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.

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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

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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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.

 

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.

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 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.

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 $.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliate links are limited to:

Concepts – Sibling and Twin DNA Matching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50% the Same – 50% Different

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Matches are Identical By Chance (IBC)

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

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

Telling the Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Test Parents and Family Members

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

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

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

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

Identifying Lineage

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

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

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

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

Ethnicity

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

Transfers Give You More For Your Money

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

Have Fun

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

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliate links are limited to:

Concepts – Who To Test for Your Father’s DNA

If the first thing you thought when you read the title of this article was, “Well duh – test your father,” you would be right…unless your father is deceased.  Then, it’s not nearly as straightforward, because you have to find other family members who carry the same Y and mitochondrial DNA as your father.

These same concepts and techniques can be applied to testing for other men’s lines as well – so please read, even if Dad is sitting right beside you.

Before beginning this article, you might want to read “4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy” to understand the very basics of how different kinds of DNA are inherited, and how they can help you.

I was inspired to write this series of “Who to Test” articles to help people determine how to obtain the DNA they need to solve family mysteries from ancestors in their tree. For the most part, those ancestors are deceased, so one must understand how to obtain their DNA by testing living descendants descended in special ways.

Click to enlarge any graphic

In this series, we’ll be discussing how to test all of the individuals above for their mitochondrial DNA and males for their Y DNA.

Y DNA lineages are shown by blue lines and mitochondrial DNA lineages are shown by pink lines. In the charts below, different colored boxes and hearts showing the descent of blue male lines and pink(ish) mitochondrial lines.

In other words, the son at the bottom inherits his father’s light blue Y DNA, but his mother’s pink mitochondrial DNA that is the same as his sister’s and his mother’s mitochondrial line. Hence, his pink heart.

What Can Y and Mitochondrial DNA Tell You?

Both Y and mitochondrial DNA can tell you about your clan, meaning where your ancestors in that particular line were found. Many people have been surprised to find that these particular lines descended from Native American, Asian, Jewish, European or African ancestors. Some clan assignments, known as haplogroups, can be quite specific, but others are more general in nature.

You also receive matches and can communicate to find your common ancestor. Males can look for surnames the same or similar to their own.

You can read more about what mitochondrial DNA can do for you in the article, Mitochondrial DNA – Your Mom’s Story.

You can read more about what Y DNA can do for you in the article, Working with Y DNA – Your Dad’s Story.

Your Father’s DNA

Testing your father’s Y and mitochondrial DNA is easy, if your father is living. You can simply test your father.

As you can see in the chart above, your father inherited his Y DNA from the light blue line, from his father, which is typically the surname line.

Your father inherited his mitochondrial DNA from his direct matrilineal line, meaning the magenta line – your paternal grandmother and her direct maternal ancestors.

Your father did NOT pass his mitochondrial DNA to either of his children and he only passed his Y DNA to his son. His daughter has no Y DNA and her mother’s mitochondrial DNA.

You can test both your father’s Y DNA and mitochondrial by simply testing your father. However, testing becomes more challenging if your father is not available to test.

Your goal then becomes to find people who carry the same light blue Y DNA as your father, and the same magenta mitochondrial DNA that he carried as well. Let’s look at various ways to achieve that goal.

Testing Uncles and Siblings

If you are a male, meaning the son in the chart above, just test yourself for your father’s Y DNA.

Of course, you carry your mother’s mitochondrial DNA, shown by the pink heart that matches your sister, so you will have to find someone else who carries the same mitochondrial DNA as your father.

If you are a female, you can’t test for either your father’s Y or his mtDNA line. However, all is not lost.

If your father has any full male siblings, that’s your next best bet, because they will carry the same Y DNA and the same mitochondrial DNA as your father, because they share the same parents. You can test the same uncle for both Y and mitochondrial DNA. A brother and sister to your father have been added to the chart, below.

In the above chart, your father has two siblings, a male and a female. All three share the same mitochondrial DNA, but only the males share the Y DNA. Your father’s brother shares both. Your father’s sister shares his mitochondrial DNA, but not his Y DNA, shown above.

However, let’s say you’re the daughter and that your father and his brother are deceased. You can test your father’s sister for her mitochondrial DNA and you can test your own brother for your father’s Y DNA, shown below.

Don’t have a brother but your father’s brother had a son? No problem. Test the brother’s son who will carry his father’s Y DNA, which is the same as your father’s Y DNA, assuming nothing unknown.

You say your father’s sister is deceased too, but she had a child of either gender. No problem, you can test that child, whether they are a male or female for the sister’s mitochondrial DNA, which is the same as your father’s mitochondrial DNA.

In the chart above, all of the people with sky blue squares can test for your father’s Y DNA and all of the people with magenta squares or magenta hearts can test for your father’s mitochondrial DNA.

As you can see, you may well have lots of options.

Potential Testers

Father’s Y DNA Father’s mtDNA
Your Father Yes Yes
You Yes, if you are a male, No if you are a female No – you inherit your mtDNA from your mother
Your sibling Yes, if your sibling is a male, No if your sibling is a female No – your father does not pass his mtDNA to his children
Your father’s brother Yes Yes
Your father’s sister No – she didn’t inherit a Y chromosome from her father Yes
Your father’s brother’s children Yes, if male, No if female No – he didn’t pass his mitochondrial DNA to his children
Your father’s sister’s children No Yes – both genders

What Tests to Order

Family Tree DNA is the only testing vendor that offers Y and mitochondrial DNA testing that allows you to match to others. Additionally, they provide additional tools to understand the message Y and mtDNA carries for you.

For Y DNA testing, you can order either the 37, 67 or 111 marker test. I recommend that you purchase what the budget can afford. You can always upgrade later, but the cost of the original test plus an upgrade is somewhat more than just purchasing the larger test initially.  The greater the number of markers you purchase, the higher the level of specificity in the match results. The more closely you match someone, the more closely related you are to that person, and the closer in time your common ancestor lived. If you’re unsure what to purchase, 37 markers is a great place to begin.

For mitochondrial DNA testing, you can order the mtDNA Plus test, which is a subset of the mtFull Sequence test. In order to receive your full haplogroup designation, the entire mitochondrial DNA needs to be tested. I recommend the full sequence test be ordered.

For autosomal DNA testing, everyone can test, and as long as you’re placing an order, I’d suggest that you go ahead and order the Family Finder test. You can discover your ethnicity percentage estimates for several worldwide regions, including breakdowns of Europe, Africa and Asia as well as Native American and Jewish.

Additionally, while the Y and mitochondrial DNA tests reach back deep into time on those two specific lines, and only those two lines, the autosomal test tests the DNA of all of your ancestral lines, but may not reach back reliably in time for matches before the past 5 or 6 generations. Think of Y and mtDNA as viewing recent as well as very deep ancestors on just those lines, and Family Finder as broadly surveying all of your ancestors, but just in the past 7-10 generations.

The fun of autosomal DNA testing, aside from ethnicity estimates, is to discover which cousins you match and find your common ancestor.

In order for Family Tree DNA to be able to provide you with phased Family Finder matches, which indicates on which side of your tree (maternal or paternal) your match is found, helping to identify common ancestors – it’s critical for known relatives to test. The older the relative, generationally, the more helpful the testing is to you – so test those older family members immediately, while you still can.

You can order your tests and upgrades here.

______________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure will now appear at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 850 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

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

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

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

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA.

Concepts – Percentage of Ancestors’ DNA

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

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

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

Inheritance

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

Let’s step through this logically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Average May Not Mean You

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

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

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

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

You can click to enlarge images.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing Other Relatives

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Great-Great-Grandma

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

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

Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA Testing to Supplement Ethnicity Testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concepts – The Faces of Endogamy

Recently, while checking Facebook, I saw this posting from my friend who researches in the same Native admixed group of families in North Carolina and Virginia that I do. Researchers have been trying for years to sort through these interrelated families. As I read Justin’s post, I realized, this is a great example of endogamy and often how it presents itself to genealogists.

I match a lot of people from the Indian Woods [Bertie County, NC] area via DNA, with names like Bunch, Butler, Mitchell, Bazemore, Castellow, and, of course, Collins. While it’s hard to narrow in on which family these matching segments come from, I can find ‘neighborhoods’ that fit the bill genetically. This [census entry] is from near Quitsna in 1860. You see Bunch, Collins, Castellow, Carter, and Mitchell in neighboring households.

Which begs the question, what is endogamy, do you have it and how can you tell?

Definition

Endogamy is the practice or custom or marrying within a specific group, population, geography or tribe.

Examples that come to mind are Ashkenazi Jews, Native Americans (before European and African admixture), Amish, Acadians and Mennonite communities.

Some groups marry within their own ranks due to religious practices. Jewish, Amish and Mennonite would fall under this umbrella. Some intermarry due to cultural practices, such as Acadians, although their endogamy could also partly be attributed to their staunch Catholic beliefs in a primarily non-Catholic region. Some people practice endogamy due to lack of other eligible partners such as Native Americans before contact with Europeans and Africans.  People who live on  islands or in villages whose populations were restricted geographically are prime candidates for endogamy.

In the case of Justin’s group of families who were probably admixed with Native, European and African ancestors, they intermarried because there were socially no other reasonable local options. In Virginia during that timeframe, mixed race marriages were illegal. Not only that, but you married who lived close by and who you knew – in essence the neighbors who were also your relatives.

Endogamy and Genetic Genealogy

In some cases, endogamy is good news for the genealogist. For example, if you’re working with Acadian records and know which Catholic church your ancestors attended. Assuming those church records still exist, you’re practically guaranteed that you’ll find the entire family because Acadians nearly always married within the Acadian community, and the entire Acadian community was Catholic. Catholics kept wonderful records. Even when the Acadians married a Native person, the Native spouse is almost always baptized and recorded with a non-Native name in the Catholic church records, which paved the way for a Catholic marriage.

In other cases, such as Justin’s admixed group, the Brethren who notoriously kept no church records or the Jewish people whose records were largely destroyed during the Holocaust, endogamy has the opposite effect – meaning that actual records are often beyond the reach of genealogists – but the DNA is not.

It’s in cases like this that people reach for DNA to help them find their families and connections.

What Does Endogamy Look Like?

If you know nothing about your heritage, how would you know whether you are endogamous or not? What does it look like? How do you recognize it?

The answer is…it depends. Unfortunately, there’s no endogamy button that lights up on your DNA results, but there are a range of substantial clues.  Let’s divide up the question into pieces that make sense and look at a variety of useful tools.

Full or Part?

First of all, fully and partly endogamous ancestry, and endogamy from different sources, has different signs and symptoms, so to speak.

A fully endogamous person, depending on their endogamy group, may have either strikingly more than average autosomal DNA matches, or very few.

Another factor will be geography, where you live, which serves to rule out some groups entirely. If you live in Australia, your ancestors may be European but they aren’t going to be Native American.

How many people in your endogamous group that have DNA tested is another factor that weighs very heavily in terms of what endogamy looks like, as is the age of the group. The older the group, generally the more descendants available to test although that’s not always the case. For example warfare, cultural genocide and disease wiped out many or most of the Native population in the United States, especially east of the Mississippi and particularly in the easternmost seaboard regions.

Because of the genocide perpetrated upon the Jewish people, followed by the scattering of survivors, Jewish descendants are inclined to test to find family connections. Jewish surnames may have been changed or not adopted in some cases until late, in the 1800s, and finding family after displacement was impossible in the 1940s for those who survived.

Let’s look at autosomal DNA matches for fully and partly endogamous individuals.

Jewish people, in particular Ashkenazi, generally have roughly three times as many matches as non-endogamous individuals.

Conversely, because very few Native people have tested, Native testers, especially non-admixed Native individuals, may have very few matches.

It’s ironic that my mother, the last person listed, with two endogamous lines, still has fewer matches than I do, the first person listed.  This is because my father has deep colonial roots with lots of descendants to test, and my mother has recent immigration in her family line – even though a quarter of her ancestry is endogamous.

To determine whether we are looking at endogamy, sometimes we need to look for other clues.

There are lots of ways to discover additional clues.

Surnames

Is there a trend among the surnames of your matches?

At the top of your Family Finder match page your three most common surnames are displayed.

A fully endogamous Jewish individual’s most common surnames are shown above. If you see Cohen among your most common surnames, you are probably Jewish, given that the Kohanim have special religious responsibilities within the Jewish faith.

Of course, especially with autosomal DNA, the person’s current surname may not be indicative, but there tends to be a discernable pattern with someone who is highly endogamous. When someone who is fully endogamous, such as the Jewish population, intermarries with other Jewish people, the surnames will likely still be recognizably Jewish.

Our Jewish individual’s first matching page, meaning his closest matches, includes the following surnames:

  • Cohen
  • Levi
  • Bernstein
  • Kohn
  • Goldstein

The Sioux individual only has 137 matches, but his first page of matches includes the following surnames:

  • Sunbear
  • Deer With Horns
  • Eagleman
  • Yelloweyes
  • Long Turkey
  • Fire
  • Bad Wound
  • Growing Thunder

These surnames are very suggestive of Native American ancestry in a tribe that did not adopt European surnames early in their history. In other words, not east of the Mississippi.

At Family Tree DNA, every person has the opportunity to list their family surnames and locations, so don’t just look at the tester’s surname, but at their family surnames and locations too. The Ancestral Surname column is located to the far right on the Family Finder matches page. If you can’t see all of the surnames, click on the person’s profile picture to see their entire profile and all of the surnames they have listed.

Please note that you can click to enlarge all graphics.

If you haven’t listed your family surnames, now would be a good time. You can do this by clicking on the orange “Manage Personal Information” link near your profile picture on the left of your personal page.

The orange link takes you to the account settings page. Click on the Genealogy tab, then on surnames. Be sure to click the orange “save” when you are finished.

Partial Endogamy

Let’s take a look at a case study of someone who is partially endogamous, meaning that they have endogamous lines, but aren’t fully endogamous. My mother, who is the partially endogamous individual with 1231 matches is a good example.

Mother is a conglomeration of immigrants. Her 8 great-grandparents break down as follows:

In mother’s case, a few different forces are working against each other. Let’s take a look.

The case of recent immigration from the Netherlands, in the 1850s, would serve to reduce mother’s matches because there has been little time in the US for descendants to accrue and test. Because people in the Netherlands tend to be very reluctant about DNA testing, very few have tested, also having the effect of reducing her number of matches.

Mother’s Dutch ancestors were Mennonites, an endogamous group within the Netherlands, which would further reduce her possibilities of having matches on these lines since she would be less likely to match the general population and more likely to match individuals within the endogamous group. If people from the Mennonite group tested, she would likely match many within that group. In other words, for her to find Dutch matches, people descended from the endogamous Dutch Mennonite population would need to test. At Family Tree DNA, there is a Low Mennonite Y DNA and Anabaptist autosomal DNA project both, but these groups tend to attract the Mennonites that migrated to Russia and Poland, not the group that stayed in the Netherlands. Another issue, at least in mother’s case, is that her Mennonite relatives “seem” to have been later converts, not part of the original Mennonite group – although it’s difficult to tell for sure in the records that exist.

Mother’s Kirsch and Drechsel ancestors were also recent immigrants in the 1850s, from Germany, with very few descendants in the US today. The villages from where her Kirsch ancestors immigrated, based on the church records, did tend to be rather endogamous.  However, that endogamy would only have reached back about 200 years, as far as the 30 Years’ War when that region was almost entirely, if not entirely, depopulated. So while there was recent endogamy, there (probably) wasn’t deep endogamy. Of course, it would require someone from those villages to test so mother could have matches before endogamy can relevant. DNA testing is not popular in Germany either.

Because of recent immigration, altogether one half of mother’s heritage would reduce her number of matches significantly. Recent immigrants simply have fewer descendants to test.

On the other hand, mother’s English line has been in the US for a long time, some since the Mayflower, so she could expect many matches from that line, although they are not endogamous. If you’re thinking to yourself that deep colonial ancestry can sometime mimic endogamy in terms of lots of matches, you’re right – but still not nearly to the level of a fully endogamous Jewish person.

Mother’s Acadian line has been settled in North America in Nova Scotia since the early 1600s, marrying within their own community, mixing with the Native people and then scattering in different directions after 1755 when they were forcibly removed. Acadians, however, tended to remain in their cultural groups, even after relocation. Many Acadian descendants DNA test and all Acadians descend from a limited and relatively well documented original population. That level of documentation is very unusual for endogamous groups. Acadian surnames are well known and are French. The best Acadian genealogical resource in is Karen Theriot’s comprehensive tree on Rootsweb in combination with the Mothers of Acadia DNA project at Family Tree DNA. I wish there was a similar Fathers of Acadia project.

Mother’s Brethren line is much less well documented due to a lack of church records. The Brethren community immigrated in the early 1700s from primarily Switzerland and Germany, was initially relatively small, lived in clusters in specific areas, traveled together and did not marry outside the Brethren faith. Therefore, Brethren heritage and names also tend to be rather specific, but not as recognizable as Acadian names. After all, the Brethren were German/Swiss and in mother’s case, she also has another 1/4th of her heritage that are recently immigrated Germans – so differentiating one German group from the other can be tricky. The only way to tell Brethren matches from other German matches is that the Brethren also tend to match each other.

In Common With

If you notice a group of similar appearing surnames, use the ICW (in common with) tool at Family Tree DNA to see who you match in common with those individuals. If you find that you match a whole group of people with similar surnames or geography, contact your matches and ask if they know any of the other matches and how they might be related. I always recommend beginning with your closest matches because your common ancestor is likely to be closer in time than people who match you more distantly.

In the ICW match example below, all of the matches who do show ancestral surnames include Acadian surnames and/or locations.

Acadians, of course, became Cajuns in Louisiana where one group settled after their displacement in Nova Scotia. The bolded surnames match surnames on the tester’s surname list.

The ICW tools work particular well if you know of or can identify one person who matches you within a group, or simply on one side of your family.

Don Worth’s Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer is an excellent tool to genetically group your matches by chromosome. It’s then easy to use the chromosome browser at Family Tree DNA to see which of these people match you on the same segments. These tools work wonderfully together.

The group above is an Acadian match group. By hovering over the match names, you can see their ancestral surnames which make the Acadian connection immediately evident.

The Matrix

In addition to seeing the people you match in common with your matches by utilizing the ICW tool at Family Tree DNA, you can also utilize the Matrix tool to see if your matches also match each other. While this isn’t the same as triangulation, because it doesn’t tell you if they match each other on the same exact segment, it’s a wonderful tool, because in the absence of cooperation or communication from your matches to determine triangulation between multiple people, the Matrix is a very good secondary approach and often predicts triangulation accurately.

In the Matrix, above, the blue boxes indicates that these individuals (from your match list) also match each other.

For additional information on various autosomal tools available for your use, click here to read the article, Nine Autosomal Tools at Family Tree DNA.

MyOrigins

Everyone who takes the Family Finder test also receives their ethnicity estimates on the MyOrigins tab.

In the case of our Jewish friend, above, his MyOrigins map clearly shows his endogamous heritage. He does have some Middle Eastern region admixture, but I’ve seen Ashkenazi Jewish results that are 100% Ashkenazi Jewish.

The same situation exists with our Sioux individual, above. Heavily Native, removing any doubt about his ancestry.

However, mother’s European admixture blends her MyOrigins results into a colorful but unhelpful European map, at least in terms of determining whether she is endogamous or has endogamous lines.

European endogamous admixture, except for Jewish heritage, tends to not be remarkable enough to stand out as anything except European heritage utilizing ethnicity tools. In addition, keep in mind that DNA testing in France for genealogy is illegal, so often there is a distinct absence in that region that is a function of the lack of testing candidates. Acadians may not show up as French.

Ethnicity testing tends to be excellent at determining majority ethnicity, and determining differences between continental level ethnicity, but less helpful otherwise. In terms of endogamy, Jewish and Native American tend to be the two largest endogamous groups that are revealed by ethnicity testing – and for that purpose, ethnicity testing is wonderful.

Y and Mitochondrial DNA and Endogamy

Autosomal tools aren’t the only tools available to the genetic genealogist. In fact, if someone is 100% endogamous, or even half endogamous, chances are very good that either the Y DNA for males on the direct paternal line, or the mitochondrial DNA for males and females on the direct matrilineal line will be very informative.

On the pedigree chart above, the blue squares represent the Y DNA that the father contributes to only his sons and the red circles represent the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that mothers contribute to both genders of their children, but is only passed on by the females.

By utilizing Y and mtDNA testing, you can obtain a direct periscope view back in time many generations, because the Y and mitochondrial DNA is preserved intact, except for an occasional mutation. Unlike autosomal DNA, the DNA of the other parent is not admixed with the Y or mitochondrial DNA. Therefore, the DNA that you’re looking at is the DNA of your ancestors, generations back in time, as opposed to autosomal DNA which can only reliably reach back 5 or 6 generations in terms of ethnicity because it gets halved in every generation and mixed with the DNA of the other parent.

With autosomal DNA, we can see THAT it exists, but not who it came from.  With Y and mtDNA DNA, we know exactly who in your tree that specific DNA came from

We do depend on occasional Y and mtDNA mutations to allow our lines to accrue enough mutations to differentiate us from others who aren’t related, but those mutations accrue very slowly over hundreds to thousands of years.

Our “clans,” over time, are defined by haplogroups and both our individual matches and our haplogroup or clan designation can be very useful. Your haplogroup will indicate whether you are European, Jewish, Asian, Native American or African on the Y and/or mtDNA line.

In cases of endogamous groups where the members are known to marry only within the group, Y and mtDNA can be especially helpful in identifying potential families of origin.  This is evident in the Mothers of Acadia DNA project as well a particular brick wall I’m working on in mother’s Brethren line. Success, of course, hinges on members of that population testing their Y or mtDNA and being available for comparison.

Always test your Y (males only) and mitochondrial DNA (males and females.) You don’t know what you don’t know, and sometimes those lines may just hold the key you’re looking for. It would be a shame to neglect the test with the answer, or at least a reasonably good hint! Stories of people discovering their ethnic heritage, at least for that line, by taking a Y or mtDNA test are legendary.

Jewish Y and Mitochondrial DNA

Fortunately, for genetic genealogists, Jewish people carry specific sub-haplogroups that are readily identified as Jewish, although carrying these subgroups don’t always mean you’re Jewish. “Jewish” is a religion as well as a culture that has been in existence as an endogamous group long enough in isolation in the diaspora areas to develop specific mutations that identify group members. Furthermore, the Jewish people originated in the Near East and are therefore relatively easy, relative to Y and mtDNA, to differentiate from the people native to the regions outside of the Near East where groups of Jewish people settled.

The first place to look for hints of your heritage is your main page at Family Tree DNA. First, note your haplogroups and any badges you may have in the upper right hand corner of your results page.

In this man’s case, the Cohen badge is this man’s first clue that he matches or closely matches the known DNA signature for Jewish Cohen men.

Both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA results have multiple tabs that hold important information.

Two tabs, Haplogroup Origins and Ancestral Origins are especially important for participants to review.

The Haplogroup Origins tab shows a combination of academic research results identifying your haplogroup with locations, as well as some Ancestral Origins mixed in.

A Jewish Y DNA Haplogroup Origins page is shown above.

The Ancestral Origins page, below, reflects the location where your matches SAY their most distant direct matrilineal (for mtDNA) or patrilineal (for Y DNA) ancestors were found. Clearly, this information can be open to incorrect interpretation, and sometimes is. For example, people often don’t understand that “most distant maternal ancestor” means the direct line female on your mother’s mother’s mother’s side.  However, you’re not looking at any one entry. You are looking instead for trends.

The Ancestral Origins page for a Jewish man’s Y DNA is shown above.

The Haplogroup Origins page for Jewish mitochondrial DNA, below, looks much the same, with lots of Ashkenazi entries.

The mitochindrial Ancestral Origins results, below, generally become more granular and specific with the higher test levels. That’s because the more general results get weeded out a higher levels. Your closest matches at the highest level of testing are the most relevant to you, although sometimes people who tested at lower levels would be relevant, if they upgraded their tests.

Native American Y and Mitochondrial DNA

Native Americans, like Jewish people, are very fortunate in that they carry very specific sub-haplogroups for Y and mitochondrial DNA. The Native people had a very limited number of founders in the Americas when they originally arrived, between roughly 10,000 and 25,000 years ago, depending on which model you prefer to use. Descendants had no choice but to intermarry with each other for thousands of years before European and African contact brought new genes to the Native people.

Fortunately, because Y and mtDNA don’t mix with the other parents’ DNA, no matter how admixed the individual today, testers’ Y and mtDNA still shows exactly the origins of that lineage.

Native American Y DNA shows up as such on the Haplogroup Origins and Ancestral Origins tabs, as illustrated below.

The haplogroup assigned is shown along with a designation as Native on the Haplogroup Origins and Ancestral Origins pages. The haplogroup is assigned through DNA testing, but the Native designation and location is entered by the tester. Do be aware that some people record the fact that their “mother’s side” or “father’s side” is reported to have a Native ancestor, which is not (necessarily) the same as the matrilineal or patrilineal line. Their “mother’s side” and “father’s side” can have any number of both male and female ancestors.

If the tester’s haplogroup comes back as non-Native, the erroneous Native designation shows up in their matches Ancestral Origins page as “Native,” because that is what the tester initially entered.  I wrote about this situation here, but there isn’t much that can be done about this unless the tester either realizes their error or thinks to go back and change their designation from Native American when they realize the DNA does not support the family story, at least not on this particular line line. Erroneous labeling applies to both Y and mtDNA.

Native Y DNA falls within a subset of haplogroups C and Q. However, most subgroups of C and Q are NOT Native, but are European or Asian or in one case, a subgroup of haplogroup Q is Jewish. This does NOT means that the Jewish people and the Native people are related within many thousands of years. It means they had a common ancestor in Asia thousands of years ago that gave birth to both groups. In essence, one group of the original Q moved east and eventually into the Americas, and one moved west, winding up in Europe. Today, mutations (SNPs) have accrued to each group that very successfully differentiate them from one another. In order to determine whether your branch of C or Q is Native, you must take additional SNP tests which further identify your haplogroup – meaning which branch of haplogroup C or Q that you belong to.

Native Americans Y-DNA, to date, must fall into a subset of haplogroup C-P39, a subgroup of C-M217 or Q-M3, Q-M971/Z780 or possibly Q-B143 (ancient Saqquq in Greenland), according to The study of human Y chromosome variation through ancient DNA. Each of these branches also has sub-branches except for Q-B143 which may be extinct. This isn’t to say additional haplogroups or sub-haplogroups won’t be discovered in the future. In fact, haplogroup O is a very good candidate, but enough evidence doesn’t yet exist today to definitively state that haplogroup O is also Native.

STR marker testing, meaning panels of markers from 12-111, provides all participants with a major haplogroup estimate, such as C or Q. However, to confirm the Y DNA haplogroup subgroup further down the tree, one must take additional SNP testing. I wrote an article about the differences between STR markers and SNPs, if you’d like to read it, here and why you might want to SNP test, here.

Testers can purchase individual SNPs, such as the proven Native SNPs, which will prove or disprove Native ancestry, a panel of SNPs which have been combined to be cost efficient (for most haplogroups), or the Big Y test which scans the entire Y chromosome and provides additional matching.

When financially possible, the Big Y is always recommended. The Big Y results for the Sioux man showed 61 previously unknown SNPs. The Big Y test is a test of discovery, and is how we learn about new branches of the Y haplotree. You can see the most current version of the haplogroup C and Q trees on your Family Tree DNA results page or on the ISOGG tree.

Native mitochondrial DNA can be determined by full sequence testing the mitochondrial DNA. The mtPlus test only tests a smaller subset of the mtDNA and assigns a base haplogroup such as A. To confirm Native ancestry, one needs to take the full sequence mitochondrial test to obtain their full haplogroup designation which can only be determined by testing the full mitochondrial sequence.

Native mitochondrial haplogroups fall into base haplogroups A, B, C, D, X and M, with F as a possibility. The most recent paper on Native Mitochondrial DNA Discoveries can be found here and a site containing all known Native American mitochondrial DNA haplogroups is here.

Not Native or Jewish

Unfortunately, other endogamous groups aren’t as fortunate as Jewish and Native people, because they don’t have haplogroups or subgroups associated with their endogamy group. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few other tools that can be useful.

Don’t forget about your Matches Maps. While your haplogroup may not be specific enough to identify your heritage, your matches may hold clues. Each individual tester is encouraged to enter the identity of their most distant ancestor in both their Y (if male) and mtDNA lines. Additionally, on the bottom of the Matches Map, testers can enter the location where that most distant ancestor is found. If you haven’t done that yet, this is a good time to do that too!

When looking at your Matches Map, clusters and distribution of your matches most distant ancestor locations are important.

This person’s matches, above, suggest that they might look at the history of Nova Scotia and French immigrants – and the history of Nova Scotia is synonymous with the Acadians but the waterway distribution can also signal French, but not Acadian. Native people are also associated with Nova Scotia and river travel. The person’s haplogroup would add to this story and focus on or eliminate some options.

This second example above, suggests the person look to the history of Norway and Sweden, although their ancestor, indicated by the white balloon, is from Germany. If the tester’s genealogy is stuck in the US, this grouping could be a significant clue relative to either recent or deeper history. Do they live in a region where Scandinavian people settled? What history connects the region where the ancestor is found with Scandinavia?

This third example, above, strongly suggests Acadian, given the matches restricted to Nova Scotia, and, as it turns out, this individual does have strong Acadian heritage. Again, their haplogroup is additionally informative and points directly to the European or Native side of the Acadian heritage for this particular line.

In Summary

Sometimes endogamy is up front and in your face, evident from the minute your DNA results are returned. Other times, endogamous lines in ethnically mixed individuals reveal themselves more subtly, like with my friend Justin. Fortunately, the different types of DNA tests and the different tools at our disposal each contain the potential for a different puzzle piece to be revealed. Many times, our DNA results need to be interpreted with some amount of historical context to reveal the story of our ancestors.

When I first discovered that my mother’s line was Acadian, my newly found cousin said to me, “If you’re related to one Acadian, you’re related to all Acadians.” He wasn’t kidding. For that very reason, endogamous genetic genealogy is tricky at best and frustrating at worst.

When possible, Y and mtDNA is the most definitive answer, because the centuries or millennia or intermarriage don’t affect Y and mtDNA. If you are Jewish or Native on the appropriate lines for testing, Y and mtDNA is very definitive. If you’re not Jewish or Native on your Y or mtDNA lines, check your matches for clues, including surnames, Haplogroup and Ancestral Origins, and your Matches Map.

Consider building a DNA pedigree chart that documents each of your ancestors’ Y and mtDNA for lines that aren’t revealed in your own test. The story of Y and mtDNA is not confused or watered down by admixture and is one of the most powerful, and overlooked, tools in the genealogist’s toolbox.

Autosomal DNA when dealing with endogamy can be quite challenging, even when working with well-documented Acadian genealogy – because you truly are related to everyone.  Trying to figure out which DNA segments go with, or descend from, which ancestors reaching back several generations is the ultimate jigsaw puzzle. Often, I work with a specific segment and see how far back I can track that segment in the ancestral line of me and my matches. On good days, we arrive at one common ancestor. On other days, we arrive at dead ends that are not a common ancestor – which means of course that we keep searching genealogically – or pick a different segment to work with.

When working with autosomal DNA of endogamous individuals (or endogamous lines of partially endogamous individuals,) I generally use a larger matching threshold than with non-endogamous, because we already know that these people will have segments that match because they descend from the same populations. In general, I ignore anything below 10cM and often below 15cM if I’m looking for a genealogical connection in the past few generations. If I’m simply mapping DNA to ancestors, then I use the smaller segments, down to either 7 or 5cM. If you want to read more about segments that are identical by chance (also known as false matches,) identical by population and identical by descent (genealogically relevant matches,) click here.

The good news about endogamy is that its evidence persists in the DNA of the population, literally almost forever, as long as that “population” exists in descendants – meaning you can find it!  In my case, my Acadian brick wall would have fallen much sooner had I know what endogamy looked like and what I was seeing actually meant.

A perfect example of persistent endogamy is that our Sioux male today, along with other nearly fully Native people, including people from South America, matches the ancient DNA of the Anzick child who died and was buried in Montana 12,500 years ago.

These people don’t just match on small segments, but at contemporary matching levels at Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, both.  One individual shows a match of 109 total cM and a single largest segment of DNA at 20.7 cM, a match that would indicate a contemporary relationship of between 3.5 and 4 generations distant – meaning 2nd to 3rd cousins. Clearly, that isn’t possible, but the DNA shared by Anzick Child and that individual today has been intact in the Native population for more than 12,500 years.

The DNA that Anzick Child carried is the same DNA that the Sioux people carry today – because there was no DNA from outside the founder population, no DNA to wash out the DNA carried by Anzick Child’s ancestors – the same exact ancestors of the Sioux and other Native or Native admixed people today.

While endogamy can sometimes be frustrating, the great news is that you will have found an entire population of relatives, a new “clan,” so to speak.  You’ll understand a lot more about your family history and you’ll have lots of new cousins!

Endogamy is both the blessing and the curse of genetic genealogy!

Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages

There has been a lot of discussion about ethnicity percentages within the genetic genealogy community recently, probably because of the number of people who have recently purchased DNA tests to discover “who they are.”

Testers want to know specifically if ethnicity percentages are right or wrong, and what those percentages should be. The next question, of course, is which vendor is the most accurate.

Up front, let me say that “your mileage may vary.” The vendor that is the most accurate for my German ancestry may not be the same vendor that is the most accurate for the British Isles or Native American. The vendor that is the most accurate overall for me may not be the most accurate for you. And the vendor that is the most accurate for me today, may no longer be the most accurate when another vendor upgrades their software tomorrow. There is no universal “most accurate.”

But then again, how does one judge “most accurate?” Is it just a feeling, or based on your preconceived idea of your ethnicity? Is it based on the results of one particular ethnicity, or something else?

As a genealogist, you have a very powerful tool to use to figure out the percentages that your ethnicity SHOULD BE. You don’t have to rely totally on any vendor. What is that tool? Your genealogy research!

I’d like to walk you through the process of determining what your own ethnicity percentages should be, or at least should be close to, barring any surprises.

By surprises, in this case, we’re assuming that all 64 of your GGGG-grandparents really ARE your GGGG-grandparents, or at least haven’t been proven otherwise. Even if one or two aren’t, that really only affects your results by 1.56% each. In the greater scheme of things, that’s trivial unless it’s that minority ancestor you’re desperately seeking.

A Little Math

First, let’s do a little very basic math. I promise, just a little. And it really is easy. In fact, I’ll just do it for you!

You have 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents.

Generation # You Have Who Approximate Percentage of Their DNA That You Have Today
1 You 100%
1 2 Parents 50%
2 4 Grandparents 25%
3 8 Great-grandparents 12.5%
4 16 Great-great-grandparents 6.25%
5 32 Great-great-great-grandparents 3.12%
6 64 Great-great-great-great-grandparents 1.56%

Each of those GGGG-grandparents contributed 1.56% of your DNA, roughly.

Why 1.56%?

Because 100% of your DNA divided by 64 GGGG-grandparents equals 1.56% of each of those GGGG-grandparents. That means you have roughly 1.56% of each of those GGGG-grandparents running in your veins.

OK, but why “roughly?”

We all know that we inherit 50% of each of our parents’ DNA.

So that means we receive half of the DNA of each ancestor that each parent received, right?

Well, um…no, not exactly.

Ancestral DNA isn’t divided exactly in half, by the “one for you and one for me” methodology. In fact, DNA is inherited in chunks, and often you receive all of a chunk of DNA from that parent, or none of it. Seldom do you receive exactly half of a chunk, or ancestral segment – but half is the AVERAGE.

Because we can’t tell exactly how much of any ancestor’s DNA we actually do receive, we have to use the average number, knowing full well we could have more than our 1.56% allocation of that particular ancestor’s DNA, or none that is discernable at current testing thresholds.

Furthermore, if that 1.56% is our elusive Native ancestor, but current technology can’t identify that ancestor’s DNA as Native, then our Native heritage melds into another category. That ancestor is still there, but we just can’t “see” them today.

So, the best we can do is to use the 1.56% number and know that it’s close. In other words, you’re not going to find that you carry 25% of a particular ancestor’s DNA that you’re supposed to carry 1.56% for. But you might have 3%, half of a percent, or none.

Your Pedigree Chart

To calculate your expected ethnicity percentages, you’ll want to work with a pedigree chart showing your 64 GGGG-grandparents. If you haven’t identified all 64 of your GGGG-grandparents – that’s alright – we can accommodate that. Work with what you do have – but accuracy about the ancestors you have identified is important.

I use RootsMagic, and in the RootsMagic software, I can display all 64 GGGG-grandparents by selecting all 4 of my grandparents one at a time.

In the first screen, below, my paternal grandfather is blue and my 16 GGGG-grandparents that are his ancestors are showing to the far right.  Please note that you can click on any of the images to enlarge.

ethnicity-pedigree

Next, my paternal grandmother

ethnicity-pedigree-1

Next, my maternal grandmother.

ethnicity-pedigree-2

And finally, my maternal grandfather.

ethnicity-pedigre-3

These displays are what you will work from to create your ethnicity table or chart.

Your Ethnicity Table

I simply displayed each of these 16 GGGG-grandparents and completed the following grid. I used a spreadsheet, but you can use a table or simply do this on a tablet of paper. Technology not required.

You’ll want 5 columns, as shown below.

  • Number 1-64, to make sure you don’t omit anyone
  • Name
  • Birth Location
  • 1.56% Source – meaning where in the world did the 1.56% of the DNA you received from them come from? This may not be the same as their birth location. For example an Irish man born in Virginia counts as an Irish man.
  • Ancestry – meaning if you don’t know positively where that ancestor is from, what do you know about them? For example, you might know that their father was German, but uncertain about the mother’s nationality.

My ethnicity table is shown below.

ethnicity-table

In some cases, I had to make decisions.

For example, I know that Daniel Miller’s father was a German immigrant, documented and proven. The family did not speak English. They were Brethren, a German religious sect that intermarried with other Brethren.  Marriage outside the church meant dismissal – so your children would not have been Brethren. Therefore, it would be extremely unlikely, based on both the language barrier and the Brethren religious customs for Daniel’s mother, Magdalena, to be anything other than German – plus, their children were Brethren..

We know that most people married people within their own group – partly because that is who they were exposed to, but also based on cultural norms and pressures. When it comes to immigrants and language, you married someone you could communicate with.

Filling in blanks another way, a local German man was likely the father of Eva Barbara Haering’s illegitmate child, born to Eva Barbara in her home village in Germany.

Obviously, there were exceptions, but they were just that, the exception. You’ll have to evaluate each of your 64 GGGG-grandparents individually.

Calculating Percentages

Next, we’re going to group locations together.

For example, I had a total of one plus that was British Isles. Three and a half, plus, that were Scottish. Nine and a half that were Dutch.

ethnicity-summary

You can’t do anything with the “plus” designation, but you can multiply by everything else.

So, for Scottish, 3 and a half (3.5) times 1.56% equals 5.46% total Scottish DNA. Follow this same procedure for every category you’re showing.

Do the same for “uncertain.”

Incorporating History

In my case, because all of my uncertain lines are on my father’s colonial side, and I do know locations and something about their spouses and/or the population found in the areas where each ancestor is located, I am making an “educated speculation” that these individuals are from the British Isles. These families didn’t speak German, or French, or have French or German, Dutch or Scandinavian surnames. People married others like themselves, in their communities and churches.

I want to be very clear about this. It’s not a SWAG (serious wild-a** guess), it’s educated speculation based on the history I do know.

I would suggest that there is a difference between “uncertain” and “unknown origin.” Unknown origin connotates that there is some evidence that the individual is NOT from the same background as their spouse, or they are from a highly mixed region, but we don’t know.

In my case, this leaves a total of 2 and a half that are of unknown origin, based on the other “half” that isn’t known of some lineages. For example, I know there are other Native lines and at least one African line, but I don’t know what percentage of which ancestor how far back. I can’t pinpoint the exact generation in which that lineage was “full” and not admixed.

I have multiple Native lines in my mother’s side in the Acadian population, but they are further back than 6 generations and the population is endogamous – so those ancestors sometimes appear more than once and in multiple Acadian lines – meaning I probably carry more of their DNA than I otherwise would. These situations are difficult to calculate mathematically, so just keep them in mind.

Given the circumstances based on what I do know, the 3.9% unknown origin is probably about right, and in this case, the unknown origin is likely at least part Native and/or African and probably some of each.

ethnicity-summary-2

The Testing Companies

It’s very difficult to compare apples to apples between testing companies, because they display and calculate ethnicity categories differently.

For example, Family Tree DNA’s regions are fairly succinct, with some overlap between regions, shown below.

ethnicity-ftdna-map

Some of Ancestry’s regions overlap by almost 100%, meaning that any area in a region could actually be a part of another region.

ethnicity-ancestry-map-2

For example look at the United Kingdom and Ireland. The United Kingdom region overlaps significantly into Europe.

ethnicity-ancestry-map

Here’s the Great Britain region close up, below, which is shown differently from the map above. The Great Britain region actually overlaps almost the entire western half of Europe.

ethnicity-ancestry-great-britain

That’s called hedging your bets, or maybe it’s simply the nature of ethnicity. Granted, the overlaps are a methodology for the vendor not to be “wrong,” but people and populations did and do migrate, and the British Isles was somewhat of a destination location.

This Germanic Tribes map, also from Ancestry’s Great Britain section, illustrates why ethnicity calculations are so difficult, especially in Europe and the British Isles.

ethnicity-invaders

Invaders and migrating groups brought their DNA.  Even if the invaders eventually left, their DNA often became resident in the host population.

The 23andMe map, below, is less detailed in terms of viewing how regions overlap.

ethnicity-23andme-map

The Genographic project breaks ethnicity down into 9 world regions which they indicate reflect both recent influences and ancient genetics dating from 500 to 10,000 years ago. I fall into 3 regions, shown by the shadowy Circles on the map, below.

ethnicity-geno-map-2

The following explanation is provided by the Genographic Project for how they calculate and explain the various regions, based on early European history.

ethnicity-geno-regions

Let’s look at how the vendors divide ethnicity and see what kind of comparisons we can make utilizing the ethnicity table we created that represents our known genealogy.

Family Tree DNA

MyOrigins results at Family Tree DNA show my ethnicity as:

ethnicity-ftdna-percents

I’ve reworked my ethnicity totals format to accommodate the vendor regions, creating the Ethnicity Totals Table, below. The “Genealogy %” column is the expected percentage based on my genealogy calculations. I have kept the “British Isles Inferred” percentage separate since it is the most speculative.

ethnicity-ftdna-table

I grouped the regions so that we can obtain a somewhat apples-to-apples comparison between vendor results, although that is clearly challenging based on the different vendor interpretations of the various regions.

Note the Scandinavian, which could potentially be a Viking remnant, but there would have had to be a whole boatload of Vikings, pardon the pun, or Viking is deeply inbedded in several population groups.

Ancestry

Ancestry reports my ethnicity as:

ethnicity-ancestry-amounts

Ancestry introduces Italy and Greece, which is news to me. However, if you remember, Ancestry’s Great Britain ethnicity circle reaches all the way down to include the top of Italy.

ethnicity-ancestry-table

Of all my expected genealogy regions, the most definitive are my Dutch, French and German. Many are recent immigrants from my mother’s side, removing any ambiguity about where they came from. There is very little speculation in this group, with the exception of one illegitimate German birth and two inferred German mothers.

23andMe

23andMe allows customers to change their ethnicity view along a range from speculative to conservative.

ethnicity-23andme-levels

Generally, genealogists utilize the speculative view, which provides the greatest regional variety and breakdown. The conservative view, in general, simply rolls the detail into larger regions and assigns a higher percentage to unknown.

I am showing the speculative view, below.

ethnicity-23andme-amounts

Adding the 23andMe column to my Ethnicity Totals Table, we show the following.

ethnicity-23andme-table-2

Genographic Project 2.0

I also tested through the Genographic project. Their results are much more general in nature.

ethnicity-geno-amounts

The Genographic Project results do not fit well with the others in terms of categorization. In order to include the Genographic ethnicity numbers, I’ve had to add the totals for several of the other groups together, in the gray bands below.

ethnicity-geno-table-2

Genographic Project results are the least like the others, and the most difficult to quantify relative to expected amounts of genealogy. Genealogically, they are certainly the least useful, although genealogy is not and never has been the Genographic focus.

I initially omitted this test from this article, but decided to include it for general interest. These four tests clearly illustrate the wide spectrum of results that a consumer can expect to receive relative to ethnicity.

What’s the Point?

Are you looking at the range of my expected ethnicity versus my ethnicity estimates from the these four entities and asking yourself, “what’s the point?”

That IS the point. These are all proprietary estimates for the same person – and look at the differences – especially compared to what we do know about my genealogy.

This exercise demonstrates how widely estimates can vary when compared against a relatively solid genealogy, especially on my mother’s side – and against other vendors. Not everyone has the benefit of having worked on their genealogy as long as I have. And no, in case you’re wondering, the genealogy is not wrong. Where there is doubt, I have reflected that in my expected ethnicity.

Here are the points I’d like to make about ethnicity estimates.

  • Ethnicity estimates are interesting and alluring.
  • Ethnicity estimates are highly entertaining.
  • Don’t marry them. They’re not dependable.
  • Create and utilize your ethnicity chart based on your known, proven genealogy which will provide a compass for unknown genealogy. For example, my German and Dutch lines are proven unquestionably, which means those percentages are firm and should match up relatively well to vendor ethnicity estimates for those regions.
  • Take all ethnicity estimates with a grain of salt.
  • Sometimes the shaker of salt.
  • Sometimes the entire lick of salt.
  • Ethnicity estimates make great cocktail party conversation.
  • If the results don’t make sense based on your known genealogical percentages, especially if your genealogy is well-researched and documented, understand the possibilities of why and when a healthy dose of skepticism is prudent. For example, if your DNA from a particular region exceeds the total of both of your parents for that region, something is amiss someplace – which is NOT to suggest that you are not your parents’ child.  If you’re not the child of one or both parents, assuming they have DNA tested, you won’t need ethnicity results to prove or even suggest that.
  • Ethnicity estimates are not facts beyond very high percentages, 25% and above. At that level, the ethnicity does exist, but the percentage may be in error.
  • Ethnicity estimates are generally accurate to the continent level, although not always at low levels. Note weasel word, “generally.”
  • We should all enjoy the results and utilize these estimates for their hints and clues.  For example, if you are an adoptee and you are 25% African, it’s likely that one of your grandparents was Africa, or two of your grandparents were roughly half African, or all four of your grandparents were one-fourth African.  Hints and clues, not gospel and not cast in concrete. Maybe cast in warm Jello.
  • Ethnicity estimates showing larger percentages probably hold a pearl of truth, but how big the pearl and the quality of the pearl is open for debate. The size and value of the pearl is directly related to the size of the percentage and the reference populations.
  • Unexpected results are perplexing. In the case of my unknown 8% to 12% Scandinavian – the Vikings may be to blame, or the reference populations, which are current populations, not historical populations – or some of each. My Scandinavian amounts translate into between 5 and 8 of my GGGG-grandparents being fully Scandinavian – and that’s extremely unlikely in the middle of Virginia in the 1700s.
  • There can be fairly large slices of completely unexplained ethnicity. For example, Scandinavia at 8-12% and even more perplexing, Italy and Greece. All I can say is that there must have been an awful lot of Vikings buried in the DNA of those other populations. But enough to aggregate, cumulatively, to between a great-grandparent at 12.5% and a great-great-grandparent at 6.25%? I’m not convinced. However, all three vendors found some Scandinavian – so something is afoot. Did they all use the same reference population data for Scandinavian? For the time being, the Scandinavian results remain a mystery.
  • There is no way to tell what is real and what is not. Meaning, do I really have some ancient Italian/Greek and more recent Scandinavian, or is this deep ancestry or a reference population issue? And can the lack of my proven Native and African ancestry be attributed to the same?
  • Proven ancestors beyond 6 generations, meaning Native lineages, disappear while undocumentable and tenuous ancestors beyond 6 generations appear – apparently, en masse. In my case, kind of like a naughty Scandinavian ancestral flash mob, taunting and tormenting me. Who are those people??? Are they real?
  • If the known/proven ethnicity percentages from Germany, Netherlands and France can be highly erroneous, what does that imply about the rest of the results? Especially within Europe? The accuracy issue is especially pronounced looking at the wide ranges of British Isles between vendors, versus my expected percentage, which is even higher, although the inferred British Isles could be partly erroneous – but not on this magnitude. Apparently part of by British Isles ancestry is being categorized as either or both Scandinavian or European.
  • Conversely, these estimates can and do miss positively genealogically proven minority ethnicity. By minority, I mean minority to the tester. In my case, African and Native that is proven in multiple lines – and not just by paper genealogy, but by Y and mtDNA haplogroups as well.
  • Vendors’ products and their estimates will change with time as this field matures and reference populations improve.
  • Some results may reflect the ancient history of the entire population, as indicated by the Genographic Project. In other words, if the entire German population is 30% Mediterranean, then your ancestors who descend from that population can be expected to be 30% Mediterranean too. Except I don’t show enough Mediterranean ancestry to be 30% of my German DNA, which would be about 8% – at least not as reported by any vendor other than the Genographic Project.
  • Not all vendors display below 1% where traces of minority admixture are sometimes found. If it’s hard to tell if 8-12% Scandinavian is real, it’s almost impossible to tell whether less than 1% of anything is real.  Having said that, I’d still like to see my trace amounts, especially at a continental level which tends to be more reliable, given that is where both my Native and African are found.
  • If the reason my Native and African ancestors aren’t showing is because their DNA was not passed on in subsequent generations, causing their DNA to effectively “wash out,” why didn’t that happen to Scandinavian?
  • Ethnicity estimates can never disprove that an ancestor a few generations back was or was not any particular ethnicity. (However, Y and mitochondrial DNA testing can.)
  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, except in very recent generations – like 2 (grandparents at 25%), maybe 3 generations (great-grandparents at 12.5%).
  • Continental level estimates above 10-12 percent can probably be relied upon to suggest that the particular continental level ethnicity is present, but the percentage may not be accurate. Note the weasel wording here – “probably” – it’s here on purpose. Refer to Scandinavia, above – although that’s regional, not continental, but it’s a great example. My proven Native/African is nearly elusive and my mystery Scandinavian/Greek/Italian is present in far greater percentages than it should be, based upon proven genealogy.
  • Vendors, all vendors, struggle to separate ethnicity regions within continents, in particular, within Europe.
  • Don’t take your ethnicity results too seriously and don’t be trading in your lederhosen for kilts, or vice versa – especially not based on intra-continental results.
  • Don’t change your perception of who you are based on current ethnicity tests. Otherwise you’re going to feel like a chameleon if you test at multiple vendors.
  • Ethnicity estimates are not a short cut to or a replacement for discovering who you are based on sound genealogical research.
  • No vendor, NOT ANY VENDOR, can identify your Native American tribe. If they say or imply they can, RUN, with your money. Native DNA is more alike than different. Just because a vendor compares you to an individual from a particular tribe, and part of your DNA matches, does NOT mean your ancestors were members of or affiliated with that tribe. These three major vendors plus the Genographic Project don’t try to pull any of those shenanigans, but others do.
  • Genetic genealogy and specifically, ethnicity, is still a new field, a frontier.
  • Ethnicity estimates are not yet a mature technology as is aptly illustrated by the differences between vendors.
  • Ethnicity estimates are that. ESTIMATES.

If you like to learn more about ethnicity estimates and how they are calculated, you might want to read this article, Ethnicity Testing, A Conundrum.

Summary

This information is NOT a criticism of the vendors. Instead, this is a cautionary tale about correctly setting expectations for consumers who want to understand and interpret their results – and about how to use your own genealogy research to do so.

Not a day passes that I don’t receive very specific questions about the interpretation of ethnicity estimates. People want to know why their results are not what they expected, or why they have more of a particular geographic region listed than their two parents combined. Great questions!

This phenomenon is only going to increase with the popularity of DNA testing and the number of people who test to discover their identity as a result of highly visible ad campaigns.

So let me be very clear. No one can provide a specific interpretation. All we can do is explain how ethnicity estimates work – and that these results are estimates created utilizing different reference populations and proprietary software by each vendor.

Whether the results match each other or customer expectations, or not, these vendors are legitimate, as are the GedMatch ethnicity tools. Other vendors may be less so, and some are outright unethical, looking to exploit the unwary consumer, especially those looking for Native American heritage. If you’re interested in how to tell the difference between legitimate genetic information and a company utilizing pseudo-genetics to part you from your money, click here for a lecture by Dr. Jennifer Raff, especially about minutes 48-50.

Buyer beware, both in terms of purchasing DNA testing for ethnicity purposes to discover “who you are” and when internalizing and interpreting results.

The science just isn’t there yet for answers at the level most people seek.

My advice, in a nutshell: Stay with legitimate vendors. Enjoy your ethnicity results, but don’t take them too seriously without corroborating traditional genealogical evidence!

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