consumers) that led her to discover she had both a mutation for cancer, and cancer itself. Take a minute and read Lara’s story here. DNA testing very literally saved her life!

Lara will be writing about a super-cool record find soon that defies all logic. Right, Lara, right???

Next was the MyHeritage lunch, where I was thrilled to meet Randy Seaver, finally, in person.

My joke is that I wake up each morning to Randy, because that’s when I read his blog, Genea-Musings, every day. Randy writes more quality content than any other blogger I know. In fact, he has a great compendium of RootsTech conference articles that you can check out on his blog yesterday and today.

The MyHeritage luncheon speaker was Gilad Japhet, founder and CEO of MyHeritage.

Gilad and I had a personal meeting later in the day, and he gave me permission to share the slides from the luncheon with my readers.

I must say, MyHeritage is making very big waves in the genealogy community.

For a company that just started DNA testing about 18 months ago, and had significant startup challenges with matching, they’ve come a very, very long way.

First, Gilad announced a new initiative to test 15,000 adoptees or those seeking unknown parents by donating free kits. You can read more about this program here or apply to receive a kit. Those with financial need will receive priority.

Second, they also announced Family Search Tree sync between Family Search and MyHeritage that allows collaborative syncing of trees between LDS members and MyHeritage.

Third, they announced the publication of a paper culminating from 7 years of research, published today, discussing 86 million family trees from Geni and the patterns that emerge from this much data about migration and families. For example, exceptional genetics only adds abut 5 years to life expectancy, but poor lifestyle habits can deduct 10.

They are on a tear, I’m telling you. They weren’t done yet.

Fourth, they announced that they are adding new records at an amazing pace. Three new collections, including the digitization and indexing of high school yearbooks from the US.

Fifth – new advancements in genetic genealogy.

MyHeritage has observed that many people don’t understand the details of genetic genealogy or how to use the tools. Additionally, many people don’t have or create family trees.

MyHeritage has created what they call “The Big Tree” where all of their customers are connected in one large “tree of humanity,” or at least as much of humanity as has tested or uploaded to MyHeritage. They then look at how your own node is connected to others in that large tree and distill the results into something useful for you.

The next step, Gilad calls the “Theory of Family Relativity,” where MyHeritage combines your DNA matches, their trees and documents from their collection to construct a theoretical tree between you and your matches.

The connection may need to go up and down other people’s trees a couple of times, and may be discovered in the tree of someone you both match.

In summary, “The Theory of Family Relativity” will provide a paper trail theory for how you match your DNA matches. That theory will be for you to confirm or disprove. Gilad says that it’s easier with a tree, but can be accomplished at some level even without one AND it will be released before year end 2018.

Sixth, a new triangulated chromosome browser that compared up to 7 people simultaneously.

Downloads are being added as well.

MyHeritage is focusing a marketing drive in Europe. Their market research revealed that in Germany (I think,) only 22% of the population had even heard of DNA testing. Their goal is to infiltrate that market space.

France Gilad…focus on France😊

Gilad has christened 2018 “The Year of the Segment.”

And as if that wasn’t enough, Gilad added even MORE items.

  • Paper trail theories and connections to explain DNA matches.
  • Theories genetically of how your matches connect to you.
  • Clustering of triangulated segments.
  • Automatic chromosome painting.
  • Identification and recreation of ancestors through the testing of multiple descendants by creating an “ancestral segment bank,” of sorts.
  • Resurrecting the DNA of dead ancestors which would be made into a kit for matching. For example, your grandfather.
  • Automatic tree building.

If you’re sitting there with your mouth hanging open in shock…well, so was I. This is what I’ve talked about for years, now coming to fruition.

Gilad credits these strides to a combination of vision, applied technology and very smart people!

All of these development items are either in beta or past proof of concept. Some are available now, some shortly, the “Tree of Family Relativity” by the end of 2018.

Truthfully, I don’t even know what to say after that massive announcement, except transfer your DNA results to MyHeritage.  If you ever had doubt, it’s gone now.

Finishing Up

In the Innovation Showcase competition, obviously DNAPainter won first place, but the rest of the entrants also deserve recognition. Rootsfinder and ItRunsInMyFamily took second and third. You may want to go and take a look for yourself.

I have not had a chance to review these myself, so you’ll have to let me know what you think.

Apparently LivingDNA made an announcement as well. Many vendors make private appointments with bloggers, movers and shakers at RootsTech. In the past few days I’ve been fortunate enough to have private meetings with Ancestry, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage. Living DNA is not on that list. I did stop by their booth today, but the right people weren’t there.

We’ve known for some time that matching was to be released in 2018, but we didn’t know that LivingDNA planned to reconstruct trees from genetic data alone, with no trees or other information involved.

You can read the announcement for yourself here.

I don’t anticipate that I’ll have the opportunity to meet with a Living DNA representative to garner additional information, unfortunately.

I would be more comfortable with this goal if they had matching experience at all. MyHeritage, with their early out-the-door matching issues is proof of how difficult it can be to get matching right.

I also feel matching and tree reconstruction will be much more accurate with a blend of trees, documents and DNA.

However, Living DNA is giving it a shot, and everyone has to start someplace. I will be very interested in what their new product will look like and how well it will work.

On the way out the door this evening, I noticed a bunch of teenagers who had obviously been to the conference, having fun.

Various vendors give away ribbons to attach to the bottom of your badge.

These kids had obviously been very busy. I enjoy seeing young people having good clean fun, and especially if those young people are the future of genealogy!

2014 Top Genetic Genealogy Happenings – A Baker’s Dozen +1

It’s that time again, to look over the year that has just passed and take stock of what has happened in the genetic genealogy world.  I wrote a review in both 2012 and 2013 as well.  Looking back, these momentous happenings seem quite “old hat” now.  For example, both www.GedMatch.com and www.DNAGedcom.com, once new, have become indispensable tools that we take for granted.  Please keep in mind that both of these tools (as well as others in the Tools section, below) depend on contributions, although GedMatch now has a tier 1 subscription offering for $10 per month as well.

So what was the big news in 2014?

Beyond the Tipping Point

Genetic genealogy has gone over the tipping point.  Genetic genealogy is now, unquestionably, mainstream and lots of people are taking part.  From the best I can figure, there are now approaching or have surpassed three million tests or test records, although certainly some of those are duplicates.

  • 500,000+ at 23andMe
  • 700,000+ at Ancestry
  • 700,000+ at Genographic

The organizations above represent “one-test” companies.  Family Tree DNA provides various kinds of genetic genealogy tests to the community and they have over 380,000 individuals with more than 700,000 test records.

In addition to the above mentioned mainstream firms, there are other companies that provide niche testing, often in addition to Family Tree DNA Y results.

In addition, there is what I would refer to as a secondary market for testing as well which certainly attracts people who are not necessarily genetic genealogists but who happen across their corporate information and decide the test looks interesting.  There is no way of knowing how many of those tests exist.

Additionally, there is still the Sorenson data base with Y and mtDNA tests which reportedly exceeded their 100,000 goal.

Spencer Wells spoke about the “viral spread threshold” in his talk in Houston at the International Genetic Genealogy Conference in October and terms 2013 as the year of infection.  I would certainly agree.

spencer near term

Autosomal Now the New Normal

Another change in the landscape is that now, autosomal DNA has become the “normal” test.  The big attraction to autosomal testing is that anyone can play and you get lots of matches.  Earlier in the year, one of my cousins was very disappointed in her brother’s Y DNA test because he only had a few matches, and couldn’t understand why anyone would test the Y instead of autosomal where you get lots and lots of matches.  Of course, she didn’t understand the difference in the tests or the goals of the tests – but I think as more and more people enter the playground – percentagewise – fewer and fewer do understand the differences.

Case in point is that someone contacted me about DNA and genealogy.  I asked them which tests they had taken and where and their answer was “the regular one.”  With a little more probing, I discovered that they took Ancestry’s autosomal test and had no clue there were any other types of tests available, what they could tell him about his ancestors or genetic history or that there were other vendors and pools to swim in as well.

A few years ago, we not only had to explain about DNA tests, but why the Y and mtDNA is important.  Today, we’ve come full circle in a sense – because now we don’t have to explain about DNA testing for genealogy in general but we still have to explain about those “unknown” tests, the Y and mtDNA.  One person recently asked me, “oh, are those new?”

Ancient DNA

This year has seen many ancient DNA specimens analyzed and sequenced at the full genomic level.

The year began with a paper titled, “When Populations Collide” which revealed that contemporary Europeans carry between 1-4% of Neanderthal DNA most often associated with hair and skin color, or keratin.  Africans, on the other hand, carry none or very little Neanderthal DNA.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/01/30/neanderthal-genome-further-defined-in-contemporary-eurasians/

A month later, a monumental paper was published that detailed the results of sequencing a 12,500 Clovis child, subsequently named Anzick or referred to as the Anzick Clovis child, in Montana.  That child is closely related to Native American people of today.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/02/13/clovis-people-are-native-americans-and-from-asia-not-europe/

In June, another paper emerged where the authors had analyzed 8000 year old bones from the Fertile Crescent that shed light on the Neolithic area before the expansion from the Fertile Crescent into Europe.  These would be the farmers that assimilated with or replaced the hunter-gatherers already living in Europe.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/06/09/dna-analysis-of-8000-year-old-bones-allows-peek-into-the-neolithic/

Svante Paabo is the scientist who first sequenced the Neanderthal genome.  Here is a neanderthal mangreat interview and speech.  This man is so interesting.  If you have not read his book, “Neanderthal Man, In Search of Lost Genomes,” I strongly recommend it.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/07/22/finding-your-inner-neanderthal-with-evolutionary-geneticist-svante-paabo/

In the fall, yet another paper was released that contained extremely interesting information about the peopling and migration of humans across Europe and Asia.  This was just before Michael Hammer’s presentation at the Family Tree DNA conference, so I covered the paper along with Michael’s information about European ancestral populations in one article.  The take away messages from this are two-fold.  First, there was a previously undefined “ghost population” called Ancient North Eurasian (ANE) that is found in the northern portion of Asia that contributed to both Asian populations, including those that would become the Native Americans and European populations as well.  Secondarily, the people we thought were in Europe early may not have been, based on the ancient DNA remains we have to date.  Of course, that may change when more ancient DNA is fully sequenced which seems to be happening at an ever-increasing rate.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/10/21/peopling-of-europe-2014-identifying-the-ghost-population/

Lazaridis tree

Ancient DNA Available for Citizen Scientists

If I were to give a Citizen Scientist of the Year award, this year’s award would go unquestionably to Felix Chandrakumar for his work with the ancient genome files and making them accessible to the genetic genealogy world.  Felix obtained the full genome files from the scientists involved in full genome analysis of ancient remains, reduced the files to the SNPs utilized by the autosomal testing companies in the genetic genealogy community, and has made them available at GedMatch.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/09/22/utilizing-ancient-dna-at-gedmatch/

If this topic is of interest to you, I encourage you to visit his blog and read his many posts over the past several months.

https://plus.google.com/+FelixChandrakumar/posts

The availability of these ancient results set off a sea of comparisons.  Many people with Native heritage matched Anzick’s file at some level, and many who are heavily Native American, particularly from Central and South America where there is less admixture match Anzick at what would statistically be considered within a genealogical timeframe.  Clearly, this isn’t possible, but it does speak to how endogamous populations affect DNA, even across thousands of years.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/09/23/analyzing-the-native-american-clovis-anzick-ancient-results/

Because Anzick is matching so heavily with the Mexican, Central and South American populations, it gives us the opportunity to extract mitochondrial DNA haplogroups from the matches that either are or may be Native, if they have not been recorded before.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/09/23/analyzing-the-native-american-clovis-anzick-ancient-results/

Needless to say, the matches of these ancient kits with contemporary people has left many people questioning how to interpret the results.  The answer is that we don’t really know yet, but there is a lot of study as well as speculation occurring.  In the citizen science community, this is how forward progress is made…eventually.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/09/25/ancient-dna-matches-what-do-they-mean/

http://dna-explained.com/2014/09/30/ancient-dna-matching-a-cautionary-tale/

More ancient DNA samples for comparison:

http://dna-explained.com/2014/10/04/more-ancient-dna-samples-for-comparison/

A Siberian sample that also matches the Malta Child whose remains were analyzed in late 2013.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/11/12/kostenki14-a-new-ancient-siberian-dna-sample/

Felix has prepared a list of kits that he has processed, along with their GedMatch numbers and other relevant information, like gender, haplogroup(s), age and location of sample.

http://www.y-str.org/p/ancient-dna.html

Furthermore, in a collaborative effort with Family Tree DNA, Felix formed an Ancient DNA project and uploaded the ancient autosomal files.  This is the first time that consumers can match with Ancient kits within the vendor’s data bases.

https://www.familytreedna.com/public/Ancient_DNA

Recently, GedMatch added a composite Archaic DNA Match comparison tool where your kit number is compared against all of the ancient DNA kits available.  The output is a heat map showing which samples you match most closely.

gedmatch ancient heat map

Indeed, it has been a banner year for ancient DNA and making additional discoveries about DNA and our ancestors.  Thank you Felix.

Haplogroup Definition

That SNP tsunami that we discussed last year…well, it made landfall this year and it has been storming all year long…in a good way.  At least, ultimately, it will be a good thing.  If you asked the haplogroup administrators today about that, they would probably be too tired to answer – as they’ve been quite overwhelmed with results.

The Big Y testing has been fantastically successful.  This is not from a Family Tree DNA perspective, but from a genetic genealogy perspective.  Branches have been being added to and sawed off of the haplotree on a daily basis.  This forced the renaming of the haplogroups from the old traditional R1b1a2 to R-M269 in 2012.  While there was some whimpering then, it would be nothing like the outright wailing now that would be occurring as haplogroup named reached 20 or so digits.

Alice Fairhurst discussed the SNP tsunami at the DNA Conference in Houston in October and I’m sure that the pace hasn’t slowed any between now and then.  According to Alice, in early 2014, there were 4115 individual SNPs on the ISOGG Tree, and as of the conference, there were 14,238 SNPs, with the 2014 addition total at that time standing at 10,213.  That is over 1000 per month or about 35 per day, every day.

Yes, indeed, that is the definition of a tsunami.  Every one of those additions requires one of a number of volunteers, generally haplogroup project administrators to evaluate the various Big Y results, the SNPs and novel variants included, where they need to be inserted in the tree and if branches need to be rearranged.  In some cases, naming request for previously unknown SNPs also need to be submitted.  This is all done behind the scenes and it’s not trivial.

The project I’m closest to is the R1b L-21 project because my Estes males fall into that group.  We’ve tested several, and I’ll be writing an article as soon as the final test is back.

The tree has grown unbelievably in this past year just within the L21 group.  This project includes over 700 individuals who have taken the Big Y test and shared their results which has defined about 440 branches of the L21 tree.  Currently there are almost 800 kits available if you count the ones on order and the 20 or so from another vendor.

Here is the L21 tree in January of 2014

L21 Jan 2014 crop

Compare this with today’s tree, below.

L21 dec 2014

Michael Walsh, Richard Stevens, David Stedman need to be commended for their incredible work in the R-L21 project.  Other administrators are doing equivalent work in other haplogroup projects as well.  I big thank you to everyone.  We’d be lost without you!

One of the results of this onslaught of information is that there have been fewer and fewer academic papers about haplogroups in the past few years.  In essence, by the time a paper can make it through the peer review cycle and into publication, the data in the paper is often already outdated relative to the Y chromosome.  Recently a new paper was released about haplogroup C3*.  While the data is quite valid, the authors didn’t utilize the new SNP naming nomenclature.  Before writing about the topic, I had to translate into SNPese.  Fortunately, C3* has been relatively stable.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/12/23/haplogroup-c3-previously-believed-east-asian-haplogroup-is-proven-native-american/

10th Annual International Conference on Genetic Genealogy

The Family Tree DNA International Conference on Genetic Genealogy for project administrators is always wonderful, but this year was special because it was the 10th annual.  And yes, it was my 10th year attending as well.  In all these years, I had never had a photo with both Max and Bennett.  Everyone is always so busy at the conferences.  Getting any 3 people, especially those two, in the same place at the same time takes something just short of a miracle.

roberta, max and bennett

Ten years ago, it was the first genetic genealogy conference ever held, and was the only place to obtain genetic genealogy education outside of the rootsweb genealogy DNA list, which is still in existence today.  Family Tree DNA always has a nice blend of sessions.  I always particularly appreciate the scientific sessions because those topics generally aren’t covered elsewhere.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/10/11/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-opening-reception/

http://dna-explained.com/2014/10/12/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-day-2/

http://dna-explained.com/2014/10/13/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-day-3/

http://dna-explained.com/2014/10/15/tenth-annual-family-tree-dna-conference-wrapup/

Jennifer Zinck wrote great recaps of each session and the ISOGG meeting.

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy/

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy-isogg-meeting/

http://www.ancestorcentral.com/decennial-conference-on-genetic-genealogy-sunday/

I thank Family Tree DNA for sponsoring all 10 conferences and continuing the tradition.  It’s really an amazing feat when you consider that 15 years ago, this industry didn’t exist at all and wouldn’t exist today if not for Max and Bennett.

Education

Two educational venues offered classes for genetic genealogists and have made their presentations available either for free or very reasonably.  One of the problems with genetic genealogy is that the field is so fast moving that last year’s session, unless it’s the very basics, is probably out of date today.  That’s the good news and the bad news.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/11/12/genetic-genealogy-ireland-2014-presentations 

http://dna-explained.com/2014/09/26/educational-videos-from-international-genetic-genealogy-conference-now-available/

In addition, three books have been released in 2014.emily book

In January, Emily Aulicino released Genetic Genealogy, The Basics and Beyond.

richard hill book

In October, Richard Hill released “Guide to DNA Testing: How to Identify Ancestors, Confirm Relationships and Measure Ethnicity through DNA Testing.”

david dowell book

Most recently, David Dowell’s new book, NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection was released right after Thanksgiving.

 

Ancestor Reconstruction – Raising the Dead

This seems to be the year that genetic genealogists are beginning to reconstruct their ancestors (on paper, not in the flesh) based on the DNA that the ancestors passed on to various descendants.  Those segments are “gathered up” and reassembled in a virtual ancestor.

I utilized Kitty Cooper’s tool to do just that.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/10/03/ancestor-reconstruction/

henry bolton probablyI know it doesn’t look like much yet but this is what I’ve been able to gather of Henry Bolton, my great-great-great-grandfather.

Kitty did it herself too.

http://blog.kittycooper.com/2014/08/mapping-an-ancestral-couple-a-backwards-use-of-my-segment-mapper/

http://blog.kittycooper.com/2014/09/segment-mapper-tool-improvements-another-wold-dna-map/

Ancestry.com wrote a paper about the fact that they have figured out how to do this as well in a research environment.

http://corporate.ancestry.com/press/press-releases/2014/12/ancestrydna-reconstructs-partial-genome-of-person-living-200-years-ago/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2014/12/16/ancestrydna-recreates-portions-genome-david-speegle-two-wives/

GedMatch has created a tool called, appropriately, Lazarus that does the same thing, gathers up the DNA of your ancestor from their descendants and reassembles it into a DNA kit.

Blaine Bettinger has been working with and writing about his experiences with Lazarus.

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2014/10/20/finally-gedmatch-announces-monetization-strategy-way-raise-dead/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2014/12/09/recreating-grandmothers-genome-part-1/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2014/12/14/recreating-grandmothers-genome-part-2/

Tools

Speaking of tools, we have some new tools that have been introduced this year as well.

Genome Mate is a desktop tool used to organize data collected by researching DNA comparsions and aids in identifying common ancestors.  I have not used this tool, but there are others who are quite satisfied.  It does require Microsoft Silverlight be installed on your desktop.

The Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer is available through www.dnagedcom.com and is a tool that I have used and found very helpful.  It assists you by visually grouping your matches, by chromosome, and who you match in common with.

adsa cluster 1

Charting Companion from Progeny Software, another tool I use, allows you to colorize and print or create pdf files that includes X chromosome groupings.  This greatly facilitates seeing how the X is passed through your ancestors to you and your parents.

x fan

WikiTree is a free resource for genealogists to be able to sort through relationships involving pedigree charts.  In November, they announced Relationship Finder.

Probably the best example I can show of how WikiTree has utilized DNA is using the results of King Richard III.

wiki richard

By clicking on the DNA icon, you see the following:

wiki richard 2

And then Richard’s Y, mitochondrial and X chromosome paths.

wiki richard 3

Since Richard had no descendants, to see how descendants work, click on his mother, Cecily of York’s DNA descendants and you’re shown up to 10 generations.

wiki richard 4

While this isn’t terribly useful for Cecily of York who lived and died in the 1400s, it would be incredibly useful for finding mitochondrial descendants of my ancestor born in 1802 in Virginia.  I’d love to prove she is the daughter of a specific set of parents by comparing her DNA with that of a proven daughter of those parents!  Maybe I’ll see if I can find her parents at WikiTree.

Kitty Cooper’s blog talks about additional tools.  I have used Kitty’s Chromosome mapping tools as discussed in ancestor reconstruction.

Felix Chandrakumar has created a number of fun tools as well.  Take a look.  I have not used most of these tools, but there are several I’ll be playing with shortly.

Exits and Entrances

With very little fanfare, deCODEme discontinued their consumer testing and reminded people to download their date before year end.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/09/30/decodeme-consumer-tests-discontinued/

I find this unfortunate because at one time, deCODEme seemed like a company full of promise for genetic genealogy.  They failed to take the rope and run.

On a sad note, Lucas Martin who founded DNA Tribes unexpectedly passed away in the fall.  DNA Tribes has been a long-time player in the ethnicity field of genetic genealogy.  I have often wondered if Lucas Martin was a pseudonym, as very little information about Lucas was available, even from Lucas himself.  Neither did I find an obituary.  Regardless, it’s sad to see someone with whom the community has worked for years pass away.  The website says that they expect to resume offering services in January 2015. I would be cautious about ordering until the structure of the new company is understood.

http://www.dnatribes.com/

In the last month, a new offering has become available that may be trying to piggyback on the name and feel of DNA Tribes, but I’m very hesitant to provide a link until it can be determined if this is legitimate or bogus.  If it’s legitimate, I’ll be writing about it in the future.

However, the big news exit was Ancestry’s exit from the Y and mtDNA testing arena.  We suspected this would happen when they stopped selling kits, but we NEVER expected that they would destroy the existing data bases, especially since they maintain the Sorenson data base as part of their agreement when they obtained the Sorenson data.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/10/02/ancestry-destroys-irreplaceable-dna-database/

The community is still hopeful that Ancestry may reverse that decision.

Ancestry – The Chromosome Browser War and DNA Circles

There has been an ongoing battle between Ancestry and the more seasoned or “hard-core” genetic genealogists for some time – actually for a long time.

The current and most long-standing issue is the lack of a chromosome browser, or any similar tools, that will allow genealogists to actually compare and confirm that their DNA match is genuine.  Ancestry maintains that we don’t need it, wouldn’t know how to use it, and that they have privacy concerns.

Other than their sessions and presentations, they had remained very quiet about this and not addressed it to the community as a whole, simply saying that they were building something better, a better mousetrap.

In the fall, Ancestry invited a small group of bloggers and educators to visit with them in an all-day meeting, which came to be called DNA Day.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/10/08/dna-day-with-ancestry/

In retrospect, I think that Ancestry perceived that they were going to have a huge public relations issue on their hands when they introduced their new feature called DNA Circles and in the process, people would lose approximately 80% of their current matches.  I think they were hopeful that if they could educate, or convince us, of the utility of their new phasing techniques and resulting DNA Circles feature that it would ease the pain of people’s loss in matches.

I am grateful that they reached out to the community.  Some very useful dialogue did occur between all participants.  However, to date, nothing more has happened nor have we received any additional updates after the release of Circles.

Time will tell.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/11/18/in-anticipation-of-ancestrys-better-mousetrap/

http://dna-explained.com/2014/11/19/ancestrys-better-mousetrap-dna-circles/

DNA Circles 12-29-2014

DNA Circles, while interesting and somewhat useful, is certainly NOT a replacement for a chromosome browser, nor is it a better mousetrap.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/11/30/chromosome-browser-war/

In fact, the first thing you have to do when you find a DNA Circle that you have not verified utilizing raw data and/or chromosome browser tools from either 23andMe, Family Tree DNA or Gedmatch, is to talk your matches into transferring their DNA to Family Tree DNA or download to Gedmatch, or both.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/11/27/sarah-hickerson-c1752-lost-ancestor-found-52-ancestors-48/

I might add that the great irony of finding the Hickerson DNA Circle that led me to confirm that ancestry utilizing both Family Tree DNA and GedMatch is that today, when I checked at Ancestry, the Hickerson DNA Circle is no longer listed.  So, I guess I’ve been somehow pruned from the circle.  I wonder if that is the same as being voted off of the island.  So, word to the wise…check your circles often…they change and not always in the upwards direction.

The Seamy Side – Lies, Snake Oil Salesmen and Bullys

Unfortunately a seamy side, an underbelly that’s rather ugly has developed in and around the genetic genealogy industry.  I guess this was to be expected with the rapid acceptance and increasing popularity of DNA testing, but it’s still very unfortunate.

Some of this I expected, but I didn’t expect it to be so…well…blatant.

I don’t watch late night TV, but I’m sure there are now DNA diets and DNA dating and just about anything else that could be sold with the allure of DNA attached to the title.

I googled to see if this was true, and it is, although I’m not about to click on any of those links.

google dna dating

google dna diet

Unfortunately, within the ever-growing genetic genealogy community a rather large rift has developed over the past couple of years.  Obviously everyone can’t get along, but this goes beyond that.  When someone disagrees, a group actively “stalks” the person, trying to cost them their employment, saying hate filled and untrue things and even going so far as to create a Facebook page titled “Against<personname>.”  That page has now been removed, but the fact that a group in the community found it acceptable to create something like that, and their friends joined, is remarkable, to say the least.  That was accompanied by death threats.

Bullying behavior like this does not make others feel particularly safe in expressing their opinions either and is not conducive to free and open discussion. As one of the law enforcement officers said, relative to the events, “This is not about genealogy.  I don’t know what it is about, yet, probably money, but it’s not about genealogy.”

Another phenomenon is that DNA is now a hot topic and is obviously “selling.”  Just this week, this report was published, and it is, as best we can tell, entirely untrue.

http://worldnewsdailyreport.com/usa-archaeologists-discover-remains-of-first-british-settlers-in-north-america/

There were several tip offs, like the city (Lanford) and county (Laurens County) is not in the state where it is attributed (it’s in SC not NC), and the name of the institution is incorrect (Johns Hopkins, not John Hopkins).  Additionally, if you google the name of the magazine, you’ll see that they specialize in tabloid “faux reporting.”  It also reads a lot like the King Richard genuine press release.

http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/Fake-News/tp/A-Guide-to-Fake-News-Websites.01.htm

Earlier this year, there was a bogus institutional site created as well.

On one of the DNA forums that I frequent, people often post links to articles they find that are relevant to DNA.  There was an interesting article, which has now been removed, correlating DNA results with latitude and altitude.  I thought to myself, I’ve never heard of that…how interesting.   Here’s part of what the article said:

Researchers at Aberdeen College’s Havering Centre for Genetic Research have discovered an important connection between our DNA and where our ancestors used to live.

Tiny sequence variations in the human genome sometimes called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) occur with varying frequency in our DNA.  These have been studied for decades to understand the major migrations of large human populations.  Now Aberdeen College’s Dr. Miko Laerton and a team of scientists have developed pioneering research that shows that these differences in our DNA also reveal a detailed map of where our own ancestors lived going back thousands of years.

Dr. Laerton explains:  “Certain DNA sequence variations have always been important signposts in our understanding of human evolution because their ages can be estimated.  We’ve known for years that they occur most frequently in certain regions [of DNA], and that some alleles are more common to certain geographic or ethnic groups, but we have never fully understood the underlying reasons.  What our team found is that the variations in an individual’s DNA correlate with the latitudes and altitudes where their ancestors were living at the time that those genetic variations occurred.  We’re still working towards a complete understanding, but the knowledge that sequence variations are connected to latitude and altitude is a huge breakthrough by itself because those are enough to pinpoint where our ancestors lived at critical moments in history.”

The story goes on, but at the bottom, the traditional link to the publication journal is found.

The full study by Dr. Laerton and her team was published in the September issue of the Journal of Genetic Science.

I thought to myself, that’s odd, I’ve never heard of any of these people or this journal, and then I clicked to find this.

Aberdeen College bogus site

About that time, Debbie Kennett, DNA watchdog of the UK, posted this:

April Fools Day appears to have arrived early! There is no such institution as Aberdeen College founded in 1394. The University of Aberdeen in Scotland was founded in 1495 and is divided into three colleges: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/about/colleges-schools-institutes/colleges-53.php

The picture on the masthead of the “Aberdeen College” website looks very much like a photo of Aberdeen University. This fake news item seems to be the only live page on the Aberdeen College website. If you click on any other links, including the link to the so-called “Journal of Genetic Science”, you get a message that the website is experienced “unusually high traffic”. There appears to be no such journal anyway.

We also realized that Dr. Laerton, reversed, is “not real.”

I still have no idea why someone would invest the time and effort into the fake website emulating the University of Aberdeen, but I’m absolutely positive that their motives were not beneficial to any of us.

What is the take-away of all of this?  Be aware, very aware, skeptical and vigilant.  Stick with the mainstream vendors unless you realize you’re experimenting.

King Richard

King Richard III

The much anticipated and long-awaited DNA results on the remains of King Richard III became available with a very unexpected twist.  While the science team feels that they have positively identified the remains as those of Richard, the Y DNA of Richard and another group of men supposed to have been descended from a common ancestor with Richard carry DNA that does not match.

http://dna-explained.com/2014/12/09/henry-iii-king-of-england-fox-in-the-henhouse-52-ancestors-49/

http://dna-explained.com/2014/12/05/mitochondrial-dna-mutation-rates-and-common-ancestors/

Debbie Kennett wrote a great summary article.

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2014/12/richard-iii-and-use-of-dna-as-evidence.html

More Alike than Different

One of the life lessons that genetic genealogy has held for me is that we are more closely related that we ever knew, to more people than we ever expected, and we are far more alike than different.  A recent paper recently published by 23andMe scientists documents that people’s ethnicity reflect the historic events that took place in the part of the country where their ancestors lived, such as slavery, the Trail of Tears and immigration from various worldwide locations.

23andMe European African map

From the 23andMe blog:

The study leverages samples of unprecedented size and precise estimates of ancestry to reveal the rate of ancestry mixing among American populations, and where it has occurred geographically:

  • All three groups – African Americans, European Americans and Latinos – have ancestry from Africa, Europe and the Americas.
  • Approximately 3.5 percent of European Americans have 1 percent or more African ancestry. Many of these European Americans who describe themselves as “white” may be unaware of their African ancestry since the African ancestor may be 5-10 generations in the past.
  • European Americans with African ancestry are found at much higher frequencies in southern states than in other parts of the US.

The ancestry proportions point to the different regional impacts of slavery, immigration, migration and colonization within the United States:

  • The highest levels of African ancestry among self-reported African Americans are found in southern states, especially South Carolina and Georgia.
  • One in every 20 African Americans carries Native American ancestry.
  • More than 14 percent of African Americans from Oklahoma carry at least 2 percent Native American ancestry, likely reflecting the Trail of Tears migration following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
  • Among self-reported Latinos in the US, those from states in the southwest, especially from states bordering Mexico, have the highest levels of Native American ancestry.

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/12/genetic-study-reveals-surprising-ancestry-many-americans?utm_campaign=email-news-weekly&utm_source=eloqua

23andMe provides a very nice summary of the graphics in the article at this link:

http://blog.23andme.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Bryc_ASHG2014_textboxes.pdf

The academic article can be found here:

http://www.cell.com/ajhg/home

2015

So what does 2015 hold? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. Hopefully, it holds more ancestors, whether discovered through plain old paper research, cousin DNA testing or virtually raised from the dead!

What would my wish list look like?

  • More ancient genomes sequenced, including ones from North and South America.
  • Ancestor reconstruction on a large scale.
  • The haplotree becoming fleshed out and stable.
  • Big Y sequencing combined with STR panels for enhanced genealogical research.
  • Improved ethnicity reporting.
  • Mitochondrial DNA search by ancestor for descendants who have tested.
  • More tools, always more tools….
  • More time to use the tools!

Here’s wishing you an ancestor filled 2015!

 

WikiTree Makes Finding Relationships with DNA Matches Easier

Today, I received the following press release from WikiTree.  WikiTree is a free resource for genealogists seeking to collaborate with other genealogists.  More importantly, in the past couple of years, WikiTree has begun actively incorporating features for genetic genealogists.

6 November 2014: Today WikiTree.com is announcing two important features for genealogists who have taken DNA tests. These features make WikiTree’s Relationship Finder a uniquely powerful tool for genealogists who have taken 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and FTDNA Family Finder tests.

“One of the biggest challenges facing genetic genealogists,” according to Dr. Blaine Bettinger, author of the long-running blog The GeneticGenealogist, “is finding the elusive common ancestor. Finding genetic matches is easy, but finding the common ancestor from whom we inherited a segment DNA is very hard. WikiTree’s new Relationship Finder is a great tool for identifying the ancestors that two or more people share in common.”

All Common Ancestors

Genealogical relationship finders are generally designed to find the first common ancestor between two people. Genetic genealogists need to know about all the common ancestors they share with a match. Everyone’s family tree intertwines in multiple ways. The first shared ancestor may not be the reason for a shared segment of autosomal DNA.

WikiTree’s Relationship Finder now enables you to easily browse all your common ancestors.

WikiTree common ancestors

Filtering for Multiple Matches

When a genealogist shares a segment of autosomal DNA with two or more other people who also match each other on that segment, it’s a big clue in discovering which ancestor it came from.

WikiTree’s Relationship Finder now enables you to filter the common ancestors shared by two people to only display common ancestors who are also shared by a third, fourth, or fifth person.

The Universal Family Tree

These Relationship Finder features are possible because WikiTree members are collaborating on a single tree for the entire human family.

“The genetic genealogy community absolutely must have a universal family tree,” says leading genetic genealogist Dr. Tim Janzen. “With smaller unlinked trees it’s frequently impossible to see all of the true genealogical connections with the people who share autosomal DNA with us. We are finally getting to the point where this vision is becoming a reality at WikiTree.”

About WikiTree

WikiTree: The Free Family Tree has been growing since 2008. Community members privately collaborate with close family members on modern family history and publicly collaborate with other genealogists on deep ancestry. Since all the private and public profiles are connected on the same system this process is helping to grow a single, worldwide family tree that will eventually connect us all and thereby make it free and easy for anyone to discover their roots. See http://www.WikiTree.com.

WikiTree Announces DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid

The following press release was provided by WikiTree.  I was pleased to be able to preview the new DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid.  If people will actually use WikiTree for their ancestors, and enter their DNA information, especially in mitochondrial lines where there is no common surname to follow…this new tool holds a great deal of promise.  WikiTree didn’t develop this tool in a vacuum.  Genetic genealogist Peter Roberts, project administrator of the Bahamas DNA Project, has been involved along the way, providing invaluable insight as to what the genetic genealogy community needs, and how to go about providing those tools and services.

Great job WikiTree!

Take a look and a test drive…

wikitree logo

Fourteen years ago, on 26 June 2000, it was announced that the first draft of the entire human genome had been completed. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair commented that “every so often in the history of human endeavor there comes a breakthrough that takes humankind across a frontier and into a new era. … I believe that today’s announcement is such a breakthrough …”.

The sweeping impact of a map of the human genome is still unfolding in science, medicine, and many other fields. One of these fields is genealogy. DNA testing for genealogy has been advancing rapidly — becoming more reliable, more informative, and less expensive.

Parallel to this, progress on a single family tree for humanity has been advancing rapidly thanks to Internet “crowdsourcing.” Genealogists are pooling their research and collaborating on websites such as WikiTree.com. Until now, this family tree collaboration has been based primarily on research in public records and information handed down through families.

The combination of DNA testing and a collaborative worldwide family tree is enabling something that most genealogists never expected: scientific confirmation of their genealogy.

Today WikiTree is announcing the DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid, a tool to help genealogists confirm their ancestry. Because of the broad-based collaboration on WikiTree and the fact that the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA is passed down relatively unchanged for many generations in known inheritance patterns, a DNA test taken by one genealogist can aid the research of many distant cousins. In turn, the research of one genealogist can dramatically expand the utility of other people’s DNA tests.

The DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid shows step-by-step how to confirm father-son and mother-child relationships in a family tree. It enables genealogists to discover if any other descendants of their ancestors have already taken DNA tests — something becoming more common as the cost of testing goes down and as ancestries become more deeply interconnected. When there’s an opportunity for confirmation by comparing test results, there are direct comparison links. When additional testing needs to be taken for confirmation, it links to potential test-takers.

The DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid is intended to help genealogists of all levels, including those who are completely new to DNA testing. More experienced genetic genealogists will also find benefits. Roberta Estes of DNAeXplain says, “this is particularly useful for mitochondrial DNA because there is no other ‘connecting’ mechanism. I’m sure that many of my ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA is represented in the thousands of people who have tested — but until now — there was no way to find them, since the surnames may have changed a dozen times since our shared ancestor.”

Nathan J. Bowen, PhD, genome scientist at the Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development at Clark Atlanta University, sees potential long-term benefits we can all share: “The release of the working draft of the human genome 14 years ago was a huge moment, democratizing the use of the sequence for everyone, not just corporations with private databases. Now genealogists at WikiTree are building a public family tree for humanity, confirmed with DNA. Ultimately this may reveal patterns of human migration, inheritance and disease that return significant benefits for science and medicine.”

About WikiTree

Growing since 2008, WikiTree.com is a 100% free shared family tree website. Community members privately collaborate with close family members on modern family history and publicly collaborate with other genealogists on deep ancestry. Since all the private and public profiles are connected on the same system this process is helping to grow a single, worldwide family tree that will eventually connect us all and thereby make it free and easy for anyone to discover their roots. See http://www.WikiTree.com.