Researching and Visiting Ireland

With my recent articles about Ireland, I’ve had lots of questions about visiting Ireland and researching Irish ancestors. Let’s talk about both!

Ireland is a wonderful place to visit. The people are genuinely friendly and outgoing, perhaps moreso than anyplace else in the world.

You can read about my adventures and share some of Ireland in the following articles:

Who Are The Irish?

The Irish are an ancient people with roots in the Neolithic hunter gatherer tribes who constructed the megalithic monuments more than 5000 years ago, followed by the Celts, Vikings, Normans and English. Today’s Irish are an amazing people with a wonderful sense of humor and unparalleled flexibility in the face of adversity. In other words, they are experts at making lemonade out of lemons. I suspect that’s what has at times made the unbearable, bearable, and ultimately insured their survival.

Let me give you an example.

I sat down on a tour bus for a short ride of about 10 minutes between two destinations.

A man traveling with a retiree’s club tour sat next to me, as all of the other seats were occupied.

Before sitting down, the man who I’d estimate to be on the far side of 4 score years, asked if he could sit beside me. I replied, “By all means, sit right down.”

He did and asked me if I was from the US. Laughing, I asked, “What was your first clue?” I obviously have a very distinct US accent.

We both laughed.

Then he looked at me, kind of sized me up, and asked, absolutely deadpan, “Will ye marry me?”

I could tell that this was just something he did and he was enjoying the shock value.

I told him that the ride was about 10 minutes and we could negotiate. He cheerfully said “OK!”

We started chatting about the location we had just visited and nothing in particular. In other words, the proposal was an ice-breaker and no serious negotiations were ensuing. (I was wearing a wedding band.)

Then, I asked him what women normally say when he proposes like that.

He looked at me and said, I his lovely Irish brogue, “Well, obviously no one has said yes yet or I wouldn’t still be askin’.”

I wish I could write in Irish brogue, which is what would be needed to truly convey this exchange.

I laughed till I cried. We parted friends. He has probably already forgotten about me, especially if someone has since taken him up on his proposal, but I’ll never quire forget him! After all, how many women get proposed to between Knowth and New Grange?

If you’re thinking he was the exception, he wasn’t – although granted, no one else proposed. However, many Irish extended themselves in the 10 days I visited and were exceptionally friendly and helpful at a level that many Americans would consider a borderline invasion of personal space.

For example, this is Edna, a lady that said hello in a pub during hurricane Ophelia and a few minutes later, we were best buddies.

This is simply consummate Ireland. In her words, “We do this all the time.”

Oh, and by the way, that’s a baby sized Guinness in my hand, just to see if I liked it.  I did, and thank you Edna! What a fun time we had in the middle of a hurricane.

Why Ireland?

Ireland has experienced significantly more migration and emigration than many other locations due to both religious conflicts and famine. When visiting the UCD Library, the curators of the Irish Folklore Project stated that there are far more Irish descendants scattered outside of Ireland than inside. In other words, the diaspora is larger than the homeland. I believe the diaspora is estimated to be about 70 million people with Irish roots, versus about 7 million current population by combining Ireland and Northern Ireland.

In my case, the Scots-Irish migrated to the US in early days, between 1717 and 1770, populating areas of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. The Appalachian Mountains probably felt much like home.

The Scots-Irish were only Irish for a little more than a hundred years. Before that, they were Scottish and were only transplanted to Ireland in the early 1600s, beginning about 1606 when the Protestant Scots were settled in what is now Northern Ireland, near Ulster.

Most families stayed for 4, maybe 5 generations before leaving again for better opportunities, beginning about 1717 and included an Irish famine that occurred between 1740-1741.

We know in Ireland that the Scots-Irish lived in what is now Northern Ireland, in the Ulster Plantations.

A second wave of emigration occurred during a second Irish famine that occurred between 1845-1852.

Finding Family

And now, for the bad news – many Irish genealogy records were destroyed in the bombing and subsequent fire in Dublin that destroyed almost all of the records held in the Irish Public Record Office in 1922, making research before that time challenging at best.

Therefore, DNA testing is likely to help Irish families and descendants more than most. DNA has the power to help piece together the past and overcome those missing records. The Irish, at least those interested in genealogy, aren’t nearly as reticent to test as continental Europeans. But then again, continental Europeans generally haven’t lost their records at quite the same level as the Irish.

If you’re one of those people who are lucky enough to discover the location of your family homeland in Ireland – or home road or farm, you may want to visit. Even if you can’t find the exact location, Ireland isn’t a large country, and you may be able to get close.

Other researchers visit to perform the actual research in various archival facilities.

Regardless, I have a few tips and hints for you about what to expect, what to do, what not to do, and more.

Driving

JUST DON’T!!! The Irish drive on the “wrong side” of the road and the rules are different. You’ll get yourself or someone else killed. Seriously, don’t…really! Need convincing? Look at this intersection. Any idea what you’re supposed to do?

Parking is extra and in many places, you simply can’t, so you’re MUCH BETTER to take a taxi or a bus in larger cities.

Hire a driver. I hired Brian O’Reilly and I can’t say enough good things about him – not only as a driver but as a tour guide.

I would hire Brian again in a heartbeat and I now count him among my friends. Brian works with a cooperative of several other private drivers and guides, so if Brian isn’t available himself, he will help you arrange transportation and guide service for your needs. He can also respond on relatively short notice. Brian O’Reilly’s e-mail is Brian.oreilly101@yahoo.ie. Tell him Roberta sent you and that I said “hello.”

Brian and I had a really great time and I learned so much about the Irish culture I would never have learned on a canned tour.

Hire a taxi, not a chauffeur, when hiring a driver. Why? Because taxis can use bus lanes while chauffeurs cannot. And yes, that makes a huge difference in terms of when you arrive, often by a factor of two in Dublin.

Taxis, in general, take forever to arrive to pick you up. Plan for extra time. They are often a half hour late due to traffic.

Public busses, especially in the morning and evening peak hours are often full, meaning you may not be able to board and will have to wait for the next bus. If you take public transportation, have exact change ready.

Bus schedules are merely suggestions. Be prepared to wait for up to half an hour, standing, in whatever weather is occurring.

Locations

Ireland is not handicapped accessible like we are used to in the US. Many if not most restrooms are either upstairs or downstairs in restaurants and few have elevators, called lifts. Many public buildings don’t have public restrooms and will send you across the street or down the block for a restroom.

Tipping

People that Americans would typically tip, such as servers in restaurants, are paid differently and they don’t expect a tip. Some people round up to the nearest Euro. Tipping is neither necessary or expected.

As an American, it’s very difficult for me not to tip.

Money

Ireland uses the Euro, but Northern Ireland uses the English sterling pound. And no, they don’t take each other’s money.

Not everyplace accepts credit cards. Some taxis do, but be prepared to pay an uplift of about 4% for the privilege. And the card reader doesn’t always work. Have cash available.

Almost no businesses accept American Express.

Notify your credit card companies that you will be traveling, and when. I have also put free alerts on my cards so that I know when they are being used.

Restaurants and Food

Most restaurants won’t split bills between people. That’s your problem.

Some restaurants add a fee for large parties. Large is defined by the restaurant and they may not tell you in advance.

Service EVERYPLACE is slow. Some excruciatingly slow. Plan on dinner taking literally all evening. It’s normal and part of the Irish experience.

Pub food is better than just about anyplace else.

Water served with meals is available if you ask, but doesn’t arrive automatically. It may or may not have ice.

Furthermore, ice is a precious commodity. In the hotel, only one ice machine was available for 6 floors and no ice bucket, just plastic cups stacked beside the ice dispenser.

Many restaurants, including pubs, don’t have mixed drinks, such as margaritas. They have well drinks, such as scotch and water, wine and beer. Want Kahlua? Nope, but everyone has Baileys Irish Cream – after all – it’s Ireland.

Guinness is the national beer. Drink Guinness, or at least try it. The locals say that you can ask for a couple drops of currant to sweeten the beer, but I liked it without. It tastes a bit roasty. When in Rome…or Ireland.

Carry-out is referred to as take-away. Not everyplace offers take-away.

In some parts of Europe, like the Netherlands, sharing food is frowned upon, but I didn’t notice anything like that in Ireland. Either that or they were too nice to tell me.

Bathrooms

Europeans do not use washcloths or facecloths. I purchased a pack at the dollar store at home and left them behind as I traveled. What else are you going to do with a wet washcloth?

There are often two flush buttons on the toilet. Generally, the small one is for little flushes and the larger one is when bigger flushing is needed. Yes, I had to ask Brian because it seemed that neither worked reliably.

And then sometimes, you find something like this.

If in doubt, just push buttons until you find one that achieves the desired effect.

Those funny things on the walls are towel warmers.

We could learn from the Irish!

Your appliances may turn on with a switch at the baseboard near the plug. Why? I have no idea, but plugs often don’t work if you don’t turn them on.

Rain

Rain is a fact of life in Ireland. It’s how the Emerald Isle stays Emerald. Be prepared. It may rain and be sunny 10 minutes later, or vice versa. Every. Single. Day.

Often, umbrellas are useless due to the wind. Mine turned inside out, making me look like some sort of confused ninja parachutist.

Geography

Ireland is an island and the lower 4/5th is the country of Ireland, also known as the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland, created in 1921, although historically part of Ireland, is a different country today, ruled under the British monarchy and is part of the United Kingdom. There are no longer any border checkpoints between the two, but with Brexit, that might change. If you’re planning to travel between the two, be prepared in terms of currency and a passport.

Language

In Ireland, the official language is English, but many speak Gaelic. Because the English historically tried to exterminate the Gaelic language, when Ireland regained control of its own government, they included a clause in the constitution that everything in Ireland is offered in two languages – up to and including road and other signage.

However, their English is spoken with a very heavy Irish brogue which is both beautiful and frustrating. Like someone said, two people separated by a common language.

Pharmaceuticals

Medications like Dramamine and cold medicine, things we typically purchase over the counter are behind the counter at pharmacies in Europe, including Ireland. Pharmacies are typically not open past 5 PM and many not before sometime between 10 and noon.

Don’t assume you can pick up any medications at the convenience store, because you likely can’t. Not to mention, convenience stores are few and far between, so not convenient as we think of them. My hotel, even though expensive, did not have a shop – only two vending machines. Take what you might need, plus extra.

Hotels

Plugs in hotels are often not located conveniently to a nightstand, so either take a European conformant (based on the country you are visiting) extension cord or plan otherwise.

My hotel in Ireland did provide shampoo, but no conditioner and no washcloths. Take your own supplies, just in case.

Hotels rooms also do not generally include microwaves or refrigerators.

Expect to pay for parking at hotels.

Many hotels offer “Afternoon tea” or “High tea” which is an afternoon event that includes tea, biscuits (cookies) and small finger sandwiches. It’s an upper class social event, people often “dress,” and sit and talk. My hotel did not offer tea, the one across the street did, for 45 Euro. Another Dublin hotel at the upscale end charged 95 Euro. I think this is a case of if you need to ask how much, don’t go. I didn’t but I was told that I should have high tea at least once in my life.  Guess I’ll have to go back!

Here’s a link to more info about tea time.

No clock or alarm in the hotel room. My cell phone was probably more reliable anyway and I had to get up to turn the alarm off, since there were no plugs bedside.

Hotels and Climate Control

Most hotels and B&Bs don’t have air conditioning. Neither do other buildings including public buildings, so you’ll need to grin and bear it. It’s seldom beastly hot, but it can be very close and humid.

My hotel room had a lovely set of French doors and a balcony, permanently sealed shut. I also had two windows, only one of which would crank out about 2 inches. That’s not much to obtain any type of air movement within the room.

Heat in hotels, especially in older buildings is generally by radiator, not by thermostat, if heated at all. You will need to turn a knob on the radiator when entering the room to turn the heat on – and if you get too hot, there is no way to cool off. So be careful.

I stayed at the Clayton Ballsbridge, which I do NOT recommend for various reasons including consistently very poor service combined with an attitude that I was being unreasonable to expect decent service, like you know, clean cups, replenished tea, etc., daily, in my room that cost over $190 per night. Not to mention it took two and a half hours to get a bowl of stew in the restaurant.

Perhaps this is the down side to tipping being included in the price of the meal – little motivation for good service.

People staying in B&Bs were generally happier than people who stayed in hotels.

Electronics

You will need items that will plug in to 230 volt, 50 Hz power which have a different plug than in the US.

This is not necessarily just a converter issue, but a voltage compatibility issue. Check the voltage on your device.  In my case, a heating pad did not work using a converter, so I had to purchase one that would. Then I needed an extension cord, which I didn’t have. Plan accordingly.

You will need multiple converters so that you can charge your phone, etc. Here’s a page that discusses converters and sockets.

Plugs are often not placed conveniently.

Phones

OMG, the bane of my existence. Phones hate me, truly, and always have.

I can call Ireland from the US, but I cannot seem to call anyone in Ireland on my US cell phone while in Ireland, and I tried every combination I could think of and that anyone suggested. I suspect, but don’t know, that it had to do with a US phone being in Ireland, so it was confused by which type of country access code it needed. I could, however, message one person, thankfully. I never could manage to communicate with another.

Here’s my suggestion. Find someone in Ireland, maybe at the hotel front desk, that you can practice with. Once you figure out what you need to do on your phone to call them, it should work when dialing others in country too.

Beware of cell phone roaming and data charges. Understand how to turn off roaming by putting your phone in airplane mode. Before traveling, call or visit your phone carrier and understand what you can and cannot do with what kind of data without being charged. It’s extremely easy to run up a cell bill over $1000 and never realize what is happening. Case in point, your phone is always roaming to update Facebook and similar apps.

Mind you, I couldn’t make a bloody call, but the phone found ways to connect so that I’d be charged!

Tours

Unless you arrange for a private tour, which I did with Brian, tours generally leave from the downtown area at the beginning of the day, which means you’re going to encounter heavy rush hour traffic getting to the tour site. Allow adequate time, more than you think you’ll ever need, because the tour will leave without you otherwise.

Private tours cost more, especially for one person, but by the time you have 3 or 4 people or so, depending on the tour, the cumulative cost won’t be more and you’ll be much MUCH happier. Plus, a private tour can cater to your desires – like a coffee break, bathroom stop, a quilt shop along the way, or anything else of interest.

Seasons and Stores

Some businesses are seasonal – including restaurants. If you are not visiting in the high tourist season of June-August, I would strongly suggest calling ahead if you are planning on visiting a particular location.

Small businesses may or may not be open on a whim. Seriously. Always call.

Genealogy and Research Assistance

I asked these fine folks, shown here on a day trip in front of Carrickfergus Castle in Belfast, about their recommendations for Irish genealogical research:

  • Michelle Leonard, professional genealogist at Genes & Genealogy, out of Glasgow, Scotland (red hair, above)
  • Martin McDowell, professional genealogist (martin.mcdowell3@talktalk.net) as well as Development and Education Director with The North of Ireland Family History Society (right, above)
  • Dr. Maurice Gleeson, coordinator of Genetic Genealogy Ireland (left, above)

These people work with Irish records, as well as genetic genealogy every day, and they know what they are doing.

Martin recommends https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/ where both church and civil records can be found free of charge. He suggests that of the best pay sites for Irish records is http://www.rootsireland.ie/, though its accuracy depends on the quality of the transcription.

The North of Ireland Family History Society where Martin serves as the Education & Development Officer provides a website detailing their holdings: http://www.nifhs.org/, including a full PDF of everything in the library: http://www.nifhs.org/library-list/

Maurice mentions that the PRONI and GRONI sites are specifically Northern Ireland:

Michelle points out that irishgenealogy.ie has all of the Northern Ireland BMDs prior to January 1, 1922. She points out that if you’re searching for a marriage that took place in 1906, search for it on irishgenealogy.ie where you will get the image for free as opposed to on GRONI where it will cost you £2.50 for the same image.  On the other hand if you’re searching for a marriage that took place prior to 1882 in Northern Ireland you will find it on irishgenealogy.ie but there will be no image so it’s best to go to GRONI and pay the £2.50.

My personal experience is more limited, being only a consumer of Irish research, not a professional researcher. Having said that, I DON’T recommend the Ulster Historical Foundation. I completed their form and requested an initial assessment for 35 pounds sterling on July 4th, and I’m still waiting to hear back, today, many months later, after my trip to Ireland is complete. They could at least have told me they were too busy to accommodate my needs.

The web site says they are extremely busy and to expect a delay of 4-6 weeks, but never contacting the person requesting the research is unacceptable.  It’s a good thing I was able to find a private researcher (Martin McDowell) who was willing to take an “emergency” case at a late date. Unfortunately, my situation because “an emergency” because I waited for the Ulster Historical Foundation, expecting they would be able to assist my research. Thank you Martin McDowell for being my hero and Maurice Gleeson for helping me find Martin!

I do recommend the Irish Folklore Center as well as John Grenham’s blog and website.  To find where surnames are clustered in Ireland, a surname map which combines information from 1848 through the 1911 census is available here.

For genetic genealogy, I strongly suggest the videos produced at Genetic Genealogy Ireland which now form a library on the GGI YouTube channel, all for free. Also, the ISOGG Ireland page provides an extensive list of Ireland specific resources.

By the way, a big thank you to all of the volunteers, including the speakers, who work together to produce Genetic Genealogy Ireland. GGI is an all-volunteer effort, and without these people, and Maurice Gleeson coordinating the entire event, it wouldn’t happen!

You might want to attend the Belfast Genetic Genealogy Ireland Conference on February 17-18 sponsored by Family Tree DNA. You can read more here including the great lineup of 13 free sessions and speakers focused on genetic genealogy!

Safety

As big cities go, I felt safe in Dublin and Belfast, or as safe as I feel in any large city, although I was never in the Belfast city center. I felt a lot better having Brian with me, directing me and explaining what I should and should not do and where I shouldn’t go, and why.

Time

I intended to visit six locations:

  • Dublin
  • The Cliffs of Moher
  • Giant’s Causeway
  • Wicklow Mountains
  • Boyne Valley – Knowth, New Grange and Tara
  • Belfast

Partly due to the hurricane, and partly due to fatigue, I scrapped the Cliffs and Giant’s Causeway trips.

Those two trips are long, meaning 12 hour days and that doesn’t include dinner. They are difficult in the rain and when it stays dark later in the morning and gets dark early in the evening. Those trips, in addition to the 8 hour days for the other trips, were just too much, on back to back days.

If I had planned for an additional 3 or 4 days in Ireland, it would have given me the opportunity to rest between tours or see a few additional sights in Dublin on the down days.

Even with that consideration, the late fall is not the best time of year for visits to either the Giant’s Causeway or the Cliffs of Moher from Dublin.

Ireland is Wonderful

Go.

Enjoy.

Eat pub food.

Drink Guinness.

Connect with your roots!

If you need to test your DNA before you go, I recommend Family Tree DNA for Y (patrilineal for men) and mitochondrial (matrilineal for both genders) DNA testing, as well as Family Finder autosomal for cousin matching across all of your genealogy. If you would like to know more about these various types of tests, please read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

In my case, I could not personally test for the Y DNA of my McDowell ancestor – so I found a McDowell male from my line to take that test. Were it not for his results that included a match to a man who knew exactly where the McDowell’s lived in Ireland, I would never have known where my McDowell line originated and been able to visit and traverse the road where they lived. So think in terms of testing appropriate relatives to unlock secrets about your ancestors!

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Conrad (Cunradt) Schlosser (1635-1694), Calvinist– 52 Ancestors #179

Thanks to the combined efforts of cousin Richard Miller, my friend Tom, a retired genealogist who works with German records and blog commenter, Karen Parker, we know that Conrad Schlosser is the father of both Anna Ursula Schlosser and Irene Charitas Schlosser through the sisters’ 1689 confirmation record which refers to “Irene Charitas and Anna Ursula, Conrad Schlosser’s daughters from Steinwinden.”

Clearly, I wanted to build this family, so I checked Family Search where I have found several German Church records previously.

I found a record of Conrad’s death in the record search by surname. You can also search by location, date and record type, or a combination. If one doesn’t work, try another. Some indexed records will show up in one type of search, but not another, even though they should.

No record images are available though, as you can see beside the camera icon. Bummer!

But there’s a secret tool. This nifty work-around is thanks to Tom who was working on finding the images of these records before I even found the index.

First, A Secret Trick

Do you see the camera icon where it says “no image found?” Well, that’s not always true and images are often available, even when it says otherwise.

We’re going to use a different tool.

First, if you don’t have an account for FamilySearch.org, create one. You’ll need one in order to sign in.

Then, under the dropdown for “Search” select “Catalog.”

Enter the place name. In this case, I entered Steinwenden and it autofilled the rest of the information.

Click on the blue Search button that you’ll see below the place name.

Next, you’ll see the relevant records for Steinwenden. I’m selecting “Church records.”

I see two options, only one of which includes the dates I’m interested in that begin in 1684. Happy dance! Happy dance!

Click on that link.

Now we can view the actual records by film number, and look, the camera image at the right in the green box indicates that these records ARE imaged. They aren’t indexed, but you can use the information from the regular search to locate the information, then browse the images to find the specific record you seek.

Ok, now back to Conrad.

Conrad’s Death

Conrad, Cunrad or Cunradt, his name is spelled all 3 ways in different records, was buried on February 13, 1694, the day before the Feast of St. Valentine. That typically means he died the day before. Before the days of embalming, people were buried quickly although there would have been no rush in February. According to WeatherSpark, February 9th is historically the coldest say in Steinwenden, and the temperature averages between 29 and 40 F. The ground probably wouldn’t have been frozen, so digging a grave wouldn’t have been a problem.

My friend, Tom, marked the entry with an X. How he reads and deciphers these records is utterly beyond me, but thankfully, he does. Conrad was age 59 at his death and so was therefore born in 1635.

Conrad’s Family Revealed Through Death Records

But there’s more.

Next we discover that his wife’s name was Anna Ursula and she outlived him, departing this world on March 15, 1701.

Anna Ursula’s death record is shown above, but there’s more there too. Conrad and Anna Ursula’s daughter, Anna Catherina’s death is recorded just above Anna Ursula’s, passing away March 3rd.

Below Anna Ursula’s death entry we find even more.

Conrad and Anna Ursula had a son, Johannes Schlosser born in 1680 who died 8 days later, on March 22, 1701, never having married. His death entry is the one beneath his mother’s entry, above.

That was one ugly March.

Another son, Carl was born in 1660 and died in 1731.

Carl’s death is recorded in the index, as well as the actual church record, below.  Sometimes deaths appear in the actual records that don’t know in the Family Search indexes.

A third son, Hans Peter, probably Johann Peter, was buried on July 31, 1691, having died at age 11. He would have been born about 1680, probably not long before the family immigrated to Steinwenden from Switzerland. It’s possible that Johannes and Hans Peter were twins, but more likely that the birth year is off because only the general age of death is given in the church record, not the actual birth year.

The 31st of July 1691 was buried in Steinwenden, Hans Peter Schlosser, son of Cunradt, aged about 11 years. Steinwenden Ev-Ref Kirche, BA (Homburg), Bavaria

Unfortunately, none of these records tell us where the Schlosser family originated or the occupation of Conrad.

Church and Graveyard

I would bet that Conrad is buried in the churchyard in Steinwenden. If the graves were marked at the time with more than a wooden cross, one wouldn’t be able to locate them today, because burial plots are reused in Europe. In some cases, family members are simply buried on top of or in the same place as an earlier ancestor. In other cases, the bones are removed to an ossuary to continue to their return to dust, freeing up the grave space for others, perhaps unrelated, to be buried. Customs and actual usage vary by location.

The church today in the center of Steinwenden was built in 1852, long after Conrad died, but the original church was probably located in the same location, and if not, certainly nearby. Keeping in mind that when Conrad and the Swiss immigrants settled in Steinwenden, there were only 6 families in residence, and one of those 6 could have been Conrad since we don’t know exactly when he arrived although it looks like it might have been in the spring of 1685. Six families, 25 people, and a church whose records begin in 1684!

Catholics and Protestants

Speaking of the church, this family has a somewhat unusual religious mixture.

On April 28, 1685, when Conrad would have been 50 years old, his daughter, Anna Maria married Melchior Clemens in Steinwenden. The typical marriage location was the church of the bride if the church of the bride and groom were different – assuming they were both of the same religious sect – meaning Catholic or Protestant.

In this case, the only church in Steinwenden was a protestant church which implies that both the bride and groom were protestant.

Anna Maria’s first child was born and baptized in this church on January 31, 1686, but then the unthinkable happened. Anna Maria apparently converted to Catholicism, because their subsequent children were baptized in the Catholic church in either Glan-Munchweiler, about 7 miles distant, or Ramstein, about 3 miles distant in the opposite direction.

Children cannot be baptized in the Catholic church unless both parents are Catholic.

Typically, the godparents must be Catholic too, given that the duty of the godparents is to raise the child in the event that something happens to both parents, and raise that child in the Catholic religion.

However, in this case, an exception was made for some reason. We have no way of knowing whether the churches in this region were relatively lax, or something else came into play, but regardless, an exception was made.

Ironically, it’s those Catholic church records that provide insight into Conrad Schlosser’s religion.

Calvinists

In 1694, Carl Schlosser, Conrad’s son and the brother of Anna Maria Schlosser Clemens stood up as the godfather in the Ramstein Catholic church for the son of his sister, Anna Maria. Carl is noted in the Catholic church record as “the honorable young man, Carolus Schlosser, Calvinist of Steinweiler.” Carolus is the Latin form of Carl. Honorable in this context probably means that his parents were married at his birth, but still, this record of a protestant standing up for a Catholic child at baptism is quite unusual.

This baptism occurred on May 9th, less than 2 months after Carl and Anna Maria had buried their father, Conrad, recorded for posterity (and grateful descendants) in the Steinwenden church records. Might this recent death have softened the resolve of the priest in Ramstein, or perhaps the reason the baptism took place in Ramstein is because that church was more lenient that the Catholic church in Glan-Munchweiler where the previous three children had been baptized.

At that time in Germany, the protestant church consisted of two branches. Beginning in the 1500s, many Germans accepted the teachings of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and the Evangelical or Lutheran church was formally established in 1531, breaking from the Catholic church.

Another group of protestants who accepted the creed of the Swiss Calvinist reformers eventually became members of the Evangelical Reformed Church which broke with the Catholic church about 1530.

Calvinists were named such by the Lutherans who opposed the sect referring to French reformer John Calvin (1509-1564). It was a common practice in the churches of the day to name what they perceived to be heresy after the founder of the heretical movement. Hence, Calvinism.

While the Calvinists and Lutherans were both protestant sects, they viewed each other as heretics and the Catholics thought both sects were heretical.

By SCZenz at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10547367

John Calvin (born Jehan Cauvin in France) preached at the St. Pierre Cathedral, the main church in Geneva. Of course, by the time that Conrad Schlosser was born in 1634, Calvin had been deceased for 70 years and the Schlosser family would have been learning the tenets of the faith from ministers of the Calvinist faith.

This tells us something of the Schlosser family history in the 100 years before Conrad’s birth, since the 1530s. The Schlossers had been separated from the Catholic faith for 100 years or less, about 4 generations.  In that time, someone converted to Calvinism.

Calvinists differ from Lutherans on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, theories of worship and the use of God’s Law for believers. For example, Calvinists of the time believed that Christ is actually present at the Lord’s supper, in spirit, but present just the same, as opposed to those who believed that the supper simply serves as a reminder of Christ’s death. Confession was also a part of the Calvinist faith.

Calvinist religious refugees poured into Geneva Switzerland, especially from France during the 1550s. In Switzerland, protestant churches were typically Calvinist, while Lutherans were found more in northern Germany. This further points to the Schlosser family’s Swiss origins and raises the possibility of French origins before that.

The Calvinists were known for simple unadorned churches and lifestyles, as show in this painting by Emanuel de Witte from about 1661, only a couple decades before our Calvinist Schlosser family is found in Steinwenden.

5 Points of Calvinism

The 5 points of Calvinism, referred to as TULIP, are as follows, according to Wikipedia’s article on Calvinism:

The central assertion of these points is that God saves every person upon whom he has mercy, and that his efforts are not frustrated by the unrighteousness or inability of humans.

  • Total depravity“, also called “total inability”, asserts that as a consequence of the fall of man into sin, every person is enslaved to sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God, but rather to serve their own interests and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved (the term “total” in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as they could be). This doctrine is derived from Augustine‘s explanation of Original Sin. While the phrases “totally depraved” and “utterly perverse” were used by Calvin, what was meant was the inability to save oneself from sin rather than being absent of goodness. Phrases like “total depravity” cannot be found in the Canons of Dort, and the Canons as well as later Reformed orthodox theologians arguably offer a more moderate view of the nature of fallen humanity than Calvin.
  • Unconditional election” asserts that God has chosen from eternity those whom he will bring to himself not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people; rather, his choice is unconditionally grounded in his mercy alone. God has chosen from eternity to extend mercy to those he has chosen and to withhold mercy from those not chosen. Those chosen receive salvation through Christ alone. Those not chosen receive the just wrath that is warranted for their sins against God.
  • Limited atonement“, also called “particular redemption” or “definite atonement”, asserts that Jesus’s substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its purpose and in what it accomplished. This implies that only the sins of the elect were atoned for by Jesus’s death. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power, but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is intended for some and not all. Some Calvinists have summarized this as “The atonement is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.”
  • Irresistible grace“, also called “efficacious grace”, asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. This means that when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved. The doctrine holds that this purposeful influence of God’s Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit, “graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ.” This is not to deny the fact that the Spirit’s outward call (through the proclamation of the Gospel) can be, and often is, rejected by sinners; rather, it’s that inward call which cannot be rejected.
  • Perseverance of the saints” (also known as “perseverance of God with the saints” and “preservation of the believing”) (the word “saints” is used to refer to all who are set apart by God, and not of those who are exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven) asserts that since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with (1 John 2:19), or, if they are saved but not presently walking in the Spirit, they will be divinely chastened (Hebrews 12:5–11) and will repent (1 John 3:6–9).

The Wikipedia article contains a chart comparing Calvinism and Lutheranism. While to the Calvinists and Lutherans, I’m sure the differences were dramatic, today, they seem rather like unimportant details.

Conrad Schlosser might be rolling around in his grave right about now (if he still has one,) given what I just said!

Conrad’s Surname

The German name Schlosser translates to locksmith, fitter or metalworker, in English. This leads me to wonder what a locksmith would have done in the 1600s, in Germany or Switzerland.

Locksmiths were also metalworkers, which could have extended to other types of metalwork, including locks.

However, I did find one incredibly beautiful German lock and key that is about 400 years old.

A German locksmith, Peter Lenlein, has been credited with creating the first watch in the early 1500s, so locksmiths certainly existed by 1635 when Conrad was born. We don’t know when this family adopted surnames although surnames in Germany were in widespread usage before 1500. We will probably never know whether Conrad was a locksmith or not, but clearly at some point in his direct paternal line, someone was either a locksmith or worked with metal of some sort.

Conrad’s DNA

Conrad’s Y (paternal) DNA would have been carried by his sons. Of Conrad’s three sons born, only one lived to adulthood to marry and reproduce.

Carl Schlosser was buried on January 16, 1731, age 66 years and 3 months of age in Steinwenden. This record provides his birth in about October 1664, probably in Switzerland. Unfortunately, few Swiss records have been either transcribed or microfilmed.

Carl’s marriage at age 36 in January 27, 1701 is recorded in the Steinwenden church records, although 36 is somewhat late to marry.

Hans Carl Schlosser, son of the late Cunrad Schlosser of Steinwenden married Agnes, legitimate daughter of the late Hans Peter Hunen von Weisenheim.

Thankfully, Carl did marry, because even though he married late, he had a large number of children, which means there’s a prayer of a male Schlosser descendant for Y DNA testing today.

Carl and his wife set about having children right away, and continued for the next 20 years:

  • December 18, 1701 – baptism of Anna Regina Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes, died immediately after baptism. Carl’s sister, Regina Haffner was one of the godparents
  • December 24, 1702 – baptism of Anna Margaretha Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes, baptized quickly and died soon afterwards. Same godparents as 1701 child.
  • June 20, 1704 – baptism of Johann Michael Schlosser, son of Carl Schlosser and Agnes. Godparent was Elisabeth, wife of Johannes Muller, but we don’t know who this Johannes Muller was. Given that Irene Charitas Schlosser had married Johann Michael Mueller (deceased in 1694), this Johannes Mueller could be related, although he is probably not a son of Johann Michael Mueller. The only son of Johann Michael Mueller known to to survive was his namesake who was age 12 in 1704. However, the child’s given name was Johann Michael, so maybe.
  • July 29, 1705 – baptism of Anna Ursula Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes.
  • August 19, 1708 – baptism of Anna Catharina Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes.
  • March 17, 1711 – baptism of Maria Barbara, Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes.
  • November 12, 1733 – baptism of Regina Catharina Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes. On October 8, 1724, the burial of Regina was recorded in church records at age 11.
  • November 26, 1716 – baptism of Johannes Schlosser, son of Carl Schlosser and Agnes. On March 20, 1720, the burial was recorded in the church records for Johannes, age 4.
  • September 24, 1719 – baptism of Anna Margaretha Schlosser, daughter of Carl Schlosser and Agnes.

Unfortunately, only one of Carl’s sons survived, meaning that son’s descendants are our only prayer of finding a Schlosser male who carries Conrad’s Y chromosome today.

Equally as unfortunately, I can find no trace in the church records or at Ancestry of Johann Michael Schlosser after his birth.

If you descend from Johann Michael Schlosser, or are a male descended from the Schlosser line from Steinwenden or nearby, and can connect your line back to this Schlosser line, I have a Y DNA testing scholarship for you!

Regardless of how you descend from this line, I’d love to hear from you.

Working with the New Big Y Results (hg38)

If you are a Family Tree DNA customer, and in particular, a male or manage male kits, you’re familiar with the Big Y test.

The Big Y test scans the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome, hunting for mutations, called SNPs, that define your haplogroup with great precision. This test also discovers SNPs never before found.  Those newly discovered SNPs may someday become new haplogroup branches as well. The Big Y test is how the Y DNA phylotree has been expanded from a few hundred locations a few years ago to more than 78,000, and along with that comes our understanding of the migration patterns of our ancestors.

We’re still learning, every single day, so testing new people continues to be important.

The Big Y is the logical extension of STR testing (panels 37, 67 and 111), which focus on genealogical matches, closer in time, instead of haplogroup era matches. STR locations mutate more rapidly than SNPs, so the STR test is more useful for genealogists, or at least represent an entry point into Y DNA testing. SNPs generally reach further back in time, showing us where are ancestors were before STR test results kick in.  More and more, those two tests have some time overlap as more SNPs are discovered.

If you want to read more, I wrote about this topic in the article, “Why the Big Y Test?”.  Ignore the pricing information at the end of that article, as it’s out of date today.

Before we talk about the new format of the Big Y results, let’s take a step back and look at the multiple reasons why Family Tree DNA created a new Big Y experience.

The first reason is that the human reference genome changed.

What is the Human Reference Genome?

The Human Reference Genome is a genetic map against which everyone else is compared.  In essence, it’s an attempt to give every location in our genome an address, and to have them all line up on streets where they belong on a nice big chromosome by chromosome grid.

That’s easier said than done.  Let’s look at why and begin with a little history.

Hg refers to the human reference genome and 38 is the current version number, released in December of 2013.

The previous version was hg19, released in February of 2009.

This seems like a long time ago, but each version requires extensive resources to convert data from previous versions to the newer version.  Different versions are not compatible with each other.

You can read more about this here, here, here and here, if you really want to dig in.

Hg19, the version that we’ve been using until now, was based only on 13 anonymous volunteers from Buffalo, New York. Hg38 uses far more samples and resequences previously sequenced results as well. We learned a lot between 2009 when the previous version, hg19, was released and 2013 when hg38 was released.

Keeping in mind that people are genetically far more alike than different, sequencing allows most of the human genome to be mapped when the genomes of those reference individuals are compared in layers, stacked on top of each other.

The resulting composite reference map, regardless of the version, isn’t a reflection of any one person, but a combination of all of those people against which the rest of us are compared.

Areas of high diversity, in this case, Y SNPs, may differ from each other. It’s those differences that matter to us as genealogists.

In order to find those differences, we must be able to line up the genomes of the various people tested, on top of each other, so that we can measure from the locations that are the same.

Here’s an example.  All 4 people in this table above match exactly on locations 1-7, 9- 10 and 13-15.

Locations 8, 11 and 12 are areas that are more unstable, meaning that the people are not the same at that location, although they may not match each other, hence the different colored cells.

From this model, we know that we can align most people’s results on the green locations where everyone matches everyone else because we are all human.

The other locations may be the same or different, but they can’t be aligned reliably by relying on the map. You can read more about the complexity of this topic here and a good article, here.

A New Model

The challenge is that between 2009 and 2013, new locations were discovered in previously unmapped areas of the genome.

Think of genome locations as kids sitting in assigned seats side by side in a row.

Where do we put the newly discovered kids?

They have to crowd in someplace onto our existing map.

We have to add chairs between locations. The white rows below represent the newly discovered locations.

When we add chairs, the “addresses” of the kids currently sitting in chairs will change.  In fact, the address of everyone on the street might change because everyone has shifted.  Many of the actual kids will be the same, but some will be new, even though all of the kids will be referenced by new addresses.

This is a very simplified conceptual explanation of a complex process which isn’t simple at all.  In addition to addressing, this process has to deal with DNA insertions, deletions, STR markers which are repeats of segments, palindromic mutations as well as pseudo-autosomal regions of the Y chromosome. Additionally, not all reads or calls are valid, for a number of reasons. Due to all these factors, after the realignment is complete, analysis has to follow.

Suffice it to say that converting from one version to the next requires the data to be reanalyzed with a new filter which requires a massive amount of computational power.

Then, the wheat has to be sorted from the chaff.

Discovery

The conversion to hg38 has been a boon for discovery, already.  For example, Dr. Michael Sager, “Dr. Big Y” at Family Tree DNA has been busily working through the phylotree to see what the new alignment provides.

In November, he mentioned that he had discovered correct placement for a new haplogroup, high in the R1b tree, that joined together several subclades of U106.

In hg19, U106 had 9 subclades, all of which then branched downwards.

However, in hg38, utilizing the newly aligned genome, Michael can see that U106 has been reconfigured and looks like this instead.

Look at the difference!

  • Two new haplogroups have been placed in their proper location in the tree; Z2265 and BY30097.
  • A2150 has been repositioned.
  • Because of the placement of A2150 and Z2265, U106 now only has two direct branches.
  • S19589 has been moved beneath Z2265
  • The remaining 7 peach colored haplogroups in the old tree are now subclades of BY30097.

You may not know or realize that this shuffle occurred, but it has and it’s an important scientific discovery that corrects earlier versions of the phylotree.

Congratulations Dr. Sager!

So, how does the conversion to hg38 affect customers directly?

The Conversion

In or about October 2017, Family Tree DNA began their conversion to hg38. Keep in mind that no other vendor has to do this, because no other vendor provides testing at this level for Y DNA, combined with matching.

Not only that, but there is no funding for their investment in resources to do the conversion.  By that I mean that once you purchase the product, there is no annual subscription or anything else to fund development of this type.

Additionally, Family Tree DNA designed a new user interface for the enhanced Big Y which includes a new Big Y browser.

The initial conversion has been complete for some time, although tweaking is still occurring and some files are being reconverted when problems are discovered.  Now, the backlog of tests that accumulated during the conversion and during the holiday sale are being processed.

So, what does this mean to the consumer?  How do we work with the new results?  What has changed and what does all of this mean?

It’s an exciting time. We’re all waiting for new matches.

I’m going to step through the features and functions one at a time, explaining the new functionality and then what is different, and why.

First Look

On your personal page, you have Big Y Results and Big Y Matches.

Either selection takes you the same page, but with a different tab highlighted.

Named Variants

Named variants are SNPs that are already known and have been given SNP names.

At the bottom of the page, you can see that this person has 946 SNPs out of 77,722 currently on the tree.  Many SNPs on the tree are equivalent to each other.

The information about each SNP on this page shows that it’s derived, meaning it’s a mutation and not ancestral which is the original state of the DNA.

If you look closely, you’ll see that some of the Reference and Genotype values are the same.  You would logically expect them to be different.  These are genuine mutations, but they are listed as the same because in hg19, the reference model, which is a composite, is skewed towards haplogroup R.  In haplogroup R, these values are the same as the person tested (who is R-BY490), so while these are valid mutations on the tree of humanity, they are derived and found in all of haplogroup R. The same thing happens to some extent with all haplogroups because the reference sequence is a composite of all haplogroups.

The next column indicates whether the SNP has or hasn’t yet been placed on the Y tree.

The Reference column refers to the value at this address shown in the hg38 reference model, and the Genotype column shows the tester’s result at that location.

The confidence column shows the confidence level that Family Tree DNA has in this call. Let’s talk about confidence levels for a minute, and what they mean.

Confidence Levels

The Big Y test scans the Y chromosome, looking for specific blips at certain addresses.  Every location has a “normal” blip for the Y chromosome as determined by the reference model.  Any blips that vary from the reference model are flagged for further evaluation.

Blips can be caused by a mutation, a read error or a complex area of DNA, which is why there is a threshold for a minimum number of scans to find that same anomaly at any single location.

The area considered the “gold standard” portion of the Y chromosome which is useful genealogically is scanned between 55 and 80 times.  Then the scans are aligned and compared to each other, with the blips at various locations being reported.

The relevance of blips can vary by location and what is known as density in various regions.  In general, blips are not considered to be relevant unless they are recorded a minimum of 5 to 8 times, depending on the region of the Y chromosome.  At that level, Family Tree DNA reports them as a medium confidence call. High confidence calls are reported a minimum of 10 times.

Some individuals and third-party companies read the BAM files and offer analysis, often project administrators within haplogroup projects.  Depending on the circumstances, they may suggest that as few at 2 blips are enough to consider the blip a mutation and not a read error.  Therefore, some third-party analysis will suggest additional haplogroups not reported by Family Tree DNA. Project administrators often collaborate with Dr. Sager to coordinate the placement of SNPs on the tree.

Therefore, at Family Tree DNA:

  • You will see only medium and high confidence calls for SNPs.
  • Over time, your Unnamed Variants will disappear as they are named and become Named Variants with SNP names.
  • When Unnamed Variants become Named Variants, which are SNPs that have been named, they are eligible to be added to the Y tree.
  • If the SNP added to the Y tree is below your present terminal SNP, you may one day discover that you have a new terminal SNP, meaning new haplogroup, listed on your main page. If the new SNP is within 5 upstream of your terminal SNP, looking backward up the tree, you’ll see it appear in your mini-tree on your personal page and on your larger Haplogroup and SNP page.

Unnamed Variants

Unnamed variants are newer mutations that have not yet been named as SNPs.

In order for a mutation to be considered a SNP, in true genetics terms, it has to be found in over 1% of the population.  Otherwise, it’s considered a private, personal, family or clan mutation.

However, in reality, Family Tree DNA attempts to figure out which SNPs are being found often enough to warrant the assignment of a SNP number which means they can be placed on the haplotree of humanity, and which SNPs truly are going to be private “family mutations.”  Today, nearly all mutations found in 3 or more individuals that are considered high confidence calls are named as SNPs.

Both named and unnamed variants are a good thing.  New SNPs help expand and grow the tree.  Personal or family SNPs can be utilized in the same fashion as STR markers.  Eventually, as new SNPs are categorized and named, they will be moved from your Unnamed Variants page and added to your Named Variants page.

If you had results in the hg19 version, your unnamed variants will have changed.  Just like those kids sitting on the bleachers, your old variants are either:

  • Still here but with a new name
  • Have been given SNP names and are now on your Named Variants list

The great news is that you’ll very probably have new variants too, resulting from the new hg38 reference model and more accurate alignment.

If you’re really a die-hard and want to know which hg19 locations are now hg38 locations, you can do the address conversion here.  I am a die-hard but not this much of a die-hard, plus, I didn’t record the previous novel variant locations for my kits.  Dr. Sager who has run this program tells me that you only need to pay attention to the two drop down menus specifying the “original” and “new” assemblies when utilizing this tool.

Y Chromosome Browser Tool

You’ve probably already noticed the really new cool browser tool, positioned tantalizingly to the right of both results tabs.

Go ahead and click on either a SNP name or an unnamed variant.

Either one will cause a pop up box to open displaying the location you’ve selected in the Big Y browser.

Utilizing the new Y chromosome browser tool, you can see the number of times that a specific SNP was called as positive or negative during the scan of your Y DNA at that specific location.

To see an example, click on any SNP on the list under the SNP Name column.

The Y chromosome browser tool opens up at the location of the SNP you selected.

The SNP you selected is displayed in pink with a downward arrow pointing to the position of the SNP. The other pink locations display other nearby SNP positions.

See that one single pink blip to the far right in the example above?  That’s a good example of just one call, probably noise.  You can see the difference between that one single call and high confidence reads, illustrated by the columns of pink SNP reads lined up in a row.

You can click on any of your SNP positions, named or unnamed, to see more information for that specific SNP.

Pink indicates that a mutation, or derived value, was found at that location as compared to the ancestral value found in the reference model.

Blue rows and green rows indicate that the forward (blue) or reverse (green) strand was being read.

The intensity of the colors indicates the relative strength of the read confidence, where the most intense is the highest confidence.

The value listed at the top, T, A, C or G is the abbreviation for the ancestral reference nucleobase value found in the reference population at that genetic location, and the value highlighted in pink is the derived (mutated) value that you carry.

Confidence is a statistical value calculated based upon the number of scans, the relative quality of that part of the Y chromosome and the number of times that derived value was found during scanning.

I love this new tool.

I hope that in the next version, Family Tree DNA will include the ability to look at additional locations not on the list.

For example, I was recently working on a Personalized DNA Report where the SNP below the tester’s terminal SNP was not called one way or another, positive or negative.  I would have liked to view his results for that SNP location to see if he has any blips, or if the location read at all.

Matching

The third tab displays your Big Y matches and a mini-tree of your 5 SNPs at the end of your own personal branch of the haplotree.

Your terminal SNP determines the terminal (final or lowest) subbranch (on the Y-DNA haplotree) to which you belong.

On your mini-tree, your terminal SNP (R-BY490 above) is labeled YOU.

The number of people you match on those SNPs utilizing the new matching algorithm is displayed at each branch of the tree.

The matches shown above are the matches for this person’s terminal SNP. To see the people matching on the next branch above the terminal SNP, click on R-BY482.

The number listed beside these SNPs on your 5 step mini-tree is NOT the total number of people you match on that branch, only the number you match on that branch AFTER the matching algorithm is applied.

I put this in bold red, because based on the previous matching algorithm that managed to include everyone on your terminal SNP, it’s easy to presume the new version shows everyone in the system who matches you on that SNP – and it doesn’t necessarily.  If assume it does or expect that it will, you’re likely to be wrong. There is a significant amount of confusion surrounding this topic in the community.

New Matching Algorithm

The Family Tree DNA matching algorithm has changed substantially. It needed to be updated, as the old matching algorithm had been outgrown with the dramatic new number of SNPs discovered and placed on the phylotree. Family Tree DNA created the original matching software when the Big Y was new and it was time for a refresh. In essence, the Big Y testing and tree-building has been successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams and the matching routine became a victim of its own success.

Previously, Family Tree DNA used a static list of somewhere around 6,000 SNPs as compared to over 350,000 today, of which more than 78,000 have been placed on the tree. By the way, this SNP number grows with every batch of Big Y results because new SNPs are always found.

The previous threshold for mismatches was 4 SNPs. As time went on, this combination of a growing tree and a static SNP list caused increasingly irrelevant matches.

For example, in some instances, haplogroup U106 people matched haplogroup P312 people, two main branches of the R1b haplotree, because when compared to the old SNP list, they had less than 4 SNP mismatches.

The new Big Y matching routine expands as the new tree grows, and isn’t limited.  This means that people who were shown as matches to haplogroups far upstream (e.g. P312/U106), whose common ancestor lived many thousands of years ago, won’t be shown as matches at that level anymore.

Many people had hundreds of matches and complained that they were being shown matches so distant in time that the information was useless to them.

The previous Big Y version match criteria was:

  • 4 or less differences in Known SNPs (now Named Variants.)
  • In addition, you could have unlimited differences in Unnamed Variants, then called Novel Variants.

Family Tree DNA has attempted to make the matching algorithm more genealogically relevant by applying a different type of threshold to matching.

In the current Big Y version, a person is considered a match to you if they have BOTH of the following:

  • 30 or fewer differences in total SNPs (named and unnamed variants combined.)
  • Their haplogroup is downstream from your terminal SNP haplogroup or downstream from your four closest parent haplogroups, meaning any of the 5 haplogroups shown on your 5 step mini-tree.

Here’s the logic behind the new matching algorithm threshold.

SNP mutations happen on the average of one every 100 years.  This number is still discussed and debated, but this estimate is as good as any.

If your common ancestor through two men had two sons, 1500 years ago, and each line incurred 1 mutation every hundred years, at the end of 1500 years, the number of mutations between the two men would be approximately 30.

Family Tree DNA felt that 1500 years was a reasonable cutoff for a genealogical timeframe, hence the new matching threshold of 30 mutations difference.

The new match criteria is designed to reflect your matches that are most closely related to you.  In other words, the people on your match list should be related to you within the last approximate 1500 years, and people not on your match list who have taken the Big Y are separated from you by at least 30 mutations.

There may be people in the data base that match you on your terminal SNP and any or all of the SNPs shown on your mini-tree, but if you and they are separated by more than 30 differences (including both named and unnamed variants) on the Y chromosome, they will not be shown as a match.  

By clicking on the SNP name on your mini-tree, at right, you can see all of the people who match you with less than 30 differences total at each level, and who carry that particular Named Variant (SNP). The example shown above show this person’s matches on their terminal SNP. If they were to click on BY482, the next step up, they would then see everyone on their match list who is positive for that SNP.

On your match page, you can search for a specific surname, nonmatching variants or match date.

The Shared Variants column is the total number of shared variants you have with the match in question.  According to the lab at Family Tree DNA, this number very high because it is reflective of many ancient variants.

You can also download your data from this page into a spreadsheet.

The Biggest Differences

What you don’t receive today, that you did receive before, is a comprehensive list of who you match on your terminal and upstream SNPs.

For example, I was working with someone’s results this week.  They had no matches, as shown below.

However, when I went to the relevant haplogroup project page, I discovered that indeed, there are at least 4 additional individuals who do share the same terminal SNP, but the tester would never know that from their Big Y results alone, if they didn’t check the project results page.

Of course, it’s unlikely that every person who takes the Big Y test joins a Y DNA project, or the same Y DNA project.  Even though projects will show some matches, assuming that the administrator has the project grouped in this manner, there is no guarantee you are seeing all of your terminal SNP matches.

Project administrators, who have been instrumental in building the tree can also no longer see who matches on terminal SNPs, at least not if they are separated by more than 30 mutations. This hampers their ability to build the Y tree.

This matching change makes it critical that people join projects AND make their results viewable to project members as well as publicly.  Most people don’t realize that the default when joining projects is that ONLY project members can see their results in the project. In other words, the results are available in the public project, like the screenshot above.

You can read more about Family Tree DNA’s privacy settings here.

Another result of the matching algorithm change is that in some cases, one man may match a second man, but the second man does not show up on the first man’s match list.

I know that sounds bizarre, but in the Estes project, we have that exact scenario.

The chart above shows that none of the Estes Big Y participants match kit number 166011, also an Estes male, but kit 166011 does show matches to all of those Estes men.

Kit 166011 is the one to the far right on the pedigree chart above, and he is descended from a different son of Robert born in 1555 than the rest of the men.  Counting from kit 166011 to Robert born in 1555 is 12 generations.  Counting from kits 244708 and 199378 to Robert is 10 generations, so a total of 22 generations between those men.

Kits 366707, 9993 and 13805 are 11 generations from the common ancestor, so a total of 23 generations.  Not only are these genealogically relevant, they carry the same surname.

The average of 30 mutations reaching to 1500 years doesn’t work in this case.  The cutoff was about 1555, or 462 years, not 1500 years – so the matching algorithm failed at 30% of the estimated time it was supposed to cover.  I guess this just goes to prove that mutations really don’t happen on any type of a reliable schedule – and the average doesn’t always pertain to individual family circumstances.

If you’re wondering if these men match on STR markers, they do.

In this case, the Big Y doesn’t show matches in a timeframe that STR markers do – the exact opposite of what we would expect.

One of the benefits of the Big Y, previously, was the ability to view people of other surnames who matched your SNP results.  This ability to peer back into time informed us of where our ancestors may have been prior to where we found them.  While this isn’t genealogy, per se, it’s certainly family history.

A good case in point is the Scottish clans and how men with different surnames may be related.

As a family historian I want to know who I match on my terminal SNP and the direct upstream SNPs so I can walk this line back in time.

What’s Coming

At the conference in Houston in November, Elliott Greenspan discussed a new direction for the Big Y in 2018.  The new feature that all Big Y testers are looking forward to is the addition of STRs beyond the 111 marker panels, extracted from the Big Y as a standard product offering. Meaning free for Big Y testers.

The 111 and lower panels will continue to be tested on their current Sanger platform.  Analysis of more than 3700 samples in the data base that have both the Big Y and 111 markers indicate that only 72 of the 111 STR markers can be reliably and consistently extracted from the Big Y NGS scan data. The last thing we want is unreliable NGS data being compared to our Sanger sequenced STR values. We need to be able to depend on those results as always being reliable and comparable to each other. Therefore, only STR markers above 111 will be extracted from the Big Y and the original 111 STR markers will continue to be sold in panels, the same as today.

However, because of the nature of scanning DNA as opposed to directly testing locations, all of the markers above 111 will not be available for everyone. Some marker locations will fail to read, or fail to read reliably.  These won’t necessarily be the same markers, but read failure will apply to some markers in just about every individual’s scan.  Therefore, these additional STR markers will be supplemental to the regular 111 STR markers. You get what you get.

How many additional markers will be available through Big Y?  That hasn’t been finalized yet.

Elliott said that in order to reliably obtain 289 additional markers, they need to attempt to call 315.  To get 489, they have to attempt more than 600, and many are less useful.

Therefore, speculating, I’d guess that we’ll see someplace between 289 and 489, the numbers Elliott mentioned.

Are you salivating yet?

Given that the webpage and display tools have to be redesigned for both individuals’ results, project pages and project administrators’ tools, I’d guess that we won’t see this addition until after they get the kinks worked out of the hg38 conversion and analysis.

It’s nice to know that it’s on the way though. Something to look forward to later in 2018.

In Summary

I know that the upgrade to hg38 had to be done, but I hated to see it.  These things never go smoothly, no matter who you are and this was a massive undertaking.

I’m glad that Family Tree DNA is taking this opportunity to innovate and provide the community with the nifty new Y DNA browser.

I’m also grateful that they listen to their customers and make an effort to implement changes to help us along the genealogy path.

However, sometimes things fall into the well of unintended consequences.  I think that’s what’s happening with the new matching routine. I know that they are continuing to work to tweek the knobs and refine the results, so you’re likely to see changes over the next few months. It’s not like there was a pattern or recipe anyplace.  This has never been done before.

Here’s a list of changes and updates I’d suggest to improve the new hg38 Big Y experience:

  • In addition to threshold matching, an option for direct SNP tree matching through the 5 SNPs shown on the participant’s 5 step mini-tree, purely based on haplotree matching. This second option would replace the functionality lost with the 30-mutation threshold matching today.
  • A matches map of the most distant ancestors at each level of matching for both threshold matching and SNP tree matching.
  • An icon indicating whether a Big Y match is an STR match and which level of STR panel testing the match has completed. This means that we could tell at a glance that a Big Y match has tested to 111 markers, but is only a match at 12.
  • An icon indicating if the Big Y match has also taken the Family Finder test, and if they are a match.
  • An icon on STR matches pages indicating that a match has taken a Big Y test and if they are a match.
  • Ability to query through the Big Y browser to SNP locations not on the list of named or unnamed variants.
  • Age estimates for haplogroups.

If you are seeing Big Y results that you find unusual or confusing, please notify Family Tree DNA support. There is a contact link with a form at the bottom of your personal page.  Family Tree DNA needs to be aware of problems and also of customer’s desires.

Family Tree DNA has indicated that they are soliciting customer feedback on the new Big Y matching and tools.

Please also join a relevant haplogroup project as well as a surname project, if you haven’t already. Here’s an article, What Project Do I Join?, to help you find relevant projects.

If you think you have an unnamed variant that should be named and placed on the phylotree, your haplogroup project administrator is the person who will work with you to verify that the unnamed variant is a good candidate and submit the unnamed variant to Family Tree DNA for naming.

If you are a project administrator having issues, questions or concerns, you can contact the group projects team at groups@ftdna.com.  Be sure that this address is in the “to” field, not the “cc” field as the e-mail will bounce otherwise.

Don’t forget that you can reference the Family Tree DNA Learning Center about your Big Y results.

Thank you to Dr. Sager for his assistance with this article.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

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

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

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

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

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2018 Resolution – Unveiling Hidden Evidence

I spent New Year’s Eve, doing what I’ve done for years on New Year’s Eve – celebrating by researching. In fact, it was at the stroke of midnight in 2005 that I ordered kit number 50,000 from Family Tree DNA.  Yes, I’m just that geeky and yes, I had to purchase several kits in a row to get number 50,000.

That kit went on to help immensely, as I used it to test an elderly cousin of my great-grandmother’s generation who took both the Y DNA test, and then, eventually, autosomal.

This year I made a wonderful discovery to mark the new year.  But first, let’s see how I did with last year’s resolution.

Last Year’s Resolution

Last year, I made 1 resolution. Just one – to complete another year’s worth of 52 Ancestor stories.

Now, that didn’t mean I had to do 52 in total.  It meant I had to be committed to this project throughout the year.  You know, unlike cleaning out that closet…or losing weight…or exercising more. Commitments that are abandoned almost as soon as they are made.

So, how did I do?

I published 37 stories.  I shudder to think how many words or even pages that was.  I’m ashamed to say that I plucked much of the “low hanging fruit” early on, so these were tough ancestors for an entire variety of reasons.

That’s not one article each week, but at least I’m making steady progress. And I must say that I couldn’t do it without a raft of helpers – all of whom I’m exceedingly grateful to.  Friends, professionals, cousins, DNA testers, blog subscribers and commenters – an unbelievable array of very kind souls who are willing to give of their time and share their results. Thank you each and every one!

Now, I’m thrilled to tell you that Amy Johnson Crow has revitalized the 52 Ancestor’s project.  It’s free and you can sign up here.  There’s no obligation, but Amy provides suggestions and a “gathering place” of sorts. Think of her as your genealogy cheerleader or coach. It’s so much easier with friends and teammates! I miss reading other people’s stories, but I won’t have to miss that much longer!

Randy Seaver (of Genea-Musings) and I will have company once again.  He’s the only other person that I’m aware of that has continued the 52 Ancestors project – and he has put me way to shame.  I do believe he published number 286 this week.  I keep hoping that some of his ancestors and some of mine are the same so I can piggyback on Randy’s research! I need an index! Randy, are you listening?

You might wonder why I enjoy this self-imposed deadline ancestor-writing so much.

It’s really quite simple.  It’s an incredible way to organize and sort through all of your accumulated research “stuff.”  I cherish the end product – documenting my ancestors lives with dates, compassion and history.  BUT, I absolutely hate parts of the research process – and the deadline (of sorts) gets me through those knotholes.

I absolutely love the DNA, and I really, REALLY like the feeling of breaking through brick walls.  It’s like I’m vindicating my ancestors and saving them from the eternal cutting room floor. DNA is an incredible tool to do just that and there are very few ancestors that I can’t learn something from their DNA, one way or another – Y, mtDNA,  autosomal and sometimes, all three.  And yes, DNA is in every one of my articles, one way or another. I want everyone to learn how to utilize DNA in the stories of their ancestor’s lives.  In many cases the DNA of theirs that we (and our cousins) carry is the only tangible thing left of them. We are wakling historical museums of our ancestral lines!

How Did You Do?

Not to bring up an awkward subject, but if you recall, I asked you if you had any genealogy resolutions for 2017?  How did you do?

Congratulations if you succeeded or made progress.

It’s OK if you didn’t quite make it. Don’t sweat last year.  It’s over and 2018 is a brand spanking new year.

New Year Equals New Opportunities

2018 is stacking up to be a wonderful year. There are already new matches arriving daily due to the Black Friday sales and that’s only going to get better in the next month or two.  Of course, that’s something wonderful to look forward to in the dead of winter.  We’ll just call this my own personal form of hibernating. Could I really get away with not leaving my house for an entire month? Hmmm….

I want to give you three ideas for having some quick wins that will help you feel really great about your genealogy this year.

Idea 1 – Finding Hidden Mitochondrial DNA

This happened to me just last night and distracted me so badly that I actually was late to wish everyone a Happy New Year.  Yes, seriously.  One of my friends told me this is the best excuse ever!

I was working on making a combined tree for the descendants of an ancestor who have tested and I suddenly noticed that one of the female autosomal matches descended from the female of the ancestral couple through all females – which means my match carries my ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA!

Woohooooooo – it’s a wonderful day.

Better yet, my match tested at Family Tree DNA AND had already taken the mitochondrial DNA test.

Within about 60 seconds of noticing her pattern of descent, I had the haplogroup of our common ancestor. That’s the BEST New Year’s gift EVER.  I couldn’t sleep last night.

So, know what I did instead of sleeping? I bet you can guess!

Yes indeed, I started searching through my matches at Family Tree DNA for other people descended from female ancestors whose mtDNA I don’t have!

So, my first challenge to you is to do the same.

Utilizing Family Finder, enter the surname you’re searching for into the search box in the upper right hand corner of your matches page.

That search will produce individuals who have that surname included in their list of ancestral surnames or who carry that surname themselves.

Your tree feeds the ancestral surname list with all of the surnames in your tree.  I understand this will be changing in the future to reflect only your direct line ancestral surnames.

Some people include locations with their surnames – so you may recognize your line that way. Click on your match’s surname list (at far right) to show their entire list of surnames in a popup box. Some lists are very long.  I selected the example below because it’s short.

Your common surnames are bolded and float to the top.  The name you are searching for will be blue, so it’s easy to see, especially in long lists of surnames. 

About half of my matches at Family Tree DNA have trees.  Click on the pedigree icon and then search for your surname of interest in your match’s tree.

Hey, there’s our common ancestral couple – William George Estes and Ollie Bolton!!!

Idea 2 – Finding Hidden Y DNA

Now that I’ve shown you how to find hidden mitochondrial DNA, finding hidden Y DNA is easy.  Right?

You know what to do.

I this case, you’ll be looking for a male candidate who carries the surname of the line you are seeking, which is very easy to spot on the match list.

Now, word of warning.

As bizarre as this sounds, not all men who carry that surname and match autosomally are from the same genetic surname line.

As I was working with building a community tree for my matches last night, I was excited to see that one of my cousins (whose kit I manage) matches a man with the Herrell surname.

I quickly clicked on the match’s tree to see which Herrell male the match descends from, only to discover that he didn’t descend from my Herrell line.

Whoa – you’re saying – hold on, because maybe my line is misidentified.  And I’d agree with you – except in this case, I have the Y DNA signature of both lines – because at one time I thought they were one and the same. You can view the Herrell Y DNA project here.  My family line is Harrold Line 7.

Sure enough, through the Family Finder match, I checked my Harrell match’s profile and his haplogroup is NOT the same as my Herrell haplogroup (I-P37.)

I could have easily been led astray by the same surname. I really don’t need to know any more about his Y DNA at this point, because the completely different haplogroup is enough to rule out a common paternal line.

Don’t let yourself get so excited that you forget to be a skeptical genealogist😊

My second challenge to you is to hunt for hidden Y DNA.

You can  increase your chances of finding your particular lineage by visiting the relevant Y DNA projects for your surname.

Click on Projects, then “Join a project,” then search for the DNA project that you’re interested in viewing and click on that link.

Within the project, look for oldest ancestors that are your ancestors, or potentially from a common location.  It’s someplace to start.

You can read more about how to construct a DNA pedigree chart in the article, “The DNA Pedigree Chart – Mining for Ancestors.”

Idea 3 – Pick A Puzzle Piece

Sometimes we get overwhelmed with the magnitude and size of the genealogy puzzle we’d like to solve. Then, we don’t solve anything.

This is exactly WHY I like the 52 Ancestor stories.  They make me focus on JUST ONE ancestor at a time.

So, for 2018, pick one genealogy puzzle you’d really like to solve. One person or one thing.  Not an entire line.

Write down your goal.

“I’d like to figure out whether John Doe was the son of William Doe or his son, Alexander Doe.”

Now admittedly, this is a tough one, because right off the bat, Y DNA isn’t going to help you unless you’re incredibly lucky and there is a mutation between Alexander Doe and his father, William.  If indeed that was the case, and you can prove it by the DNA of two of Alexander’s sons who carry the mutation, compared to the DNA of one of William’s other sons who does not, then you may be cooking with gas, presuming you can find a male Doe descended from John to test as well.

This is the type of thought process you’ll need to step through when considering all of the various options for how to prove, or disprove, a particular theory.

Make a list of the different kinds of evidence, both paper trail and genetic, that you could use to shed light on the problem. Your answer may not come from one piece of evidence alone, but a combination of several.

Evidence Available/Source Result
William’s will No, burned courthouse Verified
Alexander’s will No, burned courthouse Verified
Deeds with William as conveyor No, burned courthouse Verified
Family Bible Nope, no Bible
Deeds with Alexander as conveyor, naming John Possible, some deed books escaped fire Check through county, Family search does not list
Deeds with John as conveyor Yes, check to see if they indicate the source of John’s land John is listed in index, need to obtain original deeds from county
Y DNA of John’s line Yes, has been tested Matches DNA of William’s line as proven through William’s two brothers
Y DNA of Alexander Not tested (to the best of my knowledge), find descendant to see if they will test Search vendor DNA testing sites for male with this surname to see if they have/will Y DNA test
Closeness (in total cM and longest segment) of individuals autosomal matching through any of William’s descendants Mine both Ancestry and FTDNA for surname and ancestor matches This step may produce compelling or suggestive evidence, and it may not.  Make a McGuire chart of results.
Does John match any relatives of the wife of Alexander Doe? Search FTDNA and Ancestry for matches.  Triangulate to determine if match is valid and through that line. This is one of the best approaches to solve this type of problem when paper records aren’t available. Fingers crossed that Alexander and his wife and not related.

You can add pieces of evidence to your list as you think of them.

Making a list gives you something to work towards.

Your Turn!

Select one thing that you’d like to accomplish and either set about to do it, like mining for mitochondrial or Y DNA evidence, or put together a plan to gather evidence, both traditional and genetic.

In the comments, share what it is you’ll be searching for or working on.  You just never know if another subscriber may hold the answer you seek.

I can’t wait to hear what you’ll be doing this year!

Have a wonderful and productive New Year searching for those hidden ancestors!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

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

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

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

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

2017 – The Year of DNA

Every year for the past 17 years has been the year of DNA for me, but for many millions, 2017 has been the year of DNA. DNA testing has become a phenomenon in its own right.

It was in 2013 that Spencer Wells predicted that 2014 would be the “year of infection.” Spencer was right and in 2014 DNA joined the ranks of household words. I saw DNA in ads that year, for the first time, not related to DNA testing or health as in, “It’s in our DNA.”

In 2014, it seemed like most people had heard of DNA, even if they weren’t all testing yet. John Q. Public was becoming comfortable with DNA.

In 2017 – DNA Is Mainstream  

If you’re a genealogist, you certainly know about DNA testing, and you’re behind the times if you haven’t tested.  DNA testing is now an expected tool for genealogists, and part of a comprehensive proof statement that meets the genealogical proof standard which includes “a reasonably exhaustive search.”  If you haven’t applied DNA, you haven’t done a reasonably exhaustive search.

A paper trail is no longer sufficient alone.

When I used to speak to genealogy groups about DNA testing, back in the dark ages, in the early 2000s, and I asked how many had tested, a few would raise their hands – on a good day.

In October, when I asked that same question in Ireland, more than half the room raised their hand – and I hope the other half went right out and purchased DNA test kits!

Consequently, because the rabid genealogical market is now pretty much saturated, the DNA testing companies needed to find a way to attract new customers, and they have.

2017 – The Year of Ethnicity

I’m not positive that the methodology some of the major companies utilized to attract new consumers is ideal, but nonetheless, advertising has attracted many new people to genetic genealogy through ethnicity testing.

If you’re a seasoned genetic genealogist, I know for sure that you’re groaning now, because the questions that are asked by disappointed testers AFTER the results come back and aren’t what people expected find their way to the forums that genetic genealogists peruse daily.

I wish those testers would have searched out those forums, or read my comparative article about ethnicity tests and which one is “best” before they tested.

More ethnicity results are available from vendors and third parties alike – just about every place you look it seems.  It appears that lots of folks think ethnicity testing is a shortcut to instant genealogy. Spit, mail, wait and voila – but there is no shortcut.  Since most people don’t realize that until after they test, ethnicity testing is becoming ever more popular with more vendors emerging.

In the spring, LivingDNA began delivering ethnicity results and a few months later, MyHeritage as well.  Ethnicity is hot and companies are seizing a revenue opportunity.

Now, the good news is that perhaps some of these new ethnicity testers can be converted into genealogists.  We just have to view ethnicity testing as tempting bait, or hopefully, a gateway drug…

2017 – The Year of Explosive Growth

DNA testing has become that snowball rolling downhill that morphed into an avalanche.  More people are seeing commercials, more people are testing, and people are talking to friends and co-workers at the water cooler who decide to test. I passed a table of diners in Germany in July to overhear, in English, discussion about ethnicity-focused DNA testing.

If you haven’t heard of DTC, direct to consumer, DNA testing, you’re living under a rock or maybe in a third world country without either internet or TV.

Most of the genetic genealogy companies are fairly closed-lipped about their data base size of DNA testers, but Ancestry isn’t.  They have gone from about 2 million near the end of 2016 to 5 million in August 2017 to at least 7 million now.  They haven’t said for sure, but extrapolating from what they have said, I feel safe with 7 million as a LOW estimate and possibly as many as 10 million following the holiday sales.

Advertising obviously pays off.

MyHeritage recently announced that their data base has reached 1 million, with only about 20% of those being transfers.

Based on the industry rumble, I suspect that the other DNA testing companies have had banner years as well.

The good news is that all of these new testers means that anyone who has tested at any of the major vendors is going to get lots of matches soon. Santa, it seems, has heard about DNA testing too and test kits fit into stockings!

That’s even better news for all of us who are in multiple data bases – and even more reason to test at all of the 4 major companies who provide DNA matching for their customers: Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, MyHeritage and 23andMe.

2017 – The Year of Vendor and Industry Churn

So much happened in 2017, it’s difficult to keep up.

  • MyHeritage entered the DNA testing arena and began matching in September of 2016. Frankly, they had a mess, but they have been working in 2017 to improve the situation.  Let’s just say they still have some work to do, but at least they acknowledge that and are making progress.
  • MyHeritage has a rather extensive user base in Europe. Because of their European draw, their records collections and the ability to transfer results into their data base, they have become the 4th vendor in a field that used to be 3.
  • In March 2017, Family Tree DNA announced that they were accepting transfers of both the Ancestry V2 test, in place since May of 2016, along with the 23andMe V4 test, available since November 2013, for free. MyHeritage has since been added to that list. The Family Tree DNA announcement provided testers with another avenue for matching and advanced tools.
  • Illumina obsoleted their OmniExpress chip, forcing vendors to Illumina’s new GSA chip which also forces vendors to use imputation. I swear, imputation is a swear word. Illumina gets the lump of coal award for 2017.
  • I wrote about imputation here, but in a nutshell, the vendors are now being forced to test only about 20% of the DNA locations available on the previous Illumina chip, and impute or infer using statistics the values in the rest of the DNA locations that they previously could test.
  • Early imputation implementers include LivingDNA (ethnicity only), MyHeritage (to equalize the locations of various vendor’s different chips), DNA.Land (whose matching is far from ideal) and 23andMe, who seems, for the most part, to have done a reasonable job. Of course, the only way to tell for sure at 23andMe is to test again on the V5 chip and compare to V3 and V4 chip matches. Given that I’ve already paid 3 times to test myself at 23andMe (V2, 3 and 4), I’m not keen on paying a 4th time for the V5 version.
  • 23andMe moved to the V5 Illumina GSA chip in August which is not compatible with any earlier chip versions.
  • Needless to say, the Illumina chip change has forced vendors away from focusing on new products in order to develop imputation code in order to remain backwards compatible with their own products from an earlier chip set.
  • GedMatch introduced their sandbox area, Genesis, where people can upload files that are not compatible with the traditional vendor files.  This includes the GSA chip results (23andMe V5,) exome tests and others.  The purpose of the sandbox is so that GedMatch can figure out how to work with these files that aren’t compatible with the typical autosomal test files.  The process has been interesting and enlightening, but people either don’t understand or forget that it’s a sandbox, an experiment, for all involved – including GedMatch.  Welcome to living on the genetic frontier!

  • I assembled a chart of who loves who – meaning which vendors accept transfers from which other vendors.

  • I suspect but don’t know that Ancestry is doing some form of imputation between their V1 and V2 chips. About a month before their new chip implementation in May of 2016, Ancestry made a change in their matching routine that resulting in a significant shift in people’s matches.

Because of Ancestry’s use of the Timber algorithm to downweight some segments and strip out others altogether, it’s difficult to understand where matching issues may arise.  Furthermore, there is no way to know that there are matching issues unless you and another individual have transferred results to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch, neither of which remove any matching segments.

  • Other developments of note include the fact that Family Tree DNA moved to mitochondrial DNA build V17 and updated their Y DNA to hg38 of the human reference genome – both huge undertakings requiring the reprocessing of customer data. Think of both of those updates as housekeeping. No one wants to do it, but it’s necessary.
  • 23andMe FINALLY finished transferring their customer base to the “New Experience,” but many of the older features we liked are now gone. However, customers can now opt in to open matching, which is a definite improvement. 23andMe, having been the first company to enter the genetic genealogy autosomal matching marketspace has really become lackluster.  They could have owned this space but chose not to focus on genealogy tools.  In my opinion, they are now relegated to fourth place out of a field of 4.
  • Ancestry has updated their Genetic Communities feature a couple of times this year. Genetic Communities is interesting and more helpful than ethnicity estimates, but neither are nearly as helpful as a chromosome browser would be.

  • I’m sure that the repeated requests, begging and community level tantrum throwing in an attempt to convince Ancestry to produce a chromosome browser is beyond beating a dead horse now. That dead horse is now skeletal, and no sign of a chromosome browser. Sigh:(
  • The good news is that anyone who wants a chromosome browser can transfer their results to Family Tree DNA or GedMatch (both for free) and utilize a chromosome browser and other tools at either or both of those locations. Family Tree DNA charges a one time $19 fee to access their advanced tools and GedMatch offers a monthly $10 subscription. Both are absolutely worth every dime. The bad news is, of course, that you have to convince your match or matches to transfer as well.
  • If you can convince your matches to transfer to (or test at) Family Tree DNA, their tools include phased Family Matching which utilizes a combination of user trees, the DNA of the tester combined with the DNA of family matches to indicate to the user which side, maternal or paternal (or both), a particular match stems from.

  • Sites to keep your eye on include Jonny Perl’s tools which include DNAPainter, as well as Goran Rundfeldt’s DNA Genealogy Experiment.  You may recall that in October Goran brought us the fantastic Triangulator tool to use with Family Tree DNA results.  A few community members expressed concern about triangulation relative to privacy, so the tool has been (I hope only temporarily) disabled as the involved parties work through the details. We need Goran’s triangulation tool! Goran has developed other world class tools as well, as you can see from his website, and I hope we see more of both Goran and Jonny in 2018.
  • In 2017, a number of new “free” sites that encourage you to upload your DNA have sprung up. My advice – remember, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.  Ask yourself why, what’s in it for them.  Review ALL OF THE documents and fine print relative to safety, privacy and what is going to be done with your DNA.  Think about what recourse you might or might not have. Why would you trust them?

My rule of thumb, if the company is outside of the US, I’m immediately slightly hesitant because they don’t fall under US laws. If they are outside of Europe or Canada, I’m even more hesitant.  If the company is associated with a country that is unfriendly to the US, I unequivocally refuse.  For example, riddle me this – what happens if a Chinese (or fill-in-the-blank country) company violates an agreement regarding your DNA and privacy?  What, exactly, are you going to do about it from wherever you live?

2017 – The Year of Marketplace Apps

Third party genetics apps are emerging and are beginning to make an impact.

GedMatch, as always, has continued to quietly add to their offerings for genetic genealogists, as had DNAGedcom.com. While these two aren’t exactly an “app”, per se, they are certainly primary players in the third party space. I use both and will be publishing an article early in 2018 about a very useful tool at DNAGedcom.

Another application that I don’t use due to the complex setup (which I’ve now tried twice and abandoned) is Genome Mate Pro which coordinates your autosomal results from multiple vendors.  Some people love this program.  I’ll try, again, in 2018 and see if I can make it all the way through the setup process.

The real news here are the new marketplace apps based on Exome testing.

Helix and their partners offer a number of apps that may be of interest for consumers.  Helix began offering a “test once, buy often” marketplace model where the consumer pays a nominal price for exome sequencing ($80), significantly under market pricing ($500), but then the consumer purchases DNA apps through the Helix store. The apps access the original DNA test to produce results. The consumer does NOT receive their downloadable raw data, only data through the apps, which is a departure from the expected norm. Then again, the consumer pays a drastically reduced price and downloadable exome results are available elsewhere for full price.

The Helix concept is that lots of apps will be developed, meaning that you, the consumer, will be interested and purchase often – allowing Helix to recoup their sequencing investment over time.

Looking at the Helix apps that are currently available, I’ve purchased all of the Insitome products released to date (Neanderthal, Regional Ancestry and Metabolism), because I have faith in Spencer Wells and truthfully, I was curious and they are reasonably priced.

Aside from the Insitome apps, I think that the personalized clothes are cute, if extremely overpriced. But what the heck, they’re fun and raise awareness of DNA testing – a good thing! After all, who am I to talk, I’ve made DNA quilts and have DNA clothing too.

Having said that, I’m extremely skeptical about some of the other apps, like “Wine Explorer.”  Seriously???

But then again, if you named an app “I Have More Money Than Brains,” it probably wouldn’t sell well.

Other apps, like Ancestry’s WeRelate (available for smartphones) is entertaining, but is also unfortunately EXTREMELY misleading.  WeRelate conflates multiple trees, generally incorrectly, to suggest to you and another person on your Facebook friends list are related, or that you are related to famous people.  Judy Russell reviews that app here in the article, “No, actually, we’re not related.” No.  Just no!

I feel strongly that companies that utilize our genetic data for anything have a moral responsibility for accuracy, and the WeRelate app clearly does NOT make the grade, and Ancestry knows that.  I really don’t believe that entertaining customers with half-truths (or less) is more important than accuracy – but then again, here I go just being an old-fashioned fuddy dud expecting ethics.

And then, there’s the snake oil.  You knew it was going to happen because there is always someone who can be convinced to purchase just about anything. Think midnight infomercials. The problem is that many consumers really don’t know how to tell snake oil from the rest in the emerging DNA field.

You can now purchase DNA testing for almost anything.  Dating, diet, exercise, your taste in wine and of course, vitamins and supplements. If you can think of an opportunity, someone will dream up a test.

How many of these are legitimate or valid?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m exceedingly suspicious of a great many, especially those where I can find no legitimate scientific studies to back what appear to be rather outrageous claims.

My main concern is that the entire DTC testing industry will be tarred by the brush of a few unethical opportunists.

2017 – The Year of Focus on Privacy and Security

With increased consumer exposure comes increased notoriety. People are taking notice of DNA testing and it seems that everyone has an opinion, informed or not.  There’s an old saying in marketing; “Talk about me good, talk about me bad, just talk about me.”

With all of the ads have come a commensurate amount of teeth gnashing and “the-sky-is-falling” type reporting.  Unfortunately, many politicians don’t understand this industry and open mouth only to insert foot – except that most people don’t realize what they’ve done.  I doubt that the politicians even understand that they are tasting toe-jam, because they haven’t taken the time to research and understand the industry. Sound bites and science don’t mix well.

The bad news is that next, the click-bait-focused press picks up on the stories and the next time you see anyone at lunch, they’re asking you if what they heard is true.  Or, let’s hope that they ask you instead of just accepting what they heard as gospel. Hopefully if we’ve learned anything in this past year, it’s to verify, verify, verify.

I’ve been an advocate for a very long time of increased transparency from the testing companies as to what is actually done with our DNA, and under what circumstances.  In other words, I want to know where my DNA is and what it’s being used for.  Period.

Family Tree DNA answered that question succinctly and unquestionably in December.

Bennett Greenspan: “We could probably make a lot of money by selling the DNA data that we’ve been collecting over the years, but we feel that the only person that should have your DNA information is you.  We don’t believe that it should be sold, traded or bartered.”

You can’t get more definitive than that.

DTC testing for genetic genealogy must be a self-regulating field, because the last thing we need is for the government to get involved, attempting to regulate something they don’t understand.  I truly believe government interference by the name of regulation would spell the end of genetic genealogy as we know it today.  DNA testing for genetic genealogy without sharing results is entirely pointless.

I’ve written about this topic in the past, but an update is warranted and I’ll be doing that sometime after the first of the year.  Mostly, I just need to be able to stay awake while slogging through the required reading (at some vendor sites) of page after page AFTER PAGE of legalese😊

Consumers really shouldn’t have to do that, and if they do, a short, concise summary should be presented to them BEFORE they purchase so that they can make a truly informed decision.

Stay tuned on this one.

2017 – The Year of Education

The fantastic news is that with all of the new people testing, a huge, HUGE need for education exists.  Even if 75% of the people who test don’t do anything with their results after that first peek, that still leaves a few million who are new to this field, want to engage and need some level of education.

In that vein, seminars are available through several groups and institutes, in person and online.  Almost all of the leadership in this industry is involved in some educational capacity.

In addition to agendas focused on genetic genealogy and utilizing DNA personally, almost every genealogy conference now includes a significant number of sessions on DNA methods and tools. I remember the days when we were lucky to be allowed one session on the agenda, and then generally not without begging!

When considering both DNA testing and education, one needs to think about the goal.  All customer goals are not the same, and neither are the approaches necessary to answer their questions in a relevant way.

New testers to the field fall into three primary groups today, and their educational needs are really quite different, because their goals, tools and approaches needed to reach those goals are different too.

Adoptees and genealogists employ two vastly different approaches utilizing a common tool, DNA, but for almost opposite purposes.  Adoptees wish to utilize tests and trees to come forward in time to identify either currently living or recently living people while genealogists are interested in reaching backward in time to confirm or identify long dead ancestors. Those are really very different goals.

I’ve illustrated this in the graphic above.  The tester in question uses their blue first cousin match to identify their unknown parent through the blue match’s known lineage, moving forward in time to identify the tester’s parent.  In this case, the grandparent is known to the blue match, but not to the yellow tester. Identifying the grandparent through the blue match is the needed lynchpin clue to identify the unknown parent.

The yellow tester who already knows their maternal parent utilizes their peach second cousin match to verify or maybe identify their maternal great-grandmother who is already known to the peach match, moving backwards in time. Two different goals, same DNA test.

The three types of testers are:

  • Curious ethnicity testers who may not even realize that at least some of the vendors offer matching and other tools and services.
  • Genealogists who use close relatives to prove which sides of trees matches come from, and to triangulate matching segments to specific ancestors. In other words, working from the present back in time. The peach match and line above.
  • Adoptees and parent searches where testers hope to find a parent or siblings, but failing that, close relatives whose trees overlap with each other – pointing to a descendant as a candidate for a parent. These people work forward in time and aren’t interested in triangulation or proving ancestors and really don’t care about any of those types of tools, at least not until they identify their parent.  This is the blue match above.

What these various groups of testers want and need, and therefore their priorities are different in terms of their recommendations and comments in online forums and their input to vendors. Therefore, you find Facebook groups dedicated to Adoptees, for example, but you also find adoptees in more general genetic genealogy groups where genealogists are sometimes surprised when people focused on parent searches downplay or dismiss tools such as Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and chromosome browsers that form the bedrock foundation of what genealogists need and require.

Fortunately, there’s room for everyone in this emerging field.

The great news is that educational opportunities are abundant now. I’m listing a few of the educational opportunities for all three groups of testers, in addition to my blog of course.😊

Remember that this blog is fully searchable by keyword or phrase in the little search box in the upper right hand corner.  I see so many questions online that I’ve already answered!

Please feel free to share links of my blog postings with anyone who might benefit!

Note that these recommendations below overlap and people may well be interested in opportunities from each group – or all!!

Ethnicity

Adoptees or Parent Search

Genetic Genealogists

2018 – What’s Ahead? 

About midyear 2018, this blog will reach 1000 published articles. This is article number 939.  That’s amazing even to me!  When I created this blog in July of 2012, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough to write about.  That certainly has changed.

Beginning shortly, the tsunami of kits that were purchased during the holidays will begin producing matches, be it through DNA upgrades at Family Tree DNA, Big Y tests which were hot at year end, or new purchases through any of the vendors.  I can hardly wait, and I have my list of brick walls that need to fall.

Family Tree DNA will be providing additional STR markers extracted from the Big Y test. These won’t replace any of the 111 markers offered separately today, because the extraction through NGS testing is not as reliable as direct STR testing for those markers, but the Big Y will offer genealogists a few hundred more STRs to utilize. Yes, I said a few hundred. The exact number has not yet been finalized.

Family Tree DNA says they will also be introducing new “qualify of life improvements” along with new privacy and consent settings.  Let’s hope this means new features and tools will be released too.

MyHeritage says that they are introducing new “Discoveries” pages and a chromosome browser in January.  They have also indicated that they are working on their matching issues.  The chromosome browser is particularly good news, but matching must work accurately or the chromosome browser will show erroneous information.  Let’s hope January brings all three features.

LivingDNA indicates that they will be introducing matching in 2018.

2018 – What Can You Do?

What can you do in 2018 to improve your odds of solving genealogy questions?

  • Test relatives
  • Transfer your results to as many data bases as possible (among the ones discussed above, after reading the terms and conditions, of course)
  • If you have transferred a version of your DNA that does not produce full results, such as the Ancestry V2 or 23andMe V4 test to Family Tree DNA, consider testing on the vendor’s own chip in order to obtain all matches, not just the closest matches available from an incompatible test transfer.
  • Test Y and mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA.
  • Find ways to share the stories of your ancestors.  Stories are cousin bait.  My 52 Ancestors series is living proof.  People find the stories and often have additional facts, information or even photos. Some contacts qualify for DNA testing for Y or mtDNA lines. The GREAT NEWS is that Amy Johnson Crow is resuming the #52Ancestors project for 2018, providing hints and tips each week! Who knows what you might discover by sharing?! Here’s how to start a blog if you need some assistance.  It’s easy – really!
  • Focus on the brick walls that you want to crumble and then put together both a test and analysis plan. That plan could include such things as:

o   Find out if a male representing a Y line in your tree has tested, and if not, search through autosomal results to see if a male from that paternal surname line has tested and would be amenable to an upgrade.

o   Mitochondrial DNA test people who descend through all females from various female ancestors in order to determine their origins. Y and mtDNA tests are an important part of a complete genealogy story – meaning the reasonably exhaustive search!

o   Autosomal DNA test family members from various lines with the hope that matches will match you and them both.

o   Test family members in order to confirm a particular ancestor – preferably people who descend from another child of that ancestor.

o   Making sure your own DNA is in all 4 of the major vendors’ data bases, plus GedMatch. Look at it this way, everyone who is at GedMatch or at a third party (non-testing) site had to have tested at one of the major 4 vendors – so if you are in all of the vendor’s data bases, plus GedMatch, you’re covered.

Have a wonderful New Year and let’s make 2018 the year of newly discovered ancestors and solved mysteries!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

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

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

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

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Concepts – Sibling and Twin DNA Matching

Lots of people are giving their siblings DNA test kits.  That’s a great idea, especially if your parents aren’t available for testing, because siblings do inherit part of the same DNA from their parents, but not all of the same DNA. That means testing siblings is a great opportunity for more genealogical matches!

Recently, a friend asked me why his fraternal twin has matches to people he doesn’t, and vice versa.  Great question, so let’s take a look at what to expect from matches with siblings.

First, identical twins share exactly the same DNA because they are created as a result of the division of the same egg that has been fertilized by the father’s sperm. Identical twins matches should be identical.

A fraternal twin is exactly the same as a sibling. Two separate sperm fertilize two separate eggs and they gestate together, at the same time.

Second, let’s talk just a minute about Y and mitochondrial DNA, then we’ll discuss autosomal DNA.

Full Siblings Share
Mitochondrial DNA Exactly the same, unless a mutation occurred
Y DNA Males will share exactly the same, unless a mutation occurred.  Females don’t have a Y chromosome.
Autosomal DNA Approximately 50% of autosomal DNA

To obtain detailed Y and mitochondrial DNA results, you’ll need to test with Family Tree DNA. They are the only vendor offering these tests.

For autosomal matching, you can test with a number of vendors including: Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage.

You can read more about the different kinds of testing here, and a comparison of the different tests and vendors here.

50% the Same – 50% Different

Siblings share approximately 50% of the same DNA of the parents.  The other 50% is different DNA that they received from the parents that the other sibling did not receive.

In the conceptual example above, you can see that each child inherited 4 segments of the 8 total offered by their parents.  Only two of those segments were the same for both siblings, segments 3 and 4.  Of these two siblings, no one inherited parental segments 7 and 8.  Perhaps a third child would.

In other words, siblings can expect to see many of the same people in their match list and several that are different. In our example, the same people would be matching both siblings on segments 3 and 4.  People matching child 1 but not child 2 would be matching on segments 1 and 2.  People matching child 2 but not child 1 would be matching on segments 5 and 6.

The reason you’ll see the same people on your match list is because you did inherit 50% of the same DNA from your parents.

There are two reasons you’ll see different matches on your match lists.

Some of your matches on your list that don’t match your sibling will be because the two siblings inherited different pieces of DNA from their parents.  Your sibling will match people on the DNA that they received from your parents that you didn’t receive, and vice versa.

Some Matches are Identical By Chance (IBC)

Another reason for different matches is because you and your sibling will have people on both of your match lists that don’t match either parent as a result of IBC or identical by chance matching. That’s where the DNA of your match just happens to match you by virtue of zigzagging back and forth between your Mom’s and Dad’s DNA that you carry.

As you can see in this example, your pink DNA came from your Mom, and blue from your Dad, but your match carries some of both values, T and A.  This means they match you, but not because they match either of your parents.  Just an accident of circumstance. That’s what IBC is.

Telling the Difference

I wrote about matches that are identical by descent (IBD), meaning because you inherited that DNA from your parents, and identical by chance (IBC) in this article.

Unfortunately, your DNA is mixed together and without other known relatives testing, it’s impossible to discern which DNA is inherited from your mother and which from your father. This is exactly why we encourage people to have known relatives test such as parents, grandparents and cousins.  Who you match on which segments indicates where those segments descended from in your family tree.

If one or both parents are living, that’s the best way of discerning which matches are identical by descent and which are by chance.

A recent project with Philip Gammon showed by segment size the likelihood is of a match being genuine or identical by chance.  If both parents have tested, he offers the free Match-Maker-Breaker tool to do this analysis for you.

The bottom line is that when comparing your matches to those of your siblings, about 20-25% of everyone’s total matches are identical by chance, especially those at lower centiMorgan levels.

The remaining 80% or so will be divided roughly half and half, meaning half will match you and a sibling both, and half will only match you. Therefore, you will be looking at roughly 40% of your matches being in common with a particular sibling, 40% not matching your sibling but being legitimate matches and the remaining 20% that are identical by chance.

Test Parents and Family Members

Of course, because you do share roughly half of the same DNA inherited from your parents, you will have some matches to both you and a sibling that are identical by chance in exactly the same way.  Just finding someone on both of your match lists doesn’t guarantee that the match ISN’T identical by chance.

The best way to eliminate identical by chance matching, of course, is to test your parents.  Sadly, that isn’t always possible.

The next best way to determine legitimate matches is to test other family members.  At Family Tree DNA, they provide customers with the ability to link the DNA tests of family members to their proper location in your tree, and then Family Tree DNA utilizes the common DNA segments to determine common matching between you, that family member(s), and other people.

Those people who match you and a family member on the same segment are then identified as either paternal or maternal matches, based on their position in your tree.

Identifying Lineage

When thinking about who to test, half-siblings, if you have any are, a wonderful way to differentiate between maternal and paternal matches.  Because you and a half sibling share only one parent – which side of your tree those common matches come from is immediately evident!

Of my matches at Family Tree DNA, you can see that of my total 3165 matches, 713 are paternal and 545 are maternal, with 4 being related to both sides.  Don’t get too excited about those “both sides” matches, they are my descendants!

Paternal and maternal bucketing is a great start in terms of identifying which matches are genealogical – and that’s before I do any actual genealogy work.  All I did was test, create or upload a tree and connect tested family members to that tree.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor to offer this feature.

Ethnicity

Ethnicity is a slippery fish.  I generally only consider ethnicity estimates reliable at the continental level.  There are lots of reasons that siblings will receive somewhat different ethnicity results including the internal algorithms of the various vendors.  You can read about what is involved in ethnicity testing here.

Transfers Give You More For Your Money

If you test at one of the vendors, you may be able to transfer to other vendors as well as GedMatch.  In the chart below, you can see which vendors accept transfers from other vendors. You can read more here.

Have Fun

Lots of people are now testing their DNA and I hope you and your siblings will find some great matches among the new testers. The great thing about siblings, aside from the fact that they are your siblings, is that you can leverage each other’s DNA matches.  Just one more way to share and move the genealogy ball forward.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

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

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

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

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Merry Christmas – And To All A Good Life

I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to say about Christmas this year. Truthfully, I haven’t felt much like celebrating.

This year has been filled to the brim with mortifying events, the likes of which I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.

Barely a day goes by that I’m not frightened anew – for my Black, Native and Spanish friends, family, and their children. For our brave soldiers, police and firefighters of all colors and races. For the country I love and call home – the same one that my ancestors spilled their blood and gave their lives to defend. For my children, grandchildren and their descendants.

So, for Christmas or Hanukkah or Solstice, whatever you celebrate, I decided to share with you a story – one of hope – one of kinship – one of reaching beyond the stereotypes that have sometimes been ingrained in upbringing and the communities and families in which people are raised. A story about the power of choice that each of us has within us.

A story that I recall again and again because it gives me hope when my days feel hopeless. It renews my soul.

It’s a story about love, but not at all your typical love story.

The Reunion

A few years ago, a DNA group that I administer decided to host a homecoming and conference of sorts – before the days of genetic genealogy conferences.

We rented a hotel and the conference room, and before we knew it, the “reunion” was filled to capacity.

Three days of presentations were scheduled, with many of the attendees giving sessions about genealogy, and in particular, about genetic genealogy which was still  new at the time.

The Reveal

One of the draw cards was a “reveal.” My cousins and I had discovered each other a few months before and had busily been DNA testing to prove or disprove whether in fact William Herrell was the ancestor of both groups of people. Me on the one side and my cousins on the other.

The complicating factor was that William Herrell had two wives, at the same time – one black and one white. Not only that, but he had purchased the black wife, Harriett, as a slave – but the white wife, Mary, raised Harriett’s child, Cannon, with her own children after the death first of Harriett and then of William.

Was Cannon William’s biological child? Oral history said yes.  What was the truth of the matter?

Given the location of the reunion, I had some consternation about this topic and particularly about the reveal.

My cousins, however, were not concerned. It was them I was concerned for, not me, so the plan progressed smoothly. Adding to our excitement was the fact that we would all get to meet in person for the first time.

On the first day of the conference, we presented the attendees with the back story, which is actually quite interesting, then we left them with a cliffhanger. Were we related? We asked them to vote. What did they think? We would tell them the following morning.

The vote, by the way, was about half and half.

The Next Morning

On the morning of the second day of the conference, we were shocked to discover that people were simply showing up at the hotel. They had heard, through the local grapevine that there was to be a BIG REVEAL and everyone was interested.

We didn’t quite know what to do.

We crammed as many seats into the room as possible. People crowded in behind the seats and stood, and more people filled the lobby craning their necks to see.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine anything quite like this.

My cousins Carlos (Los) and Denise and I revealed the answer.

Yes, Cannon was the son of William Herrell and yes, we are all related.

But that’s not the punchline, nor is this the main story.

Los, Denise and I began on a journey as curious genealogists. Before we even knew that we were related, we had formed a relationship with each other, one which we maintain today. We’ve added more family members as well, and we are indeed “kin” as they say in the south, not just because we are blood relatives, but because we have gotten to know each other as people and we love each other. (And for the record, I have other relatives I’m not nearly so quick to claim.)

Yes, you might notice that some of us have more skin pigment than others, but our family runs the entire pigment range and truthfully, I don’t even think about it or notice anymore. It’s irrelevant. We all bleed red, feel both pain and love and are good people. It’s really that simple, and it’s all that matters.

Bottom line is that I love them, not because they are black, or actually, part black, not in spite of it, simply because they are who they are. At one point, we thought we might NOT be related, and we were all horribly disappointed, and rejoiced when we discovered that we actually DO share an ancestor and ARE cousins (thank you autosomal DNA).

The Preacher

One of our attendees at the conference was a retired Baptist minister. In his 80s, he didn’t get around well and while not wheelchair-bound, he used both a wheelchair and a cane to increase his mobility and keep himself safe. I had known him for years.

We’ll call him Reverend Jim. All of the names of people other than my cousins have been changed.

Reverend Jim and I thought that we might share a particular line, that of his surname, but Y DNA testing proved that our lines were different, a fact that frustrated us both, because we would have liked very much to share research.

Reverend Jim felt that his time was running out as he aged and his health failed, but he remained an upbeat, avid genealogist and welcomed DNA testing to advance his knowledge. Hence, his difficult trip to the conference.

After the big reveal, people gathered in the conference room and the lobby to visit with each other and discuss the results along with DNA testing. My cousins and I were talking to people, when voices dropped and it became evident that something interesting was happening across the room.

I was holding Los’s daughter who was about 18 months old at the time, wishing we lived closer and I could be another grandma to her.

Suddenly Los and I both realized that all eyes were on a table near the front window.

Curious and concerned that something might be wrong, especially given that Reverend Jim was seated there, I ambled with purpose towards the table, not wanting to appear nosey, but cognizant of the fact that I was the defacto hostess. Besides that, there seemed to be an intense discussion occurring and I wondered if it might have something to do with DNA testing.

Reverend Jim was sitting at the end of the table on one side in his wheelchair, and a black gentleman of about the same age was facing him across the table. We’ll call him Doug. Listening for just a minute revealed that they shared the same surname and were debating whether they could be from the same paternal line.

Now I understood the hushed room.

Given that one was black and one was white, the answer, if yes, meant that perhaps they had experienced something in their families like Los, Denise and I had discovered in ours, with all of it’s painful ramifications about slavery. Needless to say, this was a sensitive subject, and both people were trying to have a nice conversation without offending anyone. I’m sure both men were thinking, “probably not,” but didn’t want to say that out loud. Or maybe they were secretly wondering, “What if?”

Suffice it to say that not everyone is nearly as accepting of newly discovered interracial family as my cousins and all of our extended families. And yes, I really do mean that – ALL OF OUR EXTENDED FAMILIES.

So, I stood and listened, as other people gathered round.

The Railroad

Reverend Jim: “My Daddy worked for the railroad and was gone a lot. He missed a lot of Christmases with the family.”

Doug: “My Daddy too.”

Both men smiled and chuckled, clearly harkening back in time and thinking about their own fathers.

Reverend Jim: “We lived in the town of X back then. Did your Daddy work for the railroad too?’

Doug: “Sure did. We lived at the other end of the line, near the depot in Y.”

Reverend Jim: “My Daddy worked between X and Y most of the time, but sometimes he went on other lines too.”

Doug: “My Daddy did too. When did your Daddy work for the railroad?”

Reverend Jim: “From about 19XX to about 19XX.”

Doug: “I bet they knew each other. What was your Daddy’s name?”

Reverend Jim: “William.”

Doug, very slowly: “Mine too.”

Silence.

The men and the entire room now.

Both men stared at each other across the table.

End of the Line

Reverend Jim broke the spell and reached down in his wheelchair bag, extracting a three ring binder. He opened the cover and started leafing through the contents. I thought perhaps this discussion had gotten too close to a topic that perhaps he wasn’t comfortable with. Given his age and where he had lived his entire life.

Finally, Reverend Jim found what he was looking for. I suspected it was a pedigree chart that he wanted to share with Doug.

Reverend Jim turned a page toward Doug, placing the binder on the table. I saw an old black and white photo in a plastic sleeve. Reverend Jim, smiling, said, “That’s my Daddy. Did you know him?”

Doug leaned over politely and looked at the photo, glanced quickly at Reverend Jim, then back at the photo. Doug picked the book up and evaluated the photo more closely. The photo wasn’t in good shape, somewhat dogeared, old and grainy. A woman with Doug looked over his shoulder, peering at the photo to see if she knew the man, I’m sure.

Doug reached towards his chest, looked at Reverend Jim and said softly, “That’s my Daddy.”

Reverend Jim leaned in towards Doug, straining to hear. “What?”

Doug, now louder, still clutching his chest, “That’s my Daddy too.”

My mind raced.

Was Doug having chest pains? Is that why he was clutching his chest?

Did I need to call an ambulance?

Should I ask him?

Was his father white?

Was he sure that was his father?

Was that photo really good enough to tell?  For sure?

How could this be?

Doug must have been wondering the same thing.

Doug handed the binder with the photo to the woman behind him, and asked her, “What do you think?”

She looked closely, squinting for a long minute, scrutinizing the picture, handed the binder back to Doug and said, “Yep, that’s him.”

“You sure?”

“Yep.”

Silence!

The entire room was deathly silent now. Not one peep out of anyone.

You could have heard a blink.

Both men must have been processing this information.

Both men must have realized that their father deceived them.

Both men must have realized that their father cheated on their mother.

Both men must have been wondering how he pulled this off.

Both men must have been wondering how they didn’t know about each other.

And both men must have realized that they had a brother, and perhaps other siblings, of another skin color, born in a time in America when black and white drinking fountains were the norm and racial separation by the name of segregation was expected.

Was this a horrible moment or a wonderful moment?

Some of each perhaps?

What would they do?

It was one thing to watch my cousins and I reveal our journey, in a preplanned way, but quite another to have a surprise reveal of your own in a hotel lobby filled with an unwitting audience.

What happened next would set the tone for the entire rest of these men’s lives.

What would it be?

Acceptance or Rejection?

I realized that Reverend Jim was trying to struggle to his feet. I didn’t know if I should help him, leave him alone or gently encourage him to remain in his chair. I was frightened about what might be coming.

Doug stood up too, trying to stabilize Reverend Jim.

His face revealed confusion and pain.

Reverend Jim managed to get his cane in place, stood, wobbling and somewhat stooped, and leaned over the table to Doug, reaching for him.

I held my breath.

For an excruciatingly long minute. Everything was happening in slow motion.

Reverend Jim put his free arm around Doug and pulled him into a close hug.

Doug stepped around the table and put both arms around Reverend Jim. Reverend Jim dropped the cane, fully embracing Doug.

I realized both men were crying. Tears streaming down their faces.

Reverend Jim blurted out, between sobs, “I have a brother!”

I remember huge waves of relief washing over me. The tears, hot and salty came.

Joy.

Pure unfettered joy.

I knew this was only the beginning of the questions these men would have for each other.

A wonderful new chapter had opened. Wonderful based on their perceptions of the present, not the past.

My memory of the rest of that day is blurry now, much like that black and white photo.

The people in the lobby were quite astir with this news.

The following day, ALL of Doug’s family arrived loaded with photos and an impromptu  family reunion occurred in the lobby with family pictures scattered all over a table salted with chatter and laughter.

Reverend Jim was so overwhelmed and excited that he managed to lock his keys in his car, and later, lose them entirely. He never attended another presentation. He had much more important things to do!

I know both families were in shock.

Here’s what else I know.

Love Won

Those men had a choice to make and they had to make it in an instant.

Their families had the same choice. Most of Reverend Jim’s family was gone, but Doug’s was large and it was evident that Reverend Jim went home with far more family that he arrived with.

They had been blessed.

Hatred didn’t win that day.

Neither did bigotry.

Nor racism.

Or prejudice.

Pure and simple.

Love won.

Merry Christmas and may love bless you in the new year.