STRs and SNPs – Are STR Markers Still Useful for Y DNA?

Some time back, I wrote an article titled, STRs vs SNPs, Multiple DNA Personalities, which you can read, here. In that article, I explained the difference between STR and SNP markers.

Y DNA is extremely useful for men to track their direct paternal line via the Y chromosome that they inherited from their father. You can see how various types of DNA is inherited, here. By way of comparison, mitochondrial DNA (red) is inherited from your matrilineal line, and autosomal DNA (green) is inherited from all lines.

The Y chromosome, shown in blue above, is passed from father to son without mixing with the DNA of the mother, so it is in essence tracked intact for generations – with the exception of occasional mutations.

Two kinds of mutations make Y DNA genealogically useful. They are STRs, short tandem repeat markers and SNPs, single nucleotide polymorphisms, pronounced as “snips.” If you’re looking for in depth information about Y DNA, I have a Y DNA resource guide here.

How is Y DNA Useful?

For Estes males, we have identified several genetic lineages using these markers that show us where testers fit into the tree of Estes males, which of course in turn fit into the larger tree of mankind.

In some cases, Y DNA is the only clue people have as to their genealogy. In other situations, these tests confirm and further refine both the genetic tree and genealogy.

Let’s look at how these two types of Y DNA markers work, separately and together at FamilyTreeDNA.

STR Markers, Results and Matching

Y DNA STR results are returned in panels when men take Y DNA tests.

Every man who takes a Y DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA receives STR results, shown above. How many marker results he receives depends on the level of the test he orders. In the past, 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 marker tests were available to purchase individually. Men could also upgrade to higher level tests. 500 and 700 STR marker results are only available when the Big Y test has been purchased.

Today, men can order the entry level 37 Y DNA test or a 111 marker test individually. However, a minimum of 700 STR markers are included in the Big Y-700 test, in addition to SNP results, which we will talk about in a minute.

Matching is Key

However, the benefit isn’t in the STR markers themselves, but in matching to other men. The markers are just the tool used – but the more information you have, the better the result.

STR results are used to match all Y DNA testers against each other. Matches are shown at each marker level.

My Estes male cousin has tested at the Big Y 700 level. He is matched against all other men who have taken a Y DNA test. He can see who he matches at 12 through 111 markers separately. For each man that he matches, if they have taken the Big Y test, he can see how closely he matches at the 500 or 700 marker level too.

This Estes match to my Estes cousin, shown above, has tested at 111 markers, but has not taken the Big Y test, so he has no STR markers above 111. He mismatches my cousin with 1 STR marker difference at 111 markers. That’s pretty close.

Additionally, we can see that the match’s haplogroup has been estimated as R-M269 based on STR results. For a more specific haplogroup, either individual SNP markers must be tested, or an upgrade to the Big Y-700 test can be ordered. I don’t recommend individual SNP marker testing anymore because the Big Y gives you so much more for your money by scanning for all Y DNA mutations.

Big Y-700 and SNPs

The only way to obtain the most detailed Y DNA haplogroup is to take a Big Y test. The Big Y test scans the Y chromosome to search for SNP mutations. The Big Y test doesn’t test any one specific location, like STRs or individual SNP tests, but scans for all mutations – currently known and previously unknown. That’s the beauty. You don’t have to tell it what to look for. The Big Y test scans and looks for everything useful.

More than 200,000 men in the FamilyTreeDNA database have been SNP tested and more than 450,000 variants, or mutations, have been found in Big Y tests. The database grows every single day. Sometimes DNA matching is a waiting game, with your DNA available for matching 24X7. When your DNA is working for you, you just never know when that critical match will be forthcoming.

The Big Y test keeps giving over time, because new variants (mutations) are discovered and eventually named as haplogroups. Many new haplogroups are based on what can best be called family line mutations.

Initially, SNP results and haplogroups were so far up the tree that often, they weren’t genealogically relevant, but that’s NOT the case anymore.

Today, SNP results from the Big Y-700 test are sometimes MORE relevant and dependable than STR results.

Each man receives a very refined personal haplogroup, known colloquially as their terminal SNP, often FAR down the tree from the estimated haplogroup provided with STR testing alone.

After Big Y testing, my cousin is now haplogroup R-ZS3700 instead of R-M269. R-M269 was accurate as far as it went, but only the Big Y test can provide this level of detail which is quite useful.

The Block Tree Divides Lines for You

The Block Tree is provided for all Big Y testers.

Looking at the Block Tree for my cousin, you can see that he and several other primarily Estes men either share the same haplogroup or parent/child haplogroups.

My cousin in R-ZS3700, while R-BY490 is the parent haplogroup of R-ZS3700, and R-BY154784 is a child haplogroup of R-ZS3700.

R-M269 is more than 15 haplogroup branches upstream of my cousin’s R-ZS3700.

You can also easily see that Estes men fall onto different “twigs” of the tree, and those twigs are very genealogically significant. Each column above is a twig, representing a distinct genealogical lineage. Taking the Big Y test separates men into their ancestral branches which can be genealogically associated with specific men.

My cousin is R-ZS3700, along with one other man. Two more men form R-BY154784, a subgroup of R-ZS3700, which means they descend from a specific man who descends from Moses Estes. All of these men descend from R-BY490 and all of those men descend from R-BY482, the parent of R-BY490, as shown on the public haplotree, here.

Men who take the Big Y test ALSO receive separate SNP matching – meaning they have both STR and SNP matching which provides testers with two separate tools to use.

Of course, the only men who will be shown as SNP matches are the men who have taken the Big Y test.

Ok, how is this information useful?

Project View

Looking at the Estes DNA project, you can see that two men who have joined the project carry haplogroup R-ZS3700. Several others descend from that same genealogical line according to their paper trail, and STR matches, but have not taken the Big Y-700 test.

As the project administrator, I’ve grouped these men by their known ancestor, and then, in some cases, I’ve used their terminal SNP to further group them. For example, one man, kit 491887, doesn’t know which Estes line he descends from, but I can confidently group him in Estes Group 4 based on his haplogroup of R-ZS3700.

I can also use STR matching and autosomal matching to further refine his match group if needed for the project. But guaranteed, he’ll need to use both of those additional tools to figure out who his Estes ancestors are.

He was absolutely thrilled to be grouped under Moses Estes, because at least now he has something to work his paper trail backwards towards.

Test Summary

Men who take STR tests alone, meaning 12-111 only, receive STR matching and an estimated haplogroup.

Men who take the Big Y test receive STR results and matches, PLUS the most refined haplogroup possible, many additional STR markers, separate SNP matches and block tree placement.

STR 12-111 Tests Only Big Y-700 Test
STR markers through 111 Yes, depending on test level purchased Yes
STR marker matching with other men Yes Yes
STR markers from 112-700 Only if the tester purchases a Big Y upgrade Yes
Estimated haplogroup Yes Haplogroup is fully tested, not estimated
Tested, most refined haplogroup Not without an upgrade to the Big Y-700 test Yes
SNP Matching No Yes
Block Tree No Yes

Genealogy

Recently, someone asked me how to use these tools separately and together. That’s a great question.

First, if there is a data conflict, SNP results are much more stable than STRs. STRs mutate much more often and sometimes back mutate to the original value which in essence looks like a mutation never happened. Furthermore, sometimes STR markers mutate to the same value independently, meaning that two men share the same mutation – making it look like they descend from the same line – but they don’t.

Before the Big Y tests were available, the only Y DNA tools we had were STR matches and individual SNP mutations. From time to time, one of the STR markers would mutate back to the original value which caused me, as a project administrator, to conclude that men without that specific line-marker mutation were not descended from that line, when in fact, that man’s line had experienced a back-mutation.

How do I know that? When the men involved both took the Big Y-700 test, they have a lineage defining haplogroup that proved that there had been a back-mutation in the STR data and the men in question were in fact from the line originally thought.

Thank goodness for the Big Y test.

STRs and SNPs Working in Tandem

Click any image to enlarge

Looking at the Estes project again, the R-ZS3700 SNP defines the Moses Estes (born 1711) line, a son of the immigrant, Abraham Estes. The men grouped together above are descendants of Moses’s great-grandson. You can see that if I were to use STR markers alone, I would have divided this group into two based on the values of the two bottom kits. However, both genealogy and SNP/haplogroups prove that indeed, the genealogy is accurate.

STR markers alone are inconclusive at best and potentially deceptive if we used only those markers without additional information.

However, we don’t always have the luxury of upgrading every man to the Big Y-700 test. Some testers are deceased, some don’t have enough DNA left and cannot submit a new swab, and some simply aren’t interesting.

When we don’t have the more refined Big Y test, the STR markers and matches are certainly valuable.

Furthermore, STR markers can sometimes provide lineages WITHIN haplogroups.

For example, let’s say that in the example above the two men at the bottom were a distinct line of men descended from one specific descendant of Moses Estes. If that were the case, then the STR markers would be very valuable within the R-ZS3700 haplogroup. Maybe I need to reevaluate their genealogy and see if there are any new clues available now that were not available before.

STRs Within Match Groups

Using a different example, I can’t group these Estes men any more closely based on their genealogy or SNP results.

Only two men in this group have taken a Big Y test – those with haplogroup R-BY490. Unfortunately, this haplogroup only confirms that these men descend from the Estes lineage that immigrated to America and that they are NOT from the Moses Estes line. That’s useful, but not enough.

Two other men have taken individual SNP tests, R-DF49 and R-L21 which are not useful in this context. They don’t reach far enough down the tree.

We need more information. Fortunately, we have some.

We have two clusters of STR markers. We can see that three men have a purple grouping of 24 at marker DYS390 (the header with STR marker names is not shown in the screen shot) and a grouping of men that share a mutation of 12 at marker DYS391.

It’s likely, but not a given, that the men clustered together at the bottom with the 12 value descend from the same Estes male common ancestor. The men at the top with a value of both 12 and 24 could belong to that same cluster, with an additional small cluster of 24 further delineating their ancestor – OR – the mutation to 12 at location DYS391 could have arisen independently in two separate lines.

It’s also possible that back-mutations have occurred in some of the other men. We just don’t know.

If I were to advise these men, I’d strongly suggest that they all upgrade to the Big Y 700 with the hope that at least some of them would have SNPs that define existing or new haplogroups that would positively sort their lines.

Then, within those haplogroup groups, I’d focus on STR groupings, genealogy and possibly, autosomal results.

Evaluate All Three, Separately and Together

We have three separate tools (plus autosomal) that need to be considered together as well as separately.

  1. The first, of course, is known genealogy. However, Y DNA testing works well even without genealogy.
  2. Big Y haplogroup information combined with the block tree should be evaluated to define genetic lineages.
  3. STR groupings need to be evaluated separately from and within haplogroups and allow us to add people to the SNP-defined groups of testers. Known genealogy is important when using STR markers.

As a bonus, if the men have also taken the Family Finder test, some men may match each other autosomally as well as Y DNA, if the connection is close enough in time. Of course, Y DNA matches reach much further back in time than autosomal matching because Y DNA is never divided or combined with any DNA from the other parent.

Confirm or Refute

Genealogy can be either confirmed or refuted by either STR or SNP tests, independently or together.

Looking again at the public Estes DNA project, you can see that the first person in that group provided his genealogy as descending from the same Moses Estes line as the other men. However, the STR mutations clearly show that indeed, his genealogy is incorrect for some reason. He does not match any of the other men descended from Moses’s grandson or the rest of the Estes lineage.

This man’s haplogroup is estimated as R-M269, but were he to take the Big Y test, he would assuredly not be R-ZS3700. In fact, his STR markers match two men who have taken the Big Y-700 test and those two men share an entirely different haplogroup, not in the Estes or related branches at all. If this man were to take the Big Y-700 test, he would likely match that haplogroup.

Both STRs and SNPs can disprove a lineage relationship. As I mentioned earlier, of the two, SNPs are more reliable. Often SNPs are required to conclusively divide a group of men descended from a common ancestor.

STRs may or may not be useful, or correct, either without SNP-defined haplogroups, or within those haplogroups.

However, STRs, even alone, are a tool that should not be ignored, especially when we don’t have SNP data or it’s not conclusive.

A Different View

To literally look at this a different way, I prepared a pedigree type Y DNA haplogroup spreadsheet for the Estes Project at WikiTree. I’ve divided the information by ancestor and included haplogroups. You can view that spreadsheet, here, and you can then compare the colored groups with the Estes DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA which are grouped by ancestral line.

This is only a small portion of that pedigree showing the Moses lineage. The image is large, but you can see the entire spreadsheet (as of August 2020) here.

Of note, R-BY490 defines the entire Abraham Estes line (green above). Within that line, other SNP lineages have been defined, including R-ZS3700 and R-BY154784.

However, many lines have additional STR motifs that define or suggest associations with specific genealogical ancestral lines, as you can see in the Estes FamilyTreeDNA project, here. I’ve included only a snippet above.

Bottom Line

To answer the original question – yes you can and should use STR and SNP markers both separately and together. If you don’t have enough SNP data, use STR matches along with genealogy information and Family Finder results to augment what you do have.

The more Y DNA information you have in hand, the better prepared you are to analyze and utilize that information for genealogical purposes.

Do you have genealogical questions that Y DNA could potentially solve? What are they and can you find someone to test?

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DNA for Native American Genealogy – Hot Off the Press!

Drum roll please…my new book, DNA for Native American Genealogy, was just released today, published by Genealogical.com.

I’m so excited! I expected publication around the holidays. What a pleasant surprise.

This 190-page book has been a labor of love, almost a year in the making. There’s a lot.

  • Vendor Tools – The book incorporates information about how to make the best use of the autosomal DNA tools offered by all 4 of the major testing vendors; FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry, and 23andMe.
  • Chromosome Painting – I’ve detailed how to use DNAPainter to identify which ancestor(s) your Native heritage descends from by painting your population/ethnicity segments provided by FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe.
  • Y and Mitochondrial DNA – I’ve described how and when to utilize the important Y and mitochondrial DNA tests, for you and other family members.
  • Maps – Everyone wants to know about ancient DNA. I’ve included ancient DNA information complete with maps of ancient DNA sites by major Native haplogroups, gathered from many academic papers, as well as mapped contemporary DNA locations.
  • Haplogroups – Locations in the Americas, by haplogroup, where individual haplogroups and subgroups are found. Some haplogroups are regional in nature. If you happen to have one of these haplogroups, that’s a BIG HINT about where your ancestor lived.
  • Tribes – Want to know, by tribe, which haplogroups have been identified? Got you covered there too.
  • Checklist – I’ve provided a checklist type of roadmap for you to follow, along with an extensive glossary.
  • Questions – I’ve answered lots of frequently asked questions. For example – what about joining a tribe? I’ve explained how tribes work in the US and Canada, complete with links for relevant forms and further information.

But wait, there’s more…

New Revelations!!!

There is scientific evidence suggesting that two haplogroups not previously identified as Native are actually found in very low frequencies in the Native population. Not only do I describe these haplogroups, but I provide their locations on a map.

I hope other people will test and come forward with similar results in these same haplogroups to further solidify this finding.

It’s important to understand the criteria required for including these haplogroups as (potentially) Native. In general, they:

  • Must be found multiple times outside of a family group
  • Must be unexplained by any other scenario
  • Must be well-documented both genetically as well as using traditional genealogical records
  • Must be otherwise absent in the surrounding populations

This part of the research for the book was absolutely fascinating to me.

Description

Here’s the book description at Genealogical.com:

DNA for Native American Genealogy is the first book to offer detailed information and advice specifically aimed at family historians interested in fleshing out their Native American family tree through DNA testing.

Figuring out how to incorporate DNA testing into your Native American genealogy research can be difficult and daunting. What types of DNA tests are available, and which vendors offer them? What other tools are available? How is Native American DNA determined or recognized in your DNA? What information about your Native American ancestors can DNA testing uncover? This book addresses those questions and much more.

Included are step-by-step instructions, with illustrations, on how to use DNA testing at the four major DNA testing companies to further your genealogy and confirm or identify your Native American ancestors. Among the many other topics covered are the following:

    • Tribes in the United States and First Nations in Canada
    • Ethnicity
    • Chromosome painting
    • Population Genetics and how ethnicity is assigned
    • Genetic groups and communities
    • Y DNA paternal direct line male testing for you and your family members
    • Mitochondrial DNA maternal direct line testing for you and your family members
    • Autosomal DNA matching and ethnicity comparisons
    • Creating a DNA pedigree chart
    • Native American haplogroups, by region and tribe
    • Ancient and contemporary Native American DNA

Special features include numerous charts and maps; a roadmap and checklist giving you clear instructions on how to proceed; and a glossary to help you decipher the technical language associated with DNA testing.

Purchase the Book and Participate

I’ve included answers to questions that I’ve received repeatedly for many years about Native American heritage and DNA. Why Native DNA might show in your DNA, why it might not – along with alternate ways to seek that information.

You can order DNA for Native American Genealogy, here.

For customers in Canada and outside the US, you can use the Amazon link, here, to reduce the high shipping/customs costs.

I hope you’ll use the information in the book to determine the appropriate tests for your situation and fully utilize the tools available to genealogists today to either confirm those family rumors, put them to rest – or maybe discover a previously unknown Native ancestor.

Please feel free to share this article with anyone who might be interested.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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Sitting Bull’s Hair Confirms Relationship With Great-Grandson

Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake, known as the legendary Lakota warrior and leader, Sitting Bull, was born about 1831 and was killed in 1890. You’ll probably remember him for his victory over Custer and his troops in 1876 at the Battle of Little Big Horn, known as the Battle of Greasy Grass to the Native people and as Custer’s Last Stand colloquially.

By Orlando Scott Goff – Heritage Auctions, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27530348

Pictured here, Sitting Bull was photographed in 1881.

After Sitting Bull’s murder, his scalp lock, a braided length of hair used to hold his feather in place was cut from his body as a souvenir of the grizzly event. In 1896, the scalp lock along with his leggings were donated to and held by the Smithsonian Museum for more than a century before being returned to his family in 2007. Sitting Bull’s great-grandson, Ernie LaPointe, now in his 70s, along with his three sisters are Sitting Bull’s closest living relatives.

The family needed to unquestionably prove a familial connection to be allowed to make decisions about Sitting Bull’s gravesite and remains. Genetic analysis was employed to augment traditional genealogical records. According to Ernie, “over the years, many people have tried to question the relationship that I and my sisters have to Sitting Bull.”

After the return of Sitting Bull’s scalp lock to Ernie LaPointe, Professor Eske Willerslev, one of the pioneers in ancient DNA, contacted Ernie and offered to assist the family by analyzing the hair sample.

By Von Bern – Sitting Bull family portrait, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49894969

Original text from the back of the above image:

“4 generations of Sitting Bull: Sitting Bull, two wives, their daughter, her daughter, her baby” “Copy from Mrs. Edward M. Johnson collection Spiritwood, N. Dak.” Sitting Bull and family 1882 at Ft Randall rear L-R Good Feather Woman (sister), Walks Looking (daughter) front L-R Her Holy Door (mother), Sitting Bull, Many Horses (daughter) with her son, Courting a Woman

LaPointe and his sisters descend from Sitting Bull through their mother, through one of Sitting Bull’s three daughters, so neither Y nor mitochondrial DNA were options to prove that they were the great-grandchildren of Sitting Bull. Generally, neither Y nor mitochondrial DNA establish exact recent relationships, but confirm or disprove lineage relationships.

DNA From Sitting Bull’s Hair

In 2007, obtaining autosomal DNA from hair was virtually impossible, even from contemporary hair, let alone hair that’s more than a century old. However, today, the technology involved has improved. Additionally, it’s also possible that some of the DNA from Sitting Bull’s skin or skin flakes were held within the scalp lock itself.

The fact that the hair had been treated with arsenic for preservation while in the possession of the Smithsonian made DNA analysis even more difficult. Unlike traditional contemporary DNA tests, a full autosomal sequence was not able to be obtained. Small fragments of autosomal DNA from the braid were able to be pieced together well enough to compare to Ernie LaPointe and other Lakota people, showing that Ernie and his family match Sitting Bull’s hair more closely than other Lakota.

The academic paper published by Willerslev, with other researchers and authors including LaPointe provides the following abstract:

Only a small portion of the braid was utilized for the analysis. The rest was burned in a spiritual ceremony. You can read the scientific paper, here.

This analysis of Sitting Bull’s hair opens the door for the remains in the two potential burial sites to be evaluated to see if they match the DNA retrieved from the scalp lock – enabling the family to rebury Sitting Bull in a location of their choice.

You can read additional coverage, here, here, here, and here.

Establishing a Relationship

Sitting Bull’s DNA is considered ancient DNA because it’s not contemporary, and it was degraded. But the definition of ancient needs to be put in context.

Sitting Bull’s “ancient DNA” is not the same thing as “ancient DNA” from thousands of years ago. In part, because we know positively that the DNA from thousands of years ago will not match anyone genealogically today – although it may match people at a population level (or by chance) with small fragments of DNA. We know the identity of Sitting Bull, who, on the other hand, would be expected to match close family members and other more distantly related members of the tribe.

Ernie and his sisters are great-grandchildren of Sitting Bull, so they would be expected to share about 887 cM of DNA in total, ranging from 485 cM to 1486 cM.

In an endogamous population, one could be expected to share even more total DNA, but that additional DNA would likely be in smaller fragments, not contiguous segments.

Great-Grandchildren Matches

For example, two great-grandchildren match their great-grandmother on 902 cM and 751 cM of DNA, respectively, with a longest contiguous block of 130 cM and 72 cM.

Another pair matches a great-grandfather at 1051 cM and 970 cM, with longest blocks of 220 cM and 141 cM.

A person would be expected to share about 12.5% of their autosomal DNA with a given great-grandparent. I wrote about how much we can expect to inherit, on average, from any ancestor, here.

In terms of the types of DNA matches that we are used to for genealogy, a great-grandparent would be one of our closest matches. Other relationships that could share about the same amount of DNA include a great-aunt/uncle/niece or nephew, a half-aunt/uncle/niece or nephew, a first cousin, half first cousin, first cousin once removed, or a great-grandchild.

Courtesy of DNAPainter

Since Sitting Bull’s DNA was extracted from hair, and we know unquestionably where that hair had been since 1896 when it was donated to the Smithsonian, we can eliminate some of those relationships. Furthermore, the genetic analysis supports the genealogical records.

What About Hair, DNA, and Your Genealogy?

I’m sure you’re wondering how this applies to you and your genealogy.

Like so many other people, I have a hair WITH a follicle belonging to my father and letters written by my paternal grandfather in envelopes that I hope he licked to seal. I tried several years ago, at different times, unsuccessfully. to have both of their DNA extracted to use for genealogy. Not only were the endeavors unsuccessful, but those attempts were also VERY expensive.

IT’S NOT SOUP YET!

I know how desperately we want to utilize those items for our genealogy, but the technology still is not ripe yet. Not then and not now. At least, not for regular consumers.

Remember that this extraction took a very specialized ancient DNA lab and many highly skilled individuals. It also took a total of 14 years. The DNA obtained was highly fragmented and had to be reassembled, with lots of pieces still missing. Then it had to be compared to currently living individuals. The ancient DNA autosomal file, like other autosomal forensic files, would NOT pass quality control at any of the DNA processing companies today, where the required QA pass rate is in the ballpark of 98%.

This type of ancient DNA extraction has only been successfully done using autosomal DNA once before, in 2015 on the remains of someone who died in 1916. While Y and mitochondrial DNA has been used to rule out, or *not* rule out direct patrilineal or matrilineal relationships in other burials, highly degraded autosomal DNA is much more difficult to utilize to establish relationships. The relationships must be close in nature so that enough of the genome can be reconstructed to infer a close familial relationship

I realize that more than one company has entered this space over the past several years, and you might also notice that they have either exited said space or are have not achieved any measure of reproducible success. Do NOT chance a valuable irreplaceable sample to any company just yet. This type of processing is not a standard offering – but ongoing research opens the door for more improvement in the future. I still have my fingers crossed.

If you are interested in preserving your items, such as hair, teeth, hairbrushes, electric razors, etc. for future analysis, be sure to keep them in paper, preferably acid-free (archival) paper, NOT plastic, and in a relatively temperature-controlled environment. By that, I mean NOT in the attic and NOT in a humid basement. Someplace in the house, comfortable for regular humans, and not sealed in a ziplock baggie. Don’t touch or handle them either.

Test Older Relatives NOW!

If you can test your oldest relatives, do it now. Grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts/uncles. All of your oldest family members. Don’t wait.

FamilyTreeDNA performs the test you order and is the only DNA testing company that archives the DNA sample for 25 years. The remaining DNA is available to order upgrades or new products as technology advances.

That’s exactly how and why some younger people have great-grandparent DNA available for matching today, even if their great-grandparents have walked on to the other side and joined Sitting Bull.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch

Today, I’m reviewing the exciting new AutoSegment Triangulation Cluster Tool at GEDmatch. I love it because this automated tool can be as easy or complex as you want.

It’s easy because you just select your options, run it, and presto, you receive all kinds of useful results. It’s only complex if you want to understand the details of what’s really happening beneath the hood, or you have a complex problem to unravel. The great news is that this one tool does both.

I’ve taken a deep dive with this article so that you can use AutoSegment either way.

Evert-Jan “EJ” Blom, creator of Genetic Affairs has partnered with GEDmatch to provide AutoSegment for GEDmatch users. He has also taken the time to be sure I’ve presented things correctly in this article. Thanks, EJ!

My recommendation is to read this article by itself first to understand the possibilities and think about how you can utilize these results. Then, at GEDmatch, select the AutoSegment Report option and see what treasures await!

Genetic Affairs

Genetic Affairs offers a wide variety of clustering tools that help genealogists break down their brick walls by showing us, visually, how our matches match us and each other. I’ve written several articles about Genetic Affairs’ tools and how to use them, here.

Every DNA segment that we have originated someplace. First, from one of our parents, then from one of our 4 grandparents, and so forth, on up our tree. The further back in time we go, the smaller the segments from those more distant ancestors become, until we have none for a specific ancestor, or at least none over the matching threshold.

The keyword in that sentence is segment, because we can assign or attribute DNA segments to ancestors. When we find that we match someone else on that same segment inherited from the same parent, assuming the match is identical by descent and not identical by chance, we then know that somehow, we shared a common ancestor. Either an ancestor we’ve already identified, or one that remains a mystery.

Those segments can and will reveal ancestors and tell us how we are related to our matches.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that not every vendor provides segment information. For example, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage all do, but Ancestry does not.

For Ancestry testers, and people wishing to share segment information with Ancestry testers, all is not lost.

Everyone can download a copy of their raw DNA data file and upload those files to vendors who accept uploads, including FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and of course GEDmatch.

GEDmatch

GEDmatch does not offer DNA testing services, specializing instead in being the common matching denominator and providing advanced tools. GEDmatch recently received a facelift. If you don’t recognize the image above, you probably haven’t signed in to GEDmatch recently, so take a look. The AutoSegment tool is only available on the new version, not the Classic version.

Ancestry customers, as well as people testing elsewhere, can download their DNA files from the testing vendor and upload the files to GEDmatch, availing themselves of both the free and Tier 1 subscription tools.

I’ve written easy step-by-step download/upload instructions for each vendor, here.

At GEDmatch, matching plus a dozen tools are free, but the Tier 1 plan for $10 per month provides users with another 14 advanced tools, including AutoSegment.

To get started, click on the AutoSegment option.

AutoSegment at GEDmatch

You’ll see the GEDmatch AutoSegment selection menu.

You can easily run as many AutoSegment reports as you want, so I suggest starting with the default values to get the lay of the land. Then experiment with different options.

At GEDmatch, AutoSegment utilizes your top 3000 matches. What a huge, HUGE timesaver.

Just a couple of notes about options.

  • My go-to number of SNPs is 500 (or larger,) and I’m always somewhat wary of matches below that level because there is an increased likelihood of identical by chance segments when the required number of segment matching locations is smaller.
  • GEDmatch has to equalize DNA files produced by different vendors, including no-calls where certain areas don’t read. Therefore, there are blank spaces in some files where there is data in other vendors’ files. The “Prevent Hard Breaks” option allows GEDmatch to “heal” those files by allowing longer stretches of “missing” DNA to be considered a match if the DNA on both sides of that blank space matches.
  • “Remove Segments in Known Pile-Up Regions” is an option that instructs GEDmatch NOT to show segments in parts of the human genome that are known to have pile-up regions. I generally don’t select this option, because I want to see those matches and determine for myself if they are valid. We’ll look at a few comparative examples in the Pileup section of this article.

Fortunately, you can experiment with each of these settings one by one to see how they affect your matching. Even if you don’t normally subscribe to GEDmatch, you can subscribe for only one month to experiment with this and other Tier 1 tools.

Your AutoSegment results will be delivered via a download link.

Save and Extract

All Genetic Affairs cluster files are delivered in a zipped file.

You MUST DO TWO THINGS, or these files won’t work correctly.

  1. Save the zip file to your computer.
  2. Extract the files from the zip file. If you’re on a PC, right-click on the zip file and EXTRACT ALL. This extracts the files from the zipped file to be used individually.

If you click on a feature and receive an error message, it’s probably because you either didn’t save the file to your computer or didn’t extract the files.

The file name is very long, so if you try to add the file to a folder that is also buried a few levels deep on your system, you may encounter problems when extracting your file. Putting the file on your desktop so you can access it easily while working is a good idea.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

Your AutoSegment Cluster File

Click on the largest HTML file in the list of your extracted files. The HTML file uses the files in the clusters and matches folders, so you don’t need to open those individually.

It’s fun to watch your clusters fly into place. I love this part.

If your file is too large and your system is experiencing difficulty or your browser locks, just click on the smaller AutoSegment HTML file, at the bottom of the list, which is the same information minus the pretty cluster.

Word to the wise – don’t get excited and skip over the three explanatory sections just below your cluster. Yes, I did that and had to go back and read to make sense of what I was seeing.

At the bottom of this explanatory section is a report about Pileup Regions that I’ll discuss at the end of this article.

Excel

As a third viewing option, you can also open the AutoSegment Excel file to view the results in an excel grid.

You’ll notice a second sheet at the bottom of this spreadsheet page that says AutoSegment-segment-clusters. If you click on that tab, you’ll see that your clusters are arranged in chromosome and cluster order, in the same format as long-time genetic genealogist Jim Bartlett uses in his very helpful blog, segment-ology.

You’ll probably see a message at the top of the spreadsheet asking if you want to enable editing. In order for the start and end locations to calculate, you must enable editing. If the start and end locations are zeroes, look for the editing question.

Notice that the colors on this sheet are coordinated with the clusters on the first sheet.

EJ uses yellow rows as cluster dividers. The “Seg” column in the yellow row indicates the number of people in this cluster group, meaning before the next yellow divider row. “Chr” is the chromosome. “Segment TG” is the triangulation group number and “Side” is Jim Bartlett’s segment tracking calculation number.

Of course, the Centimorgans column is the cM size, and the number of matching SNPs is provided.

You can read about how Jim Bartlett tracks his segment clusters, here, which includes discussions of the columns and how they are used.

Looking at each person in the cluster groups by chromosome, *WS matches me and *Cou, the other person in the cluster beginning and ending at the start and end location on chromosome 1. In the match row (as compared with the yellow dividing row,) Column F, “Seg,” tells you the number of segments where *WA matches me, the tester.

A “*” before the match name at GEDmatch means a pseudonym or alias is being used.

In order to be included in the AutoSegment report, a match must triangulate with you and at least one other person on (at least) one of those segments. However, in the individual match reports, shown below, all matching segments are provided – including ones NOT in segment clusters.

Individual DNA Matches

In the HTML file, click on *WA.

You’ll see the three segments where *WA matches you, or me in this case. *WA triangulates with you and at least one other person on at least one of these segments or *WA would not be included in the GEDmatch AutoSegment report.

However, *WA may only triangulate on one segment and simply match you on the other two – or *WA may triangulate on more than one segment. You’ll have to look at the other sections of this report to make that determination.

Also, remember that this report only includes your top 3000 matches.

AutoSegment

All Genetic Affairs tools begin with an AutoCluster which is a grouping of people who all match you and some of whom match each other in each colored cluster.

AutoSegment at GEDmatch begins with an AutoCluster as well, but with one VERY IMPORTANT difference.

AutoSegment clusters at GEDmatch represent triangulation of three people, you and two other people, in AT LEAST ONE LOCATION. Please note that you and they may also match in other locations where three people don’t triangulate.

By matching versus triangulation, I’m referring to the little individual cells which show the intersection of two of your matches to each other.

Regular AutoCluster reports, meaning NOT AutoSegment clusters at GEDmatch, include overlapping segment matches between people, even if they aren’t on the same chromosome and/or don’t overlap entirely. A colored cell in AutoSegment at GEDmatch means triangulation, while a colored cell in other types of AutoCluser reports means match, but not necessarily triangulation.

Match information certainly IS useful genealogically, but those two matching people in that cell:

  • Could be matching on unrelated chromosomes.
  • Could be matching due to different ancestors.
  • Could be matching each other due to an ancestor you don’t have.
  • May or may not triangulate.

Two people who have a colored cell intersection in an AutoSegment Cluster at GEDmatch are different because these cells don’t represent JUST a match, they represent a TRIANGULATED match.

Triangulation tightens up these matches by assuring that all three people, you and the two other people in that cell, match each other on a sufficient overlapping segment (10 cM in this case) on the same chromosome which increases the probability that you do in fact share a common ancestor.

I wrote about the concept of triangulation in my article about triangulation at GEDmatch, but AutoSegment offers a HUGE shortcut where much of the work is done for you. If you’re not familiar with triangulation, it’s still a good idea to read that article, along with A Triangulation Checklist Born From the Question; “Why NOT use Close Relatives for Triangulation?”

Let’s take a look at my AutoSegment report from GEDmatch.

AutoSegment Clusters at GEDmatch

A total of 195 matches are clustered into a total of 32 colored clusters. I’m only showing a portion of the clusters, above.

I’ve blurred the names of my matches in my AutoSegment AutoCluster, of course, but each cell represents the intersection of two people who both match and triangulate with me and each other. If the two people match and triangulate with each other and others in the same cluster, they are colored the same as their cluster matches.

For example, all 18 of the people in the orange cluster match me and each other on one (or more) chromosome segments. They all triangulate with me and at least one other person, or they would not appear in a colored cell in this report. They triangulate with me and every other person with whom they have a colored cell.

If you mouse over a colored cell, you can see the identity of those two people at that intersection and who else they match in common. Please note that me plus the two people in any cell do triangulate. However, me plus two people in a different cell in the same cluster may triangulate on a different segment. Everyone matches in an intricate grid, but different segments on different chromosomes may be involved.

You can see in this example that my cousin, Deb matches Laurene and both Deb and Laurene match these other people on a significant amount of DNA in that same cluster.

What happens when people match others within a cluster, but also match people in other colored clusters too?

Multiple Cluster Matches = Grey Cells

The grey cells indicate people who match in multiple clusters, showing the match intersection outside their major or “home” cluster. When you see a grey cell, think “AND.” That person matches everyone in the colored cell to the left of that grey cell, AND anyone in a colored cell below grey cells too. Any of your matches could match you and any number of other people in other cells/clusters as well. It’s your lucky day!

Deb’s matches are all shown in row 4. She and I both match all of the orange cluster people as well as several others in other clusters, indicated by grey cells.

I’m showing Deb’s grey cell that indicates that she also matches people in cluster #5, the large brown cluster. When I mouse over that grey cell, it shows that Deb (orange cluster) and Daniel (brown cluster) both match a significant number of people in both clusters. That means these clusters are somehow connected.

Looking at the bigger picture, without mousing over any particular cell, you can see that a nontrivial number of people match between the first several clusters. Each of these people match strongly within their primary-colored cluster, but also match in at least one additional cluster. Some people will match people in multiple clusters, which is a HUGE benefit when trying to identify the source ancestor of a specific segment.

Let’s look at a few examples. Remember, all of these people match you, so the grid shows how they also match with each other.

#1 – In the orange cluster, the top 5 rows, meaning the first 5 people on the left side list match other orange cluster members, but they ALSO match people in the brown cluster, below. A grey cell is placed in the column of the person they also match in the brown cluster.

#2 – The two grey cells bracketed in the second example match someone in the small red cluster above, but one person also matches someone in the small purple cluster and the other person matches someone in the brown cluster.

#3 – The third example shows one person who matches a number of people in the brown cluster in addition to every person in the magenta cluster below.

#4 – This long, bracketed group shows several people who match everyone in the orange cluster, some of whom also match people in the green cluster, the red cluster, the brown cluster, and the magenta cluster. Clearly, these clusters are somehow related to each other.

Always look at the two names involved in an individual cell and work from there.

The goal, of course, is to identify and associate these clusters with ancestors, or more specifically, ancestral couples, pushing back in time, as we identify the common ancestors of individuals in the cluster.

For example, the largest orange cluster represents my paternal grandparents. The smaller clusters that have shared members with the large orange cluster represent ancestors in that lineage.

Identifying the MRCA, or most recent common ancestor with our matches in any cluster tells us where those common segments of DNA originated.

Chromosome Segments from Clusters

As you scroll down below your cluster, you’ll notice a section that describes how you can utilize these results at DNAPainter.

While GEDmatch can’t automatically determine which of your matches are maternal and paternal, you can import them, by colored cluster, to DNAPainter where you can identify clusters to ancestors and paint them on your maternal and paternal chromosomes. I’ve written about how to use DNAPainter here.

Let’s scroll to the next section in your AutoSegment file.

Chromosome Segment Statistics

The next section of your file shows “Chromosome segment statistics per AutoSegment cluster.”

I need to take a minute here to describe the difference between:

  1. Colored clusters on your AutoCluster diagram, shown below, and
  2. Chromosome segment clusters or groups within each colored AutoSegment cluster

Remember, colored clusters are people, and you can match different people on different, sometimes multiple, chromosomes. Two people whose intersecting cell is colored triangulate on SOME segment but may also match on other segments that don’t triangulate with each other and you.

According to my “Chromosome segment statistics” report, my large orange AutoSegment cluster #1, above, includes:

  • 67 segments from all my matches
  • On five chromosomes (3, 5, 7, 10, 17)
  • That cluster into 8 separate chromosome segment clusters or groups within the orange cluster #1

This is much easier to visualize, so let’s take a look.

Chromosome Segment Clusters

Click on any cluster # in your report, above, to see the chromosome painting for that cluster. I’m clicking on my AutoSegment cluster #1 on the “Chromosome segment statistics” report that will reveal all of the segments in orange cluster #1 painted on my chromosomes.

The brightly colored painted segments show the triangulated segment locations on each chromosome. You can easily see the 8 different segment clusters in cluster #1.

Interestingly, three separate groups or chromosome clusters occur on chromosome 5. We’ll see in a few minutes that the segments in the third cluster on chromosome 5 overlaps with part of cluster #5. (Don’t confuse cluster number shown with a # and chromosome number. They are just coincidentally both 5 in this case.)

The next tool helps me visualize each of these segment clusters individually. Just scroll down.

You can mouse over the segment to view additional information, but I prefer the next tool because I can easily see how the DNA of the people who are included in this segment overlap with each other.

This view shows the individual chromosome clusters, or groups, contained entirely within the orange cluster #1. (Please note that you can adjust the column widths side to side by positioning the cursor at the edge of the column header and dragging.)

Fortunately, I recognize one of these matches, Deb, and I know exactly how she and I are related, and which ancestor we share – my great-grandparents.

Because these segments are triangulated, I know immediately that every one of these people share that segment with Deb and me because they inherited that segment of DNA from some common ancestor shared by me and Deb both.

To be very clear, these people may not share our exact same ancestor. They may share an ancestor upstream from Deb and my common ancestor. Regardless, these people, Deb, and I all share a segment I can assign at this point to my great-grandparents because it either came from them for everyone, or from an upstream ancestor who contributed it to one of my great-grandparents, who contributed it to me and Deb both.

Segment Clusters Entirely Linked

Clusters #2 and #3 are small and have common matches with people in cluster #1 as indicated by the grey cells, so let’s take a look.

I’m clicking on AutoSegment green cluster #2 which only has two cluster members.

I can see that the common triangulated segment between these two people and me occurs on chromosome 3.

This segment on chromosome 3 is entirely contained in green cluster #2, meaning no members of other clusters triangulate on this segment with me and these two people.

This can be a bit confusing, so let’s take it logically step by step.

Remember that the two people who triangulate in green cluster #2 also match people in orange cluster #1? However, the people from orange cluster #1 are NOT shown as members of green cluster #2.

This could mean that although the two people in the green cluster #2 match a couple of people in the orange cluster, they did not match the others, or they did not triangulate. This can be because of the minimum segment overlap threshold that is imposed.

So although there is a link between the people in the clusters, it is NOT sufficient for the green people to be included in the orange cluster and since the two matches triangulate on another segment, they become a separate green cluster.

In reality, you don’t need to understand exactly why members do or don’t fall into the clusters they do, you just need to understand generally how clustering and triangulation works. In essence, trust the tool if people are NOT included in multiple clusters. Click on each person individually to see which chromosomes they match you on, even if they don’t triangulate with others on all of those segments. At this point, I often run one-to-one matches, or other matching tools, to see exactly how people match me and each other.

However, if they ARE included in multiple partly linked clusters, that can be a HUGE bonus.

Let’s look at red cluster #3.

Segment Clusters Partly Linked

You can see that Mark, one of the members of red cluster #3 shares two triangulated segments, one on chromosome 4, and one on chromosome 10.

Mark and Glenn are members of cluster #3, but Glenn is not a member of the segment cluster/group on chromosome 4, only Iona and Mark.

Scrolling down, I can view additional information about the cluster members and the two segments that are held within red cluster #3.

Unlike green cluster #2 whose segment cluster/group is entirely confined to green cluster #2, red cluster #3 has NO segments entirely confined to members of red cluster #3.

Cluster #3 has two members, Mark and Glen. Mark and Glen, along with Val who is a member of orange cluster #1 triangulate on chromosome 10. Remember, I said that chromosome 10 would be important in a minute when we were discussing orange cluster #1. Now you know why.

This segment of chromosome 10 triangulates in both orange cluster #1 AND red cluster #3.

However, Mark, who is a red cluster #3 member also triangulates with Iona and me on a segment of chromosome 4. This segment also appears in AutoSegment brown cluster #4 on chromosome 4.

Now, the great news is that I know my earliest known ancestors with Iona, which means that I can assign this segment to my paternal great-great-grandparents.

If I can identify a common ancestor with some of these other people, I may be able to push segments back further in time to an earlier ancestral couple.

Identifying Common Ancestors

Of course, review each cluster’s members to see if you recognize any of your cousins.

If you don’t know anyone, how do you identify a common ancestor? You can email the person, of course, but GEDmatch also facilitates uploading GEDCOM files which are trees.

In your primary AutoSegment file, keep scrolling to see who has trees.

AutoSegment Cluster Information

If you continue to scroll down in your original HTML file, you’ll see AutoSegment Cluster Information.

For each cluster, all members are listed. It’s easy to see which people have uploaded trees. You can click to view and can hopefully identify an ancestor or at least a surname.

Click on “tree” to view your match’s entry, then on Pedigree to see their tree.

If your matches don’t have a tree, I suggest emailing and sharing what you do know. For example, I can tell my matches in cluster #1 that I know this line descends from Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy, their birth and death dates and location, and encourage my match to view my tree which I have uploaded to GEDmatch.

If you happen to have a lot of matches with trees, you can create a tag group and run the AutoTree analysis on this tag group to identify common ancestors automatically. AutoTree is an amazing tool that identifies common ancestors in the trees of your matches, even if they aren’t in your tree. I wrote about AutoTree, here.

Pileup Regions

Whether you select “Remove Segments in Known Pileup Regions” or not when you select the options to run AutoSegment, you’ll receive a report that you can access by a link in the Explanation of AutoSegment Analysis section. The link is buried at the bottom of those paragraphs that I said not to skip, and many people don’t even see it. I didn’t at first, but it’s most certainly worth reviewing.

What Are Pileup Regions?

First, let’s talk about what pileup regions are, and why we observe them.

Some regions of the human genome are known to be more similar than others, for various reasons.

In these regions, people are more likely to match other people simply because we’re human – not specifically because we share a common ancestor.

EJ utilizes a list of pileup regions, based on the Li et al 2014 paper.

You may match other people on these fairly small segments because humans, generally, are more similar in these regions.

Many of those segments are too small to be considered a match by themselves, although if you happen to match on an adjacent segment, the pileup region could extend your match to appear to be more significant than it is.

If you select the “remove pileup segments” option, and you overlap any pileup region with 4.00 cM or larger, the entire matching segment that includes that region will be removed from the report no matter how large the matching segment is in total.

Here’s an example where the pileup region of 5.04 cM is right in the middle of a matching segment to someone. This entire 15.04 cM segment will be removed.

If those end segments are both 10 cM each instead of 5 cM, the segment will still be removed.

However, if the segment overlap with the pileup region is 3.99 cM or smaller, none of the resulting segment will be removed, so long as the entire segment is over the matching threshold in the first place. In the example above, if the AutoSegment threshold was 7 or 8 cM, the entire segment would be retained. If the matching threshold was 9 or greater, the segment would not have been included because of the threshold.

Of course, eight regions in the pileup chart are large enough to match without any additional adjacent segments if the match threshold is 7 cM and the overlap is exact. If the match threshold is 10 cM, only two pileup regions will possibly match by themselves. However, because those two regions are so large, we are more likely to see multiple matches in those regions.

Having a match in a pileup region does NOT invalidate that match. I have many matches in pileup regions that are perfectly valid, often extending beyond that region and attributable to an identified common ancestor.

You may also have pileup regions, in the regions shown in the chart and elsewhere, because of other genealogical reasons, including:

  • Endogamy, where your ancestors descend from a small, intermarried population, either through all or some of your ancestors. The Jewish population is probably the most well-known example of large-scale endogamy over a very long time period.
  • Pedigree collapse, where you descend from the same ancestors in multiple ways in a genealogical timeframe. Endogamy can reach far back in time. With pedigree collapse, you know who your ancestors are and how you descend, but with endogamy, you don’t.
  • Because you descend from an over-represented or over-tested group, such as the Acadians who settled in Nova Scotia in the early 1600s, intermarried and remained relatively isolated until 1755 when they were expelled. Their numerous descendants have settled in many locations. Acadian descendants often have a huge number of Acadian matches.
  • Some combination of all three of the above reasons. Acadians are a combination of both endogamy and pedigree collapse and many of their descendants have tested.

In my case, I have proportionally more Acadian matches than I have other matches, especially given that my Dutch and some of my German lines have few matches because they are recent immigrants with few descendants in the US. This dichotomy makes the proportional difference even more evident and glaring.

I want to stress here that pileup regions are not necessarily bad. In fact, they may provide huge clues to why you match a particular group of people.

Pileup Regions and Genealogy

In 2016, when Ancestry removed matches that involved personal pileup regions, segments that they felt were “too-matchy,” many of my lost matches were either Acadian or Mennonite/Brethren. Both groups are endogamous and experience pedigree collapse.

Over time, as I’ve worked with my DNA matches, painting my segments at DNAPainter, which marks pileup regions, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have more matches on segments spanning standard pileup regions indicated in the Li paper, nor are those matches unreliable.

An unreliable match might be signaled by people who match on that segment but descend from different unrelated common ancestors to me. Each segment tracks to one maternal and one paternal ancestral source, so if we find individuals matching on the same segment who claim descent from different ancestral lines on the same side, that’s a flag that something’s wrong. (That “something” could also be genealogy or descending from multiple ancestors.)

Therefore, after analyzing my own matching patterns, I don’t select the option to remove pileup segments and I don’t discount them. However, this may not be the right selection for everyone. Just remember, you can run the report as many times as your want, so nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Regardless of whether you select the remove pileup segments option or not, the report contents are very interesting.

Pileup Regions in the Report

Let’s take a look at Pileups in the AutoSegment report.

  • If I don’t select the option of removing pileup region segments, I receive a report that shows all of my segments.
  • If I do select the option to remove pileup region segments, here’s what my report says.

Based on the “remove pileup region segments” option selected, all segments should be removed in the pileup regions documented in the Li article if the match overlap is 4.00 cM or larger.

I want to be very clear here. The match itself is NOT removed UNLESS the pileup segment that IS removed causes the person not to be a match anymore. If that person still matches and triangulates on another segment over your selected AutoSegment threshold, those segments will still show.

I was curious about which of my chromosomes have the most matches. That’s exactly what the Pileup Report tells us.

According to the Pileup Report, my chromosome with the highest number of people matching is chromosome 5. The Y (vertical) axis shows the number of people that match on that segment, and the X axis across the bottom shows the match location on the chromosome.

You’ll recall that chromosome 5 was the chromosome from large orange AutoSegment cluster #1 with three distinct segment matches, so this makes perfect sense.

Sure enough, when I view my DNAPainter results, that first pileup region from about location 5-45 are Brethren matches (from my maternal grandfather) and the one from about 48-95 are Acadian matches (from my maternal grandmother.) This too makes sense.

Please note that chromosome 5 has no general pileup regions annotated in the Li table, so no segments would have been removed.

Let’s look at another example where some segments would be removed.

Based on the chromosome table from the Li paper, chromosome 15 has nearly back-to-back pileup regions from about 20-30 with almost 20 cM of DNA combined.

Let’s see what my Pileup Segment Removal Report for chromosome 15 shows.

No segment matches in this region are reported because I selected remove pileup regions.

The only way to tell how many segment matches were removed in this region is to run the report and NOT select the remove pileup segments option. I did that as a basis for comparison.

You can see that about three segments were removed and apparently one of those segments extended further than the other two. It’s also interesting that even though this is designated as a pileup region, I had fewer matches in this region than on other portions of the chromosome.

If I want to see who those segments belong to, I can just view my chromosome 15 results in the AutoSegment-segment-clusters tab in the spreadsheet view which is arranged neatly in chromosome order.

The only way to tell if matches in pileup regions are genealogically valid and relevant is to work with each match or group of matches and determine if they make sense. Does the match extend beyond the pileup region start and end edge? If so, how much? Can you identify a common ancestor or ancestral line, and if so, do the people who triangulate in that segment cluster makes sense?

Of course, my genealogy and therefore my experience will be different than other people’s. Anyone who descends primarily from an endogamous population may be very grateful for the “remove pileups” option. One size does NOT fit all. Fortunately, we have options.

You can run these reports as many times as you want, so you may want to run identical reports and compare a report that removes segments that occur in pileup regions with one that does not.

What’s Next?

For AutoSegment at GEDmatch to work most optimally, you’ll need to do three things:

  • If you don’t have one already, upload a raw DNA file from one of the testing vendors. Instructions here.
  • Upload a GEDCOM file. This allows you to more successfully run tools like AutoTree because your ancestors are present, and it helps other people too. Perhaps they will identify your common ancestor and contact you. You can always email your matches and suggest that they view your GEDCOM file to look for common ancestors or explain what you found using AutoTree. Anyone who has taken the time to learn about GEDmatch and upload a file might well be interested enough to make the effort to upload their GEDCOM file.
  • Convince relatives to upload their DNA files too or offer to upload for them. In my case, triangulating with my cousins is invaluable in identifying which ancestors are represented by each cluster.

If you have not yet uploaded a GEDCOM file to GEDmatch, now’s a great time while you’re thinking about it. You can see how useful AutoClusters and AutoSegment are, so give yourself every advantage in identifying common matches.

If you have a tree at Ancestry, you can easily download a copy and upload to GEDmatch. I wrote step-by-step instructions, here. Of course, you can upload any GEDCOM file from another source including your own desktop computer software.

You never know, using AutoSegment and AutoTree, you may just find common ancestors BETWEEN your matches that you aren’t aware of that might, just might, help you break down YOUR brick walls and find previously unknown ancestors.

AutoSegment tells you THAT you triangulate and exactly where. Now it’s up to you to figure out why.

Give AutoSegment at GEDmatch a try.

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WikiTree Challenge Fun – It’s My Turn!

For the past year, WikiTree has been having a weekly Challenge where volunteers work with the genealogy of guests.

Every Wednesday at 8 PM Eastern, a publicly viewable reveal is held for the guest from the week before, and the guest for the new week is introduced.

This week, I’m fortunate enough to be the guest and it’s going to be like Christmas early. If you’re interested, you can view last evening’s kickoff, here.

As an added bonus, Shelley, last week’s guest and I discovered that multiple of our ancestors lived in the same places and even attended the same church. Serendipity at work. I have brick walls. She does too. Maybe Shelley and I are related. Wouldn’t THAT be fun!!!

Want to work on a Challenge or learn more? There’s a great video here.

You can sign up for a Challenge team here, but you don’t have to. Anyone can research and add information to WikiTree profiles. You are most welcome to work on mine this week. In fact, I’m hoping that people with common ancestors will improve the information available. Maybe you’ll discover information that’s new to you too!

The Goal

The goal, broadly speaking, is for WikiTree to provide the most complete, documented, accurate genealogy in a one-large-tree format.

Before WikiTree, I was skeptical and discouraged about big one-single-trees because there were (are) so many errors, but WikiTree is different because it’s collaborative, genial and there are people available to help resolve any issues. Did I mention that everyone is a volunteer?

I enjoy WikiTree. WikiTree is free and allows descendants to enter their Y and mitochondrial information, as well as their GEDmatch ID for autosomal.

WikiTree now has about 27 million-ish profiles, so assuredly there’s something there for everyone.

Challenge is Fair Game

How do volunteers work with genealogy during the challenge? Pretty much any way you want!

People:

  • Break down brick walls (my favorite)
  • Find interesting information about known ancestors
  • Add data and detailed information
  • Provide proofs
  • Upload photos and documents
  • Correct information
  • Saw off branches (yep, it happens)

Volunteers who work on the challenge can accrue points, but it’s more about solving puzzles.

If you want to research, here’s my tree on WikiTree. I’m RobertaEstes13 at Ancestry and you can find my tree by searching for my father, William Sterling Estes 1902-1963. No, it’s not cheating to use every resource available.

Of course, everything is game. I tried to add at least the basic information at WikiTree for all of my known and proven ancestors ahead of time because I didn’t want people to replow a field I had already plowed.

I also made notes when people or data previously added was questionable or needed documentation. I also add each of the 52 Ancestors articles I’ve written about many ancestors.

Brick Walls Set in Concrete

I’ve created a list of my most painful, particularly difficult, brick walls that need attention. I’m hoping that maybe someone else either has that same ancestor, or perhaps has experience in the region. Something. Anything.

James Lee Claxton’s father

I feel like this one is so close, but so far away. We first find James Lee Claxton (Clarkson) in Russell County, VA in 1799. He married and shortly thereafter, moved down the valley to Claiborne County, TN. James died in 1815 in the War of 1812, and thankfully, his widow Sarah Cook, provided information in her land and pension applications. The surname is spelled both Clarkson and Claxton in various places, but based on Y DNA matches, the spelling seems to be Claxton in the other family who shares an earlier ancestor with my James.

In the Claxton Y DNA project, James’s descendants match with a group of people from Bedford County, TN, whose earliest known ancestor is James Claxton born about 1746 and eventually found in Granville Co., North Carolina in 1769. He may be connected to an early Francis Claxton from Bertie County.

Two genealogists compiled information about this line on a now somewhat dated website. Some links are broken, but the data is still quite useful. However, a lovely summary can be found, here.

James Claxton born about 1746, reportedly, had a son James who was found in 1798 in Sumner County, TN, so my James could not be the son of James born in 1746 if this is accurate. However, based on autosomal DNA matches between the two groups, these two lines, meaning mine and the Bedford County line, can’t be very distantly removed.

The James from North Carolina is named in 1784 as the executor of the will of John Hatcher whose wife, Mary, is proven Native based on their son’s Revolutionary War testimony. We don’t know why James was named as executor, or if they were related. It would be easy to assume that he was married to a daughter, but there is no evidence for that either.

Unfortunately, there are no other Claxton Y DNA matches that can push this line further back in time, anyplace.

I wrote about James Lee Claxton, here and his WikiTree profile is here.

Joel Cook and Family

Sarah’s says, in her pension application, that her father was Joel Cook and he is quite a conundrum. Based on the history of the region, he was clearly born elsewhere and settled in Russell County about 1795, as the frontier was settled. He is associated with a Clayton (Claton) Cook who moved to Kentucky about 1794, then back, then back to Kentucky again.

Records are sparse. Joel sells his land in 1816. It has been suggested that he migrated to Floyd County, KY, or perhaps elsewhere, along with Clayton, but I don’t have any evidence of that – or anything else for that matter.

Joel arrived out of thin air and disappeared into thin air. The only other hint we have is that a young man, Henry Cook, served as a drummer in the War of 1812 from Claiborne County, TN, and died in the service. It’s certainly possible that he was Sarah’s younger brother or maybe nephew.

We don’t have Y DNA from this line. If the Floyd County Cook group Y DNA tests, it would be nice to know if any of those people match any of Sarah Cook’s descendants.

I haven’t written about either Sarah or her father, Joel, but Sarah’s Wikitree profile is here and Joel’s is here.

By the way, I inadvertently think I and other early genealogists were responsible for the misinformation on her profile that Sarah’s birth surname is Helloms. In 1850 she is living with a man, John Helloms, 5 years younger than she is who is listed as an “idiot.” It was assumed that this was her brother and her surname was assigned as Helloms before we had her pension application. Now I suspect that as a widow, she may have been paid by the Hancock County court to take care of him. Court records have burned. There may be a connection with this family however, as she was assigned as the administrator of a William Hulloms estate in Claiborne County in 1820, not long after her husband’s death.

Unfortunately, Helloms as Sarah’s maiden name won’t seem to die, no matter how many times I saw that branch off of the tree. Having said that, it’s probable that somehow, given her relatively close involvement with Helloms men twice, 30 years apart, that she is somehow related.

Charles Campbell’s Father

John Campbell born about 1772 and George Campbell born about 1770, probably in Virginia, are believed to be the sons of Charles Campbell who lived in Hawkins County, TN. Unfortunately, Charles, who died about 1825, had no will and much to my chagrin, the deed for his land after his death was never actually recorded.

The Y DNA clearly provides matching to the Campbell line from Inverary, Argylishire, Scotland. Both the migration path and neighbors combined with DNA matching suggests strongly that Charles migrated from the Orange/Augusta/Rockingham County portion of Virginia.

I chased a hot lead based on matches that suggest Gilbert Campbell’s line and wrote about that, here. Gilbert had a son named Charles, but in-depth research indicates that his son Charles is probably accounted for in Virginia. Gilbert did have a brother or son named James. We don’t know who the parents of James and Gilbert were and that’s key to this equation.

Oral history suggests a connection with a James Campbell. It’s possible that this John and this George were a different John and George than Charles jointly sold land to, although it’s highly doubtful.

Both John and George Campbell married Dobkins sisters, daughters of Jacob Dobkins who lived up the road from Charles Campbell before the entire Dobkins/Campbell group moved to Claiborne County, TN together about 1800.

I wrote about John Campbell, here and his WikiTree profile is here. Charles Campbell’s story is here and his profile is here.

Julien Lord or Lore’s Origins

Julien Lord, born someplace about 1652, probably in France, is one of the early Acadian settlers. Julien is listed in 1665 on a list of soldiers who sailed for Nova Scotia. He would only have been 13. He is later listed on various census documents which is how we obtained his birth year.

I know that recently additional documents have become available in France and I’m hopeful that perhaps his association with the other men might pinpoint an area and we can find Julien’s parents. Of course, the surname could have been spelled much differently in France – Lohr, Loire, Loree, etc. I can’t help but wonder if he was an orphan and that’s why he was shipped out.

Julien Lord’s WikiTree profile is here.

Magdalene (birth surname unknown,) wife of Philip Jacob Miller

This one is driving me insane. Magdalena was born sometime about 1730, probably in Pennsylvania among the Brethren or possibly Mennonite families. She married Philip Jacob Miller, a Brethren man, about 1751, just as he was moving from York County, PA to Frederick Co., VA.

Magdalena was assuredly Brethren or Mennonite, because marriages outside the faith were not allowed at that time and those who did were effectively shunned unless the spouse converted.

Magdalena’s surname was rumored to be Rochette for years, but thorough research produced not one shred of evidence that Rochette is accurate. There aren’t even any Rochette families living anyplace close. Everyone has heard that rumor, and no one knows it’s source.

We do have Magdalena’s mitochondrial DNA signature. Her haplogroup is H6a1a and she has 2 exact matches. One match provided no genealogical information but the other match showed her ancestor as Amanda Troutwine (1872-1946) who married William Hofaker. I did some genealogical sleuthing several years ago and based on superficial information, found the following lineage for Amanda Troutwine.

  • Sarah Baker 1851-1923 and George Troutwine

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/141291811

  • Elias Baker and Mary Baker 1824-1897

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/141291811

  • Jacob Baker and Sarah Michael 1801-1892

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/10806589/mary-baker

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/36831933/sarah-baker

  • Mary Myers 1775-1849 buried Clayton, Montgomery Co., Ohio m Jacob Michael

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/38045030/mary-michael

https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/91021180/person/74020727592/facts?_phsrc=fxJ1330&_phstart=successSource

  • Johannes Meyer and Margaretha Scherman 1750-1825

https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/91021180/person/280002009231/facts

I have not confirmed this information. If it is accurate, Margaretha born in 1750 could be Magdalena’s sister or niece, perhaps?

I created a tiny tree and discovered that Mary’s husband lived in Frederick County, Maryland, the same place that Philip Jacob Miller and Magdalena lived. Mary died in Montgomery County, Ohio, the same place that many Brethren families settled and very close to the Miller men.

Mary’s WikiTree profile is here and shows her mother, Margaret Sherman/Schuermann to have been born about 1750 in York County, PA, the location where the Miller family was living. The question is, who was Margaret’s mother. Is this the clue to solving the identity of Magdalena, the wife of Philip Jacob Miller?

I wrote about Magdalena, here, including a list of known Brethren families, and her WikiTree profile is here.

Barbara (birth surname unknown) Estes Mitochondrial DNA

Barbara (birth surname unknown) Estes, born sometime around 1670 was (at least) the second wife of Abraham Estes.

Abraham’s first wife, Barbara Burton, died in England before he immigrated in 1673.

For years, on almost every tree, her surname has been shown as Brock, but there is absolutely no evidence that’s correct.

Abraham’s daughter, Barbara Estes married Henry Brock, so there was indeed a Barbara Brock, but this person was the daughter, NOT the wife of Abraham Estes. A man wrote a novel, as in fiction, in the 1980s that assigned Abraham’s wife’s surname as Brock and that myth simply won’t die.

I would very much like to find a mitochondrial descendant of Barbara, Abraham’s wife, mother to his children, to take a mitochondrial DNA test. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from a direct line of matrilineal ancestors. Anyone today, male or female, who descends from Barbara directly through all females from any of her daughters carries Barbara’s mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA may lead us to Barbara’s parents.

I wrote about Barbara, here, and her WikiTree profile is here.

Bonus Round – Elizabeth (surname unknown,) wife of Stephen Ulrich

Elizabeth was born about 1725, possibly in Germany and if not, probably in Pennsylvania. She married Stephen Ulrich sometime around 1743 and died in around 1782 in Frederick County, Maryland. Unfortunately, her identity has been confused with that of her daughter, Elizabeth Ulrich (1757-1832) who married Daniel Miller. And as if that wasn’t confusing enough, her mother-in-law’s name was also Elizabeth, so we had three Elizabeth Ulrich’s three generations in a row.

We have two testers who believe they descend from Elizabeth. Unfortunately, one of them is incorrect, and I have no idea which one.

Tester #1 shows that he descends from Hannah Susan Ulrich (1762-1798) who married Henry Adams Puterbaugh (1761-1839), is haplogroup U2e1, and matches with someone whose most distant ancestor is Elizabeth Rench born in 1787 in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania and died in 1858 in Ohio. I did as much research as possible and wrote about that, here.

Then, I went to visit Elizabeth’s WikiTree profile here which, I might note, reflects the long-standing oral history that Elizabeth’s birth surname was Cripe.

I noticed at WikiTree that another individual has indicated that he has tested for Elizabeth’s mitochondrial DNA, and it’s an entirely different haplogroup, H6a1b3. Uh oh!

He descends through daughter, Susannah Ulrich who married Jacob I. Puterbaugh.

My heart sank. I don’t know who is right and who is wrong, but both can’t be correct. Unless of course Stephen Ulrich was married twice.

My tester’s most distant ancestor on WikiTree is found here. If the genealogy is accurate, her line will connect with Hannah Susan Ulrich (1762-1798) who married Henry Adams Puterbaugh (1761-1839).

A third mitochondrial DNA tester through a different daughter would also break this tie. Anybody descend from Elizabeth, wife of Stephen Ulrich, through all females? If so, please raise your hand!

WikiTree Challenge Results Next Wednesday

I can hardly wait until next Wednesday’s reveal to see what so many wonderful volunteers will find. Breaking through tough brick walls would be wonderful, but so would anything.

I’m excited and oh so very grateful for this opportunity.

If you’re not familiar with WikiTree, take a look for yourself.

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Genetic Affairs – New AutoKinship Tool Predicts Relationships and Builds Genetic Trees

Genetic Affairs recently introduced a new tool – AutoKinship. Evert-Jan (EJ) Blom, the developer was kind enough to step through these results with me to assure that I’m explaining things correctly. Thanks EJ!

AutoKinship automatically predicts family trees and pathways that you may be related to your matches based on how they match you and each other. Not only is this important for genealogists trying to piece our family tree together, it’s indispensable for anyone searching for unknown ancestors, beginning with parents and walking right on up the tree for the closest several generations.

Right now, the automated AutoKinship tool is limited to 23andMe profiles, but will also work as a standalone tool where users can fill in the shared DNA information for their matches. MyHeritage, 23andMe, and GEDMatch provide centiMorgan information about how your matches also match each other. Here’s a tutorial for the standalone tool.

Unfortunately, Ancestry does not provide their customers with segment information, but fortunately, you can upload a copy of your Ancestry DNA file to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA or GEDmatch, for free. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, here.

Automated AutoKinship Tool

After signing into to your Genetic Affairs account, assuming you have already set up your 23andMe profile at Genetic Affairs, click on “Run AutoKinship for 23andMe.”

I manage multiple profiles at 23andMe, so I need to click on “Profiles.”

Select the correct profile if you manage multiple kits at 23andMe.

You’ll see your various options that can be run for your 23andMe kit.

Select AutoKinship

If you select AutoKinship, you automatically receive an AutoCluster because AutoKinship is built on the AutoCluster functionality.

Make your selections. I recommend leaving these settings at the default, at least initially.

The default of 250 cM excludes your closest matches. You don’t want your closest matches because they will be members of too many clustered groups.

In my initial run, I made the mistake of changing the 50 cM lower threshold to 20 cM because I wanted more matches to be included. Unfortunately, the effect this had on my results was that my largest two clusters did not produce trees.

Hint: EJ states that the software tool works from the smallest cluster to the largest when producing trees. If you notice that your largest cluster, which is usually the first one displayed in the upper left hand corner (orange here), does not have associated trees, or some people are missing, that’s your clue that the AutoKinship ran out of server time to process and you need to raise either the minimum match threshold, in this case, 50 cM, or the minimum amount of DNA shared between your matches to each other, in this case, 10 cM.

You can also select between shared matches and triangulated groups. I selected shared matches, but I may well rerun this report with triangulated groups because that provides me with a great deal of even more useful information.

When you’re ready, click on the big green “you can’t miss it” Perform AutoCluster Analysis button.

Make a cup of coffee. Your report is processing. If your email doesn’t arrive, you can click on the little envelope in your Genetic Affairs profile and the report can be downloaded to your computer directly from that link.

Your Report Arrives!

You’ll receive a zip file in the email that you MUST SAVE TO YOUR COMPUTER to work correctly. You’ll see these files, but you can’t use them yet.

First, you MUST EXTRACT THE FILES from the zip file. My zip file displays the names of the file inside of the zipped file, but they are not extracted.

You must right click, as shown above, and then click on “Extract All” on a PC. Not sure what MAC users need to do but I think it autoextracts. If you click on some of the files in this article and they don’t load correctly, or say they aren’t present, that likely means:

  • You either forgot to save the file in the email to your computer
  • Or you failed to do the extract

The bottom two files are your normal AutoCluster visual html file and the same information in an excel file.

Click on the AutoCluster html file to activate.

Personally, I love watching the matches all fly into place in their clusters. This html file is going to be our home base, the file we’ll be operating from for all of the functions.

I have a total of 23 interrelated autoclusters. The question is, how are we all related to each other. You can read my article about AutoClusters and how they work here.

People who are members of more than one cluster are shown with those little grey squares signifying that they match people in two clusters, not just one cluster.

For example, one cluster might be my grandparents, but the second cluster might be my maternal great-great-grandfather. Membership in both clusters tells me that my matching DNA with those people in the second cluster probably descends from my great-great-grandfather. Some of the DNA matches in the first cluster assuredly also descend from that man, but some of them may descend from other related ancestors, like my maternal grandmother. It’s our job as genealogists to discern the connections, but the entire purpose of AutoKinship is to make that process much easier.

We are going to focus on the first few clusters to see what kinds of information Genetic Affairs can produce about these clusters. Notice that the first person in row 1 is related to the orange cluster, the green cluster, the purple and the brown clusters. That’s important information about that person, and also about the interrelationship of those clusters themselves and the ancestors they represent.

Remember, to be included in a grandparent cluster, that person’s DNA segment(s) must have descended from other ancestors, represented in other clusters. So you can expect one person to be found potentially in multiple clusters that serve to trace those common ancestors (and associated segments) back in time.

AutoKinship

The AutoKinship portion of this tool creates hypothetical trees based on relationships of you to each person in the cluster, and to the other cluster members to each other.

If you’re thinking triangulation, you’re right. I selected matches, not triangulated groups which is also an option. Some people do triangulate, but some people may match each other on different segments. Right now, it’s a jumble of hints, but we’ll sort some of this out.

If you scroll down in your html file, below your cluster, and below the explanation (which you should read,) you’ll see the AutoKinship verbiage.

I want to do a quick shout-out to Brit Nicholson, the statistician that works with EJ on probabilities of relationships for this tool and describes his methodology, here.

AutoKinship Table

You’ll see the AutoKinship Table that includes a link for each cluster that could be assembled into a potential tree.

Click on the cluster you wish to view.

In my case, clusters 1 through 5 are closely related to each other based on the common members in each cluster. I selected cluster 1.

Your most probable tree for that cluster will be displayed.

I’m fortunate that I recognized three of my third cousins. AutoKinship constructed a probable genetic pedigree, but I’ve overlayed what I know to be the correct pedigree.

With the exception of one person, this AutoKinship tree is accurate to the best of my knowledge. A slot for Elizabeth, the mother of William George Estes and the daughter of Joel is missing. I probably know why. I match two of my cousins with a higher than expected amount of DNA which means that I’m shown “closer” in genetic distance that I normally would be for that relationship level.

In one case, Charles and I share multiple ancestors. In the other case, I don’t know why I match Everett on so much more DNA than his brother Carl or our other cousin, Vianna. Regardless, I do.

In one other instance, there’s a half-relationship that throws a wrench into the tree. I know that, but it’s very difficult to factor half-relationships into tree building without prior knowledge.

If you continue to scroll down, you’ll see multiple options for trees for this cluster.

DNA Matrix

Below that, you’ll see a wonderful downloadable DNA matrix of how everyone in the cluster shares DNA with everyone else in the cluster.

At this point, exit from cluster one and return to your original cluster file that shows your cluster matrix.

Beneath the AutoKinship table, you’ll see AutoCluster Cluster Information.

AutoCluster Cluster Information

Click on any one of those people. I’m selecting Everett because I know how we are related.

Voila, a new cluster configuration forms.

I can see all of the people I match in common with Everett in each cluster. This tells me two things:

  • Which clusters are related to this line. In particular, the orange cluster, green, red, purple, brown, magenta and dark grey clusters. If you mouse over each cell in the cluster, more information is provided.
  • The little helix in each cell tells you that those two people triangulate with each other and the tester. How cool is that?!!

Note that you can display this cluster in 4 different ways.

Return again to your main autocluster page and scroll down once again.

This just might be my favorite part.

Chromosome Segments

You can import chromosome segment information into DNAPainter – instructions here.

What you’ll see next is the clusters painted on your chromosomes. I love this!!!

Of course, Genetic Affairs can’t tell you which side is maternal and which is paternal. You’ll need to do that yourself after you import into DNAPainter.

Just beneath this painting, you’ll see a chart titled Chromosome segment statistics per AutoCluster cluster.

I’m only showing the first couple as an example.

Click on one of links. I’m selecting cluster 1.

Cluster 1 has painted portions of each chromosome, but I’m only displaying chromosomes 1-7 here.

Following the painting is a visual display of each overlap region by cluster, by overlapping segment on each chromosome.

You can clearly see where these segments overlap with each other!

Surname Enrichment

If you select the surname enrichment option, you’ll receive two additional features in your report.

Please note that I ran this option separately at a different time, so the cluster members and clusters themselves do not necessarily correlate with the examples above.

The Enriched Surname section of your report shows surnames in common found between the matches in each specific cluster.

Keep in mind, this does NOT just mean surnames in common with YOUR surname list, assuming you’ve entered your surnames at 23andMe. (If you haven’t please do so now.) 23andMe does not support user trees, so your entered surnames are all that can be utilized when comparing information from your matches.

These are surnames that are found more than once among your matches. I’ve framed the ones in red that I recognize as being found in my tree, and I’ve framed the ones in black that I recognize as being “married in.” In other words, some people may descend through children of my ancestors who married people with that black bracketed surname.

I can tell you immediately, based on these surnames, that the first cluster is the cluster formed around my great-great-grandparents, Joel Vannoy and his wife, Phebe Crumley.

Cluster 6 is less evident, but Anderson might be connected to the Vannoy family. I’ll need to view the common matches in that cluster at 23andMe and look for additional clues.

Cluster 9 is immediately evident too. Ferverda is Hiram Ferverda, my great-grandfather and Eva Miller is his wife.

Cluster 10 is probably the Miller line as well. Indiana is a location in this case, not a surname.

Click on “Detailed Surname Table” for more information, as shown below.

Each group of people that shares any surname is shown in a table together. In this case, these three people, who I happen to know are brothers, all share these surnames. The surnames they also share with me are shown with red boxes. The other surnames are shared only with each other and no one else in the cluster. I know they aren’t shared with me because I know my tree.

While your initial reaction may be that this isn’t terribly useful, it is actually a HUGE gift. Especially if you find a cluster you aren’t familiar with.

Mystery Cluster

A mystery cluster is an opportunity to break down a brick wall. This report tells you which people to view on your match list who share that surname. My first step is to use that list and see who I match in common with each person at 23andMe.

My relatives in common with my Cluster 10 matches include my close Ferverda cousins who descend from our common Miller ancestor, plus a few Miller cousins. This confirms that this cluster does indeed originate in the Miller line.

Not everyone in that cluster shares the surname Miller. That might be a good thing.

I have a long-standing brick wall with Magdalena (surname unknown) who was married to Philip Jacob Miller, my 5-times great-grandparents. My cousins through that couple, at my same generation, would be about 6th cousins.

These matches are matching me at the approximate 4th cousin level or more distantly, so it’s possible that at least some of these matches COULD be through Magdalena’s family. In that case, I certainly would not recognize the common surnames. Therefore, it’s imperative that I chase these leads. I can also adjust the matching threshold to obtain more matches, hopefully, in this cluster, and run the report again.

Are you in love with Autokinship and its associated features yet? I am!

Summary

Wow is all I can say. There’s enough in this one report to keep me busy for days, especially since 23andMe does not support a tree function in the traditional genealogical sense.

I have several matches that I have absolutely no idea how they are related to me. This helps a great deal and allows to me systematically approach tree-building or identifying ancestors.

You can see if 23andMe has predicted these relationships in the same way, but other than messaging your matches, or finding them at another vendor who does support a tree, there’s no way to know if either 23andMe’s autogenerated tree or the Genetic Affairs trees are accurate.

What Genetic Affairs provides that 23andMe does not is composite information in one place – as a group in a cluster. You don’t have to figure out who matches whom one by one and create your own matrix. (Yes, I used to do that.)

You can also import the Genetic Affairs information into DNAPainter to make further use of these segments. I’ve written about using DNAPainter, here.

Once you’ve identified how one person in any cluster connects, you’ve found your lever to unlock the identity of the ancestors whose DNA is represented in that particular cluster – and an important clue/link to associated clusters as well.

If you don’t recognize these cousins at 23andMe, look for common surnames on your DNA Relatives match list, or see if a known close relative on your maternal or paternal side matches these people found in a cluster. Click on each match at 23andMe to see if they have provided notes, surnames, locations or even a link to a tree at another vendor.

Don’t forget, you can also select the “Based on Triangulated Groups” option instead of the “Based on Shared Matches” option initially.

Run A Report

If you have tested at 23andMe, give the Genetic Affairs AutoKinship report a try.

Is it accurate for you? Have you gained insight? Identified how people are related to you? Are there any surprises?

Do you have a mystery cluster? I hope so, because an answer just might be hiding there.

If you’d like to read more about Genetic Affairs tools, click here for my free repository of Genetic Affairs articles.

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Thank you so much.

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DNA Beginnings: Matching at Ancestry and What It Means

This is the fourth in the series of “DNA Beginnings” articles. Previous articles you might enjoy include:

Why Is Matching Important?

For genealogists, DNA matching to other people is the key to verifying your ancestors, beginning with your parents and continuing up your tree. You can also meet new cousins who may have information, including photos, that you don’t.

Each of the four major vendors has benefits that the others don’t have. As we review matches at each vendor, we’ll discuss the plusses and minuses of each one and how to use their unique features to benefit your genealogy quest.

Let’s start with Ancestry.

Ancestry

The highest total number of people have tested their DNA with Ancestry, although I’m not certain that holds true for testers outside the US.

This means that you are likely to find at least some close matches at Ancestry. Every vendor has people in their database that no other vendor has though. I recommend testing at the 4 major vendors, including FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and 23andMe.

At Ancestry, Where Are My Matches?

You’ll find the list of people who match you under the “DNA”, then “DNA Matches” tabs at Ancestry.

Ancestry packs a lot of information into your match pages. Let’s take a look at what that means to you as a genealogist and how you can make it work for you.

Clcik to enlarge images

I’ll be discussing each one of these areas, below, so refer back. Let’s start with the basic page arrangement.

  • Features at the top apply to managing and working with all of your matches
  • Features under each match apply to that match only.

Pretty straightforward.

I’ll begin at the top and review each item, but first, let’s talk about testing your parents.

Test Your Parents

First, if you have either or both parents available to test, by all means, test both parents and not just at Ancestry. This is sage advice for all vendors.

Be aware that if one or both of your parents are not your biological parents, DNA testing will reveal that fact.

When your parent tests, matches that Ancestry can automatically attribute to that parent’s side of your family based on matching you and your parent, both, are noted as such.

While this is useful, especially since maternally and paternally assigned matches are your closest matches, Ancestry only automatically assigns about as many matches as fall into your close matches category. Someplace between half and 1% of your total matches. I sort of deflated like a balloon when I made that discovery. 

It’s still definitely worth testing your parents, though, because you will be able to view your matches to see if they match you and a parent both. Even if Ancestry doesn’t assign them maternally or paternally, you can certainly derive clues from who you match in common – and you can assign matches yourself.

We will talk about exactly how to do this in a bit!

Now, back to the function bar.

The Function Bar

The function bar beneath the ad promoting parental testing is your driver’s seat.

Click to enlarge images

You’ll find a variety of filters and functions like searching and sorting your matches. In other words, these are the actions you can take. Let’s start with the filters, on the left.

  • Unviewed – The “Unviewed” filter widget displays only matches you have not yet viewed. Unviewed matches are annotated with a blue dot. Because your matches are displayed in highest to lowest order, you’ll see your closest unviewed match first. I use this filter a lot because it means I don’t have to scroll through the matches I’ve already viewed and analyzed.

I have a “one initial touch” policy. When I initially view a match, I step through all the functions I can utilize to identify how that person is (potentially) related to me and I make notes.

The rest of these filters and functions are important steps in that analysis process.

Please notice that you can combine filters.

I’ve clicked both the “Unviewed” and the “Common Ancestors” filters, meaning BOTH of these filters are simultaneously functioning. If you just want one filter, be sure to “Reset Filters” before clicking a second filter button.

  • Common Ancestors – That infamous little green leaf. In this case, when viewing DNA matches, that green leaf is very important because it indicates that Ancestry has found a (potential) common ancestor between you and your match.

Clicking on the little green leaf shows you the most recent common ancestor(s) that Ancestry believes you share with that match based on:

  1. The fact that your DNA does match
  2. And that you have common ancestors either in your tree
  3. Or ancestors that can be linked to both of you through other people’s trees

Notice Ancestry’s careful wording about these potential ancestors. Megan “could be” my 5th cousin once removed. “Could be.” Ancestry isn’t using weasel words here, but trying to convey the fact that people’s genealogy, Megan’s, mine or other peoples’ can be wrong.

In other words, Ancestry has found a potential link between me and Megan, but it may not be valid. These connections use trees to suggest common ancestors and some trees are not reliable. It’s up to me (and you) to confirm that suggested ancestral path.

Clicking on “View Relationship” takes me to the Ancestry tool known as ThruLines which shows me how Megan and I may be related.

I have Stephen Miller in my tree, but not his son John J. Miller as indicated by the hashed boxes.

I can click on the Evaluate button to see what type of evidence and which trees Ancestry used to assign John J. Miller as the son of Stephen Miller. In other words, I can accumulate my own evidence to validate, verify, or refute the connection to Daniel Miller for me and Megan.

I wrote about ThruLines here and here.

  • Messaged – The “Messaged” filter button shows matches I’ve sent messages to through Ancestry’s messaging feature.

You can track your messages in the little envelope button by your name at upper right.

  • Notes – The “Notes” filter shows your matches and the notes you’ve made about that match. I use notes extensively so I don’t replow the same field.

In my case, I took a second test at Ancestry several years ago when they introduced a new chip to compare to the results of my original test. I noted that this is my V2 test in this example.

Normally my notes are genealogy-related, especially in cases where I’ve discovered more than one set of common ancestors through multiple lines. I record hints here, such as which of my closest relatives this person also matches. I also record our common ancestor when I identify who that is or even who it might be.

You can create a note by clicking on the match, then on “Add Note” near the top.

  • Trees – The “Trees” filter provides the ability to view matches who have only specific tree statuses.

Perhaps you only want to view only people with public, linked trees. Why are public, linked trees important?

Public trees can be seen and searched by your matches. Private trees cannot be seen by matches.

A public, linked tree means that your match has linked their DNA test to their own profile card in a public tree. The linking process tells Ancestry who “they are” in their tree and allows Ancestry to begin searching from that person up their tree to see if they can identify common ancestors with their matches. In other words, linking allows Ancestry’s tools to work for you and allows other people to view your position in your tree so that can see how you might share ancestors.

Some people don’t understand the linking process, so I normally take a look at unlinked trees too, especially if the person only has one tree.

Be sure your DNA test is linked to your tree by clicking on the little down arrow by your user name in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, then, click on “Your Profile,” then click on the settings gear beneath your name.

Then click on DNA:

You’ll see the tests that you own, so click on the little right arrow (>) to work with a specific test.

Finally, you’ll see the name on the test, the profile it’s connected to, and the name of the tree.

Not accurate or what you want? You can change it!

Ok, back to working with filters. Next, Shared DNA.

  • “Shared DNA” allows you to view only specific relationships of matches.

I use this tab mostly to see how many matches I have.

  • The “Groups” filter categorizes matches by the colored dot groups you establish. Matches can be assigned to single or multiple groups.

The good news is that you have 24 colored dot buttons that represent groups to work with. The bad news is that you have only 24 that you can assign.

Generally, I assign colored dots, and therefore matches, to a couple, not an individual. In some cases, especially with two marriages, I have assigned match buttons to a single ancestor. Of course, that means that one couple uses 2 colored buttons☹

After you’ve created your groups, you can assign a match to a group, or multiple groups, by clicking on your match.

“Add to group” is located right beside “Add note,” so I do both at the same time for each match.

I have one group called “Ancestor Identified” which is reserved for all ancestors who don’t have colored group dots assigned. I can tell which ancestor by reading the notes I’ve entered.

To view every match in a particular group, click on that group, then “apply” at the bottom.

The matches displayed will only be the 17 matches that I’ve assigned to the blue dot group – all descended from Antoine Lore (and his wife).

However, looking at who I match in common with these 17 people can lead me to more people descended from Antoine, his wife, or their ancestors.

  • Search – The “Search” function at far right allows you to search your matches in multiple ways, but not by the most important aspect of genealogy.

  1. You can search by the match’s name; first, last or Ancestry user name.
  2. You can search by surname in your matches’ trees. I sure hope you don’t have Jones.
  3. You can search by birth location in matches’ trees.
  4. You CANNOT search by ancestor. Say what???

Seriously.

Come on Ancestry…don’t make this intentionally difficult.

  • “Sort” allows you to sort your match list either by relationship (the default) or by date. I’d trade this for search by ancestor in a New York Minute.

We are finished with the filters and functions for managing your entire list, so let’s see what we can do with each individual match.

Match Information

We’ve already learned a lot about our matches just by using different filters, but there’s a lot more available.

You’ll need to click on various areas of the match to view specific or additional information.

Click on the predicted relationship, like 5th-8th cousin, to view how closely Ancestry,  thinks you are related based on the amount of DNA you share. If you click on the relationship, Ancestry displays the various relationship possibilities and how likely each one is.

Looks like there’s a bit of a disconnect, because while Ancestry predicts this relationship with 17 shared cM of DNA at 5th-8th cousin, their chart shows that variations of 3rd or 4th cousin are more likely. This is a great example of why you should always click on the predicted relationship and check for yourself.

Conversely, if you’re related to a match through multiple lines, or through one set of ancestors more than once, Ancestry may predict that you are related more closely than you actually are – because you may carry more of that ancestor’s DNA. Ancestry, nor any other vendor, has any way of knowing why you carry that amount of ancestral DNA.

Ancestry also shows you a little more information about how much DNA you share, and how many segments. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not provide a chromosome browser, so there isn’t any more you can do, at Ancestry, with this information – although you can certainly transfer your DNA to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, or GedMatch (a third-party tool) who all provide chromosome browsers.

Ancestry shows you the number of cMs, or centiMorgans of DNA you share. Think about a centiMorgan as a length measure, for practical purposes. Each vendor has their own matching threshold and a matching piece of DNA with another person must be larger than that bar. Ancestry’s minimum cM threshold is 8 cM, the highest of all the vendors.

This means that any match lower than 8 cM is not considered a match at Ancestry, but that same person might appear on your match list at another vendor whose match threshold is lower.

Ancestry also removes some of your matching DNA before considering matches. In areas where your DNA is “too matchy,” Ancestry removes some segments because they feel that DNA may be “older” and not genealogically relevant.

There’s a great deal of debate about this practice, and strong feelings abound. Some people feel this is justified because it helps reduce the large number of matches, especially for people who descend from highly endogamous populations.

Other people who have one endogamous line among many others find that many or most of their matches from that population were removed by Ancestry when they did one of their two purges. That’s what happened to my Acadian and many of my African American matches.

Regardless, Ancestry tells you for each match if they removed DNA segments using their Timber algorithm, and if so, how many.

Clearly, when viewing this match, 1 cM of removed DNA isn’t going to make much if any difference unless that 1cM was the difference between being a match and not matching. You can read Ancestry’s paper about how their matching works beneath the hood, here.

There are only two real differences that DNA removal makes at Ancestry:

  • Whether you match or not, meaning you’re either over or under that 8 cM bar.
  • Shared matches under 20 cM won’t show, so if you have 22 cM of shared DNA with someone and Ancestry removes 3, you won’t show as a shared match to people you match in common. And people you match in common, if they have less than 20 cM shared DNA won’t show to you either.

Since Ancestry doesn’t provide their customers with advanced tools to compare segments of DNA with their matches, other than the two circumstances above, the removal of some DNA doesn’t really matter.

That might be more than you wanted to know! However, if you find some matches confusing, especially if you know two people are both matching you and each other, but they don’t show as a shared match, this just might be why. We’ll talk about shared matches in a minute.

Do Your Recognize Your Matches?

Ancestry provides a way for you to assign relationships.

If you click on “Learn more,” you’ll view the match page that shows their tree, common ancestors with you, if identified, and more.

If you click “Yes,” you’ll be prompted for how you match.

Ancestry will ask if you know the specific relationship based on the probabilities of that relationship being accurate.

After you confirm, that individual will be assigned to that parental side of your family, or both, based on your selection.

Shared Matches

Shared matches are a way of viewing who you and one of your matches both match.

In other words, if you recognize other people you both match, that’s a HUGE clue as to how you and your match are related. However, it’s not an absolute, because you could match two people through entirely different lines, and they could match each other through another line not related to you. However, shared matching does provide hints, especially if your match matches several relatives you can identify who descend from the same ancestor or ancestral couple.

This match only has initials and a private unlinked tree. That means they aren’t linked to the proper place in their tree, and their tree is private so I can’t view it to evaluate for hints.

How can I possibly figure out how we are related?

Click on the match.

Clicking on Shared Matches shows me the people that T. F. and I both match.

Notice that T. F. and I match my 5 top matches on my mother’s side. Clearly, T. F. and I share common ancestors on my mother’s side.

Furthermore, based on my notes and the amount of DNA we share, our common ancestor is probably my great-grandparents.

This match was easy to unravel, but not all are. Lets’s look at a different shared match list.

In this example, all 4 people have unlinked trees. The smallest shared match is 20 cM –  because Ancestry doesn’t show smaller shared matches below 20 cM. Of course, there are probably a lot of smaller shared matches, but I can’t see them. In essence, this limits viewing your shared matches to the 4th-6th cousin range or closer.

Just be aware that you’re not seeing all of your shared matches, so don’t assume you are.

Summary

By reviewing each match at Ancestry using a methodical step-by-step approach, there’s a great deal of information to be gleaned.

Let’s summarize briefly:

  • Your matches listed first on your match list are your closest, and likely to be the most useful to you in terms of identifying maternal and paternal sides of your family for other matches.
  • Test either or both parents if possible
  • Link yourself and the DNA kits you manage to their proper place in your tree so that Ancestry can provide you with parental sides for your matches if your parents have tested. Ancestry uses linked trees for ThruLines tii.
  • Manually assign “sides” to matches if your parents aren’t available to test.
  • Use the filters or combinations. Don’t forget to reset.
  • Click on “Common Ancestors” to view potential common ancestors – matches exhibiting those green leaves. This is Ancestry’s strength.
  • From Common Ancestors, check ThruLines to view matches linked to a common ancestor.
  • Don’t neglect unlinked trees.
  • Assign dot colors to ancestral couples or a way that makes sense to you.
  • Assign matches by colored dot group.
  • Make notes that will help you remember details about the match and what you have and have not done with or learned about that match.
  • Search by location or surname or a combination of both.
  • Assign relationships, when known. At least assign maternally or paternally, or both if the match is related through both sides of your family. Hint – your full siblings, their children, and your children are related to both sides – your mother’s and father’s sides, both.
  • Click on your match’s profile to view additional information, including common ancestors and their tree. Scroll down to view common surnames, locations and ancestors from both people (you and your match) found in those locations.
  • View shared matches to see who else you and your match are both related to. Your shared matches may well hold the key to how you and an unknown match are related. Don’t forget that Ancestry only displays shared matches of 20 cM or larger.
  • If you’d like to utilize a chromosome browser for additional insights and to confirm specific common ancestors by shared segments of DNA, download a copy of your raw DNA data file and upload, free, to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage, here. They both provide chromosome browsers and advanced tools.

You can find step-by-step instructions for downloading from Ancestry and uploading elsewhere, here.

Join Me for More!

I’ll be publishing similar articles about working with matches at FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and 23andMe soon.

If you haven’t tested at all of these vendors and would like to, just click on these links for more information or to order tests:

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

  • com – Lots of wonderful genealogy research books

Genealogy Research

Free Webinar: 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA

I recorded 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Webinars are free for the first week. After that, you’ll need a subscription.

If you subscribe to Legacy Family Tree, here, you’ll also receive the downloadable 24-page syllabus and you can watch any of the 1500+ webinars available at Legacy Family Tree Webinars anytime.

In 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA, I covered the following features and how to use them for your genealogy:

  • Ethnicity – why it works and why it sometimes doesn’t
  • Ethnicity – how it works
  • Your Chromosomes – Mom and Dad
  • Ethnicity at AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage DNA
  • Genetic Communities at AncestryDNA
  • Genetic Groups at MyHeritage DNA
  • Painted ethnicity segments at 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA
  • Painting ethnicity segments at DNAPainter – and why you want to
  • Shared ethnicity segments with your matches at AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage DNA
  • Downloading matches and segment files
  • Techniques to pinpoint Native Ancestors in your tree
  • Y DNA, Native ancestors and haplogroups
  • Mitochondrial DNA, Native ancestors and haplogroups
  • Creating a plan to find your Native ancestor
  • Strategies for finding test candidates
  • Your Ancestor DNA Pedigree Chart
  • Success!!!

If you haven’t yet tested at or uploaded your DNA to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage, you can find upload/download instructions, here, so that you can take advantage of the unique tools at all vendors.

Hope you enjoy the webinar and find those elusive ancestors!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

FamilyTreeDNA’s Chromosome Painting Just Arrived!!!

FamilyTreeDNA’s long-anticipated chromosome painting for ethnicity results just arrived!

Videos and a White Paper!

Along with the release, Family TreeDNA has also provided several resources.

Dr. Paul Maier, Population Geneticist at FamilyTreeDNA created a three-part video series that explains MyOrigins V3 and the science behind the results – in normal language that air-breathing humans can understand. These are absolutely wonderful and only about 10 minutes each, so be sure to watch – in order!

MyOrigins 3.0 white paper that explains the science in more detail is here! If nothing else, at least skim and look at the pictures. It’s actually an amazing document.

Your Painted Results

To view your results, sign on to your account and click on Chromosome Painting!

Click on any image to enlarge

There it is – your beautiful new painted chromosomes with your Continental or Super Population results painted on your chromosomes!

Look, there are my AmerIndian segments, in pink.

What Can I Do?

You can download your segment file too – in the upper right-hand corner.

You can also download your segment match file found under the chromosome browser tab and sort your segments to see who matches you on these segments. I provided instructions, here.

Of course, you’ll see both sides, meaning paternal and maternal matches, so it will be necessary to determine on which “side” your segments of interest originate, and who matches you on that side of your tree.

We will discuss these strategies and how to implement them in future articles.

A little birdie tells me that DNAPainter will have an import soon so you can upload your chromosome painting file to integrate with your match painting.

Right now, just viewing and appreciating your chromosome art that represents our ancestors is amazing. Did you find any surprises? Who else wants to print and frame this?

If you don’t have results at FamilyTreeDNA, you can upload DNA results from the other three major testing companies and pay a $19 unlock to receive your very own chromosome painting. Upload/Download instructions are found here.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

DNA Beginnings: How Many DNA Matches Do I Have?

People often want to know how many DNA matches they have.

Sounds simple, right?

At some vendors, the answer to this question is easy to find, and at others, not so much.

How do you locate this information at each of the four major vendors?

What else do you need to know?

I’ve written handy step-by-step instructions for each company!

Matches at FamilyTreeDNA

Sign on at FamilyTreeDNA and under autosomal results, click on Family Finder Matches.

At the top of the next page, you’ll see your total number of matches along with matches that FamilyTreeDNA has been able to assign maternally or paternally based on creating/uploading a tree and linking known matches to that tree in their proper place.

Your parents do NOT need to have tested for the maternal/paternal bucketing functionality, but you DO need to identify some relatives and link their tests to their place in your tree. It’s that easy. Instructions for linking can be found in the “Linking Matches on Your Tree” section of this article (click here), along with information about how that helps you, or here.

Obviously, if your parents have tested, that’s the best scenario. For people who don’t have that option, FamilyTreeDNA is the ONLY vendor that offers this type of feature if your parents have NOT tested.

At FamilyTreeDNA, I have 7313 total matches of which 3169 are paternal, 1402 are maternal and 6 are related to both parents.

Hint – your siblings, their children, your children, grandchildren, etc. will be related to you on both your paternal and maternal sides.

If you don’t have an autosomal DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA, you can upload one from Ancestry, 23andMe, or MyHeritage for free. Click here for instructions.

Matches at MyHeritage

At MyHeritage, sign on and click on DNA, then DNA Matches.

At the top of your matches page, you’ll see your total number of matches.

At MyHeritage, I have 14,082 matches.

Matches are not broken down maternally and paternally automatically, but I can filter my matches in a wide variety of ways, including shared matches with either parent if they have tested, or other relatives.

If you don’t have an autosomal DNA test at MyHeritage, you can transfer one from Ancestry, 23andMe, or FamilyTreeDNA for free. Click here to begin your upload to MyHeritage.

Click here for instructions about how to download a copy of your DNA file from other vendors.

Matches at Ancestry

At Ancestry, sign on and click on DNA, then DNA Matches.

On your matches page, at the top, you’ll see a number of function widgets. Look for “Shared DNA.”

Click the down arrow to expand the Shared DNA box and you’ll see the total number of matches, along with the breakdown between 4th cousins or closer and distant matches.

Sometimes the number of matches doesn’t show up which means Ancestry’s servers are too busy to calculate the number of matches. Refresh your screen or try again in a few minutes. This happens often to me and always makes me question my sanity:)

I have 53,435 matches at Ancestry, of which 4,102 are estimated to be 4th cousins or closer and 49,333 are more distant.

For close matches only, if your parents have tested at Ancestry, when possible, Ancestry tells you on each match if that person is associated with your father’s side or your mother’s side.

You can’t upload DNA files from other vendors to Ancestry, but you can download a copy of your DNA file from Ancestry and upload to either FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage. Click here for instructions.

You can also download a copy of your tree from Ancestry and upload it to either of those vendors, along with your DNA file for best results.

Matches at 23andMe

23andMe functions differently from the other vendors. They set a hard limit on the number of matches you receive.

That maximum number differs based on the test version you took and if you pay for a membership subscription that provides enhanced medical information along with advanced filters and the ability to have a maximum of 5000 matches.

In order to purchase the membership subscription, you need to take their most current V5 test. If you tested with an earlier product, you will need to repurchase, retest or upgrade your current test which means you’ll need to spit in the vial again.

Please note the words, “up to 5000 relatives,” in the 23andMe verbiage. They also say that’s “over 3 times what you get” with their test without a subscription.

23andMe handles things differently from any other vendor in the industry. They made changes recently which created quite a stir because they removed some capabilities from existing customers and made those functions part of their subscription model. You can read about that here and here.

The match limit on the current 23andMe V5 test, WITHOUT the subscription, is 1500. If you tested previously on earlier kits, V2-V4, 23andMe has reinstated your prior maximum match limit which was 2000.

So, here’s the maximum match summary for 23andMe:

  • Earlier kits (V2-V4) – 2000 maximum matches
  • Current V5 kit with no subscription – 1500 maximum matches
  • Current V5 kit with subscription – 5000 maximum matches

Except, that’s NOT the number of matches you’ll actually see.

23andMe handles matching differently too.

23andMe matches you with their other customers up to your maximum, whatever that is, then subtracts the people who have not opted-in to genealogy matching. Remember, 23andMe focuses on health, not genealogy, so not all of their customers want matching.

Therefore, you’ll NEVER see your total number of allowed matches, which is why 23andMe cleverly says you “get access to up to 5000 relatives.”

Let’s look at my V4 test at 23andMe. Sign on and click on Ancestry, then DNA Relatives. (Please note, Ancestry is not Ancestry the company, but at 23andMe means genealogy results as opposed to medical/health results.)

At the top of your DNA Relatives page, you’ll see your total number of matches, before any sorting filters are applied.

23andMe does not automatically assign matches maternally or paternally, but if your parents have tested AND opt-in to matching, then you can filter by people who also match either parent.

I have 1796 matches at 23andMe, which means that 204 or 11% of my matches have not opted-in to matching.

You can’t upload DNA files from other vendors to 23andMe, but you can download a copy of your DNA file from 23andMe and upload to either FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage where you will assuredly receive more matches. Click here for instructions.

Summary

Each vendor has its own unique set of features and operates differently. It’s not so much the number of matches you have, but if you have the RIGHT match to break through a particular brick wall or provide you with a previously unknown photo of a cherished family member.

I encourage everyone to fish in all 4 of these ponds by testing or uploading your DNA. Uploading and matching are both free. Advanced tools require a small one-time unlock fee, but it’s significantly less than testing again. You can find step-by-step instructions to walk you through the process, here.

Have fun!!!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research