Concepts – Why Genetic Genealogy and Triangulation?

One of the questions often asked is why triangulation in genetic genealogy is so important.

Before I answer that, let’s take a look at why genealogists use autosomal DNA for genetic genealogy in the first place.

Why Genetic Genealogy?

Aside from ethnicity testing, genetic genealogists utilize autosomal DNA testing to further their genealogical research or confirm the research they have already performed. Genetic genealogy cannot stand alone on DNA evidence, but must include traditional genealogical research. DNA is simply another tool in the genealogist’s tool box – albeit a critical one.

There are three established primary vendors in this field, Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe, plus a few newcomers. All three vendors offer autosomal DNA tests utilized by genetic genealogists in various ways. If you want to learn more about the differences between these vendors’ offerings, please read the article, “Which DNA Test is Best?”

In order to achieve genealogical goals, there are four criteria that need to be met. All are required to achieve triangulation which is the only way to confirm a genealogical ancestral match to a specific ancestor.

  • DNA Matching – The tester’s DNA matches that of other testers at the company where they tested, or at GedMatch. All three vendors provide matching information, along with GedMatch, a third-party tool utilized by genetic genealogists.

Family Tree DNA assigns matches to either maternal, paternal or both sides of the tester’s tree based on connecting the DNA of relatives, up through third cousins, who have tested to their appropriate location in the tester’s tree.

In the example above, you can see the individuals linked to my tree include my mother with her Family Finder test, plus her two first cousins, Donald and Cheryl Ferverda who have also tested.

  • Ancestor Matching – The testers identify a common ancestor or ancestral line based on their previous work, aka, genealogy and family trees.  In the example above, the common ancestors are the parents of the brothers, John and Roscoe Ferverda.  Identifying a common ancestor is an easy task with known close relatives, but becomes more challenging the more distant the common ancestor.

Of the vendors, 23andMe does not have a Gedcom upload or ability for testers to display trees and for the vendor to utilize to match surnames, although they can link to external trees. Ancestry provides “tree matching,” shown above, and Ancestry and Family Tree DNA, shown below, both provide surname matching.

  • Segment Matching – Utilizing chromosome browsers or downloaded match lists including segment information to identify actual DNA segments that match other testers.

Family Tree DNA’s chromosome browser is shown above.

Each individual tester will have two groups of matches on the same segment, one group from their mother’s side of the tree and one from their father’s side of the tree. Each tester carries DNA inherited from both parents on two different “sides” of each chromosome. You can read more about that in the article, One Chromosome, Two Sides, No Zipper – ICW and the Matrix.

Of the three vendors, Ancestry does not provide segment matching, a chromosome browser, nor any segment information, so testers cannot perform this step at Ancestry.

23andMe does provide this information, but each tester must individually “opt in” to data sharing, and many do not. If testers do not globally “opt in” they must authorize sharing individually for every match, so testers will not be able to see the chromosome segment information for many 23andMe matches. In my case, only about 60% are sharing.

Family Tree DNA provides a chromosome browser, the file download capability with segment information, and everyone authorizes sharing of information when they initially test – so there is no opt-in confusion.

Ancestry and 23andMe raw DNA data files can be transferred to both Family Tree DNA and GedMatch where chromosome browsers and other tools are available. For more information about transferring files, please read Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

Triangulation – The process used to combine all three of the above steps in order to assign specific segments of the tester’s DNA to specific ancestors, by virtue of:

  • The tester’s DNA matching the DNA of other testers on a specific segment.
  • Identifying that the individuals who match the tester on that segment also match each other. This is part of the methodology employed to group the testers matches into two groups, the maternal and paternal groupings.
  • Identifying which ancestor contributed that segment to all of the people who match the tester and each other on that same segment.

In order for a group of matches to triangulate, they must match each other on the same segment of DNA and they must all share a common ancestor.

Triangulation is part DNA, meaning the inheritance, part technology, meaning the ability to show that all testers in a match group all match each other and on the same segment, and part genealogy, meaning the ability to identify the common ancestor of the group of individuals.

The following chart shows a portion of my match download file on chromosome 5 from Family Tree DNA.

As you can see, these matches all cover significant portions of the same segment on chromosome 5.

Without further investigation, we know that I match all of these people, but we don’t know what that information is telling us about my genealogy. We don’t know who matches each other, and we can’t tell which people are from my mother’s and father’s sides. We also don’t know who the common ancestor is or common ancestors are.

However, looking at the trees of the individuals involved, or contacting them for further information, and/or recognizing known cousins from a specific line all combine to contribute to the identification of our common ancestors.

Below is the same spreadsheet, now greatly enriched after my genealogy work is applied to the DNA matches in two additional columns.

I’ve colored my triangulated groups pink for my mother’s side and blue for my father’s side.

In this case, I also have access to my cousins’ DNA match results, so I can view their matches as well, looking for common matches on my match list.

One of the reasons genealogists always suggest testing older family members and as many cousins as possible is because triangulation becomes much easier with known cousins from particular lines to point the way to the common ancestor. In this case, one cousin, Joe, is from my mother’s side and one, Lou, is from my father’s side.

By looking at my matches’ genealogy, I’ve now been able to assign this particular segment on chromosome 5, on my mother’s side to ancestors Johann Michael Miller and his wife Susanna Berchtol. The same segment, on my father’s side is inherited from Charles Dodson and his wife, Ann, last name unknown.

In order to achieve triangulation, the common ancestor must be determined for the match group. Once triangulation is achieved, descent from the common ancestor is confirmed.

Unless you are dealing with very close known relatives, like the Ferverda first cousins, there is no other way to prove a genetic connection to a specific ancestor.

At Family Tree DNA, I can utilize the chromosome browser and the ICW and matrix tools to determine which of this group matches each other. At 23andMe, I can utilize their shared DNA matching tool. This information can then be recorded in my DNA spreadsheet, as illustrated above.

Triangulation cannot be achieved at Ancestry or utilizing their tools. Ancestry’s DNA Circles provide extended match groups, indicating who matches whom for a particular ancestor shown in a tester’s tree, but do not indicate that the matches are on the same segment. Circles do not guarantee that Circle members are matching on DNA from that ancestor, only that they do match and show a common ancestor in their tree.  The third triangulation step of segment matching is missing.  Ancestry does not provide segment information in any format, so Ancestry customers who want to triangulate can either retest elsewhere or download their data files to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch for free.

Summary

Before the advent of genetic genealogy, genealogists had to take it on faith that the paper trail was accurate, and that there was no misattributed parentage – either through formal or informal adoption or hanky-panky.  That’s not the case anymore.

Today, DNA through triangulation can prove ancestry for groups of people to a common ancestor by identifying segments that have descended from that ancestor and are found in multiple descendants today.

Of course, the next step is to break down those remaining brick walls. For example, what is the birth name of Ann, wife of Charles Dodson, whose surname is unknown? Logically, the DNA descended from a couple, meaning Charles and Ann, contains DNA from both individuals. We don’t know if that segment on chromosome 5 is from Ann, Charles, or parts from both, BUT, if we begin to see a further breakdown to another, unknown family line among the Charles and Ann segments, that might be a clue.

One day, in the future, we’ll be able to identify our unknown family lines through DNA matches and other people’s triangulation. That indeed, is the Holy Grail.

Additional Resources

If you’d like to read more specific information about autosomal DNA matching and triangulation, be sure to read the links in the article, above. The following articles may be of interest as well:

DeMystifying Autosomal DNA Matching

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – What Now?

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum

Concepts – Segment Size, Legitimate and False Matches

How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical by Descent, State, Population and Chance

Nine Autosomal Tools at Family Tree DNA

If you think you might come up short, because you have only one known cousin who has tested, well, think again.

Just One Cousin

Here’s wishing you lots of triangulated matches!!!

Mitochondrial DNA – Your Mom’s Story

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

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

Every single one of your ancestors has their own individual story to tell – and if you really want to know who you are and where each ancestral line came from, mitochondrial DNA is the insider story on your mother’s matrilineal line.

What Is Mitochondrial DNA?

Mitochondrial DNA a special type of DNA that tells the direct line story of your mother’s mother’s mother’s heritage – all the way back as far as we can go – beyond genealogy– to the woman from whom we are all descended that we call “mitochondrial Eve.”

Mitochondrial DNA is never mixed with the father’s DNA, so the red circle pedigree line above remains unbroken and intact and is passed from mothers to all of their children, as you can see in the brother and sister at the bottom. Only females pass mitochondrial DNA on to their children, so all children carry their mother’s mtDNA. The great news is that everyone can test for mitochondrial DNA, unlike Y DNA where only males can test, shown by the blue square pedigree line above.

However, because of the surname changes in every generation for females, you can’t tell at a glance by looking at your mitochondrial matches’ surname if you are or might be related, like you can with Y DNA which tracks the direct paternal line which means the surname typically doesn’t change. If your match doesn’t list a common ancestor that you recognize, you may need to do some genealogy work to search for that ancestor.

This doesn’t mean mitochondrial DNA isn’t useful, because it can provide you with lots of information – some of which is useful genealogically and some that provides you with knowledge of where your matrilineal line came from and their course of travel through time, over hundreds and thousands of years.

Mitochondrial DNA is an extremely underutilized resource that gives us the ability to peer down the periscope of one family line for thousands of years.

Not to mention, it’s just plain fun!  Who doesn’t want to know more about our ancestors, and especially when the information resides within us and is so easy to retrieve.

Family Tree DNA provides 10 great mitochondrial tools for every customer. Let’s take a look at what you receive and how to utilize this information.

Haplogroup

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

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

If you take the entry level mtDNA Plus test which only tests about 6% of the available mitochondrial markers, those most likely to mutate, you will receive a base haplogroup, because that’s all that can be determined by those markers. If you take the mtFull Sequence test which tests all of the 16,569 mitochondrial locations, you will receive a full haplogroup designation, plus a lot more.

What’s the difference? In my case, my full haplogroup is J1c2f, meaning that my branch of haplogroup J is the result of 4 branching events from mother haplogroup J. Haplogroup J itself was formed by a defining set of mutations. The first branch was J1, then J1c, and so forth.

Haplogroup J was formed someplace in the Middle East and its branches are found primarily in the Mediterranean, Europe and western Asia today, plus, of course, diaspora regions like the Americas, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The mitochondrial Haplogroup J Project at Family Tree DNA provides a map of the most distant known ancestors of Haplogroup J members, including all branches, shown below.

My branch, haplogroup J1c2f, a rare haplogroup, is found in a much more restricted geography. It has taken 10 years or so to accumulate 10 pins on the map.  Of course, there would be more if everyone tested and joined their haplogroup project.

How Old is Haplogroup J?

With the mtFull Sequence test, you receive a lot more information than with the mtPlus test, for not a lot more investment, as you can see in the chart below and as we work through results.

Haplogroup Born Years Ago Receive With Test
J 34,000 mtPlus
J1 27,000 mtFull Sequence
J1c 13.000 mtFull Sequence
J1c2 10,000 mtFull Sequence
J1c2f 1,000 mtFull Sequence

Estimated dates for each haplogroup branches “birth” have been provided in the paper, A “Copernican” Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root by Behar et al.

Haplogroup J itself was born about 34,000 years ago, someplace in the Middle East or near the Black Sea.

Haplogroup J1c2f was born about 1000 years ago, and utilizing the map of J1c2f in combination with the known history of my full sequence matches allows me to learn where my ancestors were in more recent times. In my case, I’m fascinated by that cluster in Sweden and Norway, all of whom I’m related to with in the last 1000 years or so. Is there a message there for me about where my ancestor lived, perhaps, before the first documentation of my ancestral line in Germany in 1799?

More Please

Are you starting to see the benefit to mitochondrial DNA testing? We’ve only scratched the surface.

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

In the mtDNA section, additional tools are shown. Let’s look at each one and what it can tell you about your matrilineal line.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any image.

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

Matches

The first place most people look is at their Matches page. In my case, I have 38 full sequence matches. Full sequence matches are the most likely to match in a genealogical time frame. You can see by just looking at my matches below why entering the name of your earliest known ancestor (under Manage Personal Information, Account Settings, Genealogy) is so important!!! That’s the first thing people see and the best indication of a common ancestor. I always include a name, birth/death date and location.

As you can see, most of my matches (names obscured for privacy) have trees attached to their results and many have also taken the family finder test. Both are great news for me!

I can then view at my HVR1+HVR2 matches, which is equivalent to the mtPlus test today.

I have 266 HVR1+HVR2 matches, many of whom have also taken the full sequence test. Those who have taken the higher level test, I can disregard because their results, if they match, are already included on the full sequence match page. I do review the people who have not yet taken the full sequence test because a valuable match may be lurking there.

I can e-mail my matches by clicking on the envelope.

Results

Next, let’s look at our results. This page should really probably say “raw results,” because as many people say, “it’s just a page of numbers.”  Yes, it is, but there is magic in these numbers because they are the key to “everything else mitochondrial.”

This page shows your mutations – in other words, what makes you both different from other people and the same as people you match, which isolates your matches to people with whom you share a common ancestor at some point in time. The fewer mutations difference, generally the closer in time your common ancestor. If you match someone exactly, it means you share all of the same mutations, including “extra” and “missing” mutations typically found in people who carry your hapologroup.

There are two formats provided, the RSRS and the CRS, which I explained in the article, The CRS and the RSRS. You don’t need to know these details, but they are available if you are interested.

Some of these mutations shown are your haplogroup and subgroup defining mutations. For example, haplogroup J1c2f is defined by the mutation at location 9055, shown above. If you have all these mutations but don’t have G9055A, then you’re not haplgroup J1c2f, you’re J1c2.

Haplogroup Haplogroup Defining Mutations
J C295T, T489C, A10398G!, A12612G, G13708A, C16069T
J1 C462T, G3010A
J1c T14798C
J1c2 A188G
J1c2f G9055A

Most mutations shown, other than haplogroup defining mutations, are typically found in your subgroup, but others are “rare.” It’s those rare extra or missing mutations that are your family-line-defining mutations. In my case, both G185A and G228A are family line defining. But you really don’t need to worry about this unless you are going to take a deep dive, because the matching and other tools included by Family Tree DNA provide further analysis in ways far easier to understand and without you having to understand or worry about the nitty-gritty details.

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

Let’s look at the story they tell.

Matches Maps

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

Hint: You MUST enter the geographic information through the “Update Ancestor’s Location” link at the bottom of this map for YOUR ancestor to be displayed on THIS map (white pin) and also on the maps of your matches. You can see how useful this information is!  I wish everyone would do this, even if they are adopted and the only information they have is where they were born! Clusters are important for genealogy matching as well as for more distant origins.

You can also display your match list by clicking on the “Show Match List” link under the map. You can click on the pins on the map to display the accompanying information.

On the full sequence map, your exact matches are shown in red, 1 step mutations in orange, 2 steps in yellow, so you can easily look for clusters.

Once again, the Scandinavian group stands out because many are exact matches to my German ancestor. Do you think there might be a message there?

If not for my mitochondrial DNA, how else would I ever obtain this information, given that the German church records ended in 1799 for my matrilineal line? Did they end in 1799 because my ancestral line wasn’t in Germany before that?

Migration and Frequency Maps

Are you wondering how your ancestor and her ancestors arrived in the location where you first find them?

The haplogroup Migration Maps show you the ancestral path from Africa to, in my case, Europe.

The Frequency Map then shows you how much of the European population is haplogroup J, which includes subgroups.

Haplogroup Origins

The Haplogroup Origins page shows me the distribution of my haplogroup, by region, by match type.

For example, I have 7 exact matches in Norway and 1 in Poland. Only a portion of my Haplogroup Origins page is shown here, and only the Full Sequence Matches.  HVR1 and HVR1+HVR2 matches are displayed as well.

Ancestral Origins

The Ancestral Origins page shows my matches by Country along with any comments. My matches shown don’t have any comments, but comments might be Ashkenazi or MDKO (most distant known origin) when US is given as the most distant ancestral location.

Again, I’ve only shown my full sequence matches.

Advanced Matching Combines Tools

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

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

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

There aren’t any people that match me on BOTH the Family Finder test and the full sequence mtDNA test, which tells me that these matches are several generations back in time.  For purposes of example, I’m showing my two matches on both the HVR1 and the Family Finder test, below – just so you can see how the tool works.

Because both of these people tested at the HVR2 level, where we don’t match, the mitochondrial part of this match is likely hundreds to thousands of years ago and isn’t connected to the Family Finder match.  However, if these two matches had NOT tested at a higher level, where I know we don’t match, the combined match of mtDNA and the Family Finder test might be a significant hint as to our common ancestral line.

Of course, for adoptees, finding someone with whom you match closely on the Family Finder test AND match exactly on the full sequence test would be very suggestive of a matrilineal common ancestor in a recent timeframe.

Combination matching is a powerful tool.

Projects

We started our discussion about mitochondrial haplogroups by referencing the MtDNA Haplogroup J project. Family Tree DNA has over 9000 projects for you to select from.

Thankfully, you don’t have to browse through them all, as they are broken down into categories.

  • Haplogroup projects are categorized by Y or mtDNA and then by subhaplogroup where appropriate.
  • Surname projects exist as well and are searchable for your genealogy lines.
  • Geographical projects cover everything else, from geographies such as the Cumberland Gap region of Appalachia to the American Indian project. Some projects focus on Y DNA, some on mtDNA, some both plus include people with autosomal results that pertain to that project.

Project administrators can enter surnames that pertain to their project so that Family Tree DNA can match the tester’s surname to the project list to provide the tester with a menu.

Please do READ the project description before joining, as lot of people join every project listed, even though the surname listed in that project in no way pertains to their family.  For example, in the Estes list above, my Estes line is in no way connected to the Estis family of the Ukraine or Fairfield County, SC nor are they haplogroup I, so joining the haplogroup I-L161(Isles) Y DNA project would be futile even if I was an Estes male.

Needless to say, if you’re a female who did not test under your birth surname, the project menu won’t be relevant to you, so you’ll need to use the “Search by Surname” function, at the bottom of the menu to find projects for your surname.

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

All testers should join their haplogroup project so that everyone can benefit from collaboration. Testing in isolation without collaboration benefits no one.  We all benefit from matching and sharing, both individually and as a larger group.  Think of those maps and clusters!

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

Mitochondrial Summary

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

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

You can order or upgrade your mitochondrial DNA test by clicking here.

Which DNA Test is Best?

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

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

Testing Goals

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

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

We will be discussing testing for:

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

We will be reviewing the following test types:

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

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

  • Additional Vendor Considerations

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

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

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

The Big 3

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

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

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

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

  • Full mitochondrial sequence that informs you about your matrilineal line (only) at Family Tree DNA.
  • Y DNA test (for males only) that informs you about your direct paternal (surname) line (only) at Family Tree DNA.
  • Family Finder, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching at Family Tree DNA.
  • AncestryDNA, an autosomal test at Ancestry.com that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching. (Do not confuse this test with Ancestry by DNA, which is not the same test and does not provide the same features.)
  • 23andMe Ancestry Service test, an autosomal test that provides ethnicity estimates and cousin matching.

A Word About Third Party Tools

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

Let’s get started!

Ethnicity

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

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

Yep, same person, different ethnicity breakdowns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at each company separately.

Ethnicity – Family Tree DNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethnicity – Ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about Genetic Communities here and here.

Ethnicity – 23andMe

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

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

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

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

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

Ethnicity Summary

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

DNA test costs are similar, although the Family Tree DNA test is less at $79. All three vendors have sales from time to time.

Ethnicity Vendor Summary Chart

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

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Ethnicity Test Included with $79 Family Finder test Included with $99 Ancestry DNA test Included with $99 Ancestry Service
Percentages and Maps Yes Yes Yes
Shared Ethnicity with Matches Yes No Yes
Additional Feature Y and mtDNA mapping of ethnicity matches Genetic Communities Ethnicity phasing against parent (has issues)
Additional Feature Ancient Origins Ethnicity mapping by chromosome
Additional Feature Ancient DNA Project Ancestry Timeline

 

Adoption and Parental Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adoptee Y and Mitochondrial Testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adoption Summary

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

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

Adoptee Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe MyHeritage
Autosomal DNA – Males and Females
Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes – problems
Relationship Estimates* Yes – May be too close Yes – May be too distant Yes – Matches may not be sharing Yes –  problematic
International Reach Very strong Not strong but growing Not strong Small but subscriber base is European focused
Trees Yes Yes No Yes
Tree Quantity 54% have trees, 46% no tree (of my first 100 matches) 56% have trees, 44% no tree or private (of my first 100 matches) No trees ~50% don’t have trees or are private (cannot discern private tree without clicking on every tree)
Data Base Size Large Largest Large – but not all opt in to matching Very small
My # of Matches on 4-23-2017 2,421 23,750 1,809 but only 1,114 are sharing 75
Subscription Required No No for partial, Yes for full functionality including access to matches’ trees, minimal subscription for $59 by calling Ancestry No No for partial, Yes for full functionality
Other Relevant Tools New Ancestor Discoveries
Autosomal DNA Issues Many testers don’t have trees Many testers don’t have trees Matching opt-in is problematic, no trees at all Matching issues, small data base size is problematic, many testers don’t have trees
Contact Methodology E-mail address provided to matches Internal message system – known delivery issues Internal message system Internal message system
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes No
Y-DNA – Males Only
Y DNA STR Test Yes- 37, 67, and 111 markers No No No
Y Haplogroup Yes as part of STR test plus additional testing available No Yes, basic level but no additional testing available, outdated haplogroups No
Y Matching Yes No No No
Advanced Matching Between Y and Autosomal Yes No No No
Mitochondrial DNA- Males and Females
Test Yes, partial and full sequence No No No
Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Yes, included in test No Yes, basic but full haplogroup not available, haplogroup several versions behind No
Advanced Matching Between Mitochondrial and Autosomal Yes No No No

Genealogy – Cousin Matching and Ancestor Search/Verification

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

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

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

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

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

Genealogy – Autosomal –  Family Tree DNA

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

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

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

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

Unique autosomal tools provided by Family Tree DNA are:

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

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

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

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

Genealogy – Autosomal – Ancestry

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

Ancestry is the only testing vendor (other than MyHeritage who is not included in this section) to require a subscription for full functionality, although if you call the Ancestry support line, a minimal subscription is available for $59. You can see your matches without a subscription, but you cannot see your matches trees or utilize other functions, so you will not be able to tell how you connect to your matches. Many genealogists have Ancestry subscriptions, so this is minimally problematic for most people.

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

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

Unique tools provided by Ancestry include:

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

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

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

Genealogy – Autosomal – 23and Me

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

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

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

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

The one genealogy feature unique to 23andMe is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genealogy – Autosomal Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genealogy Autosomal Vendor Feature Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Matching Yes Yes Yes – each person has to opt in for open sharing or authorize sharing individually, many don’t
Estimated Relationships Yes Yes Yes
Chromosome Browser Yes No – Large Issue Yes
Chromosome Browser Threshold Adjustment Yes No Chromosome Browser No
X Chromosome Matching Yes No Yes
Trees Yes Yes – subscription required so see matches’ trees No
Ability to upload Gedcom file Yes Yes No
Ability to search trees Yes Yes No
Subscription in addition to DNA test price No No for partial, Yes for full functionality, minimal subscription for $59 by calling Ancestry No
DNA + Ancestor in Tree Matches No Yes – Leaf Hints – subscription required – Best Feature No
Phased Parental Side Matching Yes – Best Feature No No
Parent Match Indicator Yes No Yes
Sort or Group by Parent Match Yes Yes Yes
In Common With Tool Yes Yes Yes
Not In Common With Tool Yes No No
Triangulated Matches No – pseudo with ICW, browser and matrix No Yes – Best Feature
Common Surnames Yes Yes – subscription required No
Ability to Link DNA Matches on Tree Yes No No
Matrix to show match grid between multiple matches Yes No No
Match Filter Tools Yes Minimal Some
Advanced Matching Tool Yes No No
Multiple Test Matching Tool Yes No multiple tests No multiple tests
Ethnicity Matching Yes No Yes
Projects Yes No No
Maximum # of Matches Restricted No No Yes – 2000 unless you are communicating with the individuals, then they are not removed from your match list
All Customers Participate Yes Yes, unless they don’t have a subscription No – between 50-60% opt-in
Accepts Transfers from Other Testing Companies Yes No No
Free Features with Transfer Matching, ICW, Matrix, Advanced Matching No transfers No transfers
Transfer Features Requiring Unlock $ Chromosome Browser, Ethnicity, Ancient Origins, Linked Relationships, Parentally Phased Matches No Transfers No transfers
Archives DNA for Later Testing Yes, 25 years No, no additional tests available No, no additional tests available
Additional Tool DNA Circles – subscription required
Additional Tool New Ancestor Discoveries – subscription required
Y DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Mitochondrial DNA Not included in autosomal test but is additional test, detailed results including matching No Haplogroup only
Advanced Testing Available Yes No No
Website Intuitive Yes, given their many tools Yes, very simple No
Data Base Size Large Largest Large but many do not test for genealogy, only test for health
Strengths Many tools, multiple types of tests, phased matching without parent DNA + Tree matching, size of data base Triangulation
Challenges Website episodically times out No chromosome browser or advanced tools Sharing is difficult to understand and many don’t, website is far from intuitive

 

Genealogy – Y and Mitochondrial DNA

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

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

Y-DNA Testing for Males

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

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

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

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

Family Tree DNA provides three types of Y DNA tests.

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

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

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

Y DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

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

Mitochondrial DNA Testing for Everyone

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

Matching can identify family lines as well as ancient lineage.

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

Mitochondrial DNA Vendor Feature Summary Chart

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

 

Overall Genealogy Summary

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

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

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

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

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

 

Testing for Medical/Health or Traits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Additional Vendor Information to Consider

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

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

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

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

Family Tree DNA does not sell your DNA or information.

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

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

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

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

Additional Vendor Considerations Summary Chart

Family Tree DNA Ancestry 23andMe
Subscription required in addition to cost of DNA test No Yes for full functionality, partial functionality is included without subscription, minimum subscription is $59 by calling Ancestry No
Customer Support Good and available Available, nice but often not knowledgeable about DNA Poor
Sells customer DNA information No Yes Yes
DNA raw data file available to download Yes Yes Yes
DNA matches file available to download including match info and chromosome match locations Yes No Yes
Customers genealogically focused Yes Yes Many No
Accepts DNA raw data transfer files from other companies Yes, most, see article for specifics No No
DNA archived for later testing Yes, 25 years No No
Beneficiary provision available Yes No No

 

Which Test is Best For You?

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

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

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

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

Concepts – Percentage of Ancestors’ DNA

A very common question is, “How much DNA of an ancestor do I carry and how does that affect my ethnicity results?”

This question is particularly relevant for people who are seeking evidence of a particular ethnicity of an ancestor several generations back in time. I see this issue raise its head consistently when people take an ethnicity test and expect that their “full blood” Native American great-great-grandmother will show up in their results.

Let’s take a look at how DNA inheritance works – and why they might – or might not find the Native DNA they seek, assuming that great-great-grandma actually was Native.

Inheritance

Every child inherits exactly 50% of their autosomal DNA from each parent (except for the X chromosome in males.) However, and this is a really important however, the child does NOT inherit exactly half of the DNA of each ancestor who lived before the parents. How can this be, you ask?

Let’s step through this logically.

The number of ancestors you have doubles in each generation, going back in time.

This chart provides a summary of how many ancestors you have in each generation, an approximate year they were born using a 25 year generation and a 30 year generation, respectively, and how much of their DNA, on average, you could expect to carry, today. You’ll notice that by the time you’re in the 7th generation, you can be expected, on average, to carry 0.78% meaning less than 1% of that GGGGG-grandparent’s DNA.

Looking at the chart, you can see that you reach the 1% level at about the 6th generation with an ancestor probably born in the late 1700s or early 1800s.

It’s also worth noting here that generations can be counted differently. In some instances, you are counted as generation one, so your GGGGG-grandparent would be generation 8.

In general, DNA showing ethnicity below about 5% is viewed as somewhat questionable and below 2% is often considered to be “noise.” Clearly, that isn’t always the case, especially if you are dealing with continental level breakdowns, as opposed to within Europe, for example. Intra-continental (regional) ethnicity breakdowns are particularly difficult and unreliable, but continental level differences are easier to discern and are considered to be more reliable, comparatively.

If you want to learn more about how ethnicity calculations are derived and what they mean, please read the article Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum.

On Average May Not Mean You

On average, each child receives half of the DNA of each ancestor from their parent.

The words “on average” are crucial to this discussion, because the average assumes that in fact each generation between your GGGGG-grandmother and you inherited exactly half of the DNA in each generation from their parent that was contributed by that GGGGG-grandmother.

Unfortunately, while averages are all that we have to work with, that’s not always how ancestral DNA is passed in each generation.

Let’s say that your GGGGG-grandmother was indeed full Native, meaning no admixture at all.

You can click to enlarge images.

Using the chart above, you can see that your GGGGG-grandmother was full native on all 20 “pieces” or segments of DNA used for this illustration. Those segments are colored red. The other 10 segments, with no color, were contributed by the father.

Let’s say she married a person who was not Native, and in every generation since, there were no additional Native ancestors.

Her child, generation 6, inherited exactly 50% of her DNA, shown in red – meaning 10 segments..

Generation 5, her grandchild, inherited exactly half of her DNA that was carried by the parent, shown in red – meaning 5 segments..

However, in the next generation, generation 4, that child inherited more than half of the Native DNA from their parent. They inherited half of their parent’s DNA, but the half that was randomly received included 3 Native segments out of a possible 5 Native segments that the parent carried.

In generation 3, that child inherited 2 of the possible 3 segments that their parent carried.

In generation 2, that person inherited all of the Native DNA that their parent carried.

In generation 1, your parent inherited half of the DNA that their parent carried, meaning one of 2 segments of Native DNA carried by your grandparent.

And you will either receive all of that one segment, part of that one segment, or none of that one segment.

In the case of our example, you did not inherit that segment, which is why you show no Native admixture, even though your GGGGG-grandmother was indeed fully Native..

Of course, even if you had inherited that Native segment, and that segment isn’t something the population reference models recognize as “Native,” you still won’t show as carrying any Native at all. It could also be that if you had inherited the red segment, it would have been too small and been interpreted as noise.

The “Received” column at the right shows how much of the ancestral DNA the current generation received from their parent.

The “% of Original” column shows how the percentage of GGGGG-grandmother’s DNA is reduced in each generation.

The “Expected” column shows how much DNA, “on average” we would expect to see in each generation, as compared to the “% of Original” which is how much they actually carry.

I intentionally made the chart, above, reflect a scenario close to what we could expect, on average. However, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility to see something like the following scenario, as well.

In the second example, above, neither you nor your parent or grandparent inherited any of the Native segments.

It’s also possible to see a third example, below, where 4 generations in a row, including you, inherited the full amount of Native DNA segments carried by the GG-grandparent.

Testing Other Relatives

Every child of every couple inherits different DNA from their parents. The 50% of their parents’ DNA that they inherit is not all the same. The three example charts above could easily represent three children of the GG-Grandparent and their descendants.

The pedigree chart below shows the three different examples, above.  The great-great-grandparent in the 4th generation who inherited 3 Native DNA segments is shown first, then the inheritance of the Native segments through all 3 children to the current generation.

Therefore, you may not have inherited the red segment of GGGGG-grandmother’s Native DNA, but your sibling might, or vice versa. As you can see in the chart above, one of your third cousins received 3 native segments from GGGGG-grandmother. but your other third cousin received none.

You can see why people are always encouraged to test their parents and grandparents as well as siblings. You never know where your ancestor’s DNA will turn up, and each person will carry a different amount, and different segments of DNA from your common ancestors.

In other words, your great-aunt and great-uncle’s DNA is every bit as important to you as your own grandparent’s DNA – so test everyone in older generations while you can, and their children if they are no longer available.

Back to Great-Great-Grandma

Going back to great-great-grandma and her Native heritage. You may not show Native ethnicity when you expected to see Native, but you may have other resources and recourses. Don’t give up!

Reason Resources and Comments
She really wasn’t Native. Genealogical research will help and mitochondrial DNA testing of an appropriate descendant will point the way to her true ethnic heritage, at least on her mother’s side.
She was Native, but the ethnicity test doesn’t show that I am. Test relatives and find someone descended from her through all females to take a mitochondrial test. The mitochondrial test will answer the question for her matrilineal line unquestionably.
She was partly, but not fully Native. This would mean that she had less Native DNA than you thought, which would mean the percentage coming to you is lower on average than anticipated. Mitochondrial DNA testing someone descended from her through all females to the current generation, which can be male, would reveal whether her mother was Native from her mother’s line.
She was Native, but several generations back in time. You or your siblings may show small percentages of Native or other locations considered to be a component of Native admixture in the absence of any other logical explanation for their presence, such as Siberian or Eastern Asian.

Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA Testing to Supplement Ethnicity Testing

When in doubt about ethnicity results, find an appropriately descended person to take a Y DNA test (males only, for direct paternal lineage) or a mitochondrial DNA test, for direct matrilineal results. These tests will yield haplogroup information and haplogroups are associated with specific world regions and ethnicities, providing a more definitive answer regarding the heritage of that specific line.

Y DNA reflects the direct male line, shown in blue above, and mitochondrial DNA reflects the direct matrilineal line, shown in red. Only males carry Y DNA, but both genders carry mitochondrial DNA.

For a short article about the different kinds of DNA and how they can help genealogists, please read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

Ethnicity testing is available from any of the 3 major vendors, meaning Family Tree DNA, Ancestry or 23andMe. Base haplogroups are provided with 23andMe results, but detailed testing for Y and mitochondrial DNA is only available from Family Tree DNA.

To read about the difference between the two types of testing utilized for deriving haplogroups between 23andMe and Family Tree DNA, please read Haplogroup Comparisons between Family Tree DNA and 23andMe.

For more information on haplogroups, please read What is a Haplogroup?

For a discussion about testing family members, please read Concepts – Why DNA Testing the Oldest Family Members is Critically Important.

If you’d like to read a more detailed explanation of how inheritance works, please read Concepts – How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors.

Concepts – “Who To Test?” Series

I often receive questions about who to test to obtain (discover) the Y or mitochondrial DNA of a particular ancestor in one’s tree. The question often arises when people are attempting to find either Y or mitochondrial DNA to confirm that an ancestor descends from or belongs to a particular population.

For example, “My great-great-grandmother was supposed to be Cherokee.  How can I tell if she was?”

The answer would be that if she was Cherokee on her mother’s direct maternal side, testing the mitochondrial DNA of specific descendants would yield the answer.

Regardless of origins, the concept and techniques apply to everyone. People of Native American, African, Jewish, European and Asian heritage carry specific haplogroups and match people who have similar roots.

You may want to read this short article, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy to understand the difference between Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA, what testing can tell you, and how they can help your genetic genealogy.

At a very basic level:

  • Y DNA testing tests the direct paternal (typically surname) line only, for males only. The Y chromosome is only passed from fathers to sons, so it is not divided nor mixed with the mother’s DNA. Females don’t have a Y chromosome, which is why they can’t test.
  • Mitochondrial DNA testing tests the direct matrilineal line only, for everyone, males and females both. The mitochondria is passed from mothers to all of her children, but is only passed on by females. It is not mixed with the father’s DNA, so it is not divided during the inheritance process.
  • Autosomal DNA testing tests all of your DNA, providing cousin matches and ethnicity estimates – but does not provide you with specifics about any individual line. You inherit half the autosomal DNA of each of your parents, so ancestral DNA diminishes by half in each generation. Autosomal testing is a great overview of all of your DNA lineages, but can’t tell you where any particular line comes from.

Testing the appropriate descendants of each ancestor allows us to build a DNA pedigree chart in order to determine the proven, specific heritage and origins of each individual line.

Here’s what my DNA Pedigree Chart looks like through my 8 great-grandparents where I’ve successfully obtained the Y and mitochondrial DNA of their descendants. Y and mitochondrial DNA, of course, has special properties and reaches back hundreds and thousands of years in time, because the Y and mitochondrial DNA is not diluted by the DNA of the other parent during inheritance.

I’ve converted the relationships in my pedigree chart above to an Ancestor Pedigree Chart, below, because we will be working with each individual and adding lines for other family members as we determine who we can test. You can click to enlarge the image.

In the Ancestor Pedigree Chart, shown above, there are 16 different people who all carry mitochondrial DNA, representing 8 different mitochondrial lines. Mitochondrial contributors, all women, shown in pink both carry and contribute mitochondrial DNA. Mothers contribute their mitochondrial DNA to the males, shown by pink hearts, but the men don’t pass it on. The daughters pass their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children.

There are 8 people, shown in blue, who carry and contribute Y DNA, representing 4 different Y lines.

Each mitochondrial and Y line of DNA has a story to tell that can’t be told any other way. Autosomal DNA does not provide specific information about the genesis or ethnicity of any particular line, but Y and mtDNA does. If you want to know specifically where, what part of the world, or what clan that particular ancestor descended from, Y and mitochondrial DNA may tell you.

The question becomes, who can be tested that is living today to obtain that specific information about each particular ancestor.

Of course, the answer of who to test to find the ancestral Y and mitochondrial DNA varies depending on the gender of the person, and where they are located in your tree.

If the person in the tree is no longer living, the answer about who to test may hinge on their siblings, and the descendants of their siblings or maybe cousins. Or perhaps you’ll need to go back up the tree a generation or two to find appropriately descended relatives to test.

For each of the individuals in this tree, I’m going to answer the question of whom to test to obtain their Y and mitochondrial DNA – and how to find a suitable candidate. Talking them into testing, however, is all up to you:)

If you haven’t tested your Y or mitochondrial DNA, and you want to, you can order those tests at Family Tree DNA.  I suggest a minimum of 37 markers for Y DNA. You can always upgrade later to 67 or 111 markers.  Regardless of your testing level, you’ll receive haplogroup estimates, matches and other information.  For mitochondrial DNA, order the full sequence test so you’ll receive your full haplogroup designation. Several Y and mitochondrial haplogroups originated in Asia, with some lines settling in Europe, some in Asia and some in the Americas – so you need as much information as you can extract from your DNA.

Please join me for the “Concepts – Who To Test?” Series – coming soon to a this blog, so stay tuned!!!

800 Articles Strong

800-strong

Today is something of a red-letter day. This is the 801st article published on this blog.

This blog, DNA-Explained, was christened on July 11, 2012 and will soon be 5 years old, as hard as that is to believe. In some ways, it feels like this blog has been around “forever” and in other ways, it feels like it’s very new, because there is always some interesting topic to write about.

Truthfully, I can’t believe I’ve written 800 articles. No wonder some of the letters are worn off of my keyboard. And it’s my second keyboard!

My original goal was one article per week, which would have been about 235 articles by now. I wasn’t sure I could accomplish that. It’s amazing what inspiration can do! I love genetic genealogy every bit as much today as I did then, if not more. What an incredibly exciting time to be alive with an unbelievable opportunity to participate in an unfolding field with new discoveries being made on an almost daily basis.

I had been considering a DNA blog when Spencer Wells, then Scientist in Residence at the National Geographic Society, suggested that I SHOULD author a blog. That encouragement was all it took to motivate me. Thanks so much Spencer for that final nudge!!!

spencer and me

Just 12 days after DNA-Explained’s launch, the Genographic 2.0 product was introduced and I was privileged to participate in that announcement.

I started writing articles in self-defense, truthfully, because I was receiving the same questions over and over again. I figured if I could write the answer once, I could then just point the next person with that same question to an answer that included graphics and illustrations and was a much better answer than I could provide in an e-mail.

Plus, repetitively recreating the same answer was a time-waster – and blogging to share publicly with the goal of helping lots of people learn seemed the perfect solution.

I had no idea, and I mean none, that DNA testing in the direct to consumer marketplace would explode like it has. I’m glad I started writing when I did, because there are ever-more people asking questions. That’s a good thing, because it means people are testing and learning what messages their DNA has for them.

Our DNA is the most personal record of our ancestors that we’ll ever have – and today more and more tools exist to interpret what those ancestors are telling us. We are still panning for gold on the frontier of science although we know infinitely more than we did a decade or 5 years ago, and we know less than we will 5 or 10 years from now. We are still learning every single day. That’s what makes this field so exciting, and infinitely personal.

Here’s part of what I said in my introductory article:

Genetic genealogy is a world full of promise, but it changes rapidly and can be confusing. People need to understand how to use the numerous tools available to us to unravel our ancestral history.

People also love to share stories. We become inspired by the successes of others, and ideas are often forthcoming that we would not have otherwise thought of.

In light of that, I’ve tried to include a wide variety of articles at every level so that there is something for everyone. I hope I’ve managed to make genetics interesting and shared some of my enthusiasm with you over the years.

In Celebration

To celebrate this 800 article-versary, I’m going to share a few things.

  • Article organization and how to find what you want
  • The 10 most popular articles of those 800
  • Two things people can do to help themselves
  • Articles I wish people would read
  • Questions asked most frequently

Then, I’m going to ask you what you’d like for me to write about in the future.

Articles Organization aka How To Find What You Want

Blogs allow you to group articles by both categories and tags, two ways of organizing your articles so that people and search engines can find them.

Each article is identified by categories. You can click on any of the categories, below, to see which articles fall into that category. These are also some of the keywords for the blog search feature.

I’ve also grouped articles by tags as shown on the sidebar of the blog. The larger text indicates tags with more articles.

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You can click on any of those as well (on the actual blog page) to view all the articles that fall into that tag group.

For example, one of my 52 Ancestor Stories would be tagged with “52 Weeks of Ancestors” but if it discussed Y DNA, that would be one of the categories selected.

At the end of every blog article, you can see the category or categories the article is posted under, tags and other pertinent information about that article.

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The Top 10 Articles

  1. Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA
  2. 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy
  3. Ethnicity Results – True or Not?
  4. Mythbusting – Women, Fathers and DNA
  5. Genealogy and Ethnicity DNA Testing – 3 Legitimate Companies
  6. How Much Indian Do I Have in Me???
  7. What is a Haplogroup?
  8. Thick Hair, Small Boobs, Shovel Shaped Teeth and More
  9. Ethnicity Testing and Results
  10. 23andMe, Ancestry and Selling Your DNA Information

The Two Things People Can Do To Help Themselves

  1. Search first.

Before asking a question, I wish people would try searching my blog for the answer. Using the search box in the upper right hand corner, the blog is fully key word searchable.

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Furthermore, even if you can’t figure out the right key word to search, you can also find articles on my blog by searching for phrases using google.

2. Upload GEDCOM files.

Your DNA testing is only as good as the comparisons you can make, and the ancestors and ancestral links you can find. Please, please, PLEASE upload GEDCOM files to Family Tree DNA and GedMatch. If you don’t have a tree, you can create one at Family Tree DNA. Link your tree to your DNA results on Ancestry and share your results. 23andMe has no tree ability at this time.

The Articles I Wish People Would Read

In addition to some of the articles already listed in the top 10, I wish people would read:

Questions Asked Most Frequently

  • Questions relating to Native American heritage and testing.
  • Questions relating to ethnicity, especially when the results are unexpected or don’t seem to align with what is known or family oral history.
  • Overwhelmed newbies who receive results and don’t have any idea how to interpret what they’ve received, which is why I created the Help page.

The Future – What Articles Would You Like to See?

It’s your turn.

What topics would you like to see me cover in upcoming articles? Is there something in particular that you find confusing, or enticing, or exciting?

I’m not promising that I’ll write about every topic, and some may be combined, but articles are often prompted by questions and suggestions from readers.

And speaking of readers…

Thank You

A very big thank you to all of my subscribers and followers for making DNA-Explained so popular and such a success. You folks are amazing, infinitely giving and helpful. We really are a community!

thank-you

 

Native American and First Nations DNA Testing – Buyer Beware

Native DNA in Feathers

This week, a woman in North Carolina revealed that she descends from the extinct Beothuk tribe in Canada as a result of a DNA test from a Canadian DNA testing company. This has caused quite an uproar, in both genetic genealogy and Native American research communities, and has been resoundingly discredited by geneticists.

People’s motivation for wanting to know if they have Native heritage generally falls into the following categories:

  • Curiosity and a desire to confirm a family story
  • Desire to recover lost heritage
  • Desire to identify or join a tribe
  • Desire to obtain services provided to eligible tribal members, such as educational benefits
  • Desire to obtain benefits provided to eligible tribal members, such as a share of casino profits

Questions about DNA testing to reveal Native ancestry are the most common questions I receive and my Native DNA articles are the most visited on my website and blog.

Legitimate DNA Tests for Native Heritage

There are completely legitimate tests for Native ancestry, including the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests for direct paternal (blue box genealogy line, below) and direct matrilineal lines (red circle genealogy line, below). Both Y and mitochondrial DNA have scientifically identified and confirmed haplogroups found only in Native Americans, as discussed in this article. Both Y and mitochondrial DNA at appropriate testing levels can identify a Native ancestor back in time thousands of years.

Y and mito

However, if the Native ancestor does not descend from the direct paternal or direct matrilineal lines, the only DNA test left is an autosomal test which tests all of your ancestral lines, but which can only reliably identify ancestral heritage for the past 5 or 6 generations in any of those lines due to recombination of DNA with the other parent in each generation. Autosomal tests provide you with percentage estimates of your ethnicity although they can vary widely between companies for various reasons. All three of these tests are available from Family Tree DNA as part of their normal product offering.

If you’d like to see an example of genealogy research combined with all three types of DNA testing for a Native Sioux man, please read about John Iron Moccasin.

Less Than Ethical DNA Tests for Native Heritage

Because of the desire within the consuming public to know more about their Native heritage, several specialty testing services have emerged to offer “Native American” tests. Recently, one, Accu-Metrics out of Canada has been highly criticized in the media for informing a woman that she was related to or descended from the extinct Beothuk tribe based on a match to a partial, damaged, mitochondrial sample from skeletal remains, now in housed in Scotland.

When you look at some of these sites, they spend a lot of time convincing you about the qualifications of the lab they use, but the real problem is not with the laboratory, but their interpretation of what those results mean to their clients – e.g. Beothuk.

Those of us who focus on Native American ancestry know unequivocally that “matching” someone with Native ancestry does NOT equate to being from that same tribe. In fact, we have people in the American Indian Project and various Native haplogroup projects who match each other with either Native Y or mitochondrial results who are tribally enrolled or descended from tribes from very different parts of the Americas, as far distant as Canada and South America.

Based on this 2007 paper, A Preliminary Analysis of the DNA and Diet of the Extinct Beothuk: A Systematic Approach to Ancient Human DNA, describing the analysis of the Beothuk remains, it appears that only the HVR1 region of the Beothuk skeletal remains were able to be partially sequenced. An HVR1 level only match between two people could be from thousands to tens of thousands of years ago.

According to Dr. Doron Behar’s paper, A ‘‘Copernican’’ Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA Tree from its Root, dating haplogroup formation, haplogroup C was formed about 24,000 years ago, give or take 5,000 years in either direction, and haplogroup X was formed about 32,000 years ago, give or take 12,000 years in either direction. There are individuals living in Europe and Asia, as well as the Americans who fall into various subgroups of haplogroup C and X, which are impossible to differentiate without testing beyond the HVR1 region. A match at the HVR1 level which only indicates C or X, without subgroups, could be from a very ancient common ancestor, back in Asia and does not necessarily indicate Native American heritage without additional testing. What this means is that someone whose ancestors have never lived outside of China, for example, would at the basic haplogroup level, C, match to the Beothuk remains because they shared a common ancestor 24,000 years ago.

Furthermore, many people are tribally enrolled whose mitochondrial or Y DNA would not be historically Native, because their tribal membership is not based on that ancestral line. Therefore, tribal membership alone is not predictive of a Native American Y or mitochondrial haplogroup. Matching someone who is tribally enrolled does not mean that your DNA is from that tribe, because their DNA from that line may not be historically Native either.

Tribes historically adopted non-Native people into the tribe, so finding a non-Native, meaning a European or African haplogroup in a tribal member is not unusual, even if the tribal member’s enrollment is based on that particular genealogical line. European or African DNA does not delegitimize their Native heritage or status, but finding a European or African haplogroup in a tribal member also does NOT mean that those haplogroups were historically Native, meaning pre-Columbian contact.

Worse yet, one company is taking this scenario a step further and is informing their clients that carry non-Native haplogroups that they have Native heritage because a group of their clients who “self-identified” as “Native,” meaning they believe their ancestor is Native, carry that haplogroup. The American myth of the “Indian Princess” is legendary and seldom do those stories pan out as accurate with DNA testing and traditional genealogical research. Basing one client’s identification as Native on another client’s family myth without corroboration is a mind-boggling stretch of logic. Most consumers who receive these reports never go any further, because they have achieved what they sought; “confirmation” of their Native heritage through DNA.

A match, even in the best of circumstances where the match does fall into the proven Native haplogroups does not automatically equal to tribal affiliation, and any company who suggests or says it does is substantially misleading their customers.

From the Accu-Metric site, the company that identified the woman as Beothuk:

Native American linkage is based on a sample comparison to a proven member of the group, which identifies specific tribal linkage.

New for 2016: We can also determine if you belong to the 56 Native tribes from Mexico.

The DNA results can be used in enrollment, disenrollment, claiming social benefits, or simply for a peace of mind. We understand the impact that this testing service has on the First Nation and Native American community and we try to use our expertise for the community’s overall interests.

From Dr. Steven Carr, a geneticist at Memorial University in St. John’s (Canada) who has studied the Beothuk:

We do not have enough of a database to identify somebody as being Beothuk, so if somebody is told [that] by a company, I think we call that being lied to.

I would certainly agree with Dr. Carr’s statement.

According to the 2007 Beothuk paper, the Beothuk mitochondrial DNA fell into two of the 5 typical haplogroups for Native American mitochondrial DNA, C and X. However, only portions or subgroups of those 5 haplogroups are Native, and all Native people fall someplace in those 5 haplogroup subgroups, as documented here.

The Beothuk remains would match, at the basic haplogroup level, every other Native person in haplogroup C or X across all of North and South America. In fact, the Beothuk remains match every other person world-wide at the basic haplogroup level that fall into haplogroups C or X.  It would take testing of the Beothuk remains at the full sequence level, which was not possible due to degradation of the remains, to be more specific.  So telling a woman that she matches the Beothuk was irresponsible at best, because those Beothuk remains match every other person in haplogroup C or X, Native or not.  Certainly, a DNA testing company knows this.

Accu-Metrics isn’t the only company stretching or twisting the truth for their own benefit, exploiting their clients. Dr Jennifer Raff, a geneticist who studies Native American DNA, discusses debunking what she terms pseudogenetics, when genetic information is twisted or otherwise misused to delude the unsuspecting. You can view her video here. About minute 48 or 49, she references another unethical company in the Native American DNA testing space.

Unfortunately, unethical companies are trying to exploit and take advantage of the Native people, of our ancestors, and ultimate of us, the consumers in our quest to find those ancestors.

Reputable DNA Testing

If you want to test for your Native heritage, be sure you understand what various tests can and cannot legitimately tell you, which tests are right for you based on your gender and known genealogy, and stay with a reputable testing company. I recommend Family Tree DNA for several reasons.

  • Family Tree DNA is the founding company in genetic genealogy
  • They have been in business 16 years
  • They are reputable
  • They are the only company to offer all three types of DNA tests
  • They offer matching between their clients whose DNA matches each other, giving you the opportunity to work together to identify your common link
  • They sponsor various free projects for customers to join to collaborate with other researchers with common interests

When evaluating tests from any other companies, if it sounds too good to be true, and no other company can seem to provide that same level of specificity, it probably is too good to be true. No company can identify your tribe through DNA testing. Don’t be a victim.

These three articles explain about DNA testing, and specifically Native DNA testing, and what can and cannot be accomplished.

4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy

Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

Finding Your American Indian Tribe Using DNA

For other articles about Native American DNA testing, this blog is fully key-word searchable by utilizing the search box in the upper right hand corner.