Genetic Genealogy in Practice


The book, Genetic Genealogy in Practice, recently published by the National Genealogical Society and authored by Blaine Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne is a practical guide for the genetic genealogist.

This book is not to be confused with Blaine’s second new book, also released in 2016, titled The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy. I knew Blaine had a book underway, but I had no idea he was simultaneously working on two! While I have not read the second book, I have read Genetic Genealogy in Practice (finally), which I’m reviewing here.

One of the best features of Genetic Genealogy in Practice is that it includes exercises at the end of each chapter. Oh, and for good measure, the answers are provided in an appendix too, so you don’t have to guess whether your answer was right! Additionally, the appendices provide a glossary and other resources for the genetic genealogist.

The book begins with an introductory chapter about genetics and each chapter includes specific educational information about the topic at hand – for example, how Y, autosomal and mtDNA differ from each other and how they “work” for genetic genealogy..

With the increasing popularity of autosomal DNA testing, I’ve noticed a trend to neglect both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing. In fact, many new testers don’t even know that type of DNA testing exists, let alone who can and should test, and what it can do for their genealogy research.

Therefore, I was VERY glad to see chapters titled “Genealogical Applications for Y-DNA” and a similarly named chapter for mitochondrial DNA.

Of course, the use of autosomal DNA for genetic genealogy has the largest chapter. It’s the most complex type of genetic genealogy testing and is often represented by media advertisements as deceptively simple. It isn’t simple, or maybe better stated, unraveling the meaning of autosomal results can be complex.  Regardless, autosomal DNA is always extremely interesting and is often an exceptionally powerful tool.

While the Y and mitochondrial DNA provide very specific targeted information about one individual genealogical line each, direct paternal and matrilineal, respectively, autosomal DNA provides information about all of our ancestral lines. However, unlike Y and mitochondrial DNA – we have no idea which autosomal information is connected to which ancestral line – at least not without additional information – like Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA or additional relatives testing. The key to unraveling the autosomal puzzle is genealogical collaboration with other testers, and convincing as many close relatives to test as possible.

Utilizing combinations of different types of DNA testing, together, leads to the following chapter. “Incorporating DNA Testing in a Family Study.” Genealogy and genetic genealogy are no longer two different things. They have married and morphed into one

You can’t really do justice to the topic of genetic genealogy without discussing privacy, how to write about DNA results and the Genealogical Proof Standard, known as the GPS. To me, this paragraph from page 12 is critically important to genealogists.

The first element of the GPS calls for thorough research; “Reasonably exhaustive research ensures examination of all potentially relevant sources. It minimizes the risk that undiscovered evidence will overturn a too-hasty conclusion.”

Blaine and Debbie go on to discuss this topic, but I will simply say that genealogy without DNA testing is no longer a reasonably exhaustive search. If DNA evidence can be utilized in any way, meaning directly through testing of relatives, or indirectly as a result of someone else testing (or having tested) your line(s), it should be.  A reasonably exhaustive search should include identifying individuals to provide Y, mtDNA or autosomal DNA results for each of your ancestral lines.

DNA testing is no longer an option for any serious genealogist, it’s one of the primary tools of the trade to gather additional information about each ancestor. This book helps ensure that the genealogist understands the genetic tools available and how to apply them correctly.

Genetic Genealogy in Practice is available through the NGS Store.

Migration Pedigree Chart

J. Paul Hawthorne started a bit of a phenomenon, whether he meant to or not, earlier this week on Facebook, when he created a migration map of his own ancestors using Excel to reflect his pedigree chart. He created a template at this link, if you’d like to do the same:

I didn’t used Paul’s template, but created my own because I wanted to add some additional information not on Paul’s for example purposes, and I used a bit of a different format.

I created two separate charts, one for my mother’s side and one for my father’s side, one underneath the other. My father’s pedigree, from Appalachia, is on the top.

I’ve also included birth years in addition to the birth locations. I think that gives a time perspective to a very visible migration path.  It was also interesting to note the range of birth years in the oldest generation, from 1759 to 1823.

migration pedigree

On my father’s side, you can visibly see the westward migration from Virginia and North Carolina into Tennessee and eventually, in the 19-teens into Indiana as tenant farmers. Had that not happened, my parents would never had met.

My mother’s side is generally much more immediately European – although not exclusively so, as her Connecticut line reaches back to the Mayflower.

The cells labeled “New England” are my Acadian ancestors after the deportation and that is what subsequent church records show as their birth location.  Given the history of the people and location where they settled in Canada, they were likely born in Massachusetts, but we don’t know for sure.  Before that, they were from Canada, a mixture of French and Native American dating from the early 1600s.

We Americans really are a melting pot. My ancestors 5 generations ago were born in 8 different states (counting New England as Massachusetts) and different locations in three foreign countries.  The New England group subsequently moved TO a foreign country FROM the US, only to move back again a generation later and request citizenship.  That’s a bit unusual.

I’ve added percentages above the various columns. That is the approximate percentage of the DNA of the individual ancestors in that column that I carry.  If you look at the column furthest to the right, I carry 3.125% of each of those ancestors, on average.  When we think about autosomally matching other descendants of those ancestors who also carry perhaps 3.125%, it’s amazing that we match common segments at all, but we often do.

These percentages are also relevant to ethnicity. For example, my one English ancestor is a bit deceiving, because all of those Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina ancestors had to come from someplace.  As I work those lines backwards in time, I can place many of them in British Isles locations and confirm it with various kinds of DNA matching.  For example, my Campbell male cousins have Y DNA tested and we are confirmed matches to the Campbell Clan in Scotland, my Estes’s to the Kent, England Eastes line, and so forth.

In many cases, I know more than is displayed on these charts. For example, on my mother’s charts, I know that both the Maryland and Pennsylvania families are entirely German, so while their birth location was in the US, their heritage isn’t reflected here.

Just the same, if you’re looking at migration patterns and origins for more recent immigrants, this provides a fun way to take a look at your family history. It’s also a nice, visual way to engage children and young people in both history and family history.  If you look at migration patterns and begin to ask questions like why and what would have prompted that migration at that place and time in history, you’ve begun to engage in the same kinds of thoughts and decisions as those ancestors as they pondered moving on to the next destination.

What stories does your migration pedigree chart tell you about your family?

Children’s Book About Irish King Inspired by DNA Research

Ireland Map

I wish history had been taught differently when I was a child.

History was dry and boring and consisted of rote memorization of dates of disconnected events.  At least, those events were entirely disconnected from me.  It would only be years later that I understood their relevance and that many of those events were NOT disconnected from me.  My ancestors took part in or many times suffered from those events.

Some of those events directly affect the me I’ve become – where I was born – which was predicated on which ancestors immigrated, and when.  All of the circumstances of today were built on the decisions of our ancestors in the past, and their decisions revolved around those dry and boring events, like war, pestilence and famine…for starters…that were anything but dry and boring if you were living through them.

I needed a different perspective, so I am very glad to see that Lance McNeill has written a children’s book about Niall of the Nine Hostages, a man who is also my ancestor.

Lance sent me the following press release:

DNA Discovery Inspires Fully Illustrated Children’s Book about Irish King, Niall of the Nine Hostages

Austin, Texas March 7, 2016:

Niall and the Stone of Destiny is the first ever fully-illustrated children’s book about the journey of renowned Celtic High King, Niall of the Nine Hostages.

Inspired by his Family Tree DNA test results linking him to Niall, author Lance MacNeill embarked upon months of research to uncover the legend of King Niall. Combining the historical evidence with Celtic mythology and a bit of MacNeill’s own imagination, Niall and the Stone of Destiny was conceived. The book will be available in both e-book and hardcover formats. You can reserve your copy of Niall and the Stone of Destiny now on Kickstarter.

Niall Stone of Destiny

For more than 1,500 years, the story of King Niall was thought to be pure Celtic mythology. According to legend, Niall was born in the late fourth century AD and reigned as the High King of Ireland until sometime in the early fifth century. In 2006, an article was published by a research team at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Their research provided DNA evidence that a common lineage from the Irish Dynasty UÍ Néill, which translated literally means “descendants of Niall,” did in fact originate sometime during the fifth Century AD. They also estimate that nearly 3 million people worldwide are likely descended from Niall. Surnames commonly believed to be linked with the Niall’s family tree include the following: Donnelly, McLoughlin, McManus, Connor, Gormley, McMenamin, Flynn, O’Rourke, Devlin, Hynes, McCaul, McGovern, Molloy, O’Kane, Quinn, Cannon, Bradley, Egan, O’Reilly, Mc(Kee), Campbell, O’Gallagher, O’Boyle, O’Doherty, O’Donnell, O’Neill and MacNeill.

Niall Surnames

Figure 1: Surnames Commonly Believed to be Linked to Niall of the Nine Hostages

With this discovery, Niall is being propelled from the annals of folklore into the books of Irish history.

MacNeill says, “My hope is that this story captures the interest of the next young generation of Niall’s descendants and engages them in their Irish heritage and genealogy.” The book is great for all ages to enjoy, especially for children ages 6 – 10. To learn more, visit the book’s Facebook page or support the Kickstarter project.

Contact: Lance McNeill


As you can see, Lance’s book has been written, but not yet published. Lance sent me a sample page.

Niall page

Lance is funding the publication of this book through Kickstarter.

I have never worked with Kickstarter before, so I needed to know how it works before pledging funds. According to Kickstarter, the credit cards of the people who pledge are not charged until the funding goal is reached. If the project goal is not reached, then no one is charged.  If the funding goal is reached, then Lance will publish the book.

Here’s what Lance has to say about risks and challenges:

This isn’t my first rodeo. I authored and self-published the Comprehensive Crowdfunding Guide on two years ago, so I understand the process of editing, printing and self-publishing.

I’m also mitigating risk with a lean approach to this project. The story of Niall is really 3 times longer than this first book, but by breaking the story up into an iterative series, I can keep overall costs down and receive much needed feedback from early adopters. I’m aiming for a limited printing run of 200 books for this launch, a realistic and achievable goal. I’ve done the research on printing and shipping costs and have certainty that if the funding goal is reached, I will have sufficient funding to deliver as promised.

To learn more about me and the successful projects I’ve been a part of, please visit my LinkedIn profile:

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

There are various options, and the e-version is as little as $3. I would personally want the hardcover version for $20.  In my family, this would be an heirloom item because we are descendants of Niall of the 9 Hostages, along with a couple of million other cousins!

The Rest of the Story  

Now, for the rest of the story – I descend from the Reverend George McNiel from Wilkes County, NC. One of my cousins has tested to represent my McNiel line.  I checked my cousins results as I was writing this article, and guess who appears in his match list.  None other than Lance McNeill, previously unknown to me, but who I now know is my 6th cousin once removed, also descending from the good Reverend.  So, you can bet that I’ll be ordering one of these books for my granddaughters and one for myself too!  I hope he’ll autograph them!

The world gets smaller every day with DNA!

A Fun DNA Experiment

Granddaughter DNA 2016

My granddaughter was fortunate enough to attend a special event at a local university over the weekend for middle school students.

One of their experiments was extracting DNA from mixed fruits.

Needless to say I’m extremely proud of this “chip off the old helix.”

You can do this experiment too, easily with just items you have at home in your kitchen. This wonderful video not only shows you how to do the experiment, the host explains what is happening.  Sooooo interesting – and easy.

Did you know that you can extract DNA from strawberries, bananas or kiwi fruit and can even extract your own DNA by swishing water in your mouth and using the same extraction process? Maybe you could do all three and compare the results!

Here are some additional references, questions, discussion items and tips for teachers:

Have fun!!!

DNAeXplain Archives – Entertainment Articles

Looking at articles from the archives is fun.  Today, we’ll be looking at the Entertainment group which consist mostly of the Who-Do-You-Think-You-Are articles.  The various categories are:

  • Historical or Obsolete – these are items that were interesting at the time by aren’t really relevant today – except in a historical context. An example would be the announcement of the Genographic 2 project in July of 2012. You may wonder why I didn’t delete these. Looking back, these are somewhat like a genetic genealogy journal.
  • General Information – these are generally articles about DNA and genealogy. They don’t presume that you’re actually working with the results.
  • Basic Education – this may be basic genealogy or basic DNA fundamentals. These articles provide a foundation for working with your results. Think of it as pre-bootcamp.
  • Introductory DNA – these articles do presume you are working with your results. Bootcamp begins here.
  • Intermediate DNA – these are a little more difficult and you’ll probably need the basics and introductory understanding to be able to work at this level.
  • Advanced DNA – very few articles are advanced. In fact, I try very hard to avoid this, when possible. Mostly, these have to do with advanced autosomal techniques and research.
  • Educational – educational opportunities such as classes, books and videos.
  • Entertainment – just for fun, like the Who Do You Think You Are series, some of these have no DNA content.
  • Examples – these are examples of using genealogy and DNA together seamlessly. My 52 Ancestors stories fall into this category. Think of these as story problems that include the answers!
  • Project Administration – articles written for project administrators at Family Tree DNA. Project administrators, of course, will be interested in all of the rest.

In the past we’ve covered Historical, General Information, Basic Education, Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced DNA and Educational. Today, let’s look at Entertainment.  I know some of these are a bit fluffy, but it’s a guilty pleasure I allow myself.  I never fail to enjoy the episodes and learn something interesting.  I believe they are still available to view on PBS as well.  I hope there will be more in 2016.

Title Date Link
Who Do You Think You Are? Returns 7-16-2014
Josh Groban – Who Do You Think You Are – “A Desperate Need” 3-13-2015
Angie Harmon – Who Do You Think You Are – “Mutiny” 3-21-2015
Sean Hayes – Why Do You Think You Are – “Endless Chain of Chaos” 3-28-2015
Tony Goldwyn – Who Do You Think You Are – “She Was a Radical, The Fire Flew” 4-4-2015
America Ferrera Heads to Honduras on Who Do You Think You Are 4-11-2015
Bill Paxton – Who Do You Think You Are – The Three Stones 4-18-2015 bill-paxton-who-do-you-think-you-are-the-three-stones
Melissa Etheridge – Who Do You Think You Are – Season Finale 4-24-2015
Ginnifer Goodwin – Who Do You Think You Are – “Not What I Expected” 7-23-2015
J.K. Rowling – Who Do You Think You Are? – “Bravery Against All Odds” 7-31-2015
Alfre Woodward – Who Do You Think You Are – “Born in Chains” 8-8-2015
The Archives of Who Do You Think You Are 8-15-2015
Bryan Cranston – Who Do You Think You Are – “A Dissipated Man” 8-22-2015
Tom Bergeron, Who Do You Think You Are, “A Killing Field” 8-29-2015

Genetic Genealogy Educational Resource List

head in sand

The Board for Certification of Genealogists, better known as the BCG, has created a great resource for genetic genealogy, including books, blogs, lists, forums, classes, institutes and webinars.

If you want to learn about how DNA assists genealogists, there is a plethora of resources available today.  Thanks to the BCG for putting this information in one place.

I love their opening statement:  “We can’t stick our heads in the sand anymore.”  Genetic genealogy is a fait accompli today.  It’s here to stay and every genealogist should have at least a very basic understanding of what it can do and how.

For a short, basic, easy to understand introduction, my “4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy” is one of the most visited articles on my website.

Talking to Yourself aka E-Mail Spoofing

Have you ever gotten an e-mail from yourself that you didn’t send?

Here’s an example from my inbox.


Yep, there are 4 messages to myself from myself that I never sent.  The modern day version of talking to yourself – except they aren’t legit.

They are supposedly from my e-mail address – but I didn’t send them.

That is something called “spoofing” on the internet.  It happens when someone, a “bad guy” for lack of a more descriptive term, wants to send spam or junk mail, or worse, and hijacks your internet e-mail address to do so.

No, they have not broken into your e-mail account, they are just appending your address as the “sent” address so that it gets through filters and such.  However, if this happens to you, the FIRST thing you should do is to check your “sent” folder to be sure you don’t have a virus or some kind of malware sending things from your computer.

The bad news is that there is nothing at all I can do about this – except wait until the wave is over and hope there isn’t another one anytime soon.

Why did they pick me?  Because they can – they search for valid addresses and the more widely received, the better, because it makes their target audience larger.

A few Internet Service Providers use “source assured addressing” schemes where they connect the sending ID with the address it’s supposed to come from and “flag” suspicious e-mails.  You can see that AT&T did just that and put it the messages into my spam folder, labeled “bulk.”  It’s up to me to delete them.  Some spam never makes it this far and the vendors just throw the messages away.

Now the bad news on my end is that my address may become associated with spammers and get blacklisted.  There’s nothing I can do about that.

On your end, consider this a heads up – for my e-mail address and others.  If you receive something you don’t expect from someone, or just a link to click – DONT CLICK.  Don’t EVER click.

If you receive something from someone you know with a vanilla sounding message like:  “You have to see this,” followed by a link – your internal neon danger sign should be flashing like crazy.  And for goodness sake, DON’T CLICK.

Another tactic is to attach a document of some sort that you are instructed to open.  Don’t do that either.  If you’re not expecting a refund or a package or whatever…the message is fake.  And by the way the IRS does not contact you via e-mail and neither does the court requesting jury duty, etc.

Conversely, if you’re sending a link to someone, send at least enough of a message that the recipient knows it really is from you.  For example, “I found this link about the first Algonquian Bible which was the first Bible printed in the US.”  Then add your link.  My friends will know that is something I would be sending – not a message that’s so generic they have no way of knowing if the e-mail is legitimately from me.

I received an e-mail last week from Justin, someone connected to genealogy with whom I communicate regularly.  The e-mail said Justin had sent me a message through XYZ and to “click here” for the message, shown below.  I found that odd since Justin regularly e-mails me and has never used any kind of message service.

scam email crop

I was suspicious, so I didn’t click.  I didn’t want to miss something from Justin, so  I forwarded the e-mail to Justin and asked if he sent it.  He said that he had clicked on that same link in an e-mail he received and it then sent itself to his entire e-mail list.  You can rest assured that’s not all it did and now he has some malware someplace on his computer as well doing who-knows-what.  The bad guys don’t do these things just for fun.

I quickly deleted that e-mail and was very grateful for my second sense that told me something was amiss.

While most genealogists do talk to themselves, it’s not quite like this.  Stay vigilant and if there is any doubt, don’t click.  Better wary than sorry.  Otherwise, you won’t be talking to yourself, you’ll be swearing at yourself!