Are You DNA Testing the Right People?

We often want to purchase DNA kits for relatives, especially during the holidays when there are so many sales. (There are links for free shipping on tests in addition to sale prices at the end of this article. If you already know who to test, pop on down to the Sales section, now.)

Everyone is on a budget, so who should we test to obtain results that are relevant to our genealogy?

We tell people to test as many family members as possible – but what does that really mean?

Testing everyone may not be financially viable, nor necessary for genealogy, so let’s take a look at how to decide where to spend YOUR testing dollars to derive the most benefit.

It’s All Relative😊

When your ancestors had children, those children inherited different pieces of your ancestors’ DNA.

Therefore, it’s in your best interest to test all of the direct descendants generationally closest to the ancestor that you can find.

It’s especially useful to test descendants of your own close ancestors – great-great-grandparents or closer – where there is a significant possibility that you will match your cousins.

All second cousins match, and roughly 90% (or more) of third cousins match.

Percent of cousins match.png

This nifty chart compiled by ISOGG shows the probability statistics produced by the major testing companies regarding cousin matching relationships.

My policy is to test 4th cousins or closer. The more, the merrier.

Identifying Cousins

  • First cousins share grandparents.
  • Second cousins share great-grandparents.
  • Third cousins share great-great-grandparents.

The easiest way for me to see who these cousins might be is to open my genealogy software on my computer, select my great-great-grandparent, and click on descendants. Pretty much all software has a similar function.

The resulting list shows all of the descendants of that ancestor that I’ve entered in my software. Most genealogists already have or could construct this information with relative ease. These are the cousins you need to be talking to anyway, because they will have photos and stories that you don’t. If you don’t know them, there’s never been a better time to reach out and introduce yourself.

Who to test descendants software

Click to enlarge

People You Already Know

Sometimes it’s easier to start with the family you already know and may see from time to time. Those are the people who will likely be the most beneficial to your genealogy.

Who to test 1C.png

Checking my tree at FamilyTreeDNA, Hiram Ferverda and Evaline MIller are my great-grandparents. All of their children are deceased, but I have a relationship with the children born to their son, Roscoe. Both Cheryl and her brother carry parts of Hiram and Eva’s DNA their son John Ferverda (my grandfather) didn’t inherit, and therefore that I can’t carry.

Therefore, it’s in my best interest to gift my cousin, Cheryl and her brother, both, with DNA kits. Turns out that I already have and my common matches with both Cheryl and her brother are invaluable because I know that people who match me plus either one of them descend from the Ferverda or Miller lines. This relationship and linking them on my tree, shown above, allows Family Tree DNA to perform phased Family Matching which is their form of triangulation.

It’s important to test both siblings, because some people will match me plus one but not the other sibling.

Who’s Relevant?

Trying to convey the concept of who to test and not to test, and why, is sometimes confusing.

Many family members may want to test, but you may only be willing to pay for those tests that can help your own genealogy. We need to know who can best benefit our genealogy in order to make informed decisions.

Let’s look at example scenarios – two focused on grandparents and two on parents.

In our example family, a now-deceased grandmother and grandfather have 3 children and multiple grandchildren. Let’s look at when we test which people, and why.

Example 1: Grandparents – 2 children deceased, 1 living

In our first example, Jane and Barbara, my mother, are deceased, but their sibling Harold is living. Jane has a living daughter and my mother had 3 children, 2 of which are living. Who should we test to discover the most about my maternal grandparents?

Please note that before making this type of a decision, it’s important to state the goal, because the answer will be different depending on your goal at hand. If I wanted to learn about my father’s family, for example, instead of my maternal grandparents, this would be an entirely different question, answer, and tree.

Descendant test

Click to enlarge

The people who are “married in” but irrelevant to the analysis are greyed out. In this case, all of the spouses of Jane, Barbara and Harold are irrelevant to the grandmother and grandfather shown. We are not seeking information about those spouses or their families.

The people I’ve designated with the red stars should be tested. This is the “oldest” generation available. Harold can be tested, so his son, my first cousin, does not need to test because the only part of the grandparent’s DNA that Harold’s son can inherit is a portion of what his father, Harold, carries and gave to him.

Unfortunately, Jane is deceased but her daughter, Liz, is available to test, so Liz’s son does not need to.

I need to test, as does my living brother and the children of my deceased brother in order to recover as much as possible of my mother’s DNA. They will all carry pieces of her DNA that I don’t.

The children of anyone who has a red star do NOT need to test for our stated genealogical purpose because they only carry a portion of thier parent’s DNA, and that parent is already testing.

Those children may want to test for their own genealogy given that they also have a parent who is not relevant to the grandfather and grandmother shown. In my case, I’m perfectly happy to facilitate those tests, but not willing to pay for the children’s tests if the relevant parent is living. I’m only willing to pay for tests that are relevant to my genealogical goals – in this case, my grandparents’ heritage.

In this scenario, I’m providing 5 tests.

Of course, you may have other family factors in play that influence your decision about how many tests to purchase for whom. Family dynamics might include things like hurt feelings and living people who are unwilling or unable to test. I’ve been known to purchase kits for non-biologically related family members so that people could learn how DNA works.

Example 2: Grandparents – 2 children living, one deceased

For our second example, let’s change this scenario slightly.

Descendant test 2

Click to enlarge

From the perspective of only my grandparents’ genealogy, if my mother is alive, there’s no reason to test her children.

Barbara and Harold can test. Since Jane is deceased, and she had only one child, Liz is the closest generationally and can test to represent Jane’s line. Liz’s son does not need to test since his mother, the closest relative generationally to the grandparents is available to test.

In this scenario, I’m providing 3 tests.

Example 3: My Immediate Family – both parents living

In this third example, I’m looking from strictly MY perspective viewing my maternal grandparents (as shown above) AND my immediate family meaning the genealogical lines of both of my parents. In other words, I’ve combined two goals. This makes sense, especially if I’m going to be seeing a group of people at a family gathering. We can have a swab party!

Descendants - parents alive

Click to enlarge

In the situation where my parents are both living, I’m going to test them in addition to Harold and Liz.

I’m testing myself because I want to work using my own DNA, but that’s not really necessary. My parents will both have twice as many matches to other people as I do – because I only inherited half of each parent’s DNA.

In this scenario, I’m providing 5 tests.

Example 4: My Immediate Family – one parent living, one deceased

Descendants - father deceased

Click to enlarge

In our last example, my mother is living but my father is deceased. In addition to Harold and Liz who reflect the DNA of my maternal grandparents, I will test myself, my mother my living brother and my deceased brother’s child.

Because my father is deceased, testing as many of my father’s descendants as possible, in addition to myself, is the only way for me to obtain some portion of his DNA. My siblings will have pieces of my parent’s DNA that I don’t.

I’m not showing my father’s tree in this view, but looking at his tree and who is available to test to provide information about his side of the family would be the next logical step. He may have siblings and cousins that are every bit as valuable as the people on my mother’s side.

Applying this methodology to your own family, who is available to test?

Multiple Databases

Now that you know WHO to test, the next step is to make sure your close family members test at each of the major providers where your DNA is as well.

I test everyone at Family Tree DNA because I have been testing family members there for 19 years and many of the original testers are deceased now. The only way new people can compare to those people is to be in the FamilyTreeDNA data base.

Then, with permission of course, I transfer all kits, for free, to MyHeritage. Matching is free, but if you don’t have a subscription, there’s an unlock fee of $29 to access advanced tools. I have a full subscription, so all tools are entirely free for the kits I transfer and manage in my account.

Transferring to Family Tree DNA and matching there is free too. There’s an unlock fee of $19 for advanced tools, but that’s a good deal because it’s substantially less than a new test.

Neither 23andMe nor Ancestry accept transfers, so you have to test at each of those companies.

The great news is that both Ancestry and 23andMe tests can be transferred to  MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA.

Before purchasing tests, check first by asking your relatives or testing there yourself to be sure they aren’t already in those databases. If they took a “spit in a vial” test, they are either at 23andMe or Ancestry. If they took a swab test, it’s MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA.

I wrote about creating a testing and transfer strategy in the article, DNA Testing and Transfers – What’s Your Strategy? That article includes a handy dandy chart about who accepts which versions of whose files.

Sales

Of course, everything is on sale since it’s the holidays.

Who are you planning to test?

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Thank you so much.

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Hit a Genetic Genealogy Home Run Using Your Double-Sided Two-Faced Chromosomes While Avoiding Imposters

Do you want to hit a home run with your DNA test, but find yourself a mite bewildered?

Yep, those matches can be somewhat confusing – especially if you don’t understand what’s going on. Do you have a nagging feeling that you might be missing something?

I’m going to explain chromosome matching, and its big sister, triangulation, step by step to remove any confusion, to help you sort through your matches and avoid imposters.

This article is one of the most challenging I’ve ever written – in part because it’s a concept that I’m so familiar with but can be, and is, misinterpreted so easily. I see mistakes and confusion daily, which means that resulting conclusions stand a good chance of being wrong.

I’ve tried to simplify these concepts by giving you easy-to-use memory tools.

There are three key phrases to remember, as memory-joggers when you work through your matches using a chromosome browser: double-sided, two faces and imposter. While these are “cute,” they are also quite useful.

When you’re having a confusing moment, think back to these memory-jogging key words and walk yourself through your matches using these steps.

These three concepts are the foundation of understanding your matches, accurately, as they pertain to your genealogy. Please feel free to share, link or forward this article to your friends and especially your family members (including distant cousins) who work with genetic genealogy. 

Now, it’s time to enjoy your double-sided, two-faced chromosomes and avoid those imposters:)

Are you ready? Grab a nice cup of coffee or tea and learn how to hit home runs!

Double-Sided – Yes, Really

Your chromosomes really are double sided, and two-faced too – and that’s a good thing!

However, it’s initially confusing because when we view our matches in a chromosome browser, it looks like we only have one “bar” or chromosome and our matches from both our maternal and paternal sides are both shown on our one single bar.

How can this be? We all have two copies of chromosome 1, one from each parent.

Chromosome 1 match.png

This is my chromosome 1, with my match showing in blue when compared to my chromosome, in gray, as the background.

However, I don’t know if this blue person matches me on my mother’s or father’s chromosome 1, both of which I inherited. It could be either. Or neither – meaning the dreaded imposter – especially that small blue piece at left.

What you’re seeing above is in essence both “sides” of my chromosome number 1, blended together, in one bar. That’s what I mean by double-sided.

There’s no way to tell which side or match is maternal and which is paternal without additional information – and misunderstanding leads to misinterpreting results.

Let’s straighten this out and talk about what matches do and don’t mean – and why they can be perplexing. Oh, and how to discover those imposters!

Your Three Matches

Let’s say you have three matches.

At Family Tree DNA, the example chromosome browser I’m using, or at any vendor with a chromosome browser, you select your matches which are viewed against your chromosomes. Your chromosomes are always the background, meaning in this case, the grey background.

Chromosome 1-4.png

  • This is NOT three copies each of your chromosomes 1, 2, 3 and 4.
  • This is NOT displaying your maternal and paternal copies of each chromosome pictured.
  • We CANNOT tell anything from this image alone relative to maternal and paternal side matches.
  • This IS showing three individual people matching you on your chromosome 1 and the same three people matching you in the same order on every chromosome in the picture.

Let’s look at what this means and why we want to utilize a chromosome browser.

I selected three matches that I know are not all related through the same parent so I can demonstrate how confusing matches can be sorted out. Throughout this article, I’ve tried to explain each concept in at least two ways.

Please note that I’m using only chromsomes 1-4 as examples, not because they are any more, or less, important than the other chromosomes, but because showing all 22 would not add any benefit to the discussion. The X chromosome has a separate inheritance path and I wrote about that here.

Let’s start with a basic question.

Why Would I Want to Use a Chromosome Browser?

Genealogists view matches on chromosome browsers because:

  • We want to see where our matches match us on our chromosomes
  • We’d like to identify our common ancestor with our match
  • We want to assign a matching segment to a specific ancestor or ancestral line, which confirmed those ancestors as ours
  • When multiple people match us on the same location on the chromosome browser, that’s a hint telling us that we need to scrutinize those matches more closely to determine if those people match us on our maternal or paternal side which is the first step in assigning that segment to an ancestor

Once we accurately assign a segment to an ancestor, when anyone else matches us (and those other people) on that same segment, we know which ancestral line they match through – which is a great head start in terms of identifying our common ancestor with our new match.

That’s a genetic genealogy home run!

Home Runs 

There are four bases in a genetic genealogy home run.

  1. Determine whether you actually match someone on the same segment
  2. Which is the first step in determining that you match a group of people on the same segment
  3. And that you descend from a common ancestor
  4. The fourth step, or the home run, is to determine which ancestor you have in common, assigning that segment to that ancestor

If you can’t see segment information, you can’t use a chromosome browser and you can’t confirm the match on that segment, nor can you assign that segment to a particular ancestor, or ancestral couple.

The entire purpose of genealogy is to identify and confirm ancestors. Genetic genealogy confirms the paper trail and breaks down even more brick walls.

But before you can do that, you have to understand what matches mean and how to use them.

The first step is to understand that our chromosomes are double-sided and you can’ t see both of your chromosomes at once!

Double Sided – You Can’t See Both of Your Chromosomes at Once

The confusing part of the chromosome browser is that it can only “see” your two chromosomes blended as one. They are both there, but you just can’t see them separately.

Here’s the important concept:

You have 2 copies of chromosomes 1 through 22 – one copy that you received from your mother and one from your father, but you can’t “see” them separately.

When your DNA is sequenced, your DNA from your parents’ chromosomes emerges as if it has been through a blender. Your mother’s chromosome 1 and your father’s chromosome 1 are blended together. That means that without additional information, the vendor can’t tell which matches are from your father’s side and which are from your mother’s side – and neither can you.

All the vendor can tell is that someone matches you on the blended version of your parents. This isn’t a negative reflection on the vendors, it’s just how the science works.

Chromosome 1.png

Applying this to chromosome 1, above, means that each segment from each person, the blue person, the red person and the teal person might match you on either one of your chromosomes – the paternal chromosome or the maternal chromosome – but because the DNA of your mother and father are blended – there’s no way without additional information to sort your chromosome 1 into a maternal and paternal “side.”

Hence, you’re viewing “one” copy of your combined chromosomes above, but it’s actually “two-sided” with both maternal and paternal matches displayed in the chromosome browser.

Parent-Child Matches

Let’s explain this another way.

Chromosome parent.png

The example above shows one of my parents matching me. Don’t be deceived by the color blue which is selected randomly. It could be either parent. We don’t know.

You can see that I match my parent on the entire length of chromosome 1, but there is no way for me to tell if I’m looking at my mother’s match or my father’s match, because both of my parents (and my children) will match me on exactly the same locations (all of them) on my chromosome 1.

Chromosome parent child.png

In fact, here is a combination of my children and my parents matching me on my chromosome 1.

To sort out who is matching on paternal and maternal chromosomes, or the double sides, I need more information. Let’s look at how inheritance works.

Stay with me!

Inheritance Example

Let’s take a look at how inheritance works visually, using an example segment on chromosome 1.

Chromosome inheritance.png

In the example above:

  • The first column shows addresses 1-10 on chromosome 1. In this illustration, we are only looking at positions, chromosome locations or addresses 1-10, but real chromosomes have tens of thousands of addresses. Think of your chromosome as a street with the same house numbers on both sides. One side is Mom’s and one side is Dad’s, but you can’t tell which is which by looking at the house numbers because the house numbers are identical on both sides of the street.
  • The DNA pieces, or nucleotides (T, A, C or G,) that you received from your Mom are shown in the column labeled Mom #1, meaning we’re looking at your mother’s pink chromosome #1 at addresses 1-10. In our example she has all As that live on her side of the street at addresses 1-10.
  • The DNA pieces that you received from your Dad are shown in the blue column and are all Cs living on his side of the street in locations 1-10.

In other words, the values that live in the Mom and Dad locations on your chromosome streets are different. Two different faces.

However, all that the laboratory equipment can see is that there are two values at address 1, A and C, in no particular order. The lab can’t tell which nucleotide came from which parent or which side of the street they live on.

The DNA sequencer knows that it found two values at each address, meaning that there are two DNA strands, but the output is jumbled, as shown in the First and Second read columns. The machine knows that you have an A and C at the first address, and a C and A at the second address, but it can’t put the sequence of all As together and the sequence of all Cs together. What the sequencer sees is entirely unordered.

This happens because your maternal and paternal DNA is mixed together during the extraction process.

Chromosome actual

Click to enlarge image.

Looking at the portion of chromosome 1 where the blue and teal people both match you – your actual blended values are shown overlayed on that segment, above. We don’t know why the blue and the teal people are matching you. They could be matching because they have all As (maternal), all Cs (paternal) or some combination of As and Cs (a false positive match that is identical by chance.)

There are only two ways to reassemble your nucleotides (T, A, C, and G) in order and then to identify the sides as maternal and paternal – phasing and matching.

As you read this next section, it does NOT mean that you must have a parent for a chromosome browser to be useful – but it does mean you need to understand these concepts.

There are two types of phasing.

Parental Phasing

  • Parental Phasing is when your DNA is compared against that of one or both parents and sorted based on that comparison.

Chromosome inheritance actual.png

Parental phasing requires that at least one parent’s DNA is available, has been sequenced and is available for matching.

In our example, Dad’s first 10 locations (that you inherited) on chromosome 1 are shown, at left, with your two values shown as the first and second reads. One of your read values came from your father and the other one came from your mother. In this case, the Cs came from your father. (I’m using A and C as examples, but the values could just as easily be T or G or any combination.)

When parental phasing occurs, the DNA of one of your parents is compared to yours. In this case, your Dad gave you a C in locations 1-10.

Now, the vendor can look at your DNA and assign your DNA to one parent or the other. There can be some complicating factors, like if both your parents have the same nucleotides, but let’s keep our example simple.

In our example above, you can see that I’ve colored portions of the first and second strands blue to represent that the C value at that address can be assigned through parental phasing to your father.

Conversely, because your mother’s DNA is NOT available in our example, we can’t compare your DNA to hers, but all is not lost. Because we know which nucleotides came from your father, the remaining nucleotides had to come from your mother. Hence, the As remain after the Cs are assigned to your father and belong to your mother. These remaining nucleotides can logically be recombined into your mother’s DNA – because we’ve subtracted Dad’s DNA.

I’ve reassembled Mom, in pink, at right.

Statistical/Academic Phasing

  • A second type of phasing uses something referred to as statistical or academic phasing.

Statistical phasing is less successful because it uses statistical calculations based on reference populations. In other words, it uses a “most likely” scenario.

By studying reference populations, we know scientifically that, generally, for our example addresses 1-10, we either see all As or all Cs grouped together.

Based on this knowledge, the Cs can then logically be grouped together on one “side” and As grouped together on the other “side,” but we still have no way to know which side is maternal or paternal for you. We only know that normally, in a specific population, we see all As or all Cs. After assigning strings or groups of nucleotides together, the algorithm then attempts to see which groups are found together, thereby assigning genetic “sides.” Assigning the wrong groups to the wrong side sometimes happens using statistical phasing and is called strand swap.

Once the DNA is assigned to physical “sides” without a parent or matching, we still can’t identify which side is paternal and which is maternal for you.

Statistical or academic phasing isn’t always accurate, in part because of the differences found in various reference populations and resulting admixture. Sometimes segments don’t match well with any population. As more people test and more reference populations become available, statistical/academic phasing improves. 23andMe uses academic phasing for ethnicity, resulting in a strand swap error for me. Ancestry uses academic phasing before matching.

By comparison to statistical or academic phasing, parental phasing with either or both parents is highly accurate which is why we test our parents and grandparents whenever possible. Even if the vendor doesn’t use our parents’ results, we certainly can!

If someone matches you and your parent too, you know that match is from that parent’s side of your tree.

Matching

The second methodology to sort your DNA into maternal and paternal sides is matching, either with or without your parents.

Matching to multiple known relatives on specific segments assigns those segments of your DNA to the common ancestor of those individuals.

In other words, when I match my first cousin, and our genealogy indicates that we share grandparents – assuming we match on the appropriate amount of DNA for the expected relationship – that match goes a long way to confirming our common ancestor(s).

The closer the relationship, the more comfortable we can be with the confirmation. For example, if you match someone at a parental level, they must be either your biological mother, father or child.

While parent, sibling and close relationships are relatively obvious, more distant relationships are not and can occur though unknown or multiple ancestors. In those cases, we need multiple matches through different children of that ancestor to reasonably confirm ancestral descent.

Ok, but how do we do that? Let’s start with some basics that can be confusing.

What are we really seeing when we look at a chromosome browser?

The Grey/Opaque Background is Your Chromosome

It’s important to realize that you will see as many images of your chromosome(s) as people you have selected to match against.

This means that if you’ve selected 3 people to match against your chromosomes, then you’ll see three images of your chromosome 1, three images of your chromosome 2, three images of your chromosome 3, three images of your chromosome 4, and so forth.

Remember, chromosomes are double-sided, so you don’t know whether these are maternal or paternal matches (or imposters.)

In the illustration below, I’ve selected three people to match against my chromosomes in the chromosome browser. One person is shown as a blue match, one as a red match, and one as a teal match. Where these three people match me on each chromosome is shown by the colored segments on the three separate images.

Chromosome 1.png

My chromosome 1 is shown above. These images are simply three people matching to my chromosome 1, stacked on top of each other, like cordwood.

The first image is for the blue person. The second image is for the red person. The third image is for the teal person.

If I selected another person, they would be assigned a different color (by the system) and a fourth stacked image would occur.

These stacked images of your chromosomes are NOT inherently maternal or paternal.

In other words, the blue person could match me maternally and the red person paternally, or any combination of maternal and paternal. Colors are not relevant – in other words colors are system assigned randomly.

Notice that portions of the blue and teal matches overlap at some of the same locations/addresses, which is immediately visible when using a chromosome browser. These areas of common matching are of particular interest.

Let’s look closer at how chromosome browser matching works.

What about those colorful bars?

Chromosome Browser Matching

When you look at your chromosome browser matches, you may see colored bars on several chromosomes. In the display for each chromosome, the same color will always be shown in the same order. Most people, unless very close relatives, won’t match you on every chromosome.

Below, we’re looking at three individuals matching on my chromosomes 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Chromosome browser.png

The blue person will be shown in location A on every chromosome at the top. You can see that the blue person does not match me on chromosome 2 but does match me on chromosomes 1, 3 and 4.

The red person will always be shown in the second position, B, on each chromosome. The red person does not match me on chromosomes 2 or 4.

The aqua person will always be shown in position C on each chromosome. The aqua person matches me on at least a small segment of chromosomes 1-4.

When you close the browser and select different people to match, the colors will change and the stacking order perhaps, but each person selected will always be consistently displayed in the same position on all of your chromosomes each time you view.

The Same Address – Stacked Matches

In the example above, we can see that several locations show stacked segments in the same location on the browser.

Chromosome browser locations.png

This means that on chromosome 1, the blue and green person both match me on at least part of the same addresses – the areas that overlap fully. Remember, we don’t know if that means the maternal side or the paternal side of the street. Each match could match on the same or different sides.

Said another way, blue could be maternal and teal could be paternal (or vice versa,) or both could be maternal or paternal. One or the other or both could be imposters, although with large segments that’s very unlikely.

On chromosome 4, blue and teal both match me on two common locations, but the teal person extends beyond the length of the matching blue segments.

Chromosome 3 is different because all three people match me at the same address. Even though the red and teal matching segments are longer, the shared portion of the segment between all three people, the length of the blue segment, is significant.

The fact that the stacked matches are in the same places on the chromosomes, directly above/below each other, DOES NOT mean the matches also match each other.

The only way to know whether these matches are both on one side of my tree is whether or not they match each other. Do they look the same or different? One face or two? We can’t tell from this view alone.

We need to evaluate!

Two Faces – Matching Can be Deceptive!

What do these matches mean? Let’s ask and answer a few questions.

  • Does a stacked match mean that one of these people match on my mother’s side and one on my father’s side?

They might, but stacked matches don’t MEAN that.

If one match is maternal, and one is paternal, they still appear at the same location on your chromosome browser because Mom and Dad each have a side of the street, meaning a chromosome that you inherited.

Remember in our example that even though they have the same street address, Dad has blue Cs and Mom has pink As living at that location. In other words, their faces look different. So unless Mom and Dad have the same DNA on that entire segment of addresses, 1-10, Mom and Dad won’t match each other.

Therefore, my maternal and paternal matches won’t match each other either on that segment either, unless:

  1. They are related to me through both of my parents and on that specific location.
  2. My mother and father are related to each other and their DNA is the same on that segment.
  3. There is significant endogamy that causes my parents to share DNA segments from their more distant ancestors, even though they are not related in the past few generations.
  4. The segments are small (segments less than 7cM are false matches roughly 50% of the time) and therefore the match is simply identical by chance. I wrote about that here. The chart showing valid cM match percentages is shown here, but to summarize, 7-8 cMs are valid roughly 46% of the time, 8-9 cM roughly 66%, 9-10 cM roughly 91%, 10-11 cM roughly 95, but 100 is not reached until about 20 cM and I have seen a few exceptions above that, especially when imputation is involved.

Chromosome inheritance match.png

In this inheritance example, we see that pink Match #1 is from Mom’s side and matches the DNA I inherited from pink Mom. Blue Match #2 is from Dad’s side and matches the DNA I inherited from blue Dad. But as you can see, Match #1 and Match #2 do not match each other.

Therefore, the address is only half the story (double-sided.)

What lives at the address is the other half. Mom and Dad have two separate faces!

Chromosome actual overlay

Click to enlarge image

Looking at our example of what our DNA in parental order really looks like on chromosome 1, we see that the blue person actually matches on my maternal side with all As, and the teal person on the paternal side with all Cs.

  • Does a stacked match on the chromosome browser mean that two people match each other?

Sometimes it happens, but not necessarily, as shown in our example above. The blue and teal person would not match each other. Remember, addresses (the street is double-sided) but the nucleotides that live at that address tell the real story. Think two different looking faces, Mom’s and Dad’s, peering out those windows.

If stacked matches match each other too – then they match me on the same parental side. If they don’t match each other, don’t be deceived just because they live at the same address. Remember – Mom’s and Dad’s two faces look different.

For example, if both the blue and teal person match me maternally, with all As, they would also match each other. The addresses match and the values that live at the address match too. They look exactly the same – so they both match me on either my maternal or paternal side – but it’s up to me to figure out which is which using genealogy.

Chromosome actual maternal.png

Click to enlarge image

When my matches do match each other on this segment, plus match me of course, it’s called triangulation.

Triangulation – Think of 3

If my two matches match each other on this segment, in addition to me, it’s called triangulation which is genealogically significant, assuming:

  1. That the triangulated people are not closely related. Triangulation with two siblings, for example, isn’t terribly significant because the common ancestor is only their parents. Same situation with a child and a parent.
  2. The triangulated segments are not small. Triangulation, like matching, on small segments can happen by chance.
  3. Enough people triangulate on the same segment that descends from a common ancestor to confirm the validity of the common ancestor’s identity, also confirming that the match is identical by descent, not identical by chance.

Chromosome inheritance triangulation.png

The key to determining whether my two matches both match me on my maternal side (above) or paternal side is whether they also match each other.

If so, assuming all three of the conditions above are true, we triangulate.

Next, let’s look at a three-person match on the same segment and how to determine if they triangulate.

Three Way Matching and Identifying Imposters

Chromosome 3 in our example is slightly different, because all three people match me on at least a portion of that segment, meaning at the same address. The red and teal segments line up directly under the blue segment – so the portion that I can potentially match identically to all 3 people is the length of the blue segment. It’s easy to get excited, but don’t get excited quite yet.

Chromosome 3 way match.png

Given that three people match me on the same street address/location, one of the following three situations must be true:

  • Situation 1- All three people match each other in addition to me, on that same segment, which means that all three of them match me on either the maternal or paternal side. This confirms that we are related on the same side, but not how or which side.

Chromosome paternal.png

In order to determine which side, maternal or paternal, I need to look at their and my genealogy. The blue arrows in these examples mean that I’ve determined these matches to all be on my father’s side utilizing a combination of genealogy plus DNA matching. If your parent is alive, this part is easy. If not, you’ll need to utilize common matching and/or triangulation with known relatives.

  • Situation 2 – Of these three people, Cheryl, the blue bar on top, matches me but does not match the other two. Charlene and David, the red and teal, match each other, plus me, but not Cheryl.

Chromosome maternal paternal.png

This means that at least either my maternal or paternal side is represented, given that Charlene and David also match each other. Until I can look at the identity of who matches, or their genealogy, I can’t tell which person or people descend from which side.

In this case, I’ve determined that Cheryl, my first cousin, with the pink arrow matches me on Mom’s side and Charlene and David, with the blue arrows, match me on Dad’s side. So both my maternal and paternal sides are represented – my maternal side with the pink arrow as well as my father’s side with the blue arrows.

If Cheryl was a more distant match, I would need additional triangulated matches to family members to confirm her match as legitimate and not a false positive or identical by chance.

  • Situation 3 – Of the three people, all three match me at the same addresses, but none of the three people match each other. How is this even possible?

Chromosome identical by chance.png

This situation seems very counter-intuitive since I have only 2 chromosomes, one from Mom and one from Dad – 2 sidesof the street. It is confusing until you realize that one match (Cheryl and me, pink arrow) would be maternal, one would be paternal (Charlene and me, blue arrow) and the third (David and me, red arrows) would have DNA that bounces back and forth between my maternal and paternal sides, meaning the match with David is identical by chance (IBC.)

This means the third person, David, would match me, but not the people that are actually maternal and paternal matches. Let’s take a look at how this works

Chromosome maternal paternal IBC.png

The addresses are the same, but the values that live at the addresses are not in this third scenario.

Maternal pink Match #1 is Cheryl, paternal blue Match #2 is Charlene.

In this example, Match #3, David, matches me because he has pink and blue at the same addresses that Mom and Dad have pink and blue, but he doesn’t have all pink (Mom) nor all blue (Dad), so he does NOT match either Cheryl or Charlene. This means that he is not a valid genealogical match – but is instead what is known as a false positive – identical by chance, not by descent. In essence, a wily genetic imposter waiting to fool unwary genealogists!

In his case, David is literally “two-faced” with parts of both values that live in the maternal house and the paternal house at those addresses. He is a “two-faced imposter” because he has elements of both but isn’t either maternal or paternal.

This is the perfect example of why matching and triangulating to known and confirmed family members is critical.

All three people, Cheryl, Charlene and David match me (double sided chromosomes), but none of them match each other (two legitimate faces – one from each parent’s side plus one imposter that doesn’t match either the legitimate maternal or paternal relatives on that segment.)

Remember Three Things

  1. Double-Sided – Mom and Dad both have the same addresses on both sides of each chromosome street.
  2. Two Legitimate Faces – The DNA values, nucleotides, will have a unique pattern for both your Mom and Dad (unless they are endogamous or related) and therefore, there are two legitimate matching patterns on each chromsome – one for Mom and one for Dad. Two legitimate and different faces peering out of the houses on Mom’s side and Dad’s side of the street.
  3. Two-Faced Imposters – those identical by chance matches which zig-zag back and forth between Mom and Dad’s DNA at any given address (segment), don’t match confirmed maternal and paternal relatives on the same segment, and are confusing imposters.

Are you ready to hit your home run?

What’s Next?

Now that we understand how matching and triangulation works and why, let’s put this to work at the vendors. Join me for my article in a few days, Triangulation in Action at Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe and GedMatch.

We will step through how triangulation works at each vendor. You’ll have matches at each vendor that you don’ t have elsewhere. If you haven’t transferred your DNA file yet, you still have time with the step by step instructions below:

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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 Services

Genealogy Research

Mitochondrial DNA Resources – Everything You Need to Know

Mitochondrial DNA Resources

Recently, I wrote a multi-part series about mitochondrial DNA – start to finish – everything you need to know.

I’ve assembled several articles in one place, and I’ll add any new articles here as well.

Please feel free to share this resource or any of the links to individual articles with friends, genealogy groups or on social media.

What the Difference Between Mitochondrial and Other Types of DNA?

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited directly from your matrilineal line, only, meaning your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother – on up your family tree until you run out of direct line mothers that you’ve identified. The great news is even if you don’t know the identities of those people in your tree, you carry their mitochondrial DNA which can help identify them.

Here’s a short article about the different kinds of DNA that can be used for genealogy.

Why Mitochondrial DNA?

Let’s start out with why someone might want to test their mitochondrial DNA.

After you purchase a DNA test, swab, return the kit and when the lab finishes processing your test, you’ll receive your results on your personal page at FamilyTreeDNA, the only company that tests mitochondrial DNA at the full sequence level and provides matching with tens of thousands of other testers.

What About Those Results?

People want to understand how to use all of the different information provided to testers. These articles provide a step-by-step primer.

Mitochondrial DNA personal page update

Sign in to your Family Tree DNA account and use these articles as a guideline to step through your results on your personal page.

We begin with an overview. What is mitochondrial DNA, how it is inherited and why is it useful for genealogy?

Next, we look at your results and decode what all the numbers mean. It’s easy, really!

Our ancestors lived in clans, and our mitochondrial DNA has its own versions of clans too – called haplogroups. Your full haplogroup can be very informative.

Sometimes there’s more than meets the eye. Here are my own tips and techniques for more than doubling the usefulness of your matches.

You’ll want to wring every possible advantage out of your tests, so be sure to join relevant projects and use them to their fullest extent.

Do you know how to utilize advanced matching? It’s a very powerful tool. If not, you will after these articles.

Mitochondrial DNA Information for Everyone

FamilyTreeDNA maintains an extensive public mitochondrial DNA tree, complete with countries of origin for all branches. You don’t need to have tested to enjoy the public tree.

However, if you have tested, take a look to see where the earliest known ancestors of your haplogroup matches are located based on the country flags.

Mitochondrial resources haplotree

These are mine. Where are yours?

What Can Mitochondrial DNA Do for You?

Some people mistakenly think that mitochondrial DNA isn’t useful for genealogy. I’m here to testify that it’s not only useful, it’s amazing! Here are three stories from my own genealogy about how I’ve used mitochondrial DNA to learn more about my ancestors and in some cases, break right through brick walls.

It’s not only your own mitochondrial DNA that’s important, but other family members too.

My cousin tested her mitochondrial DNA to discover that her direct matrilineal ancestor was Native American, much to her surprise. The great news is that her ancestor is my ancestor too!

Searching for Native American Ancestors?

If you’re searching for Native American or particular ancestors, mitochondrial DNA can tell you specifically if your mitochondrial DNA, or that of your ancestors (if you test a direct matrilineal descendant,) is Native, African, European, Jewish or Asian. Furthermore, your matches provide clues as to what country your ancestor might be from and sometimes which regions too.

Did you know that people from different parts of the world have distinctive haplogroups?

You can discover your ancestors’ origins through their mitochondrial DNA.

You can even utilize autosomal segment information to track back in time to the ancestor you seek. Then you can obtain that ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA by selectively testing their descendants or finding people who have already tested that descend from that ancestor. Here’s how.

You never know what you’re going to discover when you test your mitochondrial DNA. I discovered that although my earliest known matrilineal ancestor is found in Germany, her ancestors were from Scandinavia. My cousin discovered that our common ancestor is Mi’kmaq.

What secrets will your mitochondrial DNA reveal?

You can test or upgrade your mitochondrial DNA by clicking 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 Services

Genealogy Research

Concepts: What are NPEs and MPEs?

Child with helix

Sooner or later in genetic genealogy, you’re going to run across the acronym, NPE or MPE.

Years ago, the phrase NPE was coined to generally mean when the expected parent or parents weren’t.

  • NPE means nonpaternal event, also sometimes nonparental event.
  • Some folks didn’t like that term and began to use MPE, misattributed paternal event or misattributed parentage.

Of course, today, this situation could arise as a result of an adoption, a donor situation, either male or female, or the more often thought-of situation where the father isn’t who he’s presumed/believed to be based on the circumstances at hand.

Historically, adoptions weren’t a legal situation. If the parents died on the wagon train, someone took the kids to raise. Ditto a woman raising her sister’s children.

At that time, everyone knew the situation and it wasn’t a secret. A couple (or more) generations later, no one knows and the presumed parent(s) aren’t, especially if the child used the surname of the people who raised him or her. That’s a very common step-father situation, especially before official birth certificates.

Regardless of the situation, the “adoption” was undocumented for future generations. Hence, the term “undocumented adoption.” I’ve used “undocumented adoption” for a long time because I felt there was less judgement inherent in that description. Other people simply say “of unknown parentage.”

Discoveries are Common

Of course today with various types of DNA testing, these types of situations are slowly, or not so slowly, being discovered.

When they reveal themselves, you may have to saw a branch off of your tree. That’s ugly if you’re a genealogist, but at least it’s not someone you know personally.

However, if the people involved are closer in time, the discovery may be a shock or traumatic. I experienced this with my half-brother, Dave, who turned out not to be my biological brother.  I found him and then heartbreakingly lost him. I loved him regardless and wrote about our journey here, here and here.

These situations used to be remarkable, but with so many people DNA testing, these revelations are becoming daily events.

No Judgement

While the first thought that might occur is that someone was cheating, that may not be the case at all. Lots of circumstances may come into play. I wrote about several here.

I would encourage everyone to suspend judgement, not assume and to give our ancestors and family members the benefit of the doubt. We don’t and can’t know what happened to them.

Moccasins and glass houses😊

Besides that – if it wasn’t for your ancestors, you wouldn’t be you!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the 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 Services

Genealogy Research

Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching

There have been a lot of questions recently about the methodology used by people searching for unknown parents and other unidentified individuals. I covered this technique in concept recently at a conference as part of an overview presentation. In this article, I’m addressing only this topic and in more detail.

What is the methodology that genealogists use to identify unknown parents? It’s exactly the same process used to identify unknown Does, meaning unidentified bodies as well as violent criminals who have left DNA, such as blood or semen, at a crime scene.

How is Identifying Unknown Individuals Different from Genealogy?

Genealogists are interested in discovering their ancestors. Generally, genealogists know who their parents are and most of the time, their grandparents as well. Not very many people can tell you the names of their great-grandparents off the top of their head – not unless they ARE genealogists😊

Genealogists interview family members and access family sources, such as photos, Bibles, boxes of memorabilia and often extend their family another generation or two using these resources. Then, to gather additional information, genealogists turn to publicly available sources such as:

Constructing a Tree

Genealogists utilize software to create trees of their ancestors, either on their own computers with software such as Family Tree Maker, Legacy, RootsMagic or the free tree building software from MyHeritage. They then either synchronize or duplicate their tree on the public sites mentioned above which provide functionality such as “hints” that point to documents relevant to the ancestors in their tree. Additionally, they can access the trees of other genealogists who are researching the same ancestors. This facilitates the continued growth of their tree by adding ancestors and extending the tree back generations.

While tree-building is the goal of genealogists, the trees they build are important tools for people seeking to identify unknown individuals.

The Tree

Generations tree

In my tree, shown in the format of a pedigree chart, above, you can see that I’ve identified all 16 of my great-great-grandparents. In reality, because I’ve been a genealogist for decades, I’ve identified many more of my ancestors which are reflected in my tree on my computer and in my trees at both Ancestry and MyHeritage where I benefit from hints and DNA matches.

Genealogical pedigree charts are typically represented with the “home person,” me, in this case at the base with my ancestors branching out behind them like a lovely peacock’s tail.

While I’m looking for distant ancestors, adoptees and others seeking the identities of contemporary people are not looking back generations, but seek to identify contemporary generations, meaning people who are alive or lived very recently, typically within a generation.

Enter the world of genetics and DNA matching.

Genetics, The Game Changing Tool

Before the days of DNA testing, adoptees could only hope that someone knew the identify of their biological parents, or that their biological parents registered with a reunion site, or that their court records could be opened.

DNA testing changed all of that, because people can now DNA test and find their close relatives. As more people test, the better the odds of actually having a parent or sibling match, or perhaps a close relative like an aunt, uncle or first cousin. My closest relative that has tested that I didn’t know was testing is my half-sister’s daughter.

You share grandparents with your first cousin, and since you only have 4 grandparents, it’s not terribly difficult to figure out which set of grandparents you connect to through that first cousin – especially given the size of the databases and the number of matches that people have today.

The chart below shows my matches as of June 2019.

Vendor

Total Matches

Second Cousin or Closer

Family Tree DNA

4,609

18

MyHeritage

9,644

14

23andMe

1,501

5

Ancestry

80,151

8

You can see that I have a total of 45 close matches, although some of those matches are duplicates of each other. However, each database has some people that are only in that database and have not tested at other companies or transferred to other databases.

Situations like this are exactly why people who are searching for unknown family members take DNA tests at all 4 of the vendors.

Stories were once surprising about people who tested and either discover a previously unknown close relative, or conversely discovered that they are not related to someone who they initially believed they were. Today these occurrences are commonplace.

Matches

If you’re searching for an unknown parent or close relative, you just might be lucky to receive a parental, sibling, half-sibling or uncle/aunt match immediately.

An estimated relationship range is provided by all vendors based on the amount of DNA that the tester shares with their match.

Generations Family Tree DNA matches

My mother’s match page at Family Tree DNA is shown above. You can see that I’m Mother’s closest match. My known half brother did not test before he passed away, and mother’s parents are long deceased, so my mother should NEVER have another match this close.

So, who is that person in row 2 that is also predicted to be a mother or daughter? I took a test at Ancestry and uploaded my results to Family Tree DNA for research purposes, so this is actually my own second kit, but for example purposes, I’ve renamed myself “Example Adoptee.” Judging from the photo here, apparently my “adopted” sibling was a twin😊

If the adoptee tested at Family Tree DNA, she would immediately see a sibling match (me) and a parent match (Mom.) A match at that cM (centiMorgan) level can only be a parent or a child, and the adoptee knows whether she has a child or not.

Let’s look at a more distant example, which is probably more “typical” than immediately finding a parent match.

Let’s say that the “male adoptee” at the bottom in the red box is also searching for his birth family. He matches my mother at the 2nd-3rd cousin level, so someplace in her tree are his ancestors too.

People who have trees are shown with gold boxes around the tiny pedigree icons, because they literally are trees of gold.

Because of Family Tree DNA’s “bucketing” tool, the software has already told my Mother that the male adoptee is a match on her father’s side of her tree. The adoptee can click on the little pedigree icon to view the trees of his matches to view their ancestors, then engage in what is known as “tree triangulation” with his other close matches.

From the Perspective of the Adoptee

An adoptee tests not knowing anything about their ancestors.

Generations adoptee

When their results come back, the adoptee, in the red box in the center, hoping to identify their biological parents, discovers that their closest matches are the testers in the pink and blue ovals.

The adoptee does NOT know that these people are related to each other at this point, only that these 7 people are their closest matches on their match list.

The adoptee has to put the rest of the story together like a puzzle.

Who Matches Each Other?

In our scenario, test takers 2, 3 and 8 don’t match the adoptee, so the adoptee will never know they tested and vice versa. Everyone at a second cousin level will match each other, but only some people will match at more distant relationships, according to statistics published by 23andMe:

Relationship Level

Percentage of People Who Match

Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, half siblings, half aunts/uncles and 1st cousins

100%

2nd cousins

>99%

3rd cousins

90%

4th cousins

45%

5th cousins

15%

6th cousins and more distant

<5%

You can view a detailed chart with additional relationships here.

Tree Triangulation

By looking at the individual trees of test taker 1, 4 and 5 whom they match, the adoptee notices that John and Jane Doe are common ancestors in the trees of all 3 test takers. The adoptee may also use “in common with” tools provided by each vendor to see who they match “in common with” another tester. In this case, let’s say that test taker 1, 4 and 5 also match each other, so the adoptee would also make note of that, inferring correctly that they are members of the same family.

The goal is to identify a common ancestor of a group of matches in order to construct the ancestor’s tree, not a pedigree chart backwards in time, as with genealogy, but to construct a descendants’ tree from the ancestral couple to the current day, as completely as possible. After all, the goal is to identify the parent of the adoptee who descends from the common ancestor.

Generations adoptee theory

In this case, the adoptee realized that the pink test takers descended from John and Jane Doe, and the blue test takers descended from Walter and Winnie Smith, and constructed descendant trees of both couples.

The adoptee created a theory, based on the descendants of these two ancestral couples, incorporating other known facts, such as the year when the adoptee was born, and where.

In our example, the adoptee discovered that John and Jane Doe had another daughter, Juanita, whose descendants don’t appear to have tested, and that Juanita had a daughter who was in the right place at the right time to potentially be the mother of the adoptee.

Conversely, Walter and Winnie Smith had a son whose descendants also appear to have not tested, and he had a son who lived in the same place as Juanita Doe. In other words, age, opportunity and process of elimination all play a role in addition to DNA matches. DNA is only the first hint that must be followed up by additional research.

At this point, if the adoptee has taken either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, those results can serve to either include or exclude some candidates at Family Tree DNA. For example, if the adoptee was a male and matched the Y DNA of the Smith line, that would be HUGE hint.

From this point on, an adoptee can either wait for more people to test or can contact their matches hoping that the matches will have information and be helpful. Keep in mind that all the adoptee has is a theory at this point and they are looking to refine their theory or create a new one and then to help narrow their list of parent candidates.

Fortunately, there are tools and processes to help.

What Are the Odds?

One helpful tool to do this is the WATO, What Are the Odds statistical probability tools at DNAPainter.

Using WATO, you create a hypothesis tree as to how the person whose connection you are seeking might be related, plugging them in to different tree locations, as shown below.

Generations WATO

This is not the same example as Smith and Doe, above, but a real family puzzle being worked on by my cousin. Names are blurred for privacy, of course.

Generations WATO2

WATO then provides a statistical analysis of the various options, with only one of the above hypothesis being potentially viable based on the level of DNA matching for the various hypothetical relationships.

DNAPainter Shared cM Tool

If your eyes are glazing over right about now with all of these numbers flying around, you’re not alone.

I’ll distill this process into individual steps to help you understand how this works, and why, starting with another tool provided by DNAPainter, the Shared cM tool that helps you calculate the most likely relationship with another person.

The more closely related you are to a person, the more DNA you will share with them.

DNAPainter has implemented this tool based on the results of Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project where you can enter the amount of DNA that you share with someone to determine the “best fit” relationship, on average, plus the range of expected shared DNA.

Generations DNAPainter Shared cM Project

You, or the test taker, are in the middle and the relationship ranges surround “you.”

For example, you can clearly see that the number of cMs for my Example Adoptee at 3384 is clearly in the Parent or Child range. But wait, it could also be at the very highest end of a half sibling relationship. Other lower cM matches are less specific, so another feature of the DNAPainter tool is a life-saver.

At the top of the page, you can enter the number of matching cMs and the tool will predict the most likely results, based on probability.

Generations 3384

The relationship for 3384 cMs is 100% a parent/child relationship, shown above, but the sibling box is highlighted below because 3384 is the very highest value in the range. This seems to be a slight glitch in the tool. We can summarize by saying that it would be extremely, extremely rare for a 3384 cM match to be a full sibling instead of a parent or child. Hen’s teeth rare.

Generations parent child

Next, let’s look at 226 cM, for our male adoptee which produces the following results:

Generations 226

The following chart graphically shows the possible relationships. The “male adoptee” is actually Mom’s second cousin. This tool is quite accurate.

Generations 226 chart

Now that you’ve seen the tools in action, let’s take a look at the rest of the process.

The Steps to Success

The single biggest predictor of success identifying an unknown person is the number of close matches. Without relatively close matches, the process gets very difficult quickly.

What constitutes a close match and how many close matches do adoptees generally have to work with?

If an adoptee matches someone at a 2nd or 3rd cousin level, what does that really mean to them?

I’ve created the following charts to answer these questions. By the way, this information is relevant to everyone, not just adoptees.

In the chart below, you can view different relationships in the blue legs of the chart descending from the common ancestral couple.

In this example, “You” and the “Other Tester” match at the 4th cousin level sharing 35 cM of DNA. If you look “up” the tree a generation, you can see that the parents of the testers match at the 3rd cousin level and share 74 cM of DNA, the grandparents of the testers match at the 2nd cousin level and share 223 cM of DNA and so forth.

Generations relationship table

In the left column, generations begin being counted with your parents as generation 1. The cumulative number of direct line relatives you have at each generation is shown in the “# Grandparents” column.

Generations relationship levels

Here’s how to read this chart, straight across.

Viewing the “Generation” column, at the 4th generation level, you have 16 great-great-grandparents. Your great-great-grandparent is a first cousin to the the great-great-grandparent of your 4th cousin. Their parents were siblings.

Looking at it this way, it might not seem too difficult to reassemble the descendancy tree of someone 5 generations in the past, but let’s look at it from the other perspective meaning from the perspective of the ancestral couple.

Generations descendants

Couples had roughly 25 years of being reproductively capable and for most of history, birth control was non-existent. If your great-great-great-grandparents, who were born sometime near the year 1800 (the births of mine range from 1785 to 1810) had 5 children who lived, and each of their descendants had 5 children who lived, today each ancestral couple would have 3,125 descendants.

If that same couple had 10 children and 10 lived in each subsequent generation, they would have 100,000 descendants. Accuracy probably lies someplace in-between. That’s still a huge number of descendants for one couple.

That’s JUST for one couple. You have 32 great-great-great-grandparents, or 16 pairs, so multiply 16 times 3,125 for 50,000 descendants or 100,000 times 16 for…are you ready for this…1,600,000 descendants.

Descendants per GGG-grandparent couple at 5 generations Total descendants for 16 GGG-grandparent couples combined
5 children per generation 3,125 50,000
10 children per generation 100,000 1,600,000

NOW you understand why adoptees need to focus on only close matches and why distant matches at the 3rd and 4th cousin level are just too difficult to work with.

By contrast, let’s look at the first cousin row.

Generations descendants 1C.png

At 5 descendants per generation, you’ll have 25 first cousins or 100 first cousins at 10 descendants per generation.

Generations descendants 2C

At second cousins, you’ll have 125 and 1,000 – so reconstructing these trees down to current descendants is still an onerous task but much more doable than from the third or fourth cousin level, especially in smaller families.

The Perfect Scenario

Barring a fortuitous parent or sibling match, the perfect scenario for adoptees and people seeking unknown individuals means that:

  • They have multiple 1st or 2nd cousin matches making tree triangulation to a maternal and paternal group of matches to identify the common ancestors feasible.
  • Their matches have trees that allow the adoptee to construct theories of how they might fit into a family.

Following the two steps above, when sufficient matching and trees have been assembled, the verification steps begin.

  • Adoptees hope that their matches are responsive to communications requesting additional information to either confirm or refute their relationship theory. For example, my mother could tell the male adoptee that he is related on her father’s side of the family based on Family Tree DNA‘s parental “side” assignment. Based on who else the adoptee matches in common with mother, she could probably tell him how he’s related. That information would be hugely beneficial.
  • In a Doe situation where the goal is to identify remains, with a relatively close match, the investigator could contact that match and ask if they know of a missing family member.
  • In a law enforcement situation where strong close-family matches that function as hints lead to potential violent crime suspects, investigators could obtain a piece of trash discarded by the potential suspect to process and compare to the DNA from the crime scene, such as was done in the Golden State Killer case.

If the discarded DNA doesn’t match the crime scene DNA, the person is exonerated as a potential suspect. If the discarded DNA does match the crime scene DNA, investigators would continue to gather non-DNA evidence and/or pick the suspect up for questioning and to obtain a court ordered DNA sample to compare to the DNA from the crime scene in a law enforcement database.

Sometimes DNA is a Waiting Game

I know that on the surface, DNA matching for adoptees and unknown persons sounds simple, and sometimes it is if there is a very close family match.

More often than not, trying to identify unknown persons, especially if the tester doesn’t have multiple close matches is much like assembling a thousand-piece puzzle with no picture on the front of the box.

Sometimes simply waiting for a better match at some point in the future is the only feasible answer. I waited years for my brother, Dave’s family match. You can read his story here and here.

DNA is a waiting game.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the 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 Services

Genealogy Research

Concepts – Endogamy and DNA Segments

Members of endogamous populations intermarry for generations, creating many segments that match, especially at small centiMorgan levels. These matching segments occur because they are members of the same population – not because they are genealogically related in a recent or genealogical time-frame.

Said another way, endogamous people are all related to each other in some way because they descend from a small original population whose descendants continued to intermarry without introducing people outside of the community into the genetic line. In other words, the DNA segments of the original population simply keep getting passed around, because there are no new segments being introduced.

If you only have 10 segments at a specific genetic location to begin with, in the original population – then the descendants of those original people can only have some combination of the DNA of those original people until another person is introduced into the mix.

Examples of endogamous populations are Ashkenazi Jews, Native Americans, Acadians, Mennonite, Amish and so forth.

If you have some family lines from an endogamous population, you’ll match with many members of that group. If you are fully endogamous, you will have significantly more matches than people from non-endogamous groups.

I suggest that you read my article, Concepts: The Faces of Endogamy to set the stage for this article.

In this article, I want to provide you with a visual example of what endogamy looks like in a chromosome browser. It doesn’t matter which vendor you use so long as you can drop the cM count to 1, so I’m using FamilyTreeDNA for this example.

I’ve used three people as examples:

  • Non-endogamous European
  • Ashkenazi Jewish
  • Native American (Sioux)

For all testers, I selected their closest match above 200 cM total plus the following 4 for a total of 5 people to compare in the chromosome browser. I have only shown chromosomes 1-8 because I’m trying to convey the concept, not exact details of each chromosome, and 8 chromosomes fit into one screen shot.

If you’re not familiar with the terminology, you can read about cM, centiMorgans, in the article “Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs, and Pickin’Crab.”

Let’s take a look at our 3 examples, one at a time.

Non-Endogamous European Individual

The tester is non-endogamous. Four of the 5 individuals are known family members, although none were target tested by the tester.

Endogamy non-endogamous.png

The tester’s matches at 1 cM are shown below:

Endogamy non-endogamous 1cM.png

Note that the grey hashed regions are regions not reported, so no one matches there.

Below, the same 5 matches shown at 7 cM where roughly half of the matches will be identical by chance. Identical by descent segments include identical by population. You can read about the various types of “identical by” segments in the article, “Concepts – Identical by…Descent, State, Population and Chance”.

Endogamy non-endogamous 7cM.png

Ashkenazi Jewish Individual

The tester, along with both of their parents have tested. None of the matches are known or identified relatives.

Endogamy Jewish.png

Even though none of these individuals can be identified, two are related on both sides, maternal and paternal, of the person who tested.

In the chromosome browser, at 1cM, we see the following:

Endogamy Jewish 1cM.png

At 7cM, the following:

Endogamy 7cM.png

Native American Individual

The tester is 15/16 Native from the Sioux tribe. It’s unlikely that their matches are entirely Native, meaning they are not entirely endogamous. None of the matches are known or identified family members.

Endogamy Native.png

At 1 cM shown below:

Endogamy Native 1cM.png

At 7 cM, below:

Endogamy Native 7cM.png

Side by Side

I’ve placed the three 1 cM charts side by side with the non-endogamous to the left, the Jewish in the center and the Native, at right.

endogamy side by side.png

It’s easy to see that the Jewish tester has more 1 cM segments than the non-endogamous tester, and the Native tester more than both of the others.

Summary Comparison Chart

The chart below shows the difference in total number of segments, number of segments between 1 and 6.99 cM, and number of segments at 7 cM or larger. I downloaded these results into a spreadsheet and counted the rows.

Total Segments Total segments at 1 – 6.99 cM Total at 7 or > cM % 7 or >
Non-Endogamous 98 70 28 29
Jewish 168 139 29 17
Native American 310 295 15 5

You’ll note that the non-endogamous individual only has 58% of the number of total segments compared to the Jewish individual, and 32% compared to the Native American individual. The Jewish individual has 54% of the number of segments that the Native person has.

I was initially surprised by the magnitude of this difference, but after thinking about it, I realized that the Native people have been endogamous for a lot longer in the Americas than the Ashkenazi Jewish people in Europe. At least 12,000 years compared to roughly 2000 years, or approximately (at least) 6 times longer. Furthermore, the Native people in the Americans were entirely isolated until the 1400s, with no possibility of outside admixture. Isolation lasted even longer in the tribes that were not coastal, such as the Sioux in the Dakotas.

Note that the Jewish person and non-endogamous person have almost as many 7cM segments as each other, but the Native person has roughly half as many when compared to the other two. That means that because I made my selection starting point based on total cM, and the Native person has a LOT more 1-6.99 cM segments than the others, at that level, there are fewer strong segment matches for the Native individual.

The Native person’s percentage of 7 cM or greater segments is a much smaller percentage of the total segments.

As a percentage, the 7 or greater cM segments are 29% of the non-endogamous person’s total, 17% of the Jewish person’s, but only 5% of the Native person’s total.

Endogamy not only makes a difference when comparing results, but the specific endogamous population along with their history, how heavily endogamous they are, and how long they have been endogamous appears to factor heavily into the comparison as well.

Full or Half Siblings?

Many people are receiving unexpected sibling matches. Everyday on social media, “surprises” are being reported so often that they are no longer surprising – unless of course you’re the people directly involved and then it’s very personal, life-altering and you’re in shock. Staring at a computer screen in stunned disbelief.

Conversely, sometimes that surprise involves people we already know, love and believe to be full siblings – but autosomal DNA testing casts doubt.

If your sibling doesn’t match at all, download your DNA files and upload to another company to verify. This step can be done quickly.

Often people will retest, from scratch, with another company just for the peace of mind of confirming that a sample didn’t get swapped. If a sample was swapped, then another unknown person will match you at the sibling level, because they would be the one with your sibling’s kit. It’s extremely rare, but it has happened.

If the two siblings aren’t biologically related at all, we need to consider that one or both might have been adopted, but if the siblings do match but are predicted as half siblings, the cold fingers of panic wrap themselves around your heart because the ramifications are immediately obvious.

Your full sibling might not be your full sibling. But how can you tell? For sure? Especially when minutes seem like an eternity and your thoughts are riveted on finding the answer.

This article focuses on two tools to resolve the question of half versus full siblingship, plus a third safeguard.

Half Siblings Versus Step-Siblings

For purposes of clarification, a half sibling is a sibling you share only one parent with, while a step-sibling is your step-parent’s child from a relationship with someone other than your parent. Your step-parent marries your parent but is not your parent. You are not genetically related to your step-siblings unless your parent is related to your step-parent.

Parental Testing

Ideally two people who would like to know if they are full or half siblings would have both parents, or both “assumed” parents to compare their results with. However, life is seldom ideal and parents aren’t always available. Not to mention that parents in a situation where there was some doubt might be reluctant to test.

Furthermore, you may elect NOT to have your parents test if your test with your sibling casts doubt on the biological connections within your family. Think long and hard before exposing family secrets that may devastate people and potentially destroy existing relationships. However, this article is about the science of confirming full versus half siblings, not the ethics of what to do with that information. Let your conscience be your guide, because there is no “undo” button.

Ranges Aren’t Perfect

The good news is that autosomal DNA testing gives us the ability to tell full from half-siblings by comparing the siblings to each other, without any parent’s involvement.

Before we have this discussion, let me be very clear that we are NOT talking about using these tools to attempt to discern a relationship between two more distant unknown people. This is only for people who know, or think they know or suspect themselves to be either full or half siblings.

Why?

Because the ranges of the amount of DNA found in people sharing close family relationships varies and can overlap. In other words, different degrees of relationships can be expected to share the same amounts of DNA. Furthermore, except for parents with whom you share exactly 50% of your autosomal DNA (except males don’t share their father’s X chromosome), there is no hard and fast amount of DNA that you share with any relative. It varies and sometimes rather dramatically.

The first few lines of this Relationship Chart, from the 2016 article Concepts – Relationship Predictions, shows both first and second degree relationships (far right column).

Sibling shared cM chart 2016.png

You can see that first degree relations can be parent/child, or full siblings. Second degree relationships can be half siblings, grandparents, aunt/uncle or niece/nephew.

Today’s article is not about how to discern an unknown relation with someone, but how to determine ONLY if two people are half or full siblings to each other. In other words, we’re only trying to discern between rows two and three, above.

As more data was submitted to Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project, the ranges changed as we continued to learn. Blaine’s 2017 results were combined into a useful visual tool at DNAPainter, showing various relationships.

Sibling shared cM DNAPainter.png

Note that in the 2017 version of the Shared cM Project, the high end of the half sibling range of 2312 overlaps with the low end of the full sibling range of 2209 – and that’s before we consider that the people involved might actually be statistical outliers. Outliers, by their very definition are rare, but they do occur. I have seen them, but not often. Blaine wrote about outliers here and here.

Full or Half Siblings?

So, how to we tell the difference, genetically, between full and half siblings?

There are two parts to this equation, plus an optional third safeguard:

  1. Total number of shared cM (centiMorgans)
  2. Fully Identical Regions (FIR) versus Half Identical Regions (HIR)

You can generally get a good idea just from the first part of the equation, but if there is any question, I prefer to download the results to GedMatch so I can confirm using the second part of the equation too.

The answer to this question is NOT something you want to be wrong about.

Total Number of Shared cM

Each child inherits half of each parent’s DNA, but not the same half. Therefore, full siblings will share approximately 50% of the same DNA, and half siblings will share approximately 25% when compared to each other.

You can see the differences on these charts where percentages are converted into cM (centiMorgans) and on the 2017 combined chart here.

I’ve summarized full and half siblings’ shared cMs of DNA from the 2017 chart, below.

Relationship Average Shared cM Range of Shared cM
Half Siblings 1,783 1,317 – 2,312
Full Siblings 2,629 2,209 – 3,394

Fully Identical and Half Identical Regions

Part of the DNA that full siblings inherit will be the exact same DNA from Mom and Dad, meaning that the siblings will match at the same location on their DNA on both Mom’s strand of DNA and Dad’s strand of DNA. These sections are called Fully Identical Regions, or FIR.

Half siblings won’t fully match, except for very small slivers where the nucleotides just happen to be the same (identical by chance) and that will only be for very short segments.

Half siblings will match each other, but only one parent’s side, called Half Identical Regions or HIR.

Roughly, we expect to see about 25% of the DNA of full siblings be fully identical, which means roughly half of their shared DNA is inherited identically from both parents.

Understanding the Concept of Half Identical Versus Fully Identical

To help understand this concept, every person has two strands of DNA, one from each parent. Think of two sides of a street but with the same addresses on both sides. A segment can “live” from 100-150 Main Street, er, I mean chromosome 1 – but you can’t tell just from the address if it’s on Mom’s side of the street or Dad’s.

However, when you match other people, you’ll be able to differentiate which side is which based on family members from that line and who you match in common with your sibling. This an example of why it’s so important to have close family members test.

Any one segment on either strand being compared between between full siblings can:

  • Not match at all, meaning the siblings inherited different DNA from both parents at this location
  • Match on one strand but not the other, meaning the siblings inherited the same DNA from one parent, but different DNA from the other. (Half identical.)
  • Match identically on both, meaning the siblings inherited exactly the same DNA in that location from both parents. (Fully identical.)

I created this chart to show this concept visually, reflecting the random “heads and tails” combination of DNA segments by comparing 4 sets of full siblings with one another.

Sibling full vs half 8 siblings arrows

This chart illustrates the concept of matching where siblings share:

  • No DNA on this segment (red arrow for child 1 and 2, for example)
  • Half identical regions (HIR) where siblings share the DNA from one parent OR the other (green arrow for child 1 and 2, for example, where the siblings share brown from mother)
  • Fully identical regions (FIR) where they share the same segment from BOTH parents so their DNA matches exactly on both strands (black boxed regions)

If a region isn’t either half or fully identical, it means the siblings don’t match on that piece of DNA at all. That’s to be expected in roughly 50% of the time for full siblings, and 75% of the time for half siblings. That’s no problem, unless the siblings don’t match at all, and that’s entirely different, of course.

Let’s look at how the various vendors address half versus full siblings and what tools we have to determine which is which.

Ancestry

Ancestry predicts a relationship range and provides the amount of shared DNA, but offers no tools for customers to differentiate between half versus full siblings. Ancestry has no chromosome browser to facilitate viewing DNA matches but shared matches can sometimes be useful, especially if other close family members have tested.

Sibling Ancestry.png

Update 4-4-2019 – I was contacted by a colleague who works for an Ancestry company, who provided this information: Ancestry is using “Close Family” to designate avuncular, grandparent/grandchild and half-sibling relationships. If you see “Immediate Family “the relationship is a full sibling.

Customers are not able to view the results for ourselves, but according to my colleague, Ancestry is using FIRs and HIRs behind the scenes to make this designation. The Ancestry Matching White Paper is here, dating from 2016.

If Ancestry changes their current labeling in the future, this may not longer be exactly accurate. Hopefully new labeling would provide more clarity. The good news is that you can verify for yourself at GedMatch.

A big thank you to my colleague!

MyHeritage

MyHeritage provides estimated relationships, a chromosome browser and the amount of shared DNA along with triangulation but no specific tool to determine whether another tester is a full or half sibling. One clue can be if one of the siblings has a proven second cousin or closer match that is absent for the other sibling, meaning the siblings and the second cousin (or closer) do not all match with each other.

Sibling MyHeritage.png

Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, you can see the amount of shared DNA. They also they predict a relationship range, include a chromosome browser, in common matching and family phasing, also called bucketing which sorts your matches into maternal and paternal sides. They offer additional Y DNA testing which can be extremely useful for males.

Sibling FamilyTreeDNA.png

If the two siblings in question are male, a Y DNA test will shed light on the question of whether or not they share the same father (unless the two fathers are half brothers or otherwise closely related on the direct paternal line).

Sibling advanced matches.png

FamilyTreeDNA provides Advanced Matching tools that facilitate combined matching between Y and autosomal DNA.

Sibling bucketing both.png

FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder maternal/paternal bucketing tool is helpful because full siblings should be assigned to “both” parents, shown in purple, not just one parent, assuming any third cousins or closer have tested on both sides, or at least on the side in question.

As you can see, on the test above, the tester matches her sister at a level that could be either a high half sibling match, or a low full sibling match. In this case, it’s a full sibling, not only because both parents tested and she matched, but because even before her parents tested, she was already bucketed to both sides based on cousins who had tested on both the maternal and paternal sides of the family.

GedMatch

GedMatch, an upload site, shows the amount of shared DNA as well. Select the One-to-One matching and the “Graph and Position” option, letting the rest of the settings default.

Sibling GedMatch menu.png

GedMatch doesn’t provide predicted relationship ranges as such, but instead estimates the number of generations to the most recent common ancestor – in this case, the parents.

Sibling GedMatch total.png

However, GedMatch does offer an important feature through their chromosome browser that shows fully identical regions.

To illustrate, first, I’m showing two kits below that are known to be full siblings.

The green areas are FIR or Fully Identical Regions which are easy to spot because of the bright green coloring. Yellow indicate half identical matching regions and red means there is no match.

Sibling GedMatch legend.png

Please note that this legend varies slightly between the legacy GedMatch and GedMatch Genesis, but yellow, green, purple and red thankfully remain the same. The blue base indicates an entire region that matches, while the grey indicates an entire region not considered a match..

Sibling GedMatch FIR.png

Fully identical green regions (FIR) above are easy to differentiate when compared with half siblings who share only half identical regions (HIR).

The second example, below, shows two half-siblings that share one parent.

Sibling GedMatch HIR.png

As you can see, there are slivers of green where the nucleotides that both parents contributed to the respective children just happen to be the same for a very short distance on each chromosome. Compared to the full sibling chart, the green looks very different.

The half-sibling small green segments are fully identical by chance or by population, but not identical by descent which would mean the segments are identical because the individuals share both parents. These two people don’t share both parents.

The fully identical regions for full siblings are much more pronounced, in addition to full siblings generally sharing more total DNA.

GedMatch is the easiest and most useful site to work with for determining half versus full siblings by comparing HIR/FIR. I wrote instructions for downloading your DNA from each of the testing vendors at the links below:

Twins

Fraternal twins are the same as regular siblings. They share the same space for 9 months but are genetically siblings. Identical twins, on the other hand, are nearly impossible to tell apart genetically, and for all intents and purposes cannot be distinguished in this type of testing.

Sibling GedMatch identical twin.png

Here’s the same chart for identical twins.

23andMe

23andMe also provides relationship estimates, along with the amount of shared DNA, a chromosome browser that includes triangulation (although they don’t call it that) and a tool to identify full versus half identical regions. 23andMe does not support trees, a critical tool for genealogists.

Unfortunately, 23andMe has become the “last” company that people use for genealogy. Most of their testers seem to be seeking health information today.

If you just happen to have already tested at 23andMe with your siblings, great, because you can use these tools. If you have not tested at 23andMe, simply upload your results from any vendor to GedMatch.

At 23andMe, under the Ancestry, then DNA Relatives tabs, click on your sibling’s match to view genetic information, assuming you both have opted into matching. If you don’t match your sibling, PLEASE be sure you BOTH have completely opted in for matching. I can’t tell you how many panic stricken siblings I’ve coached who weren’t both opted in to matching. If you’re experiencing difficulty, don’t panic. Simply download both people’s files to GedMatch for an easier comparison. You can find 23andMe download instructions here.

Sibling 23andMe HIR.png

Scrolling down, you can see the options for both half and completely identical segments on your chromosomes as compared to your match. Above,  my child matches me completely on half identical regions. This makes perfect sense, of course, because my father and my child’s father are not the same person and are not related.

Conversely, this next match is my identical twin whom I match completely identically on all segments.

Sibling 23andMe FIR.png

Confession – I don’t have an identical twin. This is actually my V3 test compared with my V4 test, but these two tests are in essence identical twin tests.

Unusual Circumstances

The combination of these two tools, DNA matching and half versus fully identical regions generally provides a relatively conclusive answer as to whether two individuals are half or full siblings. Note the words generally and relatively.

There are circumstances that aren’t as clear cut, such as when the father of the second child is a brother or other close relative of the first child’s father – assuming that both children share the same mother. These people are sometimes called three quarters siblings or niblings.

In other situations, the parents are related, sometimes closely, complicating the genetics.

These cases tend to be quite messy and should be unraveled with the help of a professional. I recommend www.dnaadoption.com (free unknown parent search specialists) or Legacy Tree Genealogists (professional genealogists.)

The Final SafeGuard – Just in Case

A third check, should any doubt remain about full versus half siblings, would be to find a relative that is a second cousin or closer on the presumed mother’s side and one on the presumed father’s side, and compare autosomal results of both relatives to both siblings.

There has never been a documented case of second cousins or closer NOT matching each other. I’m unclear about second cousins once removed, or half second cousins, but about 10% of third cousins don’t match. To date, second cousins (or closer) who didn’t match, didn’t match because they weren’t really biological second cousins.

If the two children are full siblings meaning the biological children of both the presumed parents, both siblings will match the 2nd cousin or closer on the mother’s side AND the 2nd cousin or closer on the father’s side as well. If they are not full siblings, one will match only on the second cousin on the common parent’s side.

You can see in the example below that Child 1 and Child 2, full siblings, match both Hezekiah (green), a second cousin from the father’s side, as well as Susan (pink), a second cousin from the mother’s side.

Sibling both sides matching.png

If one of the two children only matches one cousin, and not the other, then the person who doesn’t match the cousin from the father’s side, for example, is not related to the father – although depending on the distance of the relationship, I would seek an additional cousin to test through a different child – just in case.

You can see in the example below that Child 2 matches both Hezekiah (green) and Susan (pink), but Child 1 only matches Susan (pink), from the mother’s side, meaning that Child 1 does not descend from John, so isn’t the child of the Presumed Father (green).
Sibling both sides not matching.png

If neither child matches Hezekiah, that’s a different story. You need to consider the possibility of one of the following:

  • Neither child is the child of the Presumed Father, and could potentially be fathered by different men
  • A break occurred in the genetic line someplace between John and Hezekiah or between John and the Presumed Father.

In other words, the only way this safeguard works as a final check is if at least ONE of the children matches both presumed parents’ lines with a second cousin or closer.

And yes, these types of “biological lineage disruptions” do occur and much more frequently that first believed.

In the End

You may not need this safeguard check when the first and second methodologies, separately or together, are relatively conclusive. Sometimes these decisions about half versus full siblings incorporate non-genetic situational information, but be careful about tainting your scientific information with confirmation bias – meaning unintentionally skewing the information to produce the result that you might desperately want.

When I’m working with a question as emotionally loaded as trying to determine whether people are half or full siblings, I want every extra check and safeguard available – and you will too. I utilize every tool at my disposal so that I don’t inadvertently draw the wrong conclusion.

I want to make sure I’ve looked under every possible rock for evidence. I try to disprove as much as I try to prove. The question of full versus half siblingship is one of the most common topics of the Quick Consults that I offer. Even when people think they know the answer, it’s not uncommon to ask an expert to take a look to confirm. It’s a very emotional topic and sometimes we are just too close to the subject to be rational and objective.

Regardless of the genetic outcome, I hope that you’ll remember that your siblings are your siblings, your parents are your parents (genetic or otherwise) and love is love – regardless of biology. Please don’t lose the compassionate, human aspect of genealogy in the fervor of the hunt.

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RootsTech 2019: The Conference Experience

I hope you’ll come along with me as we experience RootsTech 2019 together.

I’ll be writing a companion piece to this about the vendor’s announcements and new tools, but this article is meant to allow you to virtually enjoy a bit of the ambience of the conference itself.

Night and Day

I have to start out by saying that I was extremely skeptical that the RootsTech powers-that-be would truly listen and take the attendees suggestions from 2018 to heart – and I’m very, very glad to say that my skepticism was unwarranted. The 2019 RootsTech conference was amazing. Night and day difference from last year – with this year being the day😊

And no, in case you’re wondering, I am not and was not a RootsTech Ambassador. Ambassadors receive free passes in exchange for promoting the conference in a positive light. By now, you know that I say what needs to be said, so I’m not (ahem) Ambassador material.

RootsTech is unlike any other conference I’ve ever attended. My expectation last year was that I’d go from session to session and visit with people in-between, at meals and in the evenings. That’s what other conferences are like. Understandably, I was extremely upset when the venue was too big to get from session to session, the sessions were too full, etc. etc. No need to rehash that now.

The reality of RootsTech is that there are many, many sessions to choose from at any one time, yet many people actually don’t attend sessions and instead choose to visit or walk the massive expo hall engaging with the various vendors.

Any vendor who is anyone in the genealogy world is here. I actually wasn’t able to visit with many. Too many people and booths and just not enough hours in the day. Plus, everytime I go anyplace I wind up talking to someone – so I almost never get to where I was going! I think my ancestors immigrated haphazardly in the same manner😊

“Yes, I know we declared that we were going to Minnesota, but let’s stop in Indiana for a break.” 100 years later…

For me, the very best part of RootsTech was catching up with friends, meeting new people, hearing their stories and receiving suggestions about help on my own brick walls.

This year I purchased the Ultimate Pass, which assured me of getting into the sessions I wanted. I must admit, that was a relief for me, but the long lines of yesteryear were gone for everyone, not just Ultimate Pass holders. The only badge scanning that occurred was for the paid labs so they could verify that the attendees were registered and that took only a second.

My evaluation of RootsTech 2019 is that is was a smashing success.

Thank you RootsTech, Steve Rockwood and the amazing RootsTech crew for listening, resolving to and making the needed changes, and for a job well done! I mean that sincerely.

I also want to say an especially big thank you to the amazing RootsTech team – both paid and volunteer. The “ASK” folks in the turquoise shirts were extremely friendly, helpful and were everyplace. You didn’t even need to ask. Just look a mite bewildered and they were right there.

One big difference is that RootsTech this year expanded to take over the entire Salt Palace Convention Center. The rooms for each session were much larger, overflow rooms existed, and the crowds weren’t packed into small spaces. Even with a large number of attendees, the experience was never uncomfortable. Badges were mailed, check-in for goody bags provided by MyHeritage was a breeze and conference life was good.

DNA Clothes

I didn’t really mean to start this tradition, but most traditions aren’t begun intentionally. I made DNA clothing, wearing something different every day.

Wednesday’s vest is our “genetic family tree.”

2019 genetic family tree front

2019 genetic family tree back.jpg

Wednesday

Sessions began on Wednesday during the day, but the vendor expo hall didn’t open until Wednesday evening at 6.

I attended Amy Johnson Crow’s class, “Social Media Tools for Your Genealogy Business.”

2019 social media tools

For those of you who might not know, Amy Johnson Crow initiated the “52 Weeks of Ancestors” series several years ago which is why my (nearly) weekly article about my ancestors includes the words, “52 Ancestors #xxx.” The fact that my 52 Ancestors stories will number 230 with the next article speaks to how inspirational I find Amy.

2019 Amy Johnson Crow

It was wonderful to meet Amy in person.

RootsTech Selfie Culture

I need to take a minute to explain about the selfie culture at RootsTech. There is almost always someone to take a photo for you, but the act of taking selfies together is part of the RootsTech culture. It’s fun, marks experiences together and creates memories. In other words, it’s not just the picture but the act of taking the selfie.

Strolling

I took a stroll to see what was going on.

The vendors were still setting up in the hall, and I noticed this lovely family.

2019 booth setup

Genealogy, even conferences, is truly a family affair.

2019 connect belong web

The belong-connect board is beginning to look like a spider web.

2019 lab

The labs are very popular. Daniel Horowitz with MyHeritage is teaching about how to verify your MyHeritage DNA matches.

Keynote by Steve Rockwood

The opening keynote was given by Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch.

2019 Rockwood keynote

This venue is absolutely huge. I took this about half way inside.

2019 Edge Effect

Throughout the evening, the a capella group, Edge Effect performed, and they were amazing!!!

2019 edge effect video

Each of the group members was given DNA tests sponsored by one of the vendors at the conference and their ethnicity results were revealed on videos.

2019 Rockwood

Steve Rockwood followed. Most CEO’s strong suites aren’t public speaking, but Steve is engaging and entertaining.

Of course, the theme of the conference is “connect belong,” so as you might expect, so was his speech.

Michael B. Moore with the International African American Museum Center for Family History traced his family via DNA and returned to Africa. Upon his return, the chief’s wife asked him, “are you my son,” to which he answered, “yes.” The chief and his wife adopted Michael into their family, thereby welcoming him home.

2019 Michael Moore homecoming

I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Why can’t everyone be that inclusive?

This emotional story of discovery and homecoming was followed by the announcement of a 2-million-dollar donation to the International African American Museum Center for Family History by Elder David Bednar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

2019 museum

The Museum representatives on stage with David Bednar.

I’m extremely pleased to see the focus on reunification of families. It was also stated that the Church would be involved with other museums in the same way, to encourage that family history be incorporated into history. As I mentioned to Steve Rockwood later, I hope they include DNA, and not just autosomal DNA, but Y and mitochondrial as well. All three types of DNA are critically important to genealogy and finding family no matter who you are.

2019 King

Martin Luther King III then addressed the audience about his father’s dream…the end of racism and discrimination.

I fervently hope that bringing people and families together will help heal the wounds of slavery, Jim Crow America and perhaps even the divisions we see today.

I was thrilled to hear Mr. King speak and only wish history had been kinder. Dr. King’s life was cut much too short and we are left to wonder what he might have achieved had it not been for racial intolerance that led to cold-blooded murder.

The Edge Effect returned again with a particularly appropriate rendition of a beautiful song.

The Expo Hall

After the opening session, FamilyTreeDNA was kind enough to host the DNAexplain blog meetup in their new presentation center.

I gave two short presentations, one titled, “Taking Sides – Family Finder Maternal and Paternal Bucketing” and the second, “Family Finder Search Tips.”

I wasn’t able to grab any photos since I was presenting, but fortunately, Marie Cappart did and shared. Thanks Marie!

2019 ftdna booth presentation

FamilyTreeDNA hosted several sessions throughout the conference, given by staff and other guest speakers as well.

Meeting With Steve Rockwood and Crew

The long day wasn’t over quite yet. Steve Rockwood had been meeting with a focus group to which I was invited from 7-8. I respectfully declined, stating that I was already committed in the FamilyTreeDNA booth with the DNAexplain meetup.

Steve graciously agreed to wait along with much of his staff that had been up since 4 AM. That’s commitment!

I arrived just as the focus group was finishing, but Steve and the RootsTech team had indeed graciously been waiting and were quite welcoming.

Given my criticism after last year’s RootsTech, my reception was surprisingly warm. I expected something entirely different.

About 15 people from the RootsTech team were present.

I was extremely impressed with the professionalism and the fact that they acknowledged that they missed the mark last year and make a commitment at that time to make a course correction.

They remediated every single point.

They also asked for suggestions and feedback and made changes during the conference this year to accommodate those suggestions immediately when possible.

For example, they originally ended the livestreamed sessions when the presenter finished the presentation, but after complains that the people watching wanted to see the Q&A, they extended those sessions to include Q&A.

I must say, kudos to the team and thank you Steve!

I’m not saying that I’ll be back next year, but I’m saying that I’d certainly consider returning.

Thursday

One of the wonderful aspects of the conference is seeing old friends.

2019-Blaine-1.jpg

Blaine Bettinger and I have been passing like ships in the night for the past couple of years. We go way, way back to his first FTDNA conference – before either of us were blogging – before he had a family – when he was still in college.

It was so good to see Blaine and to actually have some time to talk, albeit not enough, of course. Genealogists could talk forever.

2019-ask.jpg

The RootsTech volunteers were wearing the turquoise “ASK” shirts. This gentleman sews. He noticed my vest and twice we had a chance to compare notes. I’m always so pleased to meet men that sew or quilt.

2019 MyHeritage booth

Ran Snir presenting in the MyHeritage booth. Many of the larger vendors have a presentation center.

2019 King Henry

Hey look, I found King Henry in the WikiTree booth! If you want to see if you’re related to King Henry, you can make that happen at WikiTree, assuming accurate trees of course.

2019 WikiTree

Peter Roberts, my good friend and WikiTree angel for taking me under his wing long ago and getting my tree set up!

Peter provided me with a wonderful tip which I’ll be sharing with you in a blog article soon!

While I was in the WikiTree booth, I asked Mags Gaulden, who writes at Grandmas Genes to take a photo of today’s DNA vest.

2019-helix-vest.jpg

This one’s a little different – a rather op art helix.

2019 helix vest back

I really struggled with this vest and wasn’t nearly as happy as with Wednesday’s genetic family tree vest.

2019-Mags.jpg

Here, Mags and I are sporting our matching helix necklaces! We always have so much fun together and I’m looking forward to seeing Mags again at the FamilyTreeDNA conference at the end of March in Houston.

I had intended to attend the Ancestry lunch, but what I expected and what happened were two different things. I discovered that the Ancestry lunch wasn’t the CEO or product managers with insights or even new product announcements, but that the Ancestry speaker was Henry Louis Gates. I’ve seen Dr. Gates before and my intention was to see what Ancestry had planned for the future. At least I made this discovery before the lunch and not after I had arrived when it would have been awkward to leave.

Instead, I had lunch with a friend and spent the time catching up.

By the end of the day, my every single body part ached, and I was extremely grateful that the hotel I was staying in was across the street and for the heating pad in my suitcase.

Unfortunately, I missed the Living DNA Roundtable dinner, but the thought of walking another few blocks and back was just more than my back could handle. Plus, Friday was the tough day and I HAD to be able to function.

Friday

Friday was the long hard day, beginning at 7AM with the MyHeritage breakfast for MyHeritage Friends, a group of influencers who MyHeritage interfaces with, providing product announcements and such.

One of the benefits of MyHeritage is their international reach, meaning not only Israel, but Europe and Scandinavia. They are doing amazing things in multiple languages, including closed captioning and ASL at their conferences.

Of course, MyHeritage is also promoting the second MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam September 6-8th which is going to be amazing!

2019 MyHeritage breakfast

Our table at the MyHeritage breakfast.

After breakfast, on to the expo hall.

2019 familytreedna booth

Walk tall, test your DNA at FamilyTreeDNA and carry a big stick.

I had been looking forward to the “Google for Genealogists: Maps, Satellite and Earth” class with Lianne Kruger.

2019 Lianne Kruger

I have to tell you, Lianne has the patience of a saint. Lab classes are difficult to teach, even with room assistants.

I learned a great deal and I can’t wait to apply what I learned, mapping for my blog and also planning trips from ancestor location to ancestor location.

The next thing on the agenda was a tech check of my computer equipment in the room where I would be presenting at 3.

Everything went well and fingers crossed that it would in the afternoon as well.

Saroo Brierley

Each day at RootsTech includes a General Session or keynote that is sponsored by one of the vendors.

MyHeritage sponsored Saroo Brierley and Geoff Rasmussen began with announcing their new Genetic Affairs integration.

2019 Saroo Brierley

That quickly moved to how Saroo Brierley had lost his way as a young child in a train station in India and had eventually been adopted by an Australian couple. Saroo always wondered what happened to his family in India and set out to find them, using the few memories he had from childhood.

2019 Saroo triumph

Not only did Saroo locate his family, they were reunited and in his words, he now has two families.

2019 Saroo book

Saroo wrote a book about his moving miracle story.

MyHeritage then announced the continuation of the DNAQuest project by adding another 5000 free kits for adoptees, in particular those who might not be able to otherwise afford testing.

2019 DNAQuest

If you know someone who could benefit, applications will be accepted at www.dnaquest.org until April 30, 2019.

MyHeritage Lunch

Of the lunches I attended, the MyHeritage lunch was by far the most beneficial.

2019 Gilad Japhet

Gilad Japhet, the CEO and founder of MyHeritage spoke and shared another recovered piece of his own fascinating family history. Gilad recently discovered a missing family photo that he remembered from his childhood.

Gilad’s grandfather immigrated to Israel from Poland in 1920. A year later, the family in Poland took a photo of family members gathered to send to Gilad’s grandfather. He surely must have been feeling at least somewhat homesick by that time.

Gilad’s grandfather kept this photo on the wall of his home, and when he passed away, the photo got packed up and disappeared. Just a few weeks ago, Gilad found the photo safe and sound with an unsuspecting relative.

2019 Gilad family

This is the only photo in existence of many of these people today. The individuals circled in orange perished two decades later in the holocaust.

Can you see that the little boy is holding a photo?

2019 Gilad boy photo

That photo is Gilad’s grandfather, taken before he immigrated. The little boy is holding the photo to show that even though Gilad’s grandfather was physically gone, to Israel, he is still with them. If Gilad’s grandfather hadn’t gone to Israel, Gilad would not be here today.

No wonder Gilad’s grandfather cherished this photo his entire life.

Gilad shared other details as well, such as:

  • MyHeritage has now photographed, transcribed and translated all of the cemeteries in Israel, a 5-year project including over 2 million photos of 1.5 million stones in 638 cemeteries. These records are now available on MyHeritage and BillionGraves. Israel is the first country to reach this monumental achievement. I don’t know of any similar initiative in any other country.
  • Of course, my ancestors didn’t originate in Israel, except perhaps for one that we are still researching in the Netherlands – so I’m very pleased about the fact that MyHeritage has reached out successfully to the European community for DNA testing. Gilad noted that most of their DNA sales today are in Europe, with their data base size being approximately 2.5 million, with 2 million of those being original tests and half a million being transfers. If you haven’t yet transferred, please do by clicking here.
  • Gilad mentioned that he had hoped to announce the completion of the stamp and envelope DNA extraction project, but it’s still in process.
  • Gilad said that soon MyHeritage will provide a feature to reconstruct the DNA of family members based on the DNA of other family members tested. I can hardly wait. I’ve dreamed of this feature for years and I have a list, believe me.

Gilad then shared with the attendees the details of the new feature announcements at RootsTech.

Theory of Family Relativity

2019 Theory of Family Relativity

The Theory of Family Relativity is explaining DNA matches using family trees and historical records. This super new feature was rolled out during RootsTech. I’m not going to provide examples and details here, because I’ll be writing separately shortly. I want to emphasize, as did Gilad, that these theories are just that, theories and NEED TO BE VERIFIED!

In fact, you may have more than one theory for any connection based on DNA matching, trees and records, and you can verify or dismiss the theories. This is an incredible tool. The first three I quickly reviewed were all accurate. One person had three separate theories, and of course, only one of those three could be accurate under the circumstances, but I immediately knew which one was the right path based on my already proven genealogy.

2019 theory 1

2019 theory 2

2019 theory 3

2019 theory 4

2019 theory 5

Gilad spent some time explaining the Big Tree. The most important aspect to realize is that the “Big Tree” is not constructed and stored indefinitely. The Big Tree is created “as needed” so it’s never stale. It’s not an old tree, and every branch and logical step is documented so you can view the logic for the theory path selected.

I can’t even begin to explain how critical this is for researchers.

There is no “trust me” or actually, “trust other people’s trees” at MyHeritage.

2019 theory 6

Here’s one last example building upon various relationships and records!

2019 theory 7

If you want to try this for yourself (please do) you can filter your matches by those that have Theories.

Warning – you may not do anything else for days, including sleep! I looked around in the presentation and you could see people signing on and trying this while Gilad was speaking. If I hadn’t been sitting right in front, I would probably have been doing the same thing.

2019 theory 8

If you’re wondering how Theories of Family Relativity differs from Ancestry’s ThruLines, here are some of Gilad’s observations.

2019 theory 9

Genetic Affairs Integrated Autoclustering

2019 autoclustering

Gilad announced Autoclusters – an integrated version of Evert-Jan Blom’s Genetic Affairs clustering software for MyHeritage users, used within and integrated into the MyHeritage product.

The great news is that the science team has improved the clustering software to cluster Jewish people successfully.

2019 autoclustering 3

The graphic on the left is a Jewish autocluster at Genetic Affairs, and at right, the same person clustered at MyHeritage. Big difference.

2019 autoclustering 4

Autoclustering can be accessed from the new Tools page. The resulting autocluster file will be sent to you via e-mail. In the days since this announcement, there has been a substantial backlog so expect to wait for several hours or even a day. This tool is exceptionally popular because of the power of clustering matches.

2019 autoclustering 6

In essence, if you can recognize the known relationships of some cluster members, then you pretty much know that the rest of the group is related through the same ancestral path.

However, in your tree pedigree “above” the ancestral couple identified, the people in a cluster may well diverge. For example, I have a cluster that I can track to my great-grandparents, but I know that some of those people descend from her ancestors and some from his ancestors. Clusters represent the MRCA or most recent common ancestor, not the most distant common ancestor of the cluster members

2019 autoclustering cost

Gilad described the various cost options. In essence if you tested at MyHeritage, uploaded before December 16, 2018 or if you are a subscriber, these tools are free for you. Initially, I was skeptical about how useful a MyHeritage subscription would be for me, but this past year, my subscription has proven indispensable – and now even more so with the fact that Theories of Family Relativity combines actual records with DNA and trees!

2019 autocluster summary

DNA Everyplace

After lunch, I couldn’t sit any longer, so I walked part of the expo hall. One booth that attracted me like a moth to a flame was CelebrateDNA.

2019 Celebrate DNA

Yes, I ordered 3 t-shirts.

2019 DNAbasics

New at RootsTech this year is the DNA Basics Learning Center – not sponsored by a vendor but by RootsTech itself. They had a presentation area and various DNA presenters rotated in and out throughout the day. Furthermore, the Learning Center was staffed with knowledgeable volunteers.

I remember the days when every single genealogy society wanted a basic DNA lecture! Today, most societies have people to mentor others in DNA.

Kenyatta Berry in the FamilyTreeDNA Booth

I spent the early afternoon, before my own presentation with Kenyatta Berry in the FamilyTreeDNA booth. One of the FamilyTreeDNA giveaways was an individual session with Kenyatta for 3 lucky winners. I served as honorary photographer as well as DNA consultant.

2019 Kenyatta giveaway1

It was fun listening to the brick walls that these lucky winners brought to Kenyatta.

2019 Kenyatta giveaway2

This gentleman is Native American and his family history is sooo interesting.

2019-Kenyatta-giveaway3.jpg

Kenyatta’s book, The Family Tree Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry and Researching Genealogy, was recently released and I can’t wait to actually have a chance to take a look.

After Kenyatta’s meetups, it was time for my own session.

My Session – Beyond Pie Charts: Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA to Solve Genealogical Puzzles

2019 black helix vest

I have a confession to make. I had a terrible case of nerves about my session. I’m used to speaking in general – it wasn’t that.

My jitters arose from a combination of the fact that I had to create not one, not two, but three sessions with about a week’s notice. If these sessions had been “intro to DNA,” I could have done them blindfolded and from memory – but the topic had been selected by the original presenter – and I had to work around that.

I needed case studies, and I didn’t have time to remember and then obtain permission for other people’s stories – so they had to come from my own family. Thankfully, I have done a lot of work, so I had fodder to work with. I was SOOOO grateful for those 52 Ancestor stories!

On top of that, the session had to fit exactly into the time slot, and this was the first time presenting this particular presentation. Getting the timing down pat means lots of practice and tweaking.

RootsTech encourages their speakers to dress professionally, of course, so I took a business suit along with me. However, every person I spoke with in the days before my session encouraged me to ditch the suit and wear my DNA clothes which have become somewhat of a signature item. Who knew that I had a “personal brand?”😊

I dressed in the morning in my black DNA vest and red leggings. But wow, is this bright!

Perhaps I should have opted for a black shirt and leggings, but that seemed too dull. Maybe the suit after all??? I went back and forth and back and forth.

Needless to say, this was the first time I’ve presented in something this bright and unconventional at a national conference.

I made my last tweak to my presentation about half an hour before the session, AND, I hoped fervently that the humor I planned went off as planned. Some of my jokes were a bit subtle and others, less so.

Humor is particularly difficult and requires impeccable timing.

Nerves, timing and humor sometimes don’t work well together. That made me even more nervous!

2019 ballroom b

In case you wonder what these rooms look like empty. They sort of run from sea to sea. The lights are so bright on the speaker that they generally can’t see much of the audience after the house lights are dimmed in these types of venues, except for the first row or two directly in front of the stage.

I should have given my cell to someone to snap some candid photos, but since I had a professional photographer, I didn’t see the need to do that. The professional photos won’t be ready for a few days.

I included my brother Dave’s story as an example of integrating Y and autosomal DNA results, thinking I could get through it dry-eyed. I did in practice, but not so much in the session. My voice cracked and let’s say that there is no graceful way to hide that – and if you try to sneak a little nose wipe the mic picks it up as something that sounds entirely different. I’ll just claim that was part of the planned humor – right?

The attendees are asked to provide feedback on the sessions, so I’ll be interested to see what worked and what didn’t. Since I was a last-minute speaker covering for someone else, I wasn’t able to provide a handout in time to be included for attendees, so I’ll make up for that by writing blog articles in the weeks to come. I hope everyone subscribed! To help make up for no handout, I gave everyone who attended a DNAexplain ribbon!

2019 DNAexplain ribbon

After my session, I was pleased to meet people back in the FamilyTreeDNA booth to answer any remaining questions. The ballrooms are too large to take questions from the floor.

By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted,

Saturday

Friday was my very long super-tough day, so by Saturday, for me, the conference had begun to wind down. That wasn’t true for everyone though, because Saturday is the busiest day.

RootsTech opens the doors for free for members of the LDS Church and specifically encourages children with the hope of infecting them with the genealogy bug early. Roughly 30,000 people attend.

In that vein, there are lots of interesting family-friendly activities for everyone.

For example, Jason Hewlett who had been emceeing all week told a story about his young daughter who shocked him by announcing that her favorite artist was Lady Gaga. Jason says that sometimes he “rewrites” songs in a more child-appropriate way for his daughters and proceeded to demonstrate.

Respite in the Speaker’s Lounge

I had originally planned to attend a couple of classes, but I was physically and emotionally drained. I escaped to the speaker’s lounge for a respite.

RootsTech provides a speaker’s lounge so those of us who are speaking, and therefore generally available for questions throughout the conference can find for some peace and quiet, to prepare for sessions or sometimes for interviews. The background noise makes recording interviews difficult elsewhere.

2019 white helix vest

Yes, the black DNA vest is reversible to this white one. Trust me, I’ll never do that again. Reversible=engineering challenge!

Jake Shimabukuro – Ukulele Master

Saturday’s main event was sponsored by 23andMe who opened by encouraging everyone to test and told the story of a woman who discovered that she, her mother and sister have the BRCA1 gene that may signal a propensity to breast cancer, especially in Ashkenazi Jewish women. Please note that there are multiple genetic factors and genes that contribute to some types of breast cancer, so if you DON’T have this mutation, that does NOT mean you should rest easy if breast cancer is a particular concern. 23andMe only tests for a limited number of breast cancer genetic indicators. Talk to your physician who may order medical genetic testing.

2019 Jake

Jake Shimabukuro, a very talented young ukulele player, was up next.

2019 Jake 2

Here’s a very short clip just to give you an idea.

After Saturday’s general session, I discovered hula dancers in the main hallway that I enjoyed immensely.

I know you can’t see their clothing very well in the video, so here’s a cropped photo. It was snowing outside. I’d think they were freezing to death.

2019 dancers

While I was watching the dancers, I noticed a gentleman filming over my shoulder. I turned around to see if I was in his way. The dancers ended about that time, and the man filming, Jarrett Ross and I began chatting. That’s the RootsTech way.

Jarrett is a videographer who can be seen at his GeneaVlogger YouTube channel here.

As luck would have it, I was on my way to find the face painting, and Jarrett wanted to video face-painting. Voila! Match made in Heaven.

2019-Denise.jpg

Here’s Denise Cole who owns Painted Party, the artist who created my wonderful double helix face painting last year. She hit a home run this year too.

2019 face helix

You can count on the fact that I’ll be looking for her if I attend next year!

2019 Jarrett Ross

Jarrett and I with the finished product in our obligatory RootsTech selfie!

Instead of going to the 23andMe lunch, Jarrett and I hung out in the hallway where he interviewed me and we ate snacks. I’m actually glad I spent the time getting to know Jarrett and learning about Jewish genealogy in the Netherlands. 23andMe didn’t make any product announcements or provide insights, so the only thing I missed was mediocre food.

Jarrett will be posting the videos of several RootsTech interviews, including mine, on his YouTube channel soon.

2019 sushi burrito

I did eventually have to try a Sushi Burrito though and it was pretty good, consisting or all of the typical sushi fixings inside a nori wrapper wrapped like a burrito.

2019 connect belong end

Back to the entrance on the last day, the yarn on the connect-belong board is almost solid.

The conference ended mid-afternoon, but my flight wasn’t scheduled until Sunday mid-day.

2019 last dinner

My last evening in Salt Lake City was spent having a nice leisurely dinner decompressing with Blaine Bettinger and Angie Bush (left). In the lobby, we found Michelle Patient from Australia who I had never met before in person.

Often at conferences, people are unable to connect for more than a few minutes. I hadn’t seen Blaine and Angie in years, let alone long enough to sit down and actually visit. The perfect ending to a wonderful conference.

In Summary

I know this article has been long, but I hope for those who weren’t able to attend RootsTech in person that this conveys a bit of the feel of the actual experience. I hope everyone took advantage of viewing the livestreamed sessions. The general sessions and the dozen or so free livestreamed sessions will be available here.

RootsTech has the ambiance of a very large family reunion. My goal in sharing the photos and in essence “taking you along” is to provide the RootsTech experience through the eyes of an attendee.

RootsTech has made a concerted effort to remediate the issues present in 2018 and they have done an excellent job. I have a few suggestions, but no complaints.

It’s not an inexpensive trip between the airfare, hotel and food, so I don’t know if I will return, but I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for RootsTech 2020.

My take away was something we discussed on Saturday evening at dinner. At one time not so long ago in history, we had “internet” classes, but now the internet is ubiquitous. DNA and genealogy is becoming the same way. It’s no longer separate and different, but part of an integrated genealogical whole.

Please join me in the next couple days when I’ll be reviewing the new DNA feature announcements by both Ancestry and MyHeritage.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little mini-tour of RootsTech 2019.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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 Services

Genealogy Research

Concepts – Paternal vs Patrilineal and Maternal vs Matrilineal

Sometimes a single word – and its interpretation – makes a world of difference.

For example, maternal versus matrilineal and paternal versus patrilineal.

What’s the difference and why does it matter?

In genetic genealogy, it’s very important.

Y and Mitochondrial DNA Lineage

When we explain the differences between Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA, we used to tell people that Y was your paternal line and mitochondrial (mtDNA) was your maternal line.

People became confused.

Y and mito

Here’s the pedigree chart generally used to explain the people in your tree represented by Y (blue boxes) and mtDNA (red circles) testing. Unlike autosomal, Y and mitochondrial only tests one line, but tests that one line VERY deeply, providing information not available through autosomal testing.

Y DNA tests only the Y DNA of the line shown with the blue boxes, NOT everyone on your paternal side.

Mitochondrial DNA tests only the line shown in red circles, NOT everyone on your maternal side.

That’s a good thing, not a bad thing, because this type of testing reveals information and matching opportunities not available through autosomal testing.

Maternal Versus Matrilineal, Paternal Versus Patrilineal

When we say maternal and paternal, the meaning can easily be confused.

Paternal and maternal

Anyone on the father’s entire side of the tree literally is paternal, and anyone on the mother’s side literally is maternal. The line is drawn straight down the middle, with half of your ancestors on each side.

Paternal and Maternal sides

What we really mean when we discuss Y and mtDNA testing is patrilineal and matrilineal. Those words mean the direct paternal line only, and the direct maternal line only, shown below.

patrilineal vs matrilineal

There doesn’t seem to be as much confusion with understanding that the Y chromosome follows the patrilineal line – probably because we’re used to this concept as the surname follows the same Y DNA path.

Matrilineal means the same thing on the maternal side, but there isn’t any key anchor concept, such as surname to go along with it. Therefore, when I’m discussing mitochondrial DNA testing, I say, “matrilineal, meaning your mother’s mother’s mother’s line, on up the tree until you run out of mothers.”

Why is this So Important?

Aside from the fact that expectations can easily be mis-set resulting in misinterpreted results, the concept of patrilineal and matrilineal are important because this confusion results in the confused person in advertently confusing others.

For example, when people want to take a mitochondrial DNA test to see if their Native American ancestor is on their mother’s side, what they are really testing is their matrilineal line, not everyone on their mother’s side of the tree.

Native American mitochondrial haplogroups are known to be subsets of haplogroups A, B, C, D and X. If the matrilineal line is Native, the mitochondrial results will fall into the proper Native subgroup. If not, they won’t.

However, a maternal Native American ancestor could well exist in any other ancestor or ancestors whose circles and squares aren’t colored at all – shown below by haplogroup B2a.

Native nonpatrilineal nonmatrilineal

Conversely, a male Native American ancestor could exist in any of those other lines as well, shown above by C-M217. The only way to discover that information is to DNA test someone who carries the Y or mitochondrial DNA of each of your ancestral lines.

At Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, the only vendor that does full Y and mitochondrial testing and matching, one of the information fields that testers are asked to provide is titled “Earliest Known Ancestors.”

FTDNA earliest known ancestor

Although this field says specifically how to determine the relevant ancestor they are asking about, many people either don’t read this, or don’t understand, or they enter the information before their results come back and never think to update this field when they discover that this isn’t their Native line after all.

On the Matches Map tab, where this information can also be entered, there is no explanation for which ancestor they are asking for. Often, I see males names have been entered in the direct maternal field, so the person interpreted this as their OLDEST person on their mother’s side – which of course is inaccurate – instead of their most distant matrilineal ancestor.

The problem is that if the tester enters a person who was born in Germany, and the matrilineal ancestor is a Native American female (or vice versa), this provides incorrect information to the system which then uses that compiled information to populate Haplogroup Origins, Ancestral Origins and the locations on the Family Tree DNA universal Y haplotree and mitochondrial public haplotree for other people. This is why you often see people in European haplogroups shown as “Native American.” Other testers’ information is part of what is provided on those pages. Collaboration is the underpinning foundation of genetic genealogy, but it also carries with it the opportunity for error.

Family Tree DNA provides a lot of information to customers, but some of it relies on information from other testers, so please test, and please be sure that your information is accurately reflected in these fields. Now might be a good time to check.

What About My Other Lines?

You can’t test for lines other than your patrilineal (males only) and your matrilineal (both genders) personally, BUT, other family members can – and you can surely gift them with tests. I look at it this way; they are testing for me, and if I could, I’d test for that line in a heartbeat – so I’m more than willing to provide a scholarship for their testing.

In the situation above, your mother’s father carries the mitochondrial DNA that you seek, shown as Native American B2a. If he’s not living, his siblings carry that same mitochondrial DNA. If he has sisters, their children, both male and female carry his mother’s mitochondrial DNA too. You need to follow the lineage through all females to a living relative who’s willing to test.

To obtain the DNA of the Native male, shown above as C-M217, you’d need to test your father’s mother’s father, or her brothers, or their sons. Follow this line up and down in the tree to find a male who carries that surname who is not adopted into the family.

I wrote about determining who to test in this article, along with a more detailed article about who to test for your father’s Y and mtDNA DNA, here.

DNA Haplogroup Pedigree Tree

I’ve been gathering my own ancestors’ Y and mtDNA information, because only Y and mtDNA provides a periscope view directly down a single line without admixture from the other parent.

DNA 8 grandparent

There’s just so much to learn! Where they originated, the history of their lineage, who you match and more. Y and mtDNA reaches back before surnames.

What can you learn about your family lines, and who can you ask to test?

What About You?

You can order the Y DNA for males and the mtFull test for either males or females at Family Tree DNA. When I ask a family member to test, I always offer to also purchase a Family Finder test at the same time so we can utilize their autosomal DNA as well, which is inherited from all of their lines. The cousin and I both get to know our ancestors better and advanced matching feature allows combined matching between all kinds of tests.

The Family Finder test can then be leveraged by uploading the autosomal DNA files to other free databases such as GedMatch and MyHeritage to obtain even more matches.

Your cousins and family members are goldmines containing the DNA nuggets of your ancestors just waiting to be found!

Ready for More?

If you have enjoyed this concepts article, you may enjoy other articles in our concepts series.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) 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 Services

Genealogy Research

Ancestry Step by Step Guide: How to Upload-Download DNA Files

In this Upload-Download Series, we’ll cover each major vendor:

  • How to download raw data files from the vendor
  • How to upload raw data files to the vendor, if possible
  • Other mainstream vendors where you can upload this vendor’s files

Uploading TO Ancestry

This part is easy with Ancestry, because Ancestry doesn’t accept any other vendor’s files. There is no ability to upload TO Ancestry. You have to test with Ancestry if you want results from Ancestry.

Downloading FROM Ancestry

In order to transfer your autosomal DNA file to another testing vendor, or GedMatch, for either matching or ethnicity, you’ll need to first download the file from Ancestry.

Step 1

Sign in to your account at Ancestry and click on the DNA Results Summary link.

Step 2

Click on the Settings gear, at the far upper right hand corner of the summary page, just beneath your Ancestry user ID.

Step 3

Click on the link for “Download Raw DNA Data.”

Step 4

Enter your password and click on “I Understand,” after reading of course.

At that point, the confirm button turns orange – click there.

Step 5

Ancestry will send an e-mail to the e-mail address where you are registered with Ancestry. Check your inbox for that e-mail.

Waiting…waiting.

Still waiting…

If the e-mail doesn’t arrive shortly, check your spam folder. If you’ve changed e-mail addresses, check to be sure your new one is registered with Ancestry. That’s on the same Settings page. If all else fails, request the e-mail again.

Step 6

Ahhh, it’s finally here.

Click on the green “Confirm Data Download” and do not close the window.

Step 7

Next, click on the green “Download DNA Raw Data.”

You’ll see the following confirmation screen.

Step 8

At the bottom of the page, above, if you’re on a PC, you’ll see the typical file download box that asks you if you want to open or save. Save the file as a name you can find later when you want to upload to another site.

The file name will be “dna-data-2018-07-31” where the date is the date you downloaded the file. I would suggest adding the word Ancestry to the front when you save the file on your system.

Most vendors want an unopened zip file, so if you want to open your file, first copy it to another name. Otherwise, you’ll have to download again.

That’s it, you’re done!

Ancestry File Transfers to Other Vendors

Ancestry testing falls into two different categories. V1 tests taken before May of 2016 and V2 tests taken after May 2016. Tests processed during May 2016 could be either version.

The difference between V1 and V2 files is that Ancestry changed the chips they use to test and different DNA positions are tested, resulting in a file of a different format.

If you don’t remember when you tested, make a copy of your Ancestry file using a different name, like, “Opened Ancestry file 7-31-2018.” Then just click to open the zip file.

The first four rows of the file will say something like this:

#AncestryDNA raw data download
#This file was generated by AncestryDNA at: 08/11/2017 07:23:49 UTC
#Data was collected using AncestryDNA array version: V1.0
#Data is formatted using AncestryDNA converter version: V1.0

This is a version 1 (V1) file.

A version 2 file will say V2.0.

Your upload results to other vendors’ sites will vary in terms of both matching and ethnicity accuracy based on your Ancestry version number, as follows:

From below to >>>>>>>>>>> Family Tree DNA Accepts ** MyHeritage Accepts*** 23andMe Accepts* GedMatch Accepts ****
Ancestry before May 2016 (V1) Yes, fully compatible Yes, fully compatible No Yes
Ancestry after May 2016 (V2) Yes, partly compatible Yes, fully compatible No Yes

*Note that 23andMe earlier in 2018 allowed a one-time transfer from Ancestry, but people who transferred results did not receive matches from 23andMe.

**Note that the transfer to Family Tree DNA and matching is free, but advanced tools including the chromosome browser and ethnicity require a $19 unlock fee. That fee is less expensive than retesting, but V2 customers should consider retesting to obtain fully compatible matching and ethnicity results. V2 tests typically receive only the closest 20-25% of matches they would receive if they tested directly at Family Tree DNA.

***MyHeritage utilizes a technique known as imputation to achieve compatibility between different vendors files. The transfer and tools are free, but without a subscription you can’t fully utilize all of the MyHeritage benefits available.

****I’m not sure exactly how GedMatch compensates for the V1 versus V2 differences, but they can handle both data file types. Most people don’t take both tests, but I was conducting an experiment and have uploaded both V1 and V2 tests.

A quick survey of GedMatch matches to my Ancestry V1 and Ancestry V2 kits shows that of my first 249 (125 V2, 124 V1) matches, I have 3 V1 tests that don’t have a corresponding match to a person on the V2 kit, and 5 V2 kits that don’t have a corresponding V1 kit match. That’s roughly a 6% nonmatch rate between Ancestry V1 and V2 kits. I would presume that as the genealogical and genetic distance increases with more distant matches, so would the percentage of non-matches because the segment size is smaller with more distant matches, so there is less matching DNA to have the opportunity to match in the first place.

Testing and Transfer Strategy

My recommendation, if you test at Ancestry, is to transfer your V1 results to MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch.

An Ancestry V1 test is entirely compatible at Family Tree DNA, but with a V2 test, because the testing platform that Ancestry uses is only about 20-25% compatible with the Family Tree DNA test, you’ll only receive your closest 20-25% matches. Family Tree DNA can’t match on those smaller segments if you don’t test on a compatible platform, so please do.

If you have Ancestry V2 results, transfer to MyHeritage and GedMatch but retest at Family Tree DNA. The cost difference at Family Tree DNA between the $19 unlock and a new Family Finder test is $60, for a total of $79 when the tests aren’t on sale. When they are on sale, it’s less. Right now, the tests are only $59.

You never know which match is going to break down that brick wall, and it would be a shame to miss it because you transferred rather than retested.

Matching and ethnicity is free with a transfer to MyHeritage, but you won’t receive the full potential benefit of SmartMatching without a subscription, as free trees are limited to 250 people and genealogical records aren’t included without a subscription. My subscription has been well worth the $.

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Thank you so much.

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